Can we keep it, Sarge?
June 6, 2011 9:29 AM   Subscribe

When a weapons cache is seized by the U.S. military, does the military destroy the weapons or absorb them into its own arsenal? Does the same apply to fissile material? When drug money is seized or found by local law enforcement, does that local jurisdiction get to keep the money if all requisite investigations do not lead to the money being returned to a legitimate owner?
posted by HotPatatta to Grab Bag (17 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am pretty sure that when drug money is seized by the local municipality, they don't try to return the money to a legitimate owner. (Who would that even be? The person who bought the drugs?)

The money is absorbed into the local law enforcement department's budget.
posted by Kronur at 9:37 AM on June 6, 2011

I believe the military usually destroys weapons and ammunition that they capture. Most of what they would capture would probably not be compatible with their existing weaponry and would likely not be up to their standards, plus they probably could not easily verify that items are safe to use.

For law enforcement check out Asset Forfeiture.
posted by ghharr at 9:38 AM on June 6, 2011

Three different questions here.

First, when the military seizes war materiel, it is generally not appropriated for use by US troops, as it's almost never hardware that we're currently using. Even things like fuel are probably not used, because there's really no way to tell whether it's up to spec. A lot of it is theoretically destroyed, but a lot of it also ends up in the hands of arms traffickers. Lord of War is a fictionalized retelling of some of this kind of stuff.

Second, I don't think we or anyone else seizes a lot of fissile material, but the handling of such stuff would necessarily be different. There's little enough of it, so such would probably be reprocessed and added to our stores of such material.

But third, civilian agencies seizing assets is a completely different kettle of fish. A lot of those assets, particularly cash and cars, goes straight into department budgets and motor pools. You think your local PD is paying cash for the Corvette and Charger pursuit cruisers they're sporting? I mean, it's possible, but it's equally likely that they seized them as part of a drug bust and appropriated them for department use. Totally legal.

Footnote: this is different than investigations of theft cases. There, when the police recover an asset, an effort is made to return it to the person from whom it was stolen. But when the money is involved in drug trafficking, it technically belongs to no one, and property with no owner escheats to the state.
posted by valkyryn at 9:46 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

they don't try to return the money to a legitimate owner. (Who would that even be? The person who bought the drugs?)

I think it's quite common for drug users to steal money and commit robberies to support their drug habit, Kronur.
posted by HotPatatta at 9:48 AM on June 6, 2011

it's quite common for drug users to steal money and commit robberies

True, but they don't usually keep the money for very long: they buy drugs.

When assets are seized during a drug bust, they're almost always related to a dealer getting busted. Usually a mid-to-high-level one too, as the guys on the corners generally have to turn in their take every day.
posted by valkyryn at 9:52 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I believe my father said that it was reasonably common to use some captured equipment in Vietnam, but I'm not sure what that was (I remember him telling me but I can't remember). I don't remember seeing pictures of any Americans carrying AK-47s, but considering the unreliability of the M-16, I wouldn't be totally surprised.
posted by sully75 at 10:35 AM on June 6, 2011

I can assure you that we're not using seized weapons over there. They get handed to EOD, who blows them up. I've got video I took of an EOD team blowing up a seized cache, but I think it's on a semi-dead laptop.

I'm also not sure why you think the M-16/M-4 are especially unreliable. Perhaps they were in viet nam, I have no idea, but I can not imagine some infantry soldier with an M-4 picking up a ratty AK-47 that's older than he is and has no optics and uses ammo he can't get and is heavier than his weapon and going "yeah! I'll use this!" Also can not imagine anyone from his team leader to his squad leader, platoon sergeant, or anyone else doing anything but saying "for fuck's sake, Reynolds, put that piece of shit down."

I also have no idea how illegal arms traffickers are going to get out to an American FOB in the middle of the mountains and buy arms from troops that don't know him, just so he can re-sell them to the locals to use on the troops again. Any sort of geopolitical game-playing like that happens at a way, way higher level than the troops in the field. They find weapons and they hand them to EOD, who blows them up. End of story.
posted by kavasa at 11:03 AM on June 6, 2011

At least in Vietnam, some captured small arms were taken by individual soldiers and military employees as trophies. I think regulations are a lot more restrictive about that these days, but it probably still happens.
posted by thirteenkiller at 11:50 AM on June 6, 2011

Seized arms caches are almost always destroyed by the EOD folks these days. Occasionally, they may be used to arm local allied resistance, but I'm not sure if we've done much of that since WW2.

That said, in times of real conflict, enterprising troops will make use of anything that works. For example, it is my understanding that captured German MG-42 machine guns were quite popular with Allied troops, as were Luger pistols (more for trophy purposes).

As to fissile material...not exactly sure where we would seize such in reality, but if a unit actually found it, they'd bring in a specialist NBC unit to deal with it. It would likely end up stored in a nuclear hazmat site someplace stateside.
posted by kjs3 at 11:53 AM on June 6, 2011

Seisure of nuclear material would likely be highly political, to say the least. The closest the world has every come to this (at least in public) is the depleted yellowcake captured during the Iraq adventure.

The U.N.'s International Atomic Energy Agency would try to get involved, but I doubt that they'd be allowed much of a look in (as happened here). It's unclear who within the US system handled the waste, but I'll bet that it was a counter-terror/anti nuclear group in the Army that was most heavily involved. The Department of Energy may well have had something to do with it as well, but I doubt that we'll ever get many more details than the AP report linked above.

In this case, the material was sold to a Canadian refiner ofr "tens of millions of dollars", who turned it into fuel for Canadian reactors. So it's probably keeping my lights on right now.
posted by bonehead at 12:19 PM on June 6, 2011

Here's some firsthand accounts of M16 unreliability in Viet Nam.

At 1:14 & 1:33 here you can see US soldiers in Iraq using AK47s in what is identified as "Operation Tomahawk Strike Eleven"
posted by BeerFilter at 12:19 PM on June 6, 2011

Also Vietnam: An unusual way of handling ammo caches^ that were logistically impossible to seize or destroy.

You can find some anecdotal evidence of AK-47 use by American troops in the field, but it's pretty much just that: anecdata.

The main problem with using unofficial weapons (the enemy's or something you take in country after shopping at Wal-Mart) is parts and ammo.
posted by dhartung at 2:11 PM on June 6, 2011

In WWII in Europe, if American soldiers managed to capture German panzerfausts or panzershrecks, they would use them.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:39 PM on June 6, 2011

For law enforcement seizure of assets, this is typically tightly covered by statute, and every jurisdiction would be different. In Victoria Australia, assets seized as proceeds of crime can be auctioned off, and revenue is returned to the Consolidated Fund (i.e. Treasury). No the police don't get some special financial bonus for catching rich crooks, that would be absurd, it would put incentives in the wrong place.

Fissile material is typically reprocessed and used on commercial nuclear reactors.

There is lots of evidence of all sides using captured equipment in war. Allies and Axis were both big on it, back in the day. These days, I would have thought definitely not.
posted by wilful at 4:11 PM on June 6, 2011

In the US, drug money captured is usually split up. I forget whether it is statutory, or just happens during the process of conviction.

The officers themselves don't get the money, but it beefs up budgets and allows them to buy new equipment/toys, depending on the department.
posted by gjc at 6:57 PM on June 6, 2011

I personally know (as in, first-hand, I've handled it) of one US Marine sniper who served in Vietnam and brought back a rifle he took from a dead enemy. On investigation, it turned out to be a WWII German battle rifle, made in 1943, with a Swastika/Eagle crest on it.

As far as we could figure, it must have been taken in battle by the Russians on the Eastern Front, then sold to Vietnam or China before ending up in the hands of an attacker at Khe Sanh.

I think in the vast mechanised warfare prevalent before 1945, there was a lot of seizing of arms and munitions, but as armies have diverged in calibres, relative quality of weapons and tactics like boobytrapping have become more prevalent, it's become far more common to just destroy them.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:41 AM on June 7, 2011

Regarding fissile material, you might want to look into Project Sapphire.
posted by hawkeye at 5:42 AM on June 7, 2011

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