Center for Strategic Communication

Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, director of the Missile Defense Agency, briefs reporters at the Pentagon, December 2008. Photo: DVIDSHUB

A Defense Department investigation has recommended disciplinary action against the head of the U.S. Missile Defense Agency for verbally harassing his subordinates.

The Pentagon’s inspector general has found that Army Lt. Gen. Patrick O’Reilly’s behavior as the military’s missile defense chief was “inconsistent with standards expected of senior army leaders,” according to Danger Room pal Josh Rogin of Foreign Policy.

O’Reilly would unleash a hailstorm of expletives on his staff for even minor infractions. When an unnamed staffer booked the general’s retinue in a hotel with “resort” in its title, O’Reilly profanely yelled in the lobby for at least 10 minutes, demanding the staffer admit s/he “fucked up.” The general was concerned that the media would portray the Missile Defense Agency as profligate.

He might have been more concerned about hemorrhaging staff. In his nearly four years as director, numerous staff members quit the agency because of his management style, a fact O’Reilly did not dispute to investigators even as he defended himself. O’Reilly would “berate you, make you feel like you’re the dirt beneath his feet,” a witness told the inspector general. Another said O’Reilly once threatened to “fucking choke me” in frustration.

Choking seems to be a particular preoccupation of O’Reilly’s. In June 2009, he allegedly said he would “gladly choke” a witness during a staff meeting. On another occasion, O’Reilly allegedly told a participant in a teleconference, “If I could get my hands through the phone right now I’d choke your fucking throat.”

According to the investigation, staffers would say “pass, sir” during meetings instead of risking an O’Reilly eruption. “You don’t tell the boss the truth if it’s bad,” one witness told the investigators.

O’Reilly defended himself by saying that he was trying to introduce accountability into an agency that had “a very negative command climate,” the investigation stated. He shut down many large projects, which O’Reilly claims his staff personalized. It’s worth noting that inspector general doesn’t accuse O’Reilly of mismanaging the Missile Defense Agency, which is one of the most lavish-spending commands in the military.

But it most certainly says that O’Reilly created a command climate of fear, in violation of military regulations demanding officers treat their subordinates with dignity. O’Reilly is on his way out of the agency as it is. But “We recommend to the Secretary of the Army consider appropriate corrective action with regard to LTG O’Reilly,” the inspector general’s report states.