It was late last month the news broke. A story about someone trying to pass counterfeit chips in a poker game might have been mildly interesting on its own. But the perpetrator here was the second-highest ranking officer at the U.S. Strategic Command, a guy in charge of watching over the country’s nuclear weaponry, missile defense systems, as well as “cyber warfare” operations.
Tim Giardina is the Vice Admiral’s name, and what we heard a couple of weeks ago was that Giardina was being suspended from his duties with the possibility of criminal charges coming (both state and federal). He had been the deputy commander of Strategic Command since late 2011.
The Division of Criminal Investigation (DCI) had been investigating the matter for a month, then officials at Offut Air Force Base were alerted in July and they started looking into things, too. The suspension came in early September, although wasn’t announced until the end of the month.
At that time there had been a recommendation from a higher-up to reassign Giardina. Today the news is he’s been fired. He’s also lost his three-star rank and indeed will be reassigned to Washington as a rear admiral.
General Richard Myers is quoted in a CBS News piece about the firing today kind of glossing over the legal question with regard to Giardina’s actions. (I believe I’ve read Giardina won’t face criminal charges on the state level.)
“He does not have to do something illegal,” explains Myers, referring to the decision to remove Giardina from Strategic Command. “He just has to lose the confidence of those above him.... Is this the kind of person that we want on the phone with national command authorities when there's a real crisis underway?”
I guess from the outside the most compelling question concerns the psychology of someone who would attempt something on the order of passing fake chips in a casino -- an action for which the risk is so much greater than the potential reward it’s hard to fathom a rational person ever taking it.
From there, of course, it’s hard not to let the mind wander over to the high-stakes context of nuclear warfare and imagine scenarios in which such an individual would be involved in either the decision-making or the execution of others’ decisions. (Shudder.)
The story also highlights how chips in a poker game can introduce an interesting disconnect from reality. Some consciously try to forget that chips represent money, while others do so without realizing it. I’d have to guess that Giardina would never try to pass a counterfeit bill, but that for him the idea of passing a fake poker chip didn’t seem an equivalent transgression.
But both are felonies. Consequences for both are real, too.