Bribes, mistresses, sex parties, cheating on exams –the military’s professional ethos has turned into a culture of rot. The keeper of America’s moral center has more secrets in its attic than a V.C. Andrews novel. The military is scandal plagued. According to Donald Vandergriff, a retired Army officer who lectures on military reform, “The military system that’s evolved over the last 100 years does not test moral courage, strength of character, or the ability to tell the truth.”
Military scandals aren’t just the work of young, jocular cadets, the Maverick and Goose types that operate in a fraternity of unchecked masculinity and hero worship. The ethical corrosion starts at the top of the chain of command. Over the years several generals and top brass have been involved in scandals by acting as if they’re bulletproof and above the law –this is what happens when hubris collides with a culture of tradition of privilege. According to “Narcissism and Toxic Leaders,” a widely cited article in Military Review, 80 percent of the officers and NCOs polled in an Army study observed toxic leaders in action, while 20 percent had worked for one. With ethical lapses and outrageous behavior ranging from the tawdry to the criminal, here are 10 shocking military scandals. Ooh Rah!
10. Women Secretly Filmed at West Point
In 2013, a sergeant first class on the staff at West Point, the nations oldest and most prestigious military academy, was accused of videotaping female cadets without their consent. According to West Point officials, the videos were taken in the showers and bathrooms. Roughly 15 percent of West Point’s 4,500 cadets are female. Despite integrating women into combat positions and implementing policies that demand fair and equal treatment of those in uniform, sexual assault and harassment in the armed forces is an ongoing issue. There were 80 instances of sexual assault reported at West Point in 2011-2012, compared with 25 in 2008-2009.
9. Downfall of Gen. David Petraeus
It’s no secret that powerful government officials have extramarital affairs, but the indiscretion of four-star Army general and spy chief David Petreus goes beyond the typical garden variety tryst. David Petraeus ran the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and according to CNN, the scandal surrounding Gen. Petrous involves questions of national security. David Petreus resigned from his position as director of the CIA when an FBI investigation revealed that he was having an affair with his biographer, Paula Broadwell. Concerns about a possible security breach arose when the FBI saw a video of Broadwell giving a speech in which she suggested that the Libya attack was targeting a secret prison at the Benghazi consulate annex. While there’s no evidence that Broadwell gained access to classified material, the fallout of the Petraeus scandal was an embarrassment to the U.S. government.
8. USS Acadia
The USS Acadia, a Yellowstone-class destroyer tender, was the first ship to house a wartime mixed sex crew. The ship was nicknamed the “Love Boat” when 36 female crew members became pregnant and had to be transferred during the ship’s deployment to the Persian Gulf in 1991. The Navy has strict rules against sexual relationships between men and women while on duty, and Navy spokesman Lieut. Comdr. Jeff Smallwood tried to whitewash the Acadia scandal by saying the women became pregnant while the ship was deployed on liberty calls in Hawaii and the Philippines. “There were no indications of improper fraternization between men and women on the ship,” said Smallwood. No word on whether an onboard nursery was installed once the USS Acadia returned to its home port.
7. Nuclear Exam Cheating Scandals
In 2014, 30 naval engineering watch supervisors lost their authority to train others on using nuclear reactors that power carriers and subs because they cheated on an exam. According to Adm. John Richardson, “These exams and the operations of the plants do involve classified information and that will be an active part of the investigation.” Despite being revered as an institution of pride and strength, a torchbearer of America’s strength and moral center, dishonesty on exams is commonplace in the military. Prior to the Naval cheating scandal, the U.S. Air Force’s nuclear command was rocked by a cheating scandal that included three dozen intercontinental missile launch officers at the Global Strike Command at Malmstrom Air Force base in Montana.
6. Tailhook Scandal
In 1991, the Navy’s fighter-jock culture came to a crashing halt at the 35th Annual Tailhook Symposium at the Las Vegas Hilton Hotel. According to a report by the Inspector General of the Department of Defense, 83 female naval personnel were harassed or assaulted at the three-day aviators’ convention. The aftermath resulted in a severe crackdown on the military’s Top Gun mentality, a mentality rooted in misogynistic traditions in which officers believe they can celebrate in a “free fire zone” without regard to rank or decorum. Tailhook led to sweeping changes throughout the military regarding attitude and policies toward women. The scandal also ended the careers of over 300 officers.
5. The Plame Affair
The Plame Affair, or Plamegate, played out like the plot of a John le Carre novel. In 2003, newspaper columnist Robert D. Novak leaked the name of Valerie Plame, a covert CIA operative, in retaliation for public criticisms made by the operative’s husband about the Bush administration’s case for invading Iraq. Joseph C. Wilson, Plame’s husband, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times disputing President Bush’s State of the Union Address claim that Saddam Hussein “recently sought significant quantities of uranium from Africa.” Wilson wrote: “If my information was deemed inaccurate, I understand. If the information was ignored because it did not fit certain preconceptions about Iraq, then a legitimate argument can be made that we went to war under false pretenses.”
4. The Fat Leonard Scandal
Owned by Leonard Francis, Glenn Defense Marine provides logistics support to U.S. warships at ports in East Asia. Francis, who goes by the nickname “Fat Leonard” because of his girth and gregarious personality, has always been well-connected in top Navy circles. According to PBS, his company won more than $200 million in Navy contracts. In 2014, federal investigators said top Naval commanders received cash, prostitutes, luxury hotel rooms and other favors from Francis for insider information and inflated contracts. So far, three Naval officials have been charged in the elaborate criminal conspiracy, and Leonard Francis is currently behind bars for bribery and fraud.
3. DEA Sex Parties
It’s a well known fact that drug traffickers bestow favors to local, state and federal law enforcement, but it’s still a shock when the Justice Department reports that the DEA participates in orgies with hired sex workers funded by local drug cartels. So much for the war on drugs. There’s nothing like partying with the guys you’re hired to bust, and many of these lavish, cartel-funded parties were held at the agents’ “government leased quarters,” according to the Huffington Post. The scandal makes the DEA look like an out-of-control rogue group, a Sicario-like establishment in bed with organized crime. However, it isn’t the first military scandal to come out of the war on drugs. A Columbian report found that U.S. soldiers and military contractors sexually abused at least 52 children between 2003 and 2007.
2. Abu Ghraib
In 2003, during the war in Iraq, reports published by Amnesty International claimed personnel of the United States Army committed a series of human rights violations against detainees in the Abu Ghraib prison. Photographs later surfaced showing American soldiers abusing and humiliating Iraqis. One of the most famous images, however, shows an Iraqi prisoner standing on a box with his head covered and wires attached to his hands; the prisoner was told that if he fell off the box, he would be electrocuted. The Pentagon acknowledged there were over 35 investigations into allegations of physical, sexual and psychological abuse at Abu Ghraib. Seventeen soldiers were eventually removed from duty and a $5 million settlement awarded to inmates.
1. My Lai Massacre
The My Lai massacre took place on March 16, 1968, but news of the atrocity didn’t reach the American public until November 1969. “This is what you’ve been waiting for – search and destroy – and you’ve got it.” Angry and frustrated because of heavy losses, Lt. William Calley ordered his men to enter the Vietnamese village of My Lai firing their weapons. In the end, over 300 unarmed civilians were murdered. Journalist Seymour Hirsch leaked the story, and a military investigation resulted in Lt. William Calley being charged with murder.