A report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found it is possible for scammers to get weapons from the Department of Defense (DoD) by doing little more than creating a fake website.
The GAO report centered around the 1033 Program, which is used by the DoD’s Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) to transfer excess military weapons and vehicles to law enforcement agencies around the United States.
While the program may intend to send the weaponry to law enforcement, the GAO report found that just about anyone could get their hands on some military-grade equipment simply by creating a website for a fake police department.
To audit the DLA’s handling of the 1033 Program, the GAO did exactly that: it created a website and posed as a local police department applying for some of the surplus military goods to see if the DLA would supply them.
As it turned out, the DLA obliged. It provided the fake organization created by the GAO with more than $1.2 million worth of military weapons. The haul included night-vision goggles, simulated rifles and simulated pipe bombs that could be made into “potentially lethal items if modified with commercially available items,” according to the report.
According to Zina Merritt, the GAO director who coordinated the investigation, very little was done in effort to verify the information of the phony organization applying for weapons.
The GAO used a fake address that was apparently never checked—had it been, it would have revealed an empty dirt lot. Merritt said no one from the DLA even bothered to call the fake organization in an attempt to verify its existence.
The agency didn’t even ask for identification when members of the GAO showed up to collect the military equipment. Not only did the DLA hand over the items to the fake organization without any verification, it also gave the fake police force more than they had requested.
Following the investigation, Merritt said the DLA doesn’t have the proper framework in order to prevent fraud from happening at different stages of the 1033 Program process. “Essentially, that puts any organization at risk of this happening again,” Merritt said.
The DOD, in response to the findings of the report, said that it is taking “actions to address identified weaknesses in its excess controlled property program.” It also agreed to recommendations made by the GAO to institute fraud prevention measures.
The 1033 Program started in 1997 and has transferred nearly $6 billion worth of military equipment and weapons to law enforcement agencies throughout the country, including mine-resistant vehicles, armored trucks helicopters and firearms like M16 and M14 rifles and 12-gauge shotguns.
The program has become associated with the militarization of police forces. In 2015, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to limit the type of equipment that could be provided to police forces through the program.