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How Did Sensitive Military Equipment End Up On The Internet As ‘Bird-Watching’ Gear?

Some of the highly classified equipment from a $750 million Pentagon counter improvised bomb program, emphatically not for civilian use, has since ended up for sale on websites like eBay and Craigslist.

According to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) documents obtained by The Intercept, some hardware that was first reported missing in 2009 has been discovered, often being bargained for and discussed on forums around the Internet.

In website listings, thermal optic imaging and night vision devices have been reclassified as sporting goods and sometimes even called, no joke, “bird-watching gear.” An eBay listing from early December 2014 shows the OASYS-BAE Systems Universal Thermal Monocular prominently displayed for $6,000 dollars.

The equipment is controlled under the International Traffic in Arms Regulations.

Under the program, funded by the Joint Improvised Explosive Device Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), 32,000 pieces of equipment were issued in total to try and neutralize improvised explosive devices (IEDs) as a successful strategy. JIEDDO has had a checkered history. It was originally established in February 2006.

A report from the Government Accountability Office in 2012 found that while the organization has spent $18 billion dollars, it did not have anything close to a set of “actionable goals and objectives.” The Pentagon recently announced that JIEDDO will gradually be scaled back. Personnel will be cut and the organization will receive a new name. However, the extent of the cuts is not yet known. Currently, JIEDDO relies on a staff of around 400 military and civilian personnel, as well as 700 contractors.

IEDs continue to be the leading cause of military casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan. For instance, from 2009-2011, 59 percent of the total number of deaths were attributable to IEDs. According to a White House policy statement in 2013, “Improvised explosive devices (IEDs) remain one of the most accessible weapons available to terrorists and criminals to damage critical infrastructure and inflict casualties.”

Since becoming aware of the vanishing equipment, the FBI and NCIS have opened up an investigation, placing the blame on military units, who first issued the gear, having “poor accountability controls.” Only some of the items have been successfully recaptured.

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