How the US government tricked itself into buying $1.2M in illegal weapons

To test just how easy it is for cops to get high-tech military equipment, a government agency asked for more than $1.2 million in weapons by pretending to be a fake law enforcement agency — and got it, according to a report published last week.

The Government Accountability Office, the agency tasked with overseeing government abuse, made up a fictitious agency website and address to ask the Department of Defense for more than a million dollars in military equipment.

They received the equipment, which included night-vision goggles, M-16A2 rifles, and pipe bomb equipment, from a military warehouse in less than a week.

M16 assault rifles. DoD photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

M16 assault rifles. DoD photo by Capt. Raymond Geoffroy

“They never did any verification, like visit our ‘location,’ and most of it was by email,” Zina Merritt, director of the GAO’s defense capabilities and management team, told The Marshall Project. “It was like getting stuff off of eBay.”

After receiving the weapons, the GAO recommended more tightly regulating transfer of military equipment and conducting a risk assessment test in order to prevent real-life fraud.

The DoD agreed to better monitor transfer of equipment by physically visiting the location of the agency and conducting a fraud assessment in 2018, according to the report.

USAF photo by Samuel King Jr.

USAF photo by Samuel King Jr.

But Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, told the Marshall Project that cases of possible fraud should not be used as a knock against the program.

“It suggests only that the US military is one of the world’s largest bureaucracies and as such is going to have some lapses in material control,” he said.

GAO’s investigation into the transfer of military equipment came after public outrage over the equipment carried by Ferguson police during protests over the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in 2014, according to TMP.

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