George Packer’s Knowing the Enemy article in The New Yorker has generated a significant amount of necessary discussion on the global information war we’re in. There are many fine commentaries on Packer’s article to read, including Wiggins’ insightful series, so I’ll try to not to be repetitive here. In fact, I’m going to generally avoid getting into those facts and instead offer two other thoughts largely, if not entirely absent, from discussions over Kilcullen provocative and “Occam-like” ideas.
Earlier this year, the McCormick Tribune Foundation sponsored the conference “Understanding the Privatization of National Security.” Held in Illinois, May 11-12, 2006, it was a discussion between “forty distinguished legal scholars, first responders, military personnel and other representatives of the private and government sectors.” I’ve been reading through the hard copy of the conference report (soft copy available here) thought I’d post some of my observations and thoughts.
I would have liked to be at the conference as I’m sure the report leaves out what I’d consider useful and interesting discussion points. However, the report still gives some insight into some of the thinking on the business of privatizing security.
The focus of the conference was on domestic privatization, but US use beyond the borders was heavily discussed.
In the first chapter of the report, Factors Driving Privatization, a discussion on the changing nature of war brought out the argument of how PMCs (private military contractors, not companies, in this report) are better suited to an environment “where you see crime and war blurred.” I’m interested in hearing their justification on how PMCs are better as I suspect the basis for this statement stems from convoluted and selective take on reality. I’ll get back to this below.
Rajiv Chandraskaran’s Imperial Life in the Emerald City: Inside Iraq’s Green Zone is, among other things, instructive on how to create an insurgency through occupation. Yes, you read that right. Chandraskaran shows how reconstruction efforts were short-circuited and really pissed off the population frequently and unerringly. Chandraskaran’s portrayal of a period that roughly overlaps the existence of the Coalition Provisional Authority is one of myopic and ignorant staffing, priorities, and execution.
How do insurgencies develop? Read this book to see how the people in the middle ground had their options removed and how extremists and criminals had recruiting opportunities handed to them on silver platters, not to mention plenty of time to refine their own operations as neon warning signs were ignored and dismissed.
Because of their similarity and at the same time contrast, my book review here comments on both Chandraskaran’s book and Ambassador L. Paul Bremer’s My Year in Iraq: The Struggle to Build a Future of Hope. Nearly identical in scopy, they are diametrically opposed in their perceptions of reality.
Starting with Imperial Life, Chandraskaran digs into the details like a forensic historian, tearing at the paper castles Bremer and the Administration created for themselves and the American public. He delves into the politics of who was allowed to participate, what information was not shared, and how “loyalists” without appropriate, or in many cases, any experience were placed. Michael Goldfarb, in his New York Times review of the book, hits some of the highlights of Imperial Life, including comparisons between people like the extremely qualified Frederick M. Burkle Jr and who was replaced by the extremely unqualified James K. Haveman Jr for the job of rebuilding Iraq’s healthcare (if the importance of healthcare isn’t obvious, see this RAND report on the importance of healthcare in ‘nation-building’).
The difference between these two books is astounding, quite honestly. Bremer, as Goldfarb writes, has apparently “read one C.E.O. memoir too many”. An accurate states considering the frequent platitudes Bremer heaps upon himself.
Bremer likes to finish a section on a positive reflection while Chandraskaran finishes with reality, a bit of bad reality. For example, on the disbanding of the Iraqi army, CPA Order No. 2, Bremer concludes with Kurdish leader Jalal Talabini telling him that the “decision to formally ‘disband’ the old army was the best decision the Coalition made during the our fourteen months in Iraq.”
On the other hand, Chandraskaran notes Bremer’s plan backfired. Bremer was clearly not concerned with the large number of unemployed he created in a country with already high employment, which he was actually seeking to increase through privatization and restructuring. Failing to heed warnings from the military, State, and logic, Chandraskaran includes an interview with a soldier who had been a part of an Iraqi army protest against the disbanding:
In a land of honor and tradition, the viceroy had disrespected the old soldiers…. I did see another former soldier [months later] who had been at the protest.
“What happened to everyone there?”, I asked. “Did they join the new army?”
“They’re all insurgents now,” he said. “Bremer lost his chance.”
On Coalition Provisional Authority Order No. 1: De-Baathification, Chandraskaran writes about Jay Garner, effectively Bremer’s predecessor who lead the Office of Humanitarian and Reconstruction Aid (OHRA), “barging” into Bremer’s office with the CIA station chief protesting the de-Baathification order. The CIA station chief said the order, which Chandraskaran writes neither National Security Advisor Rice nor Secretary of State Powell had seen, would “drive fifty thousand Baathists underground before nightfall. Don’t do this.”
Bremer, on the other hand, writes the order would only bar “about 1 per cent”, or about 20,000, would be knocked out, according to “our intelligence community.” He describes these top four ranks as “Senior Party Members”. The reality, which Chandraskaran writes, was much broader and deeper than this 20,000. Further alienating a nation without regard to how de-Nazification really worked (which was the model and an image Bremer frequently invokes in My Life).
On a side note, Bremer blames Garner and his men for failing in their job and for leaking information to the press.
One last comparison between the two books that I’ll make is on Bernie Kerik. Despite the obvious need to create security, police training was not given over to an expert, but to Bernie Kerik. It’s interesting how rarely Kerik appears in Bremer’s book. This is probably because of the terrible job he did, which is detailed on many pages in Imperial Life.
Imperial Life’s theme is reward over execution. The civilian leadership, including former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s office and Vice President Dick Cheney’s office, disregarded knowledge and history of reconstruction, nationalism, identity, and even Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs in favor of placing people who, too often, were selected out of “loyalty” to the Republican party and got their first passport in order to work in the Emerald City, aka the Green Zone. Cause and effect was something that could be manipulated without consideration of reality.
The impact of private contractors in Iraq is evident in Imperial Life, while they are almost completely absent in My Life. From BearingPoint to Haliburton to DynCorp to Blackwater, Imperial Life clearly shows how independent, and even in charge, the contractors were, except when they made a suggestion contrary to Bremer’s perception of reality.
This is not just a book in the “snafu genre”, as Foreign Affairs described it. It is a book on how the situation deteriorated so badly in Iraq.
In the end, I’d skip My Life and read Imperial Life to get one view on how the situation in Iraq got so bad and our missed opportunities. Those two words — missed opportunities — appear too frequently in Imperial Life through interviews of OHRA, CPA, military, and contractors done after the completion of their tours. A clear take-away is the mess in Iraq today was not preordained but the result of our doing our damned best to screw it up.
Robert Young Pelton, on his new site IraqSlogger.com, has an in depth report on Alsammarae’s breakout of an Iraqi jail this week. The Los Angeles Times broke the story early this week about Ayham Alsammarae, an Iraqi-American, who was aided by some contractors to get out of jail. (Also see the Chicago Tribune for more.)
Pelton gets into the history of al-Sammarae and notes this wasn’t the first time contractors helped him:
A once-prominent Iraqi American, jailed on corruption charges, was sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors he had hired, several Iraqi officials said.
Ayham Sameraei, a Chicago-area businessman, returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and assumed the position of electricity minister during the interim government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi….
Neither the security contractors nor their company was named by Iraqi officials Monday….
There have been no suggestions that American officials had a role in Sameraei’s escape Sunday afternoon. But the B-movie scenario of a rich businessman hiring armed muscle to bust himself out of jail from inside the fortress-like, U.S.-protected enclave could further contribute to Iraq’s image of instability and lawlessness. The flamboyant former government minister’s arrest and prosecution were held up by Iraqi and U.S. officials as a rare example of good government prevailing in the new Iraq.
His high-profile escape, splashed across Iraqi television channels Monday night, also could further damage the reputation of the U.S., which is already believed by many Iraqis to have wasted and stolen billions of dollars in Iraqi revenue.
Iraqi officials were enraged by his escape and the suggestion that any Americans had a hand in it.
This should not surprise anyone, even private military companies. It will be interesting to learn if the individuals were working on a behalf of a company contracted by Sameraei or if this was an ad hoc arrangement of freelancing individuals. Even if it was by a company that was under some contract (likely a subcontract off a subcontract… or further removed), the chance of sanctions by the US Government (USG) are slim.
So the Great Private Military Escape joins the lengthy list vying to be made into a bad Hollywood movie (sorry, Blood Diamonds). My other favorites include the Triple Canopy lawsuit which alleges that a company supervisor told his employees that he had “never shot anyone with my handgun before” and then fired his handgun through the windshield of a parked taxi, killing the driver; the Aegis “trophy video,” in which employees posted footage on the web of shooting at Iraqi cars on the web, set to Elvis music; the Donald Vance case, in which a US contractor was held 97 days without charges in a US military prison; the various Blackwater episodes, ranging from the 4 guys sent to Fallujah without maps, intell, or proper equipment, to the plane crash in Afghanistan, in which the plane lacked basic safety equipment and didn’t even follow basic flight safety procedures, flying by guesswork into a box canyon, killing 3 civilians and 3 US Army; and of course don’t forget the wonderfully named Custer Battles charging for all sorts of fraud at Baghdad airport, such as a bomb-sniffing dog that in the words of a US Army colonel turned out to be “a guy with his pet.”
At what point do we accept that this whole situation has gone well beyond the original idea of privatization and start to rein it in? Then again, the Army Under Secretary testified to Congress 2 months back that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or its subcontractors to carry weapons or guard convoys, denying we even had firms handling these jobs. So, I guess its like the end of Dallas, where the whole private military industry in Iraq (estimated by Centcom to be 100,000) was “just a dream.”
Two things. The first is we don’t know if these guys were freelancing or corporate, which will make a difference. Second, this really isn’t earth shattering behavior. It’s new, but not unusual or unexpected. Private military enterprises eventually began to interfere with states, especially their home state, at times becoming antagonistic. One example is the United East India Company. This PMC (private mercantile company) was granted the right to “make war, conclude treaties, acquire territories and build fortresses”. Emboldened by its own success, it sought to sell territory to enemies of its home country, the United Provinces (the Netherlands today). In another example, the British East India Company, using the Crown’s military that was licensed to it along with other private resources actually demanded the land from the Royal Navy.
So far, busting a guy out of jail doesn’t seem so bad. It’s terrible public relations and it is yet another jab in the eye of the Iraqis (i.e. bad public diplomacy), as the LA Times commendably picks up on.
Now if he had been held in a US military jail and not an Iraqi police jail, this wouldn’t have happened. Not because of increased security and bureaucracy but because of respect.
It should be interesting how this plays out. As of the time I’m posting this, there’s nothing but the LAT article on GoogleNews, nothing on CNN, FoxNews, or BBC News.
Prior GAO reports have identified problems with the Department of Defense’s (DOD) management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces. GAO issued its first comprehensive report examining these problems in June 2003. Because of the broad congressional interest in U.S. military operations in Iraq and DOD’s increasing use of contractors to support U.S. forces in Iraq, GAO initiated this follow-on review under the Comptroller General’s statutory authority. Specifically, GAO’s objective was to determine the extent to which DOD has improved its management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces since our 2003 report. GAO reviewed DOD policies and interviewed military and contractor officials both at deployed locations and in the United States. DOD continues to face long-standing problems that hinder its management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations. DOD has taken some steps to improve its guidance on the use of contractors to support deployed forces, addressing some of the problems GAO has raised since the mid-1990s. However, while the Office of the Secretary of Defense is responsible for monitoring and managing the implementation of this guidance, it has not allocated the organizational resources and accountability to focus on issues regarding contractor support to deployed forces. Also, while DOD’s new guidance is a noteworthy step, a number of problems we have previously reported on continue to pose difficulties for military personnel in deployed locations. For example, DOD continues to have limited visibility over contractors because information on the number of contractors at deployed locations or the services they provide is not aggregated by any organization within DOD or its components. As a result, senior leaders and military commanders cannot develop a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors to support their operations. For example, when Multi-National Force-Iraq began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed to bases in Iraq. They therefore ran the risk of over-building or under-building the capacity of the consolidated bases. DOD continues to not have adequate contractor oversight personnel at deployed locations, precluding its ability to obtain reasonable assurance that contractors are meeting contract requirements efficiently and effectively at each location where work is being performed. While a lack of adequate contract oversight personnel is a DOD-wide problem, lacking adequate personnel in more demanding contracting environments in deployed locations presents unique difficulties. Despite facing many of the same difficulties managing and overseeing contractors in Iraq that it faced in previous military operations, we found no organization within DOD or its components responsible for developing procedures to systematically collect and share its institutional knowledge using contractors to support deployed forces. As a result, as new units deploy to Iraq, they run the risk of repeating past mistakes and being unable to build on the efficiencies others have developed during past operations that involved contractor support. Military personnel continue to receive limited or no training on the use of contractors as part of their pre-deployment training or professional military education. The lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contractors in deployed locations. Despite DOD’s concurrence with our previous recommendations to improve such training, we found no standard to ensure information about contractor support is incorporated in pre-deployment training.
Chirol at ComingAnarchy has a brief but good primer on the role of the Turkish military in protecting the state & Kamalism. Turkey is certainly a fascinating country to study and pay attention to. As Chirol says, the Turkish military views itself as a mother would its son, intervening to correct its walk then stepping back. Turkey’s recent coups are more than “a bit unlike others” to the extent of being appropriately named “coup by memorandum” (or “communiqué”). Yes, a bit unlike others.
Studying Turkish civil-military relations can lead to a fascinating discussion beyond the context of potential Turkish ascension to the EU (which is partially blocked by their unique c-m) and into the relationship between Islam, government, and the military. I agree with those who equate Turkish civil-military relations with civil-military relations in Germany between the two World Wars and in France of the early 1960s even though most liken them to South America, particularly Brazil, or Eastern European relations after the Cold War. Why? Mostly because of the civil-side of the equation but also because of the professionalism of the military side, notably the officers. When you’re a Turk, you’re neither Kurdish or Turkmen, this is especially true in the military.
The positive role of the military in Turkish life cannot be underestimated. From the one-day conscriptions for invalids — so they too can serve their country with honor — to the ritual of the first letter home from a new conscript and despite corruption, especially on the eastern front, the Turkish military is held in high regard. The Turkish military is synonymous with Turkish national identity.
I look forward to Chirol’s future posts on Turkey and the threats she faces.
I’ve imagined book clubs as being a monthly meeting to discuss a shared book while drinking wine (or a good beer), enjoying some snacks, and catching up with friends. The modern book club is likely to take the form of Shelfari, with its ability to time-shift meetings, the opportunity to not share that bottle of wine, and have all the snacks to yourself.
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.
One of the arguments I’ve laid out in the discussion over private military companies is their lack of accountability isn’t because of their nature. There is potential accountability of PMCs, notably in the US environment, through the contracting system. However, as we’ve seen over the past several years and as is finally hitting the light of day with allegations over illegal sub-contracting, the contracting party, ultimately the USG in this scenario, fails to do its due diligence.
To demonstrate this fact, I’ve argued that “public” institution of United Nations Peacekeeping is even less accountable than private military contractors. Next year there is a paper in an academic journal persuasively, in my humble opinion, demonstrating this fact. One of the many examples to justify this position is the lack of enforcement in the area of sex crimes, which the UN is continuing to battle. Of course, nothing can happen overnight. From the UN itself in the UN Chronicle:
Allegations of sexual abuse and exploitation by United Nations peacekeepers in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Liberia, Haiti and elsewhere have tarnished the reputation of the world Organization. Speakers at a recent meeting at UN Headquarters outlined a “zero-tolerance” policy toward this problem and discussed innovative ways to fight it, including DNA sampling and an “anti-prostitution campaign” for 2007.
Secretary-General Kofi Annan told some 150 participants at the High Level Conference on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and NGO Personnel that it is although significant progress has been made on the issue, “we have really only begun to tackle this egregious problem”. He lamented that a “small number of individuals” undermined the “admirable and upstanding behaviour of the majority of United Nations staff and the uniformed personnel who serve alongside them”. Civilian and military UN personnel had breached UN standards by having sex with adult prostitutes, and had committed crimes such as rape, paedophilia and human trafficking, said Mr. Annan. “All of this is utterly immoral, and completely at odds with our mission. Our behaviour should be something that others can emulate, and be judged against”.
Mr. Annan reiterated his “zero-tolerance” policy toward sexual abuse, saying that UN staff members who commit such acts are being fired, and uniformed peacekeeping personnel are being sent home and barred from future service in the United Nations. He also urged senior leaders to endorse the “Statement of Commitment on Eliminating Sexual Exploitation and Abuse by UN and Non-UN Personnel”, which spells out ten concrete steps to achieving that goal, including incorporating UN standards on sexual exploitation and abuse in induction materials and training courses for UN personnel, and preventing perpetrators from being hired for UN activities.
DNA sampling? By the way, the UN has the control to fire its civilian members but can do nothing but request the military peacekeepers go home and hopefully face trial or punishment there. As far as limiting who comes back into service, well Nepal already apparently segregates its forces: those who are used to commit criminal acts at home aren’t sent on peacekeeping operations. Will we see other contributor nations with the same bifurcation?
There is a limit on how far the UN can go as demand for peacekeepers outstrips supply… For more information on peacekeepers and recent totals on who contributes, skim a previous post on PMCs here.
Check out Draconian Observations’ analysis of the New York Times most emailed list. An interesting statement on a democratic people that feel, according to some polls, powerless to change government and are safely removed from the horrors of war. A factor behind DO’s conclusion is the fact we’re not in an all out war. With the news in Iraq and Afghanistan (remember that place) and elsewhere in the world (there’s an elsewhere?), sweating the small stuff is far better for this Administration.
One of the interesting things about how we’ve allowed the Press Secretary to be a voice (not the voice) of the President is the ability of this person to speak for the President while deflecting from the President. Unlike UK Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “Official Spokesperson” who is nameless and clearly speak for the Prime Minister, the US position isn’t held to account, even when he clearly lies.
An article in today’s Washington Post highlights the incredible flexibility, if you will, of the Press Secretary. Not once does Dana Milbank suggest that anything Tony Snow did, or rather didn’t, say or do reflects on the President himself, which is the prime value and purpose of the Office of the Press Secretary.
With just six weeks before they leave for Iraq, the 3,500 soldiers from the Third Infantry Division’s First Brigade should be learning about Ramadi, the insurgent stronghold where they will spend a year.
Many of the troops don’t even know the basic ethnic makeup of the largely Sunni city. “We haven’t spent as much time as I would like on learning the local culture, language, and politics — all the stuff that takes a while to really get good at.”
We can talk about COIN, we can talk about the new Countering Irregular Threats manual jointly produced by the Army and Marines, we can even talk about the COIN centers of excellence at Fort Leavenworth and West Point, but at what point does this actually make it into the field? Dr Ahmed Hashim said on NPR and wrote in Insurgency and Counter-Insurgency in Iraq that he was “surprised by how little the US military understands about the culture, or ‘human terrain’, of Iraq. That includes ‘societal networks, relations between tribes and within tribes, kinship ties…”
Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty (RFE/RL) is reporting (NEWSLINE Vol. 10, No. 228, Part I, 12 December 2006):
The U.S. Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment is planning to investigate Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich’s links to the Kremlin before deciding whether to approve the $2.3 billion sale of Oregon Steel to the steel maker Evraz Group, which he controls, Britain’s “Financial Times” reported on December 11. Abramovich, the Kremlin-appointed governor of Siberia’s remote Chukotka Autonomous Okrug, is generally considered politically close to the Kremlin, and reportedly Russia’s richest man (see “RFE/RL Newsline,” November 21, 2006). In Washington, a Treasury spokeswoman declined to comment, saying that they do not discuss their reviews, “The Moscow Times” reported on December 12. The “Financial Times” cited Daniel Lucich, a former deputy assistant treasury secretary, as saying that the U.S. authorities want to know whether Evraz “is owned, controlled, or influenced by a Russian or other government interest.” The paper did not say when the review will take place. If the deal goes ahead, it will be the largest Russian takeover of a U.S. firm, the British daily added.
Late last month, Luxembourg-based Evraz Group SA, the largest domestic steelmaker in Russia, signed a deal to buy Oregon Steel Mills in Portland for $2.3 billion.
Will the media catch up and report or just move on? Armchair Generalist has a good example of selective reporting by the US domestic press with a plot by a Muslim making the headlines and what seems to be a more dangerous plot by a guy looking to blow up Congress barely making news. Both are examples of discretionary information management by the media.