Category - USA: Gun Violence

How These Stoner Kids Landed a $300 Million Pentagon Arms Contract

“Arms and the Dudes” exposes the sordid underbelly of the military’s weapons trade.

Mother Jobes, By Bryan Schatz, June 8

In early 2007, three stoner twentysomethings won a Defense Department contract to supply the Afghan military with $300 million worth of ammunition. “The dudes,” as they came to be known—a ninth-grade dropout, a masseur, and a low-level pot dealer, all with little or no experience but plenty of nerve—had begun bidding on Pentagon arms contracts and winning out over massive international conglomerates. The Afghan contract wasn’t their first, but it was by far their largest. They would have to source thousands of tons of mortar rounds, grenades, rockets, and 100 million rounds of AK-47 ammunition and deliver all of it to Kabul at a particularly fraught time for the Afghan war effort.
Arms and the Dudes publishes June 9.

To fill the order, though, the dudes secretly repackaged millions of rounds of decades-old, surplus Chinese ammo—illegal under the contract terms—before shipping them to Afghanistan. It was all going fine until they got caught by Pentagon investigators and wound up with their mugshots spread across the front page of the New York Times.

Their story is detailed in Guy Lawson’s new book, Arms and the Dudes, a wildly entertaining saga with dual narratives. The first involves blackmail, criminals, hustlers, corrupt government officials, and three kids in way over their heads. The other, and for Lawson more important, side of the story, concerns how the Pentagon came to use private contractors like the dudes as proxies—and eventual fall guys—to secure weapons from gray market arms dealers, the only people who could supply what it needed. I caught up with Lawson to talk about Pentagon contracting, weapons proliferation, and the act of “buying up guns and pouring them into conflict zones like it’s gonna solve the fucking problem.”

The Obama Arms Bazaar

Counterpunch, By William D. Hartung, April 3-5

With the end of the Obama presidency just around the corner, discussions of his administration’s foreign policy legacy are already well under way. But one central element of that policy has received little attention: the Obama administration’s dramatic acceleration of U.S. weapons exports.

The numbers are astonishing. In President Obama’s first five years in office, new agreements under the Pentagon’s Foreign Military Sales (FMS) program—the largest channel for U.S. arms exports—totaled over $169 billion. After adjusting for inflation, the volume of major deals concluded by the Obama administration in its first five years exceeds the amount approved by the Bush administration in its full eight years in office by nearly $30 billion. That also means that the Obama administration has approved more arms sales than any U.S. administration since World War II.
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America’s gun-toting guards armed with poor training, little oversight

Center for Investigative Reporting, By Shoshana Walter & Ryan Gabrielson, December 9

  • Lack of consistent regulation and training has put the public – and armed guards – at risk.
  • States have allowed people prohibited by law from owning a gun to work as armed guards.
  • The presence of an armed security guard increases the chance of violence in bank robberies, FBI data shows.
  • Armed guards can work in some states even with restraining orders and domestic violence convictions.
  • In 15 states, a person can become an armed guard without any firearms training.

Armed security guards have become a ubiquitous presence in modern life, projecting an image of safety amid public fears of mass shootings and terrorism. But often, it’s the guards themselves who pose the threat.

Across the U.S., a haphazard system of lax laws, minimal oversight and almost no accountability puts guns in the hands of guards who endanger public safety, a yearlong investigation by The Center for Investigative Reporting and CNN has found.

Men and women who have never fired a gun in their lives can set off on patrol in uniform, wearing a badge and carrying a loaded weapon, with only a few hours of training, if any. In 15 states, guards can openly carry guns on the job without any firearms training at all.

The results can be as tragic as they are predictable.

Near Atlanta, a former sheriff’s deputy accused of erratic and threatening behavior at his old job later gunned down an unarmed man at his new job – patrolling an apartment complex. In Arizona, an armed guard prohibited by law from possessing a gun shot a teenager who was helping shoplift food from a convenience store, paralyzing the teen from the waist down.

St Louis unrest after police killing of teenager

US police have clashed with protesters in Missouri after an officer shot dead a black teenager close to where another black youth, Michael Brown, was killed in August sparking national protests.

BBC, December 24

A crowd of about 100 gathered at the scene in St Louis early on Wednesday after scuffles the night before.

St Louis County police said the man who was shot had pulled a gun at a petrol station and pointed it at the officer.

For weeks there have been widespread protests over alleged police brutality.

Berkeley is about two miles from the suburb of Ferguson, where 18-year-old Michael Brown was shot dead by a white officer.


Police say teen shot dead near Ferguson had pointed a gun

Protests broke out after fatal shooting they said another example of young black men being targeted by white officers

Al Jazeera, December 24

Violent protests broke out again in suburban St. Louis after another fatal shooting of a black 18-year-old by a white police officer.

The shooting happened around 11:15 p.m. Tuesday at a convenience store in Berkeley, Missouri, just a few miles from Ferguson, where Michael Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old, was killed by a white officer in August.

St. Louis County Police Chief Jon Belmar says the Berkeley shooting victim was black and the officer white. Police say video evidence will show that the teenager had drawn a gun on officers before he was shot.

“I had the opportunity last evening to review the video of the incident, and what I saw is not what people portray,” Berkeley Mayor Theodore Hoskins said in a presser Wednesday, referring to claims by protesters that the incident was another in a series of racially-charged shootings of black men by white police officers. “This is not a policeman half-cocked, you know black lives matter — this was not the case (that) you could even compare this with the Ferguson or Garner case.”

The Police Are Still Out of Control

I should know.

Politico Magazine, By Frank Serpico, October 23

In the opening scene of the 1973 movie “Serpico,” I am shot in the face—or to be more accurate, the character of Frank Serpico, played by Al Pacino, is shot in the face. Even today it’s very difficult for me to watch those scenes, which depict in a very realistic and terrifying way what actually happened to me on Feb. 3, 1971. I had recently been transferred to the Narcotics division of the New York City Police Department, and we were moving in on a drug dealer on the fourth floor of a walk-up tenement in a Hispanic section of Brooklyn. The police officer backing me up instructed me (since I spoke Spanish) to just get the apartment door open “and leave the rest to us.”

One officer was standing to my left on the landing no more than eight feet away, with his gun drawn; the other officer was to my right rear on the stairwell, also with his gun drawn. When the door opened, I pushed my way in and snapped the chain. The suspect slammed the door closed on me, wedging in my head and right shoulder and arm. I couldn’t move, but I aimed my snub-nose Smith & Wesson revolver at the perp (the movie version unfortunately goes a little Hollywood here, and has Pacino struggling and failing to raise a much-larger 9-millimeter automatic). From behind me no help came. At that moment my anger got the better of me. I made the almost fatal mistake of taking my eye off the perp and screaming to the officer on my left: “What the hell you waiting for? Give me a hand!” I turned back to face a gun blast in my face. I had cocked my weapon and fired back at him almost in the same instant, probably as reflex action, striking him. (He was later captured.)

US school districts given free machine guns and grenade launchers

Calls to hand back weapons and gear, from M16 rifles to mine-proof vehicles, obtained under Pentagon scheme

AP, September 18

Los Angeles – School police departments across the US have taken advantage of free military surplus gear, stocking up on mine-resistant armoured vehicles, grenade launchers and scores of M16 rifles.

At least 26 school districts have participated in the Pentagon’s surplus program, which is not new but has come under scrutiny after police responded to protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, with teargas, armour-clad military trucks and riot gear.
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SWAT Teams Claim ‘Corporate’ Exemption From Public Scrutiny

ACLU hits brick wall after issuing public records requests for information about deadly force, incident reports, and more.

Common Dreams, By Sarah Lazare, June 27

Operators of Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) teams comprised of tax payer-funded police and sheriffs in Massachusetts claim they are immune to public records requests about deadly force, incident reports, and more because they are private “corporations.”

In addition to SWAT teams run by individual towns, many of these military-style domestic policing units are operated by regional “law enforcement councils,” which are bankrolled by tax-payer money and comprised of publicly-funded police and sheriffs. According to the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts, approximately 240 of the 351 police departments in Massachusetts belong to these LECs.

Some of these LECs have become incorporated with 501(c)(3) status—a classification they say makes them exempt from public records requests.

Jessie Rossman, staff attorney for the ACLU of Massachusetts, told Common Dreams that her organization issued records requests to “a couple of LECs” to obtain information about their policies for a recent report on the militarization of local police. “We got responses from individuals claiming to speak on behalf of the LECs saying they would not be responding because they do not believe they are subject to public records law,” she explained.

Unaccountable Mercenary SWAT teams… huh.

Looking clearly at right-wing terrorism

Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, By Charles P. Blair, June 9

Five years ago the US Department of Homeland Security’s Homeland Environment Threat Analysis Division released an assessment of US far-right extremism. Initially intended for law enforcement and intelligence agencies only, the report—“Rightwing Extremism: Current Economic and Political Climate Fueling Resurgence in Radicalization and Recruitment”—was almost immediately leaked.

The report warned that small cells practicing “leaderless resistance” and “white supremacist lone wolves [posed] the most significant domestic terrorist threat.” Significantly, it highlighted the likelihood of expanded attempts by far-right extremists “to recruit and radicalize returning veterans in order to boost their violent capabilities.” Overall, the report warned of trends similar to “the 1990s when rightwing extremism experienced a resurgence.” That far-right extremist rally reached a violent crescendo with the bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah federal building in Oklahoma City on April 19, 1995.

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