The FBI is concerned not only that gangs are infiltrating the military, but gang members are funneling military ordnance to criminal associates on the streets-- including high explosive artillery rounds.
The problem, according to Military.com, is that recently the FBI has come across a number of instances in which:
"Gangs are acquiring highpowered, military-grade weapons more frequently, according to the latest National Gang Intelligence Center (NGIC) Report. And FBI and law enforcement officials suggest gang members -- both enlisted and those working at military bases as contract civilians -- may be funneling the firearms to their street-level counterparts.
So it appears criminal syndicates -- that include prison gangs, bikers, and notorious Latin gang MS-13 -- are getting their hands on a variety of military-grade weapons including rifles, grenades, body armor, and even artillery rounds, according to the latest NGIC report released.
On two separate occasions thus far in 2011, live artillery rounds have been found in the homes of people affiliated with the military, including one who was a known gang member. These projectiles can be easily converted into improvised explosive devices (IEDs), such as those that have plagued the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.
But even small arms -- which are strictly accounted for on base and have their numbers checked multiple times throughout the day -- have appeared in the hands of street thugs, or been intercepted during an attempted sale.
In July, for example, 27 AK-47s were stolen from a warehouse at Fort Irwin in California, and sources told military.com that gang members were suspected in that theft. Fort Irwin officials have refused to comment on whether the base hires parolees, though it is also suspected that this may have been common practice, as the army base is in a desolate part of the California desert, and hiring for day-to-day maintenance jobs poses its own challenges.
More important than what has been stolen so far is how widespread is the infiltration of gangs in the military.
The FBI's NGIC has identified members from 53 gangs who are serving in the military. According to the NGIC, "members of 37 of those gangs -- including the notorious 18th Street and Mara Salvatrucha (MS) 13 -- have infiltrated the Army. Twenty-eight gangs have been identified within the Marine Corps' ranks and five in the Air Force."
It is believed the army has the biggest problem with gang infiltration of any of the U.S. military services, but some analysts have suggested other services may be skewing their reporting to ignore gangs in their ranks.
The problem of gang infiltration of the military itself, however, is not a new phenomenon, and may be receiving outsized attention in the media because of its ability to capture public attention.
As you can see from this 2006 news story (below), there have been reporters sounding the alarm about gang infiltration of the military for years, and so far the effects have been very limited :
To put things into context, if the FBI assessment that there are 1.4 million active gang members in the United States is correct, that would mean about .5% of the total U.S. population belongs to a gang. Given that there are officially 1.4 million members of the armed forces, listing a few incidents of gang violence tied to those in the army would not seem to indicate a widespread epidemic as the FBI report and some media outlets suggest.
That said, gang infiltration of the army will receive continued attention because of the high stakes involved. The prospect of even relatively few gang infiltrations of the U.S. military is alarming because of the critical role the armed forces play in our defense at home and abroad, and the possibility of mass casualty incidents if certain weapons find their way into criminal hands.
But media outlets must be held to account and remain careful not to unfairly malign our men and women in uniform because of the actions of a tiny minority, while each day we see the honorable, indispensable, and tireless efforts of the U.S. armed forces at work.
(h/t Business Insider)