Please join me and my guest, Bryan DelMonte, President of the Aviation Agency for a wide-ranging interview about the future of air travel as COVID-19 vaccines come on line, vaccine roll-outs, and stories from his Defense Department career.
Bob Levinstein 0:15
Hello and welcome back to CruiseCompete Cruise Podcast where we share tips, ideas and inspiration to help make your next cruise a fantastic experience. I'm your host Bob levenstein. With COVID-19 vaccines thought to be arriving shortly as an early Christmas present. one topic on everyone's mind is what will travel look like if we get to the other side. My guest today has a great deal of insider knowledge about the aviation industry and their plans going forward. Brian Del Monte is present a full service marketing agency for aviation and avionics companies. Brian has had a fantastic career in consulting, marketing and in government as part of the Defense Department's Global War on Terror. We'll be right back with Brian and his insights into flying and hopefully some great stories from his career. Right after this.
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Welcome back. My guest today is Brian Delmonte founder and president of the Aviation Agency. Brian, welcome to the program.
Dan Blanchard 2:13
Thanks for having me. It's great to be here.
Bob Levinstein 2:16
Well, I'm really interested to hear what you're hearing out there as you talk to your clients.
But before we get there, you've worked in a variety of industries over the years medical devices software, what is it that drew you to specialize in aviation?
Dan Blanchard 2:32
Sure, that's a that's a great question. And my old team at the aviation agency, we spent, you know, 30 or more years, all of us selling all kinds of products I've spent 30 years you recapped a little bit of my, my history, I've done a bunch of things. But But my whole career has basically been around trading words and ideas for profit and actions, right? We want people to do things. And so what led me to establish this agency where we focus only on aviation, aerospace and defense was this. When I was a kid, I wanted to be a pilot, I saw Top Gun just like everybody else. And basically, the naval recruiters said, that's great, Brian, but you're too short. And your eyesight sucks. So thanks for your interest in national security, which was a story I relayed actually to the Chief of Naval Operations. When I worked at the Pentagon, I joked, well, you know, you had your opportunity to have me 20 years ago, you guys were like, so anyway, about five years ago, or four years ago, my wife, I was thinking about, you know, hey, I'd like to learn to fly and things like that again. And you know, I'd always done flight simulators and things like that, and I know a lot about flying. And so my wife and my kids got me a discovery flight, which for people who don't, don't you pay about $100 go to a flight school, and they'll take up and you can try flying. It's very safe. It's very accessible. You're with a highly qualified instructor who at all times is really responsible for the airplane, you get to play pilot, okay. And in my case, you know, I went up I knew a lot I actually got to do a lot of flying and everything. My my instructor, oddly enough, we had a lot of the same background with Department of Defense experience. The so I took this discovery flight. And in my previous time in agency life, I had handled aerospace and defense because of my time at the Pentagon. And so I knew a fair amount about that type of sales, which is which is different because, you know, those companies, you know, AMD companies, they have a very limited number of buyers, the primary being the United States government. Okay, so it's not quite the same as as like if you think about Bharti Or Gulfstream or somebody like that, okay, it's not quite the same. But anyways, I spent time in stos. And I spent time engaged in all this, I was really struck by just how poorly the marketing was. And rather than just jump in, I spent two years trying to understand what I saw. And what I saw, I would characterize this way, and I realized my characterization is flippant. But I believe it to be true, which is most of our competitors in this face. And I'm talking about agencies that either have some aviation clients or agencies that are explicitly aviation only, they all tell a story that essentially goes like this. I was a pilot once where I worked at an airport, or I worked for an airline or I worked for a charter company or whatever. And I designed a brochure once and I decided that was way more fun and exciting than what I was doing before. So now I do that.
And so they sell on the basis of Hey, we understand your world because I'm a pilot to got it. And our and our background and what we you know, what we do for a living our craft is we know how to sell product. I've sold, grills, sports stadiums, you know, getting them funded. My partner's you know, liquor, food, beer, fast food, I've sold hotel rooms I've sold, you know, basically you name it, you know, I've probably tried to sell it. And what we what we thought about with respect to the industry in the aviation agency, and the reason why we felt an aviation agency would be worthwhile, and it has been resonated very well is we know the craft of advertising and marketing. And this industry is so driven by sales and needing to generate desire for people to buy their products, that we knew that if we brought a very high level of the craft to the industry, it could really transform the lives of these companies, which mean when you get on board an airplane, you don't think about it at all. Okay, there were literally hundreds of millions of man hours involved in everything. Regarding your entire experience from the second you arrive at the airport to the second you leave. There's so much craft, so much engineering, so many lives in the heart and soul of those people that gets poured into making that experience so effortless, that we have a lot of admiration for those people in those stories. And so rather than selling soap, or you know, detergent, or beer or you know, hotel rooms, whatever. Not that those things aren't important too. But they just didn't make us as excited. We have a passion for aviation, but our craft is advertising and marketing. And so I'm like, let's see if we can apply our craft to something we think is cool. So two years ago, the aviation agency started. That's how we got there. Oh, that's that's a great story. Um, yeah, I had I had a guest on, we think, you know, Fran Hume? Yep, I noticed this link to you. And she was telling me about how they ended up designing seats for a for an airline. And, you know, you get there you sit in your seat, you never think twice, but I ended up you know, going and seeing some of the materials that they had on their website about how they put these things together and how they tested them and designed it. And that's just one tiny piece. Right now, if that 100 million dollar or whatever they are their point cost. It's it's really Brian. Right? What's, um, what's the mood of all your clients these days? The doom and gloom where people starting to be hopeful? Well, there's still a lot of doom and gloom. You know, the what happened in March is pretty much an unprecedented catastrophic event for the industry as a whole. Okay. commercial aviation is by far the most visible and the largest sector of the broadest definition of aviation. Okay. And it went from making what it made in revenue a week to making that in three months. Now, most people can't take like a 90% haircut or revenue to survive. Okay. Yeah, so that's, so that's what happened to them in effectively by April. Okay. And so, you know, there's a lot of uncertainty. The government programs did provide some relief. The, you know, my position my clients and the people that I talk with and the people who are interested in talking to us, they are than that there are winners and losers in any kind of, you know, crisis and upheaval. And essentially, the position I've taken and the position I've had clients take is, look, you know, which side you're going to be on the winner or the loser side. And there are plenty of businesses I talked to you, they're like, Oh, my God, COVID. We don't know what to do, you know, and they get paralyzed. Sure, okay. And they're still paralyzed. And then there are businesses that are like, Well, look, we'd like to not be out of business. Okay, and so, you know, even even at the worst of it, when the economy was, you know, down 35%, which, I'm pretty sure isn't as an economist, I'm pretty sure that's unprecedented in our history.
And, and even then, though, that means 65% of the economy's working. Right. Okay. So while a country commercial air aviation has taken it on the chin, okay, again, winners and losers I talked about in April, that business aviation is going to be a winner in this business, aviation couldn't figure it out over the next three years, and they deserve whatever happens to them. Because it's never going to be as easy and good for them as it is now. Where you can't find a turbine aircraft to buy. Okay, you can't find a jet. If you want a private jet, good luck, because we're all snapped up. Because everybody who needs to travel, who can afford private aircraft, that's what they're doing. charters are having a hard time growing because they can't get their hands on aircraft. Okay. There's been a huge uptick for charter overall. Now granted, it's been as kind of a seesaw ride, it went up, and then it like, hit the floor. And now it's back up again. But you know, long term, there are going to be displacements from all this. And so our clients are reading the tea leaves and saying, Okay, look, we have to be engaged, we have to market we have to create desire, we have to do these things. And so some are optimistic, okay. And some have reason to be optimistic, because for example, in the business aviation sector, the long term prospect for them is pretty good, because commercial is going to be slow to come back, just the nature of how they're going to be able to turn the boat and everything. And right now there aren't like, you know, just to take New York, for example, I'll Betcha for every one flight between Chicago and New York, there are 20 flights between New York and Mexico for excursion travel, because that's where the demand is right now. Okay. And so with, you know, part of what held business aviation back is there were always like 30, or 40 flights a day, every hour in first class going to x location, well, that's not going to be the case going forward. So you're not going to be able to control your time as well as you could. So business aviation is going to prosper as a result of that. And how much of that too is you know, people are finally have been forced to be comfortable with, I'll use zoom, and I can get just as much done. There's a lot of that. I mean, there are you know, one of my my passions, and I study is habit formation, there are going to be permanent, durable changes to business as a result of Coronavirus. And one of them is, we're not going to be in the office as much as we used to be and we're not going to be face to face like we used to be. Now this is a challenge for the airlines, they need to do something they haven't done in four years, which is actually advertise and generate desire to travel. Okay, so so they're either going to accept that challenge, or they won't. I realize it's self serving for me to say that, but they've kind of presumed demand, at least for the last 20 years. And I'd say honestly, you know, for the last four years that kind of presumed that people will just use aircraft travel, again, because it was so ubiquitous and it was a it was reasonably cheap. And it was readily available. The trial, we think on the leisure side, on the leisure side, it's going to come back with a vengeance. Yeah, I would think so is the vaccine rolls out and people get to travel again. But in terms of business, you know, zoom and GoToMeeting, and all those things that's really going to go away. In my opinion, it's going to change you know, most businesses are going to be matrix which honestly for our business COVID didn't do much because we were already matrix. I've been working this way and working from home or a remote location for a while. I don't have Yeah, yeah. Yeah, we've been a virtual company since 2003. So it's, and I think it's going to be real what's really going to be interesting is the water city is going to look like 10 years from now. You know, why do you you know, paying those high taxes? Yeah, James all toucher had a, you know, he wrote his op ed piece, which then, you know, enraged, the other half of New York right with Jerry Seinfeld. Basically saying Go take a flying leap. And that's putting it you know, kind of mildly, but you know, I mean, look, Jim's right in his, in his spidey sense on this, okay.
There is going to be an exodus. And that's going to cause some real long term problems for urban areas because of the taxation demands and the infrastructure demands predicated on that taxation base. You know, if New York slips back, I mean, you know, I'm old enough to remember when deathwish was a commentary on the reality of New York City on some fictionalized accounts. Okay. And it was murder capital of the world, you know, and if it slips back into that, you know, that'll be a real problem. And, you know, I know, it's hard to understand today, when you look at this man with shoe polish running down his head, but he, you know, was largely America's mayor, because he cleaned up New York City, you know? And, and so, right, that's right, you know, and so, like I said, I know, it's hard to appreciate that Now, given what you're saying, but but cities are gonna have a hard time. And you know, when I look at my friends that are real estate agents, and they're like, I'm selling homes by doing zoom calls. They don't even actually see the house in person, they and they, and they're leaving Chicago and New York, and Houston and LA. And so all of you know what I saw, like, a couple of days ago, right. Goldman Sachs is thinking of taking one of their divisions out of New York and putting it either in Orlando or Texas. Yes. Both states with exceptionally lower tax incidence. And that essentially, it gives all those employees a raise. Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And I mean, I read a really interesting piece, talking about the effects of wealthy people leaving the city. And you know, first off, obviously, yes, they're paying the lion's share of the taxes. But once you get past that, they're also supporting a lot of the things that make the city a tourist destination, rail, the museums, the Broadway shows, you know, the, the symphony orchestra, a lot of these things, rely on grants on gifts, you know, to come in, you see all these plaques of the $50,000 donor, if they really have a reason to support these things. Well, they're gonna support them elsewhere. So you're gonna start seeing great museums, although, you know, we'll have to see if this happens. You may start seeing great museums in Florida, something you currently don't see. Right. Yeah. Yeah, but you know, I mean, what what to see if this is a long term trend, I mean, when the vaccine comes back, will the allure of the Big Apple recover? You know, I tend to believe gyms right in the short term, but Seinfeld's probably right, in the long term, New York has gone through a lot of emotions over the years. And it's although it is stunning, right to go from in February, right, they were down like, they were short, like 20% in housing, so they needed 20% more places for housing in the city. And now they've got like a surplus of like, 18% that's a big swing, isn't it? You know, I I've never really understood why someone would be willing to pay so much money to live in a you know, not very nice place. It's cramped and inconvenient when it's just so much easier to live other places. You know, I mean, I was very, very easy to live here. That's right. I mean, having Yeah, having having done destination marketing. No, I'm with you. But But you know, different strokes for different folks, people. There are people who just love the allure of, you know, Gotham sitting. So anyway. Um, so, um, how do you see 2021 playing out for aviation in the travel industry in general? Here's what I think is is likely to happen. I think q1 and q2 are still a tough road ahead. I think q3 is the beginning of the end, and the light at the end of the tunnel. I think q4 is truly on the road to recovery. And I think 2022 q2, q3 and 2022 is when we're going to be like, Whoa, thank God that craps over. Okay. Um, I think and the challenge boils down to adoption and distribution of the vaccine. Okay. The the undertaking to vaccinate the United States and to vaccinate, you know, not to be critical or pejorative about it, but most of the inflow and outflow inside In the United States and elsewhere, is with the rest of the developed world. Okay, so Canada, Europe, Asia, China, okay.
And, and, you know, to a certain extent, you know, Latin America, Mexico and South America, right? So in order for everything to be able to flow in and out of the United States and feel confident going on airplanes and cruise boats and excursions and all that stuff, we need to have a high enough penetration on the vaccine where everybody feels comfortable. It's about feeling, you know, like, Oh, no, no feeling. Yeah, right. And so given what I suspect is going to be the vaccine supply. It's going to take eight months to get enough of a vaccination penetration in the United States, maybe 10 months. So we may go all the way and talk to them next year. To get enough penetration, that Coronavirus is declining in new cases and not growing, that ICU beds are not being overloaded. And so it becomes manageable. Okay, again, I think by April, we're going to start seeing that trend, because we're getting enough people vaccinated that we can start to see Oh, hey, you know, this is actually working, which I think will encourage people. But my understanding is essentially we're bandwidth throttled and just how fast we can make vaccine and how fast we can deliver it even with all these candidates. Because these are not particularly easy compounds. They have to be stored at very low temperatures. They have to be delivered by competent staff. You know, they're going to be you know, and I'll just be frank, the President's approach on Coronavirus is a hinderance the fact that we don't have a strong national strategy on delivery on, you know, leaving it up to states to figure it out, not having it properly funded. That's Congress's fault, too. I mean, I'm not going to lay it all with the President's feed. It's just in general, the federal government's response on this has been the pathetic, but one thing, I'll just interject this real quick, the one thing I realized is, is that if the Walking Dead ever happens, we are so bald, okay. I mean, because it because this is a relatively benign virus in the grand scheme of things, right. And I'm like, wow, something really serious ever happens. We are so inadequate to deal with this. Well, I think we tend to do more damage to ourselves, when any crisis comes in the crisis itself does do you look right, like 911? But I don't know I what's interesting to me is, there are a lot of people getting this everyday. Right. And for practical purposes for the next year. It's really the same as those people being vaccinated. You know, this thing does not tend to reoccur? Yes, there have been a couple cases, but it's pretty damn rare. So I'm really wondering, because you know, that anytime you have a big you have a big month, like we've been having lately, where you have, you know, 150,000, positive new positive tests in a day. The first question is, how many people are actually getting, you know, how many people were not tested? Or how many people just had a cough for a day and didn't bother getting tested? Or how many people were asymptomatic? And is that number 40%? Or is that number? You know, is it 40%? Of the people who get it who are asymptomatic? Or is it 80? That's the range the CDC throws out there. So right, it really is how many you know, how many? How close? Are we to really having some kind of herd immunity? I don't think we know and the only thing I don't think we know is are there people immune to this? How many people are immune to this? Because I think there there's got to be some number who had immunity to begin with. And it's going to be different, you know, different different states and different different countries. Germany clearly has something going on there that's different than the rest of the world as well. Well, I mean, if I can put my national security hat on for a second. Here, here's how. Here's some here's some things to think about. Okay. We, we don't know what you know, what, how the ball truly bounces? I saw something a couple of days ago, based on blood transfusion data, where they found antibodies COVID antibodies and blood transfusion samples that went back to November of last year. Yep. Okay. So So and I'm not a pathologist, this is not my my expertise, but I do do a lot of reading and as a former, you know, national security policy expert. My thought is that
the vaccine is the strongest Easiest way to mitigate the challenge now I have had Coronavirus I either had it in in March where actually do feel sick. And I was in hotspots I was in New York, I was in Charlotte. Okay, I had very classic symptoms testing wasn't available. Okay, I went, I went to get antibodies in the antibody test, it was negative. Now my daughter, four weeks ago had a COVID positive test came back from from college, we were all in close and continuing contact with her. Okay, the Minnesota Department of Health said you should all assume for all intensive purposes, and you were all infected. So we can go out for, you know, 15 days or whatever it was. And none of us develop any symptoms, but the three of us had been sick back in March. So maybe prior exposure Does, does provide immunity. Okay. But the problem is, is that, you know, we don't have when you're inside the crisis, it's very hard to analyze what the heck's actually happening. Okay, so i think i think that type of our standing, yeah, I think we have a very different understand. Yeah. Two years from now, three years from now, which makes prediction hard. Right. Right in the middle of it, it's really tough to know what to do. Okay. But we know that the vaccine provides durable immunity, we know that the vaccine will tamp it down. I'm going to get vaccinated even though I've been exposed. We don't know that prior exposure creates durability. We don't even know what the vaccine, how long the durability is going to be. If they wind up we haven't had it long enough to know. Right? But I'm very right. So when they did the they did the the T cell studies. And they found that people who had SARS, you know, 17 years ago, right, still have T cells that react. So that's really if there's a lot of reasonably well, I think, I think we're gonna be good. I think so too. And so rolling out the vaccine. In the meantime, taking steps to mitigate everything strikes me as the least dangerous, most effective path, which is what I usually look for, you know, when I buy brickstables, I'm like, let's This is the option that gives us the greatest flexibility with the least outside risk. Right. So if you, you know, once you've had the vaccine, you know, they're already experimenting with these immunity passports in other parts of the world, just because you've had you know, you've had positive COVID test followed by a negative one, that you're okay to travel, I think that's going to be rolled out. in a big way. I've been vaccinated. So okay, you know, you can come into our country, and you don't need a mask, and you don't need to do any of these things. Because you've been vaccinated. And I think that's I think that's going to be a big boost for travel, because the people who want to travel, you know, they're going to go No, make the extra effort to make sure they get that vaccine. Yeah, and I'm totally fine with that. I'll tell you one position I have taken and they've taken it since the beginning, is that all of that passport stuff for sharing all that data or coordinating all that? That's all an inherently governmental activity, so shouldn't be left up and Delta Airlines to figure it out? Yeah. Okay. It's an inherently governmental activity. And we need to work with our partners and other international institutions, just like we do, by the way on every other aspect of travel. Sure, okay. Travel is an exceptionally regulated industry. I know from the perspective of the traveler, they don't see it. But there are a lot of international conventions and institutions that govern being able to have access and move around, we can leverage that institutional framework to ensure that people can move around safely as we roll out the vaccine. And at some point, it probably won't be an issue anymore. Right. I mean, I see that by I think by the time we're, we're through April, a good percentage of the people who want to have about, you know, who wants the vaccine or been able to access the vaccine? I think so. I think so. We'll see how fast they're able to roll it out and how fast they're able to produce it. But definitely by the end of next year, we'll probably have you know, 250 300 million people vaccinated and that will be a threshold you know, somewhere in that range will be a threshold that the rate at which Coronavirus will be able to spread will be declining. Okay. So, so if the are not factor right, the replication rate can be brought significantly under one then Coronavirus becomes less and less of a threat even if not everyone gets vaccinated. Oh, you know, I think I you know, with 350 million people in the country, I don't think you need 200 you know, 250 million. We'll see to get rid of this. We'll see the numbers will drive me I'm wrong. Yeah. Because the only thing I mean very well made true.
Unknown Speaker 29:49
Yeah. The only thing that I would like to see I and I have not seen this survey, you see the surveys that say x percentage of the people say they won't get the vaccine. I would like to know percentage of those people have already had it. And they're saying that because they've already had it, they don't think they need that I would like to see. Yeah. Yeah, I mean, I will have to see. I mean, the Unfortunately, the tyranny of the numbers really don't lie. Okay. I mean, if you can do back of the envelope calculations, like based on the number of people that traveled over Thanksgiving, I did back in the envelope calculations. And unfortunately, those calculations are proving to be pretty balls on in terms of what we're seeing in hospitalizations, what we're seeing an increase in the death rate, and everything else. And the problem is, is that we do have enough statistical data to understand and how I've characterized, it has been like this, it's Russian Roulette, five out of six times, but I'm just goes click, there's no severe problems. But that one in six times is pretty brutal. And so, you know, the people that wind up being hospitalized, you know, a good portion of them die. And thankfully, most people don't wind up hospitalized, but it's enough that it's crushing our infrastructure at the moment, and so, you know, the tyranny of the numbers, we can't escape and the numbers are going to tell us when, you know, when when the numbers start declining? We'll know we're making headway. Okay. When when, you know, there's a fair amount of resistance to mass mandates, the lock downs, and I totally appreciate why. Okay, I really do. We have completely screwed ourselves over economically and, and culturally, in many ways trying to deal with this virus. You know, but the numbers will tell us when we're winning it, okay, when you are not goes down, when the number of new cases go down, when the number of hospitalizations go down, when the number of deaths are all declining, you know, week after week after week? Well, no, we're making headway. I sure hope you're right. And that's April instead of October. Here's the other question. Hopefully restart, you know, with vaccinations in the next couple of weeks, that they're going to be targeted, obviously, at how do we prevent the most vulnerable people from getting sick, whether it's right, directly vaccinating them, or vaccinating the people who were likely to come into contact with them. You know, by the end of April, anybody who, you know, really wants to make an effort to get the shot, should have been able to get this shot, I think, you know, hopefully we'll have at least seen out there. But a question, if by February, everybody who has a has a secondary as an underlying condition, you know, everybody who is over 80 years old, or over 65, or 70, or whatever, you know, the Congress has gotten vaccinated. What does that do to the playing field, the death rate should drop quite a bit within a couple months after that. And this is really just become a flu, that's not really all that serious, because the people who you know, are likely to get very sick from it have already been vaccinated? Well, that would be a great outcome, wouldn't it and the amount of, of economic activity in travel is directly correlated to how fearful people are about the death rate. Right. So you know, if you're right about all that, and and it and you could very well be if you're right, I'm not I'm not actually positing that as a theory. I'm just I'm positing that as a possibility. I, you know, I write virus because those are right actions, because I've been wrong every goddamn time. But let's, let's assume but let's assume that pans out, well, then that would be that would be a very positive sign for everyone and for the economy and for travel. And, you know, there could be a, a nice boost, right? If we feel the vaccine, that we feel the vaccine is effective and working, then people will, in their minds carry that out logically to some endpoint through to the future. And we'll start making decisions today, predicated on what they believe to be the final outcome. And so if it really turns out that Madonna and Pfizer, and Johnson and Johnson and all these things, and they all work, and they're all 90%, and it's all kick ass, and it's just a matter of money and time, then there's going to be a pretty dramatic turnaround. I'm more skeptical at our ability to get our hands around these things, and do them correctly. And maybe I'm just jaded from my time in government.
Unknown Speaker 34:51
Okay, well, let's change gears for a moment. Let's talk about that. You went from graduate studies as a policy department in university Washington or Washington. So no George Washington University, one part of George Washington. There we go. George Washington DC to the department ew. Yep. This supports the Global War on Terror. Can you tell us how that came about? And in what you did that? Yeah. So when I saw I moved to DC, I wanted to get a doctorate degree in International Relations. And the first year I moved there moved there in July. And obviously 911 happened in September of 2001, which was fear move there. And I witnessed that witness 911 with my own eyes. I spent the next several years trying to work for either, you know, the intelligence community or the national defense community. And one day, I get this phone call from a guy who would later become a friend of mine. And he says, You sent us a resume, like two years ago. Yep. Are you interested in in in working at the Pentagon? Hell yeah. And he goes, Well, wait a minute, you might want to hear the full, full story first. They said we need we need someone with your skills. We need someone with your background, but I can't pay you. Possibly never. I was like, Okay, I'm in and the guy's like, really? Any? And I'm like, Yeah, I so desperately want to lay boot to those assholes. You better bet I'm in okay. And I was in a position financially where I didn't need a paycheck. Okay. So my first day at the Pentagon was Donald Rumsfeld being shocked and appalled at the abuses of Abu Ghraib. Like Holy cow, you know, so my first day I worked in the office of detainee affairs, I don't even think it was called that yet. Okay. It was like a detainee working group or policy group. I started working out working in the Pentagon for Thomas O'Connell, who was the Assistant Secretary of Defense for special operations in low intensity conflict. sounds super sexy. But the reason why this office was was under that department at the time, was because one of the things that select does is stabilization operations and civil military affairs. So we set up governments essentially in areas that we occupy, and that's an activity in the policies and how we do that and all that happens under this group. Okay. And so one of the other groups so under so liquids, basically getting our soldiers and their remains back home or detainees are in RPO W's okay. And I view that saw Good Morning Vietnam. Okay. The guy who ran the PMO was Adrian Crone, our the person who who Robin Williams frictionally Blaze, they wrote that movie, yes, I wit the actual Adrian crew an hour was very funny and very clever, but but couldn't hold a candle to Robin Williams portrayal of but but anyway, um, so there are these groups, right, these policy groups that are under so I can detainee issues was one of them initially. And it later got its own office and it was moved directly under the undersecretary of defense for policy, which is a very powerful organization inside the Pentagon. Okay. policy, you know, as we were referred to a policy really does all of the civilian policy thinking strategy policymaking in do D. Okay. So I get this call, hey, we're going to work this issue, you know, and I need somebody with your skills. And basically, when I found out what it was, I said, Okay, boys, I'm going to just make a deal, because I had been a trial consultant and I've worked for some pretty crappy companies that had done really horrendous things, but because I believe in the system, okay, and believe that, you know, especially in American jurisprudence, but the truth wins out and said, Okay, tell you why everybody's entitled to their position, their defense, but I want you to give me everything you possibly can. And I want to really understand what happened here. And if and if I think you guys are just, you know, you know, status and jackasses I'm leaving. And, and my boss, you know, said a fair enough. So I got a security clearance for came in and read everything.
Unknown Speaker 39:45
And what I realized was, okay, look, there were so many mistakes. You know, we have mistakes by the bushel in the Pentagon. But this was not a deliberate activity. This was not a planned activity. This was not a Government sanctioned activity, that the detaining program had a lot of problems, but it was a necessary byproduct of the G watts. And that the intelligence gathered from detainees was essential. So I said, Okay, I'm in, let's fix this problem. And we spent them the next four years trying to get people to really understand what the tension did, why the abuses that happened happened. Basically, it was because of criminals and status in reserve elements that ran those prisons, taking matters into their own hands. And I worked with our allies and Congress and elsewhere, to take, you know, to take a view of what was really going on, which was these were dangerous people, especially at Guantanamo, which is what I'm mostly focused on. These were exceptionally dangerous people who, because of the nature of the conflict, we couldn't just have walking around. Now, the administration made some some early blunders in the legal framework in explaining the legal framework. You know, it's not that the Geneva Conventions don't apply to unlawful combatants, those they just don't say anything particularly useful for unlawful combat. Okay. would have been a better explanation? Yes, the Geneva Conventions perfectly apply. But there are no combatant immunity protections for unlawful belligerents, which is exactly what the position of the law actually is. Okay, so we didn't do stuff like that. So I spent a lot of time doing stuff like that getting people to understand. You know, and nobody liked it. I didn't like it. It's antithetical to like, you know, true justice apple pie on being the American way to lock people up forever with no hearing. Okay. But that's the nature of that conflict. Okay. Yeah. You know, and that's the other thing I don't think people appreciate with respect to government generally. It's never a hot fudge sundae, crab sandwich. That's not those aren't the choices that most policymakers get, right. It's either like gigantic crab sandwich or slightly less big crabs. And so, you know, it's, it's always the same, it's like, which, which one of these choices are the least painful to to, you know, to do? I mean, if it was, there was a, you know, hot fudge sundae choice, there wouldn't be a choice, it would just be done. And it's not what we'd be talking about. That's right. Well, that's right. Right. That's right. That's right. That's right. That's right. It's always it's always mitigation. It's always, you know, but but in that case, you know, I used all my skills. And I did speech writing. I, I think I testified before Congress, like 20 times, although not in any form where you'd see me on c span because they were classified briefings I was involved with when we made the undocumented holding facilities public, I wrote a lot of that stuff. I wrote the speech for the president, when he you know, bits and pieces of that. I did Gang of Eight briefings. Okay. I've given the speeches before the Council on Foreign Relations with Chatham House, the UK Parliament. I've done briefings of our allies. And you know, it, it was a really tough issue because no issue other than the US adherence to the death penalty. So galvanized both our friends and enemies as detainees that it came up in every meeting, George Bush is going to talk to you know, Japan about trade issues. First question, what's the deal on get mo? Okay, I mean, that's how pervasive it was. And it was every newspaper every day, I used to watch it my job every Sunday. I don't watch all the sunday talk shows because it was always in the news. And so, you know, that issue, you know, really clarified for me a couple of things that I've used later in advertising, which is feeling and not fact actually matters most and how people make decisions.
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