GAO study finds sensitive military items for sale on eBay and Craigslist.
On any random day, more than 114 million items are listed for sale on eBay.
More than 6 million new items are listed every day through 39 trading
platforms worldwide. Craigslist, while smaller in scope and localized to
individual markets, is another site of brisk sales of almost any imaginable
Unfortunately, the two sites are also popular destinations for the sale of
sensitive and stolen defense-related items never intended for resale, including
F-14 airplane parts, nuclear-biological-chemical gear and body armor plates.
"It doesn't take a whole lot of imagination to understand the troubling
nature of some of these items being sold online," Rep. John Tierney,
chairman of the House Subcommittee on National Security and Foreign Affairs,
said at a hearing earlier this month. "For instance, Iran
is the only country currently operating F-14s."
As part of the committee's ongoing probe of illegal sales of military items,
Tierney ordered a Government Accountability Office study of the items available
over the Internet. The GAO found numerous defense-related items for sale to the
highest bidder on eBay and Craigslist.
"During the period of investigation, GAO undercover investigators
purchased a dozen sensitive items on eBay and Craigslist to demonstrate how
easy it was to obtain them," the report states.
"While potential buyers for some sensitive items certainly include
hobbyists, military enthusiasts and emergency response or law enforcement
units, the ... cases clearly show the real risk that illegal weapons brokers,
terrorists and unauthorized agents of foreign governments also number among
GAO investigators also found a robust online market for stolen military
property including Kevlar vests, flak jackets, gas masks and ready-to-eat
meals. Tierney said he was concerned about taxpayer-funded equipment being
stolen and sold for profit, "especially with respect to items currently in
demand by our service members fighting abroad."
The GAO report noted that eBay and Craigslist are just two of the many
online auction outlets and that, in many cases, the online sale of military
items is legal.
"Although it is not illegal to buy and sell some defense-related items
domestically, many sensitive items are manufactured strictly for military purposes
and were never meant to be a part of everyday American life," the report
Both eBay and Craiglist stressed that their policies do not allow the sale
of illegal items, but readily admitted it happens.
"The business models of Craigslist and eBay are fundamentally
different, with eBay providing a single, global marketplace and Craigslist
providing hundreds of separate local marketplaces," Craigslist CEO
Jim Buckmaster told Tierney's committee.
"Under the circumstances, we believe Craigslist does not deserve the
equal billing it received with eBay throughout the report, implying Craigslist
approaches eBay as a marketplace for the re-sale of sensitive defense-related
prohibited items, in addition to experimenting with "technical
screens" that would prevent ads facilitating the sale of illegal items.
Todd Cohen, eBay's deputy general counsel for government relations, said the
online auction giant is working to build detection tools to flag listings of
potentially illegal military items.
"As we are dealing with millions of items, we need a multipronged
approach to flagging and removing listings that have no business being on
eBay," Cohen said. "Any eBay member can report an item to us
instantly by simply clicking the 'Report This Item' at the bottom of every item
listing on eBay."