More “Fat Leonard” Fallout

The way the Navy and Congress have handled this has been abysmal.

Two more officers were censured by the Secretary of the Navy last week for overt and blatant corruption associated the “Fat Leonard” — GDMA procurement scandal. Both officers received letters scolding them for what should have resulted in major federal prosecutions. Given the timeframes cited in the letters, and that this scandal has been embarrassing the Navy for over six years, the Navy and USDOJ likely had statute of limitations or other evidentiary problems and Secretarial Censure – an archaic procedure which essentially means nothing in modern practice – was the best the Navy could do.

The way the Navy has handled this has been abysmal and embarrassing and some senior flag officers — maybe one or two Chiefs of Naval Operations (the Navy’s top officer) — should have been fired over this.  The Navy would have let this go with a couple of junior officer/CPO NJPs but USDOJ forced their hand.  There’s a USDOJ/USDOD MOU where USDOJ gets right of first refusal on major frauds, bribery and significant conflicts of interest. 

Leonard Francis, photo courtesy of Washington Post

USDOJ doesn’t care much about how DOD handles the UCMJ for most garden variety cases – small thefts, sexual assault, murders, offenses against discipline, etc.  Those aren’t USDOJ’s problem.  But protecting federal appropriations IS USDOJ’s business and they guard that line.  Once USDOJ got their hooks into the Fat Leonard cases, they wouldn’t let go; as a result, the Navy couldn’t look away and pretend it wasn’t as big as it was. 

Once DOJ finished doing the big fish cases they wanted to do, they handed it off to DON to finish it out, but then the genie was out of the bottle.  How the CNOs and fleet commanders survived this is a mystery to me.  I guess banging ships into each other gets the leadership’s attention, but major frauds impugning an entire cohort of senior leadership doesn’t. And make no mistake: this scandal has hollowed out and created a bubble of senior officers, some of whom have been rendered unpromotable because they touched this scandal, even if they were not prosecuted or censured. The Navy Supply Corps, the Navy’s uniformed procurement professionals, in particular, has a problem because so many Supply Corps officers passed through 7th Fleet over this period of time and touched a GDMA transaction at some point.

Singapore Harbor, photo courtesy of Aledgan on

Junior folks knew this stuff was going on, no doubt.  If you have an organizational culture that doesn’t encourage reporting, you may have a big problem.  This was a MAJOR institutional breach of faith with the American people; this was not a one-off occurrence, like Haditha, or an airplane crash, but a major systemic and cultural failure. That is a big, big problem for the Navy, but the Navy leadership seems to be treating as “one of those things that just happens.” Wrong answer.

But if I were the Chief of Naval Operations or the Commandant of the Marine Corps I’d not be comfortable that this couldn’t happen again in the Navy, or in the Marine Corps. I’d be using the Fat Leonard saga as a case study in how your service can break faith with America.  Rules compliance isn’t enough:  it has to be a reaffirmation of organizational culture and honoring the oath. The Fat Leonard scandal was not an isolated incident: it was a major cultural event and I am unconvinced the Navy understands, collectively, just how damaging this affair was to the service. This was not a handful of malcontents and ne’er do wells who made an isolated mistake: this was routine ethical felony misconduct over years and years that has taken down an entire cohort of senior officers.

For its part, the Marine Corps took face shots over incidents like Ribbon Creek, Bloodwinging, Tailhook, Marines United, ring vortex state, Clayton Lonetree, and Jason Rother, and you can draw a direct link between each of those humiliating episodes and major cultural, operational, and programmatic shifts.  We shouldn’t wait for a major corruption scandal to glean the lessons of Fat Leonard to employ in the naval services going forward.

Finally, the lack of Congressional oversight on the Fat Leonard scandal is mystifying. I have been unable to find evidence of a single oversight hearing on this topic. If the Navy was asleep at the switch with regard to Fat Leonard, Congress is now carrying on the dereliction by failing to conduct adequate oversight.

FILED UNDER: Crime, Law and the Courts, Military Affairs, National Security, , , , , , ,
Butch Bracknell
About Butch Bracknell
Butch Bracknell is an international security lawyer. A career Marine, he is a father, Truman National Security Project member, and Sorensen Political Leaders Program fellow. All posts are his personal views only, not representing any organization. Follow him on Twitter at @ButchBracknell.


  1. Mu says:

    Just amazing how cheap it is to bribe commissioned USN officers. Or worse, how a command can fail to make sure that its officers realize that it’s a bribe even if no cash changes hand.
    And how petty to then send a letter of reprimand 10 years after the person in question retired because you failed to get your act together in time.

  2. MarkedMan says:

    I don’t think I’m being too cynical when I say that the Navy protected their own here in the military version of the Blue Wall of Silence. Yeah, some careers “suffered”. But considering they should be in prison it’s the mildest of hand slaps. These criminals still wear the uniform.

  3. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    the lack of Congressional oversight on the Fat Leonard scandal is mystifying

    Don’t be so hard on the Congress. They had a lot on their plate in 2013. Consider the following:
    1) The President of the United States wasn’t even a citizen of the country. (!!!)
    2) There were Hillary’s emails to contend with.
    3) Traitors to the nation had successfully taken over 1/7 of the US economy in a scheme to deny doctors, nurses, and pharmaceutical companies of the income that feeds and houses their children.
    4) America was laughing stock throughout the world because of Obama’s apology tour (and he’s not even a citizen, as noted above).
    5) And there was the problem of the never-ending war in the Middle East that Obama started to consolidate the power of radical Islamic terrorists.

    With all that going on, Fat Leonard is small potatoes in comparison.

  4. michael reynolds says:

    A quick point. You know who was on this story way back at the start? Rachel Maddow. She banged the drum repeatedly and got nothing from most of the media.

  5. ButchBracknell says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: which of these are you serious about?

  6. David Schaus says:

    I demanded NCIS investigate in 2006 when a supply officer on the RONALD REAGAN admitted they falsified the invoices to Fat Leonard. NCIS did an “investigation “ and then gave the investigation to the CO of RONALD REAGAN that then received a letter of reprimand for his conduct regarding corruption with Fat Leonard. The CO threw away the investigation and that was it. I on the other hand got a bad fitness report for the audacity of pointing out corruption and left the US Navy at the end of my tour. The US Navy Supply Corps is rotten to the core and there is not a single leader in the US Navy that cares. You hit the nail on the head when you pointed out DOJ was the only reason any action was ever taken. Absolutely shameful!