All the Insecurity Money Can Buy

It's not nice to fool with nuclear missiles

It’s not nice to fool with nuclear missiles

W.J. Astore

The United States spends nearly a trillion dollars a year on national defense, to include wars, homeland security, a bewildering array of intelligence agencies, and the maintenance of nuclear weapons.  Are we buying greater security with all this money?

Consider the following fact.  A private contractor hired to vet security clearances for US intelligence agencies has been accused of faulty and incomplete background checks in 665,000 cases.  Yes, you read that right.  More than half a million background checks for security clearances were not performed properly.  Doesn’t that make you feel safer?

Meanwhile, our nuclear forces have been bedeviled by scandal and mismanagement.  The latest is a cheating scandal involving 34 nuclear launch officers and the potential compromise of nuclear surety.  Previous scandals include a vice admiral, the deputy commander of US nuclear forces, being relieved of command for using forged gambling chips in a casino.  Far worse was the incident in 2007 when a B-52 flew across the US with six “live” nuclear missiles on board. (The missiles were not supposed to have nuclear warheads in them.)

Public servants, especially military officers who put “integrity first,” are expected to be good stewards of the trillions of dollars entrusted to them.  What to make, then, of an alarming bribery scandal in the Pacific, involving a wealthy Malaysian contractor who allegedly used money, hookers, and gifts to bribe several high-ranking US naval officers into awarding him lucrative contracts?  Something tells me this was not the pivot to the Pacific that the Obama Administration had in mind.

Such stories show how moth-eaten the shroud for our national security state really is.  Small wonder that we’re told to avert our eyes (Hey!  It’s classified!) rather than inspecting it closely.

What lessons are we to draw from such betrayals of public trust?  One big one: Our “security” apparatus has grown so large and all-encompassing that it has become far more powerful than the threat it is supposed to check.  Call it the enemy within, the inevitable corruption that accompanies unchecked power.

Any institution, no matter if it puts integrity first, will be compromised if it’s given too much power, especially when that institution veils itself in secrecy.

“With great power comes great responsibility,” as Peter Parker’s gentle Uncle Ben reminded him.  It’s an aphorism from “Spiderman,” but it’s no less true for that.  We’ve given great power to our national security apparatus, but that power is being exercised in ways that too often are irresponsible — and unaccountable.

And that doesn’t bode well for true security.

Update (1/28): Unfortunately, with great power often comes great irresponsibility, as this article on US military brass behaving badly indicates in today’s Washington Post.  And let’s not forget the US general and master of nuclear missiles who got drunk in Moscow while bragging about keeping the world safe — at least he enjoyed the banquet featuring tortillas stuffed with caviar and dill.

Update (2/5): A new story reveals that Army recruiters as well as civilians cheated the American taxpayer out of $100 million in recruiting bonuses.  The bonuses were aimed at boosting recruits during the difficult days of the Iraq War.  Sadly, it also boosted fraud within the Army, as some recruiters lined their own pockets with bonuses obtained under fraudulent terms.

8 thoughts on “All the Insecurity Money Can Buy

  1. The pervasive self indulgence of a number of the topmost (generals) military ‘leaders’ across the services seems to say that they really understand that this “war on terror” is a charade that has more to do with domestic political policy than a real national security ‘threat’. Petraeus was just the tip of the iceberg–not a great simile for their actions which are hotter. They see that the ‘terrorist’ is no match to our power projection and that they can indulge their selfish desires without restraint as long as they support the politicians’ claim that “we all must sacrifice”. We are called to sacrifice things like our civil liberties, unfair tax breaks for the 1% ‘jobmakers’, and loss of our privacy rights while they play like they fight against those nasty terrorists and work to keep those super patriotic politicians who finance them in power.

    • You got that right, WWII Veteran. The truth is, we’re not required to sacrifice our civil liberties; they’re Divinely given and guaranteed under our Constitution. Those who try to require us to sacrifice our God-given Rights do NOT have our well-being and safety in mind; and, the so-called “war on terror” is in fact a “war of terror” – a campaign of terror similar to those campaigns waged by Lenin, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot, to name a few; and, they waged their terror campaigns against their own citizens; whereas, the USG is waging its terror campaign worldwide, as well as against its own citizenry.

      “Those who would give up Liberty for a modicum of Safety, deserves neither Liberty nor Safety.” ~ Benjamin Franklin

  2. It’s amazing but the majority of Americans must be a threat to the security of the United States, since so few can pass background checks that military contractors had to fib massively to funnel enough of the needed manpower to spy on their fellow countrymen. Well, that explains why, as Senator Church warned, the turnkey totalitarianism would be turned inwards against the American people. The Rogers and Feinsteins, the faux regulators captured by this unaccountable fourth branch of government, the secret “deep state,’ have betrayed the voters for their donorist relations. (Both have spouses who make enormous amounts from the military-industrial complex.) They have seen the enemy, and he is us. The American people.

  3. It has been said that Power corrupts, and that Absolute Power corrupts absolutely.
    Whoever said it was dead wrong.

    Power addicts. Absolute Power addicts absolutely.

    Power is a drug – the most addictive and dangerous drug ever invented.

    Much like a Heroin addict needs a little more every day, just to feel “normal,” so does a Power addict. The same amount doesn’t give the addict that rushy-glowy feeling they so desire. . . so they need more & more & more. . . the biggest problem is, unlike Heroin or Meth or Cocaine, there is no way to manufacture more Power – it can only be taken from someone else. So the addicts pass another “law” which takes more Power from us non-addicts.

    When Power is examined as an addictive force rather than a corruptive one, the irrational behavior of those in the upper echelons makes more sense.

    They’re thwacked out on dope and desperate for their next fix.

    • Reverend.. You have made a monumental improvement to the aphorism on power. You have taken it from a static statement into a dynamic and predictive analysis. Now we can understand Obama’s addictive behavior in escalating all of the worst aspects of Bush policies from war making drone attacks to expansion of domestic spying and attacks on whistle blowers. Obama is on “speed” while Bush was on alcohol. Hillary Clinton will outdo both of them. We are into a period of addictive power seekers as presidential candidates in both parties. Can our country find a ‘clean’ candidate? Look out America.

      *”Heroin” is a song the the Andy Warhol supported band called “The Velvet Underground” recorded.

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