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Monday, November 21, 2016

The Pentagon Just Plagiarized Wikipedia

If the best the Pentagon can do is rely on Wikipedia, then it is time to question the bloat at the Pentagon, especially among civilian staffers.


Deputy Secretary of Defense Bob Work appeared recently before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to address the intelligence community’s support for the Defense Department. The Committee and witnesses addressed many issues, but perhaps the most shocking was the revelation that the Defense Department plagiarized Wikipedia in order to justify its decision to build a Joint Intelligence Analysis Center (JIAC) at RAF Croughton in the United Kingdom rather than utilize the existing infrastructure at Lajes Field in the Azores, a strategic US base from which the Pentagon is currently withdrawing after a decades-long presence. If the best the Pentagon can do is rely on Wikipedia, then it is time to question the bloat at the Pentagon, especially among civilian staffers.

A bit of background:

The Pentagon report appeared to deny the existence of infrastructure which was there and seemed to get the cost of living on the Azores wrong.The Pentagon’s decision to abandon Lajes Field raised eyebrows in Congress because the Chinese have made no secret of their desire to move in and take over what the United States leaves behind. The Pentagon, however, insisted – and Work signed letters to Congressional committees to the effect – that it considered a number of locations across Europe to host a new JIAC and found that Lajes Field did not meet the necessary financial or technical criteria.

This made no sense to people who had been to Lajes, as the Pentagon report appeared to deny the existence of infrastructure which was there and seemed to get the cost of living on the Azores wrong. The Azores is among the cheapest places in Europe to live, while the United Kingdom is among Europe’s most expensive locations. Subsequently, documents emerged showing the Pentagon never actually considered locations outside of southeastern England, where the per diem and living allowances given to personnel are high and where Defense employees and contractors can go to London on the weekend. The Government Accountability Office examined the Defense Department’s criteria and found the process severely lacking.

The simple facts are these:

To locate the JIAC in Croughton will cost US taxpayers upwards of $1 billion over the next decade or so. Not only is the decision to base the JIAC at Croughton arbitrary, but it represents a strategic fumble given Chinese Atlantic ambitions and the need to maintain Lajes for anti-submarine warfare as well, given increasing Russian aggressive submarine operations in the Atlantic. On Work’s watch, the Pentagon actively and repeatedly lied to Congress about its decision and the work that went into it.

Here’s the problem:

Plagiarizing Wikipedia to make a billion dollar decision can’t be blamed on one person.Plagiarizing Wikipedia to make a billion dollar decision can’t be blamed on one person. Work (and his boss Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter) oversee a bureaucracy with multiple levels in which supervisors are supposed to fact-check and pour over documents, numbers, and calculations with a fine-tooth comb, with each level signing off on the work before the reports move upwards. Either Work was complicit in the fraud, or he and the entire bureaucracy which he supervised were asleep at the switch. For Work to simply shrug off the episode is not acceptable.

Work may move on with the end of the administration, but the consequences of his Lajes/Croughton decision should not simply wither on the vine: too much money and the strategic position of the United States is at stake. Rather, it’s time for heads to roll. Those who made the decision to plagiarize Wikipedia to justify a fraud as well as those so careless with taxpayer money as to sign off on it should be held to account. If the Trump administration really wants to end the impunity and wastefulness with which the government acts, freezing construction at Croughton and getting to the bottom of the morass should be on the agenda for the Pentagon’s new leadership.

This first appeared at AEIdeas.


  • Michael Rubin is a former Pentagon official whose major research areas are the Middle East, Turkey, Iran, and diplomacy.