How Extremists Are Getting U.S.-Bought Guns

On the afternoon of Feb. 5, 2006, at a small church in the Turkish Black Sea city of Trabzon, Father Andrea Santoro was kneeling in prayer when a bullet from an Austrian-made Glock 9mm pistol hit him in the back and pierced his heart. The soft-spoken 60-year-old Italian priest, who lived in poverty ministering to the city's tiny Christian community, slumped to the floor, and the killer squeezed off another round. "Allahu akbar!"—"God is great"—said the shooter, a 15-year-old boy with a grudge against the West.

In May of last year, another Muslim fanatic, guns blazing, attacked Turkey's supreme court in Ankara. Four justices were wounded and one was killed. The assassin's weapons of choice were a pair of Glock pistols.

The attacks were no mystery. What puzzled Turkish police was the weapons' origin. Glocks are high-quality sidearms, but by last year they had practically become common street weapons in Turkey. More than 1,000 had been taken from criminals, guerrillas, terrorists and assassins all over the country, and authorities believed tens of thousands more had found their way onto the black market—but from where? The Austrian government repeatedly checked the serial numbers of the murder weapons. The manufacturer informed Ankara that the pistols were consigned originally to " 'US Mission Iraq' [formerly the Coalition Provisional Authority], address: Republican Presidential Compound, Ministry of the Interior, Baghdad, Iraq."

There are many more where those came from. At least three U.S. government agencies are now investigating the massive "disappearance" and diversion of weapons Washington intended for Iraqi government forces that instead have spread to militants and organized gangs across the region. The potential size of the traffic is stunning. A report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office last month showed that since 2004, some 190,000 AK-47 assault rifles and pistols, bought with U.S. money for Iraqi security forces, have gone missing.

At retail prices in the United States, a Glock 19 costs about $500. On the black market in Turkey, it can fetch up to $3,500, according to the national police. A senior Turkish security official, speaking on condition of anonymity because of diplomatic sensitivities, said his government estimates some 20,000 U.S.-bought Glock 9mm pistols have been brought from Iraq into his country over the last three years. "The problem on our side is that this corruption is so big they [the Iraqi and U.S. governments] cannot stop it," said the official.

The U.S. military has investigated the problem repeatedly—and the losses look more appalling every time. Major U.S. arms transfers began when Gen. David Petraeus was commander of the Multi-National Security Transition Command—Iraq (MNSTC-I), better known as Minsticky. Its mission was to train, arm and organize Iraq's military and police forces, but the Iraqis' weapons came via the State Department, and the supply line was actually run by private contractors. A certain sense of drama militated against good bookkeeping, too. In a recent radio interview, Petraeus—now the commander of all Coalition forces in Iraq—reminisced about helicopters ferrying weapons to Iraqi troops under fire at night in Najaf. Men were "kicking two battalions' worth of equipment off the ramp and getting out of there while we could," he said.

But there were also signs of problems more serious than bad record-keeping. One of Petraeus's subordinates, Col. Theodore Westhusing, had taken leave from his position as a professor of ethics at West Point to serve a six-month tour as commander of the unit training counterterrorism and Special Operations Forces. By the spring of 2005, Westhusing had grown increasingly concerned about the corruption he thought he saw in the program. He was especially upset after receiving an anonymous letter on May 19, 2005, which claimed there was outright fraud by government contractors. Among the alleged problems: failure to account for almost 200 guns.

Westhusing passed the letter up the chain of command. A few days later he wrote a formal memo saying he thought the charges were off-base. But at the same time his conversations and e-mails with his family members became cryptic and he seemed concerned for his safety. Colleagues said he looked exhausted and preoccupied. On June 5, 2005, Westhusing was found dead in his temporary quarters at Camp Dublin near Baghdad airport, apparently having shot himself with his own pistol. "I cannot support a [mission] that leads to corruption, human rights abuses and liars," he wrote in a note found near his body. "Death before being dishonored any more. Trust is essential—I don't know who to trust anymore."

Military investigators concluded that Westhusing's death was a suicide and that the various complaints he leveled against commanders and contractors were "unfounded." Westhusing had had trouble fitting in with other officers, became increasingly withdrawn and seemed depressed when he thought his tour might be extended. But his older brother doesn't believe he killed himself, especially not, as it happened, on his mother's birthday. "Everything he talked about and reported up his chain of command is coming out now: contract fraud, stolen guns and equipment, issues with killings," says Tim Westhusing, who works for IBM in Oklahoma.

General Petraeus declined to comment for the record on the death of Westhusing or the diversion of arms. A senior Pentagon official, talking on background because of the issue's sensitivity, said that a few weeks ago Defense Secretary Robert Gates sent the department's general counsel, Jim Haynes, to "meet with the Turks, hear their concerns and convey that we take them very seriously." The senior official added that in December 2005 the Pentagon launched a "wide-ranging" investigation—which he said was still ongoing—into corruption among contractors in Iraq.

But the first detailed investigation of the missing weapons was conducted last summer by Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. His team found there was a special problem with Glocks: 13,180 were missing, worth as much as $46 million on the black market. The more recent GAO study puts the total figure for missing pistols closer to 80,000.

Neither report comes to any conclusion about where those guns went—at least not publicly. A classified version of the GAO report will be submitted to Congress next month, and the Pentagon's investigation has been handed over to its criminal division and the FBI. But the Turks know what happened to hundreds of those guns, and the congregation of a little church in Trabzon knows only too well how one of them was used.