Wednesday, October 15, 2014
One would think that if more than a billion stolen dollars intended to help post-war Iraq could be retrieved, the U.S. government would pursue a good lead that came along. But successive presidential administrations have chosen not to investigate this matter.
Following the U.S. invasion in 2003, the George W. Bush administration shipped $12 billion to $14 million in $100 bills from Iraqi government accounts in the United States to Iraq to help stabilize its economy and aid in the war recovery effort. Another $5 billion was sent by electronic transfer. Between $1.2 billion and $1.6 billion of this money vanished.
It became the mission of Stuart W. Bowen Jr., a Texas friend of Bush’s who was appointed special inspector general charged with rooting out corruption and waste in Iraq, to find out where the funds went. Bowen tried for years to find what happened to the missing cash, but neither the Bush administration nor Barack Obama’s team was very interested. Then in 2010, Bowen got a tip that the cash had been shipped to Lebanon and hidden in a bunker. Bowen told James Risen of The New York Times that he had shared the information with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Central Intelligence Agency, but neither agency pursued the case.
“I don’t know how the money got to Lebanon,” Bowen told Risen. “If I knew that, we would have made more progress on the case,” which his office code-named Brick Tracker.
“In this investigation, we thought we were on the track for some of that lost money. It’s disappointing to me personally that we were unable to close this case, for reasons beyond our control,” he added, saying the U.S. may not have wanted to push the issue of getting the money back because it was “stolen by Iraqis.”
Bowen attempted to go to Lebanon to confirm the presence of the money, but was forbidden to do so by his bosses. Staff members did go, but the U.S. Embassy in Beirut wouldn’t allow them to travel to the bunker, saying it was too dangerous. Bowen says the money might have been moved out of the bunker by now.
Paul Bremer, who was in charge of the Coalition Provisional Authority that governed Iraq after Saddam Hussein was overthrown, defended the money shipments and his agency’s handling of them. “Civil servants had not been paid for about three months. We had to get funds there right away,” he told the Times. “The issue is what happened to the money once it was distributed through the minister of finance,” he said. “We had a very clear record of funds going to the Iraqi system.”
-Noel Brinkerhoff, Steve Straehley
To Learn More:
Investigation Into Missing Iraqi Cash Ended in Lebanon Bunker (by James Risen, New York Times)
Billions Set Aside for Post-Saddam Iraq Turned Up in Lebanese Bunker (by Rory Carroll, The Guardian)
Inspector General’s Final Iraq Report Says at least $8 Billion Wasted in Reconstruction Spending (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)
$6.6 Billion of Taxpayer Money Vanished in Iraq (by Noel Brinkerhoff, AllGov)