Coauthored with Tasha Sabino and Liz Ullman
In a complicated, twisted tale of alleged corruption and betrayal over budgetary wars, a presumed cover-up simmers at a colossal scale between the Army and the National Guard. Soldiers are the exploited pawns in the largest politically motivated fraud investigation ever conducted by a military component against its own forces. This may sound like suspenseful fiction, but as many National Guardsmen and women can attest, this is all too real. An estimated 24,000 National Guard soldiers have been caught in the dragnet, which all stems from a successful military-enlistment recruiting program that financially compensated citizen-soldiers who aided in efforts to boost military strength. Documents and public records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act along with credible sources points to a disturbing persecution of soldiers and veterans as well as the batch processing of mass indictments.
At a time when US forces were scattered among Iraq, Kuwait and Afghanistan, the overall end strength numbers were low. Army National Guard Director, Lt. General Clyde A. Vaughn (ret), and his staff had an idea to resupply the branches with fresh bodies--make anyone a potential recruiter by offering a financial incentive of $2,000.00 for each successful enlistment. Vaughn deeply felt that a peer-enlistment program might ease the hemorrhaging of a nationwide manpower shortage. And he was correct. The program, dubbed G-RAP (Guard Recruiting Assistance Program), ran from 2005-2012 and was an enormous success, as it replenished the ranks. Other branches of the military ultimately mirrored that recruiting program, but none to the magnitude of the NGB (National Guard Bureau). And none of them received the amount of government money that the Guard received to achieve this success.
Though G-RAP stood as a great achievement in strengthening the reserve forces, by 2012, all RAPs (Recruiting Assistance Programs) were suspended indefinitely, primarily due to media publicity of widespread fraud. NGB took the most heat, consistently projected as having lost upwards of $100 million. The truth, however, has been largely obscured. After four years of costly investigations, only $2 to 3 million "has been successfully prosecuted in civil courts." But what is more disconcerting is that NGB, routinely criticized for its lack of oversight, no longer had the supervision in their control. Based on a previously unpublished Army Inspector General Report, a closed door meeting took place in May 2007 where it was decided by an ad hoc committee comprised of representatives from Army Criminal Investigation Division (CID), Defense Criminal Investigation Service (DCIS) and the Air Force Office of Special Bureau (AFSOI) "that Docupak would turn over any suspected occurrences of fraud directly to CID," and that NGB, specifically the State Adjutants General (TAG), would be deliberately left out of the information loop. The rationale given at the time was that the DCIS did not want interference from high-ranking Guard officials.
There is evidence, however, that some the TAGs were successfully handling all reported incidents of fraud internally in their own states up until that point with detection and prevention controls. It was not until these controls were halted in the May 2007 meeting that the Guard lost the ability to monitor, discipline and correct such incidents of fraud. Perplexingly, all of this was done without the Guard's knowledge. In a recent interview in the Washington Times, General Vaughn reported that "he was kept in the dark" about the occurrence of fraud in the field and that CID purposely did not inform him about fraud cases. "No one can correct a problem if you do not know it exists," stated Vaughn.
The CID did not have any prerogative to make such changes to regulation, as it would require a Congressional act; yet, in 2009 (and again in 2014), changes were made to the CID Manual that removed the language to report crimes through the TAG. But simply changing the manual did not mean it was constitutional to do so under the sovereign rights of each state and US territories. What's more, there has been discussion in legal circles as to whether or not CID is operating outside its jurisdiction in the investigation of National Guard members. According to the Constitution as well as Department of Defense Directives (DoDD) 5105.77, the NGB is under the direct command of the state TAG and ultimately the governor unless a battalion has been mobilized for federal duty, at which point they then fall under Title 10 (active duty status) and the command of the President. The majority of those indicted are known as "M-day soldiers." In other words, they are "weekend warriors" working for the Guard once a month and two weeks a year in official drill status (aka, Title 32). If an individual under Title 32 were to come under some criminal deed, it is the role of the TAG to take action. In fact, the TAGs have guidance on enforcing discipline and protecting soldier's rights as it is articulated in the 2015 Commander's Legal Handbook. The CID, as a faction of the big Army, only has command over Title 10 soldiers; it does not, to this day, have any authority over most members of the National Guard in these investigations, save a select few individuals who were deployed on active duty while participating in G-RAP.
This then raises the question, why is the regular Army harassing National Guard soldiers and violating their constitutional rights in the first place? Most of the soldiers under suspicion for theft of government property are not subject to regular Army discipline. Before that question can be answered, there is another piece of the puzzle to be scrutinized--the alarming results of CID's investigations.
The U.S. Army Audit Agency had concern regarding the potential of individual fraud within RAPs. After reviewing over 150,000 enlistments ($339 million in payments), the June 2012 Audit identified 3,200 soldiers in the fraud-risk assessment. They found 1,256 recruiters suspicious of medium to high risk for fraud. Additionally, there were 2,022 RAs that "potentially violated program rules." Of those RAs, only a quarter of them were found to be intentional acts. The remaining 1,400 recruiting assistants appeared to have unknowingly and unintentionally violated the rules of G-RAP, which is entirely plausible considering there were 60 changes to G-RAP rules during its seven years in existence .
This report fueled an investigation of another style from the Senate Subcommittee on Financial and Contracting Oversight. Despite the Audit's fraud findings, the Army CID quickly dispatched approximately 200 field investigators under "Task Force Raptor" to scrutinize all 106,364 individuals who participated in G-RAP for any possibility of fraud. Senator Claire M. McCaskill (D, MO) set a directive that CID should flood the nation's landscape and courageously return ill-gotten dollars to the American taxpayers. CID agents were encouraged to flash badges, obtain DNA swabs, issue polygraph tests and secure fingerprints in an effort to scare soldiers into revealing any useful material that could be later used against them. One former CID agent admitted that they were urged to lie to potential witnesses and persons-of-interest if usable information could be extracted. They were then instructed to report the numbers of potential indictments back to Senator McCaskill's office on a quarterly basis, ostensibly to ensure they were meeting her demands of accountability. But a federal indictment of fraud is a crime requiring specific intent. In other words, conviction relies on the government's ability prove the individual knew of the specific rules and guidelines and intentionally broke them for monetary enrichment.
Nevertheless, CID's report prepared for the February 2014 Senate Subcommittee hearing led by Senator McCaskill found over 22,000 soldiers associated with payments that were at risk for fraud. This number is over seven times greater than the original Army Audit estimation at a rate of 1.7-3%. The FBI estimates that insurance fraud--one of the highest areas of civilian fraud--is at a rate of 3-10% of all insurance cases. Conversely, CID is now suggesting that those who proudly wear the uniform are felons at a rate of over 20%. Put differently, 1 in 5 soldiers are alleged criminals, 2 to 7 times more likely to commit fraud than the civilian population. This is clear evidence that these claims are audacious.
How is it possible that so many service members are accused of fraud? How is it that the CID investigations found an additional 18,000-20,000 offenders from the Audit's estimation? Is it possible that this is a witch-hunt? This fishing expedition turned into a conspiracy theory as Sen. McCaskill stated, "I mean, it is almost like word got out and nobody was paying attention, and all of a sudden everybody was, okay, the bank is open. Let us go for it." The moderate democrat further opined, "I mean there is no way that there was not a culture of people saying, hey, here is the deal. There is a bounty and we know these people are signing up." But rather than a vast number of soldiers intentionally scamming the government they swore to protect, a much more plausible answer would be that most all were following a set of murky rules as they understood them.
Senator McCaskill's supposed effort directed to bring about justice for the American people instead turned into a catastrophe where the wrath eventually rolled downhill to the most vulnerable of peoples, our service members. Let off the hook were Docupak and military Brass who were responsible for the proper administration and oversight of G-RAP. One possible explanation for the morass is a skirmish over federal defense dollars when the Guard received the lion share of contract monies to operate G-RAP. Or perhaps it is something as simple as an attempt to justify the military drawdown of troops currently underway. This time, the scapegoat would be the American soldier, more specifically National Guardsman, as McCaskill's goons sought to manufacture felons. Unfortunately, those are the casualties of politics, but these service members deserve more. They deserve answers and accountability from our leaders.