The US Navy’s “Fat Leonard” Scandal: How the Virtuous Fall

Last March, the U.S. Department of Justice unsealed the latest indictment in the so-called “Fat Leonard” corruption scandal that has haunted the Navy since 2014 and continues to grow. “Fat Leonard” is Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian citizen and the owner of Glenn Defense Marine Asia (GDMA), which provided support to the Navy’s Seventh Fleet in Southeast Asia from 2006-2014. When Navy ships pull into foreign ports, local companies are contracted to provide marine husbanding, port security, refueling and waste management services, ground transportation for sailors and Marines in port, etc. GDMA offered these services, but also much more: for a number of senior Navy officials, Francis paid for prostitutes, extravagant meals, luxury hotel stays, and other travel expenses, and provided gifts of both cash and goods. All he asked for in return was assurances that Seventh Fleet ships would use ports Francis controlled, classified information about Navy operations (including ships’ schedules), sensitive information on the business practices of his competitors, and assistance in facilitating a price gouging scheme that yielded GMDA excess profits of $35 million over eight years. The total number of people charged in the “Fat Leonard” scandal now comes to 27, including two admirals, fifteen other senior active duty naval officers, an NCIS special agent, and two contracting supervisors; another 200 additional individuals remain under scrutiny by prosecutors. This was a full-fledged cultural problem, not just a case of a few bad apples.

The details of what these men got up to in port are quite salacious, but my focus in this post is instead on what this scandal exposes about how corruption can spread among decorated public servants and what can be done to prevent similar scandals in the future. Every single one of the senior officers charged had been trained to be self-disciplined and to put mission and country above self—it’s what those of us who serve in the military vow to do. Each officer had a long and distinguished career before becoming entangled with Francis and his lurid scheme. Yet each sold his integrity, and sold out his country, for immediate gratification. Why? Continue reading

Guest Post: Rolling Back Anticorruption

Laurence Cockcroft, a founding board member of, and current advisor to, Transparency International, contributes today’s guest post:

The global campaign against corruption has become a cornerstone of Western foreign and development policy for the last 25 years. This campaign built on a number of earlier measures, most notably the 1977 enactment of the US Foreign Corrupt Practices Act (FCPA), which criminalized foreign bribery by companies under US jurisdiction, but the campaign really accelerated beginning in the late 1990s. For example, while European countries had resisted adopting legislation similar to the FCPA for 20 years, this changed with the adoption of the OECD Anti-Bribery Convention in 1997, which was followed a few years later by the 2002 UN Convention Against Corruption. International financial institutions like the World Bank have become more aggressive about debarment of contractors found to have behaved corruptly, and we have also seen the proliferation of corporate-level ethical codes, promoted by organizations like the World Economic Forum and UN Global Compact, designed to prevent corrupt behavior.

More recent initiatives have pushed for greater corporate transparency. For example, in the United States, the Dodd-Frank Act ended the aggregation of corporate income across countries; an EU Directive promulgated shortly afterwards imposed similar requirements. More recently, an initiative to disclose the true beneficial owners of corporations and other legal entities, pushed by former British Prime Minister David Cameron, has already taken legislative form in the United Kingdom; beneficial ownership transparency is also the subject of an EU Directive, and was being promoted by the Obama administration. And although the so-called “offshore centers” have yet to embrace similar transparency of beneficial ownership, regulatory systems in these centers have been significantly improved. There have also been a number of important sector-level initiatives, particularly in the resources sector. These include the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI)—which requires participating governments of mineral and energy exporting countries, as well as companies in the extractive sector, to commit to a process of revenue transparency—as well as national-level laws, such as Section 1504 of the Dodd-Frank Act, which impose so-called “publish what you pay” obligations on extractive firms.

Even more encouragingly, this gradually improving regulatory environment has been accompanied by growing public opposition to corruption, as reflected in large-scale demonstrations around the world. Crowds on the streets, for example, have recently supported the proposed prosecutions of the current and past Presidents of Brazil, and opposed weakening of anticorruption laws in Romania.

But in spite of public opinion, the forces opposed to anticorruption initiatives have never gone away. The arrival of President Trump has let many of them loose both inside and outside the United States: Continue reading

Guest Post: The US and Afghanistan Need a New, Long-Term Anticorruption Strategy

Ahmad Shah Katawazai, Defense Liaison at the Embassy of Afghanistan to the United States, contributes the following guest post:

President-elect Trump has declared that he will stop American taxpayers’ money from being squandered abroad. This position poses a threat to a continued US presence in Afghanistan, in light of Afghanistan’s endemic corruption. Retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, President-Elect Trump’s pick to be National Security Advisor, has been arguing from a long time that abetting corrupt officials–“backing thugs”–would tarnish the U.S. military’s reputation. Thus Trump might threaten Afghan officials that the US will cut off foreign aid if the Afghan government fails to crack down on corruption.

The U.S.-led coalition mission in Afghanistan laid the foundations for systemic corruption right from the start of the war in 2001. The U.S. provided millions of dollars in cash to the so-called warlords, as well as opium and arms smugglers. These warlords and criminals needed to protect themselves, and they found that the best way to do so was to secure high-level governmental positions. It is these people who are mainly responsible for running the mafia-style corruption machine in Afghanistan.

Yet Western policymakers neglected this problem, largely because they were focusing more on security as their top priority. What these policymakers failed to grasp was the fact that corruption could turn into a serious security threat in Afghanistan. For too long the focus was solely on fighting the insurgents, but corruption undermined this fight by fueling grievances against the Afghan government and the West. Corruption, including the diversion of Afghan resources and donor aid for the private gain of the political elite, impoverished and alienated the common people. Public anger over massive graft and corruption in the country turned people against the government and the West, thus strengthening the ranks of Taliban. Moreover, according to the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR)‘s recent report, “U.S. money was flowing to the insurgency via corruption.” Corruption in Afghanistan cuts across all aspects of the society, with 90% of Afghans saying that corruption is a problem in their daily lives, and this endemic corruption threatens the legitimacy of Afghanistan’s government.

What has been achieved in the past 15 years in Afghanistan—at the cost of billions of dollars and the sacrifices of thousands of lives—today remains at jeopardy. The country is in a fragile and vulnerable position. Yet it would be shortsighted for the US to simply disengage, or threaten to cut off aid if the Afghan government fails to crack down sufficiently. What is needed both from the Afghan government and the new U.S. administration is a unified, long-term, practical, results-oriented strategy that could produce solid outcomes. It would be wise for the Trump administration to come up with such a strategy. Afghanistan should remain a priority because of its geo-strategic location and an important U.S. ally in the region. Given the existing circumstances and the need to bolster Afghanistan’s security and economy, and to prevent the country from becoming a safe haven for terrorists and insurgents, a long-term commitment and a coherent strategy to get corruption under control would be in the interests of both the U.S. and Afghan governments.

TNI’s Gold Mine: Corruption and Military-Owned Businesses in Indonesia

The Grasberg Mine, located close to the highest mountain in West Papua, Indonesia, is the world’s largest gold mine and third-largest copper mine. The mine, owned by the corporation Freeport-McMoRan Copper & Gold, has been the site of strings of grave human rights abuses, linked to Indonesia’s own National Armed Forces (Tentara National Indonesia/TNI). TNI’s presence in the territory is ostensibly to protect the mine, and Freeport’s Indonesian subsidiary acknowledges having made payments of as much as US$4.7 million in 2001 and US$5.6 million in 2002 for such government-provided security. A report by Global Witness, however, revealed numerous other payments ranging from US$200 to US$60,000 that Freeport Indonesia allegedly made to individual military officers.

The TNI’s sale of security services to companies like Freeport is only one of the many business ventures conducted by the TNI and its officers. As Human Rights Watch has reported, the Indonesian military has been supplementing its income through both its formally established companies, and through informal and often illicit businesses such as black market dealing. Moreover, the military’s business activities (both lawful and unlawful) are largely shielded from public scrutiny: budgeting for military purposes is generally kept secret, and TNI members generally refuse to answer questions about institutional spending.

Military-owned business in Indonesia are problematic, not only because this private-sector activity impedes military professionalism and distorts the function of the military, but also because it also contributes to crime, human rights abuses, and especially corruption. This problem is greatly compounded by the fact that TNI officers generally enjoy immunity from corruption charges brought by civilian institutions. In fact, the Transparency International’s Defense and Security Program has deemed Indonesia one of the countries most prone to corruption in its defense and security institutions. It is therefore appalling that this issue has not been addressed more seriously by the Indonesian government. Although a 2004 law mandated the transfer of control over TNI businesses to the civilian government within five years, the law did not clearly specify which types of business activities were covered, and this legal loophole enabled the TNI to preserve many of its moneymaking ventures, including TNI’s infamous security services—to say nothing of already-illegal criminal enterprises and illicit corporations. Moreover, despite the five-year timetable in the law, the government has been notably reluctant to enforce the transfer of ownership, making repeated excuses alluding vaguely to the need for the TNI to compensate for the lack of budgeting for security purposes. As a result, despite some efforts to reform the way the TNI is allowed to handle its businesses, military-owned businesses in Indonesia continues to flourish, with the Indonesian people of Indonesia having to pay the price.

The government’s weak response towards the military’s non-compliance with the 2004 law is merely one of the many indicators of how impervious the TNI’s power and seeming impunity. There are factors that contribute to this impunity, along with the corresponding corruption and abuse of power in the operations of military-owned businesses: Continue reading

Not My Neighbor’s Keeper: Military Corruption and International Peacekeeping

There are few more troubling examples of how corruption can both create and sustain violent conflict than the current crisis in Nigeria. As Liz emphasized in a recent post, many observers believe that rampant corruption may have contributed to the rise of Boko Haram, and may also be one of the primary reasons for the Nigerian military’s difficulty in combating the threat posed by this group. While Liz focused on the reasons why it might be particularly difficult to combat corruption in the Nigerian military, I would like to take up a different issue: the ways in which military corruption is currently perceived and addressed by members of the international community.

The dichotomy between the treatment of certain instances of military corruption, and the international community’s perception of the problems posed by this phenomenon, is perhaps best illustrated by the coverage that two different examples of military corruption have received in recent months. First, as mentioned above, coverage of the role that military corruption has played in Nigeria’s ability to ward off Boko Haram and its potential impact upon the surrounding region has been widespread.  Second, the Chinese government has released the names of 14 generals in the People’s Liberation Army suspected of corruption – a move that has been seen as part of a broader anticorruption effort by the new regime and that has been justified, at least in part, by the fact that these officials’ corruption has potentially undermined the “military readiness” of Chinese forces. This development has been largely viewed as a purely domestic concern for China and received relatively little news coverage.  Yet, while the treatment of these two events by the international community may differ dramatically, the root of both of these problems – military corruption – is the same.

It is not particularly surprising that the problems posed by military corruption in China and Nigeria have been treated differently by outside commentators. After all, the threat posed by Boko Haram is a serious one, with potentially significant import for international security. However the fact that there can be such a swift change between a situation in which rampant military corruption can be categorized best as simply a “local concern” – an absence of military readiness amongst a state’s armed forces or too many supplies gone missing – and instances, such as those in Nigeria, in which military corruption in one state can implicate the security of an entire region suggests, perhaps, that there may be some merit in reframing how we think about the phenomenon of military corruption.

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Sunlight and Secrecy: Whistleblowing, Corruption, and the NSA

While press coverage of the US National Security Agency (NSA) has been dominated by revelations, and concerns, regarding the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs, recently this organization has been in the news for an altogether different reason. A number of recent articles have highlighted the remarkably porous nature of the relationship between the NSA and the private sector as well as potentially improper conduct on the part of a number of NSA officials. In October alone, several stories emerged regarding the fact that: (1) the husband of a high-ranking NSA official was registered as the resident agent of a private signals intelligence consulting firm located at the pair’s residence while the official herself served as the resident agent for an office and electronics business, also headquartered at her home; (2) the NSA’s Chief Technical Officer had been permitted to work for up to 20 hours a week for a private cybersecurity firm while still holding his post; and (3) the former head of the NSA had founded a private consulting company shortly after his retirement in spite of the fact that many commentators have questioned the degree to which he will be able to set aside confidential information he learned during the course of his time as the head of this organization.

To be clear, while a few commentators have thrown around the term “corruption” when discussing the apparent impropriety of some of these arrangements, there have been no allegations that the officials involved broke any laws or otherwise acted in a manner that can be deemed “corrupt” in any formal sense. Nonetheless, this cluster of incidents provides an opportunity to pause and reflect upon the inherent difficulties of identifying and addressing instances of corruption within the context of an organization which is extremely insular and unavoidably secretive. More specifically, the crucial part that whistleblowers and the media have played in bringing these incidents to light raises the question of what role, if any, we believe that greater transparency may play in exposing instances of corruption within the NSA. Sunlight may be the best disinfectant, as Justice Brandeis famously noted, but can or should it play a role when the organization in question is, by necessity, shrouded in secrecy?

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“Ghost Money”: Thinking About State Bribery in the National Interest

“It is difficult to overstate the profoundly negative impact that corruption has on society.  The abuse of entrusted power for private gain does violence to our values, our prosperity, and even our security.” — Secretary of State John Kerry

For a government so concerned with the fight against corruption, the United States sure does bribe a lot.  In fact, only months before Secretary Kerry delivered those remarks in December 2013, the New York Times revealed that the Central Intelligence Agency had been delivering millions of dollars in “ghost money” — packed in “suitcases, backpacks, and on occasion, plastic shopping bags” — to the office of Afghan President Hamid Karzai for more than a decade.  In a way, this story was old news; it’s been known for years that the CIA has done everything from slipping little blue pills to local Afghan chieftains to bankrolling members of the Afghan National Security Council.  As it turns out, bribing foreign officials in the name of national security has been a standard practice at the CIA for decades, one that the public seems to have tacitly accepted.

Standard practice or not, how can one reconcile this state-sponsored corruption with the U.S. government’s efforts to combat transnational bribery?  Is it hypocritical for the U.S. Department of Justice to punish private firms that bribe foreign officials, while the CIA is bribing those same officials at the same time?

Perhaps in some cases it might be, but there a couple of possible justifications for aggressively prosecuting private bribery while at the same time accepting the permissibility of state-sponsored bribery (at least under some circumstances):

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