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Friday, February 10, 2006

We're In the Wrong Biz


Somehow...the Sludgereport has an advance copy of Sunday's "60 Minutes" broadcast.

(For the sake of this post, Let's suspend our usual Drudge-disbelief.)

Steve Kroft is gonna investigate the missing $8.8 billion in missing "Iraqi reconstruction" cash...and a defense contractor that tried to, uh, cash in on the lax atmosphere in Baghdad:
Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, says $8.8 billion is unaccounted for because oversight on the part of the Coalition Provisional Authority, the entity governing Iraq after the war, "was relatively nonexistent."

The former number two man at the Coalition, Frank Willis, concurs. "I would describe [the accounting system] as nonexistent." Without a financial infrastructure, checks and money transfers were not possible, so the Coalition kept billions in cash to pay for its multitude of projects.

"Fresh, new, crisp, unspent, just-printed $100 bills. It was the Wild West," says Willis.

Such an atmosphere made it possible for billions to go missing and companies to defraud the Coalition.

Custer Battles, a company quickly formed after the war to get reconstruction contracts, goes on trial next week accused in a whistleblower suit by an ex-employee of bilking the U.S. government out of $50 million.

"[Custer Battles] wanted to open fraudulent companies overseas and inflate their invoices to the U.S. government," says the ex-employee, Robert Isakson. He says he refused to go along with the scheme and "two weeks later, they began exactly the fraud they described to me," he tells Kroft.

Willis remembers Custer Battles, which was formed by former Army Ranger Scott Custer and a failed congressional candidate, Mike Battles, who claimed to be active in the Republican party and have connections to the White House. "They came in with a can-do attitude whether they could or not," he says, "They were not experienced. They didn't know what they were doing," says Willis.

They nevertheless got contracts and their work quickly drew complaints. "They failed miserably," says Col. Richard Ballard of a $15 million contract Custer Battles got to secure the Baghdad Airport. Col. Ballard, the inspector general for the Army in Iraq at the time, says the company failed to provide the x-ray equipment required by the contract.

"These were multi-million-dollar devices for which they received a considerable cash advance so that they could procure them, and then they never procured this equipment," says Col. Ballard.

On a bomb-sniffing dog and trainer Custer Battles did procure, Col. Ballard says, "I think it was a guy and his pet, to be honest with you," he tells Kroft.

The Colonel noted that the dog would refuse to sniff the vehicles.
Tune in to "60 Minutes" for Defense Contracting, 101.

There will be a quiz following the broadcast.

Time for me to chase more Hollywood carrots.

More later...


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