Thefts Could Aid Extremists, Senate Panel Says : Military Supply Deficiencies Criticized

Times Staff Writer

Serious deficiencies in the military's vast supply system "adversely affect national security and ultimately constitute a threat to the public," a Senate Armed Services Committee task force concluded Wednesday after a yearlong study.

The five-member panel, headed by Sen. Pete Wilson (R-Calif.), said that supply system flaws "probably cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually." It recommended that the Pentagon take "decisive action" to correct long-standing problems and said that legislation is being prepared to spur reforms in management of the $160-billion system.

Military Readiness Cited

"Loss, theft or diversion of supply inventories that would be sorely needed in the event of a national emergency degrades the readiness of U.S. armed forces," the task force said in a report to Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.), chairman of the Armed Services Committee.

"Moreover, if diverted supply items are sold on the international arms market, they may be ultimately enhancing the military capabilities of potential adversaries," the panel's final report said. "Domestically, we are very concerned that extremist groups are regularly associated with a desire to obtain military ammunition and explosives, which may become available to these groups because of inventory system deficiencies."

Wilson, at a news conference, cited the case of the White Patriots Party, which he described as a "real sicko group" in North Carolina whose leaders were accused of purchasing a large quantity of ammunition and explosives stolen from military depots, including 13 anti-tank rockets, 200 pounds of high explosives and 10 Claymore mines.

Market for Stolen Arms

"The circumstances surrounding the White Patriots Party case, and other extremist groups, suggest there is an active market for stolen military munitions," the report said.

Wilson said that the primary reason for supply system problems is "insufficient command emphasis on sound business practices at all levels of the chain of command. Leadership has not ensured that adequate personnel and resources are reserved for logistics functions. Commands have not ensured that proper practices and procedures are followed."

He said that, although the Defense Department and military services have taken corrective steps, "the root causes remain unsolved."

The task force recommended increased command attention to proper management and inventory control, enhanced physical security at military installations, including increased random inspections of vehicles leaving bases, and stepped-up law enforcement activities such as a successful undercover "sting" operation conducted several years ago at Camp Pendleton.

Combat Equipment Stolen

Wilson said that Operation Ripstop discovered that an estimated $1 million a year in combat equipment was being stolen from the Southern California Marine base. It led to the convictions of 134 surplus dealers and Marines.

"Sting operations should be encouraged and, where appropriate, be used as an effective means of catching thieves and reducing the markets where stolen military property is fenced," the task force said.

Wilson said he is drafting legislation aimed at improving inventory controls to prevent supply system thefts and increasing law enforcement efforts to remove the market where stolen military property is resold.

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