President Obama has said that those who don’t want to raise our military disability pensions are unpatriotic. What about someone who’s willing to shut down our military communication system, in order to please a campaign donor?
The company in question is LightSquared (some are now calling it Solyndra Squared), which is getting a lot of adverse attention right now — as is the question of how committed our commander-in-chief really is to supporting our military.
LightSquared is a Virginia-based company headed by Philip Falcone, who happens to be a major campaign fund bundler for Obama. In January Falcone pushed hard to open up a portion of the bandwidth spectrum for his terrestrial wireless network — a portion alarmingly close to GPS frequencies used by the U.S. Army and Air Force.
Tests out at White Sands Missile Range confirmed what Gen. William Shelton, the man in charge of North American Aerospace Defense Command, feared. The LightSquared system effectively jammed the military GPS receivers used to get precise timing and tracking data.
Falcone and the Obama administration weren’t deterred, however. They pressed on for approval, and insisted that Shelton and Aerospace Command find some way to filter the LightSquared system — a process that could cost billions and a decade or more of research.
That’s when General Shelton decided to push back — and set off a firestorm at the White House.
He was prepared to testify before Congress last week against the LightSquared waiver when, according to General Shelton, the president’s Office of Management and Budget pushed him to alter his testimony. He should say the military could overcome any problems with LightSquared, he was told, and in effect turn his thumbs down into a thumbs up.
To his eternal credit, Shelton refused. Instead he told the subcommittee about the White House pressure, and speculated that the White House had even leaked a copy of his testimony to LightSquared in order to sandbag his objections.
In choosing between playing politics and the safety of our troops, Shelton didn’t hesitate. Too bad our president can’t follow his lead.
Despite his rhetoric, Obama’s commitment to supporting our military has been dubious at best. He’s been pushing down-to-the marrow defense cuts since he took office. He’s constantly threatening to pull troops out of Iraq and Afghanistan before the job is done, while sending them into harm’s way in Libya with no clear goals or missions.
But the LightSquared case raises those doubts to a whole new level.
How important is clean access to the GPS for our military? Imagine trying to time a Navy SEAL raid on a terrorist hideout or track a downed pilot or a possible missile launch from North Korea, and getting dead air instead.
“If you put a rock band in the middle of a quiet neighborhood,” General Shelton has said, the effect is going to be disruptive. Likewise with LightSquared’s stronger signals bouncing around in the GPS neighborhood.
Now, Philip Falcone has denied any wrong-doing. As for Shelton’s claims about seeing his testimony beforehand, Falcone has said, “Well, the general is wrong.” But it does look suspicious when LightSquared’s CEO rings up Obama’s top tech adviser on the same day he donates $30,000 to the Democrat National Committee, as White House call logs confirm — and a second witness has stepped forward to say he was pressured to change his testimony, as well.
Furthermore, the LightSquared case clearly fits the Solyndra pattern, where Obama campaign contributors get first dibs on government contracts, even if those companies like Solyndra have shaky balance sheets — or like LightSquared put our military operations in peril.
So what counts more at the Obama White House, big campaign donations or national security?
That’s the question Congress needs to ask. It’s an answer we, and our men and women in uniform, deserve to know.
— Arthur Herman is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute.