The High Cost of the Old Boy's Club: Navy Scandal Edition

[Content note: rape, sexual assault, sex work, homophobia. The linked survivor’s stories contain specific descriptions of rapes.]

Last week, Craig Whitlock at the Washington Post offered a devastating look at one of the biggest corruption scandals in United States military history. It surrounds Leonard Glenn Francis, a defense contractor who bribed Naval personnel and defrauded the United States out of millions of dollars, for years on end:

In perhaps the worst national-security breach of its kind to hit the Navy since the end of the Cold War, Francis doled out sex and money to a shocking number of people in uniform who fed him classified material about U.S. warship and submarine movements. Some also leaked him confidential contracting information and even files about active law enforcement investigations into his company.

He exploited the intelligence for illicit profit, brazenly ordering his moles to redirect aircraft carriers to ports he controlled in Southeast Asia so he could more easily bilk the Navy for fuel, tugboats, barges, food, water and sewage removal.

…Francis and his firm have admitted to defrauding the Navy of $35 million, though investigators believe the real amount could be much greater.

Francis and two of the contractors who worked for him have pleaded guilty to federal crimes, as have four Navy officers, one enlisted man, and a NCIS agent. More were charged last week and many more—at least 200, including 30 admirals—remain under investigation. Using classified infomration obtained via a stunning array of bribes, Francis’s Singapore-based company, Glenn Defense Marine, won contracts for which it wildly overcharged. This not only cost taxpayers millions, it posed a grave threat to Navy security. At the January trial of the first sailor convicted of wrongdoing in the case, the prosecution laid out the potential damage:

“He put the U.S. Navy at risk of embarrassment, exploitation, attack, or worse; and in doing so he made a fool of every senior sailor who had promoted him to a position of responsibility,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Mark W. Pletcher wrote in a court brief in advance of Layug’s sentencing.

…“As seems abundantly obvious, in the wrong hands, this information would provide a substantial advantage to those intent on doing our Sailors, our Navy, and our Nation harm, essentially allowing them to know when and where to plan an attack,” wrote Pletcher, the federal prosecutor overseeing the case.

Those who attempted to blow the whistle didn’t get very far. From last week's story:

Francis threw a Christmas party for the visiting officers at the Island Shangri-La, a five-star hotel. They were treated to filet mignon, lobster and Dom Pérignon champagne, and they mingled with female escorts dressed as Santa’s little helpers, according to Schaus and a second officer who was present in port.

A handful of senior officers were invited to an after-party with the escorts, whom Francis had dubbed the “Santa Niñas,” or Santa’s girls, according to a third individual who was present.

The next day, Francis boarded one of the warships and delivered a $600,000 sewage bill, according to the second officer, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he remains on active duty and wasn’t authorized to speak to a reporter.

“He came into my office with a big grin wanting to be paid,” the officer said. The officer protested and brought up the lavish party from the night before. “I came right out and told Francis that we were paying for it with this bill.”

The officer said he lost the argument, and Francis got what he wanted.

One of the points that Whitlock’s terrific reporting uncovers is how many of the bribes used by Francis involved sex work. Although he used a variety of other bribes, ranging from iPhones and theatre tickets to straight up cash payments, the extent to which he used sex to get secrets is stunning. He kept extensive notes on the sexual preferences of various officers and maintained extensive contacts with escort agencies in several countries in order to be able to offer sexual services to Naval men in many different Asian ports. In Hong Kong, the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, and other places, luxury hotels and the services of sex workers were some of his most important tools. In some cases, sex workers not only provided services, but also gathered additional information for Francis.

It’s not exactly news that sailors like sex. But there's a context here that is important. While winking at the (often married) heterosexual men receiving sexual favors courtesy a defense contractor, the Navy was also busily discharging sailors who happened to be gay, lesbian or bisexual. The cost of discharging military personnel from all services in the first ten years of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell has been estimated between $190.5 million to $363.5 million. By 2010, more than 13,000 individuals had been discharged under DADT, and increasingly, they were disproportionately women of all races and men of color The US Navy alone, for the years 1997-2005 (the only years for which I could find data broken down by service) discharged 2,483 personnel for DADT.

Another piece of context for this is the piss-poor job the Navy and other branches of the service were doing dealing with rape and sexual assault. In 2013, the year that investigators finally closed in on Leonard Francis’ corruption ring, there were 1,057 incidents of sexual assault reported in the Navy alone. Women in the Marines and the Navy were at highest risk for sexual assault, when compared to the other services. And a 2013 Rand survey found that a whopping 62 percent of military women who reported sexual assault received some form of retaliation.

The stories of retaliation against women reporting are appalling, particularly the technique of diagnosing survivors with mental illness and then booting them, not their attackers, from the service. Amy Quinn, dismissed from the Navy for having a “personality disorder” after reporting her rape. Jenny McLendon, who received the same diagnosis after reporting. Samantha Jarrett, diagnosed with depression and medically discharged. “Carrie Ann,” another woman with a depressingly familiar story:

The day after her release from the hospital, Carrie Anne returned to duty, but she had missed the morning muster. A petty officer first class confronted her about that.

“I told him I had just gotten out of the hospital and had been raped,” Carrie Anne said. 'He yelled at me for using the word 'rape.'” What female members of the Navy were supposed to say was they were involved in a SAPR case.” SAPR stands for Sexual Assault Prevention and Response.

Shortly after this reprimand, Carrie Anne said she was called into the office of the Chief Petty Officer in charge of her division. She had requested a change of location in her residence because her attacker lived nearby.

“He said he wasn't going to put an innocent man behind bars,” Carrie Anne said. “He said he didn't want 'stagnant water in his Navy.'”

”Carrie Anne” was medically discharged against her will. All charges were dropped against her attacker.

My point, here it is:

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that the same culture that persecutes rape survivors rather than rapists was willing to wink at heterosexual men receiving sexual bribes from a defense contractor. I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that a military culture paranoid about rooting out the private lives of gay service members simply ignored the actual threat to security posed by the sailors receiving bribes from Leonard. Heterosexual adultery can be grounds for charges under the UCMJ if the behavior “was to the prejudice of good order and discipline in the armed forces or was of a nature to bring discredit upon the armed forces.” While I’m actually not too thrilled at the idea of the military rooting around in people’s private lives, it does seem to me that letting a defense contractor hire sex workers for an officer is about as prejudicial to good order as it gets. Yet adultery is more often used as a lesser charge to help rapists escape appropriate punishment, or as a threat against survivors who try to report rape.

The connecting thread here is a culture of straight male entitlement: entitlement to sex, to bribes, even to a job in the face of crimes against other sailors. It’s a poisonous stew that is actively harmful to good discipline and yes, to military safety and security. All those years of rooting out queer sailors, all those years of dismissing women who reported their rapes, helped keep the Navy a Straight Old Boy’s Club. But queer folk and rape survivors weren't the problem. The Boy's Club was the problem. If the Leonard Francis scandal doesn't prompt more people to give a damn about changing the Navy's culture, then I don't know what will.

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