September 17, 2011

The Hockey Player and the Space General

My interest was piqued when I learned that the Obama administration had pressured (unsuccessfully) an Air Force general to change his testimony before a Congressional Committee. According to the most common reports (Daily Telegraph article), Air Force Space General William Shelton was more or less ordered to state before the committee that any conflict between LightSquared's proposed satellite-based 4G network and our nation's GPS network could be resolved within ninety days.

Obviously, there is a profound problem when industrialists are able to convince the President of the United States to use his position to benefit a particular commercial enterprise. This is crony capitalism in all its ugly, corrupt infamy. But that's not what struck me. The part that leapt out at me was the fact that if Lightsquared went ahead with its project there could be a profoundly negative impact on American's GPS system. Not only does the GPS system help you navigate your car and find your way through the trackless wilderness, it also helps cruise missiles find their targets. Tactical integration with the GPS system is so complete that in today's American military it even guides portable anti-tank weapons and bunker-busting mortar rounds. Most important of all, it keeps our troops from getting lost in the mountains of Afghanistan and the deserts of Iraq.

President Obama and his team have done many stupid things over the past three years. (The one thing they did do right was eliminating Osama bin Laden by sending Seal Team Six into his compound in Pakistan. By the way, that mission was completely dependent on the GPS system for success!) The "evil industrial-defense complex" is one of the boogeymen they raise up when convenient to prove that their policies are more moral than the Republican platform. One of the subtexts to the healtcare debate was, "why can we spend $2 trillion on defense and not on healthcare?" As a minimum, the current administration is oblivious to the necessity of protecting our defense infrastructure. Sometimes they are downright antagonistic. So when they double-down trying to convince an Air Force General to ignore his primary mission and allow a "minor" interference with that infrastructure I sit up straight and pay close attention.

The first question that comes to mind is, "Who is LightSquared?"

LightSquared is a telecommunications start up funded by a fellow named Philip Falcone. Philip spent his childhood in a small town in Minnesota where they grow up playing hockey the way Brazilian children grow up playing soccer. As a result, he landed a hockey scholarship to Harvard and leapt from small-town Minnesota to a world of money, glamour, and prestige. After Harvard he played hockey in Sweden until a "leg injury" forced him out of professional sports and into the world of business. Eventually he founded a hedge fund called "Harbinger Capital". Curiously, one of his first major takeovers was the New York Times. According to a 2009 report at the investor research site Seeking Alpha, he now owns less than 2% of the New York Times while he has expanded his holdings in SkyTerra to 63.8%. SkyTerra is now known as LightSquared, the driving force behind the administration's attempt to change the testimony of General Shelton.

I have dug as deeply as I can into Harbinger Capital, LightSquared, and Philip Falcone. Other than an obvious and inconsequential tie to Huawei, I don't find any connections between the former hockey star turned billionaire and America's most noteworthy enemies. At this point, with the information I've dug up, I think it is safe to conclude that this is not some backdoor attempt by China to interfere with America's defense infrastructure. This is a good thing, but it implies something even more frightening.

Philip Falcone stands in a position to seriously compromise our country's ability to defend itself. If he proceeds, our defense structure and struggling space program will both suffer break downs in their communication and geolocation systems. This will greatly benefit China, the Taliban, Al Qaeda, Syria, Turkey, and any number of other nations we are very likely to find ourselves at war with in the very near future. Assuming, naturally, that nothing comes along which convinces Turkey to stop supporting efforts to break the Israeli blockade of the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip. Although Philip Falcone knows this perfectly well, he still insists on proceeding with his satellite-based 4G mobile phone system, stooping so low as to convince the current administration to pressure an Air Force General to change his testimony.

But he's not actively seeking to undermine our defense infrastructure. Oh, no. Sadly, it's even worse. He just doesn't care.