James G. Roche, a 23-year Navy veteran who served as secretary of the Air Force from 2001 to 2005, is a defense industry executive and long time supporter of a number of hardline Israel-centric policy groups, including the Washington Institute for Near East Policy (WINEP) and the Center for Security Policy (CSP), for which Roche has served as a board member. Roche resigned as Air Force chief on January 20, 2005, shortly before an official investigation concluded that he had broken military ethics rules in his efforts to push a $30 billion program to lease Boeing aircraft tankers.
The Pentagon's inspector general (IG) Joseph Schmitz ( who later worked as an executive at Erik Prince's Blackwater) determined that, "Roche misused his public office for someone else's private gain and violated Pentagon rules governing the personal use of e-mail systems in his dealings on the matter," as the Washington Post reported. The violations stemmed from a much larger scandal over a lease-to-own tanker program; in 2003 the Pentagon IG investigated Roche's former deputy assistant secretary, Darleen Druyun, for inappropriately passing bidding information to Boeing. Druyun had quit her Air Force post in late 2002 and taken a job at Boeing in January 2003, but was fired by Boeing in November of that same year for misconduct, eventually serving jail time. Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), livid over Roche's management, spearheaded congressional investigations into the scandal. He told Newsweek, "I've never seen such a continuous violation of every standard and norm…. This close relationship with Boeing and the secretary of the Air Force was remarkable."
McCain opposed Roche's 2003 nomination to be secretary to the Army, saying in a press statement, "Secretary Roche, contradicting Air Force studies, has been relentless in exaggerating aerial tanker shortfalls and problems in order to win approval of the lease. If this represents the kind of acquisition reforms and defense transformation we can expect from Secretary Roche if he is confirmed as Secretary of the Army, then God help the Army and the American taxpayer." Roche did not get the job.
Part of Roche's motivation to push the Boeing tanker deal was that by leasing rather than purchasing the planes outright, the Air Force could avoid having to budget for them. In addition, many senior Air Force officials had close ties to Boeing, and some officials expressed resentment over the notion of the European Airbus—which was offering a cheaper tanker option—winning U.S. military contracts because many countries involved in Airbus, like France, opposed the war in Iraq and the "war on terror."
During his tenure as Air Force secretary, Roche was also involved in a scandal involving grievous mistreatment of women cadets at Air Force training facilities. "After allegations of widespread sexual harassment and assaults [at the Air Force Academy] arose in early 2003, a total of 142 cadets reported being sexually assaulted at the academy over the previous decade. An internal Air Force investigation initially assigned much of the blame to the behavior of cadets, but a panel appointed at congressional insistence later found flaws in that probe, which it said inappropriately shielded top Air Force leaders from responsibility and criticism," according to the Washington Post. In a 2003 Senate hearing, Roche claimed that outsiders couldn't understand the "military culture" of Air Force bases and academies.
Roche oversaw efforts to adapt the Air Force to new roles as part of the "war on terror," in particular the growing use of the Air Expeditionary Force, a specialized unit able to deploy quickly to hotspots across the globe. "We used to think that the most important thing was our base back home in the United States," Roche said in a 2004 interview. "But increasingly, it is our performance in an expeditionary setting that is the most important thing that we do. And what we do back in the United States is prepare to go and deploy."
Before becoming Air Force secretary in the Bush administration, Roche worked for many years in the business sector, ultimately serving as an executive at Northrop Grumman, a major defense contractor. After his stint as Air Force secretary, he returned to industry, joining the board of Orbital Sciences Corp., a company involved in the development of space-based weapons. In an announcement, Orbital CEO David Thompson said, "At a time when Orbital's business is shifting towards U.S. military space and missile defense markets, as well as to other adjacent national security areas, we expect that Jim's decades of leadership experience in both government and the defense industry will provide Orbital with valuable strategic insights and practical operational wisdom as we aim to increase our presence in these markets."
In September 2008, Roche joined the board of Compudyne, which calls itself "an industry leader in sophisticated security products, integration, and technology for the public security markets." He is also on the board of TechTeam, an information technology firm.
Roche's profile as a corporate executive with strong government and/or military connections is similar to many of his erstwhile colleagues on the board of advisors of the Center for Security Policy, a hardline advocacy group headed by Frank Gaffney that Roche was an advisor for at the time of his appointment as Air Force secretary. According to CSP's 2002 annual report, more than two dozen of its advisors were given posts in the first George W. Bush administration, including Richard Perle, Elliott Abrams, Robert Andrews, Devon Gaffney Cross, J.D. Crouch, Mitchell Daniels, Kenneth deGraffenreid, Paula Dobriansky, Douglas Feith, Evan Galbraith, Marlin Hefti, Robert Joseph, Steven Kraemer, Keith Payne, Robert Reilly, Roger Robinson, William Schneider Jr., Wayne Schroeder, José Sorzano, Michelle Van Cleave, Arthur Waldron, Pete Wilson, and Dov Zakheim. Like Roche, many of these individuals have worked for defense and security contractors, including Perle (Trireme Partners), Zakheim (Booz Allen Hamilton, System Planning Corp, and others), and Schneider (BAE Systems).