Corruption in the Defense Sector: Identifying Key Risks to U.S. Counterterrorism Aid

Report: Corruption in U.S. Counterterrorism Aid Programs Risks Undermining U.S. Security

Risks Include Inability to Address Terror Threats and Fueling Terrorist Financing and Recruitment 


Washington, DC, September 13th– A report released today by the Center for International Policy’s Security Assistance Monitor finds that two-thirds of the recipients of U.S. counterterrorism aid pose serious corruption risks.  The report indicates that these risks are due to corrupt practices such as favoritism and nepotism, bribery, theft of defense resources, and drug, arms, oil, or human smuggling. These practices can undermine U.S. counterterrorism efforts by weakening U.S. partner military capabilities and motivation and by aiding financing and recruitment by violent extremist groups.

“Corruption involves far more than a waste of money,” notes Colby Goodman, the director of the Security Assistance Monitor and lead author of the new report. “It also poses a grave danger to U.S. and global security by reducing the effectiveness of U.S. counterterror programs.  In some instances, widespread corruption within U.S. counterterrorism partners undermines the morale of front-line soldiers, leads to the diversion or misuse of U.S. arms, or strengthens terrorist organizations by fueling anti-government sentiment.” Recent efforts by the Pentagon and the Department of State to curb corruption in U.S. counterterrorism assistance programs are relatively new and have yet to show widespread results.

The devastating effects of corruption on U.S. efforts to support security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are relatively well-known, but corrupt practices are engaged in by the majority of U.S. counter-terror aid recipients, the report notes.

The main findings and recommendations of the report are as follows:

The United States is continuing to authorize high levels of U.S. counterterrorism aid. The United States has proposed an estimated $24 billion in U.S. counterterrorism aid to 36 countries in Africa, the Middle East, and South and East Asia for FY 2017 through FY 2019, of which $15 billion is for FY 2018 and FY 2019. 

Many U.S. counterterrorism partners have performed poorly on key corruption and governance indicators.  According to an analysis of the Transparency International Defense Index and other sources, 24 of the 36 U.S. counterterrorism partner countries have engaged in at least three of the five key defense corruption practices that have fostered serious counterterrorism challenges in the past. The five key corruption indicators are: 1) Favoritism or nepotism within the recruitment and promotion system; 2) Ghost soldiers; 3) Theft or delays in soldier salaries; 4) Bribery; and 5 illicit economic activities on the part of a nation’s armed forces.

Corruption will continue to elevate poor military leaders within U.S. partner countries. The United States will face serious barriers in finding qualified and motivated military personnel to lead effective counterterrorism missions in places such as Afghanistan, Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Egypt, Iraq, Nigeria, Somalia, and Uganda because of various corrupt practices within their defense sectors.

Factional divisions within militaries may complicate some U.S. counterterrrorism aid efforts. Corruption within the defense sector is a big driver of factional divisions in military and security forces. These divisions can fuel mutinies and military coups and reduce morale and limit military effectiveness of complex operations. There are risks of factional divisions creating problems for U.S. counterterrorism aid efforts in Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Burundi, Chad, Cameroon, Somalia, Turkey, and Uganda.

Several U.S. counterterrorism partners show clear risks for indirect support to terrorist or criminal groups. Some U.S. counterterrorism partners have reportedly been involved in smuggling activities and widespread bribery, increasing the risk of U.S. aid being used to fuel terrorist financing or criminal activity. Some of the countries with the biggest risk to providing indirect support to terrorist groups include Afghanistan, Chad, Kenya, Mauritania, Nigeria, Egypt, Libya, Pakistan, and Thailand.

Corruption will likely continue to aid terrorism recruitment. In Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, and Burkina Faso, terrorist groups are exploiting popular grievances against government corruption to help gain new recruits or support from others for their cause. There are also continuing reports about terrorist groups using anit-corruption themes in their recruitment messaging in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Mali, Nigeria, and Somalia.

Several key recommendations include the following:

Strengthen U.S. security cooperation risk assessments to better take account of corruption risks. As the Defense Department continues to develop a revised directive to improve assessments, monitoring, and evaluations of U.S. security cooperation, it will be important to fully incorporate consideration of corruption risks within this new effort. It is imperative that the United States conduct more in-depth assessments of corruption dangers in high-risk countries. These assessments should map the structure of corrupt networks in the countries, including main revenue streams, external enablers and facilitators, and connections with the military. They should also provide a deeper analysis of the severity and nature of the corruption risks identified in this report, including possible connections with organized crime.

Enhance the use of restrictions and conditions on U.S. counterterrorism aid. For many of the U.S. counterterrorism partners with serious corruption risks, it will also be critical to build in conditions on the use of U.S. counterterrorism aid to prevent some of the more serious negative impacts of past aid efforts. As part of this effort, it would be important to identify triggers that could spark a possible revision or termination of certain types of counterterrorism aid. These triggers could include the diversion of U.S. weapons, cooperation with criminal organizations, increased factional divisions, and severe human rights abuses.

CIP President, Salih Booker, welcomed the release of the report saying that, “After 17 years of the global war on terrorism, it’s time we ask if counterterrorism aid is doing more harm than good. Risk assessments are long overdue and concrete steps to combat corruption may be the more necessary programs to pursue.”

Contact: Christina Arabia at