While the Pentagon preps for a new administration, a scandal from an earlier era is rearing its head.
A Defense Department project, supposedly designed to support U.S. troops, was used instead to channel millions of dollars to personal friends and allies of its chief. The "America Supports You," or ASY, program was led in a "questionable and unregulated manner," according to a Department of Defense Inspector General report, obtained by Danger Room. At least $9.2 million was "inappropriately transferred" by the project's managers. Much of that money served only to further promote ASY, instead of assisting servicemembers.
In 2004, the office of then-Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld set up ASY as a six-month effort to showcase the U.S. public's backing for the troops and their families.
Great idea, but corrupt implementation ended up making it a pork program funneling money to the pals of Armed Forces Information Service head Alison Barber.
By mid-2007, allegations began to surface that the Pentagon official in charge of the program, Armed Forces Information Service chief Alison Barber was improperly redirecting millions of dollars in public funds.
From fiscal years 2004 to 2007, the Inspector General's report notes, Barber funneled $8.8 million in contracts to the public relations firm Susan Davis International — to set up the myriad events, and to promote the ASY "brand." The work was incredibly lucrative; Davis' executives made as much as $312,821 to $662,691 per year. "Paying a public relations contractor annual salaries approaching three-quarters of a million dollars does not appear to be a cost-effective means to support the ASY program and the war fighter," the report observes.
But what made it even harder to stomach was that Davis was a friend of Barber's, and a well-known Republican operative, according to former Defense Department lawyer Diane Beaver. Another half-million went to media consultant Mitch Semel, for web work.
Worse still, in the eyes of many, was that Barber used the Stars & Stripes newspaper as a kind of money-laundering service, to pay Davis and Semel. The paper is partially financed by the Pentagon, and was part of Barber's American Forces Information Service. But Stripes has a decades-long tradition of fierce independence. Editors were galled to discover that Barber's office was pouring money into the paper's coffers — and then paying Davis and Semel out of accounts with less congressional oversight and fewer spending restrictions than typical Defense Department funds.
Not quite in the "pay to play" category, but still pretty sickening, using a paper like "Stars and Stripes" to launder money.
Technorati Tags: Politics, Pentagon, Corruption