Contractors Tied to Effort to Track and Kill Militants March 15, 2010Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pakistan, War.
Tags: afghan intelligence, Afghanistan, Afghanistan War, al-Qaeda, cia, contractors, defense department, dexter filkins, drone, international mdia ventures, mark mazzetti, merceneries, michael furlong, roger hollander, Taliban
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While it has been widely reported that the C.I.A. and the military are attacking operatives of Al Qaeda and others through unmanned, remote-controlled drone strikes, some American officials say they became troubled that Mr. Furlong seemed to be running an off-the-books spy operation. The officials say they are not sure who condoned and supervised his work.
It is generally considered illegal for the military to hire contractors to act as covert spies. Officials said Mr. Furlong’s secret network might have been improperly financed by diverting money from a program designed to merely gather information about the region.
Moreover, in Pakistan, where Qaeda and Taliban leaders are believed to be hiding, the secret use of private contractors may be seen as an attempt to get around the Pakistani government’s prohibition of American military personnel’s operating in the country.
Officials say Mr. Furlong’s operation seems to have been shut down, and he is now is the subject of a criminal investigation by the Defense Department for a number of possible offenses, including contract fraud.
Even in a region of the world known for intrigue, Mr. Furlong’s story stands out. At times, his operation featured a mysterious American company run by retired Special Operations officers and an iconic C.I.A. figure who had a role in some of the agency’s most famous episodes, including the Iran-Contra affair.
The allegations that he ran this network come as the American intelligence community confronts other instances in which private contractors may have been improperly used on delicate and questionable operations, including secret raids in Iraq and an assassinations program that was halted before it got off the ground.
“While no legitimate intelligence operations got screwed up, it’s generally a bad idea to have freelancers running around a war zone pretending to be James Bond,” one American government official said. But it is still murky whether Mr. Furlong had approval from top commanders or whether he might have been running a rogue operation.
This account of his activities is based on interviews with American military and intelligence officials and businessmen in the region. They insisted on anonymity in discussing a delicate case that is under investigation.
Col. Kathleen Cook, a spokeswoman for United States Strategic Command, which oversees Mr. Furlong’s work, declined to make him available for an interview. Military officials said Mr. Furlong, a retired Air Force officer, is now a senior civilian employee in the military, a full-time Defense Department employee based at Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio.
Network of Informants
Mr. Furlong has extensive experience in “psychological operations” — the military term for the use of information in warfare — and he plied his trade in a number of places, including Iraq and the Balkans. It is unclear exactly when Mr. Furlong’s operations began. But officials said they seemed to accelerate in the summer of 2009, and by the time they ended, he and his colleagues had established a network of informants in Afghanistan and Pakistan whose job it was to help locate people believed to be insurgents.
Government officials said they believed that Mr. Furlong might have channeled money away from a program intended to provide American commanders with information about Afghanistan’s social and tribal landscape, and toward secret efforts to hunt militants on both sides of the country’s porous border with Pakistan.
Some officials said it was unclear whether these operations actually resulted in the deaths of militants, though others involved in the operation said that they did.
Military officials said that Mr. Furlong would often boast about his network of informants in Afghanistan and Pakistan to senior military officers, and in one instance said a group of suspected militants carrying rockets by mule over the border had been singled out and killed as a result of his efforts.
In addition, at least one government contractor who worked with Mr. Furlong in Afghanistan last year maintains that he saw evidence that the information was used for attacking militants.
The contractor, Robert Young Pelton, an author who writes extensively about war zones, said that the government hired him to gather information about Afghanistan and that Mr. Furlong improperly used his work. “We were providing information so they could better understand the situation in Afghanistan, and it was being used to kill people,” Mr. Pelton said.
He said that he and Eason Jordan, a former television news executive, had been hired by the military to run a public Web site to help the government gain a better understanding of a region that bedeviled them. Recently, the top military intelligence official in Afghanistan publicly said that intelligence collection was skewed too heavily toward hunting terrorists, at the expense of gaining a deeper understanding of the country.
Instead, Mr. Pelton said, millions of dollars that were supposed to go to the Web site were redirected by Mr. Furlong toward intelligence gathering for the purpose of attacking militants.
In one example, Mr. Pelton said he had been told by Afghan colleagues that video images that he posted on the Web site had been used for an American strike in the South Waziristan region of Pakistan.
Among the contractors Mr. Furlong appears to have used to conduct intelligence gathering was International Media Ventures, a private “strategic communication” firm run by several former Special Operations officers. Another was American International Security Corporation, a Boston-based company run by Mike Taylor, a former Green Beret. In a phone interview, Mr. Taylor said that at one point he had employed Duane Clarridge, known as Dewey, a former top C.I.A. official who has been linked to a generation of C.I.A. adventures, including the Iran-Contra scandal.
In an interview, Mr. Clarridge denied that he had worked with Mr. Furlong in any operation in Afghanistan or Pakistan. “I don’t know anything about that,” he said.
Mr. Taylor, who is chief executive of A.I.S.C., said his company gathered information on both sides of the border to give military officials information about possible threats to American forces. He said his company was not specifically hired to provide information to kill insurgents.
Some American officials contend that Mr. Furlong’s efforts amounted to little. Nevertheless, they provoked the ire of the C.I.A.
Last fall, the spy agency’s station chief in Kabul, Afghanistan’s capital, wrote a memorandum to the Defense Department’s top intelligence official detailing what officials said were serious offenses by Mr. Furlong. The officials would not specify the offenses, but the officer’s cable helped set off the Pentagon investigation.
In mid-2008, the military put Mr. Furlong in charge of a program to use private companies to gather information about the political and tribal culture of Afghanistan. Some of the approximately $22 million in government money allotted to this effort went to International Media Ventures, with offices in St. Petersburg, Fla., San Antonio and elsewhere. On its Web site, the company describes itself as a public relations company, “an industry leader in creating potent messaging content and interactive communications.”
The Web site also shows that several of its senior executives are former members of the military’s Special Operations forces, including former commandos from Delta Force, which has been used extensively since the Sept. 11 attacks to track and kill suspected terrorists.
Until recently, one of the members of International Media’s board of directors was Gen. Dell L. Dailey, former head of Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees the military’s covert units.
In an e-mail message, General Dailey said that he had resigned his post on the company’s board, but he did not say when. He did not give details about the company’s work with the American military, and other company executives declined to comment.
In an interview, Rear Adm. Gregory Smith, the top military spokesman in Afghanistan, said that the United States military was currently employing nine International Media Ventures civilian employees on routine jobs in administration, information processing and analysis. Whatever else other International Media employees might be doing in Afghanistan, he said, he did not know and had no responsibility for their actions.
By Mr. Pelton’s account, Mr. Furlong, in conversations with him and his colleagues, referred to his stable of contractors as “my Jason Bournes,” a reference to the fictional American assassin created by the novelist Robert Ludlum and played in movies by Matt Damon.
Military officials said that Mr. Furlong would occasionally brag to his superiors about having Mr. Clarridge’s services at his disposal. Last summer, Mr. Furlong told colleagues that he was working with Mr. Clarridge to secure the release of Pfc. Bowe Bergdahl, a kidnapped soldier who American officials believe is being held by militants in Pakistan.
From December 2008 to mid-June 2009, both Mr. Taylor and Mr. Clarridge were hired to assist The New York Times in the case of David Rohde, the Times reporter who was kidnapped by militants in Afghanistan and held for seven months in Pakistan’s tribal areas. The reporter ultimately escaped on his own.
The idea for the government information program was thought up sometime in 2008 by Mr. Jordan, a former CNN news chief, and his partner Mr. Pelton, whose books include “The World’s Most Dangerous Places” and “Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.”
Top General Approached
They approached Gen. David D. McKiernan, soon to become the top American commander in Afghanistan. Their proposal was to set up a reporting and research network in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the American military and private clients who were trying to understand a complex region that had become vital to Western interests. They already had a similar operation in Iraq — called “Iraq Slogger,” which employed local Iraqis to report and write news stories for their Web site. Mr. Jordan proposed setting up a similar Web site in Afghanistan and Pakistan — except that the operation would be largely financed by the American military. The name of the Web site was Afpax.
Mr. Jordan said that he had gone to the United States military because the business in Iraq was not profitable relying solely on private clients. He described his proposal as essentially a news gathering operation, involving only unclassified materials gathered openly by his employees. “It was all open-source,” he said.
When Mr. Jordan made the pitch to General McKiernan, Mr. Furlong was also present, according to Mr. Jordan. General McKiernan endorsed the proposal, and Mr. Furlong said that he could find financing for Afpax, both Mr. Jordan and Mr. Pelton said. “On that day, they told us to get to work,” Mr. Pelton said.
But Mr. Jordan said that the help from Mr. Furlong ended up being extremely limited. He said he was paid twice — once to help the company with start-up costs and another time for a report his group had written. Mr. Jordan declined to talk about exact figures, but said the amount of money was a “small fraction” of what he had proposed — and what it took to run his news gathering operation.
Whenever he asked for financing, Mr. Jordan said, Mr. Furlong told him that the money was being used for other things, and that the appetite for Mr. Jordan’s services was diminishing.
“He told us that there was less and less money for what we were doing, and less of an appreciation for what we were doing,” he said.
Admiral Smith, the military’s director for strategic communications in Afghanistan, said that when he arrived in Kabul a year later, in June 2009, he opposed financing Afpax. He said that he did not need what Mr. Pelton and Mr. Jordan were offering and that the service seemed uncomfortably close to crossing into intelligence gathering — which could have meant making targets of individuals.
“I took the air out of the balloon,” he said.
Admiral Smith said that the C.I.A. was against the proposal for the same reasons. Mr. Furlong persisted in pushing the project, he said.
“I finally had to tell him, ‘Read my lips,’ we’re not interested,’ ” Admiral Smith said.
What happened next is unclear.
Admiral Smith said that when he turned down the Afpax proposal, Mr. Furlong wanted to spend the leftover money elsewhere. That is when Mr. Furlong agreed to provide some of International Media Ventures’ employees to Admiral Smith’s strategic communications office.
But that still left roughly $15 million unaccounted for, he said.
“I have no idea where the rest of the money is going,” Admiral Smith said.
Dexter Filkins reported from Kabul, and Mark Mazzetti from Washington.
Copyright 2010 The New York Times Company
No mercy for mercenaries February 18, 2009Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
Tags: Afghanistan, Blackwater, contractors, dynacorp, eric stoner, hillary clinton, human rights abuses, Iraq war, mercenaries, mercenary industry, outsourcing security, president obama, private security contractors, privatized war, roger hollander, triple canopy, xe
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guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 17 February 2009 18.00 GMT
Blackwater – er, Xe – has been kicked out of Iraq. Now the other private security contractors should be banned as well
After raking in more than a billion dollars from its contracts in Iraq, Blackwater is finally being forced to leave the country that it has terrorised for so long. But the notorious mercenary firm’s departure will likely have more symbolic significance than any real impact on the day-to-day lives of Iraqis.
First, only Blackwater as a corporate entity – which just changed its name to Xe in an effort to shake its bad reputation – is being given the boot. Iraqi officials have said that its operatives will be allowed to stay in the country by switching companies, as long as they have clean records. While this sounds reasonable, making that determination will be next to impossible. According to US officials and the contractors themselves, the actual number of shootings in Iraq by private military companies is far higher than is publicly acknowledged and they are rarely reported by the individuals involved.
Second, Blackwater never was a lone bad apple. The entire mercenary industry is rotten and needs to be discarded. Consider Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, the two mercenary outfits that will be filling the hole left by Blackwater. In 1999, for example, Dyncorp employees were implicated in a sex ring in Bosnia that involved the trafficking of women and children as young as 12 years old. When whistleblowers came forward to expose these heinous crimes, they were promptly fired.
And there is no sign that firm has cleaned up its act in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US state department has repeatedly rebuked Dyncorp for being unprofessional and “too aggressive”. In one embarrassing incident, a BBC correspondent actually saw a guard from the company slap the Afghan transport minister.
By comparison, Triple Canopy is a relative newcomer to the mercenary business. With hopes of cashing in on the most privatised war in history, the company was founded immediately after the invasion of Iraq by three US special forces veterans. According to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (pdf), Triple Canopy relies far more heavily on so-called “third-country nationals” to cushion its bottom line than either Dyncorp or Blackwater. Paid only $33 a day, these hired guns come largely from developing countries – especially those in Latin America – that have histories of human rights abuses.
Much like Blackwater, Triple Canopy was involved in one of the most infamous shooting sprees of the war in Iraq. On 8 July 2006 – after remarking “I want to kill somebody today” – a heavily armed Triple Canopy guard in Iraq reportedly shot multiple rounds into the windshield of an unthreatening pickup truck and later a taxi for amusement.
Many argue, including President Barack Obama, that these mercenaries can be reined in through the creation of a legal framework that can hold them accountable for any wrongdoing. The notion, however, that these hired guns – who number in the tens of thousands and are often better armed than US soldiers – can somehow be effectively monitored and brought to justice in the middle of a war zone is pure fantasy.
The only real solution to this mess is for either Iraq or the US to ban armed contractors altogether. The Stop Outsourcing Security Act would accomplish this by mandating “that all diplomatic security in Iraq be undertaken by US government personnel within six months of enactment.” The legislation also states that “the use of private military contractors for mission critical functions” in all conflict zones where the US is active must be phased out over a longer timeline.
Hillary Clinton offered a glimmer of hope when she endorsed this bill during her campaign for the presidency. But as Obama’s secretary of state, she has quickly abandoned her commitment to “show these contractors the door”. Unfortunately for Iraqis, it looks like the mercenary industry will have little to fear from the new administration.
A Recipe for Corporate Success in Tough Times? SaladShooters, Adult Diapers and Tactical Ammo December 16, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in War.
Tags: afghnaistan, ammunition, antiprsonnel mines, artillery, boeing, cannon rounds, contractors, corporations, dod, dow, Economic Crisis, flechette, ford, general tire, gm, howitzer, International harvester, Iraq, lockheed, military, national presto, nick turse, Pentagon, pin bullets, roger hollander, technology killing, vietnam, war, war profiteering, weapons, whirlpool
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While many companies have moved away from arms production, the line between civilian industry and military contracting continues to shift. (Photo: State Museum of Pennsylvania)
15 December 2008
by: Nick Turse, TomDispatch.com
Is it possible that one of the Pentagon’s contractors has a tripartite business model for our tough economic times: one division that specializes in crock-pots, another in adult diapers, and a third in medium caliber tactical ammunition? Can the maker of the SaladShooter, a hand-held electric shredder/dicer that hacks up and fires out sliced veggies, really be a tops arms manufacturer? Could a company that produces the Pizzazz Pizza Oven also be a merchant of death? And could this company be a model for success in an economy heading for the bottom?
Once upon a time, the military-industrial complex was loaded with household-name companies like General Motors, Ford, and Dow Chemical, that produced weapons systems and what arms expert Eric Prokosch has called, “the technology of killing.” Over the years, for economic as well as public relations reasons, many of these firms got out of the business of creating lethal technologies, even while remaining Department of Defense (DoD) contractors.
The military-corporate complex of today is still filled with familiar names from our consumer culture, including defense contractors like iPod-maker Apple, cocoa giant Nestle, ketchup producer Heinz, and chocolate bar maker Hershey, not to speak of Tyson Foods, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company. But while they may provide the everyday products that allow the military to function, make war, and carry out foreign occupations, most such civilian firms no longer dabble in actual arms manufacture.
Whirlpool: Then and Now
Take the Whirlpool Corporation, which bills itself as “the world’s leading manufacturer and marketer of major home appliances” and boasts annual sales of more than $19 billion to consumers in more than 170 countries. Whirlpool was recently recognized as “one of the World’s Most Ethical Companies by the Ethisphere Institute.” The company also professes a “strong” belief in “ethical values” that dates back almost 100 years to founders who believed “there is no right way to do a wrong thing.”
In the middle of the last century, however — as Prokosch has documented — Whirlpool was engaged in what many might deem a wrong thing. In 1957, Whirlpool took over work on flechettes — razor-sharp darts with fins at the blunt end — for the U.S. military. While International Harvester, the prior Pentagon contractor producing them, had managed to pack only 6,265 of these deadly darts into a 90mm canister round, Whirlpool set to work figuring out a way to cram almost 10,000 flechettes into the same delivery vehicle. Its goal: to “improve the lethality of the canisters.” (In addition, Whirlpool also reportedly worked on “Sting Ray” — an Army project involving a projectile filled with flechettes coated in a still-undisclosed chemical agent.)
In 1967, an Associated Press report noted that U.S. troops were using new flechette artillery rounds to “spray thousands of dart-shaped steel shafts over broad areas of the jungle or open territory” in Vietnam. “I’ve seen reports of enemy soldiers actually being nailed to trees by these things,” commented one Army officer.
On a recent trip to Vietnam, I spoke to a Vietnamese witness who had seen such “pin bullets” employed by U.S. forces many times in those years. In one case, Bui Van Bac recalled that a woman from his village, spotted by U.S. aircraft while she was walking in a rice paddy, was gravely wounded by them. Local guerillas came to the woman’s aid and brought her to a hospital where a surgeon found a number of extremely sharp, three centimeter long “pins” inside her body. Medically, it was all but hopeless and the woman died.
A top player in lethal technologies back then, Whirlpool is now among the tiniest defense contractors. While, in recent years, the company has ignored requests for information from TomDispatch.com on their dealings with the Pentagon, records indicate that last year, for example, it received just over $105,000 from the Department of Defense, most of which apparently went towards the purchase of kitchen appliances and household furnishings.
Similarly, Whirlpool’s predecessor in the flechette game, International Harvester, is now Navistar International Corporation. Navistar Defense, a division of the company,
remains one of the Pentagon’s stealth “billion dollar babies.” But while it did more than $1 billion in business with the DoD last year, Navistar appears to have been building vehicles for the Pentagon, not creating anti-personnel weaponry. There are, however, companies that can’t seem to say goodbye to lethal technologies.
National Presto Industries
National Presto Industries traces its history to the 1905 founding of the Northwestern Iron and Steel Works in Eau Claire, Wisconsin, according to the Business & Company Resource Center. By 1908, the company was making industrial steam pressure cookers and, in 1915, began making models for home use. On the eve of the U.S. entry into World War II, the company entered the arms game when it scored a multi-million dollar contract to produce artillery fuses. Even with that deal in hand, it was reportedly on the verge of bankruptcy when its new president, Lewis Phillips, landed a series of other lucrative military contracts.
In the early years of the Cold War, about the time Whirlpool was getting into the flechette business, National Presto Industries had just introduced “a revolutionary new concept in electric cooking… a complete line of fully immersible electric cooking appliances employing a removable heat control” — and was about to launch “the world’s first automatic, submersible stainless steel coffee maker.” The company was also still churning out war materiel.
In 1953, National Presto announced plans to build a multi-million dollar plant to produce 105mm artillery shells. In 1955, it was awarded millions to make howitzer shells for the Army, and the next year, millions from the Air Force for fighter-bomber parts. By 1958, company President Lewis Phillips would declare, “The future of this company in Eau Claire and hence the security of our jobs here is now almost wholly dependent upon defense contracts awarded by the U.S. Government.” When the Army cancelled its contracts with Presto in 1959, Phillips lamented, “With little or no notice, this Government decision has forced us completely out of the manufacturing business here in Eau Claire.”
The tough times didn’t last. Soon enough, National Presto returned to the fray, benefiting from the disastrous American war in Vietnam. From 1966 to 1975, the company manufactured more than two million eight-inch howitzer shells and more than 92 million 105mm artillery shells. In Vietnam, 105mm shells would kill or maim untold numbers of civilians, but it was a boom time for National Presto, which took in at least $163 million in Pentagon contracts in 1970-1971 alone for artillery shell parts. Finally shuttered in 1980, the company defense plant was kept on government “stand-by” into the 1990s, a sweetheart deal that earned Presto $2.5 million annually for producing nothing at all.
As the Vietnam War wound down, National Presto turned back to the civilian market with a series of new kitchen gadgets: in 1974, the PrestoBurger, an electric, single-serving fast broiler for hamburgers; in 1975, the Hot Dogger; and in 1976, the Fry Baby deep fat fryer. In 1988, the company introduced its wildly popular SaladShooter, followed in 1991 by its Tater Twister potato peeler. When sales of its SaladShooters, corn poppers, pressure cookers, deep fryers, and griddles became sluggish, however, weaponry again proved a savior.
In 2001, National Presto decided to get back into the arms game. Months before 9/11, the company’s chairman Melvin Cohen expressed fears that a future war might mean ruin for the company’s kitchen appliance business. As a result, Presto purchased munitions manufacturer Amtec. In the years since, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, Presto has also “made other complementary acquisitions in the defense industry.” These have included Amron, a manufacturer of medium caliber ammunition (20-40mm) cartridge cases and Spectra Technologies, which is “engaged in the manufacture, distribution, and delivery of munitions and ordnance-related products for the DOD and DOD prime contractors.” Such types of ammunition are extremely versatile and are fired from ground vehicles, naval ships, and various types of aircraft — both helicopters and fixed-wing models.
Additionally, in the months after 9/11, National Presto entered the diapers trade, setting up that business in its old munitions plant. In 2004, with Melvin Cohen’s daughter MaryJo now at the helm, the company further expanded into the business of adult-incontinence products. “I spent a couple of days wearing them,” the younger Cohen told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel at the time. “They’re very comfortable.”
In 2005, Presto’s Amtec was awarded a five-year deal by the Pentagon for its 40mm family of ammunition rounds. By the end of last year, it had already received $454 million and was expecting the sum to top out, at contract’s end, above $550 million.
Just as 105mm shells of the sort produced by Presto were a nightmare for the people of Vietnam, so too has 40mm ammunition spelled doom for civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan. Earlier this year, the BBC reported on a typical joint U.S./U.K. attack on a home in Iraq in which insurgents had taken shelter. After exchanging ground fire, coalition forces called in an airstrike. According to the BBC, “The aircraft fired 40mm cannon rounds at the two houses, finally dropping a bomb on one of them. It collapsed. The other house was set on fire. The two insurgents in the house were buried but so were a number of women and children.” Similarly, in August, news reports tell us, U.S. troops called in an airstrike by an AC-130 — which packs 40mm cannons — that helped kill approximately 90 civilians in the village of Azizabad in Afghanistan, according to investigations by the Afghan government and the United Nations.
As in the past, war time has been a boom-time for Presto. In 2000, before the start of the Global War on Terror, National Presto’s annual sales clocked in at $116.6 million. In 2007, they totaled $420.7 million, with more than 50% of that coming from arms manufacturing. Earlier this year, Presto nabbed another 40mm ammunition contract (a $97.5 million supplemental award) set to be delivered in 2009 and 2010. According to official DoD figures, from 2001 through 2008 National Presto received more than $531 million, while Amtec has taken home another $171 million-plus. Their combined grand total, while hardly putting Presto in the top tier of Pentagon weapons contractors, is still a relatively staggering $702.8 million — not bad for a company known for slicing and dicing vegetables.
Death is Our Business and Business is Good
These days, most civilian defense contractors aren’t like Presto. General Tire and Rubber Company, for example, once lorded it over a business empire that produced not only car tires, but antipersonnel mines and deadly cluster bombs. Today, the company seems to have left its days of supplying the U.S. military with lethal technologies behind.
Dow Chemical classically drew ire from protestors during the Vietnam War for making the incendiary agent napalm that clung to and burned off the flesh of Vietnamese
victims. Dow got out of the napalm business long before the war ended, but, due to widespread protests at the time, the company is still living down the legacy today.
At a 2006 Ethics and Compliance Conference, Dow’s President, CEO, and Chairman Andrew Liveris recalled, “Believe me, we have had our share of ethical challenges, most of them very public… starting with the manufacture of Napalm during the Vietnam War… when suddenly we went from being a company that made Saran Wrap to keep food fresh to a kind of war machine… at least, according the characterizations of the time.” While Dow is still a defense contractor, its DoD contracts appear not to include the manufacture of weapons of any type. Instead, such companies have largely ceded the field to dedicated “merchants of death” — weapons-industry giants like Alliant Techsystems (ATK), Lockheed Martin, and Boeing.
Right now, National Presto Industries may look like a throw-back to an earlier era when companies regularly made both innocuous household items and heavy weapons. In a new hard-times economy, however, in which taxpayer dollars are likely to continue to pour into the Pentagon, could it instead be a harbinger of the future? Having proved that outfitting real shooters is even more lucrative than making SaladShooters, Presto has gotten rich in the Bush war years. It has, in fact, greatly outperformed the big guns of the weapons business. While the stocks of top defense contractors Lockheed Martin, Boeing, and Northrop Grumman have all lost significant value in the last year — down 29.3%, 55.3%, and 50.1%, respectively — National Presto’s stock price was up 28.1% as of mid-December.
It isn’t hard to imagine more civilian firms, especially ones which are already Pentagon contractors, getting into (or back into) the weapons game. After all, when the Big Three Detroit automakers were scrounging around for a bailout just a few weeks ago, they used America’s persistent involvement in armed conflict as one argument in their favor. For example, Robert Nardelli, Chrysler’s chief executive, told the Senate that the failure of the auto industry “would undermine our nation’s ability to respond to military challenges and would threaten our national security.” While that argument was roundly dismissed by retired Army Lt. Gen. John Caldwell, chairman of the National Defense Industrial Association’s combat vehicles division, it probably wouldn’t have been if the automakers made more weapons systems.
Will Presto be the back-to-the-future model for Pentagon contractors in the lean times ahead? Only time will tell. At the very least, it seems that, as long as Americans allow the country to wage wars abroad, require their salads to be shot, and have bladder issues, National Presto Industries has a future.
Copyright 2008 Nick Turse
Sweeping Blackwater Under the Rug December 9, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: baghdad, Barack Obama, Blackwater, bombing, bush administration, contractors, eugene robinson, insurgents, Iraq, Iraq civilian casualties, Iraq mercenaries, Iraq war, justice, law, massacre, prison, private soldiers, roger hollander, security guards, torture, troops
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Posted on Dec 9, 2008
The federal manslaughter indictment of five Blackwater Worldwide security guards for the horrific massacre of more than a dozen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad may look like an exercise in accountability, but it’s probably the exact opposite—a whitewash that absolves the governmental and corporate officials who should bear ultimate responsibility.
If what Justice Department prosecutors allege is true, the five guards—Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough—should have to answer for what they did on Sept. 16, 2007. The men, working under Blackwater’s contract to protect State Department personnel in Iraq, are charged with spraying a busy intersection with machine-gun fire and grenades, killing at least 14 unarmed civilians and wounding 20 others. One man, prosecutors said Monday, was shot in the chest with his hands raised in submission.
The indictment, charging voluntary manslaughter and weapons violations, demonstrates that those who engage “in unprovoked attacks will be held accountable,” Assistant Attorney General Patrick Rowan claimed.
But it demonstrates nothing of the sort. As with the torture and humiliation of detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, our government is deflecting all scrutiny from the corporate higher-ups who employed the guards—to say nothing of the policymakers whose decisions made the shootings possible, if not inevitable.
Prosecutors did not file charges against the North Carolina-based Blackwater firm—the biggest U.S. security contractor in Iraq—or any of the company’s executives. The whole tragic incident is being blamed on the guards who, prosecutors say, made Baghdad’s Nisoor Square a virtual free-fire zone.
The Blackwater guards were nervous because of a car bombing elsewhere in the city earlier that day. The company says the Blackwater convoy came under attack by insurgents, prompting the guards to fire in self-defense. “Tragically, people did die,” defense attorney Paul Cassell told reporters.
There is a huge difference between self-defense and the kind of indiscriminate fusillade that the Blackwater team allegedly unleashed. Proper training and supervision—which was the Blackwater firm’s responsibility—would have made it more likely for the guards to make the right split-second decisions amid the chaos of Nisoor Square. Rather than give Blackwater a free pass, the Justice Department ought to investigate the preparation these men were given before being sent onto Baghdad’s dangerous streets.
Blackwater no doubt has rules and regulations about when and where its people can discharge their weapons. But were those rules enforced? Did the guards who were indicted Monday have any reason to believe they would be punished for their rampage? Or were the shootings considered acceptable inside the Blackwater bunker? Company executives should have to answer these and other questions—under oath.
But a real attempt to establish blame for this massacre should go beyond Blackwater. It was the Bush administration that decided to police the occupation of Iraq largely with private rather than regular troops.
There are an estimated 30,000 security “contractors” in Iraq, many of them there to protect U.S. State Department personnel. The presence of these heavily armed private soldiers has become a sore point between the U.S. and Iraqi governments. Until now, the mercenaries—they object to that label, but it fits—have been immune from prosecution by the Iraqi courts for any alleged crimes. This will change on Jan. 1, when the new U.S.-Iraqi security pact places them under the jurisdiction of Iraqi law. Blackwater and other firms likely will have a harder time retaining and recruiting personnel, given the prospect of spending time in an Iraqi prison. Yet it is presumed that more private soldiers will be needed, rather than fewer, as the United States reduces troop levels.
Barack Obama has criticized the Bush administration’s decision to outsource so many essentially military tasks in Iraq and elsewhere. The officials who made that decision, however, are not being held accountable—not yet, at least. We deserve, at a minimum, a thorough investigation of what security contractors have done in the name of the United States.
Putting national security in the hands of private companies and private soldiers was bad practice from the start, and incidents such as what happened at Nisoor Square are the foreseeable result. The five Blackwater guards may have fired the weapons, but they were locked and loaded in Washington.
Eugene Robinson’s e-mail address is eugenerobinson(at)washpost.com.
Five Blackwater Guards Face US Charges in Iraq Deaths December 6, 2008Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Tags: al-Maliki, baghdad, Blackwater, contractors, deliberate murder, fbi, ginger thompson, immunity, indictments, iraqi civilians, james risen, justice department, lethal force, mercenaries, Pentagon, roger hollander, shootings, war zone
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Blackwater mercenaries patrolling in Iraq. (Photo: Getty Images) Saturday 06 December 2008, www.truthout.org Washington – The Justice Department has obtained indictments against five guards for the security company Blackwater Worldwide for their involvement in a 2007 shooting in Baghdad that killed at least 17 Iraqi civilians and remains a thorn in Iraqi relations with the United States. The indictments, obtained Thursday, remained sealed. But they could be made public in Washington as soon as Monday, according to people who have been briefed on the case and who spoke on condition of anonymity because the indictments had not been unsealed.
A sixth guard was negotiating a plea, those people said.
Peter A. Carr, a spokesman for the Justice Department, declined to comment on Friday. Anne E. Tyrrell, a spokeswoman for Blackwater, also declined to comment.
The six guards have been under investigation since the shootings occurred Sept. 16, 2007, as their convoy traveled through a traffic circle in Nisour Square that was filled with cars, pedestrians and police officers. The guards have told investigators that they fired after coming under attack. Blackwater has maintained that its guards did nothing wrong, and the company itself is not being charged in the case. Investigations by the Pentagon, the F.B.I. and the Iraqi government found no evidence to support the guards’ version of events.
Among those named in the indictment, according to the people briefed on the case, are Paul Slough, a 28-year-old who served in the Army Infantry and the Texas National Guard before joining Blackwater in 2006, and Dustin Heard of Tennessee, a former marine who joined Blackwater in 2004.
Those who have been briefed on the case said prosecutors could seek 30-year prison sentences under a Reagan-era antidrug law focusing on the use of machine guns in the commission of violent crimes. Drugs were not involved in the Blackwater case.
Mark Hulkower, Mr. Slough’s lawyer, would not confirm whether his client was one of those indicted. But if he is, Mr. Hulkower said, “We will contest the charges in court, and we are confident he will be vindicated.”
The Nisour Square shootings have had a profound impact in Iraq, both on the role of contractors in the war zone and on the Baghdad government’s relationship with the Bush administration. The episode was the bloodiest in a series of violent events involving Blackwater and other American security contractors that had stoked anger and resentment among Iraqis.
Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, a former member of the Navy Seals and heir to a family fortune made in the auto parts industry, Blackwater had developed a reputation among Iraqis and American military personnel for flaunting an aggressive, quick-draw image and for security personnel who took excessively violent actions to protect the people they were paid to guard.
In December 2006, a Blackwater guard who was off duty and reportedly drinking heavily was reported to have shot a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president in Baghdad. In 2007, the State Department acknowledged that Blackwater had been involved in many more shootings than the two other security contractors in other regions of Iraq.
But the Nisour Square episode prompted so much protest that Iraq’s prime minister, Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, demanded that the Bush administration pull Blackwater out of the country.
In a profile of Mr. Slough, The New York Times reported this year that he had used dry military language to explain to investigators that he fired his weapon only at targets who posed immediate threats to his life and to those of his colleagues.
He described fighting his way out of a terrifying ambush that began when the driver of a white, four-door sedan ignored numerous hand signals and drove directly at the Blackwater motorcade. And he described muzzle flashes from a shack about 160 feet behind the car, a man in a blue button-down shirt and black pants pointing an AK-47, small-arms fire from a red bus stopped in an intersection, and a red car backing up toward his convoy.
”I engaged the individuals,” Mr. Slough told investigators, “and stopped the threat.”
The F.B.I. concluded that at least 14 of the 17 fatal shootings in Nisour Square were unjustified, saying that Blackwater guards recklessly violated American rules for the use of lethal force. Military investigators went further, saying that all of the deaths were unjustified and potentially criminal. Iraqi authorities characterized the incident as “deliberate murder.”
Still, the guards could not be prosecuted under Iraqi law because of an immunity agreement signed by the Coalition Provision Authority, the governing authority installed by American troops after the invasion. And legal experts have long pointed out that the case faces significant legal hurdles in American courts, which have only vague powers to prosecute Americans for crimes committed abroad.
Immunity for security contractors became a central issue this year in the negotiations between Iraq and the United States over an agreement setting out the terms under which American troops could remain in Iraq. Iraqi officials repeatedly demanded an end to legal immunity for American contractors. The Bush administration eventually agreed, and tens of thousands of contractors will be held responsible for their actions under Iraqi law at the start of next year.
by: Ginger Thompson and James Risen, The New York Times