By Jay Holmes
In November of 2013, the US Navy made public an investigation into the questionable purchase of firearms silencers* for US Navy SEAL Team 6. The silencers were for use with AK type weapons, such as the venerable Kalashnikov AK-47**. They were also to be “untraceable,” which is easily achieved by using simple, non-American designs without a serial number system or trademarks.
So why would the grumpy US Navy inspectors be upset by the purchase of a few AK silencers for our beloved sailors in SEAL 6? Don’t the killers of Osama Bin Laden deserve to have the equipment they need? Sure, they do. But there were a few problematic details with these particular silencers.
First, nobody at SEAL 6 knew anything about the silencers in question. They never requested them, and they never received any of them.
Second, the Navy paid $1,600,000 for 349 silencers of the lowest imaginable quality. In fact, the silencers that my kids made for their third grade science projects were better quality.
Third, the order was completed with a no-bid contract given to a bankrupt auto mechanic, who just happens to be the brother of the civilian Navy Intelligence employee that requested the funds for the silencers.
In the spring of 2014, the US Attorney General’s office joined the US Navy in the investigation and brought the case before a federal judge. On October 30, US Judge Leonie Brinkema handed down a guilty verdict against two defendants, civilian Navy Intelligence official Lee Hall and auto mechanic Mark Landesman. Both are due to appear for sentencing in January 2015.
The disposition of two other civilian Navy employees is as yet unclear. Perhaps they were volunteered for target practice for SEAL 6. Well, probably not, but it’s always fun to imagine such things where people have indulged in such base corruption.
One marvelous piece of evidence that helped prosecutors was the fact that one defendant, the contracted mechanic Mark Landesman, was either too unskilled or too lazy to make the simple, low quality silencers himself. He instead subcontracted the work to a legitimate machinist and paid the machinist $8,000. That little detail fixed a clear value for the manufacturing of the silencers. There was no explaining away the $1,600,000 payment made by the Navy to Landesman.
One of the saddest things about this case is that, in spite of how lame their conspiracy was, they nearly got away with it. When US Special Forces need silencers, they don’t have to hire unemployed auto mechanics to make them. There are plenty of well-vetted contractors available that routinely supply such items.
I was half hoping that the defense team would roll out the old “this was really a CIA Black Ops job” defense ploy. It might have made the defendants eligible to be tried for Patriot Act violations, and then they would now be on extended all expenses paid vacations at a remote location in the Pacific Ocean, waiting for their preliminary hearing dates in the year 2090.
In this particular instance, though, we will have to settle for sentences ranging from five to fifteen years for the two guilty scammers and hope that the two other culprits don’t walk away untouched. SEAL 6 does indeed need lots of expensive items. So does every other group in the US military. But when traitors steal the taxpayers’ money, it damages national security.
Since 2010, the Navy has increased its efforts at preventing fraud and misallocation of resources. This case is probably the result of those efforts. With so many billions of dollars being spent on national defense, you can bet that plenty more scam artists will continue to do their best to rob you of your tax dollars. Let us hope that the Pentagon will continue to refine their defense against fraud.
*In the case of an AK-47, the term “suppressor” is generally more apt than “silencer,” but this story is referenced at other sites throughout the internet using the term “silencer.” For the sake of clarity and consistency, we have done the same.
**US military forces at times opt to use various non-American weapons for a range of operations.
This kind of intentional fraud is pretty rare, although the procurement system is so big and unwieldy that it actually is a little surprising that they caught these bozos. But there’s a staggering amount of unintentional waste that the military engages in every day, just because the people involved are too hidebound, too uninformed or just too stupid to avoid it.
When I was in the defense biz a few decades ago, we received an order for six 4/40 stainless steel flat head screws from an Air National Guard unit. These were used to hold the cover plates for the wingtip pre-amplifiers for one of our radar warning systems and you could easily buy equivalent screws for about $.06 each at Home Depot. But there was a specific part number the ordering clerk wanted.
Trouble was, that part had been replaced by another, effectively identical, part. And therein lay the rub. See, the clerk didn’t want to be bothered explaining why two part numbers didn’t match so he demanded the older part. We explained that, in order to satisfy his request, we’d have to hire a subcontractor to manufacture the screws, at a cost of $1/screw. Oh, and the minimum order? 10,000 screws. His response? “Do it.”
So we made the call, paid ten grand for a bin full of screws, put six of them in a ziploc bag and shipped them off along with a bill for $11,000. And that, children, is why the military has $600 toilet seats and billion dollar aircraft that don’t fly.
I’m all for busting the daylights out of the thieves who steal our taxes, but what I really want to see is a genuine house cleaning.
Hi Scott. Thank you for your well considered response. Individuals like the lazy fool that ordered the $11,000 screws are indeed a huge part of the problem.
Both fraud and everyday waste such as Scot described appall me. Perpetrators of both need to be ferreted out and sent to that Pacific island Jay mentioned.
Hi David. I do think that a few vacation packages to remote locations would get some attention.
I’m glad they were caught and I hope they were used for target practice!
Hi Alica. Unfortunately my target practice idea has never been adopted by the US military. It’s not something I would suggest lightly, but in such clear and blatant cases, I combat the depressing effect of the news by imagining these folks on the wrong end of a firing range.