By Bryan Bender and John R. Ellement, Globe Staff
The mother of a Bolton native killed in a terrorist attack in Afghanistan that claimed the lives of seven CIA agents today mourned the loss of her youngest child, but also spoke proudly of his devotion to his family and his country.
Harold Brown Jr.
Harold Brown Jr., 37, was in the US base in Khost, Afghanistan, Wednesday when a terrorist evaded security and detonated a bomb, killing eight Americans. Today, the CIA and President Obama acknowledged that seven of those killed were CIA agents. No one would say who employed the eighth American.
Brown’s mother, Barbara Brown, said in a telephone interview today that her son told her he worked for the State Department. She said he had been deployed to Afghanistan since April, and that he was formerly an Army officer who specialized in military intelligence.
“He was a wonderful, caring person that wanted to help make things good for the world,” said Barbara Brown, whose husband, Harold Brown Sr., is director of public works for Bolton. “I want the world to know my son was a good man.”
Her son was a graduate of Nashoba Regional Valley High School in 1990 and from George Washington University four years later. While at GW, Brown met his wife, Janet, whom he married at St. John the Evangelist Church in Clinton in 1994. Brown was the father of three children, ranging from ages 12 to 2. He and his wife lived in Fairfax, Va.
After college, Brown became an Army officer and spent most of his four-year enlistment at the Army’s top post for intelligence work in Arizona. He then joined the Army Reserve and was reactivated in 2003. Before that, he worked for shareholder.com in Maynard and then left to work for SAIC, a private defense contractor.
His mother said he was then encouraged by an acquaintance to join the State Department and was working for that agency when he was killed. A State Department spokesman today would neither confirm nor deny Brown worked for the diplomatic service.
Barbara Brown is a former reserve police officer in Bolton, is active in the town’s Council on Aging and still works as a volunteer for ambulance service in the community. In addition to leading the DPW, she said, her husband is a Bolton native who was once a selectman and worked as a reserve police officer.
She said her son seemed to have absorbed the concept of helping your neighbor from his family while growing up – but chose to display it on a much larger stage, the world stage.
“I’m very proud of him and I love him dearly,” she said. “He did what he wanted to do to make a better world. How could anyone not want that? Do I wish he lived to be an old man? Of course. What mother doesn’t want that for her son?”
She added, “There’s a time to be born and a time to die. We don’t pick when. God has the answer to that.”
A US federal judge has dismissed all charges against five guards from US security firm Blackwater over the killing of 17 Iraqis in 2007.
The five, contracted to defend US diplomatic personnel, were accused of opening fire on a crowd in Baghdad.
District Judge Ricardo Urbina said the US justice department had used evidence prosecutors were not supposed to have.
The five had all pleaded not guilty to manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted killing at least one Iraqi.
The killings, which took place in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, strained Iraq’s relationship with the US and raised questions about US contractors operating in war zones.
Lawyers for the five guards say they were acting in self-defence, but witnesses and family members of those killed maintain that the shooting on 16 September 2007 was unprovoked.
The disputed evidence concerned statements the guards gave to state department investigators, which they were told would not be used to bring a criminal case.
This limited immunity deal meant that prosecutors should have built their case against the men without using the statements.
But Judge Urbina said prosecutors had failed to do so, and that the US government’s explanation for this was “contradictory, unbelievable and lacking in credibility”.
Justice department spokesman Dean Boyd told the Associated Press news agency: “We’re obviously disappointed by the decision. We’re still in the process of reviewing the opinion and considering our options.”
The five guards were Donald Ball, Dustin Heard, Evan Liberty, Nick Slatten and Paul Slough – all of whom are decorated military veterans.
As well as the 14 counts of manslaughter, they had faced 20 counts of attempted manslaughter and one count of using a machine gun to commit a crime of violence, a charge that carries a 30-year minimum sentence.
A sixth Blackwater employee, Jeremy Ridgeway, had agreed to a plea deal in return for testifying against his colleagues.
By Rich Gardella and Lisa Myers
Hundreds of National Guardsmen potentially exposed to toxic chemical at Iraq water treatment plant in 2003
www.mssparky.com for the ongoing story and investigation
Throughout 2003, after the combat phase of the Iraq War had ended, the U.S. military and defense contractors raced to try and fix Iraq’s infrastructure.
Working in a war zone obviously presents unexpected challenges and dangers far beyond the usual ones at industrial worksites. But this is the story of why some Army National Guardsmen are suing defense contractor KBR because of alleged exposures to a toxic chemical at one such industrial worksite in Iraq.
Video: Soldiers sue over alleged toxic exposure
Web only video: Air had a ‘strange metallic taste,’ says soldier
When specialist Larry Roberta of the Oregon Army National Guard went to Iraq in 2003, he expected sandstorms, physical hardship, perhaps even combat. What he didn’t expect was the orange dust he encountered, all over the place, at the Qarmat Ali Water Treatment Plant, near Basra in southern Iraq.
“You could taste stuff in the air,” Roberta recalled. ”It had a really strange metallic taste.”
Roberta’s unit and other Army National Guard units were at the plant during the spring and summer of 2003, in the months after the U.S. invasion that March. Their mission was to provide security for workers repairing the plant. It supplied water to Iraqi oil fields, and was an important part of the U.S. mission to get Iraq’s oil flowing again. The workers were repairing the plant for defense contractor Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR).
Roberta and other Guardsmen and former KBR employees told NBC News that the orange dust was throughout the plant and the grounds, and sometimes would permeate the air during when the desert winds blew.
“It blew up in my face and on my chicken patty and my mouth and stuff like that,” Roberta said. “I didn’t really think a whole lot of it other than it tasted really bad and made me throw up and burned.”
Capt. Russell Kimberling of the Indiana Army National Guard told us he asked KBR officials what the dust was.
“What we got from them was,’It’s a mild irritant,’” Kimberling said.
But the dust actually was a highly toxic chemical called sodium dichromate, which scientists have found can cause lung cancer in humans.
It had been used by Iraqi workers prior to the war to prevent corrosion in the pipes at the plant. There were hundreds of bags at the chemical at the plant, some of them clearly labeled.
The mission’s official military name was Task Force RIO (“Restoration of Iraqi Oil”). KBR got the contract.
Six years later, some of the Guardsmen assigned to provide security for Task Force RIO at the plant are dead, dying or suffering from serious health problems–including rashes, perforated septums and lung disease. One of the foremost experts in sodium dichromate, Dr. Herman Gibb, says the Guardsmen’s symptoms are consistent with “significant exposure” to the chemical.
KBR argues that the company is not to blame. The company says it told the Army about the dangerous chemical as soon as it was identified at the plant. That, the company says, was on July 25, 2003.
But, international KBR documents contradict that claim, and indicate that the company became aware of the chemical at the site two months earlier.
One internal KBR document notes that “an environmental technician identified the chemical in May.” The document’s author was a KBR manager who oversaw health and safety for the Qarmat Ali project.
Another KBR document warns not only that the chemical is present at the plant but also that some areas are “potentially contaminated” with it. The author of that memo, a KBR health and safety employee, suggests testing and cleanup. That document is dated June 21, 2003. That’s more than one month before KBR alerted the Army, and more than two months before the Guardsmen became aware of the danger.
Several Guardsmen recall that it wasn’t until late August that they learned of the hazard, and then only because they saw KBR workers wearing white chemical suits.
“They were in full protective chemical gear,” Russell Kimberling told us. “You know, from head to toe. I kind of looked at one of my men and just said, ‘this can’t be good, can it?’”
Although KBR did remediation work in mid-August, it wasn’t until several weeks after that, on September 8, 2003, that KBR shut down the Qarmat Ali plant and did a more extensive cleanup - “out of abundance of caution,” it explained in a statement to NBC News. The plant remained closed until mid-October.
In all, during 2003, more than 700 soldiers passed through the Qarmat Ali plant, mostly Guard units from Indiana, Oregon, South Carolina and West Virginia. Some of these Guardsmen say they began experiencing physical symptoms – headaches, bloody noses, sinus and respiratory problems – soon after arriving at the plant in the summer of 2003.
Larry Roberta’s medical records confirm he reported breathing problems and chest pains during a visit to a medic that July. The military evacuated Russ Kimberling from the site that summer so a severe sinus infection in his nasal cavity could heal.
Since then, other soliders who served at Qarmat Ali have experienced serious illnesses. Some have died. First Sgt. David moore of the Indiana Army National Guard died of lunch disease in 2008 at age 42. The commander of Kimerling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unity, Lt. Col James Gentry, died of a rare lunch cancer of the day before Thanksgiving. He had claimed to be a lifelong non-smoker.
Six years later, the commander of Kimberling’s Indiana Army National Guard Unit, Lt. Col James Gentry, is terminally ill with a rare lung cancer. He says he’s a lifelong nonsmoker.
First Sgt. David Moore of the Indiana Army National Guard is dead of lung disease at age 42.
Roberta, a former police officer who climbed Mt. Sinai before he went to Iraq, now struggles to catch his breath when he walks. He has serious stomach and liver issues, migraines and acute respiratory problems, including reactive airway disorder.
“You almost feel like you’re drowning,” Roberta said, after gasping for breath during a coughing fit captured on video by an NBC cameraman. “You want to breathe, but you just can’t.”
Roberta, Kimberling, Gentry and Moore’s family are part of a lawsuit by Army Guardsmen against KBR, charging that the company knowingly endangered lives by not informing them of the dangers. The Guardsmen’s law firm, Doyle Raizner of Houston, Texas, has been gathering testimony and documents in the case.
KBR strongly denies wrongdoing. The company acknowledges that sodium dichromate was present at the plant, and had contaminated parts of it. But KBR claims it “acted appropriately and on a timely basis” as information about the chemical at the plant became known. In statements to NBC News, KBR also claims that it was the Army’s reponsibility to ensure the site was free of environmental hazards.
What’s more, KBR insists that there is no evidence proving that soldiers suffered illnesses or injuries because of exposure to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
Former KBR employees previously filed their own complaint against the company, making similar allegations. An arbitrator denied the employees’ claims for damages, arguing that the company was not liable under the provisions of the Defense Base Act, a federal workers compensation law applying to persons working on U.S. military bases outside the U.S. Without discussion, the arbitrator states that “claimants did not present sufficient proof of an injury compensable under Texas law,” where KBR is based.
We consulted Dr. Herman Gibb, one of the foremost experts on sodium dochromate exposure. Gibb, an epidemiologist, spent 29 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, much of that time at the National Center for Environmental Assessment. He is the lead author of a 2000 study of the relationship between lung cancer and sodium dichromate exposure. (That study collected data on the exposures of 2,101 workers at a Baltimore factory, who were exposed to sodium dichromate between 1950 and 1974.)
In an NBC NEWS interview, we asked Dr. Gibb about KBR’s statement.
Lisa Myers: KBR says there is simply no evidence that soldiers were harmed by exposure to this chemical. Do you agree with that statement?
Dr. Herman Gibb: I don’t see how you can say there’s no evidence. I mean…they experienced symptoms that are consistent with sodium dichromate exposure. The exposure must have been fairly significant to be associated with these symptoms.
In claiming no proof of harm to soldiers, KBR specifically points to red blood cell blood tests conducted by the Army’s Center for Health Promotion and Preventative Medicine (CHPPM). KBR told us the Army’s CHPPM had concluded that “no soldier encountered a significant inhalation exposure while guarding the facility.”
But NBC’s review of the Army’s report showed that what the Center actually reported was that the blood tests “appear to show that there was not a significant inhalation exposure,” and that the Army’s medical team “at the time felt that long-term health effects were very unlikely from the exposure as understood.”
And Dr. Gibb told NBC that the red blood cell tests were too insensitive, and conducted too long after exposure, to be conclusive.
“The test wouldn’t have been very reliable…taken so long after exposure ended,” he said. “It would be like giving a breathalyzer test to somebody three days after they’d been driving erratically.”
KBR also claims that most air and soil sample tests indicate that “there was no danger from airborne contamination of the plant.” Dr. Gibb noted that KBR had admitted that the Army’s and KBR’s air and soil and blood tests occurred after KBR had remediated the site.
Since our interview, Dr. Gibb has been hired by lawyers representing the Guardsmen to review material for their case.
KBR provided NBC News an executive summary of a report it claims counters Dr. Gibb’s testimony, prepared as part of KBR’s response to the previous claim by former KBR employees.
The trial for the Guardsmen’s case against KBR likely won’t begin until sometime next year.
Meanwhile, Roberta struggles just to get through each day.
“If KBR did know about this, before we were there,” said Roberta, “it should
have been rectified.”
“They said it was a mild irritant,” Kimberling recalled. “That’s what I told my soldiers. And suck it up and drive on with the mission. Don’t whine about it. You know, we’re here, let’s do our job and let’s go home. That’s what we did.”
What upsets some of the Guardsmen most of all is that, after serving their country faithfully, they believe the Army and KBR let them down by not fully acknowledging or investigating their exposure to the toxic chemical or their serious health problems. Some suffered for years and only recently have a possible explanation why.
In the last few months, the U.S. Government finally has begun to acknowledge their predicament.
The Defense Department’s Inspector General has launched an investigation. That was the result of a formal request from seven Democratic senators, including Sen. Byron Dorgan, chairman of the Democratic Policy Committee, which has been investigating this matter for more than a year. (The DPC held two hearings on the topic, one in 2008 and one this year.)
In September and October, following a hearing by the Senate’s Veterans Affairs Committee, the Secretary of the Army, Pete Geren, and the Secretary of the Veterans Affairs Department, Gen. Eric Shinseki, sent letters to Sen. Dorgan describing new efforts to contact and examine the 700+ soldiers who potentially were exposed to sodium dichromate at the Qarmat Ali plant.
All these efforts now should help exposed soldiers like Larry Roberta receive medical care, and perhaps eventually yield more substantive answers about how many were exposed to the toxic chemical, how many have health problems because of it, and why this happened at all.
Eight U.S. Civilians Killed in Afghanistan Blast (Update1)
December 30, 2009, 03:30 PM EST
By Tony Capaccio
Dec. 30 (Bloomberg) — Eight U.S. civilians were killed today in a blast at an American military base in Afghanistan, a Pentagon spokeswoman said.
Lieutenant Colonel Almarah Belk said the explosion took place at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost province. Belk said she didn’t know what installations or agencies are located at the base.
The U.S. has been expanding the ranks of civilian aid experts in Afghanistan in parallel with the surge of military reinforcements aimed at the Taliban insurgency.
NATO forces spokesman Lieutenant Colonel Todd Vician said the nature of the explosion is being investigated. The Associated Press cited a U.S. official in Washington as saying the Americans were killed by an attacker wearing a suicide-bomb vest.
Khost is located in eastern Afghanistan, along the border with Pakistan.
–With assistance from Viola Gienger in Washington. Editors: Edward DeMarco, Robin Meszoly
To contact the reporter on this story: Anthony Capaccio in Washington at +1-202-624-1911 or email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Robin Meszoly at +1-202-624-1824 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Monday, December 21, 2009
Number of Contractors
As of September 2009, there were 104,101 DOD contractors in
Afghanistan, compared to approximately 64,000 uniformed personnel. Contractors made up 62%
of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan (see Figure 7). In December 2008, contractors represented
69% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan, which apparently represented the highest recorded
percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States.
Source: CENTCOM Quarterly Census Reports; Troop Levels in the Afghan and Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost
and Other Potential Issues, by Amy Belasco; Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Boots on the Ground” monthly
reports to Congress; CRS estimate of troops in Afghanistan for September, 2009.
Some analysts and DOD officials believe that the higher percentage of contractors in Afghanistan
is partially a result two factors: contractors providing some services to the more than 30,000
international forces that are part of the International Security Assistance Force29 and DOD’s
expansion of facilities to support the anticipated military surge in Afghanistan.
On December 1, 2009, President Obama announced that the United States will be deploying an
additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, bringing the total number of U.S. troops there to
approximately 100,000. Such a troop increase will likely require an increase in the number of
contractors in Afghanistan. According to DOD officials, contractors are expected to make up
approximately 50%-55% of the total workforce in Afghanistan in the future, although such an
estimate could change if conditions in Afghanistan change.30
Over the last seven quarters, contractors have made up between 55% and 69% of DOD’s
workforce in Afghanistan, averaging 62% of the workforce during that period (with a mode of
57%). Assuming that going forward contractors will continue to make up a similar percentage of
DOD’s workforce, deploying 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan could require an additional
26,000 to 56,000 contractors, for a total of between 130,000 to 160,000 contractors (see Table 3).
The contractor footprint in Afghanistan could increase further if the new strategy includes a more
robust construction and nation building effort.
Table 3. Number of Contractors Required
|Troop Level||Contractors as % of
|Total Number of
Source: CRS analysis of DOD data.
Notes: Over the last seven quarters (March 2008 to September 2009), contractors have represented 65%, 55%,
67%, 69%, 57%, 57%, and 62% of the total DOD workforce, respectively. The data points listed in the table were
chosen because they represent the lowest contractor/workforce ratio (55%), the mode (57%), and the mean
Type of Work Performed by Contractors
DOD does not report the breakdown of services that contractors provide in Afghanistan, with the
exception of data on private security contractors. Nevertheless, the types of services provided by
contractors in Afghanistan are similar to those conducted in Iraq, including logistics, construction,
linguistic services, and transportation; however, the percentage of contractors providing each
service are likely different. DOD officials stated that they will start providing data on the
breakdown of services in Afghanistan in the next quarterly census.
Profile of Contractors
As of September 2009, of the approximately 104,000 contractors in Afghanistan, 9,300 were U.S.
citizens, 16,000 were third-country nationals, and 78,500 were local nationals (see Table 4).
Local nationals made up 75% of contractor personnel.
Table 4. DOD Contractor Personnel in Afghanistan
(as of September 2009)
|Total Contractors||U.S. Citizens||Third-Country Nationals||Local Nationals|
|Percent of Total||100%||9%||16%||75%|
Source: CENTCOM 4th Quarter Contractor Census Report.
DOD uses significantly more local nationals in Afghanistan than U.S. citizens and third-country
nationals combined. There also appears to be an inverse relationship between the percentage of
troops and local national contractors in Afghanistan (see Figure 8), although there is not enough
data to draw significant conclusions with statistical reliability. Understanding such data could
help DOD plan more effectively for contractor requirements in future operations.
Source: CENTCOM Quarterly Contractor Census Reports; CRS Report R40682, Troop Levels in the Afghan and
Iraq Wars, FY2001-FY2012: Cost and Other Potential Issues, by Amy Belasco; Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff, “Boots
on the Ground” monthly reports to Congress; CRS estimate of troops in Afghanistan for September, 2009.
29 See ISAF “Placemat.”
30 Based on discussions with DOD officials, December 8, and December 11, 2009.
Richard Fontaine and John Nagl: When Our Nation Goes To War, Contractors Go With It
(CBS) John Nagl is president and Richard Fontaine is a senior fellow at the Center for a New American Security, a nonpartisan national security research organization in Washington, D.C.
Many observers reacted with surprise at reports that forthcoming “surge” in Afghanistan will include up to 56,000 private contractors. They should not have.
Contractors have become an enduring feature of modern American conflicts, and the United States cannot now engage in hostilities or in reconstruction and stabilization operations without them. At their peak, there were more contractors on the ground in Iraq than American troops in uniform and there are already more contractors today in Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops on the ground. However, the increased reliance on contractors has exposed a number of problems, including insufficient oversight, inadequate integration into operational planning, and ambiguous legal status.
In order for the United States to adapt to the key role that contractors will play in future hostilities, it must establish new policies and rules of the road.
Contractors on the battlefield are not a modern phenomenon; in fact, they predate the Constitution. The Continental Army relied on support from various private individuals and firms, including logistical support to George Washington’s troops in the field. Japan and postwar Europe under the Marshall Plan saw some of America’s first and largest reconstruction efforts, the size of which was not reached again until 2003 in Iraq.
The aftermath of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq saw an explosion in the number of contractors employed by the United States on the battlefield. The scale of deployment of these contractors, who have engaged in activities as diverse as transportation, engineering and construction, maintenance, and base operations, has been, according to the Congressional Budget Office, “unprecedented in U.S. history.” The U.S. contracting cadre is very much multinational in character.
American soldiers, diplomats, and aid workers have become accustomed to being greeted in battlefield dining facilities by Indian servers, dispensing food prepared by Filipinos, on a base guarded by Ugandans and partially constructed by Iraqis. In this sense, then, the United States has achieved with its contractors precisely the kind of multinational coalition effort that has at times eluded it when it comes to actual combat operations. In Iraq today, third country nationals comprise the largest share of U.S. contractor personnel.
Future conflicts are likely to be more like American engagements in the Balkans, Colombia (via “Plan Colombia”), Iraq, and Afghanistan, and less like Operation Desert Storm. To the extent that future wars involve messy insurgencies and attempts to boost host government legitimacy, rather than conventional battles between massed armies, contractors will continue to play a large and prominent role. To extinguish support for insurgencies, build the security forces of host governments, expand the capacity to provide services to local populations, create jobs, train civil services, and construct (or reconstruct) infrastructure, the U.S. government will rely to an enormous extent on the use of private contractors.
A series of reports have called for reform in the way the government contracts for services on the battlefield and for expanded oversight of the process, but significant additional reforms are needed. The U.S. government is trying to make up for nearly two decades of neglecting contractor management and oversight – and it is doing so in the midst of two ongoing wars that involve unprecedented contractor participation.
The extensive use of contractors, and their presence on the battlefield along with American troops, poses special dilemmas in command, coordination, and discipline. The very existence of private contractors inserts a profit motive onto the battlefield; their primary responsibility is not the national interest but rather fulfilling the terms of their contracts.
Contractors are not in the chain of command; they can be expected to fulfill their contracts but not ordered to do so in the same fashion as military personnel. Nor are contractors are not subject to the same discipline and order procedures that govern U.S. troops; failure to follow orders can result in criminal prosecution for military personnel, but this is not true of civilians. The contractors, rather than commanders in the field, are responsible for ensuring that their employees comply with laws and orders, and these commanders have repeatedly expressed frustration with their own lack of knowledge regarding contractor activities – or even presence – in the battle space. However, as current and former DOD officials point out, not a single mission in Iraq or Afghanistan has failed because of contractor non-performance. Most private contractors appear to make a positive contribution, and to be honest, patriotic, and dedicated to the mission at hand.
The great reliance on contractors in wartime raises foreign policy questions that go well beyond the domain of DOD. To cite one example, the United States has brought to Iraq and Afghanistan tens of thousands of workers from developing countries in which labor costs are low. Given Pakistan’s acute sensitivity to the perception of Indian encroachment in Afghanistan (the Pakistani government, for example, has routinely objected to the presence of Indian diplomats in consulates there), what are the foreign policy implications of hiring Indian nationals in Afghanistan? To address these sorts of questions, it will be necessary to bring the State Department increasingly into the decision making process.
At the same time, the way in which the United States handles contractors in its current conflicts will set precedents and establish norms that will influence not only America’s future behavior, but also that of other countries around the world. Given the high stakes involved, and the reality that contracting in conflicts is here to stay, it is time for a new strategic look at the role they play in hostile environments.
The aim should be a new approach that neither rejects the role played by contractors in wartime nor merely reflects the status quo. This new approach will require changes to the culture and awareness of contracting at DOD, State, and USAID, and will mean calling on policy makers to consider in depth how the increased reliance on contractors can best be leveraged to further American national interests abroad. When our nation goes to war, contractors go with it. We must get on with the task of adapting to this reality.
Justin Elliott | December 16, 2009, 5:40PM
Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) said today that the military may be paying Afghan contractors so much that they are dissuaded from joining the country’s army or police force, dealing a blow to the American strategy of building up local forces.
We reported earlier this week that as many as 56,000 new contractors will be hired as Obama escalates the war. Most of the 104,100 DOD contractors currently working in Afghanistan are local nationals providing logistical, transportation, security, and other support.
“Our mission here is to get Afghanistan in a place that they can take over their own security, which means this is all about getting people to join the afghan police department and the military. It is my understanding — and I want to look at it in this hearing — that we are paying contractors more than they could make on the police force or in the military,” McCaskill told reporters on a call today. “In other words, we’re competing against ourselves.”
She added: “If we are hiring them to peel potatoes, and they are declining to go take up arms for their country because of that — because they can make more peeling potatoes — that’s a huge problem and we’ve got to get to the bottom of it as soon as possible”
McCaskill’s Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight is holding a hearing on contracting issues tomorrow, and the contractor surge is bound to come up.
A live feed of the hearing, set to start at 2 p.m. ET, will be here.
Here’s the full press release and witness list:
CONTRACTING OVERSIGHT SUBCOMMITTEE TO EXAMINE CONTRACTING IN AFGHANISTANSubcommittee will hold hearing on Thursday, December 17th
WASHINGTON, D.C. – In light of the president’s recent announcement of significant strategy changes in Afghanistan, the Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight, led by Chairman Claire McCaskill, will hold a public hearing on Thursday, December 17th to examine oversight of contracting in Afghanistan.
With upcoming increases in U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan, government contracts related to the conflict are expected to increase in both number and value. At the hearing, the Subcommittee will review whether sufficient steps are being taken to ensure adequate management and oversight of contracts, as well as whether contracting oversight lessons learned from Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan.
Who: Subcommittee on Contracting Oversight
What: Public Hearing on Afghanistan Reconstruction and Development Contracts: An Overview
When: Thursday, December 17, 2009, at 2:00 PM
Where: Dirksen Senate Office Building Room SD-342
Mr. William H. Campbell III
Director of Operations
Office of the Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller)
U.S. Department of Defense
Mr. Edward M. Harrington
Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army (Procurement)
Department of the Army
U.S. Department of Defense
Mr. Charles North
Senior Deputy Director
Afghanistan-Pakistan Task Force
U.S. Agency for International Development
Mr. Daniel F. Feldman
Deputy Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan
U.S. Department of State
Mr. Jeffrey Parsons
Army Contracting Command
Department of the Army
U.S. Department of Defense
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, December 16, 2009
The surge of 30,000 U.S. troops into Afghanistan could be accompanied by a surge of up to 56,000 contractors, vastly expanding the presence of personnel from the U.S. private sector in a war zone, according to a study by the Congressional Research Service.
CRS, which provides background information to members of Congress on a bipartisan basis, said it expects an additional 26,000 to 56,000 contractors to be sent to Afghanistan. That would bring the number of contractors in the country to anywhere from 130,000 to 160,000.
The tally “could increase further if the new [administration] strategy includes a more robust construction and nation building effort,” according to the report, which was released Monday and first disclosed on the Web site Talking Points Memo.
The CRS study says contractors made up 69 percent of the Pentagon’s personnel in Afghanistan last December, a proportion that “apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by the Defense Department in any conflict in the history of the United States.” As of September, contractor representation had dropped to 62 percent, as U.S. troop strength increased modestly.
As the Pentagon contracts out activities that previously were carried out by troops in wartime, it has been forced to struggle with new management challenges. “Prior to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, contracting was done on an ad-hoc basis and was not adequately incorporated into the doctrine — or culture — of the military,” according to the CRS report. Today, according to Defense Department officials, “doctrine and strategy are being updated to incorporate the role of contractors in contingency operations.”
The Pentagon’s Joint Contracting Command in Afghanistan has increased the size of its acquisition workforce and is adding staff to monitor performance. To enhance oversight, Congress has appropriated $8 million for an electronic system that will track all contract-related information for Iraq and Afghanistan.
On Thursday, the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs ad-hoc subcommittee on contracting oversight, led by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), is scheduled to hold a hearing on the increase in the number and value of Afghanistan contracts. She plans to focus on ensuring that contracts are adequately managed and “whether contracting oversight lessons learned from Iraq are being applied in Afghanistan,” according to her staff members.
Contracts, in the meantime, continue to be solicited and awarded. Over the past week, the military awarded a $44.8 million contract to a Florida firm to provide dogs and their handlers for operational use in areas of southern Afghanistan along the Pakistan border, where some of the most violent fighting is taking place.
The U.S. command in Afghanistan also published a notice that it would be seeking intelligence analyst services from a contractor that include “collecting, analyzing and providing recommendations necessary for the government to produce and disseminate intelligence products in several subject areas.” The contract would be for one year, plus options for four additional years.
The Defense Logistics Agency disclosed that it is looking for a contractor that can provide distribution and warehousing services for U.S. and NATO forces in the Kandahar area, which is near the center of fighting. The contractor is to supply the workforce needed to receive, store, inventory and prepare shipment of up to 4,000 items using government-provided warehousing facilities and open storage areas.
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency has terminated a contract with the security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide that allowed the company to load bombs on C.I.A. drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, intelligence officials said Friday.
The contract gave employees with the company an operational role in one of the Central Intelligence Agency’s most significant covert programs, which has killed dozens of militants with Predator and Reaper drones. The company’s involvement highlighted the extent to which the C.I.A. had outsourced critical jobs to private companies since the 9/11 attacks.
The contract with the company, now called Xe Services, was canceled this year by Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, according to a C.I.A. spokesman. In August, The New York Times first revealed the existence of the contract, which was run by a division of the company called Blackwater Select, which handles classified contracts.
George Little, the C.I.A. spokesman, said that Mr. Panetta had ordered that the agency’s employees take over the jobs from Xe employees at the remote drone bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, and that Mr. Panetta had also ordered a review of all contracts with the company.
“At this time, Blackwater is not involved in any C.I.A. operations other than in a security or support role,” Mr. Little said.
The disclosure about the terminated contract comes a day after The Times reported that Blackwater employees had joined C.I.A. operatives in secret “snatch and grab” operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Blackwater’s role in the raids grew out of contracts that the company had with the spy agency to provide security for the C.I.A. in Kabul and Baghdad.
The company had a dual role in the drone program, said current and former employees and intelligence officials. Contractors on the secret bases assembled and loaded Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto drones, and they also provided security at the C.I.A. bases.
The C.I.A. did not allow contractors to select targets for the drone attacks or pull the trigger on the strikes. That work was done at the C.I.A.’s headquarters in Langley, Va.
But Blackwater’s direct role in the drone operations sometimes led to disputes between the contractors and C.I.A. employees, as the spy agency sometimes accused Blackwater employees of poor weapon assembly if the missile or bomb missed a target. In one instance last year, a 500-pound bomb dropped off a Predator before the drone had launched its payload, leading to a frenzied search along the Afghan-Pakistani border.
A company employee said the bomb was eventually found not far from the intended target.
A friend who works for a high-end technology firm pointed out the other day that waging war and creating jobs in these United States are not mutually exclusive. He noted that Raytheon, a company based in my hometown that specializes in missile and other defense systems, is going gangbusters. (This week it announced a quarterly cash dividend and reports 2008 sales of $23.2 billion, according to its website.)
Indeed, weaponry and gunslingers — we call them contractors now — have long been major American exports. Back in the ’60s, the phrase applied to the huge sector of our government and economy involved in warfare was the Military-Industrial Complex. Judging from several recent articles, it’s doing quite well now, too, thank you.
The first, titled “Federal Salaries Explode” on the USA Today home page today, notes that the percentage of federal employees earning more than $100,000 during the recession’s first 18 months increased from 14 percent to 19 percent.
That fact in itself is pretty startling during a time when one in 10 American is out of work and one in six Americans is either out-of-work or underemployed. But what really startles in the USA Today report is the enormous increase of highly paid civilian employees in the Defense Department.
Defense Department civilian employees earning $150,000 or more increased from 1,868 in December 2007 to 10,100 in June 2009, the most recent figure available.
According to USA Today’s data, these Defense Department employees alone represent 16 percent of all federal employees earning that much money or more. ( Just think what their raises might be if we declared war on Iran, too!)
Of course, there’s another group making good money off of war — and it’s not our soldiers on the ground. It’s the so-called civilian contractors who in Iraq and Afghanistan have at times become nothing less than shadow armies.
The latest news about this is in today’s New York Times. It says that between 2004 and 2006, “Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities … in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.”
If you’ll recall, Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services, lost its contract to provide diplomatic security for the State Department after its “guards” opened fire in a 2007 Baghdad incident that infuriated the Iraqi government and left 17 civilians dead.
In its article today, The Times quotes P.W. Singer, identified as a contracting expert at the Brookings Institution, who says jobs outsourced in recent years “make a mockery of regulations about ‘inherently governmental’ functions.”
“We keep finding functions that have been outsourced that common sense, let alone U.S. government policy, would argue should not have been handed over to a private company,” he told The Times. “And yet we do it again, and again, and again.”
It’s worth noting that The Times articles covers a timespan when George W. Bush and Darth Vader, his vice-president, were running the White House. One can only hope that there is greater oversight of contractors today. But there is no question that the government’s extraordinary reliance on them continues unchecked and unchallenged.
On Dec. 2, August Cole noted in the Wall Street Journal that :
Contractors already outnumber U.S. forces in Afghanistan, and their numbers have been rising all year … Defense Department officials want U.S. troops focused on combating insurgents …
The Defense Department’s latest census shows that the number of contractors increased about 40 percent between the end of June and the end of September, for a total of 104,101. That compares with 113,731 in Iraq…”
Do the math, and it means we have more than 217,000 contractors playing a role in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Many are not American. Many also are doing a lot more than driving trucks or providing supplies.
What are they paid? That’s a very good question. I wouldn’t be surprised if the highest paid among them were factored in, it would substantially swell the ranks of the highly paid civilian Defense Department employees.
The State Department is tripling its civilian presence in Afghanistan, which will require a huge increase in the amount of security needed to look after those civilians. But State’s bureau in charge of protecting its personnel is already stretched thin and the Afghanistan surge could only exacerbate its administrative and strategic shortfalls, according to a soon-to-be-released GAO report, obtained exclusively by The Cable.
It’s a fact of life that operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Pakistan are a now a huge part of the mission for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), which protects diplomats all over the world. That’s somewhat a legacy of Condoleezza Rice‘s “Transformational Diplomacy” initiative, which was meant to expand the U.S. diplomatic presence to include more robust efforts in more dangerous places. Outposts that might have been closed have been kept open, such as in Lahore, Pakistan, putting added burdens on the diplomatic security infrastructure, the report states.
Success in Afghanistan depends on improving the Afghan government and “that makes civilian efforts as vital as military operations and of longer duration,” Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said just before last Tuesday’s announcement by the president. “We have begun to elevate diplomacy and development alongside defense in our national security strategy, and we are certainly engaged in doing so in Afghanistan.”
But a more robust civilian presence will require a corresponding security footprint, and it’s not clear the DS bureau, whose budget has ballooned from $200 million to almost $2 billion since the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, can handle the increase. The bureau is strategically rudderless, overly reliant on contractors, and short on the skills needed to do the job, according to the new report, which will be the subject of a Senate hearing Wednesday.
“Although Diplomatic Security’s workforce has grown considerably over the last 10 years, staffing shortages in domestic offices and other operational challenges — such as inadequate facilities, language deficiencies, experience gaps, and balancing security needs with State’s diplomatic mission — further tax its ability to implement all of its missions,” the report states.
Ninety percent of DS personnel are contractors, at the cost of $2.1 billion since 2000, and DS has 1,000 contractors doing administrative jobs alone, the report says. And while critics of the system blame an over-reliance on private security contractors for recent scandals and problems in Iraq and Afghanistan, for Congress the issue is whether national and taxpayer interests are being protected and whether the bureau’s future is being adequately managed.
According to the report, the lack of planning and management shortfalls at the bureau have consequences both at home and abroad. For example, due to increased needs overseas, in 2008 more than a third of DS’s domestic offices were at least 25 percent vacant. Thirty-four percent of the bureau’s positions worldwide, excluding Baghdad, are filled with officers below the position’s designated grade.
“I would like to see a greater emphasis on strategic planning to ensure that Diplomatic Security has sufficient staffing and resources to meet its missions,” said Sen. Daniel Akaka, D-HI, the chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Subcommittee on Oversight of Government Management.
Akaka will bring all the players into one room on Wednesday for a hearing on the matter. Testifying will be Amb. Eric J. Boswell, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, Jess T. Ford, GAO’s director for international affairs and trade, Amb. Ronald E. Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy and the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, and Susan R. Johnson, president of the American Foreign Service Association.
Akaka’s concerns are shared on both sides of the aisle.
“Despite receiving a significant increase in resources and doubling the size of its direct-hire workforce, I’m concerned that the Bureau of Diplomatic Security remains largely reactive and suffers from the Department of State’s lack of focus on strategic planning,” said Sen. George Voinovich, the panel’s ranking Republican.
The senators want State to chart a course for the DS service that will allow it to properly recruit and train the type of highly skilled agents that State will need in perpetuity, not just in warzones.
State has a departmental strategic plan and the DS bureau has a strategic plan as well, but neither specifically addresses the bureau’s resource needs or its management challenges, according to the lawmakers and the GAO.
Earlier this year, the GAO found that 53 percent of regional security officers do not speak and read at the level required by their positions. In one instance, an officer transferred a sensitive telephone call from a local informant to a local employee, which could have compromised the informant’s identity.
The State Department agreed with the GAO’s concerns and responded by saying that Foggy Bottom is examining the issues raised in the report in the context of the Quadrennial Diplomacy and Development Review (QDDR). That review is expected in summer or fall of 2010, after most of the new resources for Afghanistan will have already have been deployed.