Wow. Our experiment is off to a great start—let's see if we can finish it off sooner than expected.
I wrote last week of an Army contracting officer in Kuwait, who, with the collusion of his wife and sister, allegedly took almost $10 million in bribes from corrupt contractors. It was said to be the largest case of fraud yet uncovered during the Iraq reconstruction.
Well, as reported in this morning's New York Times, it may wind up being a drop in the bucket. Investigators from the Army Criminal Investigation Command, the Justice Department, and the FBI have uncovered a network of criminality much larger than anything previously conceived. It involves "the purchase and delivery of weapons, supplies, and other material to Iraqi and American forces" and amounts to "the largest ring of fraud and kickbacks uncovered in the conflict there." Among those under investigation is Lt. Col. Levonda Joey Selph, a contracting officer who reported directly to General David Petraeus, the current commander of U.S. forces in Iraq.
Now, it comes as no surprise that reconstruction operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have suffered from incompetence, waste, and fraud. What does surprise, though, is the scale of wrongdoing slowly emerging from news reports. From the Times:
The investigation into contracts for matériel to Iraqi soldiers and police officers is part of an even larger series of criminal cases. As of Aug. 23, there were a total of 73 criminal investigations related to contract fraud in Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, Col. Dan Baggio, an Army spokesman said Monday. Twenty civilians and military personnel have been charged in federal court as a result of the inquiries, he said. The inquiries involve contracts valued at more than $5 billion, and Colonel Baggio said the charges so far involve more than $15 million in bribes...
Investigations span the gamut from low-level officials submitting false claims for amounts less than $2,500 to more serious cases involving, conspiracy, bribery, product substitution and bid-rigging or double-billing involving large dollar amounts or more senior contracting officials, Army criminal investigators said. The investigations involve contractors, government employees, local nationals and American military personnel.
If keeping track of all this corruption is confusing, have no fear. Here's an incomplete timeline of events, cobbled together from the Times article:
In the department of better late than never, the Pentagon is taking action. Its Inspector General, Claude M. Kicklighter, will lead a team of 18 investigators to Iraq early next month to examine contracting practices. Army Secretary Pete Geren is also expected to announce later this week the creation of a special panel to identify problems in the military contracting process.