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.

Continue reading “A talk with the author of Haliburton’s Army


“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

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

It’s intended to be thought-provoking.  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 listen to this NPR interview with the filmmaker). 

Continue reading “Beyond Government Accountability: a challenging look at Peacekeepers

Database of Researchers on International Private Security

Interested in collaborating with researchers working on the issue of private security? From James Cockayne of the International Peace Academy:

IPA Releases Database of Researchers on International Private Security

International Peace Academy has been working with governments, international organizations and civil society to improve regulation of the international private military and security industry for over two years. Following more than 6 months of consultations, IPA has produced a database of more than 150 researchers working in this field. It contains details of researchers from around the world writing in many languages, their prior publications, areas of research focus, current work, and contact details.

The database will facilitate the effective regulation of international private security by improving coordination of research, commentary and civil society input into existing and new regulatory processes. Listing in the database is open to all independent researchers from academia and civil society organizations, anywhere in the world, writing in any language.

To download the database, please go to

Kent’s Imperative: Of PSDs and future assassinations

For year-end reading on private security companies, read this smart post by Kent’s Imperative:

It is no surprise that highly visible political targets under significant threat would seek the very best protection money could buy. Thus the news that Benazir Bhutto sought to obtain the services of a Blackwater protective security detail prior to her assassination is not entirely without precedent.

However, we are reminded of Mountainrunner’s admonition that private military companies play into US foreign policy overseas – and in particular, US public diplomacy – in a manner that few analysts or decision-makers take into account. Blackwater is among the most visibly associated with US engagements in the Long War – even though it plays a protective rather than offensive role. In the minds of many in the Gap, Blackwater is just another instrument of the United States itself….

It has long been a maxim that any political target can be taken by a sufficiently motivated suicidal attacker. While modern protective intelligence and operational TTPs have thankfully greatly reduced the margin of success for an attack, the PIRA’s warning to Lady Thatcher after the failed 1984 IED attack still haunts every practitioner: “Today we were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.”…

Let us be clear, though – such issues need not arise from any impropriety on the part of the private contractor capability, be they intelligence officers or PSD operators. This is an emergent property of the current political and media atmosphere that has not yet reconciled to the business of privatized intelligence or PMCs – largely because of the continued illusion that the state can (or should) somehow magically still provide the range of capabilities demanded in the Long War….

Strategic communications, public affairs, and public diplomacy professionals that will have to deal with the consequences of such an incident in the future had best start preparing contingency planning for this sort of political football. It is only a matter of time – and of adversary kinetic and IO action.

The political football is already out there. The clock is already ticking for the media and the enemy to capitalize on the vulnerability made by private security forces, a similar vulnerability that led to their marginalization almost two hundred years ago. Private resources can be effective extensions, as they were to some in the past, but as the passive additions and extensions of foreign policy as they are today, they will increasingly a liability, as they were to others in the past.

Read the whole thing over at Kent’s Imperative.

WaPo: Warnings Unheeded On Guards In Iraq

There’s a decent article by Steve Fainaru in the Washington Post on the troubles of private security in Iraq:

The U.S. government disregarded numerous warnings over the past two years about the risks of using Blackwater Worldwide and other private security firms in Iraq, expanding their presence even after a series of shooting incidents showed that the firms were operating with little regulation or oversight, according to government officials, private security firms and documents.

There nothing new in the article I haven’t written about before, but Fainaru’s article has a change in tone and perspective on the issue of privatization we’re likely to see more of. It seems we may be finally getting to the point where people realize private security companies themselves aren’t bad (note the quotes from Chris Beese of AEGIS), but their unchecked and irresponsible use that did more than permit but encouraged operations that violated basic requirements for successful counterinsurgency, perception management, and reconstruction and stabilization operations.

Fundamentally, private security companies are tools of American foreign policy, security policy, and public diplomacy, all deeply intertwined and interdependent practices, and thus must be under more than haphazard oversight by middle managers and few others. The mainstream media must start to investigate and discuss the blind eye of the principal (the U.S.) and spend less time on the "reckless" agent, the companies, who are paid and contracted and explicitly (or at worse implicitly) managed by USG or its own agents. With Fairnaru’s article, we should see the previously academic discussion over problems posed by bypassing Constitutional and Congressional oversight, in terms of both checks and balances and management, move into the mainstream in the new year.

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Singer links the addiction: Steroids and Contractors

Guest posting at Danger Room, Peter Singer puts the problem of use into terms many more people can understand:

For the public, however, we should be thinking about this issue of contractors and steroids in another way. Our military’s use of the private military industry has become an addiction that parallels athletes’ increasing turn to artificial substances to get ahead. Just as a dose of steroids give athletes the ability to hit the ball further than ever before, so too has injecting more than 160,000 private military contractors into Iraq allowed the operation to perform tasks that would otherwise be difficult. It is for this reason that many see no problem with seeking that "competitive advantage," on either the playing field or the battlefield.  And, yet, short-term performance enhancement comes at a cost. Just as steroid use leads to side-effects that range from acne and heart damage to even death, the turn to more and more contractors has led to such results as billions of dollars missing in taxpayer funds, soldiers poached away from a stretched thin military, and contractors "Getting Away with Murder," as one recent report on the industry was entitled. 

As 2007 comes to a close, both sports and the military must figure out a larger question, however. Many of these addictions’ side effects may prove to be manageable, or at least pushed back under the table, be it through new designer drugs or various new laws and policies. And yet, we cannot get around the fact that even if we were able to solve the side effects that come with our new addictions, something about just accepting them doesn’t settle right.

And, for a point of irony:

[Blackwater arranged] for its private military parachute team to serve as the halftime show at the upcoming Armed Forces Bowl (how’s that for irony?) football game in Fort Worth.

Go read the whole thing.

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Somebody, Prove my theory

Today is Veteran’s Day here in the United States and a good time to wonder something out loud. Actually, I’ve been saying this in meatspace for a while, but I don’t think I’ve put it on the blog yet.

As you think about our country’s veterans, ask yourself how many veterans you actually know. It’s very likely that you, as a reader of this blog, know (or are) a veteran: you are reading what some call a milblog after all.

Here’s my theory: more Americans know a mercenary, but don’t know it, than know a vet, adjusting for sheer numbers. In other words, contractors our "outside" in the public more than current or former serving members of America’s military.

I’d like to see a study that looks at how many people know a veteran and compare that to how many people know a contractor (i.e. merc). Like it or now, private security companies has brought back the citizen-soldier. The All-Volunteer Force, on the other hand, has created an increasingly insular sub-group distanced from the larger population on several levels.

The voluntarily association of contractors makes it easier for its members to slip in and out of military duty and into the role of your neighbor, your co-worker, that IT recruiting manager you worked with, the cop who’s a brother of a friend, or that dad you met at a BBQ.

No longer do you need need to live near a military base or work in the defense industry to meet someone sanctioned by the state to carry a weapon into a conflict zone. In other words, while the public is increasingly separated from serving military personnel, it is increasingly in contact with contractors but does not know it.

What to think about this? First, Congress and the media doesn’t care about the people who don’t officially wear a flag on their shoulder. Second, this indicates a depersonalization of war, an argument Kohn and Gelpi make. Third, the already scarce personal links between the public and its soldiers will continue to diminish as conflict is outsourced to machines.

With fewer Americans who know somebody presently serving or even directly impacted by the conflicts after 9/11, there is a redevelopment of a distinct and professional warrior class in the United States proficient in the conduct war that harkens back to professional mercenary soldiers of before. The modern All Volunteer Force (AVF) is far removed from the modern political and social spheres of power in the United States, leading to suggestions that non-veteran civilians may be more "interventionist" and simultaneously placing more constraints on the use of military force while at the same time the American citizen-soldier is increasingly an endangered species as soldiers and their families turn inward and focus on their own support networks. National Guard recruiting trends reinforce this point as they are increasingly drawn from the ranks of former military and not from the general public. It is likely robots will support and increase pressure on this trend, just as private security companies do.

Just something to think about on this Veteran’s Day.

(Major G, first round’s on me tonight, second round too if you’re reading this…)

Iraq OKs Raids on Blackwater

From Noah at Danger Room:

This sounds like a recipe for something very ugly.  The Times is reporting that "the Iraqi interior minister said Wednesday that he would authorize raids by his security forces on Western security firms to ensure that they were complying with tightened licensing requirements on guns and other weaponry, setting up the possibility of violent confrontations between the Iraqis and heavily armed Western guards."

“Every company will be subject to such examination, and any company that does not follow the law will lose its license,” the minister, Jawad al-Bolani, said of the planned raids. “They are called security companies. They are not called violate-the-law companies…”

Within Baghdad’s relatively safe and heavily guarded Green Zone, there have been early indications of a battle over who controls Iraqi streets. Private security guards say that Iraqi police officers have already descended on Western compounds and stopped vehicles driven by Westerners to check for weapons violations in recent weeks.

Any extension of those measures into the rest of the country, known as the Red Zone, could quickly turn into armed confrontation. Westerners are wary of Interior Ministry checkpoints, some of which have been fake, as well as of ministry units, which are sometimes militia-controlled and have been implicated in sectarian killings. Western convoys routinely have to choose between the risk of stopping and the risk of accelerating past what appear to be official Iraqi forces.

And because Western convoys run by private security companies are often protecting senior American civilian and military officials, the Iraqi government’s struggle with the companies has in some cases become a sort of proxy tug-of-war with the United States.

This is something we should be very concerned about. As we have architected it, private security forces like Blackwater are direct extensions of American military and civilian presence in Iraq. As we have architected the security and reconstruction efforts, any attack on them is an attack on American interests regardless of whether we view it as such or not. We should expect confrontations between Iraqi elements, government or otherwise, and private security forces as contractors become proxy targets for the U.S. to groups who wouldn’t otherwise overtly target the U.S. military.

Not good. Phase out contractors or bring under our wings, don’t let them hang outside because things will get ugly fast as both contractor and opportunist escalates to defend or attack.

In Iraq, Blackwater Is Old News

From CBS, In Iraq, Blackwater Is Old News, Elizabeth Palmer: Blackwater Shooting Just A Drop In The Ocean Of Iraqi Civilian Deaths:

The shooting last month involving Blackwater security contractors remains big news in the United States. Not here though. Soon after the story broke, it faded from the front pages.

The truth is that no one in Baghdad was very surprised to learn that on Sept. 16 innocent civilians had been killed in a hail of American gunfire. They were more likely to be thinking, “Oh, not again.” Of course some were angered, but over the past three years too many like incidents like this one have dulled people’s outrage.

Besides, they have more pressing worries: how to run a household on two hours of electricity a day; what school will keep their children safe from ethnic bullying; which route home is best for avoiding kidnap. They aren’t outraged about these things either. With weary determination, they just find ways to carry on.

Yes, and the bleeds it leads mentality of most U.S. media, formal or informal, doesn’t get it. "OH MY GOD! MERCENARIES?!" rules, leading to face time for the likes of Jeremy Scahill and Senator Hillary Clinton that take nuggets of reality and runs in the direction that sells more books, newspapers, or buys more votes.

"Oh, not again" must be understood for what it is: a seemingly daily occurrence that interferes with daily life, shaping perceptions against the U.S. and our mission locally and globally. When I put on the discussions and screening of Nick Bicanic’s Shadow Company last year, there was a short segment that (too) few of the audience latched onto: when the Blackwater Mambo driver (firm was undisclosed in the movie and, in reality, isn’t pertinent) laughed off a complaining Iraqi who said the contractor shot his radiator. What message is conveyed by the contractors response, ignoring if the act was justified or proper?

Yes, "over the past three years too many like incidents like this one have dulled people’s outrage". How do you suppose that affects our ability to be effective in the struggle in the minds and wills of men?

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Gansler Commission Cites Systemic Problems in Army Contracting

From the U.S. Army:

Not enough people, too little training, and an antiquated system. Those are the key findings in a report released today on Army contracting in Iraq, Afghanistan and Kuwait.

Ya think? Was something unclear? Did previous issues not rise to a magic level? Is it really true that without real monitoring and performance incentives contractors won’t save us money? What happened to altruism in capitalism?