SIGAR: Roadside anti-IED devices never installed, increased risk to troops, asks Gen. Allen for "immediate" action

In a major fraud allegation made public on Thursday, the independent watchdog for Afghanistan war spending claimed it had discovered that Afghan contractors did not install or properly install potentially life-saving devices intended to prevent the use of roadside improvised explosive devices (IEDs).

The devices in question are on a “major highway” in Afganistan, but the office did not provide additional details immediately.

In a letter dated October 10, John Sopko, special inspector general for Afghanistan reconstruction (SIGAR), told war commander Gen. John Allen and Central Command’s Gen. Jim Mattis that there was now an “increased risk of IED attack against U.S. forces resulting from the missing or defective culvert denial systems.” As a result, Sopko said, “we are providing this information to you for immediate action and dissemination to all relevant personnel.”

The devices in question are called “culvert denial systems” and are used to keep people from entering culverts, or storm drains and channels that tunnel beneath roads.

“We have identified potentially significant contract fraud in the installation and inspection of culvert denial systems designed to prevent access to roadway culverts by insurgents,” Sopko wrote. “Through our preliminary investigative work, we estimate that a large number of culvert denial systems might have been falsely reported by Afghan contractors as complete when, in fact, the denial systems were not installed or were installed in a defective manner, rendering them ineffective and susceptible to compromise by insurgents seeking to emplace IEDs.”

Sopko became the new SIGAR in July and has pledged to step up both full investigations and other smaller tools of his trade, like partnering with prosecutors earlier, as the U.S. tries to ensure that civilian projects endure as the military draws down.

UPDATE: The E-Ring has learned that the SIGAR investigation officially began in August after a tip from inside the military. A SIGAR official who was not authorized to name the contractor in question because the criminal investigation is ongoing said the contract in question is a $361,680 award from February 2011 to provide about 125 of the culvert denial systems, which the official described as “basically metal grates.”

“It’s pretty rare,” the official said, to put out a public safety alert in mid-investigation, especially during a criminal investigation before issuing any indictments, underscoring the seriousness of the allegations and concern for troop safety.

SIGAR is leading the ongoing investigation along with some members the International Contract Corruption Task Force (ICCTF). That group includes the FBI, Defense Criminal Investigative Service, Army CID Major Procurement Fraud Unit, the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, the Air Force Office of Special Investigations, the inspector general offices of the State Department, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Office of the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

UPDATE: A Pentagon spokesman on Thursday provided the following statment from ISAF, in Kabul, indicating that a U.S. military officer first alerted the SIGAR to the issue as well as the chain of command. But amid the ongoing investigation, ISAF offers no clarity as to how commanders have responded to address the immediate security risk the SIGAR alleges exists with its letter made public this week.

ISAF's statement: "US Forces Afghanistan, which has contracting oversight, has received an advanced draft (unsigned) letter from SIGAR on this subject. However, because this remains an ongoing investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. It's important to remember that this action is ultimately the result of the U.S. Navy contract oversight officer who first reported the irregularities. He reported the irregularities up through the chain of command to the local SIGAR official who is a member of the Interagency Contract Corruption Task Force (ICCTF). SIGAR's information is presumably derived from membership in this collaborative task force. All members of this task force are committed to ensuring that the American tax payers' money is spent responsibly."