The Pentagon lost track of sensitive equipment from a $750 million program to help U.S. soldiers spot roadside bombs — and some of it wound up for sale on eBay, Craigslist and other websites, according to a Navy intelligence document obtained by The Intercept.
The missing equipment includes thermal optic imaging and night vision devices that were supplied to U.S. forces to help locate improvised explosive devices, the leading killer of U.S. troops in Afghanistan, as well as related threats. “Since 2009, some of this advanced hardware has been reported as missing and is actively being sold or discussed on the global market on a variety of websites,” says an intelligence brief by the U.S. Naval Criminal Investigative Service and its Multiple Threat Alert Center.
The March 12, 2014 document is titled “Diversion and Illegal Sales of Restricted USG Optical Systems” and is marked “For Official Use Only.” It lists 13 websites where the military equipment was listed for sale, including Craigslist, eBay, texasguntalk.com and sportfishermen.com, among others. “Items have been marketed as sporting goods; hunting equipment; bird-watching equipment and camping supplies,” the report notes.
The report went on to state that “more than 32,000 pieces of equipment were issued” under the program, and the items “are NOT for civilian use and are controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.” The devices went missing because the military units had poor control over equipment distributed to them, according to the intelligence brief.
The bomb-detecting equipment was provided as part of a larger program called RCOS/Keyhole, which was funded by the Pentagon’s bomb fighting agency, known as the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), and administered by the U.S. Navy.
JIEDDO has been heavily criticized over the years for expending large sums of money without attaining clear results. According to a 2012 report by the Government Accountability Office, JIEDDO had spent over $18 billion yet lacked an effective way to oversee its programs.
The bomb-fighting agency is about to be reorganized and scaled back, Military.com reported earlier this month. David Small, a spokesman for JIEDDO, disputed that account, saying no decisions have been made about cuts to the agency, adding that recent changes have “solidified JIEDDO as a permanent part of the department designated as a combat support agency.” Small also said the agency finished handing over the RCOS/Keyhole program to the Navy in 2014, and is no longer involved with it.
The RCOS/Keyhole program attracted attention in 2011 when Medal of Honor recipient Dakota Meyer sued BAE Systems, accusing the company of retaliating against him for criticizing the company’s possible sale of night vision equipment to Pakistan. Meyer was concerned that advanced U.S. technology sold to Pakistan could end up being used against U.S. forces.
Ironically, the NCIS expressed similar concerns, though not specifically about Pakistan: “NCIS asks for your help in identifying and recovering these items to keep foreign entities from exploiting the technologies in these devices and using them against the U.S. military, NATO allies, or civilian law enforcement personnel during the course of their duties,” the NCIS document stated.
In his lawsuit, Meyer alleged that after he raised his concerns, his supervisor at BAE Systems made negative comments about him, including to another company he wanted to work for, costing him a job. The new job would have involved working on the RCOS/Keyhole program. Meyer dropped the lawsuit in late 2011, saying that the two sides had settled their differences.
Meyer, through his lawyer Tom Nesbitt, declined to comment about the concerns raised in the report or his lawsuit.
The Intercept found an eBay listing from Dec. 2014 for one of the pieces of equipment listed in the the NCIS document — the OASYS-BAE Systems Universal Thermal Monocular; it was listed for sale in Dec. 2014 for $6,000, with free standard shipping. Another item, currently listed for sale, is a CNVD-T Clip-On Night Vision Device Thermal System; it is advertised for $16,599.00 in “new condition!”
NCIS did not respond to email queries or a phone message requesting comment on the report.