This story from the Wall Street Journal is … hard to describe. It starts like this:
On May 22, 2008, six U.S. Navy officers allegedly piled into the presidential suite of the Shangri-La hotel in a posh suburb of the Philippine capital of Manila. The men, among the most powerful military officers in the Pacific, were on shore leave from the U.S.S. Blue Ridge, the flagship of the Seventh Fleet, based in Japan. They were there to indulge in 36 straight hours of drinking, accompanied by a “carousel” of sex workers, according to U.S. federal court documents.
The organizer of this bacchanal was Leonard Glenn Francis, a Malaysian contractor for the Navy who would come to occupy the center of a sweeping criminal probe. The “Fat Leonard” scandal—known by the 350-pound Mr. Francis’s nickname—would lead to the investigation of hundreds of Navy personnel and the indictment of dozens on charges related to corruption and the endangerment of national security.
Mr. Francis, now in his mid-50s, has spent eight years in prison and home detention in San Diego. Having pleaded guilty to charges of bribery and conspiracy, he has yet to be sentenced and is now the star witness in the cases of seven Navy officers, some of whom allegedly attended the party in Manila. Their trials for bribery and obstruction of justice, among other charges, are set to begin in February in federal court in San Diego.
In recent months, in contravention of his plea deal, Mr. Francis has been talking to me for a podcast, disclosing new details of the events behind the scandal. He told me just how deeply he was embedded with the Navy, helping to protect the fleet after the attacks of Sept. 11 and going on secret missions to fight al Qaeda affiliates. He also claimed that he videotaped orgies involving Navy officers and was courted by Russian and Chinese spies—a serious national security risk.
“I played professional. I played sexual. Whatever you needed, anything,” Mr. Francis said.
During our 20 hours of recorded conversation, Mr. Francis indicated that he was eager to tell his story because he was sick with kidney cancer and furious with the Navy for what he saw as a coverup. He claimed that the Navy targeted only junior officers and failed to prosecute Navy admirals who he says took prostitutes and other gifts from him. “They didn’t want to charge any of their senior leadership,” Mr. Francis insisted. “That’s how the military is.”
More of Fat Leonard’s derring-do:
He also became a pimp for Navy officers. In return, they overlooked inflated bills and helped him win multimillion-dollar contracts, ensuring that U.S. ships docked at ports that Mr. Francis controlled, according to Justice Department indictments. In our conversations, he boasted of the power he came to wield over the Navy. “I’m nonmilitary, I’m just a civilian, I’m not a U.S. citizen, and all these senior naval officers would just snap on my command: ‘Do this,’ and they’ll move the ships for me,” Mr. Francis said.
The sex that Mr. Francis procured—and the constant flow of Michelin-starred dinners, paid vacations, Cohiba cigars and Dom Pérignon—became perks of the job for scores of Navy officers, according to 34 federal indictments, of which 26 led to guilty pleas. “Everybody has their needs,” Mr. Francis noted shrewdly, and he was there to provide for them: “And it was safe, and they could trust me, and I never let them down. I played professional. I played sexual. Whatever you needed, anything,” he said.
In fact, however, he wasn’t to be trusted. Mr. Francis told me that he regularly videotaped sex involving Navy officers. He said the hid cameras in karaoke machines, including that night in the Shangri-La hotel in Manila, and that he still has the tapes under lock and key. He claimed that he took the videos for fun and never handed over compromising material to U.S. adversaries. But he was a prized target for foreign intelligence services and said that the Chinese and Russian military attachés courted him as an informant.
Read it all. There’s going to be a Fat Leonard podcast series too, starting October 5.
Fat Leonard’s drinking and whoring buddies are the only things standing between China ruling the South China Sea? Xi Jinping must be wetting his pants.
UPDATE: By the way, remember Marine Lt. Col. Stu Scheller, who publicly criticized his superiors for the Afghanistan disaster? He’s in the brig now, awaiting charges. Despite twenty years of failure, including failure to tell Congress the truth about conditions in the failed Afghan war, the only military officer who is paying a price for conduct related to that war’s failure is the one who called out the brass. Note well how things work.
UPDATE.2: I couldn’t figure out why several of you wrote to me to say Fat Leonard is on the right in the photo. I said he was! But then I looked at the pic, and … I got it wrong. Thanks for correcting me.
UPDATE.3: This came in from a reader who serves in the US military, whose name I’m not using:
After having just returned from a course where I was in close proximity to a large number of young enlisted soldiers, this was the first time since 2018 I’ve been with the troops. Unfortunately, the general outlook is gloomy. The deaths of 13 soldiers and Marines in Kabul was a gut punch, but more tellingly, there was a general distrust more than the usual skepticism of the brass traditionally inherent amongst the junior enlisted of senior leadership, the O-6 colonel and above level. More tellingly, there is a negative outlook about the future of America as a whole.Folks were discussing Lord Woodhouselee, Alexander Tytler’s eight stages of civilization. It was agreed that the US appeared to be in the last stage of dependency back into bondage. Mind you, these are young (20-25 year old) enlisted soldiers, generally without a college degree. For this to circulate amongst the troops, things are not well.Morale is not particularly high. In part, this is due to no more war. While soldiers recognize no war is indeed good for the nation as a whole, individually, there is no chance to practice the profession and go to the sound of the guns. The young, in particular, still hear the siren call of the cannons, and long to prove their valor in the crucible of fire. However, I feel this extends beyond no war. Generally, the military, long considered the most patriotic bulwark in government, is starting to believe the country is in deep peril.This has not been reported (surprise), but some good news has come down: the lieutenant colonel in charge of the infantry battalion, 1/8, in Ft Carson, LtCol Andrew Rhodes, was indeed fired for his comments about white males being a part of the problem in society. I confirmed this with a couple of soldiers in his old brigade just recently.There is a large groundswell of quiet, unspoken support for USMC LtCol Stu Scheller. Working at a senior level command, a number of career officers think the man is absolutely right… We demand accountability. The Corps will destroy junior officers’ careers in a heartbeat (lieutenants through lieutenant colonels, generally) for failure or integrity, but when was the last time a GO/FO was fired for failure to perform in combat? For providing a false report to the nation about the state of Afghanistan? What a waste.The man is indeed a national hero… he’s so right. Hell, the Taliban now own more Blackhawk helicopters than some NATO allies. What a complete and total disaster. Our brass swore Vietnam 2.0 would not happen, but within a month, yes, it did. Has anyone been fired? Or held accountable? Nope. And no one will be.