Did you know that in 2006 after the Coast Guard budgeted $24 billion to upgrade its fleet in the largest acquisition in its history the new boats turned out not to be waterproof? Or that the hulls buckled in high seas? And that, when the project manager for Lockheed Martin tried to point all this out to superiors, he was ignored—and then dismissed? And that the only way this all ever came to the attention to the public—first through the New York Times, then via 60 Minutes, which called it a “fiasco that has set new standards for incompetence”—was after the manager, whose name is Michael DeKort—posted a video on YouTube?
Did you know that Humvees, those military patrol vehicles that were all over Iraq, were never designed to withstand impact from Improved Explosive Devices? And that, because of this fact, over 60 percent of casualties in Iraq were from IUDs? But that the military did have access to vehicles, called Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles, that could have prevented virtually all those casualties, through such simple fixes as being raised higher off the ground? A science adviser for the Marines, Franz Gayl, suggested replacing Humvees with MRAPs. After nineteen months of delays, Gayl began working his way through channels to get some action, including alerting the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Do you know what happened next? He was told by a high Pentagon official, “Absolutely not. That cannot be allowed to go forward.” So he finally contacted Sharon Weinberger of Wired’s Danger Room blog, which published documents on the scandal; from there, both Senator Biden and USA Today ran with the story and Secretary of Defense Robert Gates credited the deployment, finally, of MRAPs with saving thousands of lives.
I didn’t know any of that. Or maybe I did. So many outrages passed through during the Bush years that it was tough to remember, or even register, all of them. But I know it now. I’ve seen Robert Greenwald’s new documentary, The War on Whistleblowers, and its stories are now seared into my political brain. Not least for what happened to these guys next. You can guess: DeKort was fired. Gayl was investigated, harassed and suffered an extended suspension of his security clearances, making it impossible for him to do his work. (He only saved his job thanks to the public campaign of the Project on Government Oversight.) In one particularly chilling line in the documentary, DeKort warns other potential whistleblowers not to do it unless you’re willing to take on the worst consequences you can imagine—if you’re not willing to “go 110 percent then don’t do it at all.”