DEFENSE

Watchdog: Pentagon almost gave fake cops $1M in guns, bombs

The Pentagon nearly gave over $1 million worth of rifles, pipe bombs and other military hardware to a fake police department -- set up as part of a government watchdog's sting operation, a new report reveals. 

Using cloak-and-dagger tactics, auditors from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) created a nonexistent police department. They submitted requests to purchase from the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) “controlled properties” like simulated pipe bombs, night-vision goggles, and explosive ordnance detonation robots.

“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 GAO said in a July 18 report.

The sting operation involved government auditors creating a website describing the fake agency and using publicly available resources to produce false police credentials.

“Personnel at two of the three sites did not request or check for valid identification of our investigator picking up the property,” the GAO said.

In its reponse to the findings, DOD concurred with four recommendations made by GAO and highlighted steps it was taking to improve internal controls and implement recommendations from past audits.

At no point during the application process did Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) staff speak with officials at the fake agency to verify the legitimacy of the application, according to the report. All authorizations were done via email.

As a result of laws passed in 1989 as part of an effort to strengthen local law enforcement agencies, the Pentagon was granted authority to transfer excess DOD property to local police agencies under the LESO program.

Also known as the 1033 program, it came under political scrutiny when tanks were used by the Ferguson, Mo., police to control crowds during the 2014 protests.

Since 1991, more than $6 billion worth of excess personal property has been transferred to more than 8,600 federal, state, and
local law enforcement agencies, according to the GAO. Nearly two-thirds of the DOD-controlled property items transferred from 2013-2015 went to state and local agencies, GAO said. During that period, a total of 388,570 items worth about $1.07 billion were doled out to federal and local law enforcement agencies.

Responding to the fallout from the Ferguson riots, then-President Barack Obama in May 2015 signed an executive order prohibiting the distribution of certain “controlled” items, like grenade launchers and high-caliber weapons. 

The program remains a matter of controversy and debate on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga. introduced a bill to severely restrict the kinds of weapons distributed, while Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, has a measure to undo Obama’s executive order.