Pentagon’s Penchant for Privacy Keeps Proliferating
(Source: Project On Government Oversight; posted Dec. 02, 2020)

By Mark Thompson
We all know the U.S. military has good reasons to keep some information from those of us paying the bills. But too often, it seems, they’re designed to avoid embarrassment rather than preserve legitimate secrets. For starters, let’s agree that information can help potential foes—as well as actual taxpayers. The nub of the problem is to know where to strike that balance. Recently, the Pentagon is tilting that scale away from those of us footing the bill involving hardware, war-fighting, and crash-related fixes to its most costly weapon ever.

On the hardware front, the Government Accountability Office released a scrubbed version (PDF) of an August investigation into aircraft-readiness rates on November 19. “DOD deemed some of the information in our August report to be sensitive (i.e., For Official Use Only), which must be protected from public disclosure,” the congressional watchdog agency said. “Therefore, this report omits sensitive information about mission capable and aircraft availability rates.” As Neil Gordon, my colleague at the Project On Government Oversight, reported in 2014, the “For Official Use Only” label has too often been used as a blanket to keep government data from taxpayers improperly.

Thumbing through the sanitized 228-page GAO report, it quickly becomes clear why the Pentagon would prefer to close-hold its contents: “GAO examined 46 types of aircraft and found that only three met their annual mission capable goals in a majority of the years for fiscal years 2011 through 2019 and 24 did not meet their annual mission capable goals in any fiscal year.”

That’s an indictment of how the Pentagon buys and maintains its gear. It’s chilling to think of how much worse the FOUO data denied us normal folks are.

On the war-fighting front, more key yardsticks measuring progress in America’s longest war also are being kept from the public. In his October 30 quarterly report (PDF), Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction John Sopko said the list of facts barred to the American public continues to grow. It now includes, among other information, the number of enemy attacks, the number of Afghan casualties, Afghan unit troop counts, and assessments of how well Afghan troops are performing. This would suggest to an objective observer that things are not going well.

And, on the crash front, the Pentagon’s F-35 office has decided that mechanical fixes ordered following a May 23 Air Force F-35 crash “must remain secret,” Air Force Magazine reported November 23. “Explicit details related to corrective actions have the potential to compromise operational security,” a spokeswoman told the magazine, a not-unfriendly organ published by the Air Force Association, an Air Force booster group. The lone pilot ejected and survived, but the F-35, “valued at $175,983,949, rolled, caught fire, and was completely destroyed,” the accident report said (point of personal privilege: how can the Pentagon, whose books are so fouled up they cannot be audited, pinpoint the price of this F-35 so precisely?).

The Pentagon’s F-35 office “declined to comment on whether the government or Lockheed Martin bears the responsibility for the hardware deficiencies, and who will pay to correct them,” the magazine’s John Tirpak wrote. “It is unusual for the government not to reveal corrective measures required when a military aircraft crashes due—even in part—to hardware and software deficiencies.”

As someone who has covered hundreds of military aviation accidents over the past 40 years—and the resulting repairs to ensure they won’t happen again—this just doesn’t wash. “The potential to compromise operational security” is a one-size-fits-all dodge big enough to fly a B-52 through.

Jason Paladino here at POGO dived into what he called “the Pentagon’s war on transparency” a year ago. Like Afghanistan, this war continues. These latest examples highlight the U.S. military’s brazenness at hiding data that suggest its war-fighting machines and prowess aren’t all that they’re cracked up to be.

This problem of less-bang-for-more-bucks will only get worse the more it is allowed to fester. (end of excerpt)


Click here for the full story, on the POGO website.

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