Could D.C. Bribery Have Cost Troop Lives?

U.S. soldiers in Iraq. CBS

The No. 1 killer of troops in Iraq is the roadside bomb, called IED's, short for "Improvised Explosive Device." By 2004, the top request from the U.S. command in Iraq was the ability to target IED networks.

Congress poured in tens of millions of dollars to a company called MZM - but deaths and injuries continued to soar, CBS News investigative correspondent Sharyl Attkisson reports for Follow the Money.

It was the job of intelligence officer Maj. Eric Egland to find out why.

"It was my job to do a field evaluation of this program," Egland said.

In an exclusive interview, Egland told us he discovered stunning lapses on the part of MZM, which only hird a third of the employees they were paid for

"What you're hoping for is fewer IED injuries; more IEDs targeted and found?" Attkisson asked.

"Yeah, help the combat units go after the networks that are using IEDs against us," Egland said.

But what really was happening?

"The capability that was being funded was given an unqualified contractor, who failed at even the most basic level to provide the right people, the right resources and the right capability to help our troops deal with the No. 1 threat in Iraq," Egland said.

With American lives at stake, Egland couldn't imagine how a company like MZM got such a crucial contract. His next assignment took him to a place where he could find the answer: The Pentagon.

There, Egland did some digging and found MZM had gotten millions in Defense contracts - courtesy of Rep. Duke Cunningham, R-Calif., in the form of earmarks, grants of money without the normal public review.

As member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cunningham was able to keep the earmarks even more secret than most by making them "classified."

"It was not a merit-based process. It was based on sneaking a large contract to a company that had given millions of dollars in bribes and hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions to powerful members of Congress," Egland said.

That's right. To get the sweetheart deals, MZM owner Mitchell Wade had bribed Congressman Cunningham with the "Buoy Toy" yacht, vehicles, antiques, jewelry, cash and fancy property - details revealed when both were prosecuted in a wide-ranging corruption scandal.

The pieces came together when Cunningham and Wade were prosecuted in a wide-ranging bribery scandal. Egland is convinced that the classified earmarks didn't just waste your tax dollars - they cost American lives.

"People died because of this program being done the way it was?" Attkisson asked.

"I really believe so. Absolutely," Egland said. "I mean the troops wanted to target these networks. But without this critical capability, that was given to unqualified people, they weren't able to."

Read more from Sharyl Attkisson on this story at Couric & Co.
He says the real shame is it could happen again. Today, there's nothing to stop members of Congress from making secret, classified earmarks to favored companies.

"Nothing that has changed would preclude this from happening again," he said.

Taxpayers bore the cost, but Egland says the price that soldiers paid was even higher.
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.

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