July 29, 2017
Those who take issue with the Pentagon’s 1033 program — the avenue through which excess military hardware is distributed to police forces all across the United States — now have another reason to object. A recent sting operation conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found just about anybody can apply for and receive the equipment, and they can do so without even speaking to a person from the Department of Defense.
After creating a fake law enforcement agency and website to accompany it, GAO investigators were able to get their hands on over $1.2 million in military gear, including night vision goggles and simulated rifles and pipe bombs.
In its application, the GAO used an address that representatives of the Pentagon’s Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO) would have discovered was a dirt lot — had they bothered to check it.
In fact, throughout the entire process, LESO made no efforts at all to physically verify the legitimacy of the fake agency. All communication was carried out through email, the GAO says.
Even when investigators arrived at warehouses to obtain the requested equipment, LESO agents — who operate within the Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency — neglected to verify their identities. What’s more, the investigators received more gear than they’d asked for.
Since its creation in 1997, the 1033 program has transferred upwards of $6 billion in military hardware to nearly 9,000 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. Items handed over include mine-resistant vehicles, armored trucks, and firearms like M-16s and shotguns.
Critics of the program tie it directly to the growing militarization of U.S. police forces. Perhaps a more immediate concern, however, is the notion that seemingly anyone can acquire military-grade hardware from the government without proper vetting. Reporting on the GAO’s findings, Techdirt writes that attempts by the Department of Defense to retroactively address identified weaknesses within 1033 would be of little comfort considering how long the program has been up and running:
“Yes, all of this appears to be changing going forward, but considering the 1033 program has transferred billions of dollars of equipment already, there’s really no telling how many others have obtained equipment with fictitious entities or simply ended up with a bunch of items they never ordered.”