No2 investigators walk into a bar. They’re on the trail of a reputed gun and liquor smuggling operation, and they’re turning up a lot of information. The manager of the hotel, they’re told, has a deal at their base of operations to smuggle cases of hootch into what’s supposed to be an alcohol-free zone, the highly strategic Balad Air Base in Iraq.
But, they learn, that isn’t all. The same players, the hotel manager and people in the Sallyport Military Contractor’s Balad operation are hooked up something involving trafficking and prostitution.
They can’t wait to file their reports. But when they do, they’re told by their Sallyport boss to shut down their investigation.
The investigator’s jobs, by the way, are part of a Congressional reform to pre-empt corruption and crime from Federal military contracting. The reform that requires that contractors have on site and on the job gumshoe monitors to oversee their workplace. The investigators’ pay is part of the contract. Uncle Sam pays for it.
The reform also requires that investigators reports be shared with the government, the State Department, or in this case, the Defense Department. But the reports are funneled through the contractor – who wrote this into the reform? – could it have been a lobbyist for the military contracting industry? Sometimes, when the news is bad, the contractor may not want to share it with his paymaster in Washington.
Which, say investigators Robert Cole and Kristie King, is what happened here. Sallyport snuffed their report. And eventually fired both of them, hustling them out of Balad at gunpoint, and out of Iraq virtually overnight. And thus, Uncle Sam never knew about reported breaches in base security, some but not all of them tied to the smuggling and trafficking rings, and may never have been told about the real balance of power at Balad Air Base.
Sallyport’s method of operations at Balad, where they protect F-16 fighter-bombers being flown by the Iraqi Air Force against the Islamic State, ISIS, is akin to that of a grocery store owner and the Mafia. Everything Sallyport does at Balad our guest today, AP investigative reporter Desmond Butler and his reporting partner Lori Hinnant were told, depended upon the co-operation of the Iraqi government and a powerful Iran-backed Shi’ite militia.
And when the militia, Kataib Imam Ali, wasn’t co-operating, when for example they stole a million dollars worth of US Government equipment, there wasn’t much Sallyport could do about it.
This particular heist, of 3 huge generators, sounds like something out of MASH or Sgt. Bilko, but the lax security that made it possible, could have enabled something much worse.
Desmond Butler is a Washington-based investigative reporter for the Associated Press AP. He shared authorship with AP’s Richard Lardner of a report on the failures of the US military’s primary on-line campaign to combat Islamist terrorist propaganda and recruitment, a story featured earlier on HERE & THERE.