Military Contractors' Dirty Laundering

Back in November of 2009, Investigative Fund reporter Aram Roston broke the story that US military contractors were funneling hundreds of millions of dollars to insurgents in Afghanistan in exchange for the safe passage of supply trucks. As one American executive explained to Roston, "The Army is basically paying the Taliban not to shoot at them." Turns out, getting the Taliban to not shoot at you ain't cheap. Estimates from military investigators put the payoff at $1,500 to $2,500 per truck. Now that the number of US troops in Afghanistan has more than tripled, it takes 3,000 to 4,000 trucks to move supplies each week. That's a lot of dirty money.

Roston's article, "How the US Funds the Taliban," published in The Nation, detailed how US Department of Defense money exchanged hands, traveling from contractors to wide nets of subcontractors with Taliban connections and lining the pockets of the very forces that American troops are fighting. The article also sparked an investigation led by Rep. John Tierney, the Massachusetts Democrat who was then Chairman of the Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs, which not only confirmed Roston's findings, but led to a year-long inquiry by the US military.

The Washington Post's Karen DeYoung got her hands on that military report and published the findings in last week's WashPost. The military investigators not only confirmed Roston's findings, they offered up fresh details about how exactly the payola worked. One case study traced a $7.4 million payment to one of the eight major trucking firms contracted by the Pentagon. That money traveled from the contractor to a subcontractor who hired even more subcontractors to supply the actual trucks. (Yep, the Pentagon is awarding trucking contracts to companies that don't actually, you know, own trucks.) The money then went from the trucking subcontractors to an Afghan National Police commander's bank account as a payoff for safe passage. According to the Washington Post's account $3.3 million was traced from that commander's bank account to insurgents "in the form of weapons, explosives and cash."

Despite the damning evidence that came out in the military probe (which was completed in May) and in Tierney's investigation, there hasn't been much change since Roston's award-winning story came out a year and a half ago. The eight trucking firms that were originally awarded contracts (five of which, according to the military report, don't own trucks, four of which have clearly documented ties to "a criminal enterprise or support for the enemy," and six of which were found to be associated with "fraudulent paperwork and behavior") are all still on the US payroll. In fact, just this past March the Pentagon extended the original contract for six months.

What can be done? According to Roston, even the Afghan intelligence service has suggested that the United States take the hundreds of millions of dollars paid to security contracts and put that toward creating a professional military convoy to protect its supply lines. It's a suggestion that Rep. Tierney echoed in a December 2009 CNN appearance. The host, Kiran Chetry, balked at this suggestion: "Where do you get these guys? We're fighting two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan right now… We have people going through repeated deployments... We're stretched thin so how could we possibly bring more troops into this?"

Tierney's eloquent reply: "These are decisions that you ought to make when you determine whether or not you ought be involved in these conflicts… I think that sometimes when you start relying on contractors… it stops you from making the difficult choices that you have to make."

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