The Government Blew $86 Million on a Would-Be Drug-Spy Plane That Never Flew

Image: AP (a NATO airfield in Afghanistan)
Image: AP (a NATO airfield in Afghanistan)

When the DEA bought a spy plane in 2008, it was supposed to be a way to catch and transport dealers in Afghanistan. Instead, it turned into a corroding rust bucket in the desert, and a reminder of how dumb the government can be.


The “Global Discovery” program is focused on a single aircraft, an ATR-500, which is yet to fly and has been racking up costs just to maintain it.

The DOJ’s Inspector General investigated the program this year, after a whistleblower complained. Here’s a sentence from the first page of the report for a taste:

Even though collectively the DEA and DOD have spent more than $86 million on the Global Discovery program, we found that, over 7 years after the aircraft was purchased for the program, the aircraft remains inoperable, resting on jacks, and has never actually flown in Afghanistan.

Journalist Marcy Wheeler pointed out this absurd case of government waste on Twitter, and the full report is a bumbler’s autopsy.

The DEA built a hangar for the ATR-500 but then never bothered using it. And the DOD even contemplated scrapping the program after it tallied up how much it spent on modifying the plane— $64.9 million—versus its market value, which was $6 million.

Then it decided not to scrap the project.

The report also cites more than $2 million in suspiciously spent money. The government spent millions to train people who never went to Afghanistan, and sent personnel on “travel missions” that the Inspector General found were “unrelated” to the actual project.


Literally the only way to interpret the audit’s over-the-top horrible results is to assume that the DEA is playing some kind of long-con hustle where it’s trying to look as incompetent as possible to set up a massive sting in the future.



“Instead, it turned into a corroding rust bucket in the desert.”

Poor analogy. They purposely leave airplanes in the desert because that’s a place where they will not corrode and rust!…