U.S. Military Contractors Involved In Sex Trafficking, Smuggling On Iraq Base: Report

Illustration for article titled U.S. Military Contractors Involved In Sex Trafficking, Smuggling On Iraq Base: Report

Employees involved in an internal investigation of a U.S. contractor in Iraq found evidence that employees for the company, Sallyport Global, were involved in sex trafficking and “routinely flew in smuggled alcohol” to its base, according to an explosive report from The Associated Press. In one instance, a plane reportedly seesawed on a tarmac due to the huge amount of booze it was carrying.

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But “Sallyport regularly shut down their probes,” the AP reports, “and failed to report their findings to the U.S. government that was footing the bill.”

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The AP’s report describes a chaotic working environment for Robert Cole and Kristie King, the two investigators who, just two months ago, found themselves “surrounded by armed guards, disarmed, detained against their will — and fired without explanation.” The pair was working for Sallyport, which the AP says has received nearly $700 million in contracts to secure an Iraq base that’s integral to the U.S.-aided effort to fight the ISIS.

The company told the AP that it abides by contracting rules and it take “any suggestion of wrongdoing” seriously.

The news agency obtained more than 150 documents and interviewed more than a half-dozen former and current employees, and found the contractor “ran amok after being hired for lucrative and essential combat support operations.”

Here’s one snippet:

According to investigative documents and people who watched the smuggling in action, three empty suitcases would routinely be loaded onto a flight to Baghdad. Each time, the bags came back with plastic water bottles filled with liquor. When they were unloaded, the bags were not searched but taken directly outside to be picked up — a serious security risk in a war zone.

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Once, [Steve Anderson, who worked on flight logistics, said] he watched a plane that was being unloaded tip nose-forward on its wheels onto the tarmac because it was so overloaded.

“I could hear the people inside the aircraft yelling. I never seen anything like that in my entire life,” he recalled. “It was like a seesaw.”

Then out came the telltale bags that he watched get shepherded around security.

I don’t want to give away too much, but there was also an instance of a bunch of local jamokes just straight up taking out a bunch of massive generators while guards watched. Head over to the AP and check out the entire wild read here.

Senior Reporter, Jalopnik/Special Projects Desk

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The notable bits (emphasis mine):

The first security breach came in less than 24 hours: A long black skid mark on the tarmac was reported. It stopped about 45 yards from the nose of one of the fighter jets. A truck had plowed through a rope barrier in the “no-go” zone, where lethal force is authorized to protect the planes. For more than 10 minutes, no one even responded as the vehicle drove away, according to reports citing surveillance video.

That turned out not to be a terrorist. But Cole says the out-of-control truck was a harbinger. He noted the lax protection for the F-16s in his report and forwarded it to the chief of security, Steve Asher. Under the requirements of the contract, Cole’s report should have then made its way to the Pentagon. But he says Asher kept a lid on the incident.

Three months later, in October 2015, Cole reported another security breach, the theft of a Toyota SUV that Sallyport had assigned to bodyguards to drive VIPs around the base. Cole eventually uncovered a plot by three Iraqi Sallyport staff working with a dangerous Iran-backed militia, known as Kataib Imam Ali.

The Shiite militia was an ongoing headache, politically connected and operating outside the law, with sidelines in theft and gunrunning. It has ties to the leader of the umbrella militia Popular Mobilization Forces, which is on the U.S. list of designated terrorists.

To Cole’s astonishment, the prime suspect threatened to join the militia during his interrogation. He was a Sallyport bodyguard. In fact, the investigators later found a photo of him on his Facebook page, dressed in black militia garb and a patch indicating his allegiance to the group.

He is “viewed by the Investigations Unit as a hard-core recruit to become a terrorist who poses a serious threat to all personnel on this base,” Cole wrote in another report.

The Toyota was recovered within a few days, but Cole was ordered off the case. In an interview with AP, the former senior manager defended the company’s order, saying negotiations with the militias were highly sensitive and had to be handled with Iraqi cooperation. Still, the suspect was supposed to be banned from the base, and Cole later saw the man walking around freely.

Steve Anderson, who worked on flight logistics, says he was pressured to sign off on faked flight manifests that omitted passenger names and falsified the weight of cargo to cover for the alcohol smuggling and other infractions — a violation of international flight regulations. The planes were getting so weighed down he was worried about flight safety.

. . . .

When Anderson aired his concerns to management and refused to sign the falsified manifests, his boss said he didn’t want to hear about any more problems.

“He said, ‘If you don’t like the job that you’re doing maybe you ought to find somewhere else to work.’”

Anderson went on a medical leave and was told his position had been filled when he sought to return.

Rumors of the alcohol smuggling reached Cole and King separately. Informants told them that flight line staff, who directed airplanes on the runways and handled cargo, were showing up drunk. In one instance they had passed around a bowlful of gummy bears soaked in vodka .

The hotel had been running a prostitution ring, and Sallyport employees were among the customers, informants said. Four Ethiopian women who had worked as prostitutes at the hotel were later hired in housekeeping by Sallyport, and were still sending money back to a pimp in the al Burhan.

The evidence suggested, the investigators told the AP, that Sallyport managers had either knowingly or unwittingly abetted human trafficking involving vulnerable female immigrants in a war zone, a revelation the company would be required to report to the U.S. government under federal law.

. . . .

More than a year later, two of the Ethiopian women were still working on the base, Cole said, and the alcohol smuggling had started back up, according to a report obtained by AP dated May 28, 2016.

According to surveillance videos, just before 2 a.m., militia had driven two flatbed trucks and a crane onto the base, driving right past the security gate. Cole estimates the crane, when extended, was at least 60 feet tall. After successfully loading the three generators and partially covering them with burlap, the militia drove off the base unchallenged. The episode lasted three hours.

Cole said they passed within about ten feet of the Sallyport security guard force. “Nobody reported anything. It was a disaster and it was covered up. That is absolutely covered up,” he said. “What if the intent was not to steal but to commit a terrorist act?”

According to Sallyport’s Stuckart, the theft occurred when the Iraqi base commander “granted local militia members access to the base” and said the generators weren’t located in his company’s security zone. “Sallyport had no authority to keep these militia members from taking the generators.”

By then, clouds were looming for Cole and King. They had begun yet another investigation into timesheet fraud after getting a tip that Sallyport employees were systematically collecting salaries but not working.

They say the company stalled the investigation, ordered every step to be approved by its lawyers and finally told Cole and King in a conference call to keep two sets of books.

The implication for Cole was that they should omit from the government’s copy anything that would “be controversial and would reveal any failure or embarrassing detail.” The lawyers explained that that information was covered under attorney-client privilege. The two investigators, sitting together on the other end of the call, looked at each other in disbelief and shook their heads

. . . .

Cole and King said their termination paperwork was signed by the human resources manager they were investigating as part of the timesheet fraud.