Watchdog Stings Defense Dept., Obtains $1.2 Million In Military Gear With A Fake Cop Shop

from the 1033-open-air-bazaar dept

The Defense Department’s 1033 program allows local law enforcement agencies to buy military equipment. Often, the purchases are made easier with sizable grants, meaning agencies can load up on assault rifles, grenade launchers, armored vehicles, and extra ammo at nearly no cost. (They can also get computers, office furniture, etc. through these grants, but if that were the extent of the program, there would be zero controversy.)

The 1033 program is supposed to be tightly controlled and every acquisition vetted to prevent high-powered military gear from falling into the wrong hands. We’ve already noted local agencies aren’t performing much in the way of oversight, resulting in several agencies receiving suspensions for failing to account for the whereabouts of purchased gear.

The problem, however, isn’t just on the receiving end. The Defense Department isn’t doing much in the way of due diligence when adding new agencies to the list of military gear purchases. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) performed a sting operation, setting up a fake law enforcement agency to see if it could acquire used military gear. By the end of it, the fake agency had obtained $1.2 million in gear, all without ever having to speak directly with anyone at the Defense Department. From the GAO’s report [PDF]:

[O]ur investigators, posed as authorized federal law enforcement agency officials of a fictitious agency, applied and were granted access to the LESO [Law Enforcement Support Office] program in early 2017. In late 2016, we emailed our completed application to the LESO program office. Our application contained fictitious information including agency name, number of employees, point of contact, and physical location. We also created mail and e-mail addresses, and a website for our fictitious law enforcement agency using publicly available resources. All correspondence, including follow-up questions regarding our application, was conducted by email with LESO officials.

The first application was sent back for fixes. The revised application — still loaded with fake info — sailed through. It even included fake legal authorization.

LESO officials also emailed us to request confirmation of our agency’s authorizing statute; in response, our investigators provided fictitious authorizing provisions presented as a provision in the U.S. Code. At no point during the application process did LESO officials verbally contact officials at the agency we created—either the main point of contact listed on the application or the designated point of contact at a headquarters’ level—to verify the legitimacy of our application or to discuss establishing a MOU [Memorandum of Understanding] with our agency.

Not only were there no phone calls, there was no attempt by LESO officials to physically verify the existence of this fictitious law enforcement agency.

LESO’s reliance on electronic communications without actual verification does not allow it to properly vet for potentially fraudulent activity. For example, DLA [Defense Logistics Agency] did not require supervisory approval for all federal agency applications, or require confirmation of the application with designated points of contact at the headquarters of participating federal agencies. Additionally, at the time we submitted our application, DLA officials did not visit the location of the applying federal law enforcement agency to help verify the legitimacy of the application.

Since the DoD didn’t perform any sort of prerequisite checks, it comes as no surprise it paid little attention to who was receiving the 1033 handouts.

Our independent testing of DLA’s internal controls also identified deficiencies in the transfer of controlled property, such as DLA personnel not routinely requesting and verifying identification of individuals picking up controlled property or verifying the quantity of approved items prior to transfer.

[…]

Using fictitious identification and law enforcement credentials, along with the LESO-approved documentation, our investigator was able to pass security checks and enter the Disposition Service warehouse sites. Personnel at two of the three sites did not request or check for valid identification of our investigator picking up the property.

From the GAO’s description, acquiring controlled items appears to be no more difficult than shopping on Amazon.

Our investigators, after being approved to participate in the LESO program, obtained access to the department’s online systems to view and request controlled property. We subsequently submitted requests to obtain controlled property, including non-lethal items and potentially-lethal items if modified with commercially available items. In less than a week after submitting the requests, our fictitious agency was approved for the transfer of over 100 controlled property items with a total estimated value of about $1.2 million. The estimated value of each item ranged from $277 to over $600,000, including items such as night-vision goggles, reflex (also known as reflector) sights, infrared illuminators, simulated pipe bombs, and simulated rifles.

And, to top everything off, the DLA managed to ship this fake agency more items than it actually requested.

Furthermore, although we were approved to receive over 100 items and the transfer documentation reflects this amount, we were provided more items than we were approved for. The discrepancy involved one type of item—infrared illuminators. We requested 48 infrared illuminators but onsite officials at one Disposition Services site provided us with 51 infrared illuminators in 52 pouches, of which one pouch was empty.

The report goes on to note the DLA has never performed its own fraud audits, suggesting it has almost no interest in ensuring military gear only ends up in the hands of approved and thoroughly-vetted law enforcement agencies. Yes, all of this appears to be changing going forward, but considering the 1033 program has transferred billions of dollars of equipment already, there’s really no telling how many others have obtained equipment with fictitious entities or simply ended up with a bunch of items they never ordered. That the weapons obtained were only simulators is of little comfort. They’re simply modified versions of the real thing which could be made operable again with items obtained from non-government entities.

It’s not that the DoD is only a few steps away from being logistically-bulletproof either. The GAO report notes the systems and controls used aren’t even adequate — which would be the minimum needed to ensure control of potentially-dangerous items. When presiding over the distribution of military gear, the DoD needs to implement controls far surpassing “adequate.” So far, it can’t even meet this very low bar.

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Comments on “Watchdog Stings Defense Dept., Obtains $1.2 Million In Military Gear With A Fake Cop Shop”

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33 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

Re: It doesn't matter

“IT IS TIME TO DRAIN THE SWAMP.”

Agree, but you cannot do this while voting for either party. We citizens must first make it clear that corruption is not wanted.

Right now, we make it clear we do want corruption. So before the Washington swamp is drained, the swamp in the electorate must be drained first.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: It doesn't matter

Hopefully we will be able to get more people to understand this. I was reading this reddit thread just the other day and I lose hope again.

https://np.reddit.com/r/technology/comments/6pc5qu/democrats_propose_rules_to_break_up_broadband/

This is the same old game every election cycle. The Underdogs promise to clean up stuff, but once they are back on top, they just go right back to business as usual. And here I sit and watch the same old electorate buying the same old con again.

If the parties did change, or at least the candidates would stand up to their parties then I would say yea… lets give it a shot, but fool me for the 74658th time… shame on me.

hij (profile) says:

Dumping grounds

From the military’s point of view the whole point is to get rid of stuff. There is no incentive for them to do anything but find easier ways to shove their spent equipment out of the door as quickly as possible. The problem is not about handing out equipment in a responsible manner. The problem is that military equipment is being handed out to civilians.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Dumping grounds

“The problem is that military equipment is being handed out to civilians.”

Not a fan of the 2nd Amendment eh? Don’t worry, since you are okay with other peoples rights being taken, you should be good when a police officer civilly forfeits your house, car, money, or maybe just your life the next time you interact with one.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Dumping grounds

“Being armed is not going to help with any of those symptoms.”

Why do you think that? There is a wealth of psychology behind this. Unarmed people will tend to become subservient by that virtue alone. Armed people will tend to be less subservient by that virtue alone. Police are more likely to oppress unarmed citizens as compared to armed citizens.

Heck, it even fosters the idea that the police are here to protect, when they are not even required to help you out at all.

“http://www.nytimes.com/2005/06/28/politics/justices-rule-police-do-not-have-a-constitutional-duty-to-protect.html”

There are multiple reasons for citizens to be armed by default. No one is going to care more about you and yours, than you and yours. The police only care about their ego’s.

Anonymous Anonymous Coward (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Dumping grounds

When there are armed police knocking at your door at 3:00 AM and you answer the door armed, what do you think will happen?

Organization and teamwork might make for a different story, but being organized and having a team when you are pulled over for speeding isn’t likely.

There may be a time. There may be a place. There is also the possibility that we can get out of this mess without armed conflict. We have yet to find out how.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Dumping grounds

“When there are armed police knocking at your door at 3:00 AM and you answer the door armed, what do you think will happen?”

Wait? They knocked instead of rushing in guns, flash-bangs, and testosterone filled yelling? Fuck me that’s new!

I expect the police to respect my right to posses a fucking firearm as per the fucking constitution. You are literally making the case that I should lose my rights because a chicken shit police officer might be afraid of an armed citizen? This is why the police are shooting people, they think they have the right to shoot people dead when they piss their pants in fear!

“There may be a time. There may be a place. There is also the possibility that we can get out of this mess without armed conflict. We have yet to find out how.”

This is easy, but you and the majority of Americans will not like it… it sorta involves work. Work where you have to watch what you do in life and engage your communities to help improve them instead of running to a politician to fix all of your problems with a police officer and a gun.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Dumping grounds

(hold hands over ears)

La, la, la, la, la, la, … I can’t hear you.

Giving military weapons to a non-existent agency and handing them to people with fake id’s and not even looking at the id’s is OK in your world.

When I see comments like yours, it makes me sad. No wonder this country is so screwed up.

stderric (profile) says:

Re: Re: Dumping grounds

The problem is that military equipment is being handed out to civilians.

The problem here isn’t the type of equipment, it’s the fact that my tax dollars and yours paid for expensive high-quality military gear that any half-wit con-man can get the government to hand over to him on a silver platter, gratis. I don’t think the 2nd Amendment involves letting the government rip us off.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Dumping grounds

Please people, use your noggins and stop reading into this like a bunch of political hacks.

My point is… that there is nothing wrong with citizens having or using military equipment.

Yes, I do think it is a bad thing for a con-man to have weaseled it away.

“I don’t think the 2nd Amendment involves letting the government rip us off.”

Of course not, but it was childish to imply that was even close to my position here. Grow up!

JEDIDIAH says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Dumping grounds

The M-16 in question is nothing more than a smallish caliber varmint rifle. It’s only rubes and the media that make it out to be something sinister and impressive.

Take off the pistol grip and give it a wood stock and most of the screeching types would think it’s a bolt action hunting rifle.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Only one thing for it...

Clearly the GAO is a terrorist organization that needs to be shut down for damaging National Security by demonstrating an exploitable flaw in the ‘Military Surplus For Everyone’ program.

Remember, only terrorists, commies, or commie terrorists would ever want to undermine National Security by making the government look bad and/or exposing a vulnerability, so if you see something shut your mouth.

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