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Numbers Don't Lie: Putting the "Three Cups of Tea" Fiasco in Context

According to Jon Krakauer, the American Institute of Philanthropy and Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes, the Central Asia Institute--Greg Mortenson’s now infamous charity that builds schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan--has severely mismanaged its funds. We just spent a week discussing this fiasco but never answered one key question:

In a global/national/fiscal/foreign affairs/economic/bureaucratic sense, how much does the Central Asia Institute really matter?

First the base line. Greg Mortenson’s Central Asia Institute, according to Three Cups of Deceit and charitywatch.org, netted:
       in 2006        1.6 million dollars
       in 2007        3.8 million dollars
       in 2008        13.1 million dollars
       in 2009       14.3 million dollars
       in 2010        more than 20 million dollars

The Central Asia Institute is accused of mismanagement of several million dollars. Even if they mis-spent every dollar ever brought in--which is near impossible--we’re talking about 52 million dollars, as an absolute maximum.

But how does that compare, say, to the cost of a TOW Missile? According to the Federation of American Scientists, whose numbers are copied by other sites, the price of one TOW missile (the missile itself and not the system) is $180,000.00. According to this sketchy website, and soldier mythology, the price of one TOW missile is currently around $60,000.00.

The U.S. military uses plenty of TOW missiles in Afghanistan because of their unique ability to “reach out and touch someone”. One of the platoons in my battalion--1st Platoon, “Dragon Platoon”--fired over a 100 of these missiles during deployment.

In other words, that single platoon, by itself, fired between 6-18 million dollars worth of TOW missiles in the span of one deployment. Just that platoon. At the same time, the CAI had an operating budget of 13 million dollars. In other words, Dragon Platoon fired the budget of the CAI during their deployment.

Staying in Afghanistan, how much does it cost to air condition all the buildings in that theater?

Don’t get me wrong, I loved having an air conditioned hooch to relax in after patrols, especially in the summer. According to NPR, though, the price of that AC is astronomical. The Inspector General of the Army recently released a report that air conditioning costs the U.S. military 20.2 billion dollars a year in Afghanistan, or about 1.68 billion per month.

In other words, the military spends seventy times more than the Central Asia Institute received in 2010 every month on air conditioning.

At least we know how much we spend on AC. In Iraq, we just plain lost huge sums of money. Government officials still can’t account for 6.6 billion dollars in reconstruction funds lost in Iraq. (The BBC claimed in 2008 the number was as high as 23 billion dollars.)

Let’s put that in “CAI dollars”. That is roughly 132 times the amount of money the CAI has ever brought in. The United States reconstruction effort loses money at 132 times the rate that CAI brings it in. Sorry, I have to repeat that a third time:

The U.S. Army can’t account. For. 6.6. BILLION. Dollars. With a B.

Am I trying to pardon Greg Mortenson? No. He and his charity, the Central Asia Institute, became the face of reconstruction and soft power politics. The evidence indicates that he misrepresented the activities of his charity and that will, and should, have ramifications.

That said, where’s the outrage at the military’s horrendous spending habits? Why do we hold a private citizen more accountable than our government? Why do we give national defense a pass on excessive/wasteful federal spending?

four comments

Because it is so much easier than holding “our” government to account. CAI / GM form a tiny dot on a big map. “Our” government is a mass of individuals making up the map itself: local, state, and federal office holders, plus the people they hire to get done what we need done. I don’t have the energy. I don’t have the strength. The old “turning around the battleship” analogy is even truer now than it was in Teddy Roosevelt’s day…

And I’m not even a teapartier ~ much closer to a socialist.

Plus I’m the daughter of a 40-year bureaucrat whom I love and respect. Also respect hundreds of his colleagues in the federal exexutuve branch. BUT that doesn’t mean “our” government’s priorities are even close to the right ones.

Excellent post, guys. Keep it up.


Yeah wait for tomorrow’s post. More on this topic. I don’t know why we don’t hold the federal government more responsible. And I don’t mean the Tea Party desire for smaller government, that doesn’t really improve the function of government or private sector or people’s lives.


@ Susan – I respect government and bureaucracy as well, I just particularly distrust the military establishment.


1.68 Billion dollars a month on air conditioning…