Dina Rasor: blowing the whistle on the Pentagon
''I guess this is something of a sexist thing to say, but I didn't play army or tanks when I was little.''Skip to next paragraph
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Dina Rasor, who lives on Capitol Hill with her husband, Tom Lawson, dog, Bonnie, and boa constrictor, Heracles, anchors an errant strand of hair behind her ear. ''I'm not the John Wayne type,'' she says. ''I find weapons repulsive.''
Pentagon officials must devoutly wish that she had once thrilled to the sight of tanks on parade or choked back emotion as B-52 bombers filled the sky, because this 25-year-old woman has them squarely in her sights.
Dina Rasor (pronounced ''Deena Razor'') is the director of the Project on Military Procurement, which aims, among other things, to make the public aware of the ''waste, fraud, and fat'' in the US defense budget and to encourage and assist whistle-blowers in exposing such abuses.
''We are examining defense spending to see if the American taxpayer is gaining increased security for his defense dollar,'' Ms. Rasor declares.
She explains that her organization, an arm of the National Taxpayers Legal Fund, ''is taking a serious look at howm . . . defense money is being spent, whatm we are getting for that money, and whom is benefiting from large defense expenditures.''
As a short-range goal, the project seeks to subject military ''spending abuses'' to public and congressional scrutiny. ''Our long-range goal is . . . to reform the military acquisition system to produce effective, reliable, and less expensive national defense,'' Ms. Rasor observes in an interview in her cramped Massachusetts Avenue office here.
Since founding the project last February, she has devoted most of her time to probing the M-1 tank, the Maverick air-to-ground missile, airborne warning and control system aircraft, and cruise missiles.
Much of her information on these weapons systems comes from assorted whistle-blowers in the defense establishment, whom she refers to affectionately as ''my closet patriots.'' ''They are people who've been inside the system for 20 to 30 years and just can't take it anymore,'' she exclaims.
What these ''closet patriots'' bring her, she says, is information ''on what's going wrong,'' and usually enough of it ''that I can present the case to the public.'' Often she does this by alerting newspaper reporters to what she has learned. Recently she aired her findings on the problem-ridden M-1 tank to the Senate Appropriations Defense Subcommittee.
None of her contacts pass on secret information, Ms. Rasor insists. If offered any she would turn it down flatly, she says. ''It is not right for me to have classified documents. In fact, I can go through channels to get them sanitized or de-classified, which I do.''
Where her whistle-blowers are concerned, she says, ''I'm the classic front. And there's a reason for that. These people are going to get into trouble if they come forward.'' According to her, most whistle-blowers ''have a sincere belief that if they come clean everything will be right and they will be vindicated. But that's just not how the system works. The system squashes these people.''
Although she has considerably irritated the Army with claims that its new M-1 tank program is little short of an $18 billion disaster, Ms. Rasor apparently has not been subjected to any reprisals for her outspokenness.
Defense officials ''often try to question your credibility and Pentagon flacks have been very rude to me at times,'' she asserts. But she says she has no proof that her telephones are being tapped, for instance. ''Though I have had several cases where the Army has said something back to me that I've only said to a reporter over the phone,'' she recalls. ''So I have a suspicion.''
''A lot of my closet patriots have their phones tapped, so the Pentagon knows all about us,'' Ms. Rasor says. Indeed, she claims that pressure on them to halt their activities is ''getting worse,'' but she is reluctant to go into details.
A number of whistle-blowers have kept Ms. Rasor abreast of the problems that have beset the M-1 tank throughout its development. She says she has focused considerable attention on the tank, ''not because I want to pick on the Army,'' but because, as she claims, the tank had undergone a ''shocking (cost) increase'' in 1980, rocketing from $1.5 million to $2.5 million per tank. She also claims it is bedeviled by numerous design flaws -- from flammable hydraulic fluid to insufficient armor protection -- that cast doubts on its ability to defeat Soviet tanks. The Army rejects such assertions out of hand.