But, before and after that story, a few more sordid tales of government dysfunction, including: The US Senate confirmation of a new FBI Director; Keystone XL pipeline may never get built after all; EPA loses in court attempting to roll back methane regulation; Earth is in very very big trouble (or, at least those of us who live on it are); GOP "voter fraud" fraudster and federal court scofflaw Kris Kobach's latest "bizarre" court appeal to avoid an under-oath deposition; and fired White House Comms Director Anthony Scaramucci's terrible week gets even worse.
As to our main story today: The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) recently set up a phony law enforcement agency website and was able to use it to obtain over one million dollars worth of military-grade equipment and weaponry via the Pentagon's so-called 1033 program. The Department of Defense program offers everything from surplus mine-resistant armored vehicles, to high-powered assault weaponry and even helicopters and airplanes to state and local law enforcement agencies — for free. The program, as of 2014, had doled out more than $5 billion in such equipment.
We're joined today by ZINA MERRITT, who, as Director of Defense Capabilities and Management at the GAO, helped create the disturbingly successful sting operation and the accompanying report on what happened, including recommendations to keep it from happening again. She also testified before Congress about all of this last week. The DoD's controversial 1033 program gained notoriety in 2014, during the protests in Ferguson, MO, when St. Louis County's police force rolled out tactical military gear and weaponry in response.
Merritt explains how the sting — which netted "over 100 controlled items with an estimated value of $1.2 million, including night-vision goggles, simulated rifles, and simulated pipe bombs" — was carried out, and what she describes as the "systematic breakdown in the controls at every level." The GAO had been tasked by Congress, during reforms to the program instituted under Obama, to probe the DoD unit where fake law enforcement officials were able to obtain real gear with a fake website and fake IDs (which weren't even checked at several of the warehouses when they picked up what could have been lethal equipment. Good thing they weren't attempting to vote!)
"We submitted (the application) online, and all you had to have, in order to do that, was a website as well as a point of contact, a physical location, and actual names — points of contact — within the agency. Also, you had to identify how many particular sworn officials that you have as a part of your agency. So we created all of that and submitted it," Merritt tells me, explaining that apparently none of it was actually verified by the DoD. "The actual physical location that we provided was an empty lot," she says.
Merritt also explains the recent reforms that have been made to the program, via Executive Order by Obama in 2016 (grenade launchers, for example, are no longer available, even though the Los Angeles Unified School District had obtained several prior to those reforms!), the several recommendations the GAO has now made to correct the startling security gaps in the program revealed by the sting operation, and whether "bad guys" may have already pulled off what the GAO has now discovered was easily done.
We also discuss how the 1033 program could be changed again by Trump, and whether the GAO — an agency controlled by the US Congress — is facing changes under the new Administration.
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