back to article SpaceX billionaire claims Air Force official 'likely' made job-for-spy-sat-contract deal

Elon Musk appears to have taken to his official Twitter account to accuse a former Air Force official of having "likely" accepted a bribe to grant the exclusive black sat launch contract to United Launch Alliance. Musk, who is campaigning to have his own rocket firm SpaceX considered for the lucrative spy satellite blast-offs …

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  1. Rick Brasche

    great, back to the "same old same old"

    Mr. Musk is back to the tried and true "smear the other guy to get ahead" techniques of government contractors of the past.

    This disappoints me greatly. I expected "innovate until the opposition begs to be bought up" or at least "innovate until the competition has no choice but to pay billions to acquire us".

    Playing skeevy political games (the opening salvo in this whole engine fiasco) is the stuff of those who are *not* brilliant and *cannot* innovate.

    We've already got enough companies, private and public, doing this, Colt, lookin' at you.

    1. The Mole

      Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

      "Innovate until the competition has not choice" only works if it is a competition. If the game is being rigged through bribes or law breaking then the choices are either to do your own bribery and law breaking, or attempt to expose the suspected bribery and law breaking to get back to a more even field where your innovation can beat the competitions innovation. I'm glad Musk appears to be trying to get the laws stuck too - even if the exposure is self serving.

      I'm still confused as to how a letter from a government department saying we don't want to consider something as illegal is enough to get a judge to overturn a decision, surely the judge should judge based on the letter of the law whether it is legal (which presumably is what they did the first time?)

    2. Don Jefe

      Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

      You absolutely cannot win a rigged game unless you play by the rules, you can't even get a seat at the fucking table unless you play by the rules. Once you're in you can innovate your ass off and twist the rules in your favor, but you've got to get there first.

      This is boring, standard bullshit that covers every aspect of aerospace. Mudslinging and public accusations are so common nobody pays them any attention. The Internet probably saved the entire state of Maine from being turned into paper for printing accusatory op-ed pieces in industry journals. Janes had pretty much become a tabloid until they shoved that shit online. If Elon Musk wasn't involved this wouldn't have even appeared here. His comments are indistinguishable from the eleventybillion similar comments made in the past 4.7 minutes.

      Aerospace, automobile manufacturing, freight and passenger rail, communications, all those industries are run like big city mobs and you've got to prove you can play there before you get in the door. It sucks, but that's reality. If spacey stuff is something Mr. Musk really wants to do this is the only way to do it. As I say, unfortunate, but reality often is.

    3. noominy.noom

      Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

      Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

      I think it's a little harsh for people to downvote you. I haven't seen a lot of Musk's interviews and what not so have no opinion of him personally. I am a big fan of SpaceX and think they are doing great work. However, I also think Musk should keep his Tweets toned down. Lawsuits over government decisions on contracts are common and was likely warranted in this case. I'm not claiming SpaceX should win. I'm saying it's questionable enough a court should look at it and decide. But Musk's latest Tweets? I think they're bad judgement on his part, and tasteless to boot.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

        > But Musk's latest Tweets? I think they're bad judgement on his part

        And I think the only thing keeping him from lifting off to Mars yet is the weight of his balls.

      2. Someone Else Silver badge
        Coat

        @ noominy.noom -- Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

        Since when has there ever been a Tweet that is anything other than "bad judgement [...], and tasteless to boot" ?

      3. DrMordrid

        Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

        If they sue him guess what? He has the rights of discovery and deposition, during which his (very good) lawyers can run an anal exam on all concerned including the books, calls and emails. Also, if they don't sue him what does that say?.

        Wouldn't be one bit surprised if his lawyers wrote those tweets.

    4. Paul Hovnanian Silver badge

      Re: great, back to the "same old same old"

      Lets make that

      "innovate until the opposition has a file cabinet full of your proprietary technical documents stashed away."

  2. Chris T Almighty

    Military-industrial complex in Bribery shock.

    I'd say his odds of seeing a prison are just about zero. Nice work if you can get it.

  3. DryBones

    Well, this is a problem...

    An image problem for Aerojet, anyway. It's not ULA's responsibility or perview to vet a supplier's hirings. And yes, this is another angle to try and get the contact revoked, but I don't currently see how it would have influenced the outcome of negotiations, since he was only part of a negotiation team, and that one supplier doesn't have a major influence on costs. Have to wait and see what the look at due diligence says.

    1. DryBones

      Re: Well, this is a problem...

      Not sure what there is to disagree with in there, but whatever. This should be interesting either way it goes. Either there will be improper hiring practices found at Aerojet (who are not part of ULA, contrary to what Musk is insinuating), or he's made a pretty good civil case against himself for libel and defamation of character.

  4. Gene Cash Silver badge

    Read the McCain letter linked by Musk

    It's surprisingly readable and free of lawyerese & BS.

    It basically says "OK, the USAF says SpaceX doesn't have the heavy rockets to launch the upcoming missions, then the USAF says we can't qualify new rockets for these missions because we don't have missions for these launches. Now which one is it?"

    1. Nunyabiznes

      Re: Read the McCain letter linked by Musk

      McCain does have his moments of clarity. They just seem to be getting fewer and fewer, especially since 2008.

  5. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    I reckon Musk has the goods on Correll about trying to get a job off Spacex

    Note his comments about the VP's job are carefully phrased as an "opinion."

    If so that builds a chronology of events that at best looks very suspicious for Correll.

    I just wish they'd be more honest about it. Like making Correll say "VP i/c of shmoozing ex colleagues for fatter contracts" which is probably what he'll be doing anyway.*

    *I have no evidence for this of course.

    1. F111F
      Coat

      Re: I reckon Musk has the goods on Correll about trying to get a job off Spacex

      I don't have any evidence either that Aerojet's real reason is to schmooze more contracts, but having been in a company that did get contracts from the military, it was standard practice. We'd hire retired civil service or military (including me), for two main purposes. First, to bring expertise on a current contract effort, and second, use our contacts and knowledge to get our business development team positioned to make a sale. We weren't allowed (depending on rank and whether or not you had access or oversight over government contracting) to work on any project we had access or control over, or even help on the bid for about two years after we departed government service. So, while Correll may not be directly working with any projects he was associated with, he will be certainly opening doors for the business development team and pointing the company to work that the government wants to outsource, or can't get done in the normal scheme of things (not enough manpower, facilities, etc).

      ...Mine's the one with the retired ID in the pocket...

      1. foxyshadis

        Re: I reckon Musk has the goods on Correll about trying to get a job off Spacex

        No one gives a damn about that, people have been going back and forth between military and civil service for centuries. I mean, no one likes it, but at this point only bushy tailed university students think that they can change anything. What gets people up in arms about this and other blatant instances is approving a sweetheart deal right before you get a sweetheart deal back from the same company. That just makes everyone angry; people like to think they have a voice, no one likes to be reminded that companies buy and sell all of the laws no matter what the people think.

  6. td97402

    Same old revolving door in the most corrupt place on earth...the Pentagon...and pretty much the rest of Washington. Government official makes decisions benefiting some billionaire or big corp and the next thing you know he's got some executive position at the same or a closely tied company. In this case, don't think for a minute that AeroJet doesn't listen very carefully to Boeing & Lockheed Martin (aka ULA) AeroJet really doesn't sell anything to anyone else at this point.

    1. DryBones

      This is exactly the sort of thing that isn't going on, because if they did they'd have the FTC so far up their ass they wouldn't be able to move. There is no shortage of folks ready to point the finger either.

      The problem is that the folks most qualified for these jobs are those that have been doing it from another angle. This isn't "build building", this is "understand convoluted regulations, follow procedure, and provide accurate requirements documentation for launching a rocket on government contract". It's kind of a narrow worker pool to pick from.

      So you end up with folks that understand what's wanted, but they don't get to actually deal with most anyone that they knew from their former job. So you end up with negotiating teams working from packages those with the knack have given them.

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    He screwed the pooch.

    Mister Musk will never be trusted by the USAF ever again. Short of executive interference, he will never launch another satellite for them.

  8. Rule of Thumb

    Wait a minute...

    Step 1. Correll makes sweetheart deal with X in order to later get cushy VP position. Step 2. Correll retires. Step 3. Correll applies to SPACEX!?!?!? Step 4. Correll gets cushy VP job with supplier to X.

    Step 3 doesn't add up. Correll would never have applied to SpaceX if he knew he had a job waiting at X, unless he applied to SpaceX simply as a diversion?

    I hope Musk prevails. I'm quite confident that the USAF wastes money. But Musk's revelation about Correll's SpaceX application seems inconsistent with the accusation. Of course, if proven I hope Correll gets prison but the last such scandal that I can recall the per got 9 months... Doesn't seem like sufficient punishment.

    1. foxyshadis

      Re: Wait a minute...

      The tweet leads me to believe he felt out both SpaceX and Aerojet before the contract was awarded. If SpaceX had offered the position, who knows if they'd have the contract right now? (And a lawsuit from Aerojet instead.) There are people that corrupt out there, but it's impossible to know if Correll is one. It's conjecture until it gets to court.

    2. DryBones

      Re: Wait a minute...

      It adds up perfectly well if you figure in that most people in the aerospace industry (or any industry) tend to want to stay in it. You don't generally go from semiconductor design to brain surgery, you stick where your experience is because that's how you have the best chance of landing a job.

      See F111F's post, above.

  9. Syzzleman

    SpaceX drops 'Rocketgate' bombshell on Boeing / Lockheed Martin

    Boeing has famously been convicted numerous times of engaging in bribery to secure lucrative government contracts. Lockheed Martin has also been caught with its hands in the cookie jar. So this latest charge should come as no surprise to anyone. Even the most ardent ULA lobbyist and cronie politician would have to admit the optics are pretty bad. It reads like a Tom Clancy novel:

    A secret backroom plot is hatched between a disgruntled Air Force officer and an evil aerospace conglomerate that aims to block billionaire Elon Musk, America's real-life Iron Man, from competing for a lucrative military launch contract. Within weeks of inking a $10B deal the officer retires from the military only to land a plum executive job with a Kremlin controlled rocket engine supplier to the Unlimited Larceny Alliance (ULA). Iron Man fights to expose the conspiracy and wins the day.

    But seriously, this has FBI probe and Congressional investigation written all over it.

    Emails will no doubt be deleted, hard disks wiped clean with paper shredders working late into the night no doubt...but it won't matter....'Rocketgate' has already cleared the tower...

    1. Elmer Phud

      Re: SpaceX drops 'Rocketgate' bombshell on Boeing / Lockheed Martin

      " Lockheed Martin has also been caught with its hands in the cookie jar."

      They not only provided the jar but the cookies as well.

      Didn't they invent - or at least blow a rumour up to be planet-sized - that them damn Russskies had almost finished a superfighter and got a contract to build a competitor.?

      ( and no, not that time when US military got shit scared by the titanium superplane that turned out to be controlled using Meccano)

  10. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Joke

    "Unlimited Larceny Alliance"

    That's an outrageous suggestion impugning the reputation of a Corporation whose only crime has been "Defending America" (TM)*

    *At least according to some corporate mouthpiece.

    1. Fatman

      Re: "Unlimited Larceny Alliance"

      *At least according to some corporate mouthpiece bullshit purveyor.

      FTFY!!!

  11. unitron
    Boffin

    If only someone had thought...

    ...to couple the axle of that revolving door to a generator shaft--free electricity for all!

  12. Chad H.

    >>>>The Air Force has said that it’s surprised by the lawsuit from SpaceX, given that it’s spending millions of dollars on getting the company certified so that it can compete for future launches. General William Shelton, head of the Air Force Space Command, told reporters on Wednesday that SpaceX should be certified by the end of the year or early next year,

    Which does a fat lot of good if things dont go out to tender.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    More Beltway banditry...

    Everyone knows that the ULA companies are glued at the hip to the Air Force, and that the Air Force will find every reason to keep these companies happy in the face of SpaceX. Why? Because the Air Force needs Boeing and Lockheed Martin to build and maintain its aircraft, which is a business that SpaceX is never going to get into.

    This is all about keeping big defense contractors afloat no matter what, through pitching them sweetheart no-bid deals that subsidize these bloated defense contractors. It's been done before a thousand times, and it will continue to be done as long as the Air Force needs to preserve its aviation suppliers so it can have its next jet fighter/bomber/transport, and as long as the revolving door between the Pentagon and the contractors is kept open.

    1. Dave Harvey

      Re: More Beltway banditry...

      Not to mention of course that over-paying Boeing via ULA is yet another way to "subsidise" it to help it win commercial aeroplane orders, but in a way which doesn't show up to the WTO!

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: More Beltway banditry...

        The Air Force is much less concerned about that, since there are decent firewalls between the commercial and military sides of Boeing. However, if it keeps the military side of Boeing afloat, then the Air Force is happy to see Boeing shift more 747s/787s/737s/etc.

  14. Yag
    Facepalm

    "Pentagon wars" anyone?

    Religions of the bears, and pope in the wood. Or something like that...

  15. mike 32

    Those tweet timestamps...

    are they Musks' local time, or Brid-Ain Parnells? Because nothing good comes from tweeting at 3am, no matter what it's about.

  16. AJames

    Understanding how the game is played

    To understand this you need to know how the defence procurement game is played. Filing a protest and making Twitter comments is not done lightly, it's part of a carefully evaluated corporate strategy. Almost all major procurement contracts are ultimately decided by uncompetitive backroom deals that are years in the making, and a whole lot of people get paid off with favours to make it happen. It's understood that everybody eventually gets their turn at the next contract if not this one, as long as they avoid messy public protests. But once in a while things go a little too far, and it's time to make a big, messy protest. There is zero chance that the protest will be successful, and it's understood that the protesting company will be punished for it. But it's intended to give notice that the government side needs to rein things in and play fair in the future, or else their normally-tame bidder will blow them all up. For established companies it has to be done about once every 10 years, or they'll think the company is a pushover that can safely be ignored when they're doling out the procurements. For a new player like Space-X, they have to be more aggressive to muscle their way to the table.

  17. Fluffy Bunny
    Alert

    Bad Look There

    This is a classic example of how not to do business. In the late '70s, a Japanese government contract was let, with the winner being Fujitsu. Immediately after that, the head of the procurement team left and got a job in private industry - with Futjitsu. After the protests had died down, the Japanese government relet the contract. Fujitsu won again.

    Sometimes, no matter how bad it looks, it isn't actually corruption.

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