Tuesday, March 27, 2007
Under fire: Hired hands training foreign police
By Renae Merle
The Washington Post
Hired by DynCorp International, of Falls Church, Va., they will join the contractors who are the mainstay of the U.S. government's attempt to help Iraq and Afghanistan establish functional police forces.
Operating under a $1.75 billion contract - the largest the State Department has managed - DynCorp trains more police officers than any other U.S. company in these countries.
The firm says it has 700 trainers in Iraq, where it helped train 198,000 Iraqis, and more than 500 in Afghanistan, where it helped train 93,000 Afghans.
In December, the Iraq Study Group expressed concern about how the program is run, and in January the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction found that oversight was lax, leading to unnecessary costs. The special inspector found that the lone officer supervising the Iraq program, who had been overseeing DynCorp's police contracts for more than 10 years, had not received proper training.
DynCorp has had to pay the U.S. government $600,000 after a subcontractor in 2003 siphoned fuel from a DynCorp police-training academy in Jordan.
Meanwhile, the House Armed Services oversight and investigations subcommittee is investigating DynCorp's performance as part of its examination of Iraq's security forces. "Private contractors playing a role in reconstruction and in training needs to be evaluated. We need data on what works and what doesn't," said Rep. Martin Meehan, D-Mass., subcommittee chairman.
but never fear, Waxman is ON IT:
The stakes are high for the private contractors and their lobbying, legal, and PR teams. For example, Bowen's recently completed 579-page audit contains strong allegations about Virginia-based DynCorp, which has a $1.8 billion contract from the State Department for police-related projects in Iraq.
One controversy centers on allegations that DynCorp spent about $4.2 million on 20 VIP trailers and an Olympic-size swimming pool that was requested by some Iraqi officials but that lacked the necessary authorization from the U.S. government. Further, a training camp for DynCorp workers built with the lion's share of the money from a $43.8 million contract had never been used.
Bowen's audit report also raised questions about some $36.4 million for armored vehicles, body armor, and other equipment that DynCorp billed to the government but that the State Department hasn't been able to adequately account for. According to the audit, DynCorp invoices were "frequently ambiguous and lacked the level of detail necessary to identify what was procured."
In 2005, State Department officials raised concerns about "potential fraud" in a DynCorp billing for 500 trailers that may not have been constructed, the audit said. Bowen's office has indicated that a probe into the billing is continuing.
A DynCorp spokesman has said that the company hasn't been contacted about the audit but that it has acted responsibly and would cooperate fully with any inquiry.
Meanwhile, DynCorp has hired PR shop Qorvis to help the company with its media image and to broaden the marketing of its contracting work into areas other than Iraq. Qorvis partner Don Goldberg said his firm is working with DynCorp on "messaging" and is helping to "position them in the government market."
DynCorp Hired for Somalia Peacekeeping
The State Department has hired a major military contractor to help equip and provide logistical support to international peacekeepers in Somalia, giving the United States a significant role in the critical mission without assigning combat forces.
DynCorp International (nyse: NCP - news - people ), which also has U.S. contracts in Iraq, Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq, will be paid $10 million to help the first peacekeeping mission in Somalia in more than 10 years.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Blackwater objects to the use of the m-word for its employees, preferring the term "private military contractors." For one thing, "mercenary" is not accurate. Private military contractors in Iraq do not execute offensive operations--they only provide security, and their rules of engagement are to use proportionate force only when attacked.One might question why they felt the need to leave the military for Blackwater if they were motivated by pure idealism as Taylor tends to imply. It's also hard to ignore that Blackwater contractors make $100,000 during the six months out of the year that they deploy to Iraq. But the Weekly Standard article offers assurances of Blackwater's good intentions:
In fact, Blackwater objects to its personnel being tarred as mercenaries mainly because they regard it as an assault on their character and their professionalism. "We're in nine different countries," says Chris Taylor, "probably have about 2,300 people deployed today, another 21,000 in our database, and these are people the majority of whom have already had a career in public service, either military or law enforcement, who are honorably discharged, who have any number of medals for heroism. Yet we still have to face critics who say everybody is a mercenary--they're only out for a buck."
So he's a right-wing fundamentalist Christian multi-millionaire? Why is this left-leaning working class atheist not comforted by the thought of a guy like that commanding his own private army of former Navy SEALs and Marine infantrymen? Must be something in the water.
He hardly fits the soldier of fortune archetype. He is a staunch Christian--his father helped James Dobson found Focus on the Family--and his politically conservative views are well known in Washington, where Prince supports a number of religious and right-leaning causes. He attended Hillsdale College in Michigan, a font of conservative ideology, where he is remembered for being the first undergraduate at the small liberal arts school to serve on the local volunteer fire department. (The only book on the shelf in the boardroom of Blackwater's Northern Virginia offices is a copy of the eminent conservative historian Paul Johnson's A History Of The American People.)
Nobody can say Prince is in it for the money, either. His father Edgar started a small die-cast shop in Holland, Michigan, in 1965. Along the way he patented the now-ubiquitous lighted vanity mirror in automobile visors; a year after his 1995 death, the family company sold for over $1 billion, an enormous inheritance for Erik and his sisters.
Perhaps the Weekly Standard was playing to its audience a bit, but fundamentalist Christians who get into positions of power (see: George W. Bush) tend to believe that their power is due to divine will, and thus that they are above the laws of man in how they use that power. And what sort of power does Mr. Prince have? According to the same article:
Some might be concerned that Prince, or perhaps one of his successors, might one day have an axe to grind with a future administration, especially after the Iraq War ends and their fat contracts go away, and all these "private military contractors" still have families to feed. For a guy with helicopter gunships, armored personnel carriers, and tens of thousands of highly trained ex-Marines and SEALs at his beck and call, all of whom were "willing to drink the Blackwater Kool-aid", as Blackwater's vice president for strategic initiatives Chris Taylor put it, the step from "CEO" to "war lord" is rather short. The checks and balances that prevent the President of the United States from becoming a military dictator don't apply to CEOs of "private military contractors". And while Blackwater USA may not currently engage in offensive operations, they are more than capable of carrying them out in the future. If there was a militia out there with an armory this big, the ATF would have raided them by now. Or more accurately, the ATF would have tried to raid them by now.
* A burgeoning logistics operation that can deliver 100- or 200-ton self-contained humanitarian relief response packages faster than the Red Cross.* A Florida aviation division with 26 different platforms, from helicopter gunships to a massive Boeing 767. The company even has a Zeppelin.
* The country's largest tactical driving track, with multi-surface, multi-elevation positive and negative cambered turns, a skid pad, and a ram pad for drivers learning how to escape ambushes.
* A 20-acre manmade lake with shipping containers that have been mocked up with ship rails and portholes, floating on pontoons, used to teach how to board a hostile ship.
* A K-9 training facility that currently has 80 dog teams deployed around the world. Ever wondered how to rappel down the side of nine stacked shipping containers with a bomb-sniffing German shepherd dog strapped to your chest? Blackwater can teach you.
* A 1,200-yard-long firing range for sniper training.
* A sizable private armory. The one gun locker I saw contained close to 100 9mm handguns--mostly military issue Beretta M9s, law enforcement favorite Austrian Glocks, and Sig Sauers.
* An armored vehicle still in development called the Grizzly; the prototype's angular steel plates are ferocious-looking. The suspension is being built by one of Black water's North Carolina neighbors--Dennis Anderson, monster truck champion and the man responsible for the "Grave Digger" (the ne plus ultra of monster trucks).
All of this as the Iraq War weakens our actual military.
But it's not just soldiers who are crossing over to Blackwater:
A number of senior CIA and Pentagon officials have taken top jobs at Blackwater, including firm vice chairman Cofer Black, who was the Bush Administration's top counterterrorism official at the time of the 9/11 attacks (and who famously said in 2002, “There was before 9/11 and after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves came off.”) Robert Young Pelton, author of the new book, Licensed to Kill, says that an early Blackwater contract—a secret no-bid $5.4 million deal with the CIA—came in 2002 after Prince placed a call to Buzzy Krongard, who was then the CIA's executive director.
A CIA source with whom I spoke said that Prince is very tight with top agency officials and has a “green badge,” the security pass for contractors who have access to CIA installations. “He's over there [at CIA headquarters] regularly, probably once a month or so,” this person told me. “He meets with senior people, especially in the D.O.” (The D.O., or Directorate of Operations, runs covert operations; last year, it was absorbed by the newly created National Clandestine Service.)
Some have speculated that Blackwater USA is actually a CIA front. That would probably be a best-case scenario, unless one takes Mr. Prince at his heart-of-gold word.
Last year, I discussed the Army recruiting gangbangers and neo-Nazis to fight in Iraq, as well as American cities' lack of preparedness for a major disaster. Urban warfare in the U.S. combating gangs or hate groups who've received training in heavy weaponry from our military might be the next logical step for Blackwater USA after the Iraq War ends. Best case, they'll be training U.S. law enforcement personnel. Worst case, they'll be duking it out with the gangbangers and skinheads themselves... for a price.
In short, there are a lot of potentially disastrous after-effects that spring out from a private army like Blackwater building up inside of the U.S. The time to curtail its exponential growth would appear to be now, before their military capabilities outmatch our own. While we try to fight al Qaeda in Afghanistan and Sunni insurgents in Iraq, we may be feeding the single-greatest existential threat to the U.S. right here at home, much like we did with Osama bin Laden and Saddam Hussein back in the 80s.
I recognize the value in having a company available to provide training to military and law enforcement personnel, and in that regard, Blackwater USA could be a major asset. My concern lies with any company or person maintaining a private army this large. Congress should be concerned, as well. Blackwater is not sworn to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Their loyalty lies with the almighty... dollar.
Sunday, March 25, 2007
UNITED NATIONS, March 24 — The United Nations Security Council unanimously agreed Saturday to impose new, more stringent sanctions to press Iran to suspend uranium enrichment and rejoin negotiations over its nuclear program.
All 15 members of the Security Council adopted the sanctions, Resolution 1747, which focus on constraining Iranian arms exports, the state-owned Bank Sepah — already under Treasury Department sanctions — and the Revolutionary Guard Corps, an elite military organization separate from the nation’s conventional armed forces.
Iran is defiant, of course. It really strikes me that they're not doing everything they could to prevent a war with the U.S. Hugely irresponsible, on its face.
The Iranian representative to the session denounced the action as unlawful and unjustifiable — and vowed it would have no impact on what Tehran describes as a peaceful nuclear energy program.
The Council acted after months of increasing tensions between the United States and Iran, not only over its nuclear program, concerns that many Western and Middle Eastern countries share. The United States in recent weeks has publicly accused Iran of supplying new and powerful explosives to insurgents in Iraq.
And the Council voted one day after naval forces under the command of Revolutionary Guards seized eight British sailors and seven British marines in waters off the coast of Iraq.
Well, let's talk about outside nations providing support to insurgents in Iraq:
CAIRO (AP) — Private Saudi citizens are giving millions of dollars to Sunni insurgents in Iraq and much of the money is used to buy weapons, including shoulder fired anti-aircraft missiles, according to key Iraqi officials and others familiar with the flow of cash.
Saudi government officials deny that any money from their country is being sent to Iraqis fighting the government and the U.S.-led coalition.
But the U.S. Iraq Study Group report said Saudis are a source of funding for Sunni Arab insurgents. Several truck drivers interviewed by The Associated Press described carrying boxes of cash from Saudi Arabia into Iraq, money they said was headed for insurgents.
And the U.S. has been providing support to organizations linked to Al Qaeda:
There's a lot more in that article, so I recommend reading the whole thing. Here's something that ties back to the briefing I received back in December:
To undermine Iran, which is predominantly Shiite, the Bush Administration has decided, in effect, to reconfigure its priorities in the Middle East. In Lebanon, the Administration has coöperated with Saudi Arabia’s government, which is Sunni, in clandestine operations that are intended to weaken Hezbollah, the Shiite organization that is backed by Iran. The U.S. has also taken part in clandestine operations aimed at Iran and its ally Syria. A by-product of these activities has been the bolstering of Sunni extremist groups that espouse a militant vision of Islam and are hostile to America and sympathetic to Al Qaeda.One contradictory aspect of the new strategy is that, in Iraq, most of the insurgent violence directed at the American military has come from Sunni forces, and not from Shiites. But, from the Administration’s perspective, the most profound—and unintended—strategic consequence of the Iraq war is the empowerment of Iran.
The new American policy, in its broad outlines, has been discussed publicly. In testimony before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in January, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said that there is “a new strategic alignment in the Middle East,” separating “reformers” and “extremists”; she pointed to the Sunni states as centers of moderation, and said that Iran, Syria, and Hezbollah were “on the other side of that divide.” (Syria’s Sunni majority is dominated by the Alawi sect.) Iran and Syria, she said, “have made their choice and their choice is to destabilize.”
In that briefing, we were told basically just that: Sunnis are moderate, Shi'ite are extremist. The Sergeant Major made no mention of the fact that Saddam Hussein was Sunni. We have always been at war with Eastasia, after all. But wait! There's more!
Martin Indyk, a senior State Department official in the Clinton Administration who also served as Ambassador to Israel, said that “the Middle East is heading into a serious Sunni-Shiite Cold War.” Indyk, who is the director of the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at the Brookings Institution, added that, in his opinion, it was not clear whether the White House was fully aware of the strategic implications of its new policy. “The White House is not just doubling the bet in Iraq,” he said. “It’s doubling the bet across the region. This could get very complicated. Everything is upside down.”
Again, this goes back to what I was saying in August: the only path to Bush-style victory in the Iraqi civil war is to pick sides, heedless of the blood that will be spilled in the process. Bush has chosen the side of the Sunnis, despite the fact that Sunni insurgents account for the vast majority of U.S. casualties. But it's not about protecting troops in Iraq. It's about protecting the national security interests of Saudi Arabia and Israel, two of our biggest allies in the region. In other words, nothing we do in Iraq is done with the goal of a peaceful Iraq in mind. It's all done with the goal of undermining Iran and protecting Israel's and Saudi Arabia's interests. If a Sunni-Shi'ite Cold War is dawning, we need to be ahead of the curve and start planning. Our oil interests are at stake, and to hell with the troops.
I'll follow up on this some more later. And no, it won't be another month and a half before I post again.