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Why I Got Out: The Next Wikileaks, Investigative Journalism and Whistleblowers

(On July 22nd, Michael C officially left active-duty U.S. Army service. In an attempt to explain why, he started a series about the Army’s culture, its successes and its failures. Read the rest of the “Why I Got Out” series here.

On a more positive note, if you want to know why Michael C joined the Army, read “Why Do I Fight?”, “What Did You Do Out There”, “Did You Accomplish Anything Out There?”, “Why I Served”, and finally, “Hasta La Vista...Baby”.)

I know how the next massive intelligence leak will happen to the U.S. Army, and I can’t stop it.

It’s not like I know some malign actor actively stealing data. Instead, I believe, based on my knowledge of the U.S. Army’s information management, that the Army has a gaping weakness in its information architecture that a malign actor could easily exploit. So if I see the Army as a runaway train barreling towards another Wikileaks disaster, why don’t I try to stop it?

Because I can’t. In the U.S. Army, pointing out a huge problem is disastrous for one’s career. Look at the options open to me. I could have told my boss. If he doesn’t pass it up the chain of command, then the issue dies. What about the Inspector General, at any level? Well again, if my boss said no--or my boss’s boss said no--then I would essentially have torpedoed my career to prevent a disaster.

To really affect massive change or to expose massive wrongdoing, fraud, waste, or abuse--in essence to become a “whistle-blower”--a soldier has two nuclear options: go to Congress or go to the newspapers. These two methods do force the U.S. Army to change, by forcing it from without. Doing so, though, means destroying your career. Which leads to my next installment of “Why I Got Out”:

The U.S. Army--symptomatic of the larger national security/Pentagon culture--has a culture that hates the whistle-blowing and investigative journalism that could make it stronger.

Thomas Drake went to the Baltimore Sun to try to expose massive corruption at the opaque National Security Agency. After four years of investigation and a ruined career, a judge during sentencing called the government’s case against him “unconscionable”.

What about the 15,000 potentially mis-marked graves at Arlington National Cemetery? How did leaders in the U.S. Army handle a public affairs officer trying to expose the mismanagement? She was fired. As a result, she had to go to the newspapers.  
Same story with MRAPs in Iraq. The vehicles the U.S. brought to fight the war simply weren’t good enough. Unlike World War II, when the military could rapidly field new equipment, the modern Pentagon fights the next war, not the current one. One science advisor in the Pentagon, Franz Gayl, saw the problem and tried to convince his superiors to get new vehicles to save the lives of Marines. He had to go public; once he did, the military adopted the MRAP rapidly.

His career, like the others, was ruined.

Next up? Warrior Transition Units. What the Army has allowed to happen to Warrior Transition Units verges on criminal, yet many senior officers still tried to prevent the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review and Carl Prine from seeing internal investigations. It also protected officers from scrutiny so as not to “ruin” their careers. As a result, many Warrior Transition Units remain broken.

Check out my “Investigative Journalism Link Drop” for more examples. Go to any example’s Wikipedia page and you’ll see the Pentagon’s stonewalling at its finest.

All of which boggles my mind. If someone can prove that your organization, your subordinates or your people are failing, why not embrace that to become better? No one likes to be told they are wrong, but the U.S. Army needs investigative journalists and whistle-blowers to point out when it totally messes up. Instead of embracing the whistle-blowers--the soldiers practicing the Warrior Ethos--the Army usually protects the careers of (usually higher ranking) sub-standard leaders.

Reading this, some people (who probably stopped reading our blog along time ago anyways) will say we are anti-troop. Unquestioning loyalty allows corrupt officers and practices to remain; I question the military because I love it. I challenge the U.S. Army because I want her to be the best she can be. 

I wish more officers felt and acted the same way.

Whistle-blowing shouldn’t end careers, it should propel them upward.

One comment

This complaint isn’t limited to the military. Any organization—governmental, non-profit, business, local Elk’s Club affiliate—hates whistle blowers.

The difference is that in other industries, you can leave one organization and go to another. In the military, that isn’t the case.