Reporting from Washington— After the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003, the George W. Bush administration flooded the conquered country with so much cash to pay for reconstruction and other projects in the first year that a new unit of measurement was born.
Pentagon officials determined that one giant C-130 Hercules cargo plane could carry $2.4 billion in shrink-wrapped bricks of $100 bills. They sent an initial full planeload of cash, followed by 20 other flights to Iraq by May 2004 in a $12-billion haul that U.S. officials believe to be the biggest international cash airlift of all time.
This month, the Pentagon and the Iraqi government are finally closing the books on the program that handled all those Benjamins. But despite years of audits and investigations, U.S. Defense officials STILL CANNOT SAY WHAT HAPPENED TO THE $6.6. BILLION IN CASH.
For the first time, federal auditors are suggesting that some or all of the cash may have been stolen, not just mislaid in an accounting error. Stuart Bowen, special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, an office created by Congress, said the missing $6.6 billion may be "THE LARGEST THEFT OF FUNDS IN [U.S.]HISTORY."
The cash was carried by tractor-trailer trucks from the fortress-like Federal Reserve currency repository in East Rutherford, N.J., to Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, then flown to Baghdad. U.S. officials there stored the hoard in a basement vault at one of Hussein's former palaces, and at U.S. military bases, and eventually distributed the money to Iraqi ministries and contractors.
But U.S. officials often didn't have time or staff to keep strict financial controls. Millions of dollars were stuffed in gunnysacks and hauled on pickups to Iraqi agencies or contractors, officials have testified.
House Government Reform Committee investigators charged in 2005 that U.S. officials "used virtually no financial controls to account for these enormous cash withdrawals once they arrived in Iraq, and there is evidence of substantial waste, fraud and abuse in the actual spending and disbursement of the Iraqi funds."
Pentagon officials have contended for the last six years that they could account for the money IF GIVEN ENOUGH TIME TO TRACK DOWN THE RECORDS. But repeated attempts to find the documentation, or better yet the cash, were fruitless....
L.A. Times, June 13, 2011