- By Thomas E. RicksThomas E. Ricks covered the U.S. military from 1991 to 2008 for the Wall Street Journal and then the Washington Post. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Walter Pincus of the Washington Post, a veteran of Army counterintelligence, is one of the outstanding journalists of our time, but his latest crusade against military bands seems to me to be off target. Yes, spending $4 million on a band facility for a unit with just 5,500 troops (the Army Materiel Command) is wrong. But that money is so small compared to the waste of things like rank inflation (that is, generals doing things that lieutenant colonels used to do). Or maybe the whole ballistic missile defense program, which strikes me as the coastal artillery of our time.
But mainly, don’t look at weapons and front-line units, look at the bloated support structure, and all the spending on defense contracting that goes to double-dipping retired generals and colonels. I also suspect that in the swamp of the national security establishment, one of the wettest places is intelligence, especially the production of data and analysis that really is publicly available. A former CIA director once told me that the biggest surprise to him in the job was that the agency really wasn’t ahead of the newspapers much. I think there are billions of dollars sloshing around Northern Virginia there. Just go have a drink in the bar at the Tysons Corner Ritz Carlton sometime. I suspect the taxpayer is picking up the tab for most of those martinis being sipped by former CIA station chiefs.