Thief in the Living Room: The Defense Department

A rogue elephant ravishes the American living room. But instead of stopping the criminal antics, the people and elected officials salute, praise and honor him, and keep him close to our hearts and wallets.

The scoundrel’s name? The Defense Department. Thanks to clever PR teams, the media refers to its murderous and thieving excesses in eulogies to “our brave men and women in uniform who keep our freedom alive.”

Until recently, Congress routinely lauded its “heroic feats.” Even as Members focused attention on debt slashing, they continued to fund costly wars and development of futuristic weapons systems; some wrung their hands in despair over insufficient funds to maintain basic infrastructure.

The Pentagon (another name for living-room elephant), on orders from the President, fights these costly offensive wars to defend “national security.” Coincidentally, some contractors become super wealthy and some military officials just grow rich. God, invoked in war and when passing defense budgets, must have wanted it that way.

His will costs us money, and of course he’s perpetually testing us. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), for example, concluded that 8 and 1/2 years of U.S. fighting and occupation of Iraq has achieved neither success nor sustainability. Indeed, “Iraq remains an extraordinarily dangerous place,” concluded the Job-inspired Inspector.

SIGIR also reports that financial abuses have abounded, which should have shocked Congress into reconsideration of the Pentagon’s budget size. On the contrary, the once fiscally frugal Defense Secretary Leon Panetta warned that defense cuts would weaken the country. Leave us open to an attack from Mars?

The Special Inspector General’s report shows, however, that cuts might indeed imperil the ill-gotten gains of contractors and those in the military who receive kickbacks and payoffs from them.

One SIGIR example sites Anham, a company that charges the government $4,500 for a $183 circuit breaker (at an appliance store) and $900 for a $7 control switch. We can relate to these figures as opposed to billions of dollars spent on R & D for new weapons systems, super stealth jets and ever more lethal bombers. (How else to defend against 19 Saudi suicidal maniacs with box cutters?)

As we (actually very few of us) engage in a war on terror in Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, Libya, Somalia, and countries we’re not supposed to know about, some uniformed heroes praised at sporting events have combined their defense of national security with profit-making.

Sergeant First Class Richard Evick got busted for receiving more than $170,000 in bribes from two firms that had contracts with the U.S. Department of Defense in Kuwait. The indictment also charged Evick and his associate, Crystal Martin, with laundering bribe money through bank accounts in Kuwait and the United States. Remember, the firms had to pay the bribes, but they keep doing business with the Defense Department.

In May, a former U.S. Army major admitted he took $400,000 for fabricating a false agreement with bottled water contractors in Kuwait. The contractors continued selling bottled water.

One Marine officer in Iraq took “fees” for washing bribe money from contractors. Stories abound of servicemen stealing equipment intended for Iraqi aid. While Obama diddles with decisions to drastically reduce U.S. troop size (about 50,000 remain plus some 60,000 contract agents) Iraq remains the site of bombings and fighting in places deemed secure. Theft and financial hanky panky also extend to Afghanistan, which has given corruption a bad name

The shenanigans began long before those wars. A March 2000 Inspector General report concluded that the Pentagon could not trace nearly one third of the accounting entries in its $7.6 billion budget. Not traceable, the Pentagon reported.

In 2005, Congress “fixed” the problem by excusing the Defense Department from spending money on an audit – until the Defense Secretary submitted a plan to improve financial management. Congress gave the Pentagon until 2017 to finish its audit, but in 2010, “Pentagon officials stated that meeting the 2017 timeline may not be realistic and the agency may need more money from Congress to achieve full auditability.” In FY 2010, nearly half of the contracts awarded in the Pentagon’s $366 billion were not fully completed. (Section 376 of the FY 2006 National Defense Authorization Act. Shank)

Finally, an enraged, Peter de Fazio (D-OR) said: “The Pentagon brass has such chutzpah that they came to a hearing last fall and said, ‘If you want us to be auditable by 2017, we’re going to need more money, to construct the system so we can be auditable’.”

In July, the House included DeFazio’s “audit the Pentagon” amendment in the Defense appropriation bill. “The Pentagon has spent more than $10 trillion since 1990 and will spend over $4 trillion over the next four years without ever passing an audit,” said DeFazio. “There is no reason that the largest and most expensive agency in the federal government should hide its financial books from scrutiny.”

Has Defense Department spending trillions – some of this stolen or inexplicably missing – contributed to national security? Or have we become victims of what Eisenhower warned about 50 years ago? An institutionalized military-industrial-science complex now has bases and military service-related enterprises in most congressional districts – the American living room, from whence it launches foolish wars and practices grand larceny as well.