WASHINGTON – Stolen and sensitive U.S. military equipment, including fighter jet parts wanted by Iran and nuclear biological protective gear, has been available to the highest bidder on popular Internet sales sites, according to congressional investigators.
Using undercover identities, investigators purchased a dozen defense-related items on the auction site eBay and the online network Craigslist from January 2007 through last month and received the items "no questions asked."
The Defense Department regards much of the stolen equipment to be on the U.S. Munitions List, meaning there are restrictions on their overseas sales, the Government Accountability Office said Thursday.
The equipment could land in international brokers' hands or be transferred overseas, said the GAO, Congress' investigative arm.
"Many of the sensitive items we purchased could have been used directly against our troops and allies, or reverse engineered to develop counter measures or equivalent technologies," investigators said in their report.
Among the items purchased include two components from F-14 fighter jets, bought from separate buyers on eBay. The warplanes, now retired by the military, could easily be purchased and transferred to the Iranian military, which is seeking its components, the report said.
Investigators couldn't determine where the sellers had obtained the F-14 parts.
They also purchased from a Craigslist seller a used Nuclear Biological Chemical protective suit, other protective accessories as well as an unused chemical-biological canister, which contained the mask filter used to guard against warfare agents. The property was likely stolen from the Defense Department, the report said.
Investigators also purchased military stolen goods that were sold for personal profit. The Defense Department regards sale of certain items issued to military personnel, such as body armor, theft of government property, the report said.
"Although not all of the stolen property items available on eBay and Craigslist were sensitive, each item was purchased with taxpayer money and represents a waste of resources," investigators said.
The Army recognizes that the U.S. military has had "property accountability and visibility challenges," said Sarah H. Finnicum, director of supply at the Office of Deputy Chief of Staff for the Army, in testimony to a House subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs.
To correct the problem, the Army started a program in 2006 to account for all of its inventories. To date the Army has accounted for more than 20,000 items worth more than $135 million, she said.
Rep. John Tierney, D-Mass., chairman of the subcommittee, said he was startled by the fact "that it took the Army and DoD six years to get the system in place that probably should have been in place by 2001."