FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Pentagon as Lying Machine

Washington DC

Serving U.S. Army Lt. Colonel Danny Davis has been attracting notoriety following his courageous statement that senior military commanders have been systematically deceiving the American people about the war in Afghanistan.  As he points out, breezy assertions of “momentum,” and “progress,” as well as “hard fought achievements,” are belied not only by his personal observations in the field but also by easily available public information, most strikingly the remorseless up-tick of casualty statistics and enemy attacks even after the “surge” of the last few years.

But Davis has also cited an example of official military mendacity unrelated to Afghanistan that deserves more attention, since it is part of a pattern that will not go away when the troops come home.  In 2007 he was assigned to work on an enormous army weapons program known as Future Combat Systems.  It consisted of an assortment of  manned and unmanned air and ground vehicles linked by computer networks that could automatically identify enemy targets so unerringly, according to proponents, that our vehicles would need little armor.

Despite repeated test failures, witheringly chronicled in regular reports from the General Accounting Office, senior army commanders testified with equal regularity that all was well, even

displaying what was essentially a dummy in front of the Capitol as a “real” armored component of FCS.  As Davis states in his leaked unclassified report “Dereliction of Duty,” when faced with “failure after failure in physical tests” the generals “willingly and knowingly misrepresented the matter to congress.” The program relieved taxpayers of some $20 billion before defense secretary Robert Gates finally cancelled it in 2009.

Unfortunately, procurement mendacity did not begin with that ill-starred program, nor, seemingly, did it end with its timely demise.  Former inmates of the defense establishment may recall staunch official denials of bygone scandals such as the C-5A air transport cost overruns, memorably revealed by a senior air force management official, A. Ernest Fitzgerald – a commission of truth that promptly got him fired – or the Divad anti-aircraft gun, heroically defended by its army sponsors even after it mistook an outhouse fan for an enemy helicopter and ceased to function in wet weather.

It might be hoped that the urgent needs of our troops fighting in Afghanistan would spark a note of realism regarding the systems developed to help them.  Sadly, such is not the case.  The home-made bombs constructed with  farm fertilizer and torch batteries that are the Taliban’s principal and devastatingly effective weapon have sparked many a multi-million dollar countermeasure on our part.  One such is a surveillance system grandiosely christened Gorgon Stare.  Developed at a cost of $320 million, and carried on Reaper drones, it allegedly enables us, as one air force general boasted when it was first unveiled, “to see everything” over a ten square-kilometer area, including insurgents planting bombs.

However, a December 2010 report on Gorgon Stare  by a specialized air force testing unit, the 53D Wing at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida, deemed the system “not operationally effective” and “not operationally suitable.”  Its camera images could not distinguish humans from bushes, nor one vehicle from another.   It had severe problems determining where it was.  It broke down an average of 3.7 times per sortie.   The testing unit strongly recommended it not be deployed.  Undeterred by the news that their system didn’t work, the Air Force deployed Gorgon Stare to Afghanistan in February 2011,  certainly not enough time to have fixed its major technological shortcomings.   Nevertheless,  Air Force Deputy Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Larry James has declared without a blush that Gorgon Stare has been a “tremendous success since it was introduced last spring,” a claim that was repeated to me in response to detailed questions on whether the Air Force has overcome the fundamental problems unearthed by its own testers.

I emailed a marine currently deployed in the battleground of northern Helmand if his experience justified  General James’ confidence.  “I’ve never even heard of Gorgon Stare, let alone seen it in use,” he replied.  “We’re essentially using the same technology that men used in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam to defeat mine and booby trap threats – the eyeball and metal detector.”

Withdrawal from Afghanistan must mean that commanders will not longer feel the need to claim battlefield successes that are not there.  It would be nice to think that the compulsion to make no less misleading claims about vastly expensive weapons programs will also disappear, but history suggests otherwise.

ANDREW COCKBURN has been covering the US military for more than three decades.  He is a contributor to Hopeless: Barack Obama and the Politics of Illusion, forthcoming from AK Press. He can be reached at amcockburn@gmail.com


More articles by:

Andrew Cockburn is the Washington editor of Harper’s Magazine.  An Irishman, he has covered national security topics in this country for many years.  In addition to publishing numerous books, he co-produced the 1997 feature film The Peacemaker and the 2009 documentary on the financial crisis American Casino.  His latest book is Kill Chain: The Rise of the High-Tech Assassins (Henry Holt).

September 19, 2018
Bruce E. Levine
When Bernie Sold Out His Hero, Anti-Authoritarians Paid
Lawrence Davidson
Political Fragmentation on the Homefront
George Ochenski
How’s That “Chinese Hoax” Treating You, Mr. President?
Cesar Chelala
The Afghan Morass
Chris Wright
Three Cheers for the Decline of the Middle Class
Howard Lisnoff
The Beat Goes On Against Protest in Saudi Arabia
Nomi Prins 
The Donald in Wonderland: Down the Financial Rabbit Hole With Trump
Jack Rasmus
On the 10th Anniversary of Lehman Brothers 2008: Can ‘IT’ Happen Again?
Richard Schuberth
Make Them Suffer Too
Geoff Beckman
Kavanaugh in Extremis
Jonathan Engel
Rather Than Mining in Irreplaceable Wilderness, Why Can’t We Mine Landfills?
Binoy Kampmark
Needled Strawberries: Food Terrorism Down Under
Michael McCaffrey
A Curious Case of Mysterious Attacks, Microwave Weapons and Media Manipulation
Elliot Sperber
Eating the Constitution
September 18, 2018
Conn Hallinan
Britain: the Anti-Semitism Debate
Tamara Pearson
Why Mexico’s Next President is No Friend of Migrants
Richard Moser
Both the Commune and Revolution
Nick Pemberton
Serena 15, Tennis Love
Binoy Kampmark
Inconvenient Realities: Climate Change and the South Pacific
Martin Billheimer
La Grand’Route: Waiting for the Bus
John Kendall Hawkins
Seymour Hersh: a Life of Adversarial Democracy at Work
Faisal Khan
Is Israel a Democracy?
John Feffer
The GOP Wants Trumpism…Without Trump
Kim Ives
The Roots of Haiti’s Movement for PetroCaribe Transparency
Dave Lindorff
We Already Have a Fake Billionaire President; Why Would We want a Real One Running in 2020?
Gerry Brown
Is China Springing Debt Traps or Throwing a Lifeline to Countries in Distress?
Pete Tucker
The Washington Post Really Wants to Stop Ben Jealous
Dean Baker
Getting It Wrong Again: Consumer Spending and the Great Recession
September 17, 2018
Melvin Goodman
What is to be Done?
Rob Urie
American Fascism
Patrick Cockburn
The Adults in the White House Trying to Save the US From Trump Are Just as Dangerous as He Is
Jeffrey St. Clair - Alexander Cockburn
The Long Fall of Bob Woodward: From Nixon’s Nemesis to Cheney’s Savior
Mairead Maguire
Demonization of Russia in a New Cold War Era
Dean Baker
The Bank Bailout of 2008 was Unnecessary
Wim Laven
Hurricane Trump, Season 2
Yves Engler
Smearing Dimitri Lascaris
Ron Jacobs
From ROTC to Revolution and Beyond
Clark T. Scott
The Cannibals of Horsepower
Binoy Kampmark
A Traditional Right: Jimmie Åkesson and the Sweden Democrats
Laura Flanders
History Markers
Weekend Edition
September 14, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Carl Boggs
Obama’s Imperial Presidency
Joshua Frank
From CO2 to Methane, Trump’s Hurricane of Destruction
Jeffrey St. Clair
Maria’s Missing Dead
Andrew Levine
A Bulwark Against the Idiocy of Conservatives Like Brett Kavanaugh
T.J. Coles
Neil deGrasse Tyson: A Celebrity Salesman for the Military-Industrial-Complex
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail