GAO concerned about DOD gear on eBay

Want to buy an antenna for an F-14 fighter jet? How about protective gear to guard wearers against exposure to nuclear, chemical or biological hazards?

Those items and more are often available through popular online secondhand stores that include eBay and Craigslist, according to the Government Accountability Office. In a study released today, GAO reported that much of the military gear available for sale was stolen from military bases or manufacturers and could be used by enemies of the United States.

Gregory Kutz, GAO's managing director of forensic audits and special investigations, released the findings in testimony before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's National Security and Foreign Affairs Subcommittee.

The Government Liquidation Web site is a contractor-run business that the Defense Logistics Agency uses to sell excess property. Sensitive military items for sale there are supposed to be demilitarized -- the term for removing sensitive or dangerous components -- before being sold, but GAO was able to buy some that had not been altered, Kutz said.

The market for such items includes military collectors and hobbyists, but there is also a risk that terrorists and illegal arms brokers could buy the stolen hardware, Kutz said.

The subcommittee had requested the investigation, which GAO conducted from January 2007 through March 2008, Kutz said. Among the items GAO investigators were able to buy from eBay or Craigslist were:


  • F-14 components, which could be useful to Iran's military.

  • Night-vision goggles, including a special military component that allows the users to differentiate between friendly forces and enemies in darkness. The component requires friendly forces to wear an infrared tag, which GAO investigators were also able to buy.

  • Body armor vests.

  • A U.S. Army combat uniform.


Both Web sites have policies that forbid the sale of stolen property, but only eBay specifically prohibits the sale of sensitive military equipment. Of the two, eBay is also the only one to post warnings about overseas sales and import controls, according to GAO.

Over the course of the probe, investigators bought 12 military items through eBay and Craigslist. The items were all shipped with no questions asked, and many proved to be stolen, Kutz said.

The sellers included active-duty military personnel, retired or reserve military members, and owners of military surplus stores, Kutz testified.

About the Author

Technology journalist Michael Hardy is a former FCW editor.

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