State’s Diplomatic Security chief resigns

State Department’s Diplomatic Security (DS) chief resigns:

Richard Griffin, the Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Diplomatic Security, announced his decision to step down at a weekly staff meeting, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said, adding that Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice accepted the resignation, which is effective Nov. 1.

I find dark humor in Griffin’s resignation. This goes to my point that State doesn’t internalize their role in shaping and transforming opinions through their presence and actions. While Defense increasingly understands what their personnel on the ground are "the last three feet" of engagement through direct contact with people and indirectly through media, State pretends it’s on another level.

State is its own worse enemy here. Blackwater, on the other hand, is like most contractors (Custer Battles is a poster exception) and was just doing its job as a) the client instructed, and b) the client permitted. In all of the emotional rhetoric that’s increasingly distanced from reality on contractors, Jeremy Scahill being the prime example, lost is the hiring party’s culpability.

In the end, this is another example that the State Department, under the leadership of Rice and Hughes, fails to accept what it does, from moving around Baghdad to hiring private vendors, shape opinions. They’ve done such a bad job of managing their security provider that not only are they completely dependent on Blackwater, operations in Iraq and elsewhere are likely to come to halt again as contractors pull out, spurred by Iraq repelling CPA Order 17 in the wake of September 16.

See also:

State’s insular world

A short while back I wrote about the cost the U.S. incurred by State’s unchecked desire to keep its principals off the ‘X’ and a while back I arranged discussions on the role of private military contractors play in public diplomacy. Nicholas Kralev, writing in the Washington Times, has more on State’s inept understanding of the environment in which it works.

The State Department cited legal reasons in turning down a 2005 request from Blackwater USA to install cameras in official U.S. motorcades protected by employees of the security contractor in Iraq, The Washington Times has learned.

Blackwater’s request is more than about protecting Blackwater, it is about the U.S. protecting itself and its mission. Blackwater is an agent of the U.S. and a representative of the U.S. This is about the U.S. participating in and countering enemy propaganda. State has systematically denied its role in the war of perceptions and this is just the latest example of how it rejects reality.

In contrast, the Defense Department provides massive amounts of video, a broadcast channel, even going so far as to create a YouTube account for MNF-Iraq. And don’t forget to count soldiers’ personal video recorders as well. (Of course, there are the differences in State and Defense’s approach to the blogosphere).

Instead of providing more information, State sticks to its 19th Century role of speaking privately and taking the corporate defense that less information is better (which is extendable to destroying data as soon the retention schedule permits it, or rather, when legally permissible to do so, which I’m sure will surface soon). State minimizes information so it can’t be held accountable — which is a false hope. Even if it shuts its eyes really, really hard, others saw the event and a vastly greater audience heard unchallenged reports of the event. Closing its eyes and pretending the world of information isn’t an adequate defense. For the criticisms of Blackwater, they knew the value of video recording.

Hell, even NATO is seeing the value of sharing video.

The imbroglio over contractors is good. It’s a discussion that’s long, long overdue. It’s unfortunate, however, that the spark was State’s failure to comprehend and manage its presence in Iraq. Information continues to come out how the tactics of Blackwater were encouraged and explicitly or implicitly condoned by State.

And while we’re talking about public diplomacy, where is Karen Hughes’ office in this? Are her bloggers still slinging "official government positions" in the comments sections of blogs? Hard to say, but not much to say to cover up a bad policy.

UPDATE: Iraq is moving to repeal CPA Order 17 and of yesterday (23 Oct 07), rumor has it Blackwater is "flying out 90-120" of its contractors a day, although that seems high.

See also:

A bigger problem than Blackwater: DynCorp (Updated)

You want a bigger and deeper problem than Blackwater? Consider DynCorp, a much larger private military firm "providing" a range of services that impact Iraqis and the U.S. mission in far greater ways than Blackwater. From David Phinney:

The State Department so badly managed a $1.2 billion contract for Iraqi police training that it can’t tell what it got for the money spent, a new report says.

Because of disarray in invoices and records on the project — and because the government is trying to recoup money paid inappropriately to contractor DynCorp International, LLC — auditors have temporarily suspended their effort to review the contract’s implementation, said Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart W. Bowen Jr.

Maybe investigators should look into DynCorp’s relationship with its prime subcontractor, Corporate Bank, aka, The Sandi Group, aka, TSG.

See: Marking Up the Reconstruction

You could play the What If? that Blackwater’s profile (and profits) wouldn’t be what it was if DynCorp (and others) had done their part in training the police, building the infrastructure, and creating jobs for Iraqis as they had been charged with doing.

Oh, and by the way, when the U.S. sends police on U.N. peacekeeping missions, they aren’t employed by the U.S. Nope, they’re DynCorp-paid cops. Blackwater? They’re just the whipping boy for the emotional. Blackwater is small change compared to DynCorp.

Also see Phinney’s more recent post on State’s IG here.

Update: see the NY Times article on State contracting.

See also:

DOD official orders head count of private security guards

From Federal Computer Week, the guy in charge of paying for things wants to know what he’s paying for.

John Young, acting undersecretary of Defense for acquisition, technology and logistics, has launched a comprehensive head count of private security contractors working for the U.S. military in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In a Sept. 28 memo, Young gave Defense Department officials until Nov. 1 to record personal, contract and detailed deployment information on all private security contractors and translators working in those two countries.

The sad thing is, many of us have been saying this is required for years. Think they’ll start putting contractors through CRC (CONUS Replacement Center) again? Doubt it, this is the chief bean counter. But depending on the distribution of his findings, maybe ground commanders will know who the heck is near them. More hopeful is that Mr. Young might connect ground commanders with the contract weenies so when there’s friction with a contractor a screw can be turned (which of course relies on real pain being felt and not offset by a larger contract elsewhere which as been the norm)?

Congress continues to screw up its priorities and we still don’t get privatization issue

It’s no wonder that Congress asked such lame questions of Blackwater’s Erik Prince and think that tweaking MEJA will solve the problems. While there’s a war raging and we continue to lose credibility, Congress, namely the Foreign Affairs Committee, fiddles.

Continue reading “Congress continues to screw up its priorities and we still don’t get privatization issue

Revising History

I envy Ambassador L. Paul Bremer and his ability to revise history. It’s fantastic to read Ambassador L. Paul Bremer revising history again (the first time was in his memoir). When talking about CPA Order 17, he said “The immunity is not absolute. The order requires contractors to respect all Iraqi laws, so it’s not a blanket immunity.” Seriously?

I envy even more the reporters who wrote the New York Times article that I copied the quote above. They are so innocent in their article so as to be irresponsible. 

If a private in the United States military fires on civilians, a clear body of law and a set of procedures exist for the military to use in investigating each incident and deciding if the evidence is sufficient to bring charges.

But when private security contractors do the same, it is exceedingly unlikely that they will be called to account. A patchwork of laws that are largely untested, and practical obstacles to building cases in war zones, have all but insulated contractors from accountability.

No where in the article do the authors ask why in 2007 are they asking this question? No where do they bring up how contractors have the ability to directly and immediately influence U.S. foreign policy, national security, and public diplomacy. Think Fallujah and the decision to "teach them a lesson" for dragging and stringing up contractors, against the recommendations of the commanders on the ground. War today isn’t about personal enmity, which is what came into play in the aftermath of Fallujah as a result of a company going cheap and going stupid in trying to escort kitchen goods. The end result? We lost prestige, high-ground, trust, and possibly the war. Not because the contractors were there, but because we allowed them to remain outside of our mission and we maintained separate civil and military operations.

I didn’t notice any questioning of why or to what effect in the New York Times article, but plenty of opportunity to revise history and ignore the real issues and attack the pinata of the day.  I don’t mean to pick on the NYT article, but too much of what’s being written today doesn’t really scratch the surface of the real problem and is simply noise, mastabatory writing if you will. They want to see their own words, that are really the same words somebody else has used, with rare exception, but in a different order.

See also

The Cost of Keeping the Principal off the X

Does anybody else found it disturbing that the Department that contains the US Public Diplomacy apparatus, is ostensibly in charge of “winning hearts and minds” (used here because they use this phrase), and works with foreign media could be so blind as to ignore the impact of their travel? While they were too busy looking after the forest, they didn’t realize they were poisoning the land on which the trees grow.

Their aggressive posture, fueled in part by IEDs, was more than condoned but encouraged. Blackwater did their job: they kept their principals of the X and nobody they were charged with protecting died.

A few brief comments:

  • In a Los Angeles Times editorial, Max Boot hypes the utility of contractors while ignoring the political and economic trade-offs as he notes more warfighters are freed to do other things. There is a decision that must be made here: upsize the force or spend more money on “short-term” solutions that are used for the long-haul? There are political costs to using contractors that include public diplomacy, changing foreign policy options, and distance from the citizenry from conflict, all of which must be factored in. Economic costs are similar.
  • Malcolm Nance’s suggestion of a Force Protection Command is useful and one of the best analyses of the subject I’ve seen.
  • However, as P.W. Singer notes in his comment to Nance’s post at SWJ, Nance’s recommendations also skipped over the foundational reasons contractors are engaged.
  • Ralph Peters plays the same emotional card that contractors are independent cowboys while feebly addressing the core issues.
  • Tom Barnett, commenting on Ralph Peters’ emotional and fact-challenged diatribe, unfortunately, drinks the Peters Punch and Jeremy Scahill’s Kool-Aid that outsourcing itself is wrong and that the principal’s agents are uncontrollable. The world Peters describes is not accurate at heart but has become functionally accurate the more we learn about how State, not DOD, has used and supported contractors. The existence of contractors isn’t the issue, nor is their use by a democracy novel, but novel is the absence of employing the real mechanisms to hold them accountable, we need to implement and internalize these processes, understanding the core reasons why it’s necessary to do so.

It is this failure to understand the resource being engaged, and the necessary control, that makes the Machiavellian warning more accurate after years of use. It is State that, ironically, demonstrated it could not, for a change not for bureaucratic reasons, understand the need for appropriate RUF and ROE out of a lack of vision, awareness, and fortitude.

Both the conduct and rules of war has changed, and the range of services that private military companies provide and what the US requires of them is significant, prompting the Dean of the Army War College to say, “The US cannot go to war without contractors.” Unlike technology stewardship issues that prevent aircraft carriers from putting to sea without civilians (for the last four decades), security contractors are on the front lines, directly and independently engaging foreign publics. These “guns with legs” are point persons in American foreign policy and public diplomacy and are perceived as representatives of the United States. Their role isn’t a given nor is it required, but we seem to have accepted it. We cannot afford to make these assumptions.

Mercenaries: Useless and Dangerous? It is a matter of choice

As much as I hate to hear Machiavelli’s warning against mercenaries regurgitated without so much as a fundamental understanding of the realities of the time and place it was written, recent revelations that the Department of State willingly allowed Blackwater to use aggressive tactics to “keep the Diet Pepsi from spilling” resonates deeply with the real intent of the Secretary. The irony almost drips from the media reporting on State’s culpability in Blackwater’s tactics that virtually incited the Iraqi public against the mission.

Continue reading “Mercenaries: Useless and Dangerous? It is a matter of choice

IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

Abu Muqawama has a smart post on IEDs as Weapons of Strategic Influence, something I’ve talked about before. However, what he and others have missed is the role IEDs have had not just on American military force posture — using armored Humvees and MRAPs (scroll down to find reference) — but also of the entire Coalition, including private military contractors, highlighted by recent events that have dramatically altered the narrative and focus of the entire mission in Iraq, as well as the tools used in the execution of that mission.

The Blackwater incident of September 16th is a direct and successful result of the effectiveness of IEDs to influence the posture and response of our security forces, including of our own military, to threats. The effort to “stop the bleeding” back in 2003 took a turn toward our expertise (technology) and while failing to address the root causes and purposes of the attacks in the first place. The result: failure. Now you can subscribe to YouTube channels to watch new IED footage (as MountainRunner has) while more money is spent on jammers and armor. The former causes a technology race toward the bottom with diminishing returns and the latter insulates both physically and morally the Coalition from the population.

Continue reading “IED as a Weapon of Strategic Influence: Creating the Blackwater Nightmare

State makes an announcement on Blackwater… from the Blog

From DipNote, State’s new blog, State announces a team will go to Iraq:

Secretary Rice decided this today after a meeting with several senior advisors on the structure of the review. Pat Kennedy will lead a small team to Iraq early next week to begin establishing some baseline set of facts about these contractor operations and provide Secretary Rice with an interim report no later than next Friday. (Note: Pat has already done a lot of groundwork in Washington since last Friday when the review was announced.) The soon to be announced outside experts will also receive the report. I expect they will also travel to Iraq, either with Pat or separately, to conduct their own ground truth assessment. Meanwhile, Pat will continue his work, feeding his findings to the senior outside experts. Based on Pat’s work, as well as their own assessments, the independent panel will then make a set of recommendations to Secretary Rice several weeks from now. About the review, she said that she wants "…it be 360 [degrees], to be serious, and to be really probing."

Depending on how much time you grant USG to backfill using private resources before they decide they must really analyze the problem, this is 3 – 4 years late. But, it is a start.

Singer on Private Military Companies in Counterinsurgency

P.W. Singer’s paper "Can’t Win With ‘Em, Can’t Go To War Without ‘Em: Private Military Contractors and Counterinsurgency" is online at Brookings. I suggest you read it. Let me draw your attention to the very important quote from Nick Bicanic’s testimony to Congress at the bottom of page 9 that helps give context to the issue:

Iraqis do not differentiate between armed security contractors and US soldiers. In other words, security contractors are America’s public diplomats– and yet these same contractors are not held to same oversight or standards of accountability as our soldiers. We may try to distance ourselves by the actions of the contractors, thinking they provide convenient temporary manpower whose deaths won’t be marked by a flag draped coffin coming through Dover, but that only plays in the United States. Overseas, where the public opinion really matters in the struggle for minds and will in the insurgency, the contractors are the U.S. and are directly involved in the mission.

Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

David Axe, at Wired’s Danger Room, reminds us of the importance of creating a secure environment, especially after kicking out the bad guys. We saw the longing for the "good ole days" of safety even if it meant oppression in post-Soviet Russia and Iraq, just to name two place.

"The best antidote to terrorism, according to Horn of Africa analysts, is stability in Somalia, which the Islamic Courts had provided," according to one Nairobi paper:

As in other Muslim-Western conflicts, the world undoubtedly needs to engage with the Islamists to secure peace. … The objective for the United States … is simply to prevent Somalia from being an unwilling haven for terrorist groups linked to Al-Qaeda. To pursue that objective, the United States is handicapped by the fact that state authority is limited to only portions of the country. The United States has everything to gain from the formation of a broad-based all inclusive government and a stable Somalia.

Continue reading “Wednesday Mash-up for September 26, 2007

Rescinding CPA Order 17

Iraq’s Parliament is considering rescinding CPA Order 17 that protects PMCs from Iraqi law. (BBC and AP stories here). Nice story but bad for the PMCs and incompatible with their mission. If the private military companies, especially the private security companies, are augmenting, or at times replacing US military forces, they must not only be fully integrated into the mission at the strategic, operational, and tactical levels, but also protected accordingly. The risk of not doing so is political. By definition, these firms operate in less than secure geographies (no, I’m not using the word state) with weak or absent legal, judicial, and police systems and any action against them such as rescinding CPA Order 17 may be suspect.

Continue reading “Rescinding CPA Order 17

Holding Contractors Accountable

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

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

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

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

Continue reading “Holding Contractors Accountable

Talking about PMCs (Updated)

Update at the bottom

On the PMC list, a Yahoo Group on the private military industry, there’s been a fun (a word I use loosely) discussion the accountability of the private military, specifically security, industry that’s particularly timely considering this incident this weekend. The bulk of the arguments centered on the industry not policing itself. This was my response to re-focus the conversation and identify the right target. After they started talking about the Blackwater Christmas Eve shooting of the Iraqi VP’s bodyguard, and some claimed the ability of the BW contractor to leave Iraq and to date avoid prosecution was a problem w/ the company itself, I decided to jump in. Here’s my response which I hope elicits more discussion here:

Continue reading “Talking about PMCs (Updated)

Blackwater in Iraq

Noah posted a good response by P.W. Singer at Danger Room this morning. No time for more than a few quick comments:

  • There is no license to be revoked.
  • Blackwater is an agent of the US Government operating extremely closely with our diplomatic personnel, reducing the rhetorical distance of the PSC mission.
  • The MOI can’t attack the US directly when US Military does something like this, at least not effectively with such a large media response.
  • The MOI, by attacking Blackwater, a direct agent of the US, can make a statement with relative security.
  • Blackwater, as an agent of the US, should be shielded by the US and defended or punished by the US. Any other action allows rumor to build and perceptions to turn more negative against an agent of the US, regardless of whatever you think of Blackwater.
  • The problem isn’t with Blackwater itself, this whole thing, as Singer says, is inevitable and we’re still not dealing with the root causes.

See my post earlier today that was not originally on this incident but is still applicable.