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A Blog on Understanding, Informing, Empowering, and Influencing Global Publics, published by Matt Armstrong

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.

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Review of the Blackwater Lawsuit

The Nation has a good article on the Blackwater lawsuit that is slowly working its way through the court system. In Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater, Jeremy Scahill describes actions by a company that is the worst fear by many opposing privatization (did someone mention CusterBattles?).

When firms act like this, as Blackwater is alleged to have done, it not only taints the industry but also the United States. As an interview in the movie Shadow Company demonstrates, Stephen "Scott" Helvenston, Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley
Batalona were attacked not because they were contractors or because they might have been military, but because they were thought to be CIA by the locals. While Americans tend to see contractors as independent operators, others see them as extensions, or a part of, the US Government (USG). The thousand or so deaths in Fallujah that were a direct result of the alleged failure of Blackwater to protect its men and the international coverage had tremendous impact on the image of the United States. Blackwater didn’t take the hit and in fact may have gained value from it (this is not to suggest it was intentional or even desired publicity). For the United States, this is image management and public diplomacy by proxy without recourse or management.

Below are some the highlights from the article.

According
to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were
engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its
men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News
and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed
Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency
would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter
told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say
$1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS
$1,200." ESS then contracted with Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which in
turn billed the government an unknown amount of money for the same
security services, according to the paper. KBR/Halliburton refuses to
discuss the matter and will not confirm any relationship with ESS.

All this was shady enough–but the real danger for Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater’s decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions
"with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]

But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract.

"When they took that word ‘armored’ out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," says attorney Miles. "These men were told that they’d be operating in armored vehicles. Had they been, I sincerely believe that they’d be alive today. They were killed by insurgents literally walking up and shooting them  with small-arms fire. This was not a roadside bomb, it was not any other explosive device. It was merely small-arms fire, which could have been repelled by armored vehicles."

On March 30, 2004, Helvenston, Teague, Zovko and Batalona left Baghdad on the ESS security mission. The suit alleges that there were six guards available that day, but McQuown intervened and ordered only the four to be sent. The other two were kept behind at Blackwater’s Baghdad facility to perform clerical duties. A Blackwater official later boasted, the suit says, that they saved two lives by not sending all six men….

The four men were, in fact, working under contracts guaranteeing that they would travel with a six-person team.

…they
charge that Blackwater knowingly refused to provide guaranteed
safeguards, among them: They would have armored vehicles; there would be
three men in each vehicle–a driver, a navigator and a rear gunner; and
the rear gunner would be armed with a heavy automatic weapon, such as a
"SAW Mach 46," which can fire up to 850 rounds per minute, allowing the
gunner to fight off any attacks from the rear. "None of that was true,"
says attorney Callahan. Instead, each vehicle had only two men and far
less powerful "Mach 4" guns, which they had not even had a chance to
test out. "Without the big gun, without the third man, without the
armored vehicle, they were sitting ducks," says Callahan.

…Without a detailed map, they took the
most direct route, through the center of Falluja. According to Callahan,
there was a safer alternative route that went around the city, which the
men were unaware of because of Blackwater’s failure to conduct a "risk
assessment" before the trip, as mandated by the contract…

Attorney Marc Miles says that shortly after the suit was filed, he asked the court in North Carolina for an "expedited order" to depose John Potter. The deposition was set for January 28, 2005, and Miles was to fly to Alaska, where the Potters were living. But three days before the deposition, Miles says, "Blackwater hired Potter up, flew him to
Washington where it’s my understanding he met with Blackwater representatives and their lawyers. [Blackwater] then flew him to Jordan for ultimate deployment in the Middle East," Miles says. "Obviously they concealed a material witness by hiring him and sending him out of the country."…Blackwater subsequently attempted to have Potter’s deposition order dissolved, but a federal court said no….

Blackwater has not offered a rebuttal to the specific allegations made by the families, except to deny in general that they are valid. It has fought to have the case dismissed on grounds that because Blackwater is servicing US armed forces it cannot be sued for workers’ deaths or injuries and that all liability lies with the government. In its motion
to dismiss the case in federal court, Blackwater argues that the families of the four men killed in Falluja are entitled only to government insurance payments. That’s why the company moved swiftly to apply for benefits for the families under the Defense Base Act.

"What Blackwater is
trying to do is to sweep all of their wrongful conduct into the Defense
Base Act," says Miles. "What they’re trying to do is to say, ‘Look–we
can do anything we want and not be held accountable. We can send
our men out to die so that we can pad our bottom line, and if anybody
comes back at us, we have insurance.’ It’s essentially insurance to
kill."

In the end, Scahill notes President Bush mocks the question of private security companies. It is incredible, but unfortunately not surprising, that the President does not have an answer on how such a large number of people (to call them a group would imply some sort of larger unity) that has direct impact on our public diplomacy and foreign policy is regulated or controlled.

Blackwater & Peacekeeping Operations

Recently, Blackwater announced that it was willing, and could, provide a brigade size force for humanitarian interventions (HI), such as is needed in Darfur. The Blackwater pronouncement (I think it goes beyond ‘announcement’) is largely based on Tim Spicer’s observation, as quoted in the Green Paper: "too often the major powers won’t intervene or delay until it’s too late." What might the Blackwater deployment look like and how might it work?

Continue reading “Blackwater & Peacekeeping Operations” »

Shadow Company movie review

Later this month in Texas, the movie Shadow Company will make its debut at the South by Southwest Film Festival. Self-described as a “ground breaking investigative” documentary, Shadow Company explores the origins and “destinations” of private security contractors (PSCs).

Back in January, Onnesha Roychoudhuri interviewed Nick Bicanic, Shadow Company’s director and co-founder of the production company putting the movie out. If you haven’t read the interview, you should.

Not to be redundent with Roychoudhuri, I asked Nick why he made Shadow Company.

"I decided to make this film because I could see that the Rules of War have changed. There was a relevant message about modern warfare that did not come across in other media. While wars are more and more in the public eye – they are also more and more in private hands. Thousands of private security contractors – soldiers for hire – were working in Iraq and I wanted to find out a number of things about them. What exactly do they do? What kind of people are they? What motivates them to do it?"

There are two interwoven themes in the movie. The first is a description and history of mercenaries. The second is the role of private military companies (PMCs), focusing on the subset of private security companies (PSCs), in modern conflict.

This movie will open some eyes, as it should. When you see the movie, go in with an open mind. Afterwards, consider investigations of corruption and bad behavior of firms like AEGIS, CusterBattles and financial improprieties from KBR, etc. The incident with the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah is discussed, but understandably not included is a lawsuit alleging a corporate penny pinching contributed to or allowed the incident to happen in the first place. Also keep in mind that of the dozens and dozens of firms operating in Iraq today, you’ve heard of only a few.

Will you be swayed for or against privatization of war zone duties? According to Nick, an early test screening was polarized: half of the audience felt the movie was biased for PMCs and the other half saw a movie biased against PMCs.

I would have complicated the survey if I were in that early test audience. To me, the movie showed a failure in usage and control. The powers that be intentionally grant too much autonomy to corporate entities and assume the mantle of responsibility is on the company. Nick does a great job in showing how PMCs operate at arms-length from the military; the US Armed Forces are hardly seen or referenced.

Delegation of authority is done without consideration of lost accountability. Academic debate over PSCs frequently begins or quickly gets to issues of accountability. This movie, however, hints at a deeper implicit, if not explicit, leeway USG grants the PSCs. It also highlights the US’s reliance on PSCs, which you, as the viewer, should judge as appropriate or not.

Engaging companies with poor and unsatisfactory track records, even tainted leadership, indicate bad policy. The choice to allow AEGIS to “fail upward” is, in my opinion, central to understanding the impact of PMCs.

Rarely, if ever, discussed is the impact PMCs have on our overall mission, which isn’t military. Interviews with Robert Young Pelton touch on this and the insurgent interview nails it.

If you saw Gunner Palace (see it if you haven’t) and saw a movie about inappropriate staffing (cannon-cockers working missions they weren’t trained for), you’ll probably see what I’m talking about in Shadow Company.

Overall, the film is well-done and thought provoking and does a good job distinguishing between mercenaries and PMCs, which too many people still can’t fathom. Interviews with Robert Young Pelton and Cobus Claassens, and the voice over by Oxford-grad James (an Operator), were excellent.

When you see this movie, ask yourself “What is the real impact of PMCs?” If you’re not concerned after watching the film, you weren’t paying attention.

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PMC Fraud: Tip of the Iceberg?

Briefly, the Custer Battles lawsuit will likely be an eye opener for many. The Iraq war has been a watershed in the outsourcing of not just tangible assets and roles the military used to provide for itself (meals, logistics) but intangibles also. The role of private military companies in the war, from pre-deployment training to site security to force and VIP/"nation building contractors" protection, are part of the soft power of the United States.

Continue reading “PMC Fraud: Tip of the Iceberg?” »

A Primer on Pirates

There are an increasing number of questions about what is piracy. This is a brief primer to get the reader started on the road of what piracy may be. As you read, consider the US capture of a Somali pirate in January and how strategy, tactics, and global affairs fit into the game of Risk.

A starter read is the United Nation’s Atlas of the Oceans portal is Piracy and Armed Robbery at Sea.

A better, up to date read is from Tech Central Station – Un-Jolly Rogers (16 Nov 05), with highlights below, emphasis added.

The
War on Terror features counter-pirate operations. Singapore’s Internal
Security Department told me in 2002 that the difference between
battling pirates and stopping terrorists is often slight. The Straits
of Malacca, located between Singapore and Indonesia, is a prime terror
target. The strait is jammed with container ships and oil tankers.

In
fall 2001, a CENTCOM officer and I explored several "ship assault"
scenarios in the straits. One scenario had the plotscape of a novel,
with Indonesian or Malaysian pirates helping al-Qaida operatives hijack
a tanker. Spilling a million barrels of crude creates an eco-disaster.
Sinking the tanker drives maritime insurance rates sky-high.

In
June 2005, I received two briefings from CENTCOM naval officers on
coalition naval operations off Africa’s Somali coast and in the Red
Sea. Chasing pirates is a key mission. Stopping piracy protects African
and Arab fishermen and shippers, so it’s good politics. There’s also
little doubt that al-Qaida has paid local pirates to smuggle personnel
and weapons.

Naval
patrols off Somalia, however, didn’t deter last week’s audacious — and
unsuccessful — pirate assault on the cruise liner Seabourn Spirit.
Somali pirates, riding in small boats, attacked with rocket-propelled
grenades and automatic weapons. The liner’s captain and crew maneuvered
their ship, using it as a weapon — it’s big, and it generates a
massive wake. The liner also employed a directional "parabolic audio
boom-box." The non-lethal "sonic weapon" emitted an eardrum-shattering
sound. The frustrated pirates retreated.

The
Somali attack generated international headlines. Though international
monitors recorded 259 "piratical incidents" in the first nine months of
this year, piracy receives very little media coverage.

The spike in media interest may give Jack Gottschalk and Brian Flanagan a belated bestseller. Their "Jolly Roger With an Uzi: The Rise and Threat of Modern Piracy,"
published by the Naval Institute Press in 2000, documented the rise of
"new piracy," to include smuggling and maritime scams, as well as
terrorists operating at sea.
Gottschalk
and Flanagan identify three "requirements" for piracy, which apply to
Viking pirate raiders as well as contemporary Somali sea thieves:

1)
Pirates prowl waterways where the targets are lucrative.

2) "The
geographic area where pirates prey must be one in which the risk level
of detection is acceptable."

3) If possible, pirates have "safe havens"
where they can "hide, seek repairs and obtain supplies."

Combating
piracy takes good intelligence. The authors also offer this warning:
Piracy "has never been reduced through any process of negotiation."
Historically, only armed force suppresses pirates.

With the impact on commerce and security clear, it would be interesting to investigate why piracy has not achieved greater prominance in the news. It seems to have all the necessary attributes, except, perhaps, a perceived unitary backer. While "Islamic Terrorism" is perceived to be part of the Us vs Them scenario described by so many, mostly notably and unfortunately the President, there is no single Chief Pirate, Chief Propagandist Pirate, or ideological thread to build a fascinating singular story around. Is it possible the cruise ship attack was a lure to allow the TopCat mission? Or was it an chance opportunity?

 

ICRC and PMCs

News brief as I continue to clear out the drafts linking in the to be posted file. This one is an item off the ICRC website from 2004.  

Private security firms are an established feature of the 21st century war landscape, working for states, corporations and even NGOs. The ICRC is stepping up contacts with these companies, to ensure that they know and respect international humanitarian law.

Is TopCat really in “mobilization”?

From Karthryn Cramer comes a tasty bit of news that the BBC wasn’t actually wrong when it said Top Cat Marine Security was in a "mobilisation phase" (UK spelling). From Ms Kathryn Cramer:

[a] company that builds boats identical to Top Cat’s seems to have set up shop in Panama

Panama is nice place to hide. A commentator on Kathryn’s site says Casini, if it is Top Cat, can’t hide in Panama because ITAR can still reach Pete, he being a US citizen and all. I don’t think that is why he’s hidingout. The US State Department’s "cease & desist" is still a fuzzy red herring to me until I actually see something. The more I ponder this, the more it seems USG was involved. As I said in the past, somebody should have been fired for selecting Top Cat Marine security as cover. More to come for sure.

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Djibouti Sues France

From Opinio Juris comes news Dijibouti, where our Marines have an counter-terrorism base and are practicing the a real campaign of public diplomacy (see CT in the Horn and Revisiting the Roosevelt Doctrine).

[T]he Republic of Djibouti has filed an application with the International Court of Justice against France alleging France violated its treaty obligations to provide judicial assistance in a Djibouti criminal investigation.

This looks like a fairly tedious and unimportant case. The only
interesting aspect (to me, anyway) is whether France refuses to accept
the ICJ’s jurisdiction. France famously withdrew from the compulsory
jurisdiction of the ICJ back in 1996 (those unilateralist Frenchies, so
disrespectful of international courts!) and this case can only go
forward with France’s consent. If France refuses to accept ICJ
jurisdiction, even here in this fairly minor case, it will be a slap at
the ICJ’s authority and credibility.

“Foreign Friends” financing private company off Somali Waters?

An interesting item was on the BBC News website about the Somali coast being the most dangerous coast in the world, along with a recent Naval War College article (Aug 2005) by a professor at the National Defense College of the Philippines reiterated future if not present links and partnerships between terrorism and piracy, suggests the (obvious) point the attempted cruiseship hijacking that was thwarted by a military grade counter-measure (which was on a civilian vessel for what reason? isn’t mil grade hardware illegal?) had more to do with terrorism than piracy. Even it was piracy, it would likely lead to terrorism following any line of logical reasoning.

The BBC item included a quote from the Somali minister for Planning
and International Cooperation, "Abdi Rizak". Dr. Abdirizak Jurile,
apparently referencing the TopCat Marine Security contract for US$55m,
told the BBC New website a contract with a private US security company
was "in the mobilisation phase". The BBC News item was posted 5 January
2005, but a cease & desist order (and here on Kathryn Cramer’s site) was allegedly in the works one month ago.

What does the good Doctor’s mean when he says a contract with an American company, financed by "foreign friends," is in the "mobilization phase"? True, it takes time to move equipment and personnel into the area, but are we still talking about TopCat? Who was financing TopCat? The US$55m cost of the contract requires Congressional approval beyond State Department approval (or rubber stamping). See the Somalia / Horn of Africa category on this site and start at the bottom for background and other discussion on this.

First, who is the doctor? According to the former Governor of the Central Bank of Somalia, Dr Abdirizak Jurile has been controlling Transitional Federal Government (TFG) funds "without accountability, transparency and parliamentary oversight". The former Governor, Mr. Mohamud M Uluso, also alleges Dr Abdirizak has opposed rectifying the control issues Mr Uluso highlights. The timing of Mr Uluso’s dismissal, 24 September 2005, and the cruise ship hijacking & subsequent TopCat contract  are tempting to link, but can they? The removal of Mr Uluso was unconstitutional and unlawful. He was removed by Presidential Decree and not by approval by the Council of Ministers as required. Mr Uluso’s allegations surrounding his dismissal very interesting:                      

In addition, the allegation of disobeying order from the Prime Minister, Prof Ali M Gedi [see Marathon Oil / Range Resources and TopCat / Ogaden for more on Prime Minister Gedi] is baseless and preposterous. The President of the Republic, whose responsibility is to ascertain accusations concerning government officials through due process, did not offer me the opportunity for rebuttal on the false allegation made against me. Aside, the Governor of the CB has the obligation and duty to refuse orders contrary to law from the Prime Minister.

Furthermore, the Central Bank Act establishes the term of office of the Governor in order to protect him from such abuse of power, illegal removal on baseless accusations, and to let him fulfill his duty with integrity, independence  and accountability. The claim that an official can be removed by who appointed him has no legal basis and it is erroneous belief. TFG is subject to the Transitional Federal Charter, the 1960 Constitution and all democratic laws passed before 1969.

There may have been differences of opinions or expectations on the issues briefly described in the annex such as printing new currency, management of government funds, opening of accounts in foreign countries, role of the Central Bank, opening of Central Bank Office in Jowhar, and preparation of government budget.

Mr Uluso continues and requests international support to investigate his dismissal. The charges he makes are substantial and indicative of attempts to establish a properly functioning government without corruption.

So, where is the money coming from? Still no idea but perhaps supplemental financing for natural resource contracts? There were rumors Europeans would be pitching in some bucks but those have evaporated like Peter Casini. Curious.

Incidently, since 27 December 2005, one incident, without loss, was reported to the International Chamber of Commerce  on 2 January 2006: the three speedboats tailing a tanker in the Gulf of Aden.