27 Candles in the Dark

The looting in Iraq may have started with Iraqis, but they got peanuts compared to what was stolen when the US corporations came to town. According to the LAT, besides on-going investigations into Halliburton, KB&R, and several other sub-contractors, the CPA Inspector General’s Office has launched 27 criminal investigations of individuals accused of fraud and theft.

WASHINGTON — A comprehensive examination of the U.S.-led agency that oversaw the rebuilding of Iraq has triggered at least 27 criminal investigations and produced evidence of millions of dollars’ worth of fraud, waste and abuse, according to a report by the Coalition Provisional Authority’s inspector general.The report is the most sweeping indication yet that some U.S. officials and private contractors repeatedly violated the law in the free-wheeling atmosphere that pervaded the multibillion-dollar effort to rebuild the war-torn country.

More than $600 million in cash from Iraqi oil money was spent with insufficient controls. Senior U.S. officials manipulated or misspent contract money. Millions of dollars’ worth of equipment could not be located, the report said.

“We found problems in the CPA’s financial management, procurement practices and operational controls,” Stuart W. Bowen Jr., the inspector general, wrote in the report. “These results are not surprising: The CPA faced a variety of daunting challenges, including extremely hazardous working conditions.”

The report raises anew questions surrounding the occupation government under Ambassador L. Paul Bremer III, who turned over control in June to an interim Iraqi government.

The coalition’s failures continue to haunt the country today as Iraqis struggle with security issues and infrastructure problems with electricity, transport

Not surprising, really, considering that the attitude of those at the top of the US govt is pretty much the same: Taxpayer money belongs to us and we can do what we want with it, including steal it. The charges, for anyone familiar with the corporate mind, aren’t exactly a surprise, either.

The Times has reported on several cases in which a small circle of former Republican administration officials had drawn scrutiny for their actions in Iraq, including a deputy undersecretary of Defense under investigation by the FBI in connection with a telecommunications contract. In another case, officials have said, a former senior U.S. advisor conducted negotiations with a family connected to Saddam Hussein to form a new Iraqi airline.

In one case, a senior U.S. advisor “manipulated” the contracting system to award a $7.2-million security contract. The contract was later voided and the money returned.In another incident, a contractor billed $3.3 million for nonexistent personnel working on an oil pipeline repair contract. A security contractor guarding the pipeline overcharged the CPA by $20,000. Both incidents are under criminal investigation.

In another example, a military assistant to a Pentagon employee gambled away part of a $40,000 grant issued to help coach an Iraqi sports team, the report found.

What is a tad surprising is the number of excuses coming, not from the perps, but from the IGO.

Iraq was “a much more Wild West environment. It’s a wartime environment,” said Steven Kelman, a Harvard professor and contracting expert. “I wouldn’t be surprised if, psychologically, some folks have the idea that they’re risking their lives under difficult conditions. They justify that they’re entitled to a salary increase.”

“In the early days, there was no record keeping. They were flushed with money and seized assets. People just didn’t follow established procedures,” said Charles Krohn, a former CPA official. “You were dealing with inexperienced people who didn’t understand that there’s always a day of reckoning.”

So ‘Boys will be boys, heh-heh’, is that it? There weren’t enough flak jackets or boots to go around for the troops, but hey, I’m a corporate snowbunny in a war zone, I got serious perks coming! And these are people inside the CPA, not war profiteers like the Halliburton crowd; you’d expect this sort of thing from them. The message these guys got from their leaders was: ‘Take whatever you can get your hands on. We are.’

And for those who will say, as they always do, ‘Well, it was only a few bad apples….’, I say:

Uh, $$$20BILLION$$$ missing and 27 separate investigations of criminal misconduct in a single govt entity means a significant chunk of the barrel was rotten, don’t it?

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