CRS Report on IEDs

Via FAS comes this Congressional Research Service report on IEDs in Iraq, their effects and countermeasures (available here).

The report is far from interesting. In fact, it’s downright useless. With the exception of one paragraph (below), effects and countermeasures are measured purely in technology avoiding the real effects of IEDs.

In Iraq, small, highly skilled IED cells often hire themselves out to other insurgent groups, such as al-Qaeda in Iraq or the Sunni group Ansaar al Sunna. They advertise their skills on the Internet, and are temporarily contracted on a per-job basis but otherwise remain autonomous. A typical IED terrorist cell consists of six to eight people, including a financier, bomb maker, emplacer, triggerman, spotter, and often a cameraman. Videos of exploding U.S. vehicles and dead Americans are distributed via the Internet to win new supporters.

The first sentence, IEDs cells as mercenaries, is sourced to a Los Angeles Times article from 9/22/06 about the Italians leaving Iraq.

What the report emphasizes is, at least from CRS’s point of view, IED’s are still simply technological threats and little else. 

(Somewhat) Recent links to MountainRunner

Steve Field at D-Ring shows his brilliance with this post (and no, that is not a picture of me, I assume it’s Seth, a far more handsome gentleman than myself). (Original post here)

The increasingly wise PurpleSlog agrees with me that Karl Rove, or someone like him, should replace Karen Hughes. (Original post here)

Joshua Foust linked to my post on Israeli mercenaries (would Dougie @ IPOA call these guys mercs or contractors?) helping violent drug lords / insurgents in the Western Hemisphere.

Adam resurfaces to comment on a Canadian article titled “Human Security and the Militarization of Aid Delivery” (via Chris) asking at the end what I think about NGO’s using PMCs. To start, NGOs and UN peacekeeping operations have been using PMCs for, well, decades in ways only subtle to Americans and those not involved in NGOs. In the middle, I disagree with Adam’s blanket statement that “organizational cultures, motivations, and priorities of PMCs and NGOs, are also strikingly different.” If you want to make a buck, don’t start a PMC, start an NGO, fewer people are shooting at you and the profit margins are greater and you’ll be the subject of many cocktail conversations and enjoy side benefits. I also disagree with the assertion that transgressions by PMCs in one theater will bleed over to a host population in another (the global community is another thing, but the people being helped aren’t watching the talking heads). Let’s look at Nepal and their “promise” not to send any of their human rights violators outside the country to don the Blue Helmet (also, think about the criminal behavior of the Dutch at Srebenica years ago). Abuses by PMCs are not inevitable by their nature, organization, or what have you. As I wrote (and published) before, if your concern (the royal You not Adam specifically) is accountability of an armed force, look first at the Blue Helmets. The core issue is this: should NGOs be armed, or should they be accompanied by armed escorts? Generally, no, whether they are soldiers of a state or private. Guns are scary to many of the people in most need and the NGO becomes tainted by a very close proximity with guns. Relational distance is important and can be conducted by anyone.

Bonnie Boyd at the Central Asia Blog linked to my popular post on PRTs. She also observed MountainRunner is a “really good Civil-Military Relations blog”. It’s good to come across another smart and observant blogger… 🙂

Colombia, Israel and rogue mercenaries

Briefly, a story worth noting from International Relations and Security Network:

Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos has acknowledged that Bogota had quietly hired a group of former Israeli military officers to advise local defense officials on their counter-insurgency tactics against leftist Fuerza Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, the Colombian daily Semana newspaper reported on 10 August….

Outside assistance with Colombian ‘counterinsurgency’ efforts in the form of Israeli ‘expertise’ has created dangerous rogue mercenaries and prolonged a bloody conflict….

Continue reading “Colombia, Israel and rogue mercenaries

Talking about The White Rabbit

I’ve neglected posting on one of four foci of this blog: the privatization of force. To catch up a bit, let me throw The White Rabbit, aka Blackwater Blogger, at you.

I’ve followed The White Rabbit since it appeared a couple of months ago, but I have neglected to post on it for, well, no good reason at all. (In fact, I started to write this post over the weekend, but opted to continue to reading Singer’s Children at War instead.) It’s a well written, if wordy, blog seeking to clarify sensationalist stories about contractors. Most of the time it does a descent enough job while mocking the industry’s attackers, especially Scahill. For the fact-conscious, the blog does go too far at times with oversimplified arguments and data that mirrors its attackers. To be sure, there are the profit-seeking criminal contractors like Custer Battles who bend the rules, but there are others who are operating within or near the fuzzy rule set incompletely managed by the client who bears the ultimate responsibility of the actions of its agents.

When problems arise, whether its the Christmas Eve shooting, Aegis contractors hunting Iraqis, or vigilante justice by contractors, how the principal (the US) handles the situation is more important as it sets the precedent and perceptions of limits for the contractors, the local population, and the global media.

Continue reading “Talking about The White Rabbit

Mash-Up for Friday, August 10, 2007

I’m short on time for the blog so I am just going to dump a bunch of recommended reads here. I am at a conference next week, so posting next week is likely to be very light.

From the Pew Research Center: Internet News Audience Highly Critical of News Organizations

The American public continues to fault news organizations for a number of perceived failures, with solid majorities criticizing them for political bias, inaccuracy and failing to acknowledge mistakes. But some of the harshest indictments of the press now come from the growing segment that relies on the internet as its main source for national and international news.

The internet news audience – roughly a quarter of all Americans – tends to be younger and better educated than the public as a whole. People who rely on the internet as their main news source express relatively unfavorable opinions of mainstream news sources and are among the most critical of press performance. As many as 38% of those who rely mostly on the internet for news say they have an unfavorable opinion of cable news networks such as CNN, Fox News Channel and MSNBC, compared with 25% of the public overall, and just 17% of television news viewers.

DARPA sees the future, and it’s not the world where we can rest on our technological asses. We must take into account a smart and adaptive enemy. The wizz-bang devices don’t play and weren’t designed for the information game. This informational asymmetry reduces the fungibility of our kinetic assets:

There’s a tendency to view Islamists as backwards barbarians, Winter said.  This image is “misleading and very dangerous.”  The terrorist enemy is more likely to be a “engineer in a lab” than an “evildoer in a cave.”

Growth in commercial computing power has “eroded” America’s Cold War “technical edge,” Winter said.  The same – or even better – gear gets out to kids worldwide, before soldiers ever see it.  “The playing field has thus been leveled.”  Just look at how Iraqi insurgents have been able to the Internet to recruit, train, and spread propaganda. And check out the network-like “command and control” structures that these guys are using, compared to our old military hierarchies. 

On PRTs, Richard Fernandez of The Belmont Club, adds some important points on PRTs not raised in my post, namely State’s out of touch regs and a mil-based Civil Response Corps already in operation (h/t SWJ Blog):

I was just on the blogger round table with Philip Reeker, US Embassy Baghdad, on the subject of PRTs. And it was clear that they were trying to building things from the bottom up in a society where the tradition of local government (as opposed to tribal government) was nonexistent. But it was also clear that the assets necessary to accomplish this are pretty thin. They’re still building the doctrine. And there’s no enabling bureaucratic structure. One of the things, for example, that Ambassador Crocker had to do was waive the State Department security regs to get people out. To provide any security at all, the PRTs either have to be embedded or escorted, except in places like Kurdistan where they can mostly operate unescorted.

Interestingly, the PRTs found the military’s reserve system very useful because it provided a pool of specialists for which State had no analogue. There was some reference to the need for the equivalent of a Goldwater-Nichols for the civilian arms of government to provide an institutional cure. But that’s still prospective. The sense you got was that State is trying to field people and is succeeding somewhat, but that many hurdles remain.

To summarize, from what I understand there’s a clear recognition now — and there may have been a former reluctance — to create the capacity to conduct political work at the grassroots. But there remain questions about whether a) it is still possible, given the time elapsed; b) US Government agencies can [mobilize] effectively to accomplish this task.

My own sense, without any pejorative reflection on State, is that they are struggling to match the political work with the security gains. And this is due, I think, almost wholly to the circumstance that we are now asking diplomats to do something they never in their wildest dreams thought they would be doing. As Mr. Reeker ran down the list of this or that person voluntarily leaving a post in such and such European capital for duty in some provincial Iraqi dustbowl you got the sense that the State guys were individually making one heck of an effort but that the institutional capacity still isn’t there.

Abu Muqawama gave this timely link on Jeep’s and Humvee’s that included this important realization:

Yet the Humvee’s biggest drawback may actually be the false sense of security it imparts. American troops, many military theorists now argue, are too removed in their vehicles, fighting for Iraqi hearts and minds with a drive-through mentality. The open-air jeep meant that soldiers could, and had to, interact with the people of occupied nations; the closed, air-conditioned Humvee has only isolated American forces from Iraqis. This is even more of a problem with the MRAP, which offers only small, armored windows to peek out of. Though the tactics of the current surge seek to get troops out of their vehicles more often, many politicians involved in the debate over Humvees assume—perhaps erroneously—that more armor means more safety and success.

Over one thousand contractors have now died in Iraq, but, no surprise, we don’t know the true number. David Ivanovich writes in the Houston Chronicle:

And as of June 30, 1,001 civilian contractors working for U.S. firms had died there since the war’s start more than four years ago, including 231 in the first six months of 2007, according to Labor Department statistics the Chronicle received Tuesday.

How many of those killed were Americans is unclear, since the Labor Department records do not provide the nationalities of the casualties.

Lastly, and for something completely different, cycling’s sponsors have finally had enough of being associated with doping. The latest news on this front is Team Discovery, formerly USPS, will end their sponsorship in February and director Johan Bruyneel will retire. While they team was in negotiations to replace the main sponsor, they decided to cut negotiations because “the situation in the sport is so bad that nobody wants to be involved with us.”

“No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA”

General Barry R. McCaffrey’s testimony before the the House Armed Services Committee is an excellent summary of the problems were facing today and the real hit America’s national security is taking. It speaks for itself and it should be read.

From a summary he released as his testimony is not yet available from the Committee (h/t Kat):

…the purpose of my testimony is not to talk about the ongoing tactical operations in CENTCOM — but instead the disastrous state of America’s ground combat forces. Congress has been missing-in-action during the past several years while undebated and misguided strategies were implemented by former Secretary Rumsfeld and his team of arrogant and inexperienced civilian associates in the Pentagon. The JCS failed to protect the Armed Forces from bad judgment and illegal orders. They have gotten us in a terrible strategic position of vulnerability. The Army is starting to crack under the strain of lack of resources, lack of political support and leadership from both the Administration and this Congress, and isolation from the American people who have now walked away from the war.

No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA. There is only rhetoric and posturing from the rest of our government and the national legislature. Where is the shared sacrifice of 300 million Americans in the wealthiest nation in history? Where is the tax supplement to pay for a $12 billion a month war? Where are the political leaders calling publicly for America’s parents and teachers to send their sons and daughters to fight “the long war on terror?” Where is the political energy to increase the size of our Marine Corps and US Army? Where is the willingness of Congress to implement a modern “lend-lease program” to give our Afghan and Iraqi allies the tools of war they need to protect their own people? Where is the mobilization of America’s massive industrial capacity to fix the disastrous state of our ground combat military equipment?

Recent and related post (among many on MountainRunner): If the surge is working, why are we still losing?

Continue reading ““No one is actually at war except the Armed Forces, their US civilian contractors, and the CIA”

Contracting out national security: connecting the dots of the media surge

Wow, the media is surging on the contractor front again. From T. Christian Miller’s Los Angeles Times article comparing the number of US-paid contractors in Iraq to American military forces to James Risen’s New York Times article telling us <gasp!> contractors get PTSD as well to Glenn Kessler’s Washington Post article on shoddy contractor work on our biggest monument to public diplomacy to, finally (as of this writing), Renae Merle’s Washington Post article on the government’s failure to keep pace with managing and overseeing contracts. It makes NPR / American Public Radio’s Marketplace query on private contracting seem all that more timely, doesn’t it? (Not commented on here but also recently available is the CRS report on private security contractors, courtesy FAS.)

Sadly, the only new data here is T’s story shedding light on the expanding reliance on the private sector to support the mission in Iraq. It’s important to keep in mind T’s focus on US-paid contractors because if you go beyond that select group, the number, according to the PSCAI itself (the Iraqi-trade association) sky rockets. At one time, the PSCAI acknowledged that for every private security guard they knew about, they were sure there was another they didn’t. (By the way, T. Christian Miller is the author of Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives, and Corporate Greed in Iraq.)

Some quick highlights that caught my eye.

Continue reading “Contracting out national security: connecting the dots of the media surge

Bullets on Military Contractors

First, in the Washington Post today, the Army divides LOGCAP among 3 firms.

Second, keeping in mind the WaPo article, watch the 2006 USG Counterinsurgency Conference Day 1, Panel 1 discussion on COIN fundamentals and Best Practices. Go to about the 54th minute for H.R. McMaster’s comments on contractors in Iraq. Then fast forward to 1:07 when he is asked on this point by T.X. Hammes (of the superb Sling and the Stone), followed by a comment by David Kilcullen and I believe David Petraeus.

Third, and really unrelated to the first to, according to Robert Young Pelton, his book Licensed to Kill was banned in China.

Speaking of pirates

First Slate mentioned pirates, and Jules Crittenden commented on it. Almost immediately after that, Arms & Influences said he was reading a pirate book.

My turn. I’ll reiterate my strong recommendation to read The Sea Rover’s Practice: Pirate Tactics and Techniques, 1630-1730. My previous review is here (not that my reviews are masterpieces, and this was my first in a very, very long time).

Recently, I had the very fortunate opportunity to exchange email with the author, a former Navy SEAL. What I learned surprised me: I was one of the few scholars who found parallels between then and now in terms of privatization of force and insurgent warfare. (Maybe mom was right.)

If you’re interested in historical examples of privatized force and insurgent warfare remarkably similar to today, pick up this book. If you’re interested in a book that draws from period diaries of actual pirates (how cool), along with detailed discussion of their daily operations and tools, pick up this book. If you think 1648 was a magical milestone in the evolution of “state” ownership of warfare, don’t both because this will burst your bubble.

Contractors: Issue du Jour

While the mainstream media and the blogosphere return to the topic of contractors, undoubtedly we’ll hear more about their accountability, or the apparent lack of it. I have talked about accountability of private military companies before, including a recent comparison with UN Peacekeepers, but neither of those posts really mentioned the other aspect of deniable accountability: what happens when the contractors are captured?

In Iraq, we have the famous example of the Blackwater contractors in Fallujah in 2004 that brought on the terrific response — against the local military commanders’ recommendations — that contributed to changing the nature of the conflict. In Colombia, we have the other extreme: contractors held hostage for years with little to no action by the US Government.

Robert Young Pelton has heard from a little bird that when Colombian President Alvaro Uribe releases FARC prisoners in the next two weeks, Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves, and Keith Stansell will be released as well. These contractors, left by the US after their plane was shot down, are apparently still alive, according to a Colombian hostage that recently escaped.

This is a true example of deniable accountability: deny you have any responsibility for them.

Holding Security Contractors Accountable

From the Wall Street Journal’s Washington Wire today:

Democrats push to hold security contractors responsible for abuses in Iraq. House legislation, attached to defense-authorization bill, would create a database and rules of engagement for contractors in war zone.

Presidential rivals Obama and Clinton back similar legislation in Senate, while other Democrats seek new FBI unit on contractor crimes.

A good start for accountability and better than the meaningless change to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), but it still both short of the mark and not in the best direction. There is an underlying assumption that contractors, security or otherwise, are part of a functioning principal-agent relationship. Too often this is not the case and the agent does not see itself as an auxiliary of the principal (the US / Coalition) but as some kind of affiliate with an increased independence than should be permitted. There is not enough incentive, positive or otherwise, to compel or encourage the contractor to fully and wholly support the principal’s mission.

The case of Custer Battles is just one example, the Aegis “Trophy Video” and even Abu Ghraib are others. None of this can directly be blamed on the contractors, as authors like Scahill would have you believe. Contracts are negotiated, signed, renewed, and paid with some amount of consideration for the services, including personnel, rendered. Looked at form this angle, it is the principal — the United States — that has failed and some contractors, not all, have “gone off the reservation” (albeit the “reservation” was often ill-defined by the Coalition).

The database is a good start, but better would be to have more contracting officers fully engaged on the contracts and in contact with local ground commanders. Often, as the case of Custer Battles demonstrated, the ground commanders either do no know there is a contract officer or how to get in touch with. Custer Battles is not the exception. Base commanders often do not know how many contractors are operating on his base and has little if any control over them. 

The Aegis “Trophy Video” is an example of how using smart and complete contracting language would increase transparency, and thus accountability (remember Aegis is the company headed by Tim Spicer, the company that left everyone in bewilderment when it was awarded the largest contract ever given by the Pentagon). The investigation into the shooting resulted in a 200-page report. The Pentagon said the report found no wrong-doing but wouldn’t release it because it was the proprietary property of Aegis. Aegis would not release the report because it contained corporate secrets. Both said the men who did the shooting could not be identified despite the fact each man wore an Aegis supplied and monitored blue-force tracker. South Africa apparently find out one of the shooters was one of theirs and hence put him on trial in violation of their anti-mercenary laws. 

A better course of action than the database would be require better integration with military chains of command, financial penalties (or bonuses) for poor (or satisfactory) performance.

Even better yet would be to bring back the Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) that was dismissed in the “spirit” of expediency (throwing out FAR is what gave Greenwald’s Iraq for Sale a story line).  

As far as the FBI, this is terrible idea. Inserting another layer is largely if not completely unworkable in an environment such as Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and the Philippines. A better solution, but not a great solution, is to work on legislation and contracting language that creates a special civil-military “bridge” office based in the military. This would have the effect of reducing civil-military conflicts that will invariably come from FBI intervention into military affairs and bring the weight of military brass behind certain investigations.  

Band-aids only hide the infection. Go for a real change, which includes bringing back the safe-guards put in place when the public was pissed off over $900 hammers. What will it take today?

(H/T to CS for wire report)

Book Review: Blackwater

BlackwaterJeremy’s Scahill’s new book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army has seemingly reinvigorated discussion on private security companies. Personally, I have not read his book but I’ve received a lot of email asking about it and asking if I listened to his appearances on various NPR shows and elsewhere. I have to say that on each listening and reading of a review, it becomes more apparent Scahill completely misses the mark and does a poor job doing so to boot. I think there’s something to be said that even Jon Stewart, who I watch nearly religiously (thank God for TiVO), wasn’t accepting Scahill’s sky-is-falling framework (I also don’t remember the last time Jon losing a book of his desk). Based on the interviews on the Daily Show and elsewhere, it’s apparent Scahill’s arguments are weak and when he’s not quoting somebody else his evidence lacks contextual reality. I wonder, if Erik Prince threatened Robert Young Pelton with a lawsuit, what will Scahill be threatened with?

Continue reading “Book Review: Blackwater

Is the Privatization of Force Organic to Western Liberal Democracy?

Is the Privatization of Force Organic to Western Liberal Democracy? by Matt Armstrong, 13 April 2007, at 2007 Annual Meeting of the Midwest Political Science Association.

This paper reviews the reality of private military forces and suggests the marginalization and disfavor of mercenaries on land and sea was the result of a political economy and not liberal democratic theories. Reaching back four millennia before Westphalia gives witness to much the same. Sealing off the present from the past leads to false assumptions of the factors that led to the marginalization, but not disappearance, of private force in the nineteenth century. This bracketing of historic events and processes blinds us and prevents seeing and understanding engines of change. Investigating history and it is apparent the history of mercenaries on land and sea begins with the history of war and was subject to changing infrastructural power of the state. The evolution and introduction of liberal democratic principles had little impact on the wholesale removal of mercenaries from the battlefield.

Monday’s Mash-up

For Monday’s Mash-up, I offer the following for consumption.

From the British media we have:

  • ArmorGroup wins a $189 million contract to protect the US Embassy in Kabul. This, in the words of TimesOnline (and probably ArmorGroup itself), “confirms Armor as a leader in diplomat protection.”
  • An MP wants to know the Rules of Engagement (RoE) of security contractors in Iraq, as noted in a letter to the editor. Apparently 25% of UK Iraq aid goes to security (why so low? US figures are closer to 33% and up to 50%, are we getting charged too much?, if we give the UK a 5% commission, we’d still save money).

While we’re on the private military industry…

On the wiki front:

On US military readiness and breaking the force (see my posts on Readiness and Recruiting):

More on Contractor deaths

In response to AE’s comment on contractor KIAs in Iraq, I doubt (and agree there shouldn’t be) any joint memorial to our fallen servicemen and servicewomen and private contractors. Consider Blackwater USA, however. In their effort to emulate or reconstruct the US Armed Forces from which many of their number come, they have their own memorial. I’m not aware of any other firm that has such a feature (but not many have such expansive grounds to fit one either).

Restating KIA numbers in Iraq: adding the “coalition”, er, contractor deaths

For those paying attention, the 1,000 killed in Iraq was a milestone that would have been reached sooner if contractor deaths were included. At the time, the 1k number was a traumatic figure and the number of contractors killed was still quite small, while high profile.

Now the death toll for the “Coalition of the Billing”, or contractors, has broken 800. Before, 100 or 200, or even nearly 400 contractor KIA was hardly, if at all, mentioned. Now, there seems to be some awareness of the additional deaths.

See David Phinney for the current story and updates on what will likely be news in the coming days.

As a side note: FOIA requests on contractor deaths last year were denied, granting private contractors greater privacy than soldiers and their families.

ConflictWiki (Updated)

One reason I’ve posted some “academic-like” posts on this site, in addition to files, is the hope of using MountainRunner as something of a repository of knowledge. In spite of my writing skills, I’m still hoping to accomplish this and have decided to create a wiki after looking at entries like counterinsurgency, Blackwater, public diplomacy, SWET, Muhammad Khalil al-Hakaymah, and even John Nagl on Wikipedia. These just aren’t adequate for the needs of the SO/LIC, PMC, public diplomacy, smart power, and terrorism communities. As these groups are intricately linked together and require greater or at least different details on these topics.

As of this post, there’s nothing on the just-installed ConflictWiki (, be the first to post something useful and we can build a shared community resource.

By the way, information on al-Hakaymah, see West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center.

Update on Halliburton/KBR/Blackwater relationship

From David Phinney:

ROUGH DRAFT: From the time four men were killed in streets of Fallujah on March 31, 2004 until yesterday, the U.S. Army couldn’t determine if, in fact, Halliburton/KBR had broken its multi-billion-dollar contract agreement by allowing a private security company to guard a subcontractor’s convoy

Then suddenly, one day before a Congressional hearing on the events surrounding the killing and burning of four private security contractors — the Army figured it all out.

Halliburton/KBR had violated the sweeping contract to provide support services to the Army in Iraq, we learned at the hearing.

According to the LogCAP contract — now clocking about $16 billion in receipts — Halliburton/KBR agreed to always use military support for its security unless otherwise approved by the combatant commander. Halliburton had no approval.
Continue reading “Update on Halliburton/KBR/Blackwater relationship