Impunity for U.S.-Funded Warlords in Afghanistan The Case of Abdul Raziq


Lt. Gen. Joseph Anderson and Maj. Gen. Abdul Raziq (Photo: Sgt. Antony S. Lee/Army)


“The war in Afghanistan will cost the United States approximately $45 billion this year, according to Pentagon estimates. About $5 billion of that will go towards paying the budget of the Afghan security forces.

report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction (SIGAR) last month revealed that the United States is unable or unwilling to stop funding units that engage in torture, summary execution, and other serious human rights violations, despite Congress’s efforts to restrict that aid.”

“A dramatic illustration of this is the case of Lt. Gen. Abdul Raziq, the chief of the Afghan National Police (ANP) in Kandahar. Raziq is a valuable enough ally for the U.S. military to be photographed with threestar U.S. generals when they come to Kandahar, and he and his forces have received millions of dollars in U.S. aid in the last decade. But there are credible allegations of his involvement in murder and torture of detainees that date back to 2006 and continue to today.

In 2017, the United Nations wrote that the worst torture in Afghanistan occurred in ANP jails in Kandahar, “where a staggering 91 percent of detainees interviewed gave credible and reliable accounts of being subjected to the most brutal forms of torture and ill-treatment.”

The United Nations Committee Against Torture took the unusual step of specifically calling for an investigation and prosecution of Raziq in its 2017 report on Afghanistan’s compliance with the Convention Against Torture.

Congress has attempted to cut off aid to units of foreign security forces when the United States has credible information of their involvement in gross violations of human rights through statutes sponsored by Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), which are more commonly known as the “Leahy Law.” SIGAR reported that the Pentagon used a loophole in the law to continue funding at least 12 Afghan Interior Department units despite evidence that they had violated human rights with impunity.

The details about the units and the violations they committed are blacked out of the SIGAR report, and neither SIGAR nor the Defense Department would disclose any additional information about their identity. But based on reporting from human rights groups and journalists, Afghan National Police units under Raziq’s command are among the most likely candidates.

Erica Gaston, a human rights attorney for the Global Public Policy Institute, said in an interview with the Project On Government Oversight that “the question that has come up for years was why is Raziq still not blocked” under the Leahy Law. Gaston reported in March 2017 that multiple U.S. officials had confirmed to her that Raziq had “failed Leahy vetting and the law has been enforced against him,” although the United States was continuing to fund Afghan police in Kandahar. She noted it was possible that the Defense Department had relied on a statement in Congressional appropriations for security aid to Afghanistan, which stated that the funds “shall be available to the Secretary of Defense, notwithstanding any other provision of law.” SIGAR suggested that Congress consider eliminating this exception, a step that Leahy supports and the Defense Department opposes.

Raziq, who is not yet 40 years old, was an unknown exile in Pakistan on September 11, 2001. Thanks in part to U.S. aid, he is now one of the most powerful people in southern Afghanistan. His rise poses fundamental questions about the effectiveness of both the Leahy Law and the U.S. strategy in Afghanistan.

A Massacre in Spin Boldak

One of the earliest public allegations against Raziq appears in the State Department’s annual human rights report for Afghanistan for 2006:

In March Commander Abdul Razaq of Kandahar province was removed from his post for allegedly attacking 16 rivals under the pretext that they were Taliban militants. The 16 men were Pakistani citizens who had traveled to Afghanistan for Afghan New Year celebrations. They belonged to a clan in Pakistan that Razaq blamed for the death of his brother two years earlier.

In 2011, journalist Matthieu Aikins confirmed the State Department’s reporting in far more detail. Aikins wrote in The Atlantic that on March 20, 2006, a smuggler named Shin Noorzai and 15 friends and acquaintances of his stopped at a guest house in Kabul. They intended to travel to Mazar-e Sharif to celebrate Nowruz, the Persian New Year. Instead, they were apparently drugged by an ally of Raziq in Kabul, bound, and driven over 300 miles to Spin Boldak, a border district where Raziq was a colonel in the border police.

Raziq and his forces placed the captives, still bound, into SUVs, drove them to a dry river gully near the border with Pakistan, and shot them at close range with automatic weapons.

Raziq told a different story to his superiors and the press, reporting that his unit had killed at least 15 Taliban fighters after a gunfight. A tip from a European Union (EU) employee stationed in Afghanistan, combined with diplomatic protests from Pakistan that innocent citizens had been killed, led the Afghan government to investigate what had happened more closely.

Aikins viewed photographs and documents from that investigation, and interviewed a number of witnesses, including one victim’s family, a member of the Afghan Criminal Investigations (CID) team that first responded to the scene, and the EU employee who had helped spark the initial investigation.

The EU employee, Michael Semple, told Aikins that the Afghan Interior Department’s final report “documented the killings in such a way that would leave no reasonable person in doubt that these were summary executions carried out by the Border Police” under Raziq’s command. But no charges were ever brought, and Raziq was soon reinstated.

By the time Aikins wrote his story in 2011, Raziq had been promoted to brigadier general and appointed chief of police for Kandahar province. (Raziq also maintained command in Spin Boldak, at his own request.) Aikins interviewed two young men who said they had recently been tortured by Raziq’s forces in Kandahar, and still had burn scars on their toes from being given electric shocks. He also spoke to two family members of two other men who were summarily executed in 2011 after being detained by Raziq’s border police in Spin Boldak. Raziq, however, categorically denied all allegations of wrongdoing, and a State Department official in Kandahar told Aikins in 2011 that “[n]o Leahy Amendment issues have come to me” regarding Raziq’s activities.

In an interview with the Project On Government Oversight, Aikins said that it was hard to know exactly why it took so long for the allegations against Raziq to raise red flags about his legal eligibility for U.S. assistance.

“The history of the Leahy Law in Afghanistan is a mix of neglect, chronic understaffing, and creative interpretation of the law,” he said. “It’s difficult to say what exactly was at work in specific cases.”

Aikins noted that, as documented by SIGAR, “the U.S. underwrites the budget for the Afghan security forces. It’s only very recently that there’s been any sort of system to track gross violations of human rights for Leahy Law purposes.”

Systematic Torture                      

In 2010, the Obama Administration deployed 30,000 additional troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. forces there close to 100,000. The troop surge centered on Kandahar, and the United States needed to bring its supplies through the Spin Boldak border crossing with Pakistan that Raziq controlled. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who at the time was the commander of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, flew to meet Raziq in 2010 to implore him not to hold up vital supplies fueling the U.S. counterinsurgency efforts.

Military officers acknowledged to Members of Congress that Raziq had made millions of dollars by taking “a major cut of all trucking that passes through” the Spin Boldak border crossing. But the United States found that he was a valuable ally in clearing Taliban-held villages in Kandahar. By the fall of 2010, U.S. officers were describing him to reporters as a “Robin Hood figure” and a “folk hero,” and previous efforts to sideline or try to reform him were abandoned.

One anonymous Army officer told the Washington Post that “[i]f we didn’t have him, we’d be screwed,” and that “[a]s long as we don’t catch him moving trucks full of opium through the desert, we’ll let him slide… If his men are shaking people down on the highway, well, that’s just the way it’s done here. It’s no different from tollbooths on the highways back home.”

In October 2011, the United Nations published a report documenting widespread torture of Taliban suspects by Afghan security forces, based on interviews of over 379 detainees throughout the country. The U.S. military took the United Nations’ findings seriously: Gen. John Allen, who had become head of coalition forces in Afghanistan, suspended detainee transfers to a number of prisons where the United Nations had documented systematic torture, and began a monitoring program that attempted to ensure that captives transferred by the United States into Afghanistan’s control were not tortured.

But biennial follow-up reports by the United Nations in 20132015, and 2017, based on hundreds more detainee interviews, found that Afghan security forces continued to torture prisoners, and that torture was particularly brutal and pervasive at ANP prisons in Kandahar.

The 2013 U.N. report found that all six of the Afghan police detention facilities where torture was found to be “systematic”—meaning that more than 50 percent of detainees interviewed made detailed and credible allegations of torture—were located in Kandahar. The report noted that “ANP officials in Kandahar province have increased the level of brutality and the use of torture” since Raziq’s appointment as the acting chief of police for the province in May 2011. The United Nations also said it “received credible reports of the alleged disappearance of 81 individuals who reportedly had been taken into ANP custody in Kandahar province from September 2011 to October 2012.”

The 2015 and 2017 reports made similar findings of extremely widespread torture, disappearance, and summary executions.

Human rights groups and journalists have also documented widespread torture and extrajudicial killing by Raziq’s forces. According to a 2014 report by Anand Gopal in Harper’s Magazine, over 40 unidentified bodies appeared in Kandahar province in October 2013 alone, bearing signs of torture.

Gopal wrote that “because of smashed teeth and missing noses, eyes, or heads, many could not be identified.”

An ANP commander under Raziq, Abdul Wadood Sarhadi Jajo, was alleged to be responsible for many of the killings. Gopal had a great deal of difficulty finding witnesses and victims willing to speak to him about Jajo’s crimes because of fears of retaliation, and was himself briefly detained by Jajo’s forces. He was released unharmed, but ordered to leave Kandahar the next morning and never return. Gopal said in an interview with the Project On Government Oversight that he had no doubt of Raziq’s awareness of his forces’ abuses: “Nothing happened without his knowledge.”

During the summer of 2014, according to the State Department’s human rights report for Afghanistan for that year, “Raziq told the media he had ordered his forces to execute militants on the spot, rather than take them prisoner,” though he “later retracted his comments.” In general, though, Raziq has consistently and categorically denied the allegations against him. In 2017 he said, “I strongly reject such claims and they are made to defame me. If anyone or any entity have any proof, they should present it but I am sure there is none.”

“A Drop in the Ocean”

SIGAR reported that during the time period of its report, the Defense Department withheld a total of $212,120 from Afghan Ministry of the Interior forces under the Leahy law. Lt. Col. Mike Andrews, a Pentagon spokesman, stated that as of June 2017, the amount withheld had risen to $707,154. But even that higher number is, in Aikins’ words, “a drop in the ocean” when compared to the over $70 billion that the Defense Department has provided to Afghan security forces over the years.

Asked to comment on the allegations against Raziq and his status under the Leahy Law, Andrews said that while “DoD takes compliance with the Leahy Law seriously,” it does not publicly discuss allegations against Afghan security forces or their status under the law because of “the sensitive bilateral security cooperation relationships with the Government of Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.”

Leahy has called the Defense Department’s use of the “notwithstanding” language “inexcusable,” and is seeking to change it. In an interview with NPR, he said that “the notwithstanding authority was intended to be only rarely used,” and that its overly broad use signaled to foreign security forces that “We’ve got this law. But you go ahead and do everything you want to do. You do the most outrageous thing you want to do, extrajudicial killings and everything else. And don’t worry—we’ll keep sending you U.S. taxpayers’ dollars.”

While that was likely not the signal DoD intended to send, it seems to have been the message that Raziq received. In a 2015 interview with NPR, Raziq was asked about the possibility that the United States would withhold aid due to the widespread reports that his forces had tortured, killed, and disappeared captives. He replied, “[y]ou don’t have to worry about that. They will give us…Are they going to hand over this area back to the Taliban?”

Raziq’s sense of impunity extends to the Afghan government. He asserted in a radio interview in January that “[t]his government has neither appointed me, nor it can remove me. I have been appointed based on the demands of Kandahar people and I will leave based on Kandahar residents’ demands.”


After 2001, the U.S. government determined that security needs required it to partner with warlords like Raziq, even as it acknowledged the long-term costs. But as the years pass, it becomes harder to justify disregarding the long-term effects of empowering rights abusers. Some of the troops deploying to Afghanistan this year were toddlers on September 11, 2001, and there is no end in sight. At a recent Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on Afghanistan, Senator Chris Coons (D-DE), said he worried that “we may be there the rest of my life”; Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) asked whether “we [are] going to be discussing this in 250 years.”

The U.S. reliance on and assistance to foreign proxies with questionable human rights records is not limited to Afghanistan. It also includes support for the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Forces and Iraqi and Kurdish regional government forces in the conflict with ISIS; conducting joint raids with the United Arab Emirates and refueling Saudi jets in Yemen; and training and advising African forces to fight al Shabab, Boko Haram, and ISIS.

Figuring out how to address human rights violations by forces we assist is not simple. But it should not be postponed any longer, or avoided by using an artificially narrow definition of “assistance” or by pretending not to notice the worst abuses of our allies. One logical first step, as Dan Mahanty suggested in Just Security last June, would be to improve the U.S. government’s own capacity to document human rights abuses by the forces we assist, and to record and analyze credible reports of violations from local and international sources.”



Fight Together, Parade Together

Fight and parade

Image:  “War On The”


“If the Command[er] in Chief does order a parade, Secretary Mattis should make it mean something and march together proudly with those we train with and fight alongside.

The best message the Department of Defense can make to America and the world (including the Commander in Chief) is that we are strongest with our allies.”

” If the United States is to hold a military parade, as President Donald Trump witnessed last year in Paris, it should be the right kind of parade. Our true power is not, and has not been for a long time, just fearsome weapons and trained and experienced warriors.

Secretary of Defense James Mattis recognizes that “we are going to be stronger together in recognizing that our military will be designed and trained and ready to fight alongside allies.” He should accordingly invite America’s friends and allies to march alongside our soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines.

The member nations of NATO stood side-by-side to win the Cold War, and after the attacks of 9/11 they immediately declared solidarity with us, fighting and dying alongside us in Afghanistan. Estonia has only 6,000 active-duty soldiers yet for over a decade deployed a full company there. NATO air forces and special forces fought together in Libya.

Nearly three dozen countries joined the United States as part of the coalition against Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein in 1991, and the United Kingdom has paid dearly for heeding our call to invade again in 2003. We work with France in the Sahel, Italy in Libya, and with the Philippines on counterterrorism. U.S. troops stand united with South Korea and Japan against North Korea.

It appears the Department of Defense is resisting the idea of a parade, and for understandable reasons. There will be high monetary cost and it would be just more distractions for a force already run down from constant deployments. There are more to pressing issues: a resurgent Russia; a revisionist China; ongoing wars on Iraq and Afghanistan, and so much more, this is not the time for more drill and ceremonies.

The parade “very likely runs contrary to Mr. Mattis’s priorities,” The New York Times wrote, so he should do what warriors have done for ages: listen to our superior’s orders and make the best of it.

This means a parade built around one principle: fight together, parade together. If it is unclear what it would celebrate, then let it celebrate friendship and shared sacrifice.

The possibilities are endless. In the skies above Washington, D.C., our pilots might fly alongside the Norwegian and Emirati pilots, as they did in Libya. The joint U.S.-Singaporean training squadron, based in Idaho, could follow behind Canadian interceptors representing their contribution to NORAD, and a NATO AWACS. French troops from Operation Barkhane, and the Africa G5 nations, combatting terrorists in the Sahel, deserve their place in the line of march.

Estonian veterans of the Afghanistan campaign might march with the Danish tanks, and German and Czech special forces who deployed. Elements of NATO’s new Very High Readiness Joint Task Force can march to signal readiness and resolve to Russia. A Columbian contingent could celebrate the successes of their peace process and our partnership in counter-narcotics operations. Australia, New Zealand, Poland, Germany: all these and more should join.

The Defense Department might use the opportunity for subtle signaling by, for example, featuring NATO allies who meet the two percent threshold of military spending or those who have committed troops with the fewest operational restrictions. Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has been actively trying to feature Japan’s military prowess and might be eager to participate.  Turkey might be invited but only if it eased back on the purge of officers since the 2016 coup. These opportunities for messaging would all be lost if the parade were U.S. only.

It is a dangerous world and militaries have better things to do than parading pounding the pavement of Pennsylvania Avenue. ”



Jason Healey is Senior Research Scholar at Columbia University’s School for International and Public Affairs, and Visiting Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, specializing in cyber conflict and risk. He started his career as a U.S. Air Force intelligence officer, before moving to cyber response and policy jobs at the White House and Goldman Sachs. Healey was founding director for cyber issues at the Atlantic Council where he remains a Senior Fellow and is the editor of the first history of conflict in cyberspace, A Fierce Domain: Cyber Conflict, 1986 to 2012. He is on the DEF CON review board and served on the Defense Science Board task force on cyber deterrence.



Defense Companies Funneling Newfound Tax Reform Cash Into Corporate Pension Offsets

Defense company pension Liability

Generally speaking, the biggest recipient of cash infusion happens to be pension plans.. (doomu/Getty Images)


“Most companies froze them a decade ago or longer. But that didn’t eliminate the liability that comes with having to reserve funds for paying out retirement to the many individuals that already have built up those nest eggs.

So it’s understandable then that Lockheed would decide to make a whopping $5 billion cash contribution into its pension trust in 2018, satisfying required payments until 2021. It also explains Raytheon’s contribution of $1 billion, Northrop’s $500 million and Harris’ $300 million, to just name a few more.”

“If you listened to the annual earnings calls of the major, public defense companies (wait, does everyone not do that?) then you might have noticed a common theme.

They’re all going to have more cash. And a lot of them have similar plans for how to spend it.

One of the advantages of the tax reform law was to trim the corporate tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent, which, in the words of Lockheed Martin’s CEO Marillyn Hewson, “reduces the combined U.S. corporate tax rate from the highest in the industrialized world, in line with the tax rates used in the most advanced economies.”

In the short term, most companies experienced a little bit of hurt by way of a one-time non-cash increase to income tax expense; it showed in earnings, with some falling short of guidance. But the advantages will certainly kick in starting next year.

So then what do companies have in mind? The idea behind the corporate tax cuts, if you ask the Trump administration, was jobs. And longer term, that conceivably will happen among the defense companies. But first, the money is going to other things. And generally speaking, the biggest recipient of cash infusion happens to be pension plans.

If pensions seem “so 1990s,” it’s because they kind of are. For years, that liability has been an enormous drag on the books for companies, particularly those that have been around for a long time (meaning just more obligations).

But here’s what’s interesting about pension liability — and bear with me here, since it’s complicated and I’m not a financial expert: Liability is so high because interest rates are low, and interest rates are used to calculate long-term obligations. Because pension payouts run so far into the future — 60 to 70 years to cover the lifespan of all participants — a company’s plan must predict how much it needs in the short term to cover future payments. That’s done by using an assumed discount rate based on the interest rate of fixed-income securities. Make sense? Put simply: The lower the discount rate, the higher the assumed pension obligation.

Of course, that very reason makes pension liabilities “artificially high,” in the words of Lockheed CFO Bruce Tanner, when he was kind enough to walk me through all this in 2012. I remember this statistic being quite telling: If the interest rate increased to 7.75 percent at that time, Lockheed’s unfunded liability of $12.78 billion in 2012 would have suddenly become zero. Rates have remained low, so pension liability has remained high.

So then what’s the point? If pension liability is something of a false drag on the books, and if we all assume that interest rates will eventually rise, then couldn’t this newfound infusion of cash be better spent elsewhere — acquisitions, research and development? Executives assured investors that too was happening — if not now, then soon.

Lockheed said it’s exploring such things as employee training and educational offerings, increasing charitable contributions in STEM, and increasing the company’s ventures investment fund for early-stage companies developing disruptive tech. And Harris will invest $20 million in technologies to accelerate innovation and affordability efforts for customers, also granting each of its roughly 17,000 nonexecutive employees 10 shares of Harris common stock. That brings a current market value of about $1,470 each, or approximately $24 million in total.

So other investments are happening. It’s also important to consider that companies are using the tax cut windfall to front-load pension contributions before tax rates fall from 39.6 percent to 37 percent. Getting the most for their contribution, so to speak. That makes particular sense amid chatter mentioned by Richard Safran of Buckingham Research Group on an earnings call that the Pentagon might look to claw back some portion of the tax benefit from defense companies either by renegotiating existing contracts or re-pricing items on future ones.

Short-lived benefits? Too soon to tell, but better to take advantage now.”





Kicking The F-35’s Tires – Trouble When The Rubber Meets The Runway




f35 tIRES

(Photo: USAF / March Copeland)


“Average F-35B tire life is below 10 landings, well below the requirement for 25 conventional full-stop landings.  The tires cost about $1,500 each. That works out to $300 per flight just to burn rubber.

Think of it as military procurement in microcosm: Taxpayers will have paid to develop it, but what they paid for won’t actually do what it is supposed to do.”

“U.S. Army Lieutenant Benjamin Foulois put the first wheels on a Wright Brothers’ aeroplane in 1910. After more than a century, the U.S. military is still trying to get it right. The latest bump in the runway involves the F-35 fighter, which has been bedeviled by tire problems, especially on the version being built for the Marines.

Folks might not comprehend the challenges associated with the F-35’s 10 million lines of computer code, its slo-mo helmet imagery, or its buggy Autonomic Logistics Information System, designed to keep the warplane ready for action. But they understand tires because most of us buy them and ride on them every day. Sure, F-35 tires and those on the family SUV are worlds apart. But they’re both round and black, and that’s good enough for most taxpayers.

There are three kinds of F-35s—for the Air Force, the Navy and the Marines—and they all fly in the sky. But how they get there, and return safely to dirt (or deck), differs: the Air Force’s F-35A uses traditional runways, the Navy’s F-35C has to endure punishing carrier takeoffs and landings, and the Marines’ F-35B, with its swiveling engine, is designed for short takeoffs and vertical landings from austere airfields.

The Pentagon’s new chief weapons-tester (on the job only since Dec. 11) raised the tiresome issue in his office’s latest annual report, released Jan. 23.

“The program has struggled to find a tire for the F-35B that is strong enough for conventional high-speed landings, soft enough to cushion vertical landings, and still light enough for the existing aircraft structure,” Robert Behler, a former Air Force test pilot, noted. The problem, he added, won’t be fixed until after the F-35’s “System Development and Demonstration” phase wraps up, perhaps next year.

Marines load F-35

Marines and their troubled F-35B tire in Yuma, Ariz., in September. (Photo: US Marines / Koby I. Saunders)

Nonetheless, the U.S. military loves the plane. “The F-35B’s ability to conduct operations from expeditionary airstrips or sea-based carriers provides our nation with its first 5th generation strike fighter, which will transform the way we fight and win,” Marine General Joe Dunford said as Marine commandant in 2015, before being tapped as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Military-aircraft tires have a life that’s brutish and short. They’re swapped out far more often than those on commercial airliners and pressurized 10 times more than your car’s. They’re pounded during takeoffs and landings, generating smoke as they skid upon touching down until their rotation catches up with the plane’s speed.

This wasn’t supposed to be a problem in 2018. The F-35 people have been saying for years that tire fixes are just around (sorry) the corner. “Those tires today are coming off the airplane way, way, way too frequently,” the Air Force general running the program said five years ago.

His minions got the message. They explored thicker treads. “Tire wear must be improved for the F-35B variant, and we have taken concrete actions to fix this problem,” an F-35 spokesman said back in 2013, when the tires couldn’t do more than 10 landings—just like today.

The tires cost about $1,500 each. That works out to $300 per flight just to burn rubber. They’re made by Britain’s Dunlop Aircraft Tyres Ltd. “World-class aircraft tyres,” the company says atop its website. “And nothing else.” (Goodyear and Michelin make the tires for the Air Force and Navy F-35s. To confuse things even more, the Dunlop company making the F-35 tires is not affiliated with Dunlop car tires, which since 1999 have been part of Goodyear.)

This isn’t the first time the issue has caught the attention of the Pentagon’s Operational Test and Evaluation Office. “Tire assemblies on all F-35 variants do not last as long as expected and require very frequent replacement,” Michael Gilmore, Behler’s predecessor as the Defense Department’s top weapons-tester, noted in 2014. “The program is seeking redesigned tires for all variants to reduce maintenance down time for tire replacements.”

F-35 tires

The F-35’s tires are keeping too many F-35s on the ground too often. (Source: DOT&E FY 2016 Annual Report, page 92)

In 2015, the F-35 boss was still grumbling about the Marines’ F-35 tires. “This is more of a manufacturing problem than anything else,” he said. “We know exactly what the tire needs to look like.”

Yet manufacturing the tire isn’t its only shortfall, as handy Air Force mechanics have shown at two different F-35 bases. Tire-swapping airmen at Eglin Air Force Base didn’t like the three tool boxes for their work that came with the F-35 to their Florida base. They were able to cut the number of tools checked out for changing F-35 tires from 287 to 52, all in a single box. “It takes a lot less time now, compared to lugging out three boxes and a huge cart,” an Air Force wrench-turner said in 2013. “Also, there’s a lot less risk of losing tools now with one box as opposed to three boxes.”

The wheel shop at Hill Air Force Base got real good at changing tires on the Utah base’s F-16s using a hydraulic tool to separate tires from rims. When they got a similar machine for use on the F-35, they were surprised at its inefficiency. So they adopted their tried-and-true F-16 machine for the F-35’s tires instead. “Using the legacy machine means that we can load the F-35 tires by rolling them on instead of lifting them on as we have to do on the newer, manual machine,” an airman noted in 2016. “This saves a lot of time because only two personnel are involved, not four. By using the automated process, it takes half the time, which allows us to provide assets to the warfighter a lot quicker.”

Such fixes are disconcerting in a $1.5 trillion program—the most expensive in world history. No wonder the Pentagon says it can’t afford to fly the F-35. “Right now, we can’t afford the sustainment costs we have on the F-35,” Ellen Lord, the Defense Department’s top weapons buyer, said Jan. 31.

The F-35 tire tale isn’t about reaching for the stars with new military technology and falling short. This isn’t, after all, rocket science. Rather, it’s about exaggerating the threat that drove the need to build the plane before its blueprints were finished, leaving taxpayers holding the bag for tires that can only do 40 percent of what was pledged.

One veteran pilot believes the Pentagon is stuck with the lousy tires. “I suspect it will be much less expensive to keep the present tire and write it off after 10 instead of 25 landings,” says Merrill McPeak, the Air Force’s top officer from 1990 to 1994, who has flown more than 6,000 hours in six different kinds of USAF fighters. “The avoided cost of finding or developing a Goldilocks tire will, I expect, pay for a warehouse full of tires that look more like Cinderella’s older sisters.”

The tires are emblematic of other Pentagon procurement nightmares. It’s that comparability—like prior purchases of coffee pots costing $7,622 and $640 toilet seats—that grabs taxpayers’ attention. The most recent case is the Air Force contract to replace the refrigerators on Air Force One for $24 million. All these items, like the F-35’s tires, were custom-made for the military. The iceboxes on the president’s plane, for example, have to chill 3,000 meals to feed passengers and crew for weeks without resupplying (didn’t see a single headline on the purchase with that nuance).

That Air Force One requirement is ridiculous, but that’s another column.

Such requirements—one plane shared among three services, including one that can hop into or out of the air—has led to the F-35 fiasco. It also leads to a disturbing thought: if they can’t get a century-old technology right, what other snafus will surface only when war breaks out and the rubber really meets the road?”


State and Federal Officials Accuse Veterans Nonprofit of Misleading Donors



Brian Arthur Hampton, leader of the Put Vets First! Political Action Committee Put Vets First! PAC website. Hampton earned $340,000 in 2016 from his two veterans charities


“Virginia’s attorney general has launched an investigation into a veterans charity that allegedly misled donors by spending millions of dollars on telemarketing and salaries rather than on veterans.

Separately, Rep. Walter B. Jones, R-N.C., on Wednesday asked the leaders of two U.S. House committees to launch an investigation into “bad actors” who mislead donors and enrich themselves in the name of military veterans.”

“The Falls Church, Virginia-based Center for American Homeless Veterans received a “civil investigative demand” for documents from Attorney General Mark Herring’s office in late December, according to documents reviewed this week by the Center for Public Integrity.

The attorney general’s actions came just two weeks after publication of a Center for Public Integrity investigation into the Center for American Homeless Veterans and its founder, Brian Arthur Hampton.

“Congress should not sit on the sidelines while unscrupulous individuals abuse their tax-exempt status, fleece donors and take advantage of the men and women who have served our great nation and their families,” Jones wrote in a letter to the leaders of the House Committee on Ways and Means and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. Committee representatives could not immediately be reached for comment.

Along with the Center for American Homeless Veterans, Hampton runs the nonprofit Circle of Friends for American Veterans and the Put Vets First! Political Action Committee out of the same office.

All three groups use telemarketers to raise millions of dollars, but hardly any of this money is spent on programs for veterans, according to federal tax filings and Federal Election Commission disclosures.

Hampton denies wrongdoing and has said in the past that contracting with professional fundraisers frees up his time to focus on outreach.

But in its “civil investigative demand,” Herring’s office alleges that Hampton’s Center for American Homeless Veterans “has engaged in misleading donors to believe funds would be used for veterans-assistance programs and organizations, when funds were not used for those purposes.”

Michael Kelly, spokesman for Herring, confirmed his office is investigating the Center for American Homeless Veterans but declined to answer specific questions about the probe.

“Attorney General Herring has made it a priority to crack down on financial exploitation of veterans and fraudulent charities, as evidenced by his work with colleagues to shut down the deceptive “VietNow” charity, and the record-setting $100 million settlement his team secured against USA Discounters for deceptive sales and debt collection practices,” Kelly said in an emailed statement.

Hampton said he is cooperating with the investigation.

“We have the program goods and are always enthusiastic about sharing all the documents,” Hampton wrote in an emailed statement. “We do what we say we are going to do and a great deal more.”

Hampton has personally benefited from his trio of veterans organizations.

During 2017, he made $110,00 from the PAC, boosting his income from the PAC to $20,350 in December alone, according to federal records.

Hampton also earned $340,000 in 2016 from his two veterans charities, according to the most recent tax filings available. It’s not yet known how much Hampton earned from his charities during 2017.

Hampton defended his compensation, noting that he has “24 years of tenure” and is the head of three organizations.

During the 2014 and 2015 tax years, a telemarketer hired by the Center for American Homeless Veterans, Outreach Calling, kept $3.7 million — or 90 percent — of the $4.1 million it raised for the nonprofit, according to annual tax filings.

Records filed by Outreach Calling in Utah indicate the telemarketer kept $7.9 million out of $8.7 million it raised for the charity from 2011 to 2015.

Similarly, Hampton’s other nonprofit and his PAC have spent most of the money they’ve raised on telemarketers.

Since 2015, Outreach Calling has raked in $2 million from the Put Vets First! PAC. That’s 89 percent of the $2.3 million in donations the PAC has received in the same time period, according to Federal Election Commission filings.

Charitable Resource Foundation, the telemarketer working for Hampton’s Circle of Friends for American Veterans, kept $6.4 million, or 85 percent, of the $7.5 million it raised from donors between the 2011 and 2015 tax years, according to IRS filings.

Charity Navigator, a watchdog organization that studies the spending habits of charities, issued “concern advisories” for Hampton’s two nonprofits after the Center for Public Integrity published its initial investigation in December.”



71 Percent of Young Americans Between 17 And 24 Are Ineligible To Serve In The Military







Taking the Oath



“Over 24 million of the 34 million people of that age group cannot join the armed forces—even if they wanted to.

This is an alarming situation which threatens the country’s fundamental national security. ”

“If only 29 percent of the nation’s young adults are even qualified to serve, and these negative trends continue, it is inevitable that the U.S. military will suffer from a lack of manpower.

The military depends on a constant flow of volunteers every year to meet its requirements, and as the number of eligible Americans declines, it will be increasingly difficult to meet the needs. This is not a distant problem to address decades from now. The U.S. military is already having a hard time attracting enough qualified volunteers. Of the four services, the Army has the greatest annual need. The Army anticipates problems with meeting its 2018 goal to enlist 80,000 qualified volunteers, even with increased bonuses and incentives.

Jared Serbu, “After Years of Drawdowns, Army Needs 80,000 New Soldiers to Meet 2018 Growth Targets,” Federal News Radio, October 18, 2017, (accessed January 4, 2018).


Even more than on planes, ships, and tanks, the military depends on ready and willing American volunteers to protect this nation. In a recent panel discussion on this looming crisis, Army Major General Malcolm Frost, the commander of the Army’s Initial Military Training Command said, “I would argue that the next existential threat we have…is the inability to man our military.”

General Malcolm Frost, “A Looming National Security Crisis: Young Americans Unable to Join the Military,” panel discussion co-hosted by The Heritage Foundation and Mission: Readiness, October 12, 2017, video,

They report that the main causes of this situation are inadequate education, criminality, and obesity. Unchecked, the combined effect of these three conditions will continue to decrease the number of young adults eligible to serve in the United States military.

The issue of growing ineligibility for military service among America’s youth must be a national priority. The former commander of the Marine Corps Recruiting Command, Major General Mark Brilakis, says, “There are 30 some million 17- to 24 year-olds out there, but by the time you get all the way down to those that are qualified, you’re down to less than a million young Americans.”



US Leads The World In 2017 Aerospace And Defense Exports



U.S. Aero and Defense Exports

SeongJoon Cho | Bloomberg | Getty Images
A Honeywell Aerospace T55 engine at the Seoul International Aerospace & Defense Exhibition in Goyang, South Korea.


“The U.S. aerospace and defense industry was the global leader in exports of its type in 2017, accounting for 34 percent of industry exports, according to a recently released Aerospace Industries Association report.

China retained its status as the top purchaser of U.S. A&D products, buying $16.3 billion of U.S. goods. France and the United Kingdom ranked second and third, importing $12.9 billion and $10 billion, respectively.”

“Using data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, the report finds the U.S. A&D industry generated $143 billion in exports last year.

Although slightly down from 2016’s near $146 billion high-water mark, overall A&D exports have increased 26 percent over the last five years.

The export of supply chain products such as engines, components and parts accounted for 56 percent of exports, totaling $80 billion.

In total, the A&D industry accounted for 9 percent of all U.S. exports, making it the nations third-largest gross exporter. The industry also generated an $86 billion trade surplus in 2017, the largest trade surplus of any U.S. industry.”




Pentagon Could Impose New Cyber Regulations on Industry



cyber-regulations Massivealliance dot com



“We want the bar to be set so high, it will become the condition of doing business” with the Pentagon, Deputy Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan said Feb. 6.

He emphasized that the level of cyber vulnerability within the defense community is significant, and hinted that parameters could be put in place to ensure companies were doing their part to keep critical information safe.”

“You can imagine if tomorrow  … instead of having a financial disclosure statement, we want you to sign a cyber disclosure statement that says, ‘Everybody you do business with is secure,’” he said. “I don’t think you’d sign that tomorrow, but … we need to get to that level because your secrets, our secrets are exposed.” He did not elaborate on how specifically the Pentagon aims to achieve that level of security.

Shanahan assumed the role of deputy defense secretary in July 2017 after spending over three decades at Boeing, most recently serving as the senior vice president for supply chain and operations. Speaking to reporters after his speech, he noted that cyber hygiene standards were “just a condition of employment at the company.”

“In terms of protecting our data and protecting their information, there should be this standard,” he added. He referenced his college-aged son and noted, “I don’t call him up and ask him if he’s brushed his teeth.”

Product integrity and safety were “the first order of business” at Boeing, he added. “When I think of things like safety, cyber falls into that category … as being one of those things that should be uncompromising.”

It may not be easy to change the culture to be more stringent about cyber hygiene, but the U.S. workforce once also engaged in lengthy debates about smoking, he noted.

“We need to have the same intolerance on cyber,” he added.

The Defense Department has continued to prioritize cybersecurity efforts inside and outside its facilities as it warns of the potential threat of an attack from a near-peer adversary, as well as the dangers posed by everyday electronics usage. The 2018 National Defense Strategy, which was released in January, stated that the Pentagon will prioritize investments “in cyber defense, resilience and the continued integration of cyber capabilities into the full spectrum of military operations.”

Shanahan’s comments follow recent reports that U.S. military installations could be traced via a heat map released by Strava, a fitness tracker app that uses a device’s GPS to follow where and when a user exercises. Potential adversaries could possibly employ that data to track how personnel move across installations or how frequently, inviting security concerns.

In the past six months, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has launched a review of how technology is used across the services, including the use of cell phones at the Pentagon. Department Chief Spokesperson Dana White said in a media briefing Feb. 1 that operational security was Mattis’ priority in taking a closer look at the potential threat posed by electronic devices.

“This recent incident [with Strava] and others has allowed him to take a bigger look at, ‘What are we doing and how are we doing it?’” she said. The Pentagon has not reached a consensus on policies going forward, she noted.

White noted that U.S. military bases have already been targeted.

“Information is power and our adversaries have used information to plan attacks against us,” she said.”


Homeland Security Falling Short in Managing Risky Contractors


Contracted workers install a blue tarp on a roof damaged by Hurricane Irma as a part of FEMA / The Corps of Engineers “Operation Blue Roof” program in Monroe County (Cudjoe Key), Florida on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017. (Photo: J.T. Blatty / FEMA)


“The Department of Homeland Security awarded over $23 billion in contracts, grants, and other federal assistance in fiscal year 2017.

The Department’s suspension and debarment policies and practices are falling short, making it more difficult for the agency to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.”

“The watchdog concluded the Department’s suspension and debarment policies and practices are falling short, making it more difficult for the agency to ensure taxpayers’ money isn’t lost to fraud, waste, and abuse.

Federal agencies use suspension and debarment to prevent individuals and companies suspected or found guilty of misconduct from receiving contracts, grants, loans, and other federal money. Suspensions and debarments aren’t used as a punishment; instead, they are used to protect taxpayers by making sure the government only does business with responsible entities.

Among the deficiencies highlighted in the report, the Department’s guidelines regarding suspensions, debarments, and administrative agreements—a remedy used in lieu of suspension and debarment—are outdated and missing needed information. In particular, the Inspector General found inadequate documentation for five of seven administrative agreements approved between 2012 and 2017.

The watchdog also determined the Department lacks an effective centralized system to track suspension and debarment activities, which may have caused the agency to publicly report inaccurate data for one year. In addition, for an eight-month period in 2016 and 2017, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) failed to update the System for Award Management (SAM) and the Federal Awardee Performance and Integrity Information System (FAPIIS)—databases that track which individuals and companies have been barred from doing business with Uncle Sam. Fortunately, the Inspector General reported that none of the individuals and companies FEMA excluded during that reporting lapse had received funds from FEMA or any other federal agency.

The Inspector General made several recommendations for improvement, including updating suspension and debarment guidelines, devising a centralized information tracking system, enhancing information sharing within the agency, and incentivizing employees to timely report suspensions, debarments, and administrative agreements in the SAM and FAPIIS databases. The good news is that the Department agreed with all of the recommendations and is taking steps to address them. According to the report, the agency expects to fully implement all recommended fixes by the end of September this year.

The Project On Government Oversight has called for strengthening the federal suspension and debarment system and providing government contracting officials with more and better awardee accountability data. We are encouraged that the Department is increasing its usage of suspension and debarment, and that it is making improvements where necessary.”



Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) Lost Track of Hundreds of Millions of Dollars




| Daniel Slim/AFP/Getty Images  DLA serves as the Walmart of the military, with 25,000 employees who process roughly 100,000 orders a day on behalf of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and a host of other federal agencies — for everything from poultry to pharmaceuticals, precious metals and aircraft parts.


“Ernst & Young found that the Defense Logistics Agency failed to properly document more than $800 million in construction projects.

Across the board, its financial management is so weak that its leaders and oversight bodies have no reliable way to track the huge sums it’s responsible for, the firm warned in its initial audit of the massive Pentagon purchasing agent.

The audit raises new questions about whether the Defense Department can responsibly manage its $700 billion annual budget — let alone the additional billions proposes. 

The department has never undergone a full audit despite a congressional mandate — and to some lawmakers, the messy state of the Defense Logistics Agency’s books indicates one may never even be possible.”

“If you can’t follow the money, you aren’t going to be able to do an audit,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican and senior member of the Budget and Finance committees, who has pushed successive administrations to clean up the Pentagon’s notoriously wasteful and disorganized accounting system.

The $40 billion-a-year logistics agency is a test case in how unachievable that task may be. The DLA serves as the Walmart of the military, with 25,000 employees who process roughly 100,000 orders a day on behalf of the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps and a host of other federal agencies — for everything from poultry to pharmaceuticals, precious metals and aircraft parts.

But as the auditors found, the agency often has little solid evidence for where much of that money is going. That bodes ill for ever getting a handle on spending at the Defense Department as a whole, which has a combined $2.2 trillion in assets.

In one part of the audit, completed in mid-December, Ernst & Young found that misstatements in the agency’s books totaled at least $465 million for construction projects it financed for the Army Corps of Engineers and other agencies. For construction projects designated as still “in progress,” meanwhile, it didn’t have sufficient documentation — or any documentation at all — for another $384 million worth of spending.

The agency also couldn’t produce supporting evidence for many items that are documented in some form — including records for $100 million worth of assets in the computer systems that conduct the agency’s day-to-day business.

“The documentation, such as the evidence demonstrating that the asset was tested and accepted, is not retained or available,” it said.

The report, which covers the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, 2016, also found that $46 million in computer assets were “inappropriately recorded” as belonging to the Defense Logistics Agency. It also warned that the agency cannot reconcile balances from its general ledger with the Treasury Department.

The agency maintains it will overcome its many hurdles to ultimately get a clean audit.

“The initial audit has provided us with a valuable independent view of our current financial operations,” Army Lt. Gen. Darrell Williams, the agency’s director, wrote in response to Ernst & Young’s findings. “We are committed to resolving the material weaknesses and strengthening internal controls around DLA’s operations.”

In a statement to POLITICO, the agency also maintained it was not surprised by the conclusions.

“DLA is the first of its size and complexity in the Department of Defense to undergo an audit so we did not anticipate achieving a ‘clean’ audit opinion in the initial cycles,” it explained. “The key is to use auditor feedback to focus our remediation efforts and corrective action plans, and maximize the value from the audits. That’s what we’re doing now.”

Indeed, the Trump administration insists it can accomplish what previous ones could not.

“Beginning in 2018, our audits will occur annually, with reports issued Nov. 15,” the Pentagon’s top budget official, David Norquist, told Congress last month.

That Pentagon-wide effort, which will require an army of about 1,200 auditors across the department, will also be expensive — to the tune of nearly $1 billion.

Norquist said it will cost an estimated $367 million to carry out the audits — including the cost of hiring independent accounting firms like Ernst & Young — and an additional $551 million to go back and fix broken accounting systems that are crucial to better financial management.

“It is important that the Congress and the American people have confidence in DoD’s management of every taxpayer dollar,” Norquist said.

But there is little evidence the logistics arm of the military will be able to account for what it has spent anytime soon.

“Ernst & Young could not obtain sufficient, competent evidential matter to support the reported amounts within the DLA financial statements,” the Pentagon’s inspector general, the internal watchdog that ordered the outside review, concluded in issuing the report to DLA.

The accounting firm itself went further, asserting that the gaping holes uncovered in bookkeeping procedures and oversight strongly suggest there are more.

“We cannot determine the effect of the lack of sufficient appropriate audit evidence on DLA’s financial statements as a whole,” its report concludes.

A spokeswoman for Ernst & Young declined to respond to questions, referring POLITICO to the Pentagon.

Grassley — who was fiercely critical when a clean audit opinion of the Marine Corps had to be pulled in 2015 for “bogus conclusions” — has repeatedly chargedthat “keeping track of the people’s money may not be in the Pentagon’s DNA.”

He remains deeply doubtful about the prospects going forward given what is being uncovered.

“I think the odds of a successful DoD audit down the road are zero,” Grassley said in an interview. “The feeder systems can’t provide data. They are doomed to failure before they ever get started.”

But he said he supports the continuing effort even if a full, clean audit of the Pentagon can never be done. It is widely viewed as only way to improve the management of such huge sums of taxpayer dollars.

“Each audit report will help DLA build a better financial reporting foundation and provide a stepping stone towards a clean audit opinion of our financial statements,” the agency maintains. “The findings also improve our internal controls, which helps to improve the quality of cost and logistics data used for decision-making.”