Defense

Report: US Contractor Covered Up Crimes, Security Lapses At Iraqi Air Base

A U.S. government contractor allegedly quashed multiple investigations into misconduct at an Iraqi airfield and ultimately fired a pair of investigators it had hired to uncover criminal activity at the base.

The allegations against Sallyport Global come in an explosive report from the Associated Press that details the extent of the alleged criminal behavior that occurred at Balad, and the lengths to which Sallyport went to sweep it under the rug.

Robert Cole and Kristie King, former investigators for Sallyport Global, say company management covered up their investigations into a host of violations, including breakdowns in security, alcohol smuggling and even sex trafficking. Sallyport allegedly hid the widespread malfeasance from the U.S. government by forcing Cole and King to maintain two separate investigation logs — one for the company and one for the Department of Defense, which had awarded Sallyport a $700 million contract to provide security and logistics services at Balad Air Base.

“We knew too much,” King told the AP. “They want to cover it up and move on because it’s a huge amount of money.”

Sallyport’s mission was to train Iraqis and maintain security at the airbase, which is home to a squadron of F-16 fighters delivered by the U.S. to the Iraqi air force. Documents and interviews obtained by the AP show that Sallyport turned a blind eye to repeated lapses in security that put the planes and base workers at risk.

Cole says it was apparent that Sallyport was derelict in its duty as soon as he got to Balad in May 2015.

The day after his arrival, a truck plowed through a rope barrier in the restricted zone where lethal force is authorized to protect the F-16s. Reports based on surveillance video show that nobody responded to the dangerous situation for 10 minutes.

A few months later, Cole says, a Toyota SUV assigned to Sallyport bodyguards was stolen from the base. He eventually pinned the theft on three Iraqi Sallyport staff who were working with a dangerous Shiite militia called Kataib Imam Ali, which has ties to known terrorist groups. Cole says he was called off the case and that the employees responsible were allowed to continue working at Balad.

The lax security enabled a stunning array of criminal conduct that went unpunished by Sallyport management, reports the AP. Flights from Baghdad to Balad were regularly loaded with illicit alcohol shipments, at times so large they threatened the planes’ ability to stay aloft.

“They were playing Russian roulette with the passengers’ lives — including mine,” Steve Anderson, a flight logistics officer, told the AP.

Cole and King also discovered that Sallyport employees were patronizing a prostitution ring run out of a Baghdad hotel. Four Ethiopian women who worked as prostitutes at the hotel were hired by Sallyport as housekeeping staff, but continued to send money to their pimp in Baghdad. The investigators told the AP that company managers had either knowingly or unwittingly abetted human trafficking involving vulnerable female immigrants in a war zone.

Sallyport has denied any wrongdoing and says it follows all U.S. government contracting rules at Balad.

“Sallyport has a strong record of providing security and life support services in challenging war zones like Iraq and plays a major but unheralded role in the war against ISIS,” Chief Operating Officer Matt Stuckart said in a statement. “The company takes any suggestion of wrongdoing at Balad very seriously.”

For their efforts, Cole and King were fired in March 2016 after being detained by armed guards and stripped of their own weapons.

“It hurts me that I had to leave and not correct issues that were occurring, and it hurts me that they want to cover them up,” King told the AP.

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