When A Story Breaks, Always Ask, “Why Now?”

Regardless of the issue, the title of this piece is a good rule of thumb to apply when you are reading “breaking news.” I am not talking about your conventional “car runs over pedestrian” or whatever.  I am talking about reports like today’s news that there are US boots on the ground in Ukraine:

American military personnel are now in Ukraine to help keep track of the billions of dollars’ worth of weapons and equipment the United States has sent since the start of the Russian invasion, a senior U.S. defense official and senior U.S. military official said.

Led by Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon, the U.S. defense attaché to Ukraine, the inspections have already begun with the help of the Office of Defense Cooperation personnel who have returned to the U.S. Embassy in Ukraine, the officials said.

Brig. Gen. Garrick Harmon

Yes, why now? This story is curious not only for its content but its timing. Let me start with content. Concerns were raised starting last April about the corrupt diversion of U.S. military supplies to criminal organizations inside Ukraine. That is why CBS produced a 60 Minutes piece that aired in August with the inconvenient claim that a good portion of U.S. weapons never made it to the front. Within days of this story’s publication, CBS News deletes tweet claiming only ‘like 30%’ of US military aid for Ukraine ever reaches the front lines. (You can read my original piece here.)

If the U.S. was serious about ensuring the weapons paid for by U.S. taxpayers actually wound up in the hands of Ukrainian soldiers, it would have been very easy to put in an audit system and verify periodically that there was no chicanery going on. How should you do this? Here is one possibility–When every plane touches down and cargo is off-loaded the Ukrainians should have been required to identify and record in a joint database where those items would be stored and who would be receiving them ultimately. You demand that records be kept detailing when, where and to whom those weapons/supplies are delivered. Then you conduct periodic audits (one every three weeks) verifying those facts. Apparently, no one on the U.S. side felt the need to do this and the crooked Ukrainians did what they do best–they looted the stockpiles, at least initially.

But we do have a pretty strong hint that the Pentagon realized they had a serious problem by May and made some unusual, quiet moves to address the situation. Let us examine the career of Brigadier General Garrick Harmon, who reportedly is helping the Ukrainians keep track of the U.S. largesse.

Start End Duty Assignment
Jul 22 Present Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché, United States Defense Attaché Office, Ukraine
May 21 May 22 Commanding General, United States Army Security Assistance Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama
Aug 20 Apr 21 Special Assistant to the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, United States Army, Washington, DC
Oct 18 Aug 20 Senior Defense Official and Defense Attaché, United States Defense Attaché Office, Russia
Aug 17 Oct 18 Deputy Director, Strategy, Plans and Policy, Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff, G-3/5/7, United States Army, Washington, DC

Normally, someone like General Harmon would do a two year tour as the Commanding General of the United States Army Security Assistance Command at the Redstone Arsenal in Alabama. He was reassigned after only one year. Why? Take a look at his bio and previous assignments. He spent almost two years in Moscow as the U.S. Defense Attache. According to his bio he majored in Russian studies at West Point and speaks Russian. But little attention was paid to his arrival in Kiev in late July. Only now is his name being bandied about. Why?

For starters, General Harmon speaks Russian and should be able to communicate easily with his Ukrainian counterparts (who also speak Russian). Second, he should have some relevant knowledge about the Russian Generals that are directing the campaign in Ukraine. That could be helpful to Ukrainian military planners. Most civilians may assume that Generals populate Defense Attache slots around the world. Not so. Most of those positions are staffed by Lt. Colonels and Colonels. Putting a General in charge is not common.

While it is possible that today’s story about U.S. troops on the ground carrying out audits of U.S. military supplies delivered to Ukraine is genuine, I have my doubts. Soldiers ostensibly detailed to carry out audits could in fact be diverted to help man M777 batteries, HIMARS rocket launchers, HARM missile launchers or operate combat drones. Declaring the purpose as “audit” could just be a thin form of cover to avoid admitting that the U.S. has troops in combat.

One possibility for the timing is to provide an explanation for U.S. casualties from recent Russian attacks that have not been publicized. One of the articles describing General Harmon’s inspection mission indicated that the U.S. troops were not being sent to the front lines and therefore are safe. I call bullshit. There is no safe place in Ukraine that Russia cannot hit with one of its cruise missiles. NATO troops learned this the hard way last March with the devastating hypersonic missile attack on Yavoriv.

Inspecting U.S. supplied weapons means that the auditor either is visiting a warehouse (which the Russians are hitting with regularity) or going to where those weapons are deployed, which means they are vulnerable to Russian fires.

If General Harmon’s primary mission is auditing the disposition of U.S. weapons supplied to Ukraine, this is a tacit admission that the original CBS story on diverted weapons was accurate and the United States is trying to get the worms back into the can. But if that is the case, why wait more than three months to let the press know that the United States was acting to prevent corruption? Why?

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