Tag Archives: military

Covering nuclear weapons: Secretive but not inscrutable

By SB Anderson

Penetrating the world of nuclear weapons is not as hard for a determined journalist as you might think – or as the government might like you to think. It is secretive but not inscrutable.

If you are committed and well-prepared, you can find news in this field and illuminate an aspect of U.S. national security that can seem like an abstraction, even an anachronism, but is still relevant to the lives of all Americans.

The key is knowing where to look, how to decipher the military lingo and why it matters what is taking place within the insular world of nuclear forces. You don’t need to be a military expert or a rocket scientist.

Continue reading our new National Security zone how-to guide on covering nuclear weapons. It was written by Bob Burns of the Associated Press, who has been doggedly breaking stories — and sparking investigations and reforms — about problems within Air Force-run operations that oversee our land-based nuclear arsenal.

Pentagon’s annual report on sexual assaults

By SB Anderson

We won’t bother with a recap because there are plenty of stories out there summarizing the findings, but here are some links to the Department of Defense’s Annual Report on Sexual Assault in the Military and related documents. All were released just a few minutes ago. The first three are PDFs, and the report itself is beefy (39MB).


Military suicides trending down; reservist data on rise, however

By SB Anderson

Overall suicides in the U.S. military were down just under 10% in 2013 over the year before, although there was slight increase (5%) among reservists and those not on active duty, new data from the Department of Defense shows.

With the wind-down in Afghanistan well under way, the gap between casualties and suicides grew even more dramatically, now nearly 4-1 vs. just under 2-1 the year before. (See chart below).

The data was part of the extensive annual “Suicide Event Report” that is put together by the National Center for Telehealth & Technology. The latest report covered calendar year 2012, while a news release about the report include top-level data for 2013. (Access a PDF of that report and earlier years back to 2008 here).

The U.S. Army halted what had been monthly updates of its suicide data after November data was posted in December. Reports suggest the Army is changing its methodology and will move to a quarterly instead of monthly release.

The Marines and Navy have, and continue to, release data each month, often updating the earlier month’s data. In 2013, Navy and Marine suicides fell, while attempted suicides by Marines jumped, based on the monthly data release.

For the Army in 2013, total suicides were on the decline but the percentage that were reservists had increased as a percentage of all suicides, from 40% to 50%. That data does not include December statistics, which have yet to be released.

Military Suuicides Active/Reserve Suicides

A journalist in pursuit of ‘rot’ in the US nuclear defense system

By SB Anderson

Read how AP’s national security writer discovered problems in the nation’s nuclear defense system and wound up with a ‘months-long cascade of revelations’ that renewed public and legislative interest — and action.

Missile launch duty

An ICBM launch crew member at a launch control simulator used for training at F.E. Warren AFB. (PHOTO: Robert Burns)

1 in 10 military sex assault investigations flawed, study discovers

By SB Anderson

DOD Inspector General sealWhile 89 percent of military sexual assault investigations reviewd by the Department of Defense Inspector General’s office met standards, 11 percent had “significant deficiences,” a summary of the investigation’s findings that was just released shows. (Read the report).

“Significant deficiencies are key evidence not being collected, crime scenes not examined, and witness or subject interviews not conducted or not thorough. We also found that certain MCIO policies and practices regarding the collection of physical evidence, crime scene examinations, legal coordination, and records checks need improvement,” the report says.

The investigation of a random sample of 501 cases also found the need for “increased emphasis on thoroughness by supervisors, training, and policy improvements.”

“Minor deficiences” were found in 352 of the 501 cases.

Two key recommendations:

  • “. . . implement measures to improve crime scene processing, evidence collection, supervision, and documentation to reduce investigative deficiencies.”
  • “. . .evaluate existing policies regarding the collection of clothing worn by suspects and victims subsequent to a sexual assault.”


While you were barbecuing

By SB Anderson

A few stories of interest to national security reporter types over the long weekend that are worth a mention for those who may have been tuned out:

✓ Reporters see chilling effect from Justice Department inquiries.

✓ Is Obama at war with journalists?

✓ Showdown at the airport body scanner.

✓ Americans and their military, drifting apart.

(Plug: The first two stories include quotes from Medill National Security Journalism Initiative colleague Josh Meyer).

High-rate storefront lenders proliferate near bases, despite U.S. law against predatory loans, ProPublica finds

By SB Anderson
Lenders outside Fort Benning -- ProPublica map

Seven installment lenders (red markers) and three title lenders (blue) right next to Fort Benning in Columbus, GA. (Three are clustered together at this zoom level). See the full map. (SOURCE: ProPublica)

How did a Marine staff sergeant wind up with an auto title loan with an effective annual interest rate of 400% when the 2007 Military Lending Act limited those loans to 36% maximum? Sgt. Levon Taylor borrowed $1,600 for 2-1/2 years; the Military Lending Act only capped loans of six months or less. Taylor was on the hook for nearly 11 times what he borrowed. He eventually defaulted and his vehicle was repossessed.

ProPublica last week used Taylor as an example in an investigation of how lenders have found various ways to work outside the Military Lending Act and dot the landscape outside many of the nation’s military bases.

“We have to revisit this,” said Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., told ProPublica. “If we’re serious about protecting military families from exploitation, this law has to be a lot tighter.”

The Tyler case demonstrates the “ingenuity” of the lenders.

Tyler’s loan showcases other examples of lenders’ ingenuity. Attached to his contract was an addendum that offered a “Summer Fun Program Payoff.” While the loan’s official term was 32 months, putting it outside both South Carolina’s regulations and the Military Lending Act, the “Summer Fun” option allowed Tyler to pay off the loan in a single month. If he did so, he’d pay an annual rate of 110 percent, the addendum said.

Michael Agostinelli, the chief executive of Smart Choice’s parent company, American Life Enterprises, told ProPublica he wants his customers to pay off their loans early. “They’re meant to be short-term loans,” he said. He also said that customers who pay on time get “a big discount.” In Tyler’s case, he would have paid an annual rate of 192 percent if he had made all his payments on time.

The lenders says they are providing a necessary service for cash-strapped members of the military who need need fast help.

Potentially compounding the high-rate loan issue is the loss of security clearance that members of the military might face if they fall into financial trouble. “As a result, experts say, service members often avoid taking financial problems to their superior officers and instead resort to high-cost loans they don’t fully understand,” the story noted.

Read the full story.