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Fat Leonard



On Sept. 22, 2022, Venezuelan authorities spotted a hard-to-miss figure at Simón Bolívar International Airport, about to board a flight to Russia. Leonard Glenn Francis, known widely as “Fat Leonard,” was 6-foot-3 and 350 pounds—and was among Washington’s most wanted after escaping custody in California two weeks earlier. The 57-year-old Malaysian felon was enormous, rich, and charming. He was also at the center of one of the worst corruption and espionage scandals in U.S. history.

As Washington Post reporter Craig Whitlock details in his deftly told new book, Fat Leonard: How One Man Bribed, Bilked, and Seduced the U.S. Navy, over the course of his career Francis swindled the Navy out of tens of millions of dollars. His firm, Glenn Defense Marine Asia, held “more than $200 million in defense contracts to resupply U.S. warships and submarines at almost every port in the Western Pacific.”

Francis’s 2013 arrest and subsequent plea deal would result in nearly 1,000 people being investigated, including 685 U.S. Navy personnel, more than 90 of them admirals. But it also exposed just how tightly masculinity and corruption are intertwined. Francis was able to pull off his scamming because of who he targeted: the entitled, insecure, horny men who made up much of Navy leadership in the Pacific.

True story: Every year the Army War College sends the entire student body to New York City for a two day trip that is effectively about introducing the nation’s military elite to the centers of finance and culture. In spring 2019 I was assigned to lead a team of about a dozen colonels and lieutenant colonels (plus a Navy commander) on a tour of Manhattan. Maybe half of that group had never before set foot in Manhattan, and it was fun to watch grown men having their minds blown in real-time by the stunning reality of the city; Manhattan’s verticality can never be imagined by someone who hasn’t visited, it can only be experienced. It was also fun to visit the Colombian UN delegation, as I can tell you that while the value “show up 30 minutes early” is definitely part of the culture of field officers of the US Army, it is most decidedly not shared by the diplomatic corps of the Republic of Colombia; the ambassador was so disgruntled that he didn’t even serve coffee. Learning experience!

Anyway, the teams of colonels were dispatched to a wide variety of different NYC institutions, including the Port Authority, City Hall, various major corporations, assorted UN delegations etc. One of my friends was part of the NYPD group, and reported back levels of surveillance and intelligence-gathering capability that were surprising even to veteran military officers. My team visited some big multi-billion dollar firm that did some… thing that I did not understand at the time and still don’t understand. The folks handed out a nifty swag back that included a very nice coffee cup and a very nice pen. The Navy commander who was part of our group jumped back from the swag bag as if it were a snake, and said something along the lines of “Nope; Fat Leonard. Nope, don’t need my career ended.” Which means, I think, that the message got through.

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