More than 71 US agencies — mostly under the DoD and State Department — run expensive, unaudited, chaotic, overlapping military and police training programs in more than 150 countries on every continent except Antarctica, with no real oversight and only pro-forma checks on the recipients of this training to ensure that they aren't human rights abusers or war criminals.
The State Department clears training recipients through a process that takes as little as two minutes and 23 seconds per person, and over 200,000 people have been trained after this cursory clearance process in at least 471 training locations, at a cost of more than $122 billion since 2001.
There is virtually no oversight on these programs. They have only ever been documented once, in an Obama administration report to Congress in 2012, which is sealed from public scrutiny.
Investigators from The Intercept and 100Reporters mined the Cablegate trove that Chelsea Manning provided to Wikileaks to get the only systematic public analysis look at these programs. The programs themselves have to comply with the "Leahy law," which requires them to vet recipients of training, but which operates on a $2.75M budget to service programs worth $15B/year.
"When you say we have to look at every individual and every unit and you actually have to do the vetting, you get far too many people who are technically vetted, but who we actually know very little about," said Kleinfeld of the Carnegie Endowment. "So you build a haystack where you're looking for a needle. And as you build that haystack, the vetting necessarily becomes worse."
Questions about the vetting process are accompanied by concerns about the effectiveness of the training programs. Last year, a $500 million Pentagon effort to train and equip Syrian rebels, slated to produce 15,000 fighters over three years, yielded just a few dozen before being scrapped by the Obama administration. A 13-year effort in Afghanistan has resulted in an army filled with "ghost" soldiers, wracked by desertions and continuing to suffer setbacks and lose territory to a relatively unpopular insurgency. And then there was the spectacular collapse of the Iraqi army in 2014 to the much smaller forces of the Islamic State (though the territory lost at the time is beginning to be won back).
These failures call into question whether these far-flung programs "can ever achieve their desired effects," according to a 2015 report by the Congressional Research Service. "Despite the increasing emphasis on, and centrality of, BPC in national security strategy and military operations, the assumption that building foreign security forces will have tangible U.S. national security benefits remains a relatively untested proposition."
A 2015 report by the Center for a New American Security similarly concluded that many "security assistance and cooperation interventions fail to accomplish U.S. objectives as a result of both strategic and structural deficiencies." It found that training goals are often poorly articulated and sometimes in conflict with each other. In 2013, a State Department advisory panel also found that American security aid had no coherent system of planning or evaluation and no overall strategy. It compared the "baffling" array of federal funding sources to "a philanthropic grant-making process by an assemblage of different foundations with different agendas."
Leaked Data Reveals How the U.S. Trains Vast Numbers of Foreign Soldiers and Police With Little Oversight [Douglas Gillison, Nick Turse, Moiz Syed/The Intercept]
(Image: U.S. Special Forces members advise and assist soldiers assigned to the Belize Special Assignment Group during a marksmanship range exercise near Belize City, Belize, April 12, 2010, DoD)