Thursday, May 21, 2015

Finders Keepers

I remember trying to balance my Church’s budget one year and somebody on the committee said “Oh stop worrying, money will appear We’re a Church after all!” Money doesn’t usually magically appear, no matter how faithful you are. It happened in Maryland Halloween 2014 when a money bag fell out of an armored vehicle, broke open and bills were swirling about in the air. People stopped to pick up the money for themselves, some helped collect it for the driver. I’d like to think that I’d help pick it up and return it. I do remember finding a $20 bill on the street and there was nobody to be found. Finding one $20 on the street versus an armored car’s worth of cash is different, at least in scope. So what happens when it’s not a $20 or an armored car? We learned this week that the CIA gave millions of dollars to Al Qaeda…the same people the CIA is supposed to be protecting Americans from because they are evil incarnate.

The New York Times reported recently (3/15/15) that the CIA regularly delivered “bags of cash” to the Presidential palace in Afghanistan. This was new information. The CIA also made a series of payments totaling $5 million directly to Al Qaeda as ransom for a kidnap victim. Osama Bin Laden was so surprised by the funds and that the U.S. Government was paying for a hostage that he warned his people that the bills might be laced with poison. They weren’t. They were just delivered in error due to “lax accounting controls.”

The few million that went to Bin Laden is nothing compared to the $12 billion that disappeared in Iraq. The Guardian reported  on the 2007 findings where the U.S. sent 383 tons of cash to Iraq only to watch it disappear. “The minutes from a May 2004 [Coalition Provisional Authority] meeting reveal a single disbursement of $500m in security funding labelled merely 'TBD', meaning 'to be determined' … The memorandum concludes: "Many of the funds appear to have been lost to corruption and waste ... thousands of 'ghost employees' were receiving pay cheques from Iraqi ministries under the CPA's control. Some of the funds could have enriched both criminals and insurgents fighting the United States."

The Iraq War cost $1.8 trillion according to Brown University. $12 billion represents 0.067% of that. In money that’s more tangible, that would be $66.67 out of a $1,000 item or 6 cents out of a dollar. It’s essentially a rounding error. That’s not to mitigate that $12 billion isn’t a lot of money, but compared to $1.8 trillion, it really isn’t.

The FY16 budget request for the Pentagon is $585 billion - well ahead of the “caps” agreed to in 2011. $51 billion is the cost of the conflict in Afghanistan. Based on the track record of .067% before, that’d be about $39 billion that will go missing. Of course we don’t know how much will actually be lost because the Pentagon, as I’ve previously blogged about, is unable to pass an audit.

There’s understandable and appropriate outrage that U.S. taxpayer funds (or borrowed funds) are used to support the “enemy.” It’d be nice to have that same outrage in place before the U.S. commits its citizens and its treasury to perpetual war. In this game of Finders Keepers, we're the losers who are weeping. 

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