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The Department of Justice inspector general Michael Horowitz dropped a small bomb Wednesday when he released a report that detailed the problems facing defective Kevlar helmets sold to the Army and the Marines.

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Two companies, Federal Prison Industries (you guessed it–government run prison labor) and ArmorSource LLC, have sold the Pentagon junk helmets that aren’t up to spec. Both companies sold helmets that suffer “ballistic failures.”

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For those who need help translating the complicated Department of Justice jargon, a “ballistic failure” means the helmet won’t stop a bullet. That’s a clean and polite way of saying–implying, really–that the soldier or marine wearing the helmet, relying on it to protect his or her head, would also suffer a failure of sorts.

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Investigators found inmates working for FPI experimenting on the helmets. This experimentation often resulted in defects in the material construction that left helmets vulnerable to “ballistic failures.”

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FPI hand selected undamaged helmets for inspectors, instead of the random selection process that the contract stipulated.

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“The investigation also found that manufacturing documents were altered by inmates at the direction of FPI staff that falsely indicated helmets passed inspection and met contract specifications,” the report says.

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“A surprise inspection by the OIG and military personnel uncovered inmates at the Beaumont FPI facility openly using improvised tools on the ACH helmets, which damaged the helmets’ ballistic material, and created the potential for the tools’ use as weapons in the prison, thereby endangering the safety of factory staff and degrading prison security,” the report stated.

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The report did not document any loss of life due to the defective materials, so the greatest tragedy may have been avoided in time. Yet the Army has recalled 126,052 helmets. The cost? $19 million. The Marines lost just $1 million, as their contract was still in the fulfillment stage.

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