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.

Status Legend:

More Info
  • Review Pending-GAO has not yet assessed implementation status.
  • Open-Actions to satisfy the intent of the recommendation have not been taken or are being planned, or actions that partially satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-implemented-Actions that satisfy the intent of the recommendation have been taken.
  • Closed-not implemented-While the intent of the recommendation has not been satisfied, time or circumstances have rendered the recommendation invalid.
    • Review Pending
    • Open
    • Closed - implemented
    • Closed - not implemented

    Recommendations for Executive Action

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: State disagreed with our recommendation to provide guidance to its Compliance Specialists on when to request embassy personnel to conduct post shipment checks and when to close checks. According to State, our report did not provide evidence that it inconsistently or incorrectly initiated or closed end-use checks. We stand by our recommendation and will monitor any actions that State may take to implement it.

    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

    Status: Open

    Comments: State disagreed with our recommendation to issue policies and procedures stipulating that U.S. embassy personnel conduct site visits to end-users as part of requested post shipment checks. According to State, it has and will continue to conduct site visits and physical verification where it believes these are necessary. This decision is based on the commodity, quantity, end-user, end-use, licensing and monitoring history, and open or classified sources of information and reporting. We stand by our recommendation and will monitor any actions that State may take to implement it.

    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

    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 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

    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: 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

    Status: Open

    Comments: State agreed with this recommendation, but noted that human resource constraints in Washington, D.C., and at its embassies around the world will pose the greatest challenge to achieving full harmonization. On January 9, 2012, State reported that it had contacted its counterparts in DOD and obtained detailed information on NVD exports through the foreign military sales program over the past five years. State is conducting an analysis of that information and comparing it with its own data on NVD exports through commercial channels in order to identify common trends. Accordingly, State plans to increase end-use monitoring of NVDs exported via commercial channels as appropriate, and will conduct its monitoring in a manner similar to DOD where practicable. According to State, it will continue to engage its DOD counterparts to further harmonize end-use monitoring approaches. According to State, it has also reorganized its personnel devoted to end-use monitoring and will focus more attention on NVD exports, while making sure not to compromise monitoring of other sensitive defense articles and technology. State believes it can accomplish this through more targeted use of its own resources and by leveraging existing DOD resources.

    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

    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 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

    Status: Open

    Comments: State agreed with our recommendation to implement individual- and unit-level human rights vetting for recipients of U.S.-funded equipment and noted that it is already working on plans to improve human rights vetting procedures with the aim of more effectively screening recipients of equipment.

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