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Matt Armstrong's blog on public diplomacy, international journalism, and the struggle against propaganda

Find the Right Balance Between Civilian and Military: Don’t Just Strip the Department of Defense of Capabilities to Inform, Influence, and Persuade

By Christopher Paul, Ph.D.

As Matt has repeatedly noted in this space and elsewhere, "American public diplomacy wears combat boots."1 That is, the Department of Defense (DoD) employs the majority of the resources (funding, manpower, tools, and programs) used for U.S. government efforts to inform, influence, and persuade foreign audiences and publics. Most of us agree that this is not the ideal state of affairs. The Department of State (DOS) or other civilian agency should have the preponderance of the United States’ capabilities in this area. Both the White House and DoD concur.2

Congress would also like to see DOS doing more in this area–and DoD doing less. To date, most of the congressional attention has focused on DoD. Section 1055 of the 2009 Duncan Hunter National Defense Authorization Act called for reports to Congress from both the White House and DoD on "strategic communication and public diplomacy activities of the Federal Government." DoD information operations (IO) were attacked by the defense subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee, which slashed the proposed FY 2010 appropriation for IO by $500 million. (See the mountainrunner discussion "Preparing to Lose the Information War?")

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Contractor Sued for Charges to Army

From the Associated Press yesterday,

The federal government is suing KBR Inc., the largest military contractor in Iraq, over what prosecutors say were improper charges to the Army for private security services. The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Washington, charges that KBR knew it could not bill the government for private armed security for the company and 33 of its subcontractors, but did so anyway.

This is an old issue that was long buried and ignored: that some, if not much, of the money spent on private security in Iraq was illegal. The reality of security contractors, despite the claims of so many that they are inherently outside the law, is they have always been potentially liable if the client, in this case the US Government, chose to make them so. Ultimately, their impact on the struggle in Iraq was significant. For all the talk on the importance of rebuilding and the invocation of the Marshall Plan, it would have been hard to come up with better methods of so-called ‘development’ to alienate the people more.

See also:

Guest Post: The Rosetta Stone for Strategic Communication? More like Speak ‘N Spell

There’s nothing new here. Yes, it’s damn important, but it’s not new. Really, the biggest weakness of the article is not in what it fails to represent, but what it misrepresents. The argument that we can’t or shouldn’t organize to a process is hollow and exposes the fact that good old bureaucratic in-fighting is what really keeps us from getting better at this.

Defense Department contracts for public affairs AND public diplomacy

At what point will the Government, not just the Defense Department, understand that engaging global audiences, within the U.S. and outside, requires staff, understanding of and competency in the modern “now media” information environment? Walter Pincus writes in The Washington Post:

The Army wants a private firm to provide a seven-member media team to support the public affairs officer of the 25th Infantry Division, now serving as Multi-National Division-North in Iraq — at least three media specialists, two Arab speakers, a Web manager in Iraq and a media specialist stateside.

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A talk with the author of Haliburton’s Army

haliburtonsarmy “It’s about chocolate covered bunnies.” That’s how Pratap Chatterjee explained the his new book, Halliburton’s Army: How a Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War. In town for a book tour, we met Wednesday at my local Starbucks to catch-up, but mostly we talked about his book. I have to admit I haven’t read it, so I don’t know the details but our discussion about the core theme was so intriguing that while he was talking I started talking notes to post a kind of interview with the author.

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Ashraf Fouad, Smith-Mundt and Al-Hurra

“How dare you come and air a channel like this to try and brainwash my people, when your law in the U.S. bans you from airing something like this in the U.S.? It is against the Constitution to broadcast a government channel in the States. How dare you say that we are sheep, and that you can show us this, but you can’t show it to the American people?”

Book Review: Losing Arab Hearts and Minds by Steve Tatham

Reports on American Public Diplomacy and Strategic Communication are filled with examples of how the United States failed to engage the Arab public since 9/11. These have come from the Defense Sciences Board, the U.S. Advisory Commission on Public Diplomacy, and numerous think tanks, and more will appear as we near the end of 2008 and the end of the Bush Administration. There are also several books on the subject, see below for more on these, however none closely examines the critical relationship between the U.S. Defense Department and the Arab media and public. There is one book that does explore this “last three feet” of engagement and you’ve probably never heard of it.

Holding Contractors Accountable

MountainRunner’s friend David Isenberg, writing for the UPI, strives to put some rational thought into the emotional knee-jerking in response to the Blackwater shooting on September 16th:

Even though the commission investigating the alleged indiscriminate shooting by Blackwater employees over the weekend has only just been stood up, some voices are already rushing to judgment, condemning the contractors as cold-blooded “mercenaries.”

All of this is entirely predictable, though not necessarily unwarranted. It goes to show that four years after private security contractors first started to assume a major role in Iraq, the way they operate is still poorly understood.

Much of this is due to the industry itself. Companies, when not contractually bound by the clients they protect not to discuss their activities, tend to be distrusting of the news media.

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LOGCAP, Halliburton and working on saving the gov’t money? Not exactly…

David Phinney has an interesting post on a Blanket Insurance Waiver for Iraq reconstruction:

I have a curious memo, “Blanket Insurance Waiver,” which apparently allows Halliburton/KBR to waive insurance requirements — read cut the “costs” — to potential subcontractors working under Halliburton’s sweeping military logistics contract, known as LOGCAP.

It was approved November 26, 2002, by four top-level KRR managers. It apparently grants sweeping discretion to KBR contract officers in the field, i.e., Iraq, to disregard Defense Base Act insurance requirements when subcontractors claim they can’t find a suitable insurance carrier.

One contracting insider believes that KBR’s contracting officers routinely used the waiver to help non-US businesses land multi-million-dollar contracts under the logistics deal.

This insider notes that because insurance coverage for workers is mandatory on Pentagon contracts, the waiver grants great liberties to a contracting officer who waives the requirement.

“In 2004-2005, coverage was running from $27 to $35 per $100 of wages. Essentially, providing a waiver to foreign firms gives them an automatic 27-35% price advantage on Labor Contracts over honest American entities,” the insider says.

A prominent attorney working on Iraq contract fraud tells me that this memorandum may be cause for crying foul on every contract that received the waiver.

“There is a potential False Claims Act claim here. It’s would be a little difficult to pin down the Government’s damages, but clearly, if KBR must require subcontractors to obtain insurance, and it’s not doing so, then every invoice certifying contract compliance is a false claim.” (See qualifying analysis below.)

Another prominent government attorney tells me he’s not so sure, but regardless of the blanket legal interpretations, allowing a private contract officer the personal discretion to waive insurance requirements opens the door to some handy favoritism that could potentially be rewarded with generous kickbacks.

That’s one reason why numerous sources tell me the special inspector general charged with investigating Iraq contracting is looking hard at the hidden layers of subcontractors working underneath Halliburton/KBR.

Halliburton/KBR has now billed $16 billion since the war on terror began largely from its business in coordinating camp construction and maintenance, food services and supply convoys in Iraq and Afghanistan. (That’s my rough estimate on the Pentagon’s tab.)

Much of that work has been handed out to subcontractors, while KBR tacks on a percentage surcharge for awarding and coordinating the contracts. (Imagine a pyramid of contractors with Houston-based KBR sitting at the top.)

The four KBR managers who signed the memo are:
– Tod E. Nickels, senior procurement and materials manager
– John Downey, project general manager (LOGCAP) project
– Bob Herndon, vice president, operations maintenance and logistics
– Tom Crum, chief operating officer.

David’s post includes, besides the above, a response from an attorney regarding the waiver that’s worth reading. The plot thickens on the fiasco known as reconstruction that contributed more to the insurgency than most have yet to acknowledge.