WASHINGTON -- "I'm off to speak again with my Little Darlings at the Academy," said then Air Force Secretary James Roche's April 28, 2002, e-mail to Robin Cleveland, assistant director of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB). Roche trusted Cleveland sufficiently to put in writing his dismissive description of female Air Force Academy cadets who had been raped. Indeed, 11 days later on May 9, Cleveland was asking Roche for help in getting her brother a job with a big defense contractor.
Roche complied, though Peter Cleveland ultimately did not get the job with Northrop Grumman. In responding to Robin Cleveland, Roche put in a plug for the attempted $23.5 billion sweetheart deal for the Boeing Co. to build tankers for the Air Force: "Be well. Smile. Give tankers now. (Oops, did I say that?)" On May 15, Robin Cleveland sent her brother an e-mail about his upcoming interview at Northrop Grumman: "Great. Hope it works before the tanker leasing deal gets fouled up." But Cleveland reversed OMB opposition to the tankers.
A multi-billion dollar bailout for a troubled aircraft manufacturer entangled with a senior government official trying to place her brother in the defense industry confirms President Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning of the military-industrial complex. The reluctant, partial release of documents uncovers more evidence of how the complex works.
Boeing's tanker deal appeared set until 2002 when protests were heard from two Republican senators, John McCain of Arizona and Phil Gramm of Texas. Since then, the deal has been killed and reputations destroyed. Former Boeing executive Michael Sears Friday was sentenced to four months in prison for negotiating to hire Defense procurement official Darleen Druyun, who is serving a nine-month sentence.
Nevertheless, the Pentagon still resists McCain's quest for information. In a Jan. 27 letter to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, McCain protested that "the Department's production of documents has been riddled by disruption, obfuscation and delay. Some documents were doctored; others that should have been produced were improperly withheld."
McCain and his staff are not handed documents but are forced to copy them by hand. Even the recent ruling by the Pentagon's inspector general that Roche violated military ethics laws was labeled "FOUO (For Official Use Only)." It is not supposed to be publicly distributed, and a Feb. 10 report in the Washington Post constitutes its only publication, with Inspector General Joseph Schmitz paraphrased rather than quoted.
The actual language by Schmitz, in a Jan. 31 letter to senators, is harsh: "We substantiated the allegation that Secretary Roche's e-mail constituted a use of public office for private gain in violation of the applicable DOD [Department of Defense] ethics regulations. Because the e-mail implied Air Force sanction for employment recommended in behalf of Ms. Cleveland's brother, Secretary Roche's e-mail also violated DOD standards that govern personal use of the government communications system."
The inspector general noted that he has provided superiors with the results of the investigation but made no recommendations for penalties. The reason: Roche has finally left his Air Force office after a long lame-duck period.
Roche tried to keep secret his e-mails with Cleveland on grounds they had nothing do with the Boeing tanker deal. Atty. Gen. Alberto Gonzales, then White House counsel, told McCain in the senator's office that correspondence about Cleveland's brother "was just a joke." In fact, it was deadly serious, and Ms. Cleveland herself raised the tanker deal in connection with her brother's job.
One message July 24, 2002, to Roche from now retired Maj. Gen. LeRoy Barnidge admits outright that the Air Force was stalling McCain's efforts to get to the bottom of the case. Barnidge contended McCain aide Chris Paul "has been playing a pretty heavy game with us," and the general revealed "I have been stalling" Paul's requests, and referred to "this game with Chris."
Boeing's survivors sound penitent of the way they played "this game," but the Air Force is still covering up. Roche left his office unrepentant and continues to be excused and celebrated at the highest levels of the Pentagon. That's why it is important for John McCain to keeping digging into the foundations of the military-industrial complex.