Military

Keep Promise to Military Recruits

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis

The United States lauds its military members and veterans, only to let them down when it comes to delivering on health care and additional obligations.

President Donald Trump promises strong support for the armed forces and veterans.

“I pledge my unwavering support for you, for your families and your missions. I will always have your back,” Trump said during a Fourth of July military-appreciation speech on the South Lawn of the White House.

A Pentagon recommendation to cancel contracts with thousands of recruits strains that pledge.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis holds the proposal — and the future of legal-immigrant military specialists — in his hands.

The armed forces recruited the specialists for their education, ability and knowledge in particular fields, including medicine, language and computer science. In exchange for military service, the recruits were to become U.S. citizens.

The Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, under which they were promised citizenship for service, has fallen out of favor under the Trump administration.

EVE OF DISGRACE

Mattis and Trump should support MAVNI. To do otherwise would make a mockery of the military.

Of 4,200 recruits whose status is uncertain, about 1,000 face deportation if the program is revoked.

The Pentagon and Trump bureaucracies dawdled, allowing residency permits to lapse. Those permits would have been moot, had the government kept its word to put the recruits in service.

The proposal from the Pentagon to Mattis expresses concern over “the potential threat posed by individuals who may have a higher risk of connections to foreign intelligence services,” reports National Public Radio. The Pentagon says this makes the MAVNI program too risky.

The record says otherwise.

Trauma surgeon Kusuma Nio was selected to be part of a U.S. Army Reserve deployment to Afghanistan in May, reports Stars and Stripes. Nio’s citizenship ceremony was postponed April 13, with no new date set. Nio said the Citizenship Immigration Services told him the Department of Defense has suspended all such agreements. He was not allowed to ship out with his unit, the 1st Forward Surgical Team of New York.

Nio was born in Indonesia. He trained in surgery and earned his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. He lives in Springfield, Illinois.

He is trusted and relied upon to carry out civilian emergency-surgery work in a Level 1 trauma center. His medical-trauma abilities match the great need for military surgeons in Afghanistan.

Like Nio, Ameya Kulkarni of Pittsburgh drills with the Army Reserve — in his case, the 340th Engineer Company. Kulkarni is a software engineer for an information-management company in the city.

He enlisted in March 2016 under a MAVNI agreement, reports the Tribune-Review of Warrendale, Pennsylvania.

Progress halted when Kulkarni’s recruiter told him the Army plans to subject him to a counterintelligence review.

That is counterintuitive. Kulkarni told the Tribune-Review that he passed a Tier 5 security-clearance investigation. Tier 5 is the top security level. It includes clearance for critical-sensitive, special-sensitive and top-secret material.

In 2008, Kulkarni traveled from his native India to study computer science at the University of Florida. He graduated with a master’s degree in 2010 and moved to Pittsburgh in 2015.

“I would like to contribute in the field of military intelligence or cybersecurity,” Kulkarni said.

WRONGHEADED CONCERN

The Department of Defense “ordered ‘extreme vetting’ of MAVNIs and told USCIS not to naturalize any MAVNIs until the vetting was complete,” program creator Margaret Stock told the Tribune-Review. USCIS is the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

“At the same time, DOD says it doesn’t have the resources to do the vetting that was ordered,” Stock said. “Hence, no MAVNI can ship to training and no MAVNI can get naturalized.”

Stock drew up the MAVNI program in 2007, during the administration of President George W. Bush. She presented it to the Pentagon. Stock ran the program in 2008, under the new administration of President Barack Obama. She did so for a one-year pilot with 1,000 recruits, after which the program reached full status. MAVNI has brought in about 10,400 recruits since 2009.

Stock is a retired Army lieutenant colonel and an immigration lawyer in Alaska. She has three degrees from Harvard University and another from the U.S. Army War College. She taught law at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Worry over security risks with MAVNI recruits is exaggerated, Stock told NPR. “If you were a bad guy who wanted to infiltrate the Army, you wouldn’t risk the many levels of vetting required in this program.”

Mattis, the defense secretary who is a retired Marine general, must know that the history of incorporating noncitizens into the armed forces goes back to the nation’s first days. In World War I, 20 percent of those in the military were noncitizens.

Security make sense, but not to the point of casting one’s feet in concrete. Consider that citizens and holders of green cards — noncitizens who are classified as permanent residents — can serve in the armed forces without any of the scrutiny proposed for the MAVNI recruits.

Mattis should follow his training and experience. Trump should keep his promise to back up the military.

They should continue the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program, with a workable level of security investigation. Any opposing decision would dishonor the military and the nation.

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Nuclear-Safety Secrets Endanger Public

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Our most destructive weapon is the nuclear bomb. Rigorous procedures for care and storage make the complicated weapon difficult to maintain safely.

To protect the nation and set an example for the world, the United States should publicize safety records for nuclear weapons. It should do so as the inventor of the atomic bomb, as the leader in weaponry and to set a verifiable safety standard for the few countries that have nuclear bombs.

The Pentagon has done the opposite.

In March, the office of Gen. Joseph Dunford, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, issued an instruction to classify the results of nuclear inspections, The Associated Press reported Tuesday.

The new policy will make certain that “as long as nuclear weapons exist, the U.S. will maintain a safe, secure and effective nuclear stockpile,” said the Joint Chiefs’ spokesman, Navy Capt. Greg Hicks.

Nonsense. With the people of the U.S. blocked from knowledge of the military’s nuclear-safety performance, they will have no facts — no leverage — to use when imploring their representatives, senators and president to protect them from dangerous stockpile practices.

WITNESS

History shows the need for keeping the public’s eye on nuclear-weapon safety.

In 1980, a Titan II intercontinental ballistic missile exploded in its underground silo outside of rural Damascus, Arkansas. A crew member working on the missile dropped an eight-pound socket for a wrench. It fell 80 feet before hitting the missile’s fuel tank and puncturing it. Fuel spewed in an incendiary cloud of vapor. Poor communication and disjointed decision-making delayed repair efforts. The missile exploded 8½ hours later. Its 9 megaton nuclear warhead flew 600 feet and landed 100 feet from the compound’s gate. One Air Force member was killed and 21 were injured. In 1978, a large cloud of toxic oxidizer escaped the same silo and drifted over U.S. Highway 65.

In 2011 at Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico, a promotional effort broke one of the cardinal rules of nuclear safety. Los Alamos Lab created the atomic bomb and the hydrogen bomb. Despite that history and the deep knowledge of many at the lab, technicians lined up eight plutonium rods side-by-side for a photograph. Such rods must always be kept apart to avoid spontaneous fission that can result in a lethal flash of radiation. Thankfully, a supervisor stumbled across the photo shoot and put a stop to it. However, the manner in which the display was dismantled increased the danger. The lab halted its handling of plutonium in 2013 to retrain its workers on safety standards.

In June, Los Alamos Lab shipped weapon-related nuclear material to California and South Carolina by air transport, reported the National Nuclear Safety Administration. Such shipments should be sent by ground transport to avoid loss of containment. In 1994, an Army depot in California sent plutonium to the lab by FedEx air shipment. In 2005, a FedEx package sent by a Los Alamos Lab researcher to a Pennsylvania lab resulted in radioactive contamination from the americium within.

Many reports about nuclear-weapon materiel not under military control remain open to the public because of oversight by separate governmental agencies. The Pentagon should understand that forthright safety information benefits the public and leads to improved security.

INDEPENDENT STUDY

Many more examples of dangerous circumstances at nuclear-weapon stockpiles and laboratories have been documented. The Pentagon’s secrecy effort will blind the public to future risks.

“Trust and confidence of the people is the coin of the realm for leaders and nations,” former Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel told the AP. “That requires an openness, even on sensitive issues. Certain specifics must always stay classified for national-security reasons but should be classified only when absolutely necessary. When you close down information channels and stop the flow of information, you invite questions, distrust and investigations.”

In 2014, problems with nuclear-weapon safety led Hagel to order an independent study to find solutions.

Despite Hagel’s warnings against secrecy, the new policy classifying safety results has a connection to the study he commissioned.

In conjunction with the study, the Pentagon recommended in 2014 that the Air Force “adopt the Navy’s policy” of classifying the results of nuclear-weapon inspections, said Hicks, the Joint Chief’s spokesman.

Besides Hagel, who commented on governmental secrecy generally, the AP spoke with an independent expert.

“The new policy fails to distinguish between protecting valid secrets and shielding incompetence,” said Steven Aftergood, who specializes in governmental secrecy for the Federation of American Scientists. “Clearly, nuclear-weapon-technology secrets should be protected. But negligence or misconduct in handling nuclear weapons should not be insulated from public accountability.”

The Pentagon knows that classifying the results of nuclear-weapon-safety evaluations protects no information of value from enemies. It only averts the eyes of those it serves: the people of the United States. In military parlance, this is a CYA maneuver.

Joint Chiefs Chairman Dunford should order all military nuclear-weapon-safety results to be made public.

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Syria Strike: Big League Cost

The USS Porter launches Tomahawk cruise missiles April 6.

The USS Porter launches Tomahawk cruise missiles April 6.

On the order of President Donald Trump, the Navy fired 59 Tomahawk cruise missiles at Syria’s Shayrat Air Base last week. The missiles exploded their 1,000-pound bombs on buildings and airplanes at the base.

“On Tuesday, Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad launched a horrible chemical weapons attack on innocent civilians. Using a deadly nerve agent, Assad choked out the lives of helpless men, women and children,” Trump said on the night of the April 6 strike.

The cost to replace each Tomahawk cruise missile is $1.869 million — a total of $110 million for the 59 missiles.

The president’s order to attack Syria stirred questions and discussion worldwide.

Trump’s decision demonstrated that the U.S. is willing to intervene when a country gasses its citizens. Bombing the air base from the launch site of Syria’s chemical weapon attack was appropriate.

On Aug. 21, 2013, Syria struck residents with chemical weapons. That gas attack was substantially larger than this month’s, with more victims. President Barack Obama considered military action.

Trump spoke strongly in opposition on Twitter.

On Aug. 29, 2013, Trump wrote: “Let the Arab League take care of Syria. Why are these rich Arab countries not paying us for the tremendous cost of such an attack?”

On Sept. 7, 2013, Trump wrote: “President Obama, do not attack Syria. There is no upside and tremendous downside. Save your ‘powder’ for another (and more important) day!”

Building an international coalition to oppose a heinous government by using isolation, political pressure and diplomacy is just as reasonable as a military strike.

BUSINESS CASE

One question has been mute: Was last week’s attack an efficient use of governmental funds?

This is important in light of Trump’s long campaign to reduce the cost of government.

Here is how he framed the issue in a 2000 interview: “I have made the tough decisions, always with an eye toward the bottom line. Perhaps it’s time America was run like a business.”

Was the cost of $110 million in cruise missiles — excluding the cost of operation and related materiel — a good deal?

Besides the air base limping back to use the day after the attack, the damage caused by 59 tons of precision-guided bombs showed the missiles’ limits.

In a Pentagon news conference Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis said, “I think it’s around 20 aircraft were taken out.” This corrected his Monday statement of 20 percent of Syrian Air Force craft.

Department of Defense photos above and below show bomb damage at Shayrat Air Base in Syria.

Department of Defense photos above and below show bomb damage at Shayrat Air Base in Syria.

Photos released by the Department of Defense showed that a prime target of the cruise missiles was high-strength concrete aircraft shelters. Two airplanes can be berthed under each.

The annotated photos show that seven shelters were damaged and that only one was destroyed.

An independent analysis by ISI, a satellite-imaging company, said that bombs hit 13 aircraft shelters 23 times. Some targets were hit more than once.

Bombs hit 10 ammunition depots, ISI said, along with seven fuel depots, five workshops and five SA6 motorized missile launchers, one of which was destroyed.

Despite a total of 44 targets hit by bombs, ISI said, “it seems that the overall damage to the base is limited.”

Cruise missiles are unlike rocket-powered missiles that shoot upward, then dive to their targets. Tomahawks are maneuverable airplanes with small wings and tails, and powered by jet engines. They fly an evasive course, close to the ground, guided by GPS and have remote operators who can change direction.

The Tomahawk’s precision aiming is renowned. The 59 cruise missiles’ failure to knock out a modest Syrian base is a disappointment.

Bottom line, the decision to bomb Shayrat Air Base did not produce a businesslike gain.

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