Each year Dispatches From The Edge gives awards to individuals, companies, and governments that make following the news a daily adventure. Here are the awards for 2015:
The First Amendment Award to U.S. Defense Secretary Ashton Carter for issuing a new Law Of War manual that defines reporters as “unprivileged belligerents” who will lose their “privileged” status by “the relaying of information” which “could constitute taking a direct part in hostilities.” Translation? If you report you are in the same class as members of al-Qaeda.
A Pentagon spokesperson said that the military “supports and respects the vital work that journalists perform.” Just so long as they keep what they see, hear, and discover to themselves? Professor of constitutional law Heidi Kitrosser called the language “alarming.”
Runner up is the U.S. Military College at West Point for hiring Assistant Professor of Law William C. Bradford, who argues that the military should target “legal scholars” who are critical of the “war on terrorism.” Such critics are “treasonous”, he says. Bradford proposes going after “law school facilities, scholars’ home offices and media outlets where they give interviews.” Bradford also favors attacking “Islamic holy sites,” even if that means “great destruction, innumerable enemy casualties, and civilian collateral damage.”
The Little Bo Peep Award for losing track of things goes to the U.S. Defense Department for being unable to account for $35 billion in construction aid to Afghanistan, which is about $14 billion more than the country’s GDP. The U.S. has spent $107.5 billion on reconstruction in Afghanistan, more than the Marshall Plan. Most of it went to private contractors.
The Pentagon response to the report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan on the missing funds was to declare that all such information was now classified, because it might provide “sensitive information for those that threaten our forces and Afghan forces.” It has since partially backed off that declaration.
While it is only pocket change compared to Afghanistan, the Pentagon also could not account for more than $500 million in military aid to Yemen. The U.S. is currently aiding Saudi Arabia and a number of other Gulf monarchies that are bombing Houthi rebels battling the Yemeni government. Much of that aid was supposed to go for fighting Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), against which the U.S. is also waging a drone war. The most effective foes of AQAP are the Shiite Houthis. So we are supporting the Saudis and their allies against the Houthis, while fighting Al-Qaeda in Yemen, Somalia, Afghanistan, and Iraq.
If the reader is confused, Dispatches suggests taking a strong painkiller and lying down.
The George Orwell Award For Language goes to the intelligence gathering organizations of the “Five Eyes” surveillance alliance – the U.S., Britain, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand – who changed the words “mass surveillance” to “bulk collection.” The linguistic gymnastics allows the Five to claim that they are not violating Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. In the 2000 decision of Amann v. Switzerland, the Court found that it was illegal to store information on an individual’s private life.
As investigative journalist Glen Greenwald points out, the name switch is similar to replacing the word “torture” with “enhanced interrogation techniques.” The first is illegal, the second vague enough for interrogators to claim they are not violating the International Convention Against Torture.
A runner up is the U.S. Defense Department, which changed the scary title of “Air Sea Battle” to describe the U.S.’s current military doctrine vis-à-vis China, to “Joint Concept for Access and Maneuver in the Global Commons.” The Air Sea Battle doctrine calls for bottling up China’s navy, launching missile attacks to destroy command centers, and landing troops on the Chinese mainland. It includes scenarios for the use of nuclear weapons. “Global Commons,” on the other hand, sounds like a picnic on the lawn.
The Lassie Come Home Award to the U.S. Marine Corps for creating a 160-pound robot dog that will “enhance the Marine Corps war-fighting capabilities,” according to Captain James Pineiro. Pineiro heads up the Corps’s Warfighting Laboratory at Quantico, Virginia. “We see it as a great potential for the future dismounted infantry.”
The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is also designing an autonomous fighting robot. Can the Terminator be far off?
The Golden Lemon Award goes to Lockheed Martin, the biggest arms manufacturer in the world, which has managed to produce two stunningly expensive weapons systems that don’t work.
The F-35 Lightning II is the single most expensive weapons system in U.S. history: $1.5 trillion. It is supposed to replace all other fighter-bomber aircraft in the American arsenal, including the F-15, F-16 and F-18, and will begin deployment in 2016.
In dogfights with the three-decade-old F-16, the F-35 routinely lost. Because it is heavy and underpowered, it is extremely difficult to turn the plane during air-to-air combat. It has a fancy 25-MM Gatling gun that gets off 3,000 rounds a minute – but the plane can only carry 180 rounds. As one Air Force official put it, “Hope you don’t miss.” Oh, and the software for the gun won’t be out until 2019.
And that’s not the only glitch.
The F-35 has stealth technology, but its Identification Friend or Foe system is so bad that pilots are required to get a visual confirmation of their target. Not a good idea when the other guys have long-range air-to-air missiles. The $600,000 high-tech helmet the pilot uses to see everything around him often doesn’t work very well, and there isn’t enough room in the cockpit to turn your head. If the helmet goes out, there is no backup landing system, so maybe you had better eject? Bad idea. The fatality rate for small pilots (those under 139 pounds) at low speeds is 98 percent, not good odds. Larger pilots do better but the changes of a broken neck are still distressingly high.
But it is not just Lockheed Martin’s airplanes that don’t work, neither do its ships.
The company’s new Littoral Combat Ship (LCS), The Milwaukee, broke down during its recent East Coast tour and had to be towed to Virginia Beach. The LCSs are designed to fight in shallow waters, but a recent Pentagon analysis says the ships would “not be survivable in a hostile combat situation.” The LCSs have been plagued with engine problems and spend more than 50 percent of their time in port being repaired. The program costs $37 billion.
And Lockheed Martin, along with Northrop Grumman and Boeing, just got a $58.2 billion contract to build the next generation Long Range Strike Bomber. Sigh.
The Great Moments In Democracy Award goes to Jyrki Katainen, Finnish vice-president of the European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation European Union. When Greece’s anti-austerity Syriza Party was elected, he commented, “We don’t change policies depending on elections.” So, why is it that people have elections?
A close runner up in this category is German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schauble, who denounced Athens’ government for not cracking down on Greeks who can’t pay their taxes. The biggest tax dodger in Greece? That would be the huge German construction company Hochtief, which has not paid the Value Added Tax for 20 years, nor made its required contributions to social security. Estimates are that the company owes Greece one billion euros.
The Ty-D-Bowl Cleanup Award to the U.S. State Department for finally agreeing to clean up plutonium contamination, the residue from three hydrogen bombs that fell near the Andalusia town of Palomares in southern Spain in 1966. The bombs were released when a B-52 collided with an air tanker. While the bombs did not explode – Palomares and a significant section of southern Spain would not exist if they had – they broke open, spreading seven pounds of highly toxic plutonium 239 over the area. Plutonium has a half-life of 24,000 years.
While there was an initial cleanup, Francisco Franco’s fascist government covered up the incident and played down the dangers of plutonium. But recent studies indicate that there is still contamination, and some of the radioactive materials are degrading into americium, a producer of dangerous gamma radiation.
When Spain re-raised the issue in 2011, the U.S. stonewalled Madrid. So why is Washington coming to an agreement now? Quid pro quo: the U.S. wants to base some of its navy at Rota in southern Spain, and the Marines are setting up a permanent base at Moron de la Frontera.
As for nukes, the U.S. is deploying its new B61-12 guided nuclear bomb in Europe. At $11 billion it is the most expensive nuke in the U.S. arsenal. The U.S. will base the B61-12 in Germany, the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy and Turkey, a violation of Articles I and II of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. Those two articles ban transferring nukes from a nuclear weapon state to a non-nuclear weapon state.
Dispatches assumes they will also bring lots of mops and buckets.
Buyer Beware Award to the purchasing arm of the U.S. Defense Department that sent dozens of MD-530 attack helicopters to Afghanistan to build up the Afghan Air Force. Except the McDonnell Douglas-made choppers can’t operate above 8,000 feet, which means they can’t clear many of the mountains that ring Kabul. The Afghan capital is at 6,000 feet. It also doesn’t have the range to reach Taliban-controlled areas and, according to the pilots, its guns jam all the time. The Pentagon also paid more than $400 million to give Afghanistan 16 transport planes that were in such bad condition they couldn’t fly. The planes ended up being sold as scrap for $32,000.
The Pogo Possum “We Have Met The Enemy and He Is Us” Award goes to the Defense Intelligence Agency for warning Congress that “Chinese and Russian military leaders … were developing capabilities to deny [the] U.S. use of space in the event of a conflict.” Indeed, U.S. military satellites were jammed 261 times in 2015 – by the United States. Asked how many times China and Russia had jammed U.S. signals, Gen. John Hyten, head of the Air Force Space Command, replied, “I don’t really know. My guess is zero.”
This article originally appeared in Conn Hallinan’s blog Dispatches From the Edge.
Photo: Niklas Hellerstedt/Flickr/CC