76ºF

U.S. representatives call for review of ATA program following Local 10 investigation

Reporter Sasha Andrade raises concerns over security at Virginia facility

photo

MIAMI – U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Fla., and Ted Deutch, D-Fla., have filed a request to the comptroller general of the U.S., Gene Dodaro, to review the Department of State's Anti-Terrorism Assistance program.

The request follows a recent Local 10 News investigation into a private Virginia facility, where the U.S. government trains foreign police to become experts in weapons and bombs.

According to the letter sent by the representatives, the ATA program has received more than $150 million in appropriated funds annually for "training, mentoring, consultations, equipment and infrastructure to help partner countries build or enhance their counter-terrorism capabilities."

But the representatives noted concerns about the security at the facility that was exposed by reporter Sasha Andrade.

"It's got no security," Annette Hamilton, who lives near the facility, told Andrade. "You don't see police or nothing like that. I've never seen police cars go in and out of there."

Local 10 News watched the place for days and noticed that some of the training happens on the side of a public road, where no one even noticed an out-of-place television news crew. Andrade was even able to walk to an area of the facility that houses explosives. Any gate she passed was wide open, including the one around the explosive storage containers. She was never stopped or asked to leave.

In the letter, the politicians also note concerns that were raised in recent GAO reports.

"For example, your recent reports on U.S. counter-terrorism efforts in East and Northwest Africa found that millions of dollars in ATA program funds expired because they were not obligated within statutory deadlines," the letter said. "Your work also highlighted State's slowness in disbursing ATA program funds. In addition, we note that the program has provided assistance to several partners continuously for several years -- raising concerns that some activities have not been designed."

The letter ends by asking Dodaro to initiate a review of the ATA program that focuses on the following questions:

"1. To what extent have funds been allocated based on partner country needs and absorptive

capacity and how successful has the ATA program been at achieving its training and

technical assistance goals?

"2. To what extent do federal agencies, including the Departments of State and Homeland

Security, screen potential ATA program students for human rights violations and links to

terrorism prior to providing training and equipment?

"3. Has the Department of State or any other federal agency requested any waivers for students

in the ATA program when they would otherwise be considered inadmissible to enter the

U.S.?

"4. What steps and controls, if any, are in place to ensure that students brought to the United

States for participation in the ATA program do not violate the terms of their admission to the

United States, including overstays or cases of individuals defecting from the program while

in the U.S.? Have there been overstays or cases of individuals dropping out from training

unexcused?

"5. Have any current or past ATA students applied for any immigration benefits while in the

United States, including but not limited to asylum?

"6. Which security measures does the Department of State provide for the facilities and their

equipment used for ATA training and what mechanisms are in place to monitor end-use of

equipment provided for in-country training and host country programs?”

The founder of the facility, Bill O'Gara, told Andrade that the facility and program are safe.

"It doesn't worry you that I was able to walk through the facility with a TV camera, and nobody noticed, and get right up to those explosive trailers with the door wide open?" Andrade asked.

"No, because you have to remember that everything we've done is with a safety parameter, so those trailers themselves are double-locked and they're alarmed," O'Gara said. "There's no way you're going to get into those trailers."

He said it doesn't matter how close anyone gets to the explosives, because they are 100 percent secure inside Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives-qualified containers.

Click here to view the full letter sent to Dodaro.


About the Author: