DLA data errors let tech gear out

Problems with the Defense Department's system for tracking excess military equipment have resulted in the inadvertent sale to the public of electronic components containing classified and highly sensitive technologies, according to a report released last week by the General Accounting Office.

Between 1995 and 1997, the Defense Reutilization and Marketing Service (DRMS) unwittingly sold 881 items to the public that were related to electronic warfare systems, secure communications equipment, radar circuit cards, and encoding and decoding equipment, GAO said.

Defense Logistics Agency officials said they have no information on how the buyers of the equipment may be using the parts, and determining what systems the parts actually belonged to "would require extensive research."

The military services and the DLA are responsible for determining what parts under their management are excess. The extra parts are then sent to one of 154 worldwide DRMS locations for reuse throughout DOD or resale to the public.

The military services, however, have been assigning incorrect demilitarization codes to sensitive items before they enter the DRMS resale program, allowing items containing military technology to be sold to the public, the report said. In fact, DRMS provided GAO with a list of 1,684 items that it identified as having been miscoded.

"DOD Has Lost Control"

One of the items incorrectly made available for sale to the public at a DRMS office in Germany was a piece of communications equipment that contained technology used in "special military satellite communications," according to GAO. The demilitarization code was corrected before the part could be sold.

"DOD has lost control over how this stuff is getting out," said Stuart Dunnett, audit project manager for DOD's inspector general and author of a 1997 report outlining problems with DOD's control of excess equipment. "It is possible for things to slip through the cracks. I'm sure [equipment related to information warfare] has gotten out."

Roger Tomlinson, one of the contributors to the GAO report, said DOD has miscoded parts for years. "What we were trying to show is that DOD has identified this as a problem in the past but that it is still a problem today," Tomlinson said. In addition, Customs Service officials many times have intercepted individuals attempting to smuggle sensitive equipment out of the country, Tomlinson said.

In their official response to the report, DLA officials said DRMS internal data systems now have the capability to conduct real-time updates whenever demilitarization codes are found to be incorrect.

In addition, a DOD Center of Excellence will be established to assist the military services in developing clear demilitarization plans and guidelines, and it will provide access to this information via the Internet, DLA officials said.

"It is clear from what we've seen regarding technology transfer to China [by a defense contractor] that the best intentions do not always get you where you need to be" in terms of keeping tabs on sensitive technology, said Chris Hellman, senior analyst with the Center for Defense Information, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.

However, "DOD has a very poor understanding of what it is that they own, and information technology is particularly troublesome" in this respect, Hellman said. "I think there are a lot of people in the Pentagon who are acutely concerned about" the unintended transfer of sensitive information technology.

Roger W. Kallock, deputy undersecretary of Defense for logistics, said DOD concurred with the report, but that it does "not fully reflect the progress DOD continues to make in these areas."

In addition, Kallock said the department is taking action to establish milestones for completing a DOD imaging system that will provide military members with guidance on how to properly destroy military technology.

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