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.