GAO: ‘Unclear’ if Pentagon Tracking Reports of Misused Aid in Ukraine

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This story originally was published by Real Clear Wire

By Philip Wegmann
Real Clear Wire

While the Pentagon has assured Congress that no U.S. military equipment sent to Ukraine has been diverted, stolen, or otherwise misappropriated, a new report from the Government Accountability Office could not determine if the Department of Defense was tracking allegations of misuse two years into the conflict.

“If you never look, you will never find it,” a source familiar with how the report was compiled said of the worst-case possibility that aid was being misappropriated.

The report comes as President Biden struggles to keep the supply lines open to Ukraine. Although a majority of Congress supports sending further aid to help hold back the Russian onslaught, and the Senate passed a bipartisan aid package late last month, House Republicans have yet to approve the latest round of now-stalled military assistance.

The United States remains the leading supplier of munitions and other aid to Ukraine, providing more than $42 billion in assistance since Russia’s invasion. Much of it has come through the Presidential Drawdown Authority, which allows the president to transfer equipment from American stores directly to allies. The annual amount was limited by law to $100 million a year until Congress lifted the cap to $14.5 billion.

The sheer tonnage of supplies and the speed of its shipment, according to the GAO report, has left the Pentagon without “quality data” to assess its delivery. Ensuring munitions and materiel arrive in the right hands has led to unprecedented challenges on top of the existing chaos of war. Most officials were evacuated from Ukraine long ago, for instance, and those who remain are restricted from leaving Kyiv to ensure delivery of shipments before it is used or destroyed on the battlefield.

Department of Defense officials, however, maintain that they and their Ukrainian allies are up to the challenge. “We think the Ukrainians are using properly what they’ve been given,” Colin Kahl, formerly the Pentagon’s top policy official, told Congress over a year ago, assuring lawmakers that the DoD conducts regular audits and “we are laser-focused on this issue.”

Though a nascent democracy, Ukraine has a history of corruption. Mismanagement or graft could threaten future aid, a message that has been relayed from the White House to President Volodymyr Zelensky directly.

“Still no indication that there’s been any kind of widespread corruption or inappropriate use of U.S. capabilities,” John Kirby, a national security communications adviser to President Biden, told RealClearPolitics last October. As America reprises its role as an arsenal of democracy, the spokesman described a “hand-to-mouth” scenario where munitions are used as soon as they arrive.

“It’s a matter of days before some stuff gets there,” Kirby continued, “and then a matter of days more before it is being used on the battlefield.”

That kind of haste could very well make waste, or what the GAO report described as “end-use violations involving defense articles provided to the country.” It is precisely because so much has been provided so quickly that the nonpartisan government watchdog sees risk.

According to the report, the Pentagon “is generally not tracking” the status of vehicles and armaments that make up the majority of supplies. More sensitive items, such as night vision capabilities and certain advanced missiles, are being monitored through updated procedures to account for their delivery into hostile environments. DoD officials often cooperate with their Ukrainian counterparts, the report found, via video calls, email, and text messages to ensure the receipt and status of those supplies.

Complicating matters further, there is no shared definition of “delivered” among the branches of the U.S. military. Army officials told GAO they considered materiel delivered once they left an “Army point of origin,” though they could be days or weeks in transit before arriving in the hands of Ukrainians. The Marine Corps, by contrast, only marked items delivered once they received email confirmation from DoD officials or their Ukrainian counterparts.

“The U.S. has provided a large volume of equipment in a very short period of time, and it is unclear whether DOD guidance and processes have been adjusted to accurately account for all of these items,” warned Chelsa Kenney, the director of international affairs at GAO.

More than just shipping delays and a logistical nightmare, the greater risk is the worst-case scenario: American hardware falling into the hands of an adversary.

The Pentagon tracked one allegation that U.S. supplies had been transferred to Russian forces, a story which, according to the report, DoD officials on the ground in nearby Poland deemed not credible and “consistent with Russian disinformation.”

And yet, the GAO found that the Defense Security Cooperation Agency, the DoD office responsible for such shipments, had “not consistently tracked” allegations of that possibility.

“While DOD officials said there had been no credible evidence of diversion of U.S.-provided advanced conventional weapons from Ukraine,” the report states, “it is unclear whether all allegations are being tracked.” The report also warned that without tracking those allegations, “DOD may face an increased risk of real or perceived defense article losses that can undermine Ukraine’s war efforts.”

For its part, per the GAO report, the DSCA stated the agency was “only responsible for tracking the allegations that it receives and is not required to proactively identify allegations. Further, officials from the Office of the Secretary of Defense said DSCA was not responsible for tracking unverifiable claims meant to discredit Ukraine’s weapons accountability efforts.”

The GAO included in their report eight separate recommended reforms, which the DoD consented to partly or entirely. In a letter from Laura Cooper, deputy assistant secretary of defense, that was included in the report, the DoD declined a recommendation to require which allegations of misuse should be recorded and tracked. According to Cooper, the DoD already has sufficient regulations in place.

This will do little to pacify Republicans eager to rein in the war funding.

“The Biden administration has spent two years deceiving the American people, claiming they’ve closely tracked the military material we’ve sent to Ukraine. The GAO’s report not only proves them wrong, it references allegations that U.S. military equipment ended up in the hands of Russian military forces,” Sen. JD Vance, an Ohio Republican and former U.S. Marine, told RCP.

“This is a major problem. I plan to immediately introduce legislation to hold the Biden administration accountable for these errors,” Vance added.

This article was originally published by RealClearPolitics and made available via RealClearWire.

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