People can’t stop robbing the army – and it’s fueling violence

A recent criminal case shows how simple it is to get away with a small truck loaded with armed forces weapons – weapons that have too often ended up in the wrong hands.

On a quiet Wednesday in June, a man walked into the 215,000-acre central Texas military base known as Fort Hood armed with a pair of bolt cutters. He had already foreseen which cache of equipment was the most vulnerable and quietly headed for the hiding place.

One by one, the padlocks fell from the jaws of the bolt cutters, until he gazed at 17 open equipment containers. Then he called a friend, who drove to Fort Hood and straight to the loot. In front of them were several sets of laser rangefinders, 58 high-tech thermal goggles, four night vision goggles, 12 pairs of night vision goggles and several laser sighting devices. They loaded the equipment into the second man’s car, then split off from the base. The next day, the driver traveled four hours south to the town of Corpus Christi, where he met Nathan Nichols, a local business owner with a penchant for operating illegal slot machines.

Three months earlier, Nichols had become the kingpin of Fort Hood’s military materiel theft scheme, which promised to pay handsomely if the pair could deliver state-of-the-art riflescopes in particular. It looked like a layup for the duo, a former US Army soldier and a current civilian contractor who both had clearance to Fort Hood. All they had to do was destroy papers after stealing the merchandise.

In the end, Nichols paid the ex-soldier an undisclosed amount for the gear and then began listing his wares on eBay. In July, about a month after sales began, authorities raided Nichols’ home and found the stash of unsold material. In total, the Army valued the equipment at nearly $2.2 million — and Nichols will have to pay it all back as part of his guilty plea, which took place on March 21.

The December indictment, while lacking many details (Nichols’ co-conspirators are yet to be named), shows how simple it was for the trio to almost get away with stealing a small truck of high-end weapon accessories. Nichols was not a smart criminal with deep ties to the military. He was just a guy who owned two blue-collar drinking places and had extra money to do something a little risky. Both military provided the perfect outlet, especially given the lust for night vision and thermal optics in the world of gun obsessives, military LARPs, and paranoid doomsday planners.

This is not the first time that important military equipment has been stolen directly from bases; the past decade is littered with examples of military personnel, veterans, and civilian contractors using guns, bombs, and technology without sounding the alarm. These insiders, who experts say often work in the lower ranks of the hierarchy, are particularly adept at spotting weaknesses and easy money-making opportunities, especially given the bureaucratic mess around documenting the company. ‘inventory. A 2021 Associated Press survey estimated that at least 1,900 firearms have been stolen from the military in the past decade – a figure he notes is “almost certainly” an undercount and does not include the various types of equipment other than weapons firearms, such as Nichols’ rifle scopes and sights, which disappear from hundreds of military sites across the country each year.

In the spring of 2018, a veteran and an active duty Army soldier who were best friends collaborated to steal some $180,000 worth of firearms and explosives from Fort Bragg in North Carolina. The latter worked in the armory, which gave him direct access to equipment and paperwork. Over the summer, the duo brought in a third veteran, a former combat engineer who went by the name “Mr. Anderson” and acted as a liaison with potential buyers of the stolen equipment. The trio were caught up in an undercover operation in November and eventually revealed a string of previous thefts that went unreported.

In 2016, a group of soldiers and civilian contractors were indicted for stealing gun parts, high-tech optics, body armor, combat helmets and more, which they hidden in several warehouses and then sold to buyers in 11 countries. In 2015, a former army reservist stole 16 firearms from a Worcester military arsenal, some of which continued to float and were used in crimes even after the case was prosecuted. Also in 2015, a US military contractor stole generators, a truck and other items from a base in Kandahar, Afghanistan, using his security clearance to forge documents and help transport stolen goods to unknown buyers in the area.

There are other examples, including many petty thefts that demonstrate how easy it is for the average person to mess with the military-industrial complex, as long as they have some authority within the system. Nor is it a contemporary revelation for American military leaders; experts have warned of systemic thefts since the aftermath of the Vietnam War, when the nascent far-right militia movement began courting disillusioned veterans and used them to steal arms and ammunition off sites military.

Even in 1991, the federal government was very aware of the problem. This allowed the FBI to conduct a sting dubbed Operation Punchout, setting up a military surplus store as a secret front for purchasing stolen equipment. The investigation revealed that, in the vast majority of cases, the culprit was a member of the military or a contractor who worked on the base from which he had flown. And the problem is not just the principle of stolen goods as an indicator of the breakdown of bureaucracy and security in the armed forces – it is also literally a matter of public safety. The AP stolen weapons investigation revealed that some weapons had been used in civilian shootingsthe military not even knowing the guns were missing in the first place, and there is also evidence that stolen military firearms continue to be sold to gangs in California.

Then there’s the link to far-right extremism, because experts like Kathleen Belew, author of Bring the War Home: The White Power Movement and Paramilitary Americato have observed that the violent far right continues to target the military and their equipment as the key to their strength and growth today. In an infamous 2013 case, former Minnesota National Guardsman Keith Michael Novak stole the IDs, security clearances, and Social Security numbers of some 400 of his peers at Fort Bragg, Wash. intention to create fake IDs for his own local militia. He also stole several body armor and planned to bury caches of stolen equipment over time, prosecutors said.

As white nationalist and militia involvement continues to persist in the armed forces today, it is almost certain that violent right-wing groups are considering ways to leverage military interest and gain a deadly advantage. in guns and gear, especially with fast-paced plots and talk of what’s next. civil war.

The U.S. military, for its part, has publicly argued that stolen losses are a drop in the ocean compared to the overall volume of stockpiles used every day. He highlighted improvements such as the long-awaited digitization of the military’s lost and found equipment system. But like the PA reported in 2021, military investigators always Regularly closing missing weapon crates without finding the equipment or the person responsible. And there is no sign that this will change anytime soon, even with the piecemeal reforms announced last year.

Think of it as the consequence of the largest military-industrial complex in the world, fueled by the largest defense budget in human history. It’s no wonder that in uncertain times, some desperate people seek out every advantage and advantage they can exploit, whether it’s just for personal wealth or for the empowerment of something bigger and more. dark.

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