-- George W. Bush, December 2004
The history of the Point Blank Interceptor OTV body armor vest and the company that manufactures it is a shameful tale of the state of war profiteering in the Rumsfeld age.
The Interceptor OTV is the body armor jacket recently revealed by Defense Watch to have been identified by a U.S. Marine Corps forensics report as being responsible for the deaths of "as many as 42 percent of Marines who died from isolated torso injuries." The Point Blank vest is not only inferior in design--it leaves the shoulders and upper arms unprotected--it was fielded despite that fact that it did not pass tests of its designed capabilities.
As The Army Times reported, senior officers in the Marine Corps Systems Command knew that and bought and fielded the Point Blank body armor anyway, without telling commanders in the field about the vests' shortcomings.
And the company that manufactured the vests made a whole lot of money.
In September of 2005 Trevor Aaronson of the Broward-Palm Beach New Times ran a comprehensive report on the company that produced the armor.
Point Blank…was once a struggling, New York-based manufacturer teetering on the brink of bankruptcy. In 1995, another body-armor producer, DHB Industries, rescued the company from insolvency and moved its operation to a factory in Oakland Park.
In 1999, DHB Industries, whose Point Blank division accounts for most of its revenue, lost $22.3 million on $35.1 million in revenue. The next year, the company eked out a $5.7 million profit on $70 million in sales. Then came 9/11, and DHB/Point Blank's profits soared. In 2001 and 2002, thanks to several multimillion-dollar contracts from the Department of Defense, which was reacting to a well-publicized shortage of body armor in the military, the company earned $10.1 million and $16 million, respectively, on a combined $228.3 million in revenue.
"We believe the uptick in state, federal, and military spending on body armor is still in the early stages," CEO Brooks told investors on August 6, 2002. "The war on terrorism and a heightened focus on homeland security bode well for the business prospects at DHB."
One day later, Point Blank received yet another order from the military. This one, worth $9.2 million, required the company to manufacture body armor to be used by Army engineers charged with disposing of landmines.
But around the same time, a heated labor dispute exposed a policy at Point Blank that apparently put profits before quality.
Allegations that Point Blank Body Armor has sold defective or improperly sized body armor first came in 2002.
Company line employees were paid at or close to minimum wage and suffered from miserable working conditions. They staged a demonstration and demanded the right to form a union under the UNITE (Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Employees) umbrella.
That led to three lawsuits filed in local and federal courts. In one suit, Point Blank alleged that UNITE officials had falsely accused the company of quality assurance negligence. In response, UNITE submitted 150 pages of documentation.
One of those documents described an April 2002 evaluation by the New York Public Employee Safety and Health Bureau of 1,000 body armor vests that Point Blank had sold to the New York Police Department. 900--90 percent--failed the tests the were submitted to. Some vests were improperly sized, which would have left officers' abdomens exposed. Others failed to stop bullets they were designed to protect against.
Similar documented complaints of improper sizing were reported by U.S. military troops in Afghanistan.
One Point Blank quality control worker testified that he was dismissed from his quality control job because he was finding too many quality control problems.
Yet another employee stated that her whole job consisted of changing the size labels to match the requirements of the batch order. "Sometimes I erase the old size with alcohol, and I use a stamp to place a new size on the vest," she said.
In a separate court case, the Southern States Police Benevolent Association (SSPBA) filed a class action lawsuit against Point Blank in April of 2005, claiming that Point Blank knew it was selling defective body armor.
In 2004, DHB industries Point Blank Body Armor chairman David H. Brooks earned $70 million plus $180 million in company stock sales.
In December of 2005, Brooks reportedly spent $10 million on his daughter's bat mitzvah party. Entertainment was provided by Tom Petty, Aerosmith, and 50 Cent.
From the Broward-Palm Beach New Times:
On Point Blank's catalogs and website, Old Glory is draped behind soldiers and the company's trademark: "Protecting America's Heroes." At the company headquarters in Pompano Beach, three flagpoles stand high above a plaque that reads: "These flagpoles erected and dedicated to the memory of America's fallen heroes by Point Blank Body Armor, Inc."
Support the troops.