Sunday, April 12, 2009

Things That Make One Scream

I guess I really am naive. Like everyone else, I have been appalled and disgusted by the corruption displayed by the private contractors in Iraq. The war profiteers made millions with shoddy construction so bad that US soldiers were electrocuted while taking showers. Buildings to house schools or prisons were started but never completed, yet the companies were paid as if they were. Billions of our dollars were poured directly into the privateers' pockets because there were few, if any, controls on how the money was spent.

It never occurred to me that some of those war profiteers would turn out to be US soldiers. Apparently handling millions of dollars in cash was just too much temptation for some officers. From the Los Angeles Times:

In a federal indictment last month, prosecutors alleged that [Capt. Michael Dung] Nguyen managed to skim more than $690,000 in cash as the civil affairs officer overseeing millions of dollars intended for reconstruction projects and payments to private Iraqi security forces northeast of Baghdad. The 28-year-old West Point graduate is accused of packing cash into boxes and mailing them to his family's home in Beaverton, Ore.

His indictment is one of the latest in a wave of prosecutions emerging from the tangled and expensive reconstruction in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Justice Department has secured more than three dozen bribery-related convictions in the awarding of reconstruction contracts; at least 25 theft probes are underway.

The prosecutions reveal the extent to which troops have been tempted by the Pentagon's "money as a weapon system" policy, which has left battlefields awash in cash.

What is so maddening is that the temptation to skim off some of that cash was heightened by the fact that no real system was in place to prevent officers from acting on that temptation, a fact the military didn't really discover until recently.

A Defense Department review of the program -- which gives field commanders an arsenal of cash to help build community relief projects, aid families and pay civilian security forces -- found in 2007 that all 15 pay agents surveyed who handled cash in Afghanistan did not have "appropriate physical security" for storing the money. No instances of theft were found.

The audit also found that disbursement officers did not always use the correct exchange rate when doling out local currency. Manipulating the exchange rate, authorities allege, was how Gilliam amassed cash.

"If people that know the system and how it operates decide to commit a fraud, it is very difficult to detect," said David Warren, audits director for the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. "Because they are the people that are in essence the control system that is in place."
[Emphasis added]

Flooding the battlefield with US dollars (rather than Iraqi dinars, which would be difficult to mail home and use) made it easy for Capt. Nguyen to enrich himself at our expense and that of the Iraqis. Whose idea was that? And why aren't they being investigated as well?

And we complain about the corruption of the Iraqi and Afghanistan governments...


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Anonymous JayDenver said...

Never have so few taken so many for so much. (The tagline from Kelly's Heroes.)

6:33 AM  
Blogger Ken Houghton said...

Or, for documentary, see David O. Russell's Soldier's Pay to see that this happened in GW I as well—then as now, the lower-ranking officers are the ones taking the fall for what is (relatively speaking) chump change.

It would be as if the U.S. decided to prosecute the bank robber who gets $20 to the fullest extent and leave untouched the senior bank executives who stole $20million a year for several years.

9:52 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

It would be as if the U.S. decided to prosecute the bank robber who gets $20 to the fullest extent and leave untouched the senior bank executives who stole $20million a year for several years.

As if???

What is the Banksters' bail-out?

10:02 AM  
Blogger Woody (Tokin Librul/Rogue Scholar/ Helluvafella!) said...

Oh, and Diane?

there's nothing inherently more honest or trustworthy about soldiers than the rest of the populace...

Nobody's honest when there's piles of uncounted money on the table and nobody watching...

One of the ancient perqs of soldiering is that you can steal what you don't get caught taking...

10:04 AM  

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