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April 15, 2013

Morning Read: Globe Probes "Political Influence" in Vermont's F-35 Selection

MorningreadThe fight over whether to base next-generation F-35 fighter jets in Vermont landed on the front page of the Boston Globe Sunday.

The focus of reporter Bryan Bender's above-the-fold story is whether Sen. Patrick Leahy — "one of the National Guard's most powerful political allies in Washington" — used his clout to secure the F-35 squadron for his home state.

Bender's answer appears to be yes — and he's got at least a couple insiders who say the same. The Globe scribe quotes an anonymous Pentagon official "directly involved with the review" of base criteria, who says in no uncertain terms that the Air Force cooked the books to please Leahy:

One of the Pentagon officials said in an interview that the lengthy base-selection process was deliberately “fudged’’ by military brass so that Leahy’s home state would win.

“Unfortunately Burlington was selected even before the scoring process began,” said the official, who asked that he not to be identified for fear of reprisals from his superiors. “I wish it wasn’t true, but unfortunately that is the way it is. The numbers were fudged for Burlington to come out on top. If the scoring had been done correctly Burlington would not have been rated higher.”

Bender's Pentagon sources — he makes clear there's more than one — tell him that the Air Force made several "errors" in its initial base review, and one source insinuates that the errors may have been intentional:

“It would be more costly to do these missions at Burlington,” one of the officials said. “They came up with this scoring model to be independent and stand up to scrutiny. But political promises were made.”

This isn't the first time an anonymous military source has cast doubt on the Air Force's base selection process. 

Last June, Burlington Free Press reporter John Briggs wrote that "a highly placed source" in the Air Force had contacted then-South Burlington City Council Chairwoman Rosanne Greco — a leading F-35 opponent — to express concerns about the process. Briggs himself did not speak with the source, but he wrote about Greco's conversations with the official:

The source, whom she said asked to remain anonymous, told her that Burlington scored “so low in environment, mission and other key factors” in the assessment model that the base should not have been rated even among the top competitors for the F-35A basing, Greco said.

Was Greco's source one of Bender's sources — or is there a whole army of anony-mice in the Pentagon trying to blow the whistle on the F-35 selection process? It's impossible to say, though both sources appear to be making the same point.

Needless to say, the Air Force disputes that point in Bender's story. Leahy, meanwhile, "reiterated his support for the planes but did not respond to allegations of political influence," Bender writes.

Read the full Globe story here.

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