WASHINGTON (AP) – An American company that was paid nearly $700 million to secure an Iraqi base for F-16 fighter jets turned a blind eye to alcohol smuggling, theft, security violations, and allegations of sex trafficking. It then terminated investigators who uncovered wrongdoing, an Associated Press investigation has found.
Documents and interviews with two former internal investigators and a half-dozen former or current Sallyport Global staff describe schemes at Iraq’s Balad Air Base that were major contract violations at best and, if proven, illegal.
The fired investigators say they uncovered evidence that Sallyport employees were involved in sex trafficking. Staff on base routinely flew smuggled alcohol onto the base in such high volumes that a plane once seesawed on the tarmac under the weight.
In a statement to the AP, Sallyport said it follows all contracting rules at the base, home to a squadron of F-16s that are indispensable to the operations of the U.S.-led coalition against the Islamic State group.
“Sallyport has a strong record of providing security and life support services in challenging war zones like Iraq and plays a major but unheralded role in the war against ISIS,” Chief Operating Officer Matt Stuckart wrote. “The company takes any suggestion of wrongdoing at Balad very seriously.”
In one allegation, informants told the investigators that “flight line” staff, who directed airplanes on the runways and handled cargo, were showing up drunk. At one point they passed around a bowl of gummy bears soaked in vodka .
Alcohol on base was restricted, but the booze was everywhere, smuggled in by plane, several former employees told The AP. According to investigative documents and witnesses, empty suitcases were loaded onto Baghdad-bound roundtrip flights. The bags returned packed with alcohol-filled plastic water bottles that skirted security – a significant risk in a war zone.