WASHINGTON— The Pentagon is embroiled in a series of corruption scandals that span the globe and have rocked the Navy, Air Force, and Army National Guard. Both sides of Congress are holding hearings into the matters. But the number of scandals is raising questions about a lack of accountability across the U.S. military that many say is unprecedented.
The Navy is dealing with a bribery scandal involving a Singapore-based company that investigators say bought the illicit help of a group of naval officers with cash, lavish trips, and prostitutes. In another investigation, Air Force and Navy officers allegedly cheated on proficiency exams that dealt with nuclear missile launch codes and nuclear propulsion systems. The Army’s National Guard is also dealing with an alleged scam involving cash improperly taken for getting people to enlist.
“You start to wonder if we need to get a little more discipline here, if nothing else than to send a clear message that this kind of stuff needs to be rooted out – and whatever oversight laxity might be happening is not tolerable or sustainable,” said Michael O’Hanlon, a senior fellow at The Brookings Institution in Washington.
The situation has prompted Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel to announce last Friday that he will appoint a senior general to review the Pentagon’s ethics standards and implement changes meant to ensure proper behavior.
“Competence and character…are woven together. They must be.” Hagel said. ”And, an uncompromising culture of accountability must exist at every level of command.”
The U.S. House of Representatives in Congress announced that a key committee on government oversight, chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa will hold hearings into the alleged scandal involving Singapore-based Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), a contractor with the U.S. Navy. The head of that company, Malaysian national Leonard Glenn Francis, has been arrested on bribery related charges. So have several Navy officers.
One of them is Commander Michael Vannak Khem Misiewicz. Born in Cambodia, he came to the United States as a child refugee, and graduated from the U.S. Naval Academy. He was given command of a guided missile destroyer, the USS Mustin, which he sailed in December 2010 to Sihanoukville, Cambodia in a triumphant return to his native land. Later, he became a logistics officer for the Navy’s 7th Fleet, which covers the Pacific.
Misiewicz and another logistics officer, Commander Jose Luis Sanchez, are accused of providing internal information to Leonard Francis and GDMA on ship movements and port calls. Prosecutors say they steered ships to ports where GDMA had facilities so that the company could grossly overcharge the Navy for fuel and other services. In return, Francis rewarded them with money, trips, and the services of prostitutes.
Also snared by the Navy’s probe into GDMA was one of its own investigators – Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agent John Beliveau II. He has already entered a guilty plea of providing Francis with internal NCIS documents – ostensibly to help Francis stay one step ahead of investigators. Commanders Misiewicz and Sanchez have entered “not guilty” pleas and are awaiting further court action.
The Navy is also embroiled in an alleged scandal involving its famed “SEAL Team Six.”
Acting Navy Undersecretary Robert Martinage was asked to resign in mid-January after investigators found that the brother of a senior Navy intelligence official had manufactured weapons silencers for the SEALS at a cost of $8,000 – for which the military was billed $1.6 million.
The Congress too has been holding hearings into an alleged scheme in which people improperly collected money – possibly up to $66 million – for getting young men and women to sign up for the National Guard. Investigators say that recruiters and others not eligible to receive the bonuses used proxies and other schemes to collect the cash and share it with them.
“It is disappointing that people who wore the uniform saw a way to get one over on the government, and they did,” said U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill, who is leading hearings into the matter.
Brookings analyst O’Hanlon said the Congressional hearings can serve as a prod to get the Pentagon back on the right track.
“You know, they [the hearings] can scare people into better behavior – they can put some pressure on the Pentagon to do more than just discipline the ten or twenty bad apples that were specifically involved, “ he said. “But, if there is a more general problem of organizational rot or decline of standards, they can hold people accountable, and force the broader military services or the Department of Defense to relieve people at a higher level of command, potentially, if that seems appropriate.”
O’Hanlon said there are broader concerns about the proficiency exam cheating scandals that have implicated at least 92 Air Force nuclear ICBM launch control officers and more than 30 Navy personnel connected to nuclear propulsion systems.
Those entrusted with America’s nuclear arsenal – and its nuclear systems – are held to extremely high standards with periodic exams to prove that they know precisely what they are trained to do. And the pressures to pass those tests allegedly prompted those accused to share questions and answers.
“You can’t be lax with nuclear weapons,” said O’Hanlon. These things [such as cheating on nuclear proficiency tests] erode the nation’s safety and security, and over time, can damage that very fabric of the armed forces.” He added “You’ve got to stop them now, before it gets worse.”