Arming the Warrior Cop: How the 1033 Program Funnels Pentagon Weapons to US Police
The police response to the ongoing nationwide uprising against anti-Black racism has brought their militarization into full focus. The placing of war weapons on US streets, though facilitated by the Pentagon’s 1033 Program, is equally the product of a warfighter’s mindset cultivated by police since the last nationwide Black uprisings in the 1960s.
US occupations and their corresponding counterinsurgency wars have placed millions of Americans in a role of suppression and social control that blurs the lines between policing and soldiery. The US wars in Iraq and Afghanistan also produced a huge surplus of equipment suited to such roles, which followed the warfighters home – oftentimes into their new professions as police officers.
The point is not that these weapons belong on battlefields in Iraq or Afghanistan instead of in Lafayette Park, but rather, that the very presence of US forces in those countries, occupying them while ostensibly “rebuilding” them from destruction caused by US policy, is what has enabled them to appear on US streets in the first place.
In other words, US police are militarized because the US behaves as if its military were the global policeman.
1033 and LESO
The primary mechanism by which these war weapons are funneled to US police departments is the 1033 Program, so named for the section of the 1997 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) that added the process to the US law code. Under the law, the Secretary of Defense may pass excess US military equipment to police forces that request it, if their applications meet certain qualifications.
For example, the police departments must show they intend to use the equipment for counter-drug, counter-terror or border patrolling operations, must be willing to accept the equipment in its present state, and must accept the costs of transportation and maintenance of the equipment. Otherwise, the transfer is free of charge.
The entire program is overseen by the Defense Logistics Agency’s (DLA) Law Enforcement Support Office (LESO), just the latest in a long line of federal agencies created to manage the US government’s support for expanding state and local police forces. Since its inception, LESO has transferred more than $7.4 billion in US military property to more than 8,000 police departments across the US.
In its 2015 report “War Comes Home,” the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted that 36% of property transferred by the LESO is not used hand-me-downs, but new materiel. “It appears that DLA can simply purchase property from an equipment or weapons manufacturer and transfer it to a local law enforcement agency free of charge,” the group wrote. “Given that more than a third of property transferred under the program is in fact new, it appears that this practice happens with some regularity.”
The 1033 program is an extension of the earlier Section 1208 in the 1990 NDAA, a more truncated version that only permitted the transfer of small arms and ammunition and aimed explicitly to buttress the US War on Drugs. However, the earliest such program dates to 1944, when the Surplus Property Act provided for the transfer of military property to civilian ownership after the end of the Second World War, although this was typically land used for bases and storage.
What Weapons Pass Through LESO?
While neither LESO nor DLA are required to report 1033 activities to Congress, the agency does provide a list of transfers on its website – although this has only been required since 2016 in response to widespread outrage at the program and its lack of oversight.
Despite the DLA’s ostensible precautions, government practice makes a mockery of the concept of necessity. Small towns and rural county sheriff’s offices have received automatic weaponry, armored vehicles and sophisticated riot-control gear, including the terrifying Long Range Acoustic Device (LRAD) “sound cannon.”
The LRAD, which produces eardrum-snapping sound waves within a narrow arc, was originally designed to deter pirates and terrorist attacks against US warships by speedboats, such as that which devastated the USS Cole in Aden, Yemen, in 2000. However, it was on the streets of Iraq starting in 2004 that the LRAD became a proven crowd control weapon.
Some of the other equipment provided to police has included Mine Resistant Ambush Protected (MRAP) vehicles, built to withstand landmines and improvised explosive devices (IEDs), as well as OH-58 Kiowa, UH-60 Black Hawk and UH-1 Iroquois “Huey” helicopters used as gunships, medevacs and for transport and observation.
The program has also transferred a host of small arms, including tens of thousands of assault rifles and bayonets, along with more than 200 grenade launchers, and even huge .50-caliber sniper rifles capable of penetrating 2 inches of solid concrete.
After the Ferguson, Missouri, protests in 2015 that followed the death of Michael Brown at the hands of city police, the 1033 program jumped into the national spotlight and drew heavy criticism. Then-US President Barack Obama established new guidelines for the 1033 program with an executive order that saw police stations return some of the more dangerous equipment, including 126 vehicles, 138 grenade launchers and 1,623 bayonets, according to the New York Times. However, in 2017, US President Donald Trump reversed this move with his own executive order.
The 1033 program suffers from an appalling lack of oversight. For example, in 2017, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), a congressional watchdog agency, blasted the DLA after it was able to procure $1.2 million worth of items, including night-vision goggles and training versions of rifles and pipe bombs, through the 1033 program by creating a fake government agency. The system is also notoriously riddled with holes that embezzlers and fraudsters have abused to their advantage.
Although it is not written into the letter of the law, one standardized memorandum of agreement obtained by the ACLU, with blanks for applicants to fill in their state, says that equipment received from LESO “must be placed into use within one (1) year of receipt and utilized for a minimum of one (1) year.” This further encourages use of these weapons against civilians.
Homeland Security Grant Program (HSGP)
The DLA isn’t the only avenue by which the US government provides military weapons to police. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) gives out $1.1 billion in grants per year under three separate programs: the State Homeland Security Program (SHSP), the Urban Areas Security Initiative (UASI) and the Operation Stonegarden border security program.
For example, several police departments in the border state of New Hampshire have received between $215,000 and $286,000 in free money to buy Ballistic Engineered Armored Response Counter Attack Truck (Bearcat) armored personnel carriers. One, the Keene Police Department, justified its successful grant application under the nebulous truism that terrorist threats are “far reaching and often unforeseen” and might seek to target the state’s Pumpkin Festival.
Ironically, rowdy festival attendees in 2014 taunted the police with “bring out the Bearcat,” with many observers pointing to the unnecessary militarized police presence at the festival as a catalyst for the social unrest that ensued, causing 30 injuries and leading to 120 arrests.
In all, the DHS grant program has supplied US police forces with some $34 billion in terrorism-related grants since its creation in 2002.
Crafting the Warrior Cop: How US Police ‘Brought the War Home’ as a Paramilitary Force
While the US Defense Logistics Agency and Department of Homeland Security have provided the essential mechanisms for placing military equipment in cops’ hands, they cannot be blamed for the internal culture cultivated in police departments for decades leading to them requesting such equipment and justifying it as necessary for their jobs.
The growth of a militaristic culture among US police is in large part in response to the mission at the core of their purpose: to maintain social order in a society deeply stratified along class and racial lines. The nationwide civil disobedience, protests and uprisings that drove the fight for Black civil rights forward in the 1950s and 1960s brought parallel calls for increasing the power of police to maintain order and fueled a police obsession with always absolutely outclassing any conceivable opponent in terms of firepower.
The “tough on crime” posturing that followed dominated US politics in the latter 20th century swelled the numbers and power of police, driving forward the War on Drugs and a vast expansion of prisons into a system of mass incarceration.
It was an arms race with a largely imaginary enemy, driven by anxieties about a handful of incidents. One of these was the 1965 uprising in Watts in southern Los Angeles, California, which led to the creation of the Los Angeles Police Department’s (LAPD) Special Weapons and Tactics (SWAT) team.
The Creation of SWAT
Although the first group called SWAT was a fast-acting bank robbery response team of the Philadelphia Police Department in 1964, it was the LAPD that pioneered SWAT as a team for taking on terrorists, barricaded shooters or snipers. However, its first deployment was the December 8, 1969, attack on the Black Panther Party’s Los Angeles headquarters, which was neither fortified nor holding hostages.
As the War on Drugs expanded, SWAT teams became the standard police unit assigned to carry out drug raids. They specialized in using heavy weapons, including automatics, and they drilled specially for the kind of team infiltration tactics used on urban battlefields. While they conducted just a couple hundred raids per year nationwide in the early 1970s, by 1996, SWAT teams were carrying out 30,000 drug raids per year, and they surpassed 40,000 in 2001. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) estimated in 2014 there were 124 SWAT drug raids across the US every day.
Still, comparatively few police departments had such teams, which are expensive to arm and maintain. But in 1997 – the same year the 1033 Program began – the demand for police armed and trained like SWAT teams grew exponentially after two bank robbers totally outgunned dozens of regular LAPD officers.
‘Nothing We Have Can Stop Them’
During the 44-minute shootout between LAPD officers and bank robbers Larry Phillips Jr. and Emil Mătăsăreanu on February 28, 1997, the duo survived hit after hit from officers’ firearms, including a direct hit to Mătăsăreanu’s chest by an officer’s AR-15 rifle. The hit merely winded Mătăsăreanu, thanks to 40 pounds of powerful body armor he was wearing, and officers only subdued the two by shooting their unprotected lower legs.
According to the Los Angeles Daily News, officers at first warned their colleagues over the radio not to attempt to stop the getaway vehicle, as “they’ve got automatic weapons, there’s nothing we have that can stop them.” Before the two robbers were killed, they shot 1,100 rounds at the LAPD and wounded 20 officers. The tide of battle turned after the heavily armed and specially trained SWAT team arrived.
Bob Parker, a former SWAT commander for Nebraska’s Omaha Police Department, described in a 2012 article for Police Magazine the sea change “the 44 minutes in North Hollywood” brought about in his department, noting not just the issuance of stronger AR-15 rifles to patrol cops, but the kind of tactical training that would enable “shooting, moving, and communicating” during a shootout. “Street cops would be able to stand and fight on their own rather than waiting for SWAT,” Parker wrote.
However, just two years after the Los Angeles shootout, SWAT teams outside Columbine High School in Colorado sat idly by as two shooters murdered 12 students and a teacher, as the officers deemed the situation too dangerous to enter the building. While this situation, seemingly catered to the creation of SWAT teams, might have become an argument against their proliferation in another era, in the Drug War, tough-on-crime world of the 1990s, Columbine became a rallying cry for further police militarization.
In his 2013 book “Rise of the Warrior Cop: The Militarization of America’s Police Forces,” journalist and author Radley Balko wrote that after North Hollywood, Columbine and the creation of LESO, “just about anyone running a police department who wanted a SWAT team could now afford to start and fund one.” Thanks to the 1033 program, by 2015, 90% of US cities with populations of more than 25,000 had SWAT teams, and even smaller hamlets did, too.
Ruling Elites Spark Drug War to Contain Revolution
However, by 1997, the seed of police militarization had been growing in fertile soil for some 30 years, even beyond the development of SWAT teams.
Eugene Puryear, author of “Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America,” told Sputnik the driving force behind modern police militarization was “the feeling and the idea amongst many ruling elites that … things were slipping out of control in terms of society becoming ungovernable.”
President Lyndon B. Johnson’s 1968 Omnibus Crime Control and Safe Streets Act was signed while the embers of the nationwide conflagration that followed the April 1968 assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and the Black uprisings in Watts as well as Detroit, Newark and other cities were still smoldering. The bill birthed the Law Enforcement Assistance Administration (LEAA), the first of several agencies formed to funnel federal funds to police forces across the nation. By the time the LEAA shut down in 1982, state and local police forces nationwide had received some $8 billion via the program.
According to Puryear, the LEAA was “predicated on the fact that ‘criminals’ and ‘radicals’ were better armed than the police, and the federal government had to start pumping money into police departments in order to help them get new, more militarized equipment.”
Johnson’s successor, Richard Nixon, ran on a platform of law and order and was responsible not only for implementing and fueling the LEAA, but for inaugurating what became the War on Drugs with the Comprehensive Drug Abuse Prevention and Control Act of 1970 and formation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in 1973.
Puryear said the Nixon campaigns in 1968 and 1972 used a “modified Southern strategy approach” to win the presidency by “taking crime and trying to link it to political unrest … He had the best strategy, from the point of view of the ruling class, in order to address all of these various challenges, and one of the main ones was the Black revolt.”
“If the Black Panthers and groups like that are able to just wantonly broach the law and have all this revolutionary rhetoric and challenge the system, that encourages other people to break the law, so that this kind of Black insurgency that has both criminal and political elements all kind of mixed in with kind of racist fantasies of Black criminality and the fear of Black predation on white people that’s put forward in white supremacy,” he said.
‘Almost Like a Regular Military’
Puyryear said the DEA “is almost like a regular military. Its scope is worldwide, and they’re very embedded with military special forces-style policing,” noting a major driving force was the “generalized 1980s military building up of right-wing dictatorships against communism.”
“The DEA is becoming a more international agency in the ‘80s, the US is having this whole anti-drug thing, they’re shockingly trying to blame the drugs on Cuba and the communists when it’s obviously the right wing,” Puryear said. “The front of the War on Drugs ultimately becomes, in all of these countries, a smokescreen for war against left-wing, armed militants.”
Already a highly militarized federal police agency, the DEA operates its own SWAT teams, called Special Response Teams (SRT), the details of which are shrouded in secrecy. However, SRTs replaced the older Foreign-Deployed Advisory and Support Teams (FAST), which had received US Army training enabling them to conduct drug busts in Afghanistan, with the program later expanding to Latin America as well. After the inspectors general of the US Justice and State Departments eviscerated the program over the massacre of Honduran civilians in the eastern town of Ahuas in 2012 and the coverup that ensued, acting DEA Administrator Chuck Rosenberg disbanded the FAST groups in May 2017.
A classified DEA memo from 2004 obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), titled “The ‘Other’ Warfighter,” further shows how the DEA encourages a military culture, describing the War on Drugs as having “all the risks, excitement, and dangers of conventional warfare, and the stakes are equally high.”
‘This is Vietnam Here’
During the mass uprisings of the 1960s, US police and residents of the Black communities they patrolled developed similar views on the situation, diagnosing the conflict as one between occupying and liberatory forces.
Black Panther Party co-founder Huey Newton referred to the police as an “occupying army,” writing in 1969 that “there is great similarity between the occupying army in Southeast Asia and the occupation of our communities by the racist police. The armies are not there to protect the people of South Vietnam, but to brutalize and oppress them for the interests of the selfish imperial power.”
Hardly an exaggeration, it was a comparison the Los Angeles police drew themselves: during the Watts uprising in 1965, LAPD Chief Wiliam Parker described police actions as “very much like fighting the Viet Cong” and characterized the protests as “urban guerrilla warfare.”
Again, in 1989, the LA District Attorney’s Hardcore Gang Investigations Unit said of the LAPD’s street saturation strategy to fight gangs and drugs that “this is Vietnam here.” The LA Times’ Mike Davis also notes a southern California mayor who referred to gangsters at that time as “the Viet Cong abroad in our society.”
Training the Warrior Cop: US Empire is a Laboratory for Militarized Policing
The techniques and weaponry at the core of US police militarization are pioneered abroad on the front lines of the US war machine and its client states, a laboratory where the line between protester and insurgent becomes blurred by a militarized, foreign occupation. At the center of this dynamic are Israel and Iraq.
Israel: ‘A Marketing Brochure for Successful Policing’
Max Blumenthal, editor of The Grayzone and author of “Goliath: Life and Loathing in Greater Israel,” told Sputnik that for Israel and its lobbyists in Washington, the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, were a “massive marketing opportunity” that allowed Israel to “consolidate its image as the global teacher” of counterterrorism.
Israel has from its inception in 1948 appeared as an occupying force in Palestinian lands, where the difference between Israeli police and the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is often indistinguishable and militant Palestinian resistance has never ceased. At the time of 9/11, however, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories were embroiled in the second Palestinian mass uprising in a decade, and Zionist groups in the United States began funding trips for US police to Israel to see how Israel controlled crowds and waged street battles during the Second Intifada.
The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs (JINSA) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) took the lead.
JINSA has sent more than 200 US police officers to Israel for training in addition to the 10,500 US police who attended 10 different conferences hosted in the US itself, as the “the architect of the US-Israel police exchange” himself, Steven L. Pomerantz, recently said in an article.
The ADL hosts the annual National Counter-Terrorism Seminar (NCTS) in Israel, which the group describes as “an intensive week long course led by senior commanders in the Israel National Police, experts from Israel’s intelligence and security services, and the Israel Defense Forces. More than 175 law enforcement executives have participated in 12 NCTS sessions since 2004, taking the lessons they learned in Israel back to the United States.”
A brochure advertising the trip notes that attendees receive training on such topics as “leadership in a time of terror” and “balancing the fight against crime and terrorism.”
According to The Intercept, the ADL seminar includes meetings with Yasam, the elite tactical riot police commonly deployed to brutalize Palestinian protesters, and the Israeli intelligence bureau Shin Bet, as well as visits to checkpoints, prisons and tightly controlled areas of the West Bank, where Israeli police and military enforce the apartheid-like separation between Palestinian locals and the Jewish settlers whose new hamlets dot the ancient cities and countryside.
Blumenthal said the exchange programs “reinforced what was already common mainstream practice among US police – racial profiling,” providing new techniques such as looking for “micro-expressions” as an excuse to harass or detain basically anyone they wished.
He recalled that during the annual conference of the International Association of Chiefs of Police in Boston in 2006, then-head of Shin Bet Avi Dichter encouraged a crowd of 10,000 that included then-FBI Director Robert Mueller and then-US Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to blur the lines between “fighting criminals and fighting terrorists,” dubbing them “crimiterrorists,” as they form “two sides of the same coin.”
US Police Adopt Israeli Tactics
In addition to the paramilitary attitude that any civilian is a potential terrorist insurgent, US police have brought numerous tactics and weapons back from their Israel trips for use against US civilians, such as the New York Police Department’s (NYPD) infamous Muslim surveillance program, which was modeled in part on Israeli surveillance of Palestinians in the West Bank.
Another is the chemical weapon “skunk water,” a noxious liquid sprayed from hoses that imparts a foul smell on anything it touches that will not disappear for days. Humans struck by skunk water can experience nausea, vomiting and skin rashes. While US police have not yet been reported using skunk water, some police forces have bought the substance, including the St. Louis police in the aftermath of the 2014 uprisings in nearby Ferguson, Missouri, that followed the police shooting of Michael Brown.
During the Ferguson protests, Palestinians drew attention to another US-Israeli police connection: the two forces used the same tear gas canisters, manufactured by Combined Tactical Systems. Tweeting to Ferguson protesters, Palestinians advised them on how to mitigate the effects of the tear gas.
— Shawn Carrié (@shawncarrie) August 18, 2014
Solidarity with #Ferguson. Remember to not touch your face when teargassed or put water on it. Instead use milk or coke!
— مريم البرغوثي (@MariamBarghouti) August 14, 2014
At least 12 states, plus the District of Columbia, have sent police to train in Israel, according to a report by Amnesty International, and thousands more have learned from seminars in the US featuring Israeli police. That includes the Minneapolis Police Department, which sent 100 officers to a 2012 “counter-terrorism” seminar hosted at the Israeli consulate in Chicago. As observers have pointed out, the knee-on-neck hold used by Minneapolis police to subdue – and eventually kill – George Floyd on May 25 is commonly used by Israeli police against Palestinians as well.
Crazy how the same thing happens in Palestine but the world chooses to ignore it pic.twitter.com/7wddf9tUYb
— Mohammad Alqadi (@ALQadiPAL) May 30, 2020
However, the influence has also gone in the other direction, with Israel passing its own “stop and frisk” law in 2016, modeled after the NYPD’s highly discriminatory targeting of nonwhite people for invasive searches on the street. The law was rescinded two years later by Knesset members who fumed that Israeli police had misled them about the law’s intended use.
After the US invaded Iraq in 2003 and much of the old police force was disbanded, the new Iraqi government turned to elite commando units to form the backbone of its fight against Iraqi demonstrators and insurgents fighting the US occupation.
In September 2004, the Interior Ministry formed 5,000 officers into the first Police Commando Battalions. Assigned as the group’s principal US adviser was Col. James Steele, who had previously headed the US Military Advisory Group in El Salvador in the mid-1980s that facilitated US support of the military government waging its own brutal civil war against communist militant groups.
The commandos, along with many other Iraqi police units, received extensive training from private security contractors like US Investigations Services (USIS), but also from thousands of US police. US troops coordinated closely with Iraqi police as they engaged in joint operations against insurgents. According to the US Institute for Peace, the US spent $8 billion training Iraqi police, much of which was wasted, as the commando units proved highly corrupt.
By the time of the Iraq War, the LAPD was so militarized that it began teaching the US Marines a few things about their new jobs as urban occupation forces.
In the Spring of 2004, LAPD detective and SWAT team member Ralph Morten toured the US Marine Corps (USMC) units stationed in the rebellious Anbar Province, teaching them about explosive ordnance disposal. A USMC bulletin at the time notes Morten was sent by LAPD Chief Bill Bratton, who helped popularize the so-called “broken windows policing” that fueled mass incarceration in the US.
USMC Gen. James Mattis, who oversaw the destruction of Fallujah in Anbar in 2004, recalled the LAPD had advised the Marines on their policing roles during a visit to Los Angeles.
“The LAPD was superb,” Mattis told a USMC historian in 2009. “We sat in classrooms with them. We spent the day with them. It was very, very helpful, and their counter-IED [improvised explosive device] guy basically helped train our people and then deployed with us. But the LAPD, based on a good working relationship, was most beneficial, from the chief down to the detective level.”
The Soldier-to-Cop Pipeline
Another factor contributing to police militarization is the direct flow of military personnel into law enforcement. According to a study by the Marshall Project, 1 in 5 police officers is a military veteran, and policing is the third most common occupation for veterans, after truck driving and management.
Further, a 2017 study by the outlet focused on the Boston and Miami police departments found that cops who were military veterans had much higher rates of excessive use of force complaints, and a 2018 study by researchers at the University of Texas School of Public Health found that cops who were military veterans were nearly three times more likely to have fired their weapons while on duty than non-veterans.
A guidebook produced by the US Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA) in 2009, titled “Employing Returning Combat Veterans as Law Enforcement Officers,” summarizes both the appeal and challenges of recruiting combat veterans into US police forces.
“In the case of returning combat veterans from Iraq or Afghanistan, their combat environment and their policing environments may appear surprisingly similar,” the report notes. “This urban-warfare environment is similar to our country’s urban policing environments, except that the rules of engagement are different.”
According to the report, 34% of veterans who became police officers had previously been military police or worked in security forces such as those responsible for training Iraqi police.
The BJA further notes that veterans who enter police service have problems such as “reduced level of empathy for others,” having an “us versus them” mentality, “low tolerance for citizens’ complaints” and various challenges with differentiating between the military combat environment they had previously occupied and the present civilian environment.
Combined training has further blurred the boundaries between tactics. One SWAT operator from Michigan recalled in 2011, just days after al-Qaeda leader and 9/11 mastermind Osama bin Laden was killed in Pakistan by US Navy SEALs, how the tactics they used had been learned from drilling with police.
“Those of us who have been in law enforcement and tactical training for the past two decades can remember when the military came to us to learn CQB [close-quarters battle] tactics,” former Michigan SWAT operator Sgt. Glenn French wrote in Police One. “As cops and soldiers trained together, we learned from each other. The military took our CQB tactics to war and developed some enhancements of their own.”
Policing Abroad, Militarizing at Home
The Pentagon has played a key role in militarizing US police by providing a laboratory for militarized policing in overseas occupation wars, as well as the excess war materiel funneled to cops. However, it was US lawmakers who provided the laws, prisons and funding that pushed US police into a greater and greater role of maintaining social control. Black communities in rebellion drove the anxieties of white officers and politicians alike, who feared rebellions evolving into revolutions and created groups of armed men capable of blunting those movements – men schooled in the tactics and weaponry of those occupation wars, who saw the same dynamic at home.