U.S. Government Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

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Thanks to superb pro bono legal representation by a team from the NYC office of Kirkland & Ellis, LLC, a federal district judge has issued his ruling on SFTT’s editor’s request under the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”) for forensic records held by the Department of Defense regarding the performance of government-issued body armor. The ruling was characterized in the following way by a news service covering legal issues:

U.S. Loses FOIA Ruling on Body Armor Records

 (CN) – A federal judge in Washington, D.C., ordered the Army’s medical examiner to release information about the effectiveness of body armor used by U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan or to justify the decision to withhold it.   (For the complete Courthouse News article, see: http://www.courthousenews.com/2010/08/16/29630.htm )       

As supporters of SFTT know, we have, to no avail, for several years requested that these records be reviewed by the appropriate oversight bodies of the US Congress. It was only after this baffling refusal that SFTT’s editor requested the records under the FOIA. To no one’s surprise, DOD denied SFTT’s request.   Under the brilliant guidance and with the incredible support of Kirkland & Ellis’ NYC office, SFTT’s editor filed a new request, and that request was basis for the complaint in federal district court upon which the judge issued this ruling.    

In preliminary filings DOD admitted that for the two calendar years (2006 and 2007) for which records were requested 103 KIA’s died from ballistic wounds to the torso. It further admitted that only 51 of these 103 KIA’s (49.5%) had body armor plates shipped back to the US for forensic examination,  and that these 51 KIA’s had a total of 155 plates returned with the “service members.”

Of these 51 KIA’s, 18 had “body armor description sheets with information responsive” to the SFTT editor’s FOIA request. (By DOD’s own definition, a “body armor description sheet” indicates that the “body armor is not perfectly intact.”)

Assuming that only one body armor protective plate was struck in each KIA’s tactical engagement, that means that a staggering 35.3% (18 of 51) of the plates were “not perfectly intact.”       

It’s hard to imagine that DOD would not release these records if they proved that although 35% of the KIA’s during the specified two-year period for whom even fairly complete records exist had “not perfectly intact” plates, not a single KIA resulted from penetration of the plates.

 

So, why has DOD not released the responsive records, i.e., the Firearm Wound Charts and body armor description sheets?

Roger Charles

Editor SFTT

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US Army Body Armor Recalls: A matter of trust

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In the midst of yet another example of deficient body armor, the US Army continues to insist that body armor and body armor plates supplied to US troops are safe.    In late January,  Secretary of Army Pete Geren stated that ‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers, their confidence in their equipment, and America’s confidence in their Army.”

He went on to say that “out of more than 2,300 body armor tests conducted by the Army, the DoD IG (Department of Defense Inspector General)  is questioning three of them. DOT&E (Department of Defense’s Directorate of Operational Test and Evaluation), the government’s preeminent independent expert, says the plates passed those three tests. And let’s not forget, since 2002, we have produced and fielded over 2 million plates of body armor. That body armor has saved the lives of thousands of Soldiers.” 

Perhaps so Mr. Secretary, but the real question is how many lives have been lost or soldiers seriously wounded are attributable to defective and/or improperly tested body armor?   This specious argument by Secretary Geren is equivalent to Toyota’s management saying that they have manufactured thousands of “safe” automobiles and only a few have defective brakes. 

The assertion by Secretary Geren that the DOT&E is “the government’s preeminent independent expert” suggests a lack of responsibility or accountability by the US Army in the testing of body armor.  As we well know from the October, 2009 GAO (Government Accountability Office) Report entitled “Independent Expert Assessment of Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding,” and the DoDIG Report, the DOT&E is not the “independent expert” called for by the GAO.   Quite the opposite, the DOT&E is complicit in shoddy test procedures.

The latest recall of ceramic body armor plates further calls into question the integrity of US Army test procedures and, indeed, the credibility of military leaders who continue to insist that “‘there is nothing more important than the safety of our Soldiers.”  The DoD IG and GAO reports suggest otherwise.

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More Body Armor Plate Recalls

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In what is now becoming a regular occurrence, the US Army is recalling body armor plates that may have failed to meet manufacturing specifications.

According to the June 14th news release, the US “Army recently issued a message for all troops and units to inspect their body armor, specifically the Enhanced Small Arms Protective Inserts, or ESAPI, in search of a specific model that was not made according to contract requirements.”

The US Army claims that “the recalled plates have passed all ballistic tests so Soldiers who may have been using the plates were always properly protected.”   Nevertheless, they are recalling the plates “to receive replacement plates under warranty” with the manufacturer.

According the US Army News release, “the nonconforming plates were produced by Armor Works, who have provided 150,000 ESAPI plates, about 10 percent of the Department of Defense’s total supply. Of these 150,000, about nine percent (13,500) were not made according to specification.”   Found below is information on how to identify defective ESAPI plates manufactured by Armor Works.

How to Identify Defective Body Armor Plates

ESAPI plates that should be turned in to the Central Issue Facility for replacement will display the contract number SPM1C1-08-D-1023 along with one of two design codes – DD3V2 or MP2.

The contract number and design code are both located on the data tag on the back of the plate. The contract number is in the upper right corner of the data tag, and the design code is the last three to five characters of the DOM/LOT number.

It should be noted that SFTT recently asked the US Army to let the public know the test results of 2,000 potentially cracked ceramic plates which the US Army has steadfastly stated that there has never been a single  incidence of cracked ceramic plates.   Could it be that clear evidence of “cracked ceramic plates” now exists and these deficient ceramic plates were sufficient to demand a recall?   Also, for the US Army to suggest that the recalled plates passed all ballistics tests seems to overlook the scathing report by the Government Accountability Office which recommended independent testing of military body armor.

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Unreliable Body Armor Tests Place US Troops at Risk

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For those who have been following my summary for SFTT of the October 2009 110-page report on the GAO report to Congress entitled Independent Expert Assessment of Army Body Armor Test Results and Procedures Needed Before Fielding, (http://www.gao.gov/new.items/d10119.pdf) I salute you. While one tries to remain as objective as possible, this damning report by the GAO proves conclusively that our military leadership has not been candid with the American public.

As a retired military officer, I wish I could take for granted that our military leadership will do everything possible to insure that our frontline troops have the best possible combat equipment to accomplish their mission and return from combat safely and in one piece. But, based on my previous investigative reporting, now confirmed by the October, 2009 GAO body armor report, there is no question in my mind that our brave young men and women do not have properly tested body armor. I fear for their safety and well-being.

The GAO report and my persistent inquiries to get to the bottom of this disgraceful body armor testing process should rock every citizen’s core belief in the integrity of the military chain of command.  This uneasy feeling in my stomach has now been compounded by the DOD and US Army “spin” on the GAO findings.

The GAO has now documented (with empirical data backing up their claims) what the Army, with Secretary of Defense concurrence, actually did to test body armor: They consistently failed to follow established test procedures and gave a “pass” to protective gear that would have failed normal testing procedures!

The DOD seems to be invoking the “bigger picture” argument to cover-up their blatantly flawed test procedures. Make no mistake, our front-line troops is simply a “low-threshold asset” to the DOD as it considers its military procurement priorities.  Specifically, GAO has documented how the DOD and the US Army collaborated to control test protocols and tests that weaken, degrade and gut “factors of safety” to levels demonstrably below the “threshold operational requirement” that they claim define their own standards.

And, if after reading the GAO report and SFTT’s previously posted analyses, the reader has any lingering doubt about the Army/DOD clear bias in favor of contractors, here’s one more GAO quote dealing with the specific issue of whether to measure Back Face Deformation (BFD) at deepest point or at point of aim: The DOD stated that “this decision was made by Army leadership in consultation with the office of the Director of Operational Test and Evaluation, because this would not disadvantage any vendor.”

There you have it. The “smoking-gun” admission that the default-driver for Army acquisition decisions regarding body armor is not what’s best for our frontline troops; it’s “not disadvantaging any vendor.”

Why would the Army leadership overrule its technical experts and it’s direct line-supervisor on such an issue? The GAO comments only that it “did not independently assess all factors being considered” by the Army leadership when it made this stupefying decision. (Might Congress want to make just such an independent assessment?)

The DOD and the US Army, trying to defend the indefensible make this incredulous statement about their joint commitment to providing the best personal protective equipment to America’s frontline troops: “Inherent in this process was consideration by the DOD to incorporate into the contractual requirements, where appropriate, factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement.”

Please note the “where appropriate.” Behind this seemingly innocuous admission lies the Army’s startling acknowledgement that military procurement practices take precedence over the lives and safety of the brave men and women serving in harm’s way!! I can’t imagine that this callous disdain for our brave heroes will go down to well with the American public.

Now, folks, in 46 years of watching spin and a wide variety of world-class mendacity from the Department of Defense, this statement about “factors of safety above the threshold operation requirement” just may qualify as their all-time twisting of the truth. The in-your-face falsity would be farcically funny, were it not for the tragic reality that young Americans, the best our great nation can produce, have died and continue to die wearing sub-standard, inferior body armor.

Please consider these Body Armor Facts:

  • The DOD has $121 million of body armor plates sitting in warehouses, plates that GAO identified as having been wrongly designated as “passed” following flawed, unreliable DOD testing, and
  • These flawed plates will not be issued to US military forces.

In the three specific instances from the GAO report cited in previous articles on the SFTT, where the choice involved a trade off between increasing risk to the Soldier or increasing risk to the contractors, the Army (fully supported by the Department of Defense) selected the option that increased risk to the Soldier, while decreasing risk/cost to the contractors!

The critical unanswered question is: Will Congress follow up on the GAO report and demand accountability from our military leadership?

If you feel as strongly about this issue as I do, you might want to ask your own congressional representatives how they stand on this issue. I have attached links below to help you contact your US Senator and US Congressional Representative.

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Senators

Mailing Address, Phone Numbers and other information for US Congressional Representatives

This is a matter of life and death. We owe it to our heroes to Sound Off!

Roger Charles

SFTT Editor

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