Friday, September 12, 2008


Blog Simple has commented in the past on revelations of massive corruption in government contracting by the military in Iraq and Kuwait. Despite that (ho, ho) there has been very little reporting about it in the press. The post linked to above links to and quotes an article in the Wall Street Journal, but in the comment section there is a much more complete article by Guillermo Contreras of the San Antonio Express News. At the time, that article was unavailable online (except in said comment, of course).

Since then nothing, at least nothing that my Google news query returned. However, Mr. Contreras has two new articles in the San Antonio Express News that enlarge greatly on what is known.

The first, New federal indictment sheds light on schemes reviews the information in the new indictment, while the second goes into much more detail on the background to the case, including the Wild West ambiance that was Kuwait at the time. Mid-level officers, majors mostly, were handing out contracts worth big money for such banal things as water and fencing:

Almost three years after Cockerham returned to San Antonio, federal investigators have identified at least $125.5 million in tainted contracts for bottled water that Cockerham, based at Fort Sam Houston, steered to companies in Kuwait as part of a scheme to collect $15 million in kickbacks, documents show.

Cockerham and three other contracting officers who worked with him, succeeded him or preceded him also are accused of directing millions in contracts for potable water, latrine maintenance, gray water removal and warehouse work to the firms.

And this is from just one investigation:

They might amount to just a sliver of the problem. Ongoing investigations — 124 of them — are focusing on several current or former officers who served in Kuwait or Iraq, civilian employees, contractors and many of their friends and relatives.

“The investigations involve 286 people, both U.S. and foreign personnel,” Gordon Heddell, the Defense Department's acting inspector general, testified before Congress on July 23. “Much more is anticipated as investigations ready for prosecution mount.”

So far then, the story is that mid-level officers, enabled because of lack of supervision, ran a scheme that netted them tens of millions of dollars. The army says:
“When workload surges and/or staffing shortfalls occur, (our) system of checks and balances is put under stress and opportunities for mistakes and abuse of the system increase,” Donald Bibby, a spokesman for the Army Contracting Agency, the wing Cockerham worked under, said by e-mail.
That may have been true during the heady days following the invasion, but:
Hall is accused of obtaining $17.25 million in contracts for bottled water and security fencing between January 2004 and November 2007
Nov. 2007 is 4 1/2 years after the invasion. It's almost 3 years after the replacement of Rumsfeld by Gates. That system of checks and balances sure did take a long time to get going. And with 124 investigations still ongoing, we're just at the tip of the iceberg.

It will be interesting to see if this, or any other investigation leads up the chain of command. As far as I know, the highest ranking officer accused of corruption was Lt. Col. Selph, who received a relative pittance (a trip to Thailand and a trailer).

The other point of interest is the lack of interest in the press about this story. Big thanks to Mr. Contreras for keeping us posted, and for his excellent reporting. Kudos too to the San Antonio News Express.


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