The Navy's largest shipyard maintained a private, off-the-books, and illegal security force for more than a decade after the 9/11 terror attacks, costing taxpayers $21 million, the Navy inspector general reports.
The Norfolk ship yard in Portsmouth, VA established an unsanctioned security force with a glut of funding in the early 2000s, then purchased millions of dollars of high-tech security equipment and hid it from the Navy authorities for years, the IG said.
"These folks are not law enforcement, but they wanted to be, and all of their actions were done to become a law enforcement organization," Peter Lintner, deputy director of investigations at Naval Sea Systems Command, told Federal News Radio. "The stunning thing is that this happened over the course of seven commanding officers, and not a single one of them put a stop to it or really even had any visibility on it. Everybody just thought, 'Well, they're the good guys. They're the security department. They're not going to do anything wrong.' In actuality, they were doing everything wrong, and they knew it."
A Coast Guard Maritime Safety and Security Team crew, temporarily deployed from San Francisco, provides an escort for the USS Cole as the Navy destroyer returns to the Norfolk Naval Shipyard. US Coast Guard Photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class David Weydert.
The IG conducted the the investigation in 2014 after following a tip to the NAVSEA whistleblower hotline, but the report was only recently made available.
The security force acquired surplus equipment — including Berettas, ammunition, scopes, patrol boats, and vehicles — from the Defense Logistics Agency. Government Accountability Office investigators were able to purchase surplus military equipment for a fake law enforcement agency recently, proving that the process for purchasing military equipment is not very rigorous.
The IG estimates that the Navy spent $10.6 million on labor and payroll for the unsanctioned security force, and $10.4 million on the excess equipment.
Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 2nd Class Tyrell K. Morris
The Norfolk security crews went to extreme lengths to keep their stockpile of equipment a secret. They created fake license plates for their vehicles, and would move their cache of weapons and tech off-base whenever the Navy's asset manager came around to take inventory.
"They drove all the vehicles out, loaded everything on the flatbed and stashed it in one of the back parking lots on the local naval base," Lintner said. "When the asset manager got there, it was literally an empty warehouse, but the day before it had been packed full of tools, vehicles, all types of material."
When investigators confronted those in charge, "they admitted they hid it deliberately," Lintner said. "That's what they said every time: 'If anybody found out what we had, they would have taken it away from us and we wanted to be ready for any contingency.' Their motto was, 'It's better to have it and not need it than need it and not have it.'"