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MediaWatch:Magazines
Outrage
What Kind of Accountants Lose $9 Billion?
Vanity Fair Investigates the Contractor Who Failed to Keep Track in Iraq
09/14/2007 4:39 PM ET
A Basra vendor holds up a stack of US 100 dollar bills as he exchanges money at the Al-Khadara Market in the heart of the southern Iraqi port city 22 May 2003.
Timothy Clary/AFP/Getty
A Basra vendor holds up a stack of US 100 dollar bills as he exchanges money at the Al-Khadara Market in the heart of the southern Iraqi port city 22 May 2003.

Nine billion dollars can't just disappear, but that is the staggering amount that remains unaccounted for of the $12 billion in funds the US transferred to Iraq between April 2003 and June 2004.

Much ink has been spilled over the subject of Iraq's missing billions, though little official effort has been expended to uncover and prosecute those responsible for such a massive loss.

This month's Vanity Fair Donald Bartlett and James Steele have the latest exposition on the scandal worthy of a full read, pushing the story further in their investigation of the company that had been awarded the contract to keep tabs on the accounting--a firm unheard of before its name became associated with the failure to keep track of billions of dollars.

Bartlett and Steele's investigation into NorthStar Consultants gives another example of the story that re-played so many times in the free-for-all for Iraq contracts. And as in so many other instances of fraud and abuse, the journalists face Pentagon obstructionism in their mission to expose the truth.

VF's pressed the Pentagon until the military provided a copy of the one-year contract awarded to NorthStar, "strategically redacted," of course. Cross-checking the small amount of information actually left on the contract led the journalists to a home in southern California and a P.O. box in the Bahamas.

When Steele finally makes contact with one of the company's owners, the man declines to answer questions and says only that the Pentagon can respond to inquiries about the contract.

The example of NorthStar seems to represent a microcosm of the entire Iraq contracting experience--a start-up with no previously relevant experience is awarded a lucrative contract, performance is questionable at best (considering they were responsible for the accounting and $9 billion ended up missing), but any attempt to inquire about accountability is answered with a referral to the Pentagon, which is not cooperative in answering the hard questions.

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