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Sensitive Military Gear Hawked On eBay, Craigslist

GAO investigators were able to buy two F-14 components from separate sellers, special night-vision goggles, body armor vests, and body armor protective plates.

Sensitive military items are being offered for sale through eBay and Craigslist, the Government Accountability Office said in a report issued Thursday, a practice that puts U.S. service members and allies at risk.

"GAO found numerous defense-related items for sale to the highest bidder on eBay and Craigslist," the report said. "A review of policies and procedures for these Web sites determined that there are few safeguards to prevent the sale of sensitive and stolen defense-related items using the sites."

The GAO conducted its investigation between January 2007 and March 2008. Through eBay and Craigslist, the agency's investigators were able to buy two F-14 components from separate sellers, night-vision goggles with a sensitive component that allows U.S. service members to identify friendly forces, an Army combat uniform "that could be used by a terrorist to pose as a U.S. service member," body armor vests, and body armor protective plates.

The GAO report expressed concern that items such as the protective gear could be reverse engineered by adversaries in order to design countermeasures.

The government oversight agency characterized its findings as a snapshot rather than a comprehensive list of available sensitive items. Its investigation did not test whether export controls would have stopped the shipment of such items overseas. Nor did it test whether property management problems in the Department of Defense contributed to availability these items.

The GAO has previously reported on difficulties the government has had keeping track of its property. As the report notes, "Our prior reports found that control breakdowns at DOD allowed members of the general public to acquire sensitive defense-related items, including F-14 components, from the Government Liquidation Web site; these items had not been demilitarized properly."

In a statement to a congressional subcommittee Thursday morning, Jim Buckmaster, CEO of Craigslist, said that GAO mischaracterized his site by calling it "a global marketplace with international reach." He said it was a collection of separate, local marketplaces and that sales involving shipping are rare and strongly discouraged. He said that Craigslist nonetheless does not accept misuse of its site and is eager to solve this problem.

"Contrary to what the GAO report implies, Craigslist has more people actively engaged in its anti-fraud efforts than any Web site on earth," said Buckmaster. "In addition to our in-house anti-fraud team numbering a dozen or more staff members, and the automated blocking and screening routines we have developed, Craigslist benefits from tens of millions of passionate users diligently reviewing every ad on the site, with each user having the power to delete inappropriate ads, which power they exercise to the tune of several million ads removed each month."

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