Hello & Welcome

Welcome to my Blog! Thanks for stopping by. I'll be posting from time to time my adventures in writing and my trials and tribulations in the publishing world, along with anything relevant in regards to current events, the U.S. Air Force, and the U.S. Intelligence community that appears in the press. Please note that anything I post is not reflective or representative of any official position of the U.S. Government, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. Air Force; only my views and opinions as a private citizen.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Is Disclosing Classified Information a Crime?

Fox News reported today that Senator Dianne Feinstein (D - California), a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence (SSCI), during a public committee hearing last week, apparently compromised the use of a Pakistani airbase by U.S. Predator drones. The SSCI was questioning the new Director of National Intelligence Dennis Blair about the threat assessment he had just delivered to the committee. The Fox News article quoted her as follows:

" 'Mr. Holbrooke, in Pakistan, ran into considerable concern about the use of the Predator strikes in the FATA area of Pakistan," Feinstein said to Blair, referring to Richard Holbrooke, President Obama's special envoy to Pakistan and Afghanistan. "And yet, as I understand it, these are flown out of a Pakistani base.' "

The fact that Predators were flying from a Pakistani airbase had apparently been determined to be a classified fact by the Department of Defense and presumably by both President Bush's and President Obama's administrations. As a member of the SSCI, Senator Feinstein, along with members of her professional staff, would have been required to sign non-disclosure agreements formally acknowledging that she was obligated to protect classified national security information and ensure it was not improperly disclosed to unauthorized individuals.

Had a professional member of the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), or Intelligence Community (IC) had publicized or provided to a member of the news media this fact, they would likely have been guilty of violating U.S. Code, Title 18, Part I, Chapter 37, Section 793, paragraph D of U.S. law.

Assuming the professional member of the DoD or U.S. IC had been identified and prosecuted, the penalty under the law, as identified in 18 USC, Part I, Chapter 37, Section 793 is a fine and/or ten years imprisonment. The individual would also have had his or her security clearance rescinded immediately, and have likely had been placed on administrative leave.

If, in fact, the presence of the Predator airbase inside Pakistan was a classified fact, and that Senator Feinstein was informed that this information was classified; you would expect that she would be prosecuted for this violation of law.

I would I sincerely hope that the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia, and the FBI Field Office, would conduct an investigation into this disclosure. However, I'm quite sure that as a sitting U.S. Senator, she will be given far more latitude for her verbal faux pas, the internal embarrassment an admittedly imperfect ally must now suffer, and her potential violation of U.S. law.

It's a shame that the more common U.S. citizen or career employee of the U.S. government would not likely receive the same treatment.

Monday, February 16, 2009

America's CEO and His Travel Costs in a Down Economy

As the Chief Executive of the United States, and the Commander-in-Chief of our nation's military forces, the President of the United States has many responsibilities and has some unique security requirements and communications needs when he or she is away from the White House.

As many Americans know, the aircraft the President generally travels on is known by the military designation VC-25, a heavily modified Boeing 747, costing $325 million each (we bought two back in 1987). The VC-25 is often mistakenly referred to as Air Force One. The call sign 'Air Force One' is used only when the President is aboard the VC-25 or any aircraft.

What is lesser known, is that Presidential airlift missions, managed and operated by the U.S. Air Force, include the movement of Secret Service personnel, armored cars, and other support equipment and personnel. The Air Force usually moves these people with two or more C-17 or C-5 heavy lift aircraft.

According to an article in USA Today in June of 2004, operating the VC-25 costs roughly $56,800 per hour. In 2009, with fuel costs higher than in 2004, we can probably make a good guess that a flight hour for the VC-25 is in the $65,000 - $75,000 range, but I'll use the $56,800 per hour rate for this discussion.

According to a GAO report on Presidential travel costs issued during August 2000, operating a C-17 cost $6,664 per flight hour. The GAO report was requested by Rep. Henry Waxman (D), of the 30th District of California.

If we assume that a quick trip to Phoenix by the President requires two C-17's to move the support personnel and equipment, and the use of the VC-25 for four hours for the actual presidential movement, the total cost just on the air travel side alone would be $280,512 one way and $561,024 for the round trip. These costs are obviously conservative, given that they have likely increased over time. They also don't include: the cost of the helicopter flight to and from Andrews AFB, to board/de-plane from the VC-25, the salaries of the Secret Service advance and protection details, gas for the convoy of cars he'll use while he's there, or the helicopter they may fly him around in.

I sincerely hope, that in addition to:

  • Trying to end inflated executive compensation packages for bankers and other businessmen who oversee failing institutions
  • Mandating that members of his administration have their pay frozen
  • Cheering on (properly) as his former congressional colleauges disparage Detroit automakers fly on private jets (at roughly $20,000 round trip)

The President takes a serious look at how he spends taxpayer dollars on his own travel.

Certainly the President has unique security and communications needs. But he can take smaller Air Force jets, costing less to operate, or better yet, he can use a Video Teleconferencing system like other corporate leaders, rather than traveling at all. Surely, the White House has one.