Escalation for Private Profit: US Sends Mercenary Army to Iraq

February 4th, 2011 - by admin

Spencer Ackerman / WIRED – 2011-02-04 20:21:18

5,500 Mercs to Protect US Fortresses in Iraq
Spencer Ackerman / DangerRoom, WIRED

(February 1, 2011) — In September 2007, Blackwater guards working for the US State Department killed 17 Iraqis at Baghdad’s Nisour Square, one of the most controversial episodes in the long war there. But State isn’t backing away from its mercs. With American troops scheduled to leave Iraq by the end of the year, the ambassador to Iraq will become a de facto general of a huge, for-hire army — one larger than a US Army heavy combat brigade.

During a Senate hearing today, John Kerry, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, urged the top US civilian and military officials in Iraq to “be careful” about “replacing a military presence with a private mercenary presence.” A report that the committee released yesterday and announced today explained why: the State Department plans to field 5,500 private security contractors to protect up to 17,000 civilians working for the American government in Iraq.

The report barely goes into the composition of the emerging mercenary army, but since State has been so tight-lipped about its plans, it sheds new light on how diplomats will be protected after the military leaves Iraq at the end of the year.

A force of 3,650 private security guards will be stationed at the huge Baghdad embassy. (The security firm SOC Inc. has a contract for protecting that embassy worth as much as $974 million.) It’ll be supplemented with mercs at four satellite installations: 600 in the Kurdish capitol of Irbil; 575 in Basra (the report says Baghdad, but it appears to be a misprint); and 335 each at Mosul and Kirkuk.

“Roughly four thousand of these will be third-country nationals serving as static perimeter security for the various installations,” the report states. In the past, private companies have hired non-westerners as guards, as they work cheaper than westerners do.

Non-Americans also make up a large proportion in a ginormous US civilian presence. The Senate report anticipates a whopping “17,000 individuals” working for the Baghdad embassy. Only 650 of them will actually be diplomats, backstopped by “hundreds’ of US officials from the Treasury, Justice and Agriculture departments. But they’ll “mostly” be foreign employees “working as life-support and security contractors.” That is, the people who do the laundry, cook the food and clean the messes.

The size of the anticipated private-security force in Iraq is slightly lower than an estimate offered by a State official in June, but it’s much higher than the 2,700 security contractors employed in Iraq right now. And aside from the static security stationed at those five State Department installations, they’ll be operating at the “15 different sites” that State plans on operating, “including 3 air hubs, 3 police training centers… and 5 Office of Security Cooperation sites.”

At today’s hearing, both Amb. James Jeffrey and Gen. Lloyd Austin, the commander of American forces in Iraq, endorsed a 2011 troop withdrawal and a large US diplomatic mission. That leaves State with its merc army to provide protection.

Those contractors will be “registered with the Iraqi authorities,” Jeffrey insisted, and “under the direct supervision of our security personnel,” the State contractor-oversight officials who’ll be “riding in every convoy” — a check against future Nisour Squares.

Exclusive: Blackwater Wins Piece of $10 Billion Mercenary Deal
Spencer Ackerman / WIRED

(October 1, 2010) — Never mind the dead civilians. Forget about the stolen guns. Get over the murder arrests, the fraud allegations, and the accusations of guards pumping themselves up with steroids and cocaine. Through a “joint venture,” the notorious private-security firm Blackwater has won a piece of a five-year State Department contract worth up to $10 billion, Danger Room has learned.

Apparently, there is no misdeed so big that it can keep guns-for-hire from working for the government. And this is despite a 2008 campaign pledge from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ban the company from federal contracts.

Eight private security firms have won State’s giant Worldwide Protective Services contract, the big Foggy Bottom partnership to keep embassies and their inhabitants safe. Two of those firms are longtime State contract holders DynCorp and Triple Canopy. The others are newcomers to the big security contract: EOD Technology, SOC, Aegis Defense Services, Global Strategies Group, Torres International Services and International Development Solutions LLC.

Don’t see any of Blackwater’s myriad business names on there? That’s apparently by design.

Blackwater and the State Department tried their best to obscure their renewed relationship. As Danger Room reported Wednesday, Blackwater did not appear on the vendors’ list for Worldwide Protective Services. And the State Department confirms that the company, renamed Xe Services, didn’t actually submit its own independent bid.

Instead, they used a blandly named cut-out, “International Development Solutions,” to retain a toehold into State’s lucrative security business. No one who looks at the official announcement of the contract award would have any idea that firm is connected to Blackwater.

Blackwater’s “affiliate US Training Center is part of International Development Solutions (IDS), a joint venture with Kaseman,” according to an official State Department statement to Danger Room. “This joint venture was determined by the Department’s source-selection authority to be eligible for award.”

Last year, a Blackwater subdivision, the Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, changed its name to US Training Center. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) blasted Blackwater in February for setting up shell companies in order to keep winning government security contracts despite its infamy.

According to State’s statement, the contracting process for the new Worldwide Protective Services deal included a “review” to ensure that companies met “minimum criteria” for eligibility. “This review included a process to determine whether any offerors had been suspended or debarred from the award of federal contracts,” it said.

Despite Blackwater guards killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, killing two Afghan civilians on a Kabul road in 2009, and absconding with hundreds of unauthorized guns from a US military weapons depot in Afghanistan using the name of a South Park character, federal contracting authorities have never suspended or debarred Blackwater.

It’s not yet clear what the US Training Center–International Development Solutions–Kaseman “joint venture” will do for the State Department. Worldwide Protective Services is actually a bundle of contracts in one, each governing specific duties for a firm to handle in a given country. Only two of those component contracts have been awarded so far.

One of them is to guard the huge US embassy in Baghdad. That’s gone to SOC, which has ousted Triple Canopy, the incumbent security provider (which will still be part of the overall Worldwide Protective Services deal). If SOC remains the contract holder in Baghdad for the full five years — there’s an annual review — it stands to make nearly $974 million.

But because that so-called “task order” is specifically for on-site security around the gates of the Baghdad embassy, it’s not clear if SOC will also provide the 6,000 to 7,000 security guards the State Department estimates it needs to protect diplomats on the move around Iraq or its other outposts around the country. Last year, the Iraqi government barred Blackwater from doing business in Iraq in response to Nisour Square. But it’s not clear whether this new “joint venture” is eligible to operate in Iraq.

The other task order issued under Worldwide Protective Services is to protect the US Embassy in Kabul. That contract’s gone to EOD Technology, a global firm which has in the past guarded the British and Canadian embassies in the Afghan capital. And that means ArmorGroup North America — last seen with its guards taking tequila shots out of each others’ butts and engaging in extracurricular sex trafficking — has lost a contract worth nearly $274 million over five years.

According to a different statement from the Department of State, the new Worldwide Protective Services contract comes with new safeguards to prevent abuse. Those include mandatory cultural awareness training, the addition of interpreters on all protection missions, financial penalties for poor performance, and a formal ban on alcohol. (Yes — after years of alcohol-related contractor incidents.) Despite these new protections, the department still sees fit to continue business with the most infamous member of the private-security world.

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