The Pentagon Is Missing $1 Billion. Is That A Bug Or A Feature?

The Pentagon Is Missing $1 Billion. Is That A Bug Or A Feature?

The Pentagon was deemed incapable of producing passably accurate accounting, a year after rewarding itself for accurate bookkeeping, according to a new in-depth report by the non-profit, Center for Public Integrity. In February 2014, Pentagon leaders, including then-Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, celebrated the “great accomplishment” that the Marine Corps had more or less accounted for everything it received and spent in 2012. In March, 2015, the Pentagon’s auditor rescinded its commendation, saying that new information revealed that the Pentagon couldn’t account for $800 million allocated to the Marine Corps.

The report illustrates the political pressure on the Pentagon to get its books in order. Several members of Congress have called on the Pentagon to make itself accountable to taxpayers. It point out that clean, transparent accounting is something that every other department of government accomplished years ago. The Pentagon has consistently been unable to account for billions of dollars every year. The report explains how the Pentagon is a sprawling bureaucracy, with dozens of sub-departments, and the cross-referencing of expenditures can become virtually impossible.

This raises an interesting question. Is the Defense Department’s missing money a bug or a feature? Is the Pentagon perennially incapable of accurate accounting because it’s a hopelessly sprawling bureaucracy? Or because some shadowy group deep in the bowels of America’s defense apparatus are routinely spending money on things they want no one to know about? More to the point: is the US Marine Corps not only home to the world’s most supremely professional soldiers, but also a slush fund?

It is entirely possible that the Pentagon’s budgeting woes are predominantly a result of the size of the Pentagon. Roughly 26,000 employees work in the Pentagon. Much of their work is highly specialized, compartmentalized and kept intentionally secret, even from each other. Organization on that scale, in that kind of environment, is inherently problematic.

Nonetheless, when we look back on American history since World War II, one constant is the steady trickle of revelations about what US defense is up to in various places around the globe. While most Americans think of US involvement in Vietnam as beginning in the 1960s, it was revealed that the US supported France’s fight against communists under Truman. Eisenhower committed more resources, secretly, to opposing the Vietcong. The Pentagon was committed to fighting communism in Vietnam almost two decades before the height of American involvement. Throughout the Cold War, the Pentagon used the School of the Americas to train anti-communist guerrillas in Latin America. This led to an era of military dictatorships and vast suffering in South America. Kennedy was embarrassed by the Bay of Pigs fiasco. Nixon secretly bombed Cambodia at the height of the Vietnam War. Under Reagan, Iran-Contra revealed the Pentagon’s secretive dealings in Iran and Nicaragua. Reagan also supported the mujahedin in Afghanistan, which later allowed the Taliban and al Qaeda to flourish. The US has been conducting a drone bombing campaign in Western Pakistan, a country we are not at war with, since shortly after September 11th.

These revelations of secret and semi-secret Pentagon initiatives are only the tip of the iceberg. But, combined with so much missing money, they raise the question: What might the Pentagon secretly be spending money on now?

A headline this week indicated that the Pentagon has been far more involved in Syria, and for longer, than previously acknowledged. With the threat of ISIS eclipsing the Pentagon’s war on al Qaeda, and the Obama Administration’s opposition to Syria’s Assad regime, the White House and the Pentagon have been switching gears for months to contain and undermine ISIS. The Los Angeles Times reported Monday that a “Pentagon-backed” militia had to be supported by airstrikes, after the militia came under attack by al Nusra. The Pentagon apparently didn’t expect Nusra to attack the US-backed force, known as Division 30, because the two militias ostensibly share an enemy. Nonetheless, Nusra is backed by al Qaeda, who probably couldn’t resist the soft target of Pentagon stooges who aren’t quite ready for prime time. They may not have expected an airstrike, though, since that led the Pentagon to publicly acknowledge Division 30’s existence.

The Pentagon may not be up to its eyeballs in the kaleidoscopic vortex of the Syrian conflict, but seems to be at least in up to its knees. But this is not the only place in the world where the Pentagon’s heavy hand is barely acknowledged. The Pentagon has been quietly building ‘elite counterterrorism forces‘ across Northwestern Africa. Recent revelations indicate that the US was complicit in the overthrow of a democratically elected government in Honuras in 2009. The Pentagon has been steadily increasing its presence in Honduras under the new military government.

The Pentagon has fingers in pies throughout the world. Some of these indirect military campaigns bubble to the surface of the press occasionally. But most Americans who aren’t news junkies may be blissfully unaware of the Pentagon’s global scope.  What happened to the nearly $1 billion the Marine Corps can’t account for is an open question. But there is likely a mix of bureaucratic inefficiency, and hidden spending at play.

Feature image via Flickr.

Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

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Marc Belisle is the Reverb Press World Affairs Editor. He is a writer, activist and teacher. He has a Master’s degree in International Conflict Analysis from the Brussels School of International Studies. READ MORE BY MARC.

ReverbPress Mobile Apps ReverbPress iOS App ReverbPress Android App ReverbPress App