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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One Nation Under Contract – A Book Review Essay by PHK

From the first recorded use of mercenaries four thousand years ago, through the Peace of Westphalia in 1648, and until the nineteenth century, mercenaries were regular features of war. It was not Westphalia that disarmed mercenaries, but a confluence of nationalism, technology, and increasing interstate trade that marginalized them. It would be another two hundred years after the birth of the modern state before states would effectively hold each other accountable for the actions of their citizens, started linking the projection of force to a specific geographic territory, and consolidated the decision to personally volunteer and fight in wars away from the people and into the hands of the governments of states that private militaries were “de-legitimized, de-democratized, and territorialized”. The same consolidation seen in privateers was also evident in commercial enterprises as activities from the territory of state was viewed as sanctioned by that government.

Continue reading “One Nation Under Contract – A Book Review Essay by PHK”

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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“Our ‘don’t hate me because I’m beautiful’ message isn’t working either.  Like Jim Glassman says, it’s not about us, it’s about them.  The sooner we recognize that, the better.” – Angela Trethewey and Joe Faina in talking about Sen. Lieberman’s Not-So-Straight Talk on Public Diplomacy

“One of the problems with Open Source research is that most of it is farmed out to contractor [companies], who are just using it as unclassified work for people who are in the process of getting their clearance.  This is one of the reasons contractors will NEVER contribute to the field of Open Source.  Their analysts pick up some skills but then are ripped out of there to serve on a higher-paying contract, once they get cleared.  This brain drain is a huge problem.” – Open Source Spy Looks for Upgrade by Noah Shachtman

“The decline of the U.S. military’s acquisitions workforce, and the resulting reliance on private contractors to perform oversight on weapons program, is ‘going to be sooner or latter one of the biggest stories of the military complex in this half of the century,’ according to one longtime defense industry professional.” – Pentagon Weapons-Buying: ‘Dumb as a Bag of $600 Hammers’ by David Axe

“Hackers knocked out Al Qaeda’s online means of communication, thus preventing them from posting anything to commemorate the anniversary.” – Hindustan Times (h/t MT)

Online Symposium at CTLab: Social Science in War starts next week (22 September 2008)

“Google is talking about moving some of their data centers offshore, which in their mind apparently means at sea. … The ‘water-based data centres’ would use wave energy to power and cool their computers, reducing Google’s costs. Their offshore status would also mean the company would no longer have to pay property taxes on its data centres, which are sited across the world, including in Britain.” – Google Going Offshore? by Galrahn (see also Google and Am FP)

“Despite almost seven years of fighting, the administration has still not clearly articulated a strategy and has starved the effort of resources. … Good tactics and more troops are not a substitute for a strategy – and in fact can significantly raise the cost of a bad strategy. Both candidates need to explain the strategy that justifies such a commitment.” – The Good War? by T.X. Hammes

Outsourcing the fight to counter misinformation

Briefly, success in the contemporary conflict environment, counterinsurgency or otherwise, depends on winning the struggle for minds and will. In this, information must conquer information. Perceptions must be met not by brute force, but the psychological equivalent. In Iraq, IO is being outsourced to private firms to bring support in the informational battlespace. From PRWeek:

The US military expects to hire a firm to provide “information operations” support in Iraq to counter insurgent misinformation tactics. The bids were due on Friday, August 22.

Army public affairs officer Paul Boyce said the reason for the RFP is primarily the military’s need to counter misinformation spread by hostile parties. Stopping rumors is a particular need for the Army, but finding out about those rumors is difficult if the language and culture of the area of operations is not well understood.

“We’ve had an insurgent population that has sought to kill our soldiers,” Boyce said. “By communicating with people in Iraq in as many ways possible what we’re trying to do to help them, and what we’re trying to do to prevent people from using these ruthless roadside bombs that blow up people in streets, in schools and mosques, we find that a very important thing.”

Work for the account involves a wide range of communications activities, including monitoring and analyzing Arabic and Western media; spokesperson training; and development and dissemination of TV, radio, newsprint, and Internet “information” products, according to the RFP, originally issued by the Department of the Army’s Joint Contracting Command in late July.

The minimum amount for the one-year contract, with two, one-year options to renew, is set at $250,000, and the maximum amount is $300 million.

Boyce noted that while the US military has gone to considerable effort to train soldiers in Arabic languages and improve their understanding of local culture, development of that sort of knowledge takes so much time and effort, and the need is so great that contractors are simply needed to meet the demand.

“Oftentimes, outside contractors bring outside talents or abilities, or previous experiences that might not necessarily be readily available within the government,” Boyce said. “Or they can bring a dedicated resource to the task [that might] already be used elsewhere within the government.”

As described in a “statement of work,” provided by the department of Multi-National Force-Iraq called Strategic Communications Management Services, insurgents in Iraq have sought to discredit US and allied forces, as well as the Iraqi government, through various means, including psychological warfare, terrorism, murders, and other “asymmetric” means intended to counter the US allied forces’ stronger military.

The ripple effect from insurgent use of improvised explosive devices in Iraq intended to kill and destroy Coalition forces and equipment is severe. Recording and branding the attacks for global distribution as marketing vehicles of not only David versus Goliath imagery but to gain support against their peers is secondary, or even tertiary to their strategic impact. The strategic value of IEDs to the insurgent is the psychological insecurity they create by inducing a negative spiral in training, techniques, and procedures that goes against the requirements for effective counterinsurgency. The deployment of armored Humvees and Mine Resistant Ambush Protected Vehicles (MRAPs) was indicative of the reduced trust of the indigenous population. The resulting withdrawal from the “sea of the people” by Coalition forces severely undermined counterinsurgency efforts as the increased distance between the indigenous population and the warfighter “actually assists the enemy in accomplishing his objectives.”

Contractors: the hundred billion dollar temporary fix

Way back when, before most people were paying attention, there were warnings on the failure to provide adequate oversight over contractor expenses and action. Before he warned of the military-industrial-Congressional complex, President Eisenhower committed the U.S. government to increasingly “rely on commercial sources” started the outsourcing ball rolling. In 1966, Office of Management and Budget Circular A-76 formalized the preference for the private sector over the public sector provided the private sector could provide the service or product more economically.

Continue reading “Contractors: the hundred billion dollar temporary fix”

Contracting out foreign military training

I am firmly opposed to contracting anything related to foreign military training on the basic belief that outsourcing prevents development of lasting military-to-military relations and inhibits military cultural exchange and personal relations.  Democratic ideals, whether from Americans, French, Germans, or British, rely upon an underlying premise that the military is subservient to the elected government.  Also, placing our own soldiers next to foreign militaries demonstrates a commitment that outsourcing does not. 

On this topic, read Peter W. Singer’s recent article on this: Lessons Not Learned: Contracting Out Iraqi Army Advising

One of the key questions surrounding the government’s escalating uses of military contractors is actually not whether they save the government client money or not (this, however, is getting harder to argue with the more than $10 billion that the Defense Contract Audit Agency believes was either wasted or misspent on contracting in Iraq. Rather the crucial question that should asked at the onset of any potential outsourcing is simple: Should the task be done by a private company in the first place?

This issue of what is an “inherently governmental” job or not is at the center of a raft of recent legislative approaches on the private military issue: the mark up by the Senate Armed Services Committee to prohibit armed contractors from “performing inherently governmental functions in an area of combat operations,” Representative David Price and Jan Schakowsky’s announcement this week of a bill seeking to prohibit intelligence agencies, including the CIA, from hiring private contractors for military detainee operations, like the infamous CACI interrogators at Abu Ghraib, and presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama’s bill that would require the Pentagon and State Department to develop a strategy for ensuring that its contracts do not “have private companies and their employees performing inherently governmental functions, emergency essential activities, or mission critical activities.”

While I’m not convinced Price or Obama’s bills are the answer (mostly for lack of information), the real issue is not what is “inherently governmental”, but what is appropriate for the mission.  This includes factors such as skill retention (paying somebody else to do your job means you forget how to do your job), longevity (it may be cheaper in the long run and with all factors considered to keep the job in-house), effects (how do the perceptions of policy makers and local host populations of contractors shape results), and other hard to measure elements (institutional memory, military-to-military relations).  Each of which Singer mentions. 

It is completely understandable why a hard-pressed force would contemplate contracting out advising the Iraq military. From a bureaucratic standpoint, it’s the easy way out. Despite repeated calls by such top military thinkers as Colonel John Nagl, the U.S. Army still does not have an official advising capacity. Advising has never been something “Big Army” has been all that interested in doing (it has traditionally been viewed as a career drag) and moving officers and NCOs into these roles would mean moving them out of other units. By contrast, all the muss and fuss can instead be handed off to a company to handle.

But just because a company can do the job, doesn’t always mean it should. Advising the Iraqi Army has been determined by our national leadership as a task that is essential to our successful war effort. We should treat it that way in how the job is executed.


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Beyond Government Accountability: a challenging look at Peacekeepers

imageMy article in Serviam, the magazine dedicated to “Stability Solutions in a Dangerous World,” is out.  I mentioned it before, but now you can read the whole thing. 

It’s intended to be thought provoking, which it is.  By the way, it was vetted and approved by an international lawyer and a consultant to Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch.  There will be more on the subject of the lack of accountability of peacekeepers by others.  In the immediate future, it sounds like you can catch more in the upcoming HBO movie The Greatest Silence (and/or listen to this NPR interview with the filmmaker). 

From Beyond Government Accountability:

…If holding nonstate soldiers accountable is really an issue for many critics, then the admitted lack of accountability of and jurisdiction over contracted nations contributing to U.N. PKOs should be a prime concern. The gap between perceived accountability and real accountability has a broader and deeper impact on the societies in which they operate.

The relationship between peacekeeping forces (PKFs) and the U.N. Security Council mimics the relationship between a private military or security company and the country in question. The Security Council negotiates with U.N. members to contribute to PKOs, most often in the stead of the five permanent Security Council members who actually make the decision to deploy military observers, police, and troops. The General Assembly does not authorize or oversee PKFs, but it is tasked to operate on the behalf of the Security Council.

Forgotten is Article 43 of the U.N. Charter, which calls for maintaining a standing rapid reaction military force to be available to the Security Council. Instead, the U.N. relies on ad hoc partnerships and “conditional commitments” through the U.N. Stand-By Arrangements System. This system falls well short of what was envisioned when it was established six decades ago at the dawn of the Cold War.

Governments providing the peacekeepers hand over accountability to the United Nations, and those that finance the operations have little to no say in how the forces will actually operate. With no standing commitment by member states, each operation requires individual negotiations across the spectrum–from questions regarding chain of command and responsibilities to rules of engagement and the rules on the use of force.

In the post-Cold War environment, downsized Western militaries are less able to participate in PKOs owing to capacity limits as well as domestic politics. To fill the gap, the Security Council increasingly turns to developing nations (formerly known as “Third World”) countries to deploy to regions that have little direct significance to the contributing country. …

Read the whole thing in the March-April 2008 issue of Serviam or download a PDF of the article here (144kb PDF).