Whistleblower Reveals U.S. Wasted $86 Million On Unused Anti-Drug Plane

By McCarton Ackerman 04/04/16

The Department of Defense also spent $2 million modifying a hangar for the plane, but never once housed it there.

Whistleblower Reveals U.S. Wasted $86 Million On Unused Anti-Drug Plane
Photo via Shutterstock/Stoyan Yotov

A recent audit of federal anti-drug efforts revealed a stunning waste of money that never took flight.

For over seven years now, the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of Defense sank more than $86 million into purchasing and modifying ATR 42-500 aircraft for counter narcotics efforts in Afghanistan, according to a report issued Wednesday by the Department of Justice inspector general's office.

The aircraft, purchased for a program called Global Discovery, has “never actually flown in Afghanistan,” the report confirmed. The investigation began after an anonymous source filed a complaint in July 2014, claiming that “the DEA misused DOD funds by misdirecting, diverting, and spending them in areas not related to DEA’s Afghanistan aviation operations.”

Most of the money went to $65 million worth of modifications to outfit the aircraft with surveillance equipment and to make it suitable for operation in a combat zone. But these upgrades haven't had the chance to be utilized, and don't seem like they will any time soon. The Global Discovery program has no funding and has already missed four deadlines, according to CNN. Its latest projected deadline is this June, but even after all this time, "modification efforts remain on-going," the report said, "and the most recent delivery date provided for an operable ATR 500 is June 2016."

Additional millions went to repairing $6 million worth of damage the agencies managed to rack up while making the aircraft modifications. Not only that, the DOD had spent nearly $2 million on building a hangar specifically designed for the ATR 500, but never once housed it there. And since it's been nearly a year after the DEA ended flight operations in Afghanistan last July, it's likely that it never will.

For now, the plane is currently inoperable and sitting on jacks. 

The DEA released a statement in response to the audit, stating the obvious that it "agrees that it can and should provide better oversight of its operational funding. We are reviewing policies and procedures to ensure the limited resources allocated to DEA are utilized in the most responsible and effective way possible." It also insists that the agency had "no indication" that the work required on the Global Discovery aircraft would "encounter the significant delays and problems that ultimately occurred.”

Failure seems to be synonymous with the War on Drugs, whether it's in the U.S. or in Afghanistan. In October 2014, it was revealed that though the U.S. spent $7.6 billion to curb opium production in the country, Afghan farmers produced a record 209,000 hectares of opium poppies in 2013, up from 193,000 hectares in 2007. Michael Lumpkin, assistant secretary of defense, blamed the failure to stamp out opium poppy production on a lack of support from the Afghan government.

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McCarton Ackerman is a freelance writer and editor living in Portland, Oregon. He has been a contributor for The Fix since October 2011, writing on a wide range of topics ranging from medical marijuana in Colorado to the world's sexiest drug smugglers. Follow him on Linkedin and Twitter.