Thursday, February 6, 2014

Amid Marine Corps War Crimes Cover-up We Learn the Pentagon Investigates Millions in Massive Fraud Case

Investigator Probes Alleged Marine Corps War Crimes Cover-up
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When the U.S. military delivered the cash to Baghdad, the money passed into the hands of an entirely new set of players — the staff of the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority. To many Americans, the initials C.P.A. would soon be as familiar as those of long-established government agencies such as D.O.D. or HUD. But the C.P.A. was anything but a conventional agency. And, as events would show, its initials would have nothing in common with "certified public accountant." The C.P.A. had been hastily created to serve as the interim government of Iraq, but its legality and paternity were murky from the start. The Authority was in effect established by edict outside the traditional framework of American government. Not subject to the usual restrictions and oversight of most agencies, the C.P.A. during the 14 months of its existence would become a sump for American and Iraqi money as it disappeared into the hands of Iraqi ministries and American contractors. The Coalition of the Willing, as one commentator observed, had turned into the Coalition of the Billing.

. . . a compliant Congress gave $1.6 billion to Bremer to administer the C.P.A. This was over and above the $12 billion in cash that the C.P.A. had been given to disburse from Iraqi oil revenues and unfrozen Iraqi funds. Few in Congress actually had any idea about the true nature of the C.P.A. as an institution. Lawmakers had never discussed the establishment of the C.P.A., much less authorized it — odd, given that the agency would be receiving taxpayer dollars. Confused members of Congress believed that the C.P.A. was a U.S. government agency, which it was not, or that at the very least it had been authorized by the United Nations, which it had not. One congressional funding measure makes reference to the C.P.A. as "an entity of the United States Government" — highly inaccurate. The same congressional measure states that the C.P.A. was "established pursuant to United Nations Security Council resolutions" — just as inaccurate. The bizarre truth, as a U.S. District Court judge would point out in an opinion, is that "no formal document … plainly establishes the C.P.A. or provides for its formation."

Accountable really to no one, its finances "off the books" for U.S. government purposes, the C.P.A. provided an unprecedented opportunity for fraud, waste, and corruption involving American government officials, American contractors, renegade Iraqis, and many others. In its short life more than $23 billion would pass through its hands. And that didn't include potentially billions more in oil shipments the C.P.A. neglected to meter. At stake was an ocean of cash that would evaporate whenever the C.P.A. did.

Okay. I guess there really is nothing new going on. War is an enterprise for enriching the upper-level participants, and the after-war investigations are merely window dressing for the dire crimes committed? If the money's available, however, perhaps everyone can partake.

Donald Rumsfeld announced 2.3 trillion dollars unaccounted for under Dov Zakheim's supervision on the day before 9/11, and the public never hears anything about it again. Paul Bremer, Pro-Consul (rather Romanish title, isn't it?) of Iraq during the occupation can't account for at least $12 billion, and although Sen. Henry Waxman conducted well-publicized hearings, no accountability was ever announced even after a mainstream media source showed the pallets containing bales of approximately $40 billion in cash shipped from the New York Fed being unloaded from C-17's snd hustled off by soldiers amid gunfire.

The previously unknown Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) official was tasked with picking up the bales of billions as they were unloaded from C-17s and arranging for them to get to the Central Bank of Iraq in downtown Baghdad. It was a perilous journey of about seven miles over a road the U.S. military called “Route Irish” through territory often controlled by insurgents. Travelers faced the threat of rocket propelled grenades, mortars, car bombs and IEDs.

. . . The CPA official was a stocky, middle-aged naturalized American citizen of Lebanese descent who was born in Saudi Arabia. His first name is Basel. At his request, CNBC has agreed to withhold his last name from this story. Basel ferried cash in Baghdad for the CPA and the American embassy from 2003 until 2008 — all told handling, he said, about $40 billion in cash.

His job made him the very last American to see that money before it disappeared into the vaults at the Central Bank of Iraq. And it may have made him the only person in the history of the world to oversee the movement of $40 billion in a combat zone.*

Wall Street steals and pays itself million-dollar bonuses for misusing trillions of dollars of public money.

And now the top miliary brass are worried that ordinary soldiers think they can steal too.

Wonder which privates will be discovered to be the guilty masterminds and sentenced to the U.S. penitentiary at Leavenworth?

Rotten To The Core

Pentagon Investigates Thousands of Soldiers in Massive Fraud Case

By Gordon Lubold, Dan Lamothe

February 04, 2014

When a retired Army colonel and an enlisted soldier from Albuquerque, N.M. were charged last year with defrauding the National Guard Bureau out of about $12,000 the case drew little public attention. But it's now become clear that the two men are among the roughly 800 soldiers accused of bilking American taxpayers out of tens of millions of dollars in what a U.S. senator is calling "one of the biggest fraud investigations in Army history."

The wide-ranging criminal probe centers around an Army recruiting program that had been designed to help the Pentagon find new soldiers during some of the bloodiest days of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The program went off the rails, investigators believe, after hundreds of soldiers engaged in a kickback scheme that allowed them to potentially embezzle huge quantities of money without anyone in the government noticing. In one case, a single soldier may have collected as much as $275,000 for making "referrals" to help the Army meet its recruiting goals, according to USA Today,which first reported the story Monday.

The military's failure to spot, or stop, the wrongdoing will be the focus of what is expected to be a highly contentious hearing Tuesday before the Senate's Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. The committee's chairwoman, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., has summoned several of the National Guard officials who were in power at the time the alleged wrongdoing was taking place.

The numbers of soldiers and money involved are staggering.

An Army internal audit has discovered that 1,200 recruiters had received payments that were potentially fraudulent. Another 2,000 recruiting assistants had received payments that were suspicious. More than 200 officers remain under investigation, according to McCaskill's office. There are currently 555 active investigations involving 840 people.

Trouble in the recruiting program has been acknowledged previously, but the full scope and the results of the service's own internal investigation of the program have not previously been disclosed. In the past, Army officials overseeing the program and a contractor who worked with the service on it, Docupak, insisted that accounts of potential fraud in it were greatly exaggerated, congressional officials said in a memo distributed to the media Monday. About 200 agents with the service's Criminal Investigative Command are now examining the program's records, and will review the actions of more than 106,000 people who received money through the program. That work will likely take until 2016, officials said.

A Defense Department official acknowledged that a lack of proper military oversight contributed to the problems.

"I think it was human greed, and I think it's the cascading effects of contractors' lack of supervision, as well as the Defense Department's lack of supervision," the official told Foreign Policy, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the probe.

The scandal comes amid a new wave of scrutiny of senior officers across the military as well as a cheating and drug scandal within the Air Force's nuclear officer corps. The new probe is different because it involves hundreds of rank-and-file troops, including relatively low-ranking officers and enlisted personnel. Military experts have long said the military is a reflection of society and "bad apples" exist in every organization, but theburgeoning scandal threatens to tarnish the reputation of the Army recruiters who in many communities are the public face of the military.

The Army National Guard Recruiting Assistance Program, the initiative at the heart of the new probe, was created in 2005 to find new recruits during some of the most challenging periods of the Iraq and Afghan wars. Soldiers received between $2,000 and $7,500 per referral. The program was deemed a success because it helped to bolster recruiting numbers despite heavy combat in the two warzones and deep public doubts about the two conflicts.

The program was wildly successful in terms of garnering recruits - and wildly expensive. The National Guard paid out more than $300 million for just over 130,000 enlistments, and began meeting its recruiting goals even as sectarian violence continued to roil Iraq. Almost 40 percent of all recruits in the guard enlisted through G-RAP while it existed, congressional officials said. The Army's active and reserve forces, meanwhile, started similar programs in 2007 and 2008.

"The program worked," the official told Foreign Policy. "It definitely pulled up our numbers and we've never had a problem since."

But evidence of fraud later emerged as recruiters, who are forbidden from receiving payments under such a program, were found to have gotten money anyway. It was suspended in 2012. Officials suspect that recruiters, who already receive incentives based on the numbers of would-be troops they bring in, may have grown resentful as they saw non-recruiters receive thousands of dollars for serving as "recruiter assistants." Schemes formed in which soldiers assigned to recruiting duty essentially double-dipped, either posing as average soldiers or using others' names to fraudulently collect the millions of dollars of taxpayer money out of the program. Most of the soldiers under investigation are recruiters.

In one example, the Justice Department announced in December that it had charged retired Col. Isaac Alvarado, 74, of Albuquerque, N.M., and Sgt. 1st Class Travis Nau, 40, with a variety of crimes in connection with the program. Alvarado was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, four counts of wire fraud, and four counts of aggravated theft identity in an indictment that was filed in the U.S. District Court in New Mexico. Nau, also of Albuquerque, was charged with one count of conspiracy to commit wire fraud, three counts of wire fraud, and three counts of aggravated theft identity.

From about November 2007 to February 2012, Alvarado served a recruiting assistant, while Nau, Alvarado's son-in-law, worked as a recruiter for the guard. Nau allegedly provided Alvarado with the names and Social Security numbers of potential soldiers, allowing Alvarado to cash in if they enlisted, authorities said. Nau also advised at least two potential soldiers to lie in their paperwork to say that Alvarado had assisted in their recruitment, authorities said. In total, the retired colonel is accused of collecting some $12,000 in fraudulent bonuses.

In another case, Fabian Barrera, 46, an Army National Guard captain in Texas, stands accused of personally obtaining more than $185,000 in fraudulent recruiting bonuses.

At least 25 additional personnel were charged in District Court in southern Texas last summer with similar acts, authorities there announced in August. Those soldiers, based in the San Antonio and Houston areas, face charges ranging from wire fraud, to identity theft, to witness tampering. At least 11 had pleaded guilty as of last summer.

The hearing Tuesday is expected to have two panels, one of active-duty Army officials and one of the National Guard officials who helped run the service at the time of the alleged wrongdoing.

The witnesses will include Clyde Vaughn, a retired Army three-star general and former director of the Army National Guard who was in office during part of the time the program was in effect Michael Jones, a retired colonel who was the division chief for the Army National Guard Strength Maintenance Division, which oversaw the program; Philip Crane, president of Docupak, the company that managed the program; and Kay Hensen, a retired lieutenant colonel who served as the corporate compliance officer for Docupak with the National Guard Bureau.
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* Fraud" was simply another word for "business as usual." Of 8,206 "guards" drawing paychecks courtesy of the C.P.A., only 602 warm bodies could in fact be found; the other 7,604 were ghost employees. Halliburton, the government contractor once headed by Vice President Dick Cheney, charged the C.P.A. for 42,000 daily meals for soldiers while in fact serving only 14,000 of them. Cash was handed out from the backs of pickup trucks. On one occasion a C.P.A. official received $6.75 million in cash with the expectation he would shell it out in one week. Another time, the C.P.A. decided to spend $500 million on "security." No specifics, just a half-billion dollars for security, with this cryptic explanation: "Composition TBD"—that is, "to be determined."

The pervasiveness of this Why-should-I-care? attitude was driven home in an exchange with retired admiral David Oliver, the C.P.A.'s director of management and budget. Oliver was asked by a BBC reporter what had happened to all the cash airlifted to Baghdad:

Oliver: "I have no idea—I can't tell you whether or not the money went to the right things or didn't—nor do I actually think it's important."

Q: "Not important?"

Oliver: "No. The coalition—and I think it was between 300 and 600 people, civilians—and you want to bring in 3,000 auditors to make sure money's being spent?"

Q: "Yes, but the fact is that billions of dollars have disappeared without a trace."

Oliver: "Of their money. Billions of dollars of their money, yeah, I understand. I'm saying what difference does it make?"

The difference it made was that some American contractors correctly believed they could walk off with as much money as they could carry. The circumstances that surround the handling of comparatively small sums help explain the billions that ultimately vanished. In the south-central region of Iraq a contracting officer stored $2 million in a safe in his bathroom. One agent kept $678,000 in an unsecured footlocker. Another agent turned over some $23 million to his team of "paying agents" to deliver to contractors, but documentation could be found for only $6.3 million of it. One project officer received $350,000 to fund human-rights projects, but in the end could account for less than $200,000 of it. Two C.P.A. agents left Iraq without accounting for two payments of $715,000 and $777,000. The money has never been found.


TONY said...

No surprise. It occurred to me a few years ago that the military in every country is not separate from the society. It's an integral part of a country's culture. Mutual corruption flows in both directions. Once again the bullshit flows bilateral.

Cirze said...

Thanks for the history lesson, Tony.

We know now that it's like a zero-point energy field: flowing in every direction equally (defying gravity).

The trick is to make sure there's plenty of money available.

And that stupid a country to fund it.

No prob here.

We win.

And lose bigtime.