The hidden militarization of the United States

The United States has a weapons problem. There are 120.5 firearms per 100 inhabitantswhich is a disturbing statistic that should get more attention as school shootings continue to terrorize communities across the United States, with the last tragedy performing at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Texas.

However, the oversaturation of private arms is indicative of America’s largest militarization institution that pumps out and distributes weapons not only to the US military and individuals, but also to the police. Police brutality against US residents captured public attention in the summer of 2020: the police used equipment from the army and private suppliers, firing tear gas and rubber bullets, and deploying drones and helicopters to monitor and disperse protests. The Program 1033 – the name of the section which created it in the National Defense Authorization Act 1997 (NDAA) – allows the transfer of surplus US military equipment to US law enforcement and subsequently allows gross overuse of that equipment against civilians. However, the 1033 program is only a program that allows local and state agencies to obtain equipment with the help of the federal government.

The Program 1122created in 1994 and expanded in 2009, is managed by the Defense Logistics Agencythe Department of the Armyand the General Services Administration. As describe by the Defense Logistics Agency, “The 1122 program allows state and local governments to take advantage of discounts available to the federal government due to its high-volume purchases.” In terms of usage, law enforcement is authorized to purchase equipment under the 1122 program for “Counter-Drug, Homeland Security and Emergency Response Operations”.

Our goal in calling for greater transparency of 1122 is not to restore public confidence in the police, but rather to enable accurate assessments of the harm police do to communities and the risk of potential harm from a increasingly militarized police.

The 1122 program, however, does not perform audits. The rationale is that it is “not a grant or transfer program” and that equipment purchased through 1122 becomes the property of the purchasing agencies directly, a state contact noted. of New York for the 1122 program. Yet controlled items available through the military are ostensibly loaned to law enforcement. Thus, there is reason for alarm that there is no auditing process in place for 1122. Without internal auditing, the 1122 program fails to create safeguards to protect against the use inappropriateness of the equipment obtained thanks to him. The program’s lack of meaningful checks and balances has broader implications for American society.

Currently, a known centralized database of 1122 program purchases does not exist. However, Women for Arms Trade Transparency recently completed our year-long investigation of the 1122 program. The investigation revealed over $42 million decentralized and unpublished data on purchases through the program. Our goal in calling for greater transparency of 1122 is not to restore public confidence in the police, but rather to enable accurate assessments of the harm police do to communities and the risk of potential harm from a increasingly militarized police. Additionally, the agency’s lack of accountability for tracking purchases under the 1122 Poragm has demonstrated the urgent need for a serious examination of the damage done by this program and by US police forces in general.


Throughout our efforts to retrieve data on state and local agencies participating in the 1122 program, we encountered a lack of standardization through data collection, storage and recording methods. For example, the required annual usage forms submitted by agencies varied from state to state. In addition, few states provided public information about the program’s bureaucratic procedures. Indeed, there is no requirement in the NDAA laws for a centralized process for archiving this data. A lack of “inter-agency coordination and uniform standards” made it difficult to find adequate data on the existing inventory. The General Services Administration, a key enabler of the 1122 program, denied collecting data on the transfers. As a result, credible and compelling data and information on 1122 remains scarce due to inconsistent reporting requirements at state and national levels.

Unfortunately, inconsistent record keeping is not the only impediment to transparency and accountability within these programs. Obtaining police records through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests is notoriously difficult due to Exemption 7 restrictions, which specifically protect information compiled for law enforcement purposes. The exemptions were created to protect the safety of individuals, prevent people from circumventing the law, and most importantly, preserve the opaque methods of law enforcement and surveillance that continue to be used today. For example, in 26 states, police misconduct records are protected by state FOIA laws, which means they are considered “confidential” and are in place to “protect” law enforcement proceedings. . And, without access to financial resources or a FOIA attorney, US residents face even more hurdles in overcoming the darkness. Additionally, varying interpretations of FOIA laws by states result in different levels of liability, not only for law enforcement agencies, but also for government agencies across the United States. This poses significant hurdles for FOIA requesters, who must navigate multiple legal systems and statutes in order to obtain documents.

The national data we received represents only a fraction of the information we were able to collect at the state level. Jan Janik, Colorado state point of contact for the 1122 program, estimated the state’s annual vehicle purchases at $1 million. This number contrasts the under $400,000 national procurement data between 2017 and 2021 provided to us by the Defense Logistic Agency. The inconsistent data at local, state and national levels reveals a troubling reality that participating states and the federal government are largely missing 1,122 transfers.

In addition to poor record keeping at the state and local levels, the General Services Administration has denied that it has any records of purchases under 1122 at the federal level, despite the records we have obtained from law enforcement agencies. the law displaying millions of dollars in purchases from the administration. This poses a huge problem: obscurity due to a lack of consistent data prevents the public from understanding how 1122 works. Women for Weapons Trade Transparency is in the process of requesting data from the military, but our FOIA request is overdue. . Unfortunately, we have received no indication that they are working to accommodate our request, despite multiple attempts to contact them.


United States maintains the highest level of military spending in the world: more than the following 11 nations combined. Total U.S. police force budgets would rank third in the world for military spending. But when the Department of Defense transfers or sells equipment to the police, it gains justification to increase its budget, because the police serve as an additional customer. And as the DOD’s budget continues to grow, it gets more surplus assets to transfer to law enforcement agencies through programs, such as 1033, and more money to funnel to companies that also sell items through 1122. As a result, law enforcement agencies, such as Immigration and Customs Control and Customs and border protection, increase in size and range. For example, in the Biden administration’s recent budget proposal, the ICE budget is set to increase by 13%, making it $8.1 billion.

According to the Defense Logistics Agency“Law enforcement may obtain military-grade equipment from various [emphasis added] federal government programs that provide support through grants or property transfers. This cyclical militarization increases the capabilities of the US military and US law enforcement to control and oppress individuals internationally and domestically, while emboldening the excesses of military contractors. While the United States remains the world’s largest arms exporter, the 1122 program is one of many links between global and local violence.

The last Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) report on trends in international arms transfers indicates that the United States accounted for 37% of all arms exported worldwide from 2016 to 2020. 2020, anthropologist Christian Smith writes: “If a logic of war structures our police forces, then what we see on the streets is exactly what we play in other countries.” In other words, if America’s greatest export is violence, the Pentagon trash piling up at home inherently puts people at risk.

In times of war, there is only one winner: the arms manufacturers. About a third of the $14 trillion of DOD spending since the start of the war in Afghanistan has gone to arms manufacturers. It is important to remember that the United States has a long history of using external wars to validate militarization both at home and abroad – and that US government agencies actively aid and abet this militarization by wrapping programs, such as 1122, in secret. Visit our 1122 Program Abolition Advocacy Toolkit to take action.

Mek Belayneh, Olivia Owens, Lillian Mauldin and Rosie Khan are all members of Women for Arms Trade Transparency, a non-profit organization promoting transparency in arms and the arms trade. Their team collaborates closely on research projects, activism campaigns and organizational development. The mission of Women for Weapons Trade Transparency is threefold: to promote the accessibility of information on the international arms trade through the publication of easily interpretable research, to advocate for a humane, sustainable, progressive and anti-imperialist policy, and to empower women in their careers and raise their voices in their advocacy.

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