Even Fake Law Enforcement Agencies Can Get Weapons of War for ‘Policing’

It appears all law enforcement — even a “fictitious federal agency” — can get federally supplied weapons of war, with quite literally, no questions asked.      

We learned this a few days ago when the Government Accountability Office (GAO) issued a troubling assessment of the Department of Defense 1033 program. The 1033 program gives federal, state, and local law enforcement surplus military weapons and equipment for use in routine policing. The 1033 program is the poster-child of federal programs responsible for the militarization of U.S. police.

GAO indicated that the Defense Department does not verify the identification of individuals picking up military weapons through 1033. And GAO found that the Pentagon does not verify the quantity of military weapons transferred through 1033. GAO said Defense “lacks reasonable assurance that it has the ability to prevent, detect, and respond to potential fraud and minimize associated security risks.”  

And just how did GAO reach this conclusion? GAO posed as a fake federal law enforcement agency and secured military weapons through 1033. They sought $1.2 million worth of rifles, pipe bomb equipment, and night vision googles. And they got them. “It was like getting stuff off of eBay,” according to GAO staff.

The ACLU criticized the 1033 program in its 2014 report, “War Comes Home: The Excessive Militarization of American Policing.” And in Ferguson, Missouri, in the aftermath of the fatal police shooting of Michael Brown, the world got to see for itself just what is wrong with militarized policing. Those protesting Brown’s death were met with armored vehicles, shotguns, rifles, tear gas, and rubber bullets. Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars expressed horror that they, while on active duty overseas, were less heavily armed and combative than the local police in Ferguson.

Then President Barack Obama was troubled too. He issued Executive Order 13688 in January 2015 to put necessary oversight and protocols in place around law enforcement use of military weapons doled out by the federal government. Certain weapons, like bayonets and tanks, would become prohibited, and other equipment, like Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles (MRAPs) and drones, would be subject to tighter controls that included training supervision, evaluation, and auditing. To do this, E.O. 13688 created an interagency working group that included the Departments of Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security — the primary federal providers of military weapons and equipment to law enforcement.

At a minimum, the working group was supposed to ensure that the agencies giving out these military-grade weapons were talking to one another. But at a September 2014 congressional hearing on federal militarization programs, officials from Defense, Justice, and Homeland Security admitted that they had never met before. This meant that the Pentagon could provide an MRAP to a police department subjected to Department of Justice complaints of police misconduct.

But what this GAO report reveals is that Defense may not only be out of touch with Justice, but with the very law enforcement agencies that it’s lending military weapons to. Just what has the Department of Defense and the interagency working group been doing for the last two years? The oversight and protocols – were those fake too?  

Honestly, you can’t make this stuff up, which is frightening since President Trump doesn’t believe the program needs any oversight at all  

During the campaign, Trump promised to repeal Executive Order 13688. Not to be outdone, the House voted earlier this month to prioritize the 1033 program for border enforcement. So instead of trying to fix 1033 as GAO indicates is necessary, it’s likely the White House and Congress will allow this program to go further off the rails.

This morning, a House Armed Services subcommittee will convene a hearing to examine the GAO report. After the latest debacle, let’s hope Congress has the sense to rein the 1033 program in by enacting the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, which eliminates the federal gifting of MRAPs and grenades to police once and for all. State and local communities must also take control over the weapons of war coming to their towns, just as we are asking them to take control of surveillance. If your police department wants an MRAP, you and your neighbors should decide — no one else. 

View comments (32)
Read the Terms of Use

Sean

The militarization of the police is, in part, a response to the militarization of the US population. The availability of high-powered weapons in civilian markets is as much a threat to police as it to civilians. Ironically one reason often cited against stricter gun control is that these weapons are a defense against the kind of oppressive government they're helping to create.

Sadly the two issues are part-and-parcel, and therefore need to be addressed simultaneously if we're to see any real change. Who wins when the government is in an arms race against its own citizens?

Anonymous

I'm pretty sire high power weapons have always been available. What has consistently changed is police and government aggression. I'm thinking that this is the fuel to the cycle you're talking about.

Anonymous

What happens in a society is no more than a reflection of the government. The States now has a lawless corrupt political judicial system that feels they are above the las and can do as they please. The civil unrest is a reflection of this and the LEO's are caught in the middle.

Anonymous

You can get whatever you want in TJ or South Central LA.

Jurjen S.

Details are lacking in how the GOA went about this, precisely, but it strikes me as plausible they set up .gov email addresses and a website for their phoney agency, which is something your average person wouldn't be able to do. So maybe we don't need to be concerned about the gear falling into non-governmental hands. Still, it's disconcerting that the DoD evidently doesn't check whether an agency has a legitimate need for the equipment it requests before handing it out.

Anonymous

Right. Because government emails have never been hacked.

Your average Joe may not be able to buy himself a bunch of M16s with grenade launchers to match, but there are terrorist networks out there that absolutely have the ability. And if nobody bothers to fix this, they are free to keep trying until they succeed. If you need a background check to get a gun, you should need a background check to get a grenade launcher.

And I'm speaking as someone who is pro-second ammendment who supports the idea of using military surplus to provide police departments with equipment they actually need. Why waste the money storing equipment that police departments would have bought on the market? On the other hand, I don't want this equipment going to police departments who think they are in Iraq...or some terrorist who is going to turn Time Square in Fallujah.

SJ Martin

Falling into non governmental hands? As if it's not the state that's using this stuff to bully and kill.

Anonymous

" Veterans from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars expressed horror that they, while on active duty overseas, were less heavily armed and combative than the local police in Ferguson."

Really? Were these veterans working on base in a support role like mechanics? Flight crew? Cooks? Intelligence? They certainly were not combat. The ACLU has become just as bad as mainstream news with the way they report. You want my support? Be straight with us. Stop twisting the narrative and using broad words like "grenades". American law enforcement does not use fragmentation grenades, which is what I thought of when I read that word.

Lets put things in real perspective here. If a single officer is faced with a subject who is hurtling bricks, rocks, pepper spray, etc that officer may use lethal force to stop that threat, because any one of those has the potential to incapacitate that officer or result in death. Multiply that subject by 50, 100 or 1000 and what do the police do? First, they have a show of force. Then they use barricades riot gear (not the same as body armor or flak-jackets) to push the people back. When that fails they try to use all less lethal options at their disposal. Access to armored vehicles, flash bangs allows for that to happen. You want to take that away? Then law enforcement will have no option but to use lethal force on insurrections.

Here is a quick history lesson for you. During the "Gangster Era" the general public had access to sub-machine guns which the Tommy-gun was favored by mobsters. Law enforcement obtained weapons of equal or greater power to combat that. When those weapons were outlawed, the police gave them up too. (Amazing how that works!) Now, weapons have become more powerful, more accurate and cheaper, putting them in the hands of more and more people. Of course law enforcement is going to have access to the same or greater because they are the ones we call on to handle situations like the North Hollywood Shootout, Orlando Nightclub, Columbine.

If you cut off law enforcement's ability to manage the duties they are called upon to do, then you had better be prepared to handle them yourself.

Anonymous

You're right. Is somebody doing something about it? Do cops and sheriff deputies talk to the NRA and their elected officials about gun control? All I see is Sheriff Cowboy Clark, who's jails average a negligent homicide every 6 weeks or so. The roles of police and soldiers are VERY different, and citizens who don't understand the difference between having civil rights and rights of citizenship under civil authorities, and being subject to occupation or martial law. We have blurred the lines with our troops overseas doing policing, and our cops at home being militarized into an increasingly threatening and terrorizing force against citizens. Private contractors further blur the lines, and remove gov't accountability and public scrutiny. We need good cops to stand up for the constitution out loud and in public, and in organized lobbying efforts. We also need good cops to come out against institutionalized racism that they all enable if they continue to remain silent.

Anonymous

Very well said.

Pages

Stay Informed