Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Larceny in Iraq and Afghanistan

The Center for Public Integrity has published this report by Julia Harte on theft from the U.S. government in Iraq and Afghanistan. She writes that "at least 115 enlisted personnel and military officers [have been] convicted since 2005 of committing theft, bribery, and contract rigging crimes valued at $52 million during their deployments in Afghanistan and Iraq."
Many of these crimes grew out of shortcomings in the military’s management of the deployments that experts say are still present: A heavy dependence on cash transactions, a hasty award process for high-value contracts, loose and harried oversight within the ranks, and a regional culture of corruption that proved seductive to the American troops transplanted there.
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Additional crimes by military personnel are still under investigation, and some court records remain partly under seal. The magnitude of additional losses from fraud, waste, and abuse by contractors, civilians, and allied foreign soldiers in Afghanistan has never been tallied, but officials probing such crimes say the total is in the billions of dollars. 
Those numbers might not seem huge — at least a million troops rotated through the region in this period, and the overall U.S. budget for these wars has so far exceeded $1.5 trillion — but those who investigate and prosecute military wrongdoing say the convictions so far constitute a small portion of the crimes they think were committed by U.S. military personnel in the two countries. 
Former Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart Bowen, who served as the principal watchdog for wrongdoing in Iraq from 2004 to 2013, said he suspected “the fraud … among U.S. military personnel and contractors was much higher” than what he and his colleagues were able to prosecute. John F. Sopko, his contemporary counterpart in Afghanistan, said his agency has probably uncovered less than half of the fraud committed by members of the military in Afghanistan. 
As of February, he said he had 327 active investigations still under way, involving 31 members of the military. “You don’t appreciate how much money is being stolen in Afghanistan until you go over there,” said Sopko, who says price-fixing and other forms of financial corruption are rampant in the country. 
These and other experts, as well as some of those who have pleaded guilty to criminal wrongdoing, point to some recurrent patterns in the corrupt activity, which in turn illustrate the special challenges created when a sizable military force is deployed so far from lawful domestic routines. Sometimes ill-trained military personnel were given authority for making large cash transactions, in a region where casual corruption in financial dealings — bribes, kickbacks, and petty theft — was commonplace.  Commanding officers, they add, were typically so distracted by urgent war challenges they could not carefully check for missing fuel or contractor kickbacks. 
So far, officers account for approximately four-fifths of the value of the fraud committed by military personnel in Iraq, while in Afghanistan, the ratio was flipped, with enlistees accounting for roughly the same portion, according to the Center [for Public Integrity]’s tally. The reasons for the difference are unclear. But Sopko said he expects more officers to be investigated for misconduct in Afghanistan as the U.S. military mission there continues, so the ratio could change.

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