Persian Gulf:

Implementation Gaps Limit the Effectiveness of End-Use Monitoring and Human Rights Vetting for U.S. Military Equipment

GAO-12-89: Published: Nov 17, 2011. Publicly Released: Nov 17, 2011.

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The United States has authorized billions of dollars in arms sales and exports to six Persian Gulf countries--Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the United Arab Emirates (UAE). However, regional tensions and civil conflicts have raised concerns about the security and use of arms sold or exported to these countries. The Departments of Defense (DOD) and State (State) established end-use monitoring programs to ensure that these arms are used as intended. This report assesses the extent to which DOD and State (1) safeguard U.S. military technologies sold or exported to the Gulf countries, (2) provide similar or differing levels of protection for the same military technologies, and (3) vet recipients of U.S.-funded military training and equipment for potential human rights violations. To address these objectives, GAO reviewed laws and regulations, analyzed data and documentation, and interviewed officials in Washington, D.C., and the Gulf countries.

Gaps in implementation limit the effectiveness of U.S. efforts to safeguard military equipment sold or exported to the Persian Gulf. Under the Golden Sentry program, DOD did not document its efforts to verify host country security and accountability procedures for sensitive military equipment, and DOD personnel in five of six Gulf countries did not document their activities to monitor less sensitive items. Under its Blue Lantern program, State officials conducted postshipment checks without visiting end-users of U.S. military equipment in 10 of 13 cases GAO reviewed, and delays in requesting and conducting checks have prevented State from verifying receipt of some items. In addition, State closed post-shipment checks without receiving confirmation of receipt in 2 of 13 cases GAO reviewed. DOD and State both treat night vision devices (NVD) as a sensitive technology, but their end-use monitoring for these items varies markedly, leaving them prone to diversion. Man-portable NVDs sold through Foreign Military Sales (FMS) must be tracked by serial number, inventoried following delivery, and inventoried periodically thereafter. In contrast, State does not track NVDs by serial number or conduct regular inventories for NVDs exported through direct commercial sales (DCS). As a result, less advanced NVDs purchased through FMS have received more rigorous monitoring than more advanced NVDs purchased through DCS. In Saudi Arabia, DOD officials inventoried thousands of second-generation NVDs that were purchased through FMS in the early 1990s. Meanwhile, State approved licenses for the sale of thousands of advanced, third-generation NVDs to Saudi Arabia since 2005, which are subject to less rigorous end-use monitoring. State has conducted human rights vetting for hundreds of individuals and units that were nominated for U.S.-funded training in the Gulf countries, but has not conducted comparable vetting for anticipated recipients of about $188 million in U.S.-funded equipment for Bahrain and Oman. Such vetting is especially critical given Bahrain's use of its security forces to quell public demonstrations since Spring 2011. In November 2010, State established a new system for human rights vetting in the Gulf countries and has since vetted almost 800 individuals and units nominated for U.S.-funded training. However, recipients of equipment are not screened through this system. According to State, it does not vet recipients of equipment at the individual or unit level because the recipients are not generally known at the time that the assistance is approved, and State does not have procedures in place to conduct vetting later in the acquisition process. DOD and State should harmonize their end-use monitoring for NVDs and strengthen procedures to verify compliance with security and accountability requirements, among other things. Also, State should implement individual- and unit-level human rights vetting for recipients of equipment. DOD agreed with all of the recommendations. State agreed with two of the recommendations, but disagreed that it should develop guidance on the use and timing of site visits and closure of Blue Lantern cases. GAO believes the recommendations remain valid on the need for policies, procedures, and guidance.

Recommendations for Executive Action

  1. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: DOD agreed with this recommendation and noted that forthcoming revisions to the Security Assistance Management Manual would include new requirements to address this recommendation. On April 30, 2012, DOD issued these new guidelines. With respect to "enhanced end-use monitoring," the new guidelines specify that checks must be recorded, the physical security and accountability checklists must be attached the inventory records, and inventory records must be maintained for five years. For "routine end-use monitoring," the guidelines require DOD personnel to document their activities on at least a quarterly basis and maintain records for five years.

    Recommendation: To close gaps in the implementation of end-use monitoring programs in the Gulf countries that may limit the ability of DOD and State to adequately safeguard defense articles upon their arrival, storage, and eventual use in those countries, the Secretaries of Defense and State should take steps to harmonize their approaches to end-use monitoring for NVDs to ensure that they receive equal levels of protection regardless of how they are obtained by foreign recipients. Such steps might include developing a plan or schedule for how and when each department's end-use monitoring approaches would be harmonized.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  2. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with this recommendation. DOD stated that it welcomed the recommendation and offered to provide any assistance needed to State to provide consistent monitoring regardless of the method through which the transfer is made. State said that it intended to increase the number of end-use checks on NVDs that are comparable to those sold through FMS, but noted that human resource constraints would pose the greatest challenge to full harmonization. In April 2013, State's Acting Assistant Secretary of the Bureau of Political-Military Affairs reported to the House Foreign Affairs Committee, in response to a question for the record that explicitly cited GAO's recommendation, that State had taken several steps to harmonize its end-use monitoring of NVDs with DOD. These steps include the use of standard provisos on licenses to export NVDs through DCS that are similar to those for NVDs sold through FMS, joint efforts to ensure better accountability in destinations of high-use and high volume of exports, and DOD participation in Blue Lantern Outreach Visits conducted by State. He noted that State and DOD have also met on multiple occasions to discuss their end-use monitoring regimes and exchanged information, including information on the volume of NVD exports via DCS and FMS, criteria for identifying end-use checks, and the resources available to do so. In July 2012, DOD independently confirmed steps taken by the agencies to harmonize their end-use monitoring approaches for NVDs.

    Recommendation: To close gaps in the implementation of end-use monitoring programs in the Gulf countries that may limit the ability of DOD and State to adequately safeguard defense articles upon their arrival, storage, and eventual use in those countries, the Secretaries of Defense and State should take steps to harmonize their approaches to end-use monitoring for NVDs to ensure that they receive equal levels of protection regardless of how they are obtained by foreign recipients. Such steps might include developing a plan or schedule for how and when each department's end-use monitoring approaches would be harmonized.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  3. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: As part of "enhanced end-use monitoring" for sensitive defense articles, Department of Defense (DOD) guidance requires that personnel in the Gulf countries and elsewhere verify host country compliance with the physical security and accountability conditions that accompany the sale of sensitive defense articles through the foreign military sales program (FMS). DOD also requires its personnel to conduct "routine end-use monitoring" for less sensitive defense articles that do not have any unique conditions associated with their sale. However, in a November 2011 report we found that most DOD officials in the Gulf countries did not maintain documentation of these activities because DOD has not formally required them to do so. We therefore recommended that DOD develop guidance requiring DOD officials to document their efforts to verify host country security and accountability procedures for sensitive equipment and their activities to monitor less sensitive equipment. DOD agreed with this recommendation and noted that forthcoming revisions to the Security Assistance Management Manual would include new requirements to address this recommendation. On April 30, 2012, DOD issued these new guidelines. With respect to "enhanced end-use monitoring," the new guidelines specify that checks must be recorded, the physical security and accountability checklists must be attached the inventory records, and inventory records must be maintained for five years. For "routine end-use monitoring," the guidelines require DOD personnel to document their activities on at least a quarterly basis and maintain records for five years.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should develop guidance requiring DOD officials to document their efforts to verify host country security and accountability procedures for sensitive equipment and their activities to monitor less sensitive equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  4. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: For night vision devices (NVD) purchased through the foreign military sales (FMS) program, DOD requires that the purchaser provide a written physical security and accountability plan (NVD compliance plan) within 30 days of acceptance of the Letter of Offer and Acceptance outlining how they will comply with these requirements. However, as of August 18, 2011, the UAE military had not provided an NVD compliance plan, despite having purchased more than 300 NVDs through FMS since 2008. GAO recommended that DOD obtain from the UAE an NVD compliance plan, as required under the conditions of sale through FMS, or develop an appropriate response. DOD agreed with this recommendation and stated that was working with the UAE to obtain the plan. On February 22, 2012, DOD reported that UAE had drafted the NVD compliance plan but it had not been signed yet. On March 16, 2012, DOD provided a copy of the plan, which fulfills the requirements outlined in the Letters of Offer and Acceptance for NVDs, signed on March 13, 2012.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of Defense should obtain from the UAE government an NVD compliance plan, as required under the conditions of sale through FMS, or develop an appropriate response.

    Agency Affected: Department of Defense

  5. Status: Closed - Implemented

    Comments: Though State did not agree with this recommendation, in 2015, the department issued Standard Operating Procedures for the Blue Lantern program. In June 2016, State officials informed us that they had revised the Standard Operating Procedures to include information that State officials should assess to determine whether embassy officials' response is sufficient to close the Blue Lantern check. In July 2016, we proposed that State add language to the Standard Operating Procedures to address when embassy personnel should conduct postshipment checks. State agreed and added language to the Blue Lantern Standard Operating Procedures noting that its personnel should initiate Blue Lantern postshipment checks in a timely manner, which we concluded was sufficient to close our recommendation.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should issue policies and procedures that provide guidance to Compliance Specialists regarding when to request embassy personnel to conduct postshipment checks, and when to close checks.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  6. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State disagreed with this recommendation. According to State, it strives to physically verify compliance with conditions associated with all export licenses involving night vision devices (NVDs) whenever possible. However, State maintains that a site visit by a U.S. official may not be necessary, appropriate, or feasible for all post shipment checks. Because State had not implemented this recommendation as of August 2016, we are closing it as unimplemented.

    Recommendation: The Secretary of State should issue policies and procedures that stipulate that when postshipment checks are requested, U.S. embassy personnel should conduct site visits to end-users to physically verify compliance with conditions associated with an export license.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

  7. Status: Closed - Not Implemented

    Comments: State agreed with this recommendation. As of June 9, 2016, State Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL) noted that it was continuing to work towards developing a comprehensive policy on equipment vetting, and to proactively vet units that can receive such assistance if specific unit information is not known prior to transfer or cannot be ascertained based on the nature of the equipment. In support of this effort, DRL officials stated that they have been working with State's Bureau of Political Military Affairs to pilot targeted guidance for specific high-risk countries to test the feasibility of such vetting before developing a global policy. DRL also noted that it is upgrading the INVEST vetting database to better facilitate equipment vetting. According to DRL, the updated version of INVEST is due to be fielded in late 2016. Despite these positive steps, however, State has not fully implemented our recommendation. We are closing this recommendation as unimplemented (August 2016) and, in light of State's limited progress, have made a related recommendation in an April 2016 report on U.S. assistance to Egypt. In this report (GAO-16-435), we recommended that State develop time frames for establishing corresponding policies and procedures to implement a vetting process to help enable the U.S. government to provide a more reasonable level of assurance that equipment is not transferred to foreign security forces, including those in Egypt, when there is credible information that a unit has committed a gross violation of human rights. This more recent recommendation remains open as of August 2016, and we will continue to monitor agency efforts to implement it.

    Recommendation: To reduce the risk that U.S.-funded equipment may be used by violators of human rights in the Gulf countries, the Secretary of State should implement individual- and unit-level human rights vetting for recipients of U.S.-funded equipment.

    Agency Affected: Department of State

 

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