• Lost Iraqi Billions Found?

    October 13, 2014

    Tags: , ,
    Posted in: Embassy/State, Iraq

    It can be hard to keep track of your money. You charge stuff and misplace the receipts, you forget to record a check written and before you know it, $12-14 billion is unaccounted for in Iraq. Even then, after one authoritative source thinks he’s found some of it, no one bothers to go get it.

    Is it in Lebanon?

    New information from the former Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGAR) Stuart Bowen, reported by perhaps the bravest journalist alive today, James Risen, shows that of the multi-billions of U.S. dollars cash literally shipped on pallets (pictured) to Iraq in 2003, over one billion was traced into Lebanon (the other billions remain unaccounted for.)

    Risen reports that in the first days after the fall of Baghdad and continuing for over a year, American proconsul Paul Bremer, on his own, somehow ordered $12-$14 billion (note the uncertainty factor of two billion dollars, itself a crime) to be sent to Iraq in the airlift, and an additional $5 billion was sent by electronic transfer. Some sources put the total as high as $20 billion.

    Dollars and Nonsense

    “We did not know that Bremer was flying in all that cash,” said the head of the Treasury Department team that worked on Iraq’s financial reconstruction after the invasion. “I can’t see a reason for it.”

    The cash was literally delivered shrink-wrapped, on pallets, enormous bundles of Benjamins. Exactly what happened to that money after it arrived in Baghdad became one of the many unanswered questions from the chaotic days of the American occupation. We’ll never know.

    Except maybe Bowen, who claims to have tracked $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion (note the uncertainty factor of $4,000,000 dollars) to a bunker in rural Lebanon for safe keeping. An informant said the bunker also may have held $200 million of Iraqi government gold. “I don’t know how the money got to Lebanon,” Bowen said. “Billions of dollars have been taken out of Iraq over the last ten years illegally. In this investigation, we thought we were on the track for some of that lost money. It’s disappointing to me personally that we were unable to close this case, for reasons beyond our control.”

    The Bush administration never investigated how that huge amount of money disappeared, even after Bowen’s investigators found out about the bunker in Lebanon. The Obama administration did not pursue that lead, either. Bowen’s team briefed the CIA and the FBI on what they found, but no one took any action. Even the Iraqi government has not tried to retrieve the money, and has kept information about the Lebanese bunker secret. When Bowen and his staff tried to move the search into Lebanon themselves, he met with resistance from the U.S. embassy in Beirut. Bowen himself was not allowed to travel to Lebanon, and two of his investigators who did travel were denied permission from the embassy to see the bunker. Bowen’s staff members instead met with Lebanon’s prosecutor general, who initially agreed to cooperate on an investigation, but later decided against it. In the words of one who has spent perhaps too much time in government, Bowen summed it all up by saying “We struggled to gain timely support from the interagency as we pursued this case.”

    Of all the missing money, by 2011 the Pentagon and the Iraqi government claim to have accounted for all but $6 billion of it, as if missing the target by six billion spaces is an OK result. And even that assumes one believes the Pentagon and Iraqi audit.

    How’d All That Money Go Missing Anyway?

    How did all that money go missing? That, at least, is something we know. U.S. officials claimed in the early days of the war that they didn’t have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified. House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials “used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds.” Meanwhile, Pentagon officials contended for years that they could account for the money if given enough time to track down the records.

    But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless. An inspector general’s report into the missing money in Iraq painted a picture of Pentagon officials digging through boxes of hard copy records looking for missing paper copies of Excel spreadsheets, monthly reports and other paper documents that should have been kept detailing what the money was spent on and why those expenditures were necessary. Apparently, there are no electronic records to back up the spending. It. Just. Went. Away.

    Occam’s Bank Account

    So where did all that money go? Here and there on the web you can find a conspiracy theory or two, but the obvious answer is usually the correct one. There are no doubt Dubai-based bank accounts of current and former Iraqi government officials swollen with cash, perhaps some accounts of American contractors and various U.S. officials as well. As for that bunker in Lebanon, well, your typical third world crew knows that you can only trust banks so far, and everyone needs a stash in case they have to bug out in a hurry and lay low while international terrorists hunt for you. Perhaps following a few more battlefield successes for ISIS inside Iraq?



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  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...

      1

      I was against waterboarding but Bremer changed my mind.

      10/13/14 1:42 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...

      2

      And these “patriots” too:

      ww.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/probe-of-silencers-leads-to-web-of-pentagon-secrets/2014/10/12/12c8d110-4fea-11e4-aa5e-7153e466a02d_story.html

      10/13/14 2:06 PM | Comment Link

    • Neil Kirby said...

      3

      “Except maybe Bowen, who claims to have tracked $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion (note the uncertainty factor of $400,000 dollars) ”

      Pete: Either you meant “million” instead of “billion” or your uncertainty needs three more freaking zeroes. Four hundred K is a fraction of a million, not a fraction of a billion.

      The editorial comment of “oops, dropped three zeroes” is mind boggling.

      10/13/14 2:45 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      4

      Aw, a billion here, a billion there, at these people’s scale its almost a rounding error… thanks for the correction.

      10/13/14 10:01 PM | Comment Link

    • Helen Marshall said...

      5

      Bremer just one of the many who committed what amounts to war crimes. And HE was a “professional” diplomat.

      10/13/14 6:45 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      6

      Per Rich’s link, it is almost like Iran-Contra redux.

      Speaking of ‘patriots’, for US Embassy in Beirut to deny permission to State Department inspections team, that should sound pretty bad to a normal human being who’s never worked for politicals — but if you’ve had that heart-burning joy of having worked for politicals, it doesnt get any less disgusting even if it is the 90th episode of raw, unfettered dysfunctionality.

      Out of curiosity, is it known what year the SIGIR was denied entry by our very own Embassy to conduct erm the business of our very own government?

      It’s a good thing we didnt want to know where our missing billions went. What would we do with that money if we found it anyway?? It would just go to the Treasury and where is the fun in paying down our debt/promoting development at home?

      10/13/14 9:23 PM | Comment Link

    • Kyzl Orda said...

      7

      Sorry, Sigir isnt or wasnt State – i think? it’s DoD? Is Sigir dead now?

      10/13/14 9:24 PM | Comment Link

    • wemeantwell said...

      8

      SIGIR was DoD, and so State found bitterly against it, claiming it had no jurisdiction over State’s failed reconstruction efforts (State lost but SIGAR always kept its focus on DoD.) The group disbanded in 10/2013.

      10/13/14 10:00 PM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...

      9

      I think this really is a rounding error for the forces involved. At least, your book convinced me that this was the approach taken in Iraq in general.

      10/20/14 6:04 PM | Comment Link

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