“Obama Confronts a Choice on Copters” read this week’s New York Times. The President soon “will have to decide whether to proceed with some of the priciest aircraft in the world — a new fleet of 28 Marine One helicopters that will each cost more than the last Air Force One….The choice confronting Mr. Obama encapsulates the tension between two imperatives of his nascent presidency, the need to meet the continuing threats of an age of terrorism and the demand for austerity in a period of economic hardship.”
This is a gross misrepresentation of the choice Obama faces. Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn) and others have alleged that the contract for 28 Marine One helicopters was awarded to the Italian firm Finmeccanica as a thank you for Italy’s participation in the Iraq War. The evidence, however, indicates that the contract was more specifically a payoff to the Italian government for supplying the forged documents showing Saddam had obtained weapons grade uranium from Niger. President Bush famously used this fraudulent “yellowcake” intelligence to justify launching the war.
When reviewing the helicopter contract, President Obama can either be actively complicit by continuing with Finmeccanica; he can duck and cover by simply switching to the proper supplier, Sikorsky; or he can use the mandated review of this purchase decision to root out those in military, the aerospace industry and Congress who were willing to compromise the security of all subsequent American presidents so that Bush could cover up his core war crime.
Officials up and down the chain who awarded the contract knew that they were doing something extraordinarily wrong. The rigged bidding process bypassed, for example, Marine One pilots who repeatedly sought to give input. They had many safety concerns. At the time of the bid, the helicopter chosen was not certified to fly in the U.S. It was an old model made of heavy materials; this flew in the face of why the President supposedly needed a new fleet: i.e., so many extra security devices had been added to Marine One after 9/11, it was struggling to lift off. In its losing bid, the Connecticut-based Sikorsky, which had manufactured virtually all presidential helicopters since Eisenhower first ordered one, proposed a new model made of much lighter, composite materials.
But the Marine One pilots’ prime objection, which was raised repeatedly by many other officials in private, was national security. Finmeccanica was doing business with Iran, China and Libya. Why outsource so sensitive a project?