Monday, April 10, 2017


To say that the Navy is integrity-challenged is to put it mildly.  Let’s refresh our memories.  Here’s the history of relieved CO’s over the last several years with the number of firings shown for each year.  The numbers in parentheses are just the reference citations as listed at the end of the post.

2016 – 18 (1)
2015 – 20 (2)
2014 - ?
2013 – 17 (3)
2012 – 25 (3)
2011 – 22 (3)

That’s an average of 20 commanding officers fired each year.  To add some perspective, the Navy only has around 280 ships.  To be fair, not all of the relieved commanders were ship captains.  Many were but some were base or organizational commanders.

Well, perhaps you think those numbers, while not pleasant, are not really indicative of a systemic problem.  Let’s look at more evidence. 

The “Fat Leonard” scandal that has rocked the Navy and the 7th Fleet, in particular, has, thus far, seen several current and former Navy commanders, including admirals, convicted of various charges with several others “censured or disciplined” for ethics violations.  Currently, 30 admirals are still under investigation (5).  Charges and violations cover the gamut from “simple” ethics violations to bribery, conspiracy, obstruction of justice and making false statements to federal investigators.  So, that’s somewhere around 40 people involved in just one scandal and the investigation is still ongoing.  More people will, undoubtedly be charged.  The 7th Fleet command structure was, apparently, riddled with criminals.

Even more disturbing than the violations and the number of people fired or charged with crimes is that none of these people were called out by their peers.  Do you really think that all these hundreds of people were able to conduct their misdeeds in utter secrecy from those who worked closely with them on a day to day basis with some of the misdeeds covering years?  Of course not!  Other people knew that wrongs were being committed and those who knew but said nothing are just as guilty of a failure of integrity (if not actual crimes!) as the principals.

For the period 2011-2016, we see that there were around 120 firings and another 30+ firings, charges, and convictions in the Fat Leonard scandal.  Those, alone, give us a total of around 150 people who demonstrated a direct lack of integrity.  If we assume, conservatively, that five other people knew about each individual’s failures but said nothing, we have an additional 750 command level people who also demonstrated ethical cowardice and a lack of integrity by not speaking up and reporting.  That has us approaching a thousand integrity-challenged command level people who failed themselves, the Navy, and the nation.

Note that we’re not even considering executive officer and below levels – just command levels.

There’s yet another level of integrity failings that we’ve documented in this blog and that is the commonplace practice of retired admirals taking jobs with the very defense industry companies that they were supposed to be dealing with during service.  At the very least, this represents an egregious conflict of interest and may well constitute actual bribery, extortion, and payback.  Thus, add dozens and dozens of retired admirals to the list of demonstrably integrity-challenged command level people.  While taking such jobs may not be against the law, it’s certainly a clear case of a lack of integrity and judgment unworthy of flag officers.  Admirals have a pretty nice retirement package so it’s not like they desperately need the money.

Thus far, this post is depressing but the real point has not yet been made.  The real point is that the Navy is clearly systemically integrity-challenged and yet, if we go to war tomorrow, these are the very people who will be leading us in combat.  Do we really want these kinds of people to be our combat leaders?  Do we really think people with no integrity will lead us to victory?

Even more immediately relevant is the fact that these people are making today’s decisions about tomorrow’s weapons, systems, and platforms.  We’ve repeatedly noted the highly questionable (baffling?) decisions being made about various acquisition programs that seem to have no other explanation than graft, corruption, and payback in the form of retirement jobs with defense companies.  Are these the people we want shaping our future Navy?

CNO Richardson recently described what he called the four core attributes of the Navy:  integrity, accountability, initiative, and toughness (4).  Note the first – integrity.  Does CNO Richardson really believe that the Navy is exhibiting widespread integrity at the command level?  The evidence would overwhelmingly suggest that the Navy is failing and, thus, CNO Richardson is failing by failing to recognize that.  I had cautious hopes for CNO Richardson but he has become as big a disappointment and failure as his predecessor, CNO Greenert.

Integrity?  Sadly, it’s not common in the Navy command ranks.


(4)Navy website, “CNO Identifies 4 Core Attributes to Guide Navy Leaders”, Story Number: NNS151206-02, Release Date: 12/6/2015,

(5)The Washington Post, “Admiral, seven others charged with corruption in new ‘Fat Leonard’ indictment”, Craig Whitlock, 14-Mar-2017,


  1. It's not just a Navy problem, of course. The Army has had its own problems, just nothing as big as Fat Leonard.

    The origin is in the alienation and spiritual bankruptcy of late imperial America. The end of the Cold War, when we were unambiguously the good guys, the fiascos and crimes of the 9/11 response, and the impunity and bailouts assigned to the big banking fraudsters have wiped out our moral standing. The USA is just another country now. It may be bigger and more powerful, but we have no more claim on defending truth, justice and freedom. Cops in the USA act like fascist occupiers in many places.

    In such a country, people look around and decide to grab what they can and take care of #1.

    1. Agree - there does seem to be something going on here.

      It seems like whenever something happens in the military, the brass can get off relatively lightly. Even this Fat Leonard, it took truly explosive reactions before the brass that were involved got anything but a slap on the wrist.

      This is not just a USN problem. It's occurring in the political class, the very wealthy civilians, the other branches of the US military, and alarmingly, other nations as well.

      I'd be very interested to know what other scandals there were. I would be totally unsurprised if money changed behind closed doors on the many procurement projects and other fiascoes too.

  2. While a good pull at the heart strings you have a couple flawed assumptions and premises.

    1. The number of ships is irrelevant. While there are only 280 ships, the majority of commands in the Navy are not ships. While you hand wave the issue you also ignore that the majority of CO reliefs are not from ships. Take the 2016 numbers, of the 18 listed only five commanded ships.

    2. You imply that every relief was an issue of integrity. Also wrong and misleading. Again using the 2016 numbers, over half of them fall into operational reliefs rather than personal behavior issues. Yes, command climate or lackluster leadership may not be an operational thing, but there is no clear indication that lackluster leadership is also a sign of an integrity problem.

    In the last decade the numbers show a less than 1% relief rate for commanding officers. Should it be less? Ideally. Could it be more? Certainly.

    The number, however, is not at all an indication of a systemic integrity problem in the Navy. Neither is the Fat Leonard scandal indication of a systemic problem.

    Naval officers are people. Naval officers are held to high personal and professional standards. But, again, naval officers are people - and sometimes people make mistakes.

    But even with all those mistakes, integrity is present, in abundance, among all levels of the Navy - even and including command ranks.

    1. "The number of ships is irrelevant."

      Where did I state otherwise???? I cited the number of ships as bit of perspective but then immediately noted that not all relieved CO's were ship captains! Read what I actually wrote, not what you think I wrote.

    2. Anathema, I deleted your comment. If you have a constructive comment feel free to post. I will not allow personal attacks on any blog commenter, myself included.

    3. Ok, didn't think it was a personal attack...just a recognition that the overall post was uninformed. If that's a personal attack...well...your blog your choice.

      Doesn't change the fact that the post isn't accurate.

    4. You're welcome to disagree with me as long as you do so politely and respectfully.

      That said, the post is accurate. You may interpret the information differently but there was nothing stated that was factually incorrect. I don't know how many "commands" the Navy has beyond the 280 ships but relieving 20 commanders every year, year after year, denotes a degree of failure of integrity on both the part of the commanders and the selection boards that consistently pick inappropriate commanders to promote. Yes, some of the commanders, not many, are relieved for reasons that appear to have little to do with integrity, however, I would suggest that even the ever popular "loss of confidence" rationale that the Navy loves to throw out, involves integrity. If the captain had outstanding personal integrity, then whatever transpired to cause the relief would have been far less likely to have occurred.

      You may choose to interpret things differently but poor command climate, inappropriate relationships, and even training failures, all common reasons for relief, are all due to lack of integrity.

      At the risk of repeating the post, I also made the point that all command level personnel who knew about the problems are also guilty of lack of integrity. Is it likely that a ship captain can foster a poor command climate and have no other peer or superior know about it? I think not. Therefore, each person who knew and failed to act exhibits a lack of integrity.

      You may choose to have a different opinion but there is nothing inaccurate about the post.

      Further, left unstated in the post is a wealth of additional evidence of the lack of integrity. The NAVSEA evaluators who accept incomplete and malfunctioning ships exhibit a lack of integrity. The Marine generals who declare IOC for the F-35 when it was clearly not combat ready exhibited a lack of integrity. The admirals who allowed the fleet wide maintenance debacles exhibited a lack of integrity. The entire LCS program and its layers of command personnel who managed it exhibited a lack of integrity. I can go on all day with these examples which further support my contention. To be fair, though, these were not discussed in the post.

      I have stated my disagreement with your comment and position and, you'll note, done so politely and respectfully. If you choose to respond, I trust you'll do the same.

    5. You see, as an active duty officer who held command, I see your post as questioning my integrity. How am I not supposed to take that personally? Especially since you clearly intend to see things one way, and one way only.

      I've been studying the CO relief 'phenomenon' for over a decade. Your post, while emotional, is simply not accurate. You conflate things, you inflate things, and you insult people without even realizing it. This post, at the shallow level it runs, does a disservice to everyone in the Navy. The inferences you draw are insulting.

      If you haven't read the two IG studies on CO reliefs, I recommend you do so. If you haven't read Mark Light's Moral Compass piece, or Jaosn Vogt's follow up, I recommend you do so. Do some more research before you impugn my and my fellow officer's integrity.

      If the above offends you, then I can't help it. That's on you. At no point have I written anything about you or your motivations or character - just about this post.

    6. Yes, I am questioning the integrity of the entire naval command structure. No, I'm not actually questioning, I'm flat out stating that the command levels lack integrity. Are there isolated individuals who possess integrity? Probably, but where are their voices? Where are their protests.

      If you objectively view the evidence of mismanaged programs that I've cited, you have to admit that their is a significant lack of integrity being demonstrated. Navy command has failed the country and those they are charged with leading by failing to maintain the fleet (how many ships have been early retired due to lack of maintenance? how many ships are not currently combat ready due to lack of parts and trained personnel? How many programs have been pursued out of simple political expediency rather than actual warfighting needs (LCS, I'm looking at you)? Reported rampant SEAL drug use? Complete failure of command at all levels in the Iranian seizure of our riverine boats? Again, I can go on all day listing these types of failures.

      Here's the difference between you and I: you are simply stating an opinion (nothing wrong with that) while I am listing data, facts, logic, and evidence. If you want to convince me that the Navy does not suffer from widespread lack of integrity, offer some evidence. Tell me about admirals who have railed against wrongs they've observed. Tell me about commanders who have resigned in protest over failings of integrity. Tell me about widespread reporting by commanders of wrongdoings they've observed. The sad truth is that there is little or no evidence of such things.

      Do you really believe that the dozens of command level personnel caught or implicated in the Fat Leonard scandal are an isolated occurrence? Again, I refer you to the endless laundry list of failings of integrity I've cited.

      If you are a commander, you have observed the Navy's failure to maintain the fleet, procure spare parts, provide trained personnel, ensure combat readiness, etc. You've seen retired admirals take defense industry jobs which is a blatant conflict of interest. All of these involve a lack of integrity, at their core.

      If all this offends you - good! Take some action and make your corner of the Navy accountable and better. If you think that none of what I'm saying involves integrity issues than you might want to ask yourself if you are part of the problem without realizing it. It's easy to become caught up in the day to day tasks and lose sight of the overall integrity picture. Relax, that's not a personal attack, just an observation on human behavior and tendencies. Take it for what it's worth.

      You might want to read my post about the book that Adm. Stavridis wrote (see the archives under "Book Review", there's only two entries). It's an example of a book ostensibly written to guide others on how to command a ship and yet it actually portrays a man who did everything "right" but without integrity and without realizing his own lack. The post is interesting as is the book.

      Consider, we spend more time dithering over new uniforms than we do training for combat! A bit of hyperbole (maybe, maybe not?) but it illustrates the lack of integrity. The people directing that focus on new uniforms (how many sets of new uniforms is that in recent times?) don't have the integrity to say, hey, this is stupid and a waste of Navy resources and time.

      By the way, I love my Navy and my motivation is to make it better. I use this blog to point out problems (and occasional successes!) and offer solutions.

      If you are a Navy commander perhaps you'd be interested in authoring a guest post on some aspect of naval matters? There is no requirement to agree with my views and, in fact, a contrary post is always welcome and interesting. Let me know if you have any interest. This is a sincere offer.

      This post aside, I'd also be curious what you think of the blog in general, if you've been following it for some time.

  3. While I agree that the Navy is made up of people, the Navy and all professional organizations have to be self policing. This is the difference between long standing organizations of integrity and IBGYBG (I'll Be Gone, You'll Be Gone) loose collections of scoundrels.

    The Navy is small enough that other people knew what was going on or at least that something was going on. But they did nothing, said nothing, and turned away. That is what is sorry and is the real moral crisis in the Navy and other services.

  4. Other than your faulty linear relationship of commands to incidents (not accurate because there are 2-3 times that many commands (authorized command pin) in the Navy; I have no problem with your thesis that there is a "lack of integrity". Actually, that may be an understatement CNO! The human condition does not improve with the age, that's for sure...

    IMO, it's the culture since the 1990's.. Poor GEN X'ers and Millennials just carry on "the bad" because they see who progresses and why from within the system.

    One is either entirely cynical about the system and leaves or participates in it, proactively. What we have as a result is an officer corps of general "Hypocrites" who say one thing and do another without any sense of remorse or guilt. They are not "true to thyself". Hypocrites like this have been in all organizations from the beginning of time, but since the 1990's they have dominated and have since ascended to all levels of the military leadership just in the last 20 years. Most do not overtly break the law (or UCMJ) however, but they do skirt it and often play SGT Schultz's role ("I see nothing") at best. They are experts at not involving themselves because if they do they often have to make a decision which is painful for those who haven't learned how...No decision is always the best decision for them.

    Within the US Navy this covers not just the officers but the Chief's Mess as well. That really hurts.

    Only way out of this mess is to find those who haven't violated their oaths and genuinely tried to do the right thing. That is not going to be easy in itself and may be impossible. Only after those folks are found and empowered the US navy needs to go back to basics and attempt to implement change the same way the Navy recovered after the Zumwalt era at the start of the Reagan administration. This will be much harder if not impossible today..

    As you can tell I am not very optimistic and I'll tell you why. I come across these observations based on 40 years of direct and close involvement even to this day of the officer corps as both active duty and military consultant. This "lack of integrity disease" may be too far gone...


    1. "Other than your faulty linear relationship of commands to incidents "

      Huh??? Where did I make some kind of link between commands and incidents? I'm not even sure exactly what you mean by that. I specifically noted the number of ships (I assume that's what you mean by commands) as a bit of perspective but then immediately noted that not all relieved CO's were ship commanders!

    2. OK. You have explained your extrapolation. Good enough for me. I agree the percentage relieved is higher than ever for all kinds of dishonest behavior..

  5. Integrity isn't a behavior that is learned. It has to come from inside. This is nothing more than a symptom of the nation we live in

  6. Naval officers remain paid members of the retired reserve until death. I would bar anyone who accepts promotion to O-7 from working or consulting for a US military contractor while members of the retired reserve. They can retire as an O-6 or resign (and give up retirement pay for life) if they want to cash in, or will be fired if caught. This would be a simple and effective solution, although the contractors would try to block it in Congress.

  7. A couple of things come to mind when reading this.

    Firstly, it hurts to read that Americans are involved in corruption of the sort of scale that we associate with more corrupt nations. However, the fact that people were caught and fired shows something is still working correctly within the Navy.

    It makes me wonder how well the navy of China will function when it's put to the test, since they are renouned for much more hardcore corruption. Here's how corruption affected the Chinese in the late 1800's early 1900's (about 1/3 way down the wiki entry)

    "The Beiyang Army and Beiyang Fleet were the best equipped and most modernized Chinese military, but suffered from corruption. Military leaders and officials systematically embezzled funds, even during the war. As a result, the Beiyang Fleet did not purchase any battleships after its establishment in 1888. The purchase of ammunition stopped in 1891, with the funding diverted to renovate the Summer Palace in Beijing. Logistics were lacking, as construction of railroads in Manchuria had been discouraged.

    The Qing Empire's military morale was generally very low due to lack of pay, low prestige, use of opium, and the poor leadership which had contributed to defeats such as the abandonment of the very well-fortified and defensible Weihaiwei.

    Beiyang Fleet[edit]
    Main article: Beiyang Fleet
    The Beiyang Fleet was one of the four modernised Chinese navies in the late Qing dynasty. The navies were heavily sponsored by Li Hongzhang, the Viceroy of Zhili. The Beiyang Fleet was the dominant navy in East Asia before the first Sino-Japanese War. However, ships were not maintained properly and indiscipline was common.[15] Sentries spent their time gambling, watertight doors were left open, rubbish was dumped in gun barrels and gunpowder for explosive shells was sold and replaced with cocoa. At the Yalu River, a battleship had one of its guns pawned by the admiral Ding Ruchang.[16]

    I know your blog entry is about unethical behaviour being entrenched in the USN, but I wonder how bad it really is, and how it might affect the US in a peer war, given that Russia and China have far greater issues with corruption (i realise that the above example I gave is from 100 years ago, but it's quite illuminating).

    Apologies if you wanted to stick only with corruption within USN


    1. The Chinese Navy do, however, have a much clearer idea of what they're supposed to be doing: becoming the world's leading navy, and creating in-depth defences at sea for their nation.

      Since the end of the Cold War, the USN has lacked a clear mission. Indeed, one of its major purposes has been to spend taxpayers' money with defence contractors. It's hardly surprising if some of its officers have become cynical and self-serving.

    2. "Apologies if you wanted to stick only with corruption within USN"

      No problem. I opened this particular post up to political discussion so feel free to do so.

  8. This will never end! Big Navy could have and should have stopped Fat Leonard...why didn't they? Lots of careers and destroyed families could have been saved, along with the millions in tax dollars (that we know of) taken or wasted. It continues today in all the military branches. This won't stop unless big military actually wants it to. The "other" Fat Leonard's are still out there "working" or waiting their turn. Leonard and others like him were reported to BIG Navy, NCIS, NRCC Singapore, COMLOG, 7th fleet and the CNO in the early 90's, for doing the very same things! Fast forward 20+ years and here we are today! Who's going to stop it?


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