GAO: Online Auction Sleuths

There’s a hot secondary market for even “hotter” defense-related items. Forget the Defense Logistic Agency’s massive Government Liquidation auction Web site. And we’re not talking about Defense-sanctioned foreign military sales.

Welcome to the dark, duplicitous world of eBay and Craigslist. And say “Hello” to the clandestine side of the GAO.

From January 2007 through March 2008, GAO investigators went “undercover” and found these sites to be a hotbed of illegal — but profitable — activity. The title of its April 2008 report sums it up: “Undercover Purchases on eBay and Craigslist Reveal a Market for Sensitive and Stolen U.S. Military Items.” 

The GAO found controlled items such as F-14 components; nuclear, biological and chemical gear; body armor; and night vision goggles for sale. One item, an F-14 antenna, for example, is restricted for overseas sale. (We stopped selling F-14 parts to Iran in 2007.) It seems the antenna erroneously was sold through the Government Liquidation site before it made its debut on eBay.

While eBay and Craigslist were the subjects of the inquiry, the true challenge seems to be stopping the supply of these items. Sloppy work in disposal is one issue. A more difficult challenge lies with the suppliers: servicemembers who sell their ill-gotten goods. While not a threat to national security, stolen Meals-Ready-to-Eat (MREs) are a top eBay seller.

Our interest was piqued. MREs are, in fact, plentiful and available for $50 a case. A reader found a “Spec Ops Armor Vest” in Colorado Springs, Colo. Given the specific location, we can guess two things: the seller is possibly a soldier in 10th Special Forces Group and he’s not particularly bright. Another seller offered two tactical body armor vests complete with Kevlar inserts. None of these items is cleared for public sale.

While Iran might be watching for F-14 antennas, and terror elements could put that pair of night vision goggles to good use, these operations probably have better sources for the gear they need, maybe straight from the U.S. supply chain. The GAO might want to go undercover and study the conga line of gear out of warehouse door. 

Recent Posts