Thursday, June 18, 2009

'A Perfect Storm for Disaster' Brewing With Washington's 'Unprecedented' Shadow Army

by Jeremy Scahill

I've been reading through the hot-off-the-presses, exciting 100+ page report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting: "At What Cost? Contingency Contracting In Iraq and Afghanistan." There have been several good pieces that covered the Congressional hearings related to this report, so I thought I would just post some of the more important excerpts from the report. One general note: The Commission, which was created due to the diligent efforts of Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill, has been doing some incredibly important work digging deep into the corruption, waste, abuse, fraud, etc of the US war contracting system. The statute that created the commission "requires the Commission to assess a number of factors related to wartime contracting, including the extent of waste, fraud, abuse, and mismanagement of wartime contracts. The Commission has the authority to hold hearings and to refer to the Attorney General any violation or potential violation of law it identifies in carrying out its duties."

While the new report reveals some critical details about issues of waste and abuse, the general tone is very pro-contractor, which is not surprising. However, I find it disturbing that one of the members of the Commission, Dov Zakheim, is, according to his Commission bio, a current vice-president of Booz Allen Hamilton, a major defense, homeland security and intelligence contractor with a direct stake in US policy on contractors.

Booze is now majority owned by The Carlyle Group, which has deep political connections. In an Op-ed in The Washington Post last year, Zakheim campaigned against "More regulations and bureaucratic restrictions on contractors" and advocated for "a larger, more diversified base of prime contractors and suppliers." Zakheim, who was a foreign policy advisor to Bush and part of the circle of the Vulcans, is now a key member of the primary body that is responsible for investigating the industry and making formal recommendations on US policy. While the Commission is made up of appointees from both political parties, (Zakheim was appointed by President Bush) Zakheim's corporate stake on these matters should be cause for a review of his position on the Commission.


One fact that jumped out at me in the report is that, at present, according to the Commission, "contracting oversight" in Afghanistan is being done remotely from Iraq. And remember, there are 70,000 contractors (and growing) in Afghanistan.

Here are some excerpts from the report, which I have categorized and in some cases highlighted or analyzed:


  • Contractors are playing a key role in the drawdown of U.S. military forces in Iraq. As military units withdraw from bases, the number of contractor employees needed to handle closing or transfer tasks and to dispose of government property will increase... preparations for this major shift out of Iraq and into Afghanistan or other areas are sketchy
  • As the military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan have progressed, the military services, defense agencies, and other stakeholder agencies... continue to increase their reliance on contractors. Contractors are now literally in the center of the battlefield in unprecedented numbers.
  • From fiscal years (FY) 2001 through 2008, the Defense Department's reported obligations on all contracts for services, measured in real‐dollar terms, more than doubled-from roughly $92 billion to slightly over $200 billion. In fiscal year 2008, this figure included more than $25 billion for services to support contingency operations in Iraq and Afghanistan. These figures do not include State and U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) contracts.
  • [T]he missions in Iraq and Afghanistan are the first major contingency operations to reflect the full impact of the shift to heavy reliance on contractor personnel for critical support functions in forward operating areas. Despite the key role of contractors in overseas operations, DoD lacks enough staff to provide adequate contract oversight. The State Department and the U.S. Agency for International Development also use significant levels of contractor support in Southwest Asia.
  • The Commission believes that a serious shortage of U.S. government civilians in Afghanistan is all too likely to trigger heavy reliance on contractors in both the short term and the long run.

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