Defense program gave military equipment to fictitious agency, watchdog group says

Police with surplus military gear

WASHINGTON — Sources have told CNN that an extensive investigation by a government watchdog group has found alarming weaknesses in a program within the Department of Defense that turns over excess military equipment like modified M16 assault rifles and night vision goggles to local law enforcement.

The Government Accountability Office’s (GAO) report concluded that the DOD does not have proper controls in place to prevent military weapons falling into the wrong hands.

GAO investigators posed as a fictitious federal law enforcement agency and created a phony agency website. They applied and were granted access to the DOD’s program in early 2017 after completing an application to join in late 2016.

The investigators were able to obtain “over 100 controlled items with an estimated value of $1.2 million, including night-vision goggles, simulated rifles and simulated pipe bombs.”

Their report stated that the “DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) has deficiencies in the process for verification and approval of federal law enforcement applications and in the transfer of controlled property.” It states that DLA personnel did not routinely request and verify identification of individuals picking up controlled property or check the quantity of items transferred.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency website, the weapons and equipment donated are items that were “excess and turned over by military units or had been held as part of reserve stocks until they are no longer needed.”

Since 1991, the Department of Defense has reported transferring more than $6 billion worth of its excess military equipment and weapons to more than 8,600 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

A spokesman for Adam Smith, the ranking member on the House Armed Services Committee, told CNN via email that he is calling to potentially suspend the program until the issue is fixed.

“DLA (Defense Logistics Agency) annually transfers hundreds of millions of dollars worth of taxpayer-funded excess military equipment to federal, state, and local law enforcement agencies, the overwhelming majority of which are departments of 50 or fewer people. As evidenced during the unrest in Ferguson, Missouri, a few years ago, the transfer of potentially lethal ‘controlled’ military equipment can become controversial when the equipment is used inappropriately. It is absolutely essential that DLA maintain accountability for this equipment.”

Last month, the GAO sent a draft of their report to DOD making four recommendation to address weaknesses in its processes and prevent weapons falling into the wrong hands. The DOD has said it will make the necessary changes.

In a statement, the Department of Defense told CNN: “The Defense Logistics Agency is committed to properly allocating excess Defense Department property to law enforcement agencies through the Law Enforcement Support Office and continuously seeks ways to improve the program’s policies, procedures and internal controls.”

The agency added it takes the findings seriously and is vowing to correct the deficiencies: “While GAO’s recent review validated enhancements made in the state/local law enforcement agency side of the program, it highlighted vulnerabilities in the federal law enforcement side of the program, which accounts for about 4% of the total law enforcement agency enrollment.”