Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Pentagon's Unspeakable Priorities

Two days, two stories about the Pentagon and sexuality. One of them is about perverts. The other one is about gay people.

Yesterday, Lt. Dan Choi, who majored in Arabic and environmental engineering at West Point and served as an infantry officer in Iraq (gee, we wouldn’t have any use in the military for credentials like that, would we?) was officially discharged under the provisions of the inane “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy” that President Clinton was chicken-shit enough to sign into law in 1993, and which President Obama has, with nearly as much moral cowardice, allowed to not only stay on the books, but be enforced. (For the record, the catch-phrase is inaccurate, as a number of servicemen and –women didn’t “tell” until they were outed by civilians and subsequently… erm… asked.)

Of course, the Pentagon took nearly a year and a half since Lt. Choi came out on the Rachel Maddow Show last March. Since then, through his leadership role in Knights Out, an organization for gay and lesbian West Point alumni, and through a host of speeches and acts of civil disobedience, Lt. Choi has become something of a poster child for the movement to overturn DADT. It is also worth noticing that, in the interim, Lt. Choi continued to serve, and to do so while being completely honest about his sexual preference. He has said repeatedly that his coming out of the closet has had no effect on his relationship with his comrades-in-arms. While I am not so naïve as to believe that claim simply because he makes it, I do find it more than a little significant that I can find literally no evidence—or even assertion—to the contrary.

Anyway, despite tens of thousands of signatures on petitions, despite the Commander-in-Chief’s claim that he seeks to overturn DADT (with the support of the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Bush-appointed Secretary of Defense), and after (obviously) months of dithering, the Army finally made it official and discharged Lt. Choi. Apparently they had sent a letter to his father’s address some time ago, but father and son are estranged, so the first Lt. Choi heard of the final decision came by telephone yesterday.

Lt.—now Mr.—Choi is clearly an intelligent and articulate young man. He’ll be fine. So will the overwhelming majority of the other soldiers (and sailors, Marines, etc.) whose services are lost to the country’s military because a gaggle of old male Republicans, led by Hypocrite-in-Chief John McCain (who assured us he’d be guided by “our military leaders” with respect to DADT… until, of course, they no longer supported his paranoia and prejudice), are homophobic bigots and Barack Obama doesn’t have the stones to tell them where they can shove their hatefulness. Don’t give me surveys. Don’t give me excuses. Don’t give me “after the Army has had a chance to review the proposal.” Give me the best people we can get. Now. And it strikes me that, given the way the world looks today, a fit, intelligent, experienced, respected Arabic-speaker might just be an asset.

The other Pentagon news is just downright creepy. According to Brian Bender of the Boston Globe,
Federal investigators have identified several dozen Pentagon officials and contractors with high-level security clearances who allegedly purchased and downloaded child pornography, including an undisclosed number who used their government computers to obtain the illegal material, according to investigative reports.
Bender continues,
the fact that offenders include people with access to government secrets puts national security agencies “at risk of blackmail, bribery, and threats, especially since these individuals typically have access to military installations,” according to one report by the Defense Criminal Investigative Service from late 2009.
So what we’re talking about here has broader ramifications than just a sordid tale of a little cadre of pervs getting their jollies with kiddie porn, which is disgusting enough. This is actually a national security issue. (One might note, sardonically, that DADT creates similar security issues: soldiers who stand to lose their jobs if their sexual preferences are revealed are certainly more susceptible to blackmail than those whose jobs are not thus jeopardized.)

There have apparently been a number of arrests and at least some prosecutions as a result of an investigation by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency which began in 2006. These were all kept quiet, of course, because we wouldn’t want the populace to know how their tax dollars were being spent, now would we? Among those found to have purchased child pornography: two contractors with top secret clearances at the National Security Agency, a contractor at the National Reconnaissance Office (they’re the spy satellite people), a contractor at Edwards Air Force Base (where weapons testing takes place), and a program manager at the Defense Advanced Research Programs Agency (which develops secret weapons and technologies). It is not clear that the DARPA manager had child pornography per se, but there was “[a] large amount of pornography… including images that appeared to be of children” on his office computer.

What is especially disturbing about this is that many of these people just get shuffled to a different office, à la pedophile priests. One contractor admitted in an interview to renew his security clearance that he watched child pornography at least twice a week on his home computer. So that got him prosecuted, right? Nope. Well, at least he lost his job, though? Nope. He got transferred to a field office; an agency spokesperson “could not immediately say whether the particular contractor was still working for the organization.”

Am I the only one absolutely incensed by this? Literally thousands of servicemen and –women have been discharged under DADT for telling the truth about themselves: that they are gay. They don’t need to have ever engaged in gay sex, or to have hit on a fellow soldier, or to have done literally anything to disturb the smooth operation of their unit. Just to be gay is enough to get you discharged. By contrast, engage in the illegal as well as despicable practice of buying and viewing child pornography on a government computer, open yourself up to “blackmail, bribery, and threats,” and chances are you won’t even lose your security clearance.

The late, great George Carlin’s description of “military intelligence” as an oxymoron has never rung truer.

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