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The Wandering Anti-Terrorist Funds

Christopher Brauchli

Little Jack Horner sat in the corner,
Eating a Christmas pie.
He put in his thumb and pulled out a plum
And said "What a good boy am I." - Nursery Rhyme

One of the purposes of anti-terrorism funds is to fight terrorism. There is, of course, a lot of money available for that purpose, and sometimes it is so tempting to use it for purposes other than those prescribed by Congress, that the temptation cannot be resisted. That's what two reports in July suggested happened with at least some of the funds. Since the diverted funds were less than $300M they would not have been enough to make a difference in the fight against terrorism.

Most of the diverted funds went to help out George Bush's great good friend, Pervez Musharraf who, when the money was diverted, was still the president of Pakistan. Although many terrorist groups are hiding out on the border between Pakistan and Afghanistan thus making the border a logical destination for those funds, they did not head for the border. They headed for an airport. Mr. Bush decided that $230 million should not be used in the border fight between Pakistani forces and the Taliban and al-Qaida, as dictated by Congress, but should be used to pay for, among other things upgrading Pakistan's F-16 airplanes' radar systems. (A cynical observer might wonder whether the upgrades of the radar will permit the planes to identify NATO aircraft, a feature that was not allowed on the planes when originally sold to Pakistan.)

Congress is upset with the diversion of funds. So is India. Congress is upset because when it says funds are designated for anti-terrorism efforts it expects them to be spent for anti-terrorism efforts. India is unhappy because one of the more obvious uses for the F-16s is to fight India should war erupt between those two countries. Mr. Bush called Manmohan Singh, the Indian prime minister, to let him know of the diversion of the anti-terrorist funds. Mr. Singh was reportedly, "disappointed."

The other diverted anti-terrorist force funds found a use that has even less to do with fighting terrorism than the use to which Mr. Bush put his dollars. The Air Force diverted funds for the sake of comfort.

The Washington Post reports that Air Force officials have been using anti-terrorism funds to develop and install something initially called a "Senior Leader Intransit Comfort Capsule." (The name was later changed to call the capsules "conference" capsules rather than "comfort capsules". One officer suggested that may have been done to avoid the possibility that the word "comfort" would cause those loading the capsules to confuse the capsules with the pallets of latrines that are often loaded on military planes. It would for obvious reasons, be disastrous if upon boarding the plane a high ranking officer found himself seated in a latrine for a ride half way around the world instead of the luxury capsule he had been led to believe would be his.)

The Air Force says that the new capsules are needed so that important officers can "talk, work and rest comfortably in the air." The folks who are actually going to go into combat do not need such comfort while flying since it would simply remind them that, as soon as they got off the plane and went into combat, there would be no comfort capsules to protect them.

The Air Force has been meticulous in its specifications for the capsules. The capsules must be "aesthetically pleasing and furnished to reflect the rank of the senior leaders using the capsule. " One of the ways this goal was achieved was by spending $68,240 to change the seat color and pockets in the capsule because the officers responsible for deciding on the colors concluded that the colors originally supplied were not as practical as the colors ultimately installed. The entire project is estimated to cost $7.6 million and the funds have come from funds that would otherwise have been used in the anti-terrorism effort.

General Robert McMahon who is overseeing the project explained that he wanted to "create an environment that whoever was riding in that would be proud of", the government would be proud of and "the people of the United States would be proud of." He has certainly got that right. I can't imagine anything that would make me prouder than knowing that high-ranking officers were flying in ultimate luxury. Unless it was knowing that funds were diverted from the anti-terrorism effort to give returning troops the best possible medical care. There's no sense spending time imagining that. It won't happen on George Bush's watch.

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For more of Brauchli's political commentary, see his web page

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