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4 tha scrilla - $9 billion for Iraq gone missing/unaccounted for
Billions over Baghdad
Between April 2003 and June 2004, $12 billion in U.S. currency—much of it belonging to the Iraqi people—was shipped from the Federal Reserve to Baghdad, where it was dispensed by the Coalition Provisional Authority. Some of the cash went to pay for projects and keep ministries afloat, but, incredibly, at least $9 billion has gone missing, unaccounted for, in a frenzy of mismanagement and greed. Following a trail that leads from a safe in one of Saddam's palaces to a house near San Diego, to a P.O. box in the Bahamas, the authors discover just how little anyone cared about how the money was handled.
Hidden in plain sight, 10 miles west of Manhattan, amid a suburban community of middle-class homes and small businesses, stands a fortress-like building shielded by big trees and lush plantings behind an iron fence. The steel-gray structure, in East Rutherford, New Jersey, is all but invisible to the thousands of commuters who whiz by every day on Route 17. Even if they noticed it, they would scarcely guess that it is the largest repository of American currency in the world.
Officially, 100 Orchard Street is referred to by the acronym eroc, for the East Rutherford Operations Center of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. The brains of the New York Fed may lie in Manhattan, but xeroc is the beating heart of its operations—a secretive, heavily guarded compound where the bank processes checks, makes wire transfers, and receives and ships out its most precious commodity: new and used paper money.
On Tuesday, June 22, 2004, a tractor-trailer truck turned off Route 17 onto Orchard Street, stopped at a guard station for clearance, and then entered the eroc compound. What happened next would have been the stuff of routine—procedures followed countless times. Inside an immense three-story cavern known as the currency vault, the truck's next cargo was made ready for shipment. With storage space to rival a Wal-Mart's, the currency vault can reportedly hold upwards of $60 billion in cash. Human beings don't perform many functions inside the vault, and few are allowed in; a robotic system, immune to human temptation, handles everything. On that Tuesday in June the machines were especially busy. Though accustomed to receiving and shipping large quantities of cash, the vault had never before processed a single order of this magnitude: $2.4 billion in $100 bills.
Under the watchful eye of bank employees in a glass-enclosed control room, and under the even steadier gaze of a video surveillance system, pallets of shrink-wrapped bills were lifted out of currency bays by unmanned "storage and retrieval vehicles" and loaded onto conveyors that transported the 24 million bills, sorted into "bricks," to the waiting trailer. No human being would have touched this cargo, which is how the Fed wants it: the bank aims to "minimize the handling of currency by eroc employees and create an audit trail of all currency movement from initial receipt through final disposition."
Forty pallets of cash, weighing 30 tons, were loaded that day. The tractor-trailer turned back onto Route 17 and after three miles merged onto a southbound lane of the New Jersey Turnpike, looking like any other big rig on a busy highway. Hours later the truck arrived at Andrews Air Force Base, near Washington, D.C. There the seals on the truck were broken, and the cash was off-loaded and counted by Treasury Department personnel. The money was transferred to a C-130 transport plane. The next day, it arrived in Baghdad.
That transfer of cash to Iraq was the largest one-day shipment of currency in the history of the New York Fed. It was not, however, the first such shipment of cash to Iraq. Beginning soon after the invasion and continuing for more than a year, $12 billion in U.S. currency was airlifted to Baghdad, ostensibly as a stopgap measure to help run the Iraqi government and pay for basic services until a new Iraqi currency could be put into people's hands. In effect, the entire nation of Iraq needed walking-around money, and Washington mobilized to provide it.
What Washington did not do was mobilize to keep track of it. By all accounts, the New York Fed and the Treasury Department exercised strict surveillance and control over all of this money while it was on American soil. But after the money was delivered to Iraq, oversight and control evaporated. Of the $12 billion in U.S. banknotes delivered to Iraq in 2003 and 2004, at least $9 billion cannot be accounted for. A portion of that money may have been spent wisely and honestly; much of it probably wasn't. Some of it was stolen.
Once the money arrived in Iraq it entered a free-for-all environment where virtually anyone with fingers could take some of it. Moreover, the company that was hired to keep tabs on the outflow of money existed mainly on paper. Based in a private home in San Diego, it was a shell corporation with no certified public accountants. Its address of record is a post-office box in the Bahamas, where it is legally incorporated. That post-office box has been associated with shadowy offshore activities.
Coalition of the Billing
The first shipment of cash to Iraq took place on April 11, 2003—it consisted of $20 million in $1, $5, and $10 bills. It was arranged in small bills on the theory that these could quickly be circulated into the Iraqi economy "to prevent a monetary and financial collapse," as one former Treasury official put it. Those were the days when American officials worried that the gravest threat facing Iraq might be low-grade civilian unrest in Baghdad. They didn't have a clue as to the power of the insurgency that was to come. The initial $20 million came exclusively from Iraqi assets that had been frozen in U.S. banks as long ago as the Gulf War, in 1990. Subsequent airlifts of cash also included billions from Iraqi oil revenues controlled by the United Nations. After the creation of the Development Fund for Iraq (D.F.I.)—a kind of holding pit of money to be spent for "purposes benefitting the people of Iraq"—the U.N. turned over control of Iraq's oil billions to the United States.
When the U.S. military delivered the cash to Baghdad, the money passed into the hands of an entirely new set of players—the staff of the American-led Coalition Provisional Authority. To many Americans, the initials C.P.A. would soon be as familiar as those of long-established government agencies such as D.O.D. or hud. But the C.P.A. was anything but a conventional agency. And, as events would show, its initials would have nothing in common with "certified public accountant." The C.P.A. had been hastily created to serve as the interim government of Iraq, but its legality and paternity were murky from the start. The Authority was in effect established by edict outside the traditional framework of American government. Not subject to the usual restrictions and oversight of most agencies, the C.P.A. during the 14 months of its existence would become a sump for American and Iraqi money as it disappeared into the hands of Iraqi ministries and American contractors. The Coalition of the Willing, as one commentator observed, had turned into the Coalition of the Billing.
The first mention of the C.P.A. came on April 16, 2003, in a so-called freedom message to the Iraqi people by General Tommy R. Franks, commander of the coalition forces. A week after mobs ransacked Iraq's National Museum of its treasures, unchallenged by American troops, General Franks arrived in Baghdad for a six-hour whirlwind tour. He met with his commanders in one of Saddam Hussein's palaces, held a video conference with President Bush, and then quickly flew off. "Our stay in Iraq will be temporary," General Franks wrote, "no longer than it takes to eliminate the threat posed by Saddam Hussein's weapons of mass destruction, and to establish stability and help Iraqis form a functioning government that respects the rule of law." With that in mind, General Franks wrote that he created the Coalition Provisional Authority "to exercise powers of government temporarily, and as necessary, especially to provide security, to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and to eliminate weapons of mass destruction." Three weeks later, on May 8, 2003, the U.S. and British ambassadors to the United Nations sent a letter to the U.N. Security Council, effectively delivering the C.P.A. to the United Nations as a fait accompli.