• An ‘Epidemic of Graft’ – Anti-Corruption Efforts in Afghanistan Fail Hard

    October 18, 2016 // 45 Comments »

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    The U.S. spends spends $5 billion of your tax money a year in “aid” to Afghanistan, plus billions more for the cost of the thousands of American troops and Pentagon-sponsored military contractors there.



    An “Epidemic of Graft”

    One of the (many) reasons why all that money has accomplished close to jack squat in 15 years of war is corruption. Extraordinary amounts of U.S. money simply disappears, siphoned off at high levels, passed on as bribes to suppliers and Taliban hustlers at the lower levels. It is, according to one study, an “epidemic of graft.”

    Transparency International ranks Afghanistan as one of the top five most corrupt countries in the world (Iraq, another U.S. project, is also in the top tier.) The UN says half of Afghans paid a bribe in 2012; that figure was as high as 70 percent in some areas of the country. The same survey found that corruption was roughly tied with security as the issue of greatest concern to Afghans.

    The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) assessed corruption in Afghanistan “has become pervasive, entrenched, systemic, and by all accounts now unprecedented in scale and reach.” The U.S. Department of Defense Joint Chiefs of Staff wrote, “corruption alienates key elements of the population, discredits the government and security forces, undermines international support, subverts state functions and rule of law, robs the state of revenue, and creates barriers to economic growth.”

    Of course USAID and the Department of Defense are who spends that $5 billion a year in Afghanistan that drives the corruption.



    Afghanistan’s High Office of Oversight

    So to get this all cleaned up, the U.S. helped birth Afghanistan’s High Office of Oversight (HOO), a big deal part of the Made in America Afghan government stuck together like very expensive Legos to create democracy. And since the U.S. sort of made/paid for the HOO, it was somebody’s idea (the Special Inspector for Afghan Reconstruction, SIGAR) to inspect the HOO.

    Here’s what they found:

    — The HOO suffers from a lack of independence and authority to fulfill its mandate, lacks enforcement power, and has failed to register and verify asset declarations of senior politicians. An HOO advisor said “the HOO was never anything more than window dressing designed to keep the international community happy.”

    — Of the 47 Afghan officials who left office between 2008 and 2014, only eight complied with the Afghan constitutional mandate to submit an asset declaration form.

    — Further stymying enforcement efforts was the unwillingness of the Afghan Attorney General’s Office to investigate corruption cases. Some of those cases referred involved embezzlement, bribery, and forgery ranging as high as $100 million.

    — Although former President Karzai declared cash in two German bank accounts, he did not provide the bank account numbers for verification. Additionally, he declared personal effects in the form of jewelry but did not provide the owner’s name, the purchase cost, or the date of purchase.

    — Second Vice President Mohammad Karim Khalili stated he had no cash nor any personal effects.

    — SIGAR reviewed 27 top officials under the current administration who were required to submit asset declaration forms to the HOO for verification. As of March 2016, the HOO reported that it verified one asset declaration form.




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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    Iraq Ranks In Ten Most Corrupt Countries In World, Again

    March 30, 2016 // 7 Comments »

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    Iraq, the failed state that over 4,600 (and counting…) Americans died to free from some evil tyrant 13 years ago, is still ranking high internationally in something. Unfortunately, that something is corruption.

    A couple of other places where America has been intervening for freedom also made the list.

    Germany’s Transparency International released its newest corruption index for 2015, and as usual Iraq was on the list. The ten worst countries in its new study were Somalia, North Korea, Afghanistan, Sudan, South Sudan, Angola, Libya, Iraq, Venezuela, and Guinea-Bissau.

    Seven of those nations held the same worst ranks last year. Iraq received the same score that it had for the last two years.

    Most Corrupt Countries On Transparency International Corruption Index 2015:

    1. Somalia
    2. North Korea
    3. Afghanistan
    4. Sudan
    5. South Sudan
    6. Angola
    7. Libya
    8. Iraq
    9. Venezuela
    10. Guinea-Bissau

    In Iraq, corruption is rampant throughout the state. The ruling elite use graft and bribes to maintain their patronage systems, their militias, and to enrich themselves. That’s also the reason why there is no real push to end it; if one top official was taken down it would threaten all the rest.

    According to experts, that’s despite repeated promises by the prime ministers, the complaints of Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani, and protests that occur almost every year demanding action on the issue. Current U.S.-chosen Prime Minister Haidar Abadi, for example, announced a reform program in August 2015 that was supposed to address corruption, but he was focused more on building up his own base and going after his rivals than actually addressing the problem, and nothing substantive was done. No one, including America, wants to seriously touch the golden goose that keeps the Iraqi good times going.


    BONUS: See who else is on the top ten corruption list? U.S. occupied Afghanistan is No. 3. Libya, where the U.S. overthrew another evil tyrant with no follow-on plan, is No. 7. Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan are all places with active U.S.-led miniwars afoot.

    It is almost as if there is a pattern here…



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    Why Iraq Paid for 50,000 Soldiers Who Didn’t Exist

    December 22, 2014 // 7 Comments »

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    One of the latest stories from Iraq is that some 50,000 “ghost soldiers” haunt the rolls of the Iraqi Army.

    They have been added to the rosters so that someone can skim away all or part of their salaries. The story has been played for Daily Show-like laughs, has been cited as a cause for the collapse of the Iraqi Army in the face of ISIS, has been used as an example of corruption in Iraq and conversely, acknowledging it used as an example of how the new Prime Minister, Haider Abadi, is fighting corruption. It may in truth be a little of all of those things, but is most of all a brief flash of light in the darkness of how the Iraq Army works.

    The Iraqi Army of today is a U.S. construct. As one of the very first acts of the Occupation in 2003, the United States famously disbanded the Saddam-era Iraqi Army (and thus helped supply armed, trained men to the blossoming insurgency.) At some point American strategy shifted toward the Bush Administration’s proclamation of “As They Stand Up, We’ll Stand Down,” a mantra that meant the U.S. would take it upon itself to create a new Iraqi Army to take over internal security and border protection. This would need to be done quickly, as Americans grew bored and/or weary of the seemingly endless war in Iraq. The standing up of this army cost American taxpayers over $20 billion dollars.

    What did they get for their money? Not much, except for the seeds of the present mess in Iraq.

    The Iraqi Army America wrought was by definition created within the climate of the insurgency. It was thus never really a national army, but rather a loose collection of regional forces and fiefdoms divided along mostly religious and sectarian lines. Sunni units were based in Sunni areas and led by Sunni generals, Shia were in their areas and of course the Kurds and their peshmerga were off on their own (the peshmerga also benefited greatly from never having been disbanded in the first place.) America accepted these divisions out of expediency; the non-starter of an alternative was to wait until all sectarian problems were resolved first, and then reconstitute the army.

    Disbanding Saddam’s army meant throwing away most of the senior, experienced military leadership. These generals and mid-level officers were Iraq’s professional soldiers. Many melted away or immigrated to neighboring Sunni countries, while some took up with the Sunni insurgency. Lacking experienced leadership, the U.S. was left with creating an officer corps from scratch. Experience matters in most things in life, and really matters in jobs that require leadership. Even under the best of circumstances that all takes time (leaders are made, not born), and the U.S. was creating the new Iraqi Army under anything but the best of circumstances.

    Napoleon famously said that an army travels on its belly; another general reminded that it is logistics, not tactics, that win battles. From its early days, the factors that “miscreated” the new Iraqi Army doomed its ability to police and supply itself. Central authority was lacking; the combination of a weak central government and a force divided along sectarian lines meant resources were never allocated based on need, and that the kind of oversight necessary to avoid “ghost soldiers” did not exist. The problems were masked by U.S. expedient acts: an Iraqi unit desperate for spare parts could either fight a long battle with baghdad for what it needed, or appeal to the local U.S. military commander for help. The commander, under pressure himself to report success, typically gave in. The Iraqi system never was forced to mature or allowed to fail, at least until the Americans departed and ISIS appeared.

    Procurement became an excuse for plunder. Soldiers in the Iraqi army basically pay for their own food via a salary deduction. In practice, officers pocket most of this money instead of buying supplies for the troops themselves. Soldiers in Mosul often had to purchase their own food and water from civilian markets. When the markets close under ISIS attack, the soldiers have no choice but to flee.

    A system such as that seen as ineffective to some meant opportunities to others. In 2009, a lucrative appointment as an army colonel required a $20,000 bribe. The same job today costs $200,000. Divisional commander positions run about two million dollars. Why would such military jobs be worth that much money?

    As an investment. Iraqi commanders purchased for their bribe money opportunities to skim budgets, withhold salaries from their own troops, or even create the ghost troops to justify budget increases. The ghost troops likely served another goal, covering soldier absences. During my own time in Iraq embedded with the U.S. Army, it was a given that any Iraqi unit we worked with would be missing a percentage of its soldiers. Some American advisors used a 10 percent rule of thumb, others pegged it as high as thirty percent. Where were the Iraqi troops? Some shuttled between their unit and their home towns. Lacking a reliable banking system, soldiers needed to physically carry their salaries home to their families. Because food budgets and the salaries themselves were often skimmed by their commanders, some troops kept working at outside, part-time jobs. With variable unit discipline, some soldiers just took time off as they saw fit, often bribing their own commanders to avoid punishment. Soldiers would sell off Army gas and spare parts, create unsanctioned checkpoints to harvest bribes from motorists, sell electricity if they controlled a large generator, or even their own weapons, to raise extra cash for themselves.

    As for the thought that uncovering these ghost soldiers shows a commitment by Prime Minister Abadi to fight corruption, the real proof is in what he does next. Likely under U.S. pressure, Abadi took this first step to expose a limited dollop of corruption inside his failed army. But watch what does, or doesn’t, happen next. How many senior commanders’ heads will roll? How many will be fired or publicly demoted? What if any central and systematic auditing procedures will be put in place?

    Answers to questions such as those will answer the most important question: will Abadi and the U.S. really seek to fix the Iraqi Army, or is the latest move simply another short-term expedient, meant to create the appearance of change ahead of more U.S. money pouring down the same dry well?

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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    State Department: Hiding Corruption in Iraq

    August 22, 2012 // 6 Comments »

    In response to my recent article “How Not to Reconstruct Iraq, Afghanistan — or America,” originally published on TomDispatch.com and Huffington Post, the site CommonDreams featured this very interesting comment by Art Brennan:

    I was the director of the Office of Accountability and Transparency (OAT) at the US Embassy in Baghdad during the summer of 2007. That summer, I signed and OAT issued an 80 page report on the corruption within each of 33 Iraqi government ministries.

    The report was retroactively classified by Condi Rice to keep Congress from discussing it and the people of the US from knowing about the evidence of 18 billion dollars stolen, lost and wasted.

    Later in July of 2007, a group of US law enforcement officers asked to meet with me in my office at the palace (US Embassy Annex). They explained that the director of the Iraqi equivalent of the FBI (Judge Radhi al Radhi) was going to be murdered because he would not stop investigating the Iraqi Ministries. His house had been rocketed twice and 31 of his personnel had been murdered.

    I confronted [Ambassador Ryan] Crocker about this. I sponsored Iraqis for asylum and they were granted asylum. And my chief of staff, James Mattil and I both testified to House and Senate Committees about the recklessness and negligence of our “preeminent statesman” Ryan Crocker and the Department of State in Iraq. Obama was subsequently elected and the same group of corrupt incompetents were nominated by Obama and confirmed by the Senate to preside over the similar corruption and murder in Afghanistan. The only consequence for the group of us who stood up and testified was that we were blacklisted by the US Embassy.

    I am a US Army veteran and a retired New Hampshire Superior Court judge. Nancy and I have been active with Stop the Machine at Freedom Plaza in DC and both have been arrested there. We are members of Veterans for Peace and the Veterans Peace Team (VPT). Next week, I go on trial in NYC for VPT’s part in a peaceful demonstration by OWS at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Lower Manhattan. I write these words because I think we have to speak, even when no one in Congress or the White House is listening and most people in the US simply don’t care. I know people reading this do care.



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    More and more people are ratting out their associates: Corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan Booming

    November 2, 2011 // Comments Off on More and more people are ratting out their associates: Corruption in Iraq, Afghanistan Booming

    Good news! While the Occupy Baghdad and Occupy Kabul protests have so far failed to draw a crowd, the various Inspector Generals for those two popular wars are rooting out wicked Wall Street-levels of corruption. “This is a boom industry for us,” Stuart Bowen, Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, or SIGIR, said in an interview.

    The rise in caseloads derives partly from spinoff investigations, where suspects facing prosecution lead investigators to other suspects, said Jon Novak, SIGIR’s assistant inspector general for investigations. “More and more people are ratting out their associates.”

    Recent cases include a Marine in Iraq who sent home $43,000 in stolen cash by hiding it in a footlocker among American flags. A soldier shipped thousands more concealed in a toy stuffed animal, and an employee at the World’s Largest Embassy (c) in Baghdad tricked the State Department into wiring $240,000 into his Jordanian bank account.

    Note that the State Department is currently fighting with Congress over whether or not SIGIR will be allowed to investigate naughtiness in Iraq once State takes over the mission completely next year. Surprisingly, State would prefer not to have the scrutiny, promising instead to police itself.

    Read the whole article, from the Associated Press, for more laffs!



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    Posted in Afghanistan, Embassy/State

    Quick Corruption Update: $192k, Afghanistan

    October 5, 2011 // 1 Comment »

    Not to disturb anyone’s TV viewing, but a former senior construction manager pleaded guilty today to seeking $190,000 in payments as a reward for steering U.S.-funded contracts in Afghanistan.

    Neil P. Campbell, 61, of Queensland, Australia, pleaded guilty today in U.S. District Court to one count of accepting an illegal payment. According to court records, starting in January 2009, Campbell worked in Afghanistan as a contractor and acted as an agent for the International Organization on Migration. The IOM has received more than $260 million in your taxpayer money from USAID since 2002 to construct hospitals, schools and other facilities.

    And also to pay bribes. Thank you for your time citizens, and we’ll return now to your normal programming.



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    Your Daily PRT Corruption Report, Afghan Edition

    September 25, 2011 // Comments Off on Your Daily PRT Corruption Report, Afghan Edition

    No money at home for schools, roads, bridges, health care, cable TV? Better move to Afghanistan and work for the US Government over there. They have money to burn ya’ll, it’s crazy!

    For today’s whacky Afghan corruption report, we welcome special guest Sidharth “Tony” Handa. “Tony” is a decorated former Army captain, who was sentenced Friday to 10 years in prison for taking more than $300,000 in bribes from Afghan contractors, a scheme the government called the largest bribery case to be prosecuted related to the U.S. mission in Afghanistan. “Largest” meaning as of today, as I am sure there is more to come.

    “Tony”, of Charlotte, N.C., who somehow received the Bronze Star for his non-bribed service in Afghanistan, was arrested earlier this year. He had been targeted in an undercover sting in which Handa agreed to help a purported heroin dealer who had promised to help Handa collect additional bribe payments he believed were owed to him. The smack dealer would supply the muscle, Handa would collect the green. According to federal prosecutors in Alexandria, Va., Handa was assigned to help coordinate reconstruction projects in Afghanistan’s Kunar province. He solicited $1.3 million in bribes and received $315,000, which he split with an interpreter. A generous guy!

    “From the day he stepped foot in Afghanistan, Mr. Handa negotiated a staggering amount of bribes from contractors in a blatant breach of the trust our military put in him,” said Neil MacBride, U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, where the case was prosecuted. “His actions brought shame to our mission, harmed our reconstruction efforts, and defrauded American taxpayers who funded the contracts he looted.”

    Otherwise, yeah, we’re still winning in Afghanistan. The show, now entering its 11th year, is scheduled to last for America as long as the Chinese will pay for it, and as long as proud Americans like “Tony” are willing to step up and serve their country. Hoooo-rah!



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    Proud to be an American

    September 19, 2011 // Comments Off on Proud to be an American

    Ms. Sparky, who always has the best stories about la vida contractor in our wars of terror first, scores again with notice that a former American employee of the US Army Corps of Engineers stationed in Baghdad, Iraq, pleaded guilty to conspiring to receive bribes from Iraqi contractors involved in the US-funded reconstruction efforts.

    According to court documents, Thomas Manok admitted to using his official position to conspire with Iraqi contractors to accept cash bribes in exchange for recommending that the Army Corps of Engineers approve contracts and other requests for payment submitted by the contractors to the US government. In March and April 2010, Manok agreed to receive a $10,000 payment from one such contractor who had been involved in constructing a kindergarten and girls’ school in the Abu Ghraib neighborhood of Baghdad. Manok was to receive an additional bribe payment from the contractor once the contractor’s claim had been approved. Manok also admitted that he intended to conceal the payments from authorities by transferring them, via associates, from Iraq to Armenia.

    I may need to do some rewriting for the second edition of my book. I took the title, We Meant Well, in part from my belief that it was our incompetence that screwed things up, despite good intentions. As more and more information comes out on corruption in the reconstruction era, I may need to revise that– perhaps Some Meant Well, Some Stole Money.



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    Five Indicted in Iraqi Contract Kickbacks

    July 15, 2011 // Comments Off on Five Indicted in Iraqi Contract Kickbacks

    Whether it is State Department fumbling that sends $174 million astray in Afghanistan, or just old fashioned corruption and kickbacks, contracting in America’s wars of terror means easy money.

    Today’s atrocity reveals three former Army Corps of Engineers employees and two foreign contractors participated in a kickback scheme surrounding the award of more than $50 million in construction contracts in Iraq, according to an indictment handed down Thursday.

    The men secured tens of millions in Iraq construction and used at least six foreign bank accounts in Jordan and Egypt to transfer illegal bribes and kickback payments to US. bank accounts in New Jersey.

    “The defendants allegedly treated projects to secure safe access to fuel, electricity, education and medical treatment as opportunities for illegally amassing personal wealth,” New Jersey U.S. Attorney Paul Fishman said.

    The Jersey angle just makes this all that much better. Yo, Paulie, dump those stolen smokes, the real money is in Iraqi contracting. C’mere, I love you! Badabing!



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