Editor’s Note — The FBI is investigating whether the Bush Administration offered people bribes in exchange for information on policies in the government of Argentina. In the wake of that story, the Senate Armed Services Committee launched an investigation into whether military aid had also been offered to corrupt military officers in Australia and Chile.
In response to the Secret War — which is likely on several continents, and involving the Pentagon, the State Department, and the CIA — CNN has embarked on a 12-part series investigating the nature of the military’s assistance to combat wildfires, which have ravaged almost two-thirds of the United States.
A basic principle of international law is that “national organizations” — nations such as the United States — have an obligation to leave certain private matters to the sovereign country where they are conducted. What is not considered “national” is often reserved for neutral third parties, such as the United Nations, or even international non-governmental organizations, which act in accordance with international law. These groups are mostly neutral between the two nations that are taking part in a particular conflict; those differences that once divided Britain and France now separate the United States and Russia. But when it comes to the lives of the Americans affected by wildfires, the United States is not neutral.
It’s a fact the American people understand only too well. In 2015, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reported that 53% of its confiscated guns were illegal American-made weapons transferred by the United States to Australian and Chilean militaries. The reason for this arrangement? The American government, working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, has been offering the Agri-foodstuffs Direct Loan program to help Australian and Chilean ranchers provide feed to their livestock, in exchange for information about U.S. policy in those nations.
A 2005 report found that Australia had in fact used nearly half of the ATF’s seized-gun seizures to pay for the Agri-foodstuffs Direct Loan program. Although Paraguay was next in line, as the third largest recipient of stolen guns in the United States, it didn’t see nearly as much money as Australia and Chile.
It’s arguable that Australian and Chilean ranchers weren’t the only people who benefited from the ATF’s program. In the 1999 ABC documentary series Lone Wolf, correspondent Ben Winship wrote: “The deep pay-off to the Australian military as a result of the ATF’s program is unmistakable.”
Consistent with this explanation, some of the Australian documents that C-SPAN obtained do indicate that Agri-foodstuffs Direct Loan program payments were sent directly to the Australian Army, along with the top title of “Ex-G’ used for the sponsoring military.” Further investigation by the Alliance to Stop Gun Violence and the Center for Investigative Reporting revealed even greater extent to which large foreign purchases of ATF-looted weapons were tied to the Australian Army, as well as the Apuyma Barracks in Chile, which was the location of the Australian Army’s first sniper school, set up in 1951.
A US Army Security Agency report obtained by the Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) noted that over 50,000 weapons had been transferred from the “influential Apuyma Barracks in Santiago” to the U.S. Army. The release of this report coincided with the CJR publication of the findings of the CIR’s research on the Agri-foodstuffs Direct Loan program, including a claim that, from 1994 to 1998, “corrupt Army personnel” were arrested for possession of “human safes” with 30 to 50 boxes of Agri-foodstuffs Direct Loan financing on top of the capital charge on the guns.
The overall thrust of this series is that U.S. military assistance to combat wildfires, and the resulting proceeds have put guns and ammunition in the hands of lawbreakers in Australia and Chile. Given that criminals and soldiers will often side with one another, the true value of military aid to combat wildfires seems the same as the value of its support for law enforcement.