Did Legislator Favor Gifts Over Saving Soldiers' Lives?

What's worse than an earmark that wastes tax dollars and abuses the system by allowing Congress to funnel money outside the normal process to favored businesses or entities?

Plenty, you might say. But how about a secret, classified earmark that costs American lives?

That's the allegation from a military intelligence officer Maj. Eric Egland. In an exclusive interview, Egland told me the amazing story of being on the ground in Iraq at the height of IED (Improvised Explosive Device) deaths and injuries. It was his job to evaluate a large contract that was supposed to send resources and trained people to attack the IED networks. It wasn't working. Egland says it didn't take long for him to discover the contractor was, in his words, completely unqualified for the task at hand. The workers, he said, lacked the experience, resources and know-how to do this important job. He wondered how the contractor had been able to get the contract in the first place.

As Egland tells CBS News, he was able to put the pieces together nine months later on assignment at the Pentagon: Contracts were being awarded to the company in questions as so-called "classified earmarks" from members of Congress including Rep. Duke Cunningham. According to prosecutors, the owner of the company had bribed Cunningham royally in order to get the government contracts. Nobody knew at the time because, as a member of the House Intelligence Committee, Cunningham was able to use the "classified" status of the earmark to keep it more secret than most. Even most of his colleagues would not be able to know about it. Cunningham and the owner of the business were among those eventually prosecuted in a wide-ranging corruption scandal.

It may be the first time that somebody is able to put these pieces together in such a direct and personal way: on the ground with the troops and at the Pentagon headquarters. Egland says he saw the tragic consequences of the classified contract funneled to a favored company that he says was never qualified to do the life-saving work.

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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.