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Joe Newman – (POGO) – May 7, 2012 – For Vinnie Tuivaga, the offer was the answer to a prayer: A job in a luxury hotel in Dubai–the so-called Las Vegas of the Persian Gulf–making five times what she was earning as a hair stylist in her native Fiji.
She jumped at the chance, even if it meant paying an upfront commission to the recruiter.
You probably know how this story is going to end. There was no high-paying job, luxury location or easy work.
Tuivaga and other Fijians ended up in Iraq where they lived in shipping containers and existed in what amounted to indentured servitude.
Journalist Sarah Stillman told Tuivaga’s story and that of tens of thousands of other foreign workers in acute detail almost a year ago in her New Yorker piece, “The Invisible Army.”
In some cases, Stillman found more severe abuses and more squalid living conditions than what Tuivaga and her fellow Fijians experienced.
But like Tuivaga, thousands of foreign nationals in the U.S. government’s invisible army ended up in Iraq and Afghanistan war zones because they fell victim to human traffickers.
Let that sink in.
This human trafficking pipeline wasn’t benefitting some shadowy war lord or oppressive regime. No, these are workers who were feeding, cleaning up after, and providing logistical support for U.S. troops—the standard-bearers of the free and democratic world. Read the remainder of this entry »
We imagine the lobbyist stalking the halls of Congress trying to use cash to influence important people. But it doesn’t always work that way. Often, the Congressman is stalking the lobbyist, asking for money. ~ NPR, Money in Politics Series
Army probes drug use by U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan
Lolita C. Baldor – (The Associated Press) – WASHINGTON – April 21, 2012 – The U.S. Army has investigated 56 soldiers in Afghanistan on suspicion of using or distributing heroin, morphine or other opiates during 2010 and 2011, newly obtained data shows. Eight soldiers died of drug overdoses during that time.
While the cases represent just a slice of possible drug use by U.S. troops in Afghanistan, they provide a sombre snapshot of the illicit trade in the war zone, including young Afghans peddling heroin, soldiers dying after mixing cocktails of opiates, troops stealing from medical bags and Afghan soldiers and police dealing drugs to their U.S. comrades.
In a country awash with poppy fields that provide up to 90 per cent of the world’s opium, the U.S. military struggles to keep an eye on its far-flung troops and monitor for substance abuse.
But U.S. Army officials say that while the presence of such readily available opium — the raw ingredient for heroin — is a concern, opiate abuse has not been a pervasive problem for troops in Afghanistan. (Click HERE for article)
Government Worker Claims Rape on the Job
Iulia Filip – (Courthouse News) – MONTGOMERY, Ala. – April 20, 2012 – The U.S. government faces federal claims that a manager in the Defense Department harassed and repeatedly raped a contract worker.
Dana Liebelson – (POGO) – April 16, 2012 – The “comfort capsules,” as the Air Force so aptly dubbed them, had everything a discriminating world traveler could want: swiveling leather chairs, couches, wall-to-wall carpeting and a 37-inch flat-screen video monitor with stereo speakers, as well as other amenities a four-star general might need when flying on Uncle Sam’s dime.
Heck, the chairs were even re-upholstered from brown to “Air Force blue” at a cost to taxpayers of $21,000 per four chairs. While the Air Force was spending millions of taxpayer dollars on these capsules, men and women on the frontlines were flying on torn-up netting.
After a Project On Government Oversight (POGO) investigation exposed the details in the summer of 2008, top military officials sputtered denials, and the news outraged Congress, which had twice told the Pentagon that the money needed to be spent on “higher priority” needs. The New York Times, the Washington Post, and the Colbert Report all followed the story.
It was an investigation that further strengthened POGO’s reputation as a Pentagon watchdog and helped make a name for Nick Schwellenbach, the 26-year-old POGO national security investigator who unearthed the scandal.
Dana Liebelson – (POGO) – March 28, 2012 – U.S. taxpayers unknowingly fund human trafficking in Iraq and Afghanistan because of poor contractor oversight–but bipartisan Members of Congress are cracking down on this deplorable crime. A new bill introduced on Monday in the House and the Senate incorporates many of POGO’s recommendations for stopping U.S. contractors and subcontractors from getting away with modern-day slavery. Some contractors may complain, but both versions of the bill deserve resounding support from the public.
The End Trafficking in Government Contracting Act (S. 2234 and H.R. 4259) is sponsored by Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) and Rep. James Lankford (R-OK) respectively, along with many notable cosponsors. The legislation is the long-awaited response to a variety of reports from war zones over the course of several years—including the Commission on Wartime Contracting’s final report, which found “tragic evidence of the recurrent problem of trafficking in persons by labor brokers or subcontractors of contingency contractors.”
POGO Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach testified before a House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform subcommittee on this issue in November.
Defense attorneys were critical of the FBI’s reliance on the informant [Richard Bistrong], an executive of a Florida body armor company [Armor Holdings] who they called a sociopathic liar with a devious mind. They said he was able to persuade federal agents to let him plead guilty to a single bribery count for more than $4.4 million in bribes to officials at the United Nations and overseas even though he had a history of bribery, embezzlement, tax evasion, drug use and solicitation of prostitutes. ~Justice gives up sting case over foreign bribes
Reliance on contractors in Afghanistan draws continuing scrutiny
Charles S. Clark – (GovExec) – February 24, 2012 – The use of contractors in the decade-long U.S. effort to train Afghanistan’s army and police forces continues to raise policy questions as the Obama administration struggles to meet its goal of winding down the American troop presence in the volatile region.
The Government Accountability Office on Thursday reported that the Defense Department — after it took over from the State Department in 2009 the task of training and equipping Afghan security forces — hired a contracting firm without first weighing the advantages and disadvantages of assigning U.S. government personnel to train the war-torn country’s national police.