Contractor Accountability and Human Trafficking at Center of Upcoming Film, The Whistleblower
The material was chopped from a story I was working on for The Washington Post because of space considerations. Here’s the draft section that was cut:
Roughly a decade ago, two Dyncorp employees reported that some of their fellow employees were involved in the buying and selling of women and young girls in Bosnia. Dyncorp is a U.S. defense and security contractor that held U.S. logistics and security contracts for work in the former Yugoslavia.
Both were fired, retaliation for their whistle-blowing they said.
“The only reason they fired me was because I told on them, and I broke up their little boys’ club,” former Dyncorp employee Ben Johnston said at a congressional hearing in 2002.
A helicopter mechanic working for Dyncorp on an Air Force contract, Johnston had observed Dyncorp employees with young girls believed to have been purchased and employees bragging about buying and selling them in 1999 and 2000.
His allegations were investigated by the Army but after some initial work that did turn up significant evidence of trafficking, including a confession by one employee that women were sold “permanently,” they turned the investigation over to the local police. But the local police erroneously did not believe they could prosecute American contractors, according to a Human Rights Watch report. Nor did the Army investigators interview a Moldovan woman who was purchased, explore allegations that Johnston’s supervisors had raped a woman or that she or other women had been trafficked.
“There is my supervisor, the biggest guy there [in Bosnia] with DynCorp, videotaping having sex with these girls, girls saying no,” Johnston said at the hearing, referring to a video turned over to Army investigators, “but that guy now, to my knowledge, he is in America doing fine. There was no repercussion for raping the girl.”
In addition to the Army’s investigation, a Department of Defense Office of Inspector General assessment found evidence that contractor employees were involved in trafficking, the latter finding that it “continues to be an issue” in Bosnia as late as December 2003. However, no prosecutions for trafficking came as a result.
Johnston reached a settlement for an undisclosed amount with the company hours a British panel ruled against Dyncorp in another similar case and days before his case was to go to trial in Texas in August 2002.
The other company insider was Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraskan deployed by Dyncorp on a State Department contract as part of the U.S. contingent of the International Police Task Force there.
An October 9, 2000, e-mail she wrote, entitled, “Do Not Read This if You Have a Weak Stomach or Guilty Conscience,” was sent to more than 50 U.N. personnel in Bosnia detailing the involvement in trafficking of various aspects of the international force of which she was part. It started a chain reaction that led to her firing the following April, she said.
She won before a British employment tribunal in August 2002 that ordered Dyncorp to pay her nearly $180,000.
But she saw little government action to investigate her specific allegations, said Bolkovac, a former policewoman. In her estimation of what was done: “pretty much zero.”
On the issues she raised in Bosnia, “there’s nobody willing to go the extra mile and do the investigation,” she said.
But other roadblocks also existed. “Get rid of the victim and get ride of the perpetrator and you don’t have a case,” Bolkovac told me, referring to the pattern of sending offenders and victims back to their home countries.
These cases and the media attention they garnered played out around the same time President George W. Bush issued his government-wide “zero tolerance” trafficking policy in 2002 and spoke before the U.N. General Assembly in 2003.
Since Bosnia, DynCorp has continued to win large and important contracts with the U.S. government, including contracts to train police in both Iraq and Afghanistan. But accusations of continued involvement of its employees in prostitution followed it beyond the Balkans – at least according to one former DynCorp subcontractor who testified before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee in 2008.
Dyncorp employees ran a “prostitution ring” that imported prostitutes from Kuwait into Baghdad in armored vehicles and operated out of hotels along the Tigris River, according to Barry Halley, a former Dyncorp subcontractor. The women appeared to be adults from Eastern Europe, he said.
Halley observed this in early 2004 before switching jobs