WHERE IS THE HONESTY AND HONOR IN AIR FORCE LEADERSHIP’S CONDUCT REGARDING THE TANKER LEASE PROPOSAL AND RELATED CONGRESSIONAL PROBES?
BY SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN, R-AZ
04 Mar 05. Keerigan Media reports that nearly three years ago, behind closed doors, appropriators slipped a $30 billion rider in the fiscal 2002 defense appropriations bill. This rider authorized the Air Force to lease from Boeing up to 100 767s for use as aerial refueling tankers. Before the rider appeared in the bill, Air Force leadership never came to the authorizing committees about it. In fact, tankers have never come up in either the president’s budget or the Department of Defense’s unfunded priority list. The Air Force’s tanker lease program was borne of a virgin birth.
The rider was in fact the result of an aggressive behind-the-scenes effort by Boeing, with considerable assistance from senior Air Force procurement official Darleen Druyun and others. After the president signed that bill into law, the Air Force embarked on negotiating with Boeing on a lease that would have cost taxpayers about $6 billion more than buying them would have. Soon after, Air Force Secretary Jim Roche submitted to the four defense committees a report on plans to lease these tankers from Boeing, three out of the four summarily approved the lease—without even looking at the contract. Two did so without even holding a single hearing. Much to his credit, Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner held the line and refused to authorize the proposal. Through the hearings and investigations that followed, we unearthed a crushing body of evidence on how much a folly the proposal actually was.
Throughout 2002 and the beginning of 2003, even agencies within DoD and the Air Force, including Program, Analysis and Evaluation, the Office of Management and Budget, and even the Air Force’s own General Counsel’s Office, raised salient concerns about aspects of the proposal. These concerns, however, would not get in the way of Air Force leadership. Rather than resolve these concerns, Air Force proponents continued to aggressively push the deal in the press. A Wall Street Journal editorial, entitled “John McCain’s Flying Circus,” published on the very same day as my tanker hearing in the Commerce Committee, is particularly notable. It was obviously drafted with considerable help from the Office of the Air Force Secretary. In it, tanker proponents accused me of “trying to prevent approval by running up my own ‘Jolly Roger’” and brazenly exaggerated the Air Force’s need for tankers by describing how, during Secretary Roche’s visit to Tinker Air Force Base, he “peeled back the skin of a tanker being refurbished and found the metal underneath disintegrating before his very eyes.”
By this time, Air Force leadership’s aggressive press campaign was well underway. On April 25, 2002, Roche special assistant William Bodie told Roche that he “saw Rudy deLeon [who heads Boeing’s Washington Office] at the Kennedy Center and politely asked the Great White Arab Tribe of the North [which is what these folks called Boeing] to unleash their falcons on our behalf for once. And, I talked to [defense analyst] Loren [Thompson], who is standing by to comment to this reporter about the national security imperatives of tanker modernization. [Editor of Defense News and Air Force Times] Vago [Muradian] is also standing by. I will get with [Assistant Air Force Secretary for Acquisitions Marvin] Sambur first thing to rehearse talking points. We will get with you before we talk to the reporter.” Among the falcons that Boeing “unleashed” was an op-ed that subsequently appeared in Vago Muradian’s Defense News. This piece, which strongly endorsed Boeing’s tanker lease, was supposedly written by former Commander-in-Chief for U.S. Pacific Fleet Admiral Archie Clemins. However, Clemins has admitted, and Boeing’s emails reflect, that it was, in fact, ghostwritten and placed by Boeing. As this ind