Judiciously guarding our military’s classified information makes excellent sense. Stamp it “SECRET,” the system takes over and lives will be saved. What patriot would quibble with that?

But calling stuff “SECRET” to cover up Pentagon screw-ups that cost soldiers’ lives or to protect war racketeers’ pet scams violates what our country is about. Ditto the Pentagon-employed spinmeisters and the big bucks they waste annually hiding the truth from U.S. citizens unknowingly footing the bill for their deceptions.

The Pentagon’s annual defense budget is about 500 times bigger than what our fleet-footed Public Enemies No. 1 and 2 – Saddam Hussein and his designated terror buddy Osama bin Laden – spent during the same period on things that go bang. My bet is that the military’s annual propaganda and promotion budget alone exceeds what these running dogs spent last year trying to do American infidels in.

And then there’s the army of flacks, stretching from top military spinner Victoria Clarke, her Pentagon office minions and the hundreds of other damage-control experts scattered at rifle-company strength around that five-sided building, to the thousands of flacks in the field working at virtually every small unit in our armed forces.

For years, I’ve tried to get the actual cost and number of bodies involved in running the Pentagon’s con machine, only to be repeatedly stonewalled. The figures are buried in Pentagon double-speak that’s too cryptic for even Ralph Nader. But we’re talking enough folks – civilian and uniformed – to fill and fund at least an Army or Marine fighting division. No question they outnumber bin Laden’s terrorists, and for sure they’re as busy.

For example, as I write this, tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars are being spent on covering up what happened to Jessica Lynch and her mates during and after their unit was ambushed and they were captured.

Soldiers from Jessica’s El Paso, Texas-based 507th Maintenance Company have been warned not to talk. A soldier in that unit said, “It’s almost ‘say a word and you’ll be shot at dawn.'”

Jessica has been locked up in a private Walter Reed hospital room with an around-the-clock security detail normally reserved for high brass to ensure that what happened to her as a prisoner of war remains inside her room. Medical personnel who look after her have been given the same keep-your-trap-shut treatment as the 507th troopers. Almost daily, her cover story changes from amnesia to partial amnesia to more recently: “She’s blocked just the ambush event.”

I suspect more investigative journalists are on this story than the Laci Peterson murder. So, sooner or later, the truth will be told about Jessica and her 507th comrades-in-misfortune.

But maybe it won’t about another big cover-up, the war’s actual vehicle battle damage:

  • 151 mighty Abrams tanks were hit. Most were repaired on the battlefield and rolled back into the fight. Three tanks took catastrophic hits from Russian AT-14 anti-tank missiles supplied by Dubya’s barbecue buddy, and 12 others were damaged so badly they ended up in the junkyard.

  • 16 Bradley Fighting Vehicles were destroyed, and 35 seriously damaged.

  • 23 M-113 Armored Personnel Carriers were melted, and 53 trucks were destroyed.

A light-infantry weapon called the RPG (rocket propelled grenade) – fired by the type of guerrilla enemy that caused the fathers of many of the drivers of these vehicles a lot of trouble in Vietnam – damaged or knocked out the vast majority of these vehicles.

The reason these figures have been classified at a higher rating than the contents of Rummy’s briefcase is that hungry porkers plan to phase out the Abrams and Bradley, replacing them with a new, multibillion-dollar wonder toy called the Stryker. But even casual analysis would show that if this thin-skinned wheeled vehicle had been used in Iraq instead of the Abrams tank, the much-hyped “Shock and Awe” would’ve been for naught, and the spinners would be working overtime to explain the debacle.

I can understand such deviousness going down in North Korea. But every time I happen upon it in America, land of democracy spelled with a capital D – where government is supposed to be working for the people instead of deceiving them with Hollywood-style smoke and mirrors – it’s always a blow to the heart.

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