Audit: Surplus military equipment mishandled

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon may have mishandled or even lost track of thousands of surplus machine guns, armored vehicles and other pieces of demilitarized equipment sold or provided to foreign governments, according to an internal audit.

Some of the equipment was given to unauthorized nations, jeopardizing U.S. national security, according to the report by the Defense Department’s inspector general.

The lax control over surplus items “increased the risk of providing foreign governments unauthorized property that could be used to threaten our national security,” the Feb. 13 report concluded. A copy of it was obtained Thursday.

Defense Logistics Agency spokesman Douglas Ide did not immediately know whether the items at issue were sold or given to the foreign governments.

“We take the nature of the IG’s findings seriously,” Ide said in a statement. “We’re reviewing the report in light of the IG’s recent comments and will respond to the IG’s concerns.

The report, dated Feb. 13, is based on a sampling of 175 pieces of equipment out of 7,373 pieces that were either sold or otherwise given to 19 foreign governments between October 2001 and March 2006. The report does not identify the foreign governments.

President George W. Bush last year signed legislation prohibiting the Pentagon from selling leftover F-14 fighter jet parts.

Democratic lawmakers sought the ban after The Associated Press reported that buyers for Iran, China and other countries had exploited weaknesses in Pentagon surplus-sale security to obtain sensitive military equipment, including parts for F-14 Tomcats and other aircraft, and missile components.

Iran is believed to be the only country still trying to fly Tomcats. The U.S. Navy retired its fleet in 2006.

The inspector general’s report concluded:

-As many as 7,259 of 7,373 items, including M-16 rifles, M-60 machine guns, and armored personnel carriers, were not properly tracked, safeguarded, accounted for, or reconciled.

-As many as 291 of 7,373 line items, including M-16s parts, were shipped to foreign governments that were not authorized to have those items.

-As many as 960 of 7,373 items were wrongly identified by how they should be demilitarized to prevent misuse.

The 7,373 items were valued in the report at $296 million. The value of the items sampled was not immediately clear.

Surplus military equipment can be sold to allied governments when the Pentagon no longer needs it. Some equipment may need to be dissembled or otherwise altered to make sure it can’t be used against the United States. Over the nearly five-year period, the Defense Department gave 57 allied governments $2 billion worth of surplus equipment.

The report rapped the Defense Logistics Agency and the Navy and Air Force transport offices with failing to vigorously track the equipment. It did not find similar weaknesses within the Army.

Last updated February 19, 2009 2:40 p.m. PT

Source: Seattle Post Intelligencer

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