Obamagate is real, and the Nunes memo, which has detonated like a bomb in the face of official Washington, forced a reckoning. While evidence of political interference in the intelligence and national security sectors by the Obama administration has piled up relentlessly over the past few weeks, it wasn’t until the infamous memo that those stories became impossible to sweep under the rug, and demanded a response. And, of course, Republicans in particular have wrung their hands over that. “We are shocked, shocked,” many of them intone seriously, “that the Obama administration tried to politicize every inch of their administration.”
Really? You’re shocked? Because I thought the Obama administration’s willingness to play politics with seemingly impartial branches of government was well-established. Granted, the scale of the offense in this case is greater than most previous offenses. Yes, the story of how flagrantly the Obama administration corrupted the intelligence community is impressive for its sheer brazenness, and rightfully deserves the comparisons to Watergate it’s getting. But when it comes to politicizing America’s government infrastructure, we’ve known the Obama administration was this brazen for a while. In fact, when it came to achieving the preferred policy outcomes of their donors, the Obama administration already showed it was perfectly willing to leverage national security years back.
To explain this, let me take you back to 2011, when it emerged that Gen. William Shelton, then the head of Air Force Space Command, had been pressured by the administration to alter testimony before Congress in order to favor the interests of Democratic donor Philip Falcone. Specifically, Shelton was asked to voice support for policies that would have favored Falcone’s then-new company, LightSquared. Shelton refused, and told his story to reporters, who ran it as a tech-oriented coda to the then-developing Solyndra scandal.
As it turned out, Shelton’s decision to blow the whistle was very, very wise, because LightSquared soon became a Solyndra in its own right. You see, after receiving billions in government funding, as well as illegally-granted licenses, from the Obama-era FCC, Lightsquared ended up forced into bankruptcy when multiple other federal agencies had the bad taste to point out that its entire business model not only would fail, but could end up indirectly taking the GPS industry with it thanks to its poorly thought out technological plans. Without getting too far into the weeds, LightSquared’s business model relied on using a particular band of spectrum (essentially, the equivalent of a lane in a highway, but for digital data, not for cars) that GPS companies also used to make their products work. The problem was that what Lightsquared was doing was more or less the equivalent of a drunk driver swerving around the lane, and would’ve eventually caused the digital equivalent of a thirty car pileup. And yet, the Obama administration tried to conscript Air Force Space Command into being an apologist for one of their many sugar daddies. With that kind of disregard for basic prudence, is it any wonder they also thought they could get away with turning intelligence agencies into opposition research arms of the DNC?
Like so much else that was puerile and ugly about the Obama administration, the Trump administration now has to clean this up. And they won’t just have to do it at the FBI. In the intervening years, Lightsquared has emerged from bankruptcy under a new name – Ligado – this time backed by Obama bundler Reed Hundt. And much like the rest of the Obama and Clinton brigade, Hundt appears to be incapable of learning from past mistakes, because while Ligado has paid lip service to playing nice with its fellow tech companies, it has apparently gotten tired of this flirtation with repentance and is once more asking the FCC for special favors. This, despite the fact that their business model remains just as precarious and unsafe as it was in 2011.
Fortunately, this time they’ll have to convince not a scraping Obama-era flunky, but the FCC’s Honey Badger himself, Ajit Pai. And if he stays true to form, Pai will prove that just as cronies like Peter Strzok and Lisa Page got drained out of the swamp by the Trump administration, so too will the likes of Ligado get hoovered out.
But let that pass, for ultimately, the Lightsquared/Ligado fiasco is nothing more than a canary in a coal mine: a coal mine whose dark and twisted tunnels ended with the bleak and blatant politicization of America’s national security apparatus. Perhaps we should have paid attention when the Obama administration subjected even arcane topics like spectrum policy to a “politicization today, politicization tomorrow, politicization forever” approach. But we didn’t, and now there’s that much more swamp to drain. With any luck, as House Speaker Paul Ryan put it, the compromised decision-making process of the Obama administration will be cleansed from the federal government altogether.