by William Hartung and Tom Engelhardt
October 11, 2017
Originally posted at TomDispatch.

I’m sure you’ve heard about the $65 million. Or was it $86 million? Or was it even more? You know, the funds the Pentagon sunk into that hotshot plane it was preparing for its Afghan drug interdiction program. You haven’t?

Well, as Megan Rose reported at ProPublica, with its “electro-optical infra-red video capacity,” that counternarcotics plane was supposed to lend a significant hand in surveilling and disrupting the Afghan heroin trade. Only one small problem. That single plane never made it out of a warehouse in Delaware or flew a mission in Afghanistan, whatever its cost (which the Pentagon was typically incapable of tracking), and when it was recently offered for sale at auction, no one wanted to put down a red cent for it. And lest you think of that as a bizarre anomaly, consider, as Rose points out, the $3 million patrol boats for Afghanistan the Navy purchased that never made it out of Virginia or the 20 planes for the Afghan air force that the Pentagon spent a mere $486 million on, even though they never flew and finally brought in just $32,000 as scrap metal. Or think for a moment about the more than $65 billion (yep, billion!) that went into the woefulAfghan military, an inept force long mentored by the U.S. military that remains filled with “ghost soldiers” and plagued by soaring casualties and staggering desertion rates. Or since America’s war zones have, in these years, been sinkholes of corruption, just recall the $43 million gas station built by the Pentagon in the middle of an Afghan nowhere, or the similarly infamous “highway to nowhere,” or the state-of-the-art U.S. military headquarters in Helmand Province, Afghanistan, that doubled in cost to $25 million while under construction and was never used, or the $1.2 billion to $1.6 billion in cash that was somehow stolen from the U.S. in Iraq, which itself was just a drop in the bucket, given the $60 billion lost to waste and fraud in that particular morass of a war zone. And mind you, that’s just to start down a list of catastrophic “investments” in this country’s wars.

If you consider them in this fashion, don’t they start to seem like gigantic scam operations? Yet, as TomDispatch regular William Hartung often makes clear at this site, all of that’s just icing on the cake. The real zone of corruption doesn’t lie in Afghanistan or Iraq but in a five-sided building in Virginia, just across the Potomac River from Washington, D.C., where, as Hartung explains today, American taxpayer dollars disappear regularly into the coffers of various giant weapons-makers or into the pockets of their CEOs and top officials. War, it turns out, is the ultimate domestic scam and your tax dollars are its heart and soul. Worse yet, in a Washington endlessly riven by conflict, by the inability of more or less anyone to agree on anything, there is but one true bipartisan subject: the Pentagon. Into it, the representatives of both embattled parties couldn’t be happier or more eager to pour yet more money.

In normal terms, 16 years later, the war on terror should be seen as a disaster, but as Hartung explains, in terms of funding the Pentagon (and the crew of warrior corporations that are its heart and soul), it has been a sterling financial success story from 9/12 on. ~ Tom

The Scandal of Pentagon Spending
Your Tax Dollars Support Troops of Defense Contractor CEOs
By William D. Hartung

Here’s a question for you: How do you spell boondoggle?

The answer (in case you didn’t already know): P-e-n-t-a-g-o-n.

Hawks on Capitol Hill and in the U.S. military routinely justify increases in the Defense Department’s already munificent budget by arguing that yet more money is needed to “support the troops.” If you’re already nodding in agreement, let me explain just where a huge chunk of the Pentagon budget — hundreds of billions of dollars — really goes. Keep in mind that it’s your money we’re talking about.

The answer couldn’t be more straightforward: it goes directly to private corporations and much of it is then wasted on useless overhead, fat executive salaries, and startling (yet commonplace) cost overruns on weapons systems and other military hardware that, in the end, won’t even perform as promised. Too often the result isweapons that aren’t needed at prices we can’t afford. If anyone truly wanted to help the troops, loosening the corporate grip on the Pentagon budget would be an excellent place to start.

The numbers are staggering. In fiscal year 2016, the Pentagon issued $304 billion in contract awards to corporations — nearly half of the department’s $600 billion-plus budget for that year. And keep in mind that not all contractors are created equal. According to the Federal Procurement Data System’s top 100 contractors report for 2016, the biggest beneficiaries by a country mile were Lockheed Martin ($36.2 billion), Boeing ($24.3 billion), Raytheon ($12.8 billion), General Dynamics ($12.7 billion), and Northrop Grumman ($10.7 billion). Together, these five firms gobbled up nearly $100 billion of your tax dollars, about one-third of all the Pentagon’s contract awards in 2016.

And remember: the Pentagon buys more than just weapons. Health care companies like Humana ($3.6 billion), United Health Group ($2.9 billion), and Health Net ($2.6 billion) cash in as well, and they’re joined by, among others, pharmaceutical companies like McKesson ($2.7 billion) and universities deeply involved in military-industrial complex research like MIT ($1 billion) and Johns Hopkins ($902 million).

The real question is: How much of this money actually promotes the defense of the country and how much is essentially a subsidy to weapons makers and other corporations more focused on their bottom lines than giving the taxpayers value for their money?

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