U.S. anti-terror program gave allies guns with no ammo, duplicate equipment

The State Department has spent nearly $1.4 billion over the last decade trying to win over allies in the war on terror, providing equipment and training to friendly nations on how to combat extremism.

It helps in making friends, however, when you don’t make it hard for them to get the ammunition for the guns you just bought them. It’s also helpful if you don’t leave their equipment sitting in a warehouse or buy them bomb detection gear they already had.

And it helps taxpayers back home if the average cost of training was something less than State’s $1,800 per day per student.

These are just some of the problems the department’s internal watchdog recently uncovered during an audit of about $900 million of spending byt State’s Antiterrorism Assistance program. The inspector general said one of its biggest concerns was the fact that State lacks the ability to judge whether all that money has really been spent effectively.

The program has “not developed specific, measurable and outcome-oriented program objectives or implemented a mechanism for program evaluation,” the IG reported earlier this year. The IG called attention to the problems anew in its semiannual report issued earlier this week.

For spending big money on a program with its share of blunders and a troubling lack of accountability, the State Department, its Diplomatic Security Office and its Bureau of Counterterrorism win this week’s Golden Hammer, a distinction awarded by the Washington Guardian to call attention to wasteful or poorly planned spending.

The State Department’s response after being called on the carpet wasn’t exactly reassuring. The Diplomatic Security Bureau pointed its finger of blame toward its sister Bureau of Counterterrorism, which conceded it needed to a better job. And their solution was a classic Washington one: hire a consultant to help fix the problem.

“Assisted by a private consulting firm, CT and DS have begun to develop a results-based management system that builds upon the existing assessment process and includes all of the elements identified in the audit report,” said Robert Godec, the State Department Principal Deputy Coordinator for Counterterrorism.

The State Department did not return calls seeking comment.

In fiscal year 2010, the Antiterrorism Assistance  program trained 2,700 participants from the Middle East, North Africa and South and Central Asia, mostly civilian law enforcement officials like police.  But investigators found the cost was roughly $1,800 per student per day of training.

To put that in perspective, if the training was a college education, the annual tuition would be more than half a million dollars per student.

According to State Department records, the average program lasted 13 days with a class size of 21.  The topics included a wide range of subjects such as identifying fake documents, protecting officials and other VIPs, border security and emergency management.  The program actually predates the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks and was started in 1983.

And while the programs did give overall goals, the IG said “the objectives were often too broad to provide meaningful criteria for selecting courses for the partner countries or to act as measures for program success.”

For programs in Bahrain and Morocco, the objective was listed as increasing those countries’ “capability in investigating and responding to terrorism,” which could cover just about anything,” investigators said.

The program also suffered from its share of logistical programs. It bought several foreign police forces shiny new semiautomatic Glock 17 handguns, but then made the process of buying the ammunition for them so onerous that most just decided to turn to other weapons instead,

Officials also failed to notice that 6,700 pieces of equipment – valued at $1.5 million – sat for 21 months unused in a warehouse in northern Virginia when it was supposed to be employed in Iraq.

And when the program gave Bangladesh police $100,000 in bomb detection equipment, it sat unused because the police there already had the bomb detection equipment they needed, investigators said.

The Inspector General said the program needed better planning with clear-cut goals accompanied by a systematic, thorough way to record data and analyze success.  Investigators also said they want the department to start getting some idea of how long program students are staying in police forces and how often they are using their training.

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