WASHINGTON, Jun 16, 2010 (IPS) – Should private contractors like Blackwater be allowed to continue to provide armed security for convoys, diplomatic and other personnel, and military bases and other facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq? A bipartisan U.S. Congressional commission will spend two days cross-examining 14 witnesses from academia, government and the companies themselves to come up with an answer.
“Some security tasks are so closely tied to government responsibilities, so mission-critical, or so risky that they shouldn’t be contracted out at all,” says Christopher Shays, a former Republican member of Congress from Connecticut.
Shays is the co-chair of the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), a body created in early 2008 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in military contracting services in Afghanistan and Iraq.
The commission is expected to reveal results from a seven day fact-finding trip to Iraq last month in which spot checks on four military bases turned up a contracting company hired to protect a military base that had not been vetted even though they had dispatched hundreds of employees. At another base, individual security guards were identified who had not undergone proper background checks.
The thorny question of what is “inherently governmental” and what can be turned over to contractors was singled out for attention by President Barack Obama in March 2009, when he ordered the Office of Federal Procurement Policy (OFPP), a department within the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, to come up with an answer.
Master Sgt. Martie Moore
506th Air Expeditionary Group Public Affairs
5/17/2010 – Kirkuk Regional Air Base, Iraq (AFNS) — More than 280 security contractors arrived here May 9 to aid in the U.S. Air Force drawdown in Iraq.
The 506th Expeditionary Security Forces Squadron will transfer authority for base security to the Army May 21. The contractors employed by Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions are part of the Army’s overall security plan.
The squadron is the first Air Force unit to fully withdraw from Kirkuk Regional Air Base since the buildup of forces happened on April 23, 2003, nearly one month after Operation Iraqi Freedom started.
“We leave first because we are the ones the Air Force support function is here for,” explained Lt. Col. Theodore Ruminsky, 506th ESFS commander.
“Security forces personnel make up more than a third of the personnel in the 506th Air Expeditionary Group. When security forces leave, the burden on the other 506th AEG functions that support the ESFS mission is greatly reduced,” said Colonel Ruminsky, who is deployed from the 934th Security Forces Squadron at Minneapolis-St. Paul Air Reserve Station, Minn.
The security contractor guards from Sierra Leone started integrating and training immediately.
“They will take over all the security forces and force protection requirements on the base such as perimeter security posts, main entry control point operations and escort duty,” said Maj. Sam Dickson, 506th ESFS operations officer who is deployed from Travis Air Force Base, Calif.
The plan is that the transition will be seamless to the base populace. However, with any major change there will be growing pains.
“There may be delays at the gates and there will no longer be police services patrols which the (unit) provided,” said Major Dickson.
After Aug. 31, the mission of United States forces in Iraq will change. U.S. forces will have three tasks: train, equip, and advise the Iraqi security forces; conduct targeted counterterrorism operations; and provide force protection for military and civilian personnel.
With the drawdown of the security force members at Kirkuk they are now available to pursue other missions.
“This frees up more than 250 security forces troop requirements, currently filled by the Air Force Reserve and the Air National Guard, which would have otherwise levied active duty members,” said Colonel Ruminsky. “This will help reduce the one to one dwell rate on the active duty side of the career field, so this is a big deal. Now forces are available for other emerging AOR requirements.”
“The Air Reserve component security forces personnel have been averaging a one to four dwell for mobilization, which is actually pretty high considering these are citizen Airmen with full-time careers outside of the Air Force,” added the colonel.
As for the security at Kirkuk the contractors are soaking up the knowledge of the seasoned security forces team.
“They’ve got a really good attitude, I think it’s going to work out fine,” said Senior Master Sgt. Steven Fode, 506th ESFS sector superintendant deployed from Beale AFB, Calif. “They are eager to learn.”
Monday, May 3, 2010;
KHOST, Afghanistan (Reuters) – A suicide bomber struck outside a foreign base in the southeastern Afghan town of Khost on Monday, killing one civilian and wounding two privately employed guards, the Afghan Interior Ministry said.
The attack happened outside a base where in December a Jordanian infiltrator killed seven CIA staff and contractors and a Jordanian intelligence officer in a suicide blast.
A helicopter was seen hovering above the site of Monday’s attack which was cordoned off by foreign and Afghan forces.
By Jeremy Scahill at RebelReports
[Note: This post, written for TheNation.com, will be posted on The Nation magazine’s homepage soon as part of the launch of a new blog. I am posting it here until the site is fully functional because of the timely nature of the story. Please check The Nation site for exciting developments.]
Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the “Tulip Time Festival” in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.
Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.
In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight “terrorists” in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater’s secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.” Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater “call[ed] in multiple air strikes,” blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the “largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history.” He characterized the work of some NATO countries’ forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations “should just pack it in and go home.” Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.
Prince also claimed that a Blackwater operative took down the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in Baghdad and criticized the Secret Service for being “flat-footed.” He bragged that Blackwater forces “beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene” during Katrina and claimed that lawsuits, “tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills” and political attacks prevented him from deploying a humanitarian ship that could have responded to the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit Indonesia.
Several times during the speech, Prince appeared to demean Afghans his company is training in Afghanistan, saying Blackwater had to teach them “Intro to Toilet Use” and to do jumping jacks. At the same time, he bragged that US generals told him the Afghans Blackwater trains “are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.” Prince also revealed that he is writing a book, scheduled to be released this fall.
The speech was delivered January 14 at the University of Michigan in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, ROTC commanders and cadets, businesspeople and military veterans. The speech was titled “Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear” and was sponsored by the Young Presidents’ Association (YPO), a business networking association primarily made up of corporate executives. “Ripped from the headlines and described by Vanity Fair magazine, as a Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier and Spy, Erik Prince brings all that and more to our exclusive YPO speaking engagement,” read the event’s program, also obtained by The Nation. It proclaimed that Prince’s speech was an “amazing don’t miss opportunity from a man who has ‘been there and done that’ with a group of Cadets and Midshipmen who are months away from serving on the ‘tip of the spear.’” Here are some of the highlights from Erik Prince’s speech:
Send the Mercs into Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria
Prince painted a global picture in which Iran is “at the absolute dead center… of badness.” The Iranians, he said, “want that nuke so that it is again a Persian Gulf and they very much have an attitude of when Darius ran most of the Middle East back in 1000 BC. That’s very much what the Iranians are after.” [NOTE: Darius of Persia actually ruled from 522 BC–486 BC]. Iran, Prince charged, has a “master plan to stir up and organize a Shia revolt through the whole region.” Prince proposed that armed private soldiers from companies like Blackwater be deployed in countries throughout the region to target Iranian influence, specifically in Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. “The Iranians have a very sinister hand in these places,” Prince said. “You’re not going to solve it by putting a lot of uniformed soldiers in all these countries. It’s way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint.” In addition to concerns of political expediency, Prince suggested that using private contractors to conduct such operations would be cost-effective. “The overall defense budget is going to have to be cut and they’re going to look for ways, they’re going to have to have ways to become more efficient,” he said. “And there’s a lot of ways that the private sector can operate with a much smaller, much lighter footprint.”
Prince also proposed using private armed contractors in the oil-rich African nation of Nigeria. Prince said that guerilla groups in the country are dramatically slowing oil production and extraction and stealing oil. “There’s more than a half million barrels a day stolen there, which is stolen and organized by very large criminal syndicates. There’s even some evidence it’s going to fund terrorist organizations,” Prince alleged. “These guerilla groups attack the pipeline, attack the pump house to knock it offline, which makes the pressure of the pipeline go soft. they cut that pipeline and they weld in their own patch with their own valves and they back a barge up into it. Ten thousand barrels at a time, take that oil, drive that 10,000 barrels out to sea and at $80 a barrel, that’s $800,000. That’s not a bad take for organized crime.” Prince made no mention of the nonviolent indigenous opposition to oil extraction and pollution, nor did he mention the notorious human rights abuses connected to multinational oil corporations in Nigeria that have sparked much of the resistance.
Blackwater and the Geneva Convention
Prince scornfully dismissed the debate on whether armed individuals working for Blackwater could be classified as “unlawful combatants” who are ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention. “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”
It is significant that Prince mentioned his company operating in Pakistan given that Blackwater, the US government and the Pakistan government have all denied Blackwater works in Pakistan.
Taking Down the Iraqi Shoe Thrower for the ‘Flat-Footed’ Secret Service
Prince noted several high-profile attacks on world leaders in the past year, specifically a woman pushing the Pope at Christmas mass and the attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying there has been a pattern of “some pretty questionable security lately.” He then proceeded to describe the feats of his Blackwater forces in protecting dignitaries and diplomats, claiming that one of his men took down the Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad in December 2008. Prince referred to al-Zaidi as the “shoe bomber:”
“A little known fact, you know when the shoe bomber in Iraq was throwing his shoes at President Bush, in December 08, we provided diplomatic security, but we had no responsibility for the president’s security—that’s always the Secret Service that does that. We happened to have a guy in the back of the room and he saw that first shoe go and he drew his weapon, got a sight picture, saw that it was only a shoe, he re-holstered, went forward and took that guy down while the Secret Service was still standing there flat-footed. I have a picture of that—I’m publishing a book, so watch for that later this fall—in which you’ll see all the reporters looking, there’s my guy taking the shoe thrower down. He didn’t shoot him, he just tackled him, even though the guy was committing assault and battery on the president of the United States. I asked a friend of mine who used to run the Secret Service if they had a written report of that and he said the debrief was so bad they did not put it in writing.”
While the Secret Service was widely criticized at the time for its apparent inaction during the incident, video of the event clearly showed another Iraqi journalist, not security guards, initially pulling al-Zaidi to the floor. Almost instantly thereafter, al-Zaidi was swarmed by a gang of various, unidentified security agents.
Blackwater’s ‘Forward Operating Bases
Prince went into detail about his company’s operations in Afghanistan. Blackwater has been in the country since at least April 2002, when the company was hired by the CIA on a covert contract to provide the Agency with security. Since then, Blackwater has won hundreds of millions of dollars in security, counter-narcotics and training contracts for the State Department, Defense Department and the CIA. The company protects US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and other senior US officials, guards CIA personnel and trains the Afghan border police. “We built four bases and we staffed them and we run them,” Prince said, referring to them as Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). He described them as being in the north, south, east and west of Afghanistan. “Spin Boldak in the south, which is the major drug trans-shipment area, in the east at a place called FOB Lonestar, which is right at the foothills of Tora Bora mountain. In fact if you ski off Tora Bora mountain, you can ski down to our firebase,” Prince said, adding that Blackwater also has a base near Herat and another location. FOB Lonestar is approximately 15 miles from the Pakistan border. “Who else has built a [Forward Operating Base] along the main infiltration route for the Taliban and the last known location for Osama bin Laden?” Prince said earlier this year.
Blackwater’s War on Drugs
Prince described a Narcotics Interdiction Unit Blackwater started in Afghanistan five years ago that remains active. “It is about a 200 person strike force to go after the big narcotics traffickers, the big cache sites,” Prince said. “That unit’s had great success. They’ve taken more than $3.5 billion worth of heroin out of circulation. We’re not going after the farmers, but we’re going after the traffickers.” He described an operation in July 2009 where Blackwater forces actually called in NATO air strikes on a target during a mission:
“A year ago, July, they did the largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history, down in the south-east. They went down, they hit five targets that our intel guys put together and they wound up with about 12,000 pounds of heroin. While they were down there, they said, ‘You know, these other three sites look good, we should go check them out.’ Sure enough they did and they found a cache—262,000 kilograms of hash, which equates to more than a billion dollars street value. And it was an industrialized hash operation, it was much of the hash crop in Helmand province. It was palletized, they’d dug ditches out in the desert, covered it with tarps and the bags of powder were big bags with a brand name on it for the hash brand, palletized, ready to go into containers down to Karachi [Pakistan] and then out to Europe or elsewhere in the world. That raid alone took about $60 million out of the Taliban’s coffers. So, those were good days. When the guys found it, they didn’t have enough ammo, enough explosives, to blow it, they couldn’t burn it all, so they had to call in multiple air strikes. Of course, you know, each of the NATO countries that came and did the air strikes took credit for finding and destroying the cache.”
December 30, 2009 CIA Bombing in Khost
Prince also addressed the deadly suicide bombing on December 30 at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. Eight CIA personnel, including two Blackwater operatives, were killed in the bombing, which was carried out by a Jordanian double-agent. Prince was asked by an audience member about the “failure” to prevent that attack. The questioner did not mention that Blackwater was responsible for the security of the CIA officials that day, nor did Prince discuss Blackwater’s role that day. Here is what Prince said:
“You know what? It is a tragedy that those guys were killed but if you put it in perspective, the CIA has lost extremely few people since 9/11. We’ve lost two or three in Afghanistan, before that two or three in Iraq and, I believe, one guy in Somalia—a landmine. So when you compare what Bill Donovan and the OSS did to the Germans and the Japanese, the Italians during World War II—and they lost hundreds and hundreds of people doing very difficult, very dangerous work—it is a tragedy when you lose people, but it is a cost of doing that work. It is essential, you’ve got to take risks. In that case, they had what appeared to be a very hot asset who had very relevant, very actionable intelligence and he turned out to be a bad guy… That’s what the intelligence business is, you can’t be assured success all the time. You’ve got to be willing to take risks. Those are calculated risks but sometimes it goes badly. I hope the Agency doesn’t draw back and say, ‘Oh, we have to retrench and not do that anymore,’ all the rest. No. We need you to double down, go after them harder. That is a cost of doing business. They are there to kill us.”
Prince to Some NATO Countries in Afghanistan: ‘Go Home’
Prince spoke disparagingly of some unnamed NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan, saying they do not have the will for the fight. “Some of them do and a lot of them don’t,” he said. “It is such a patchwork of different international commitments as to what some can do and what some can’t. A lot of them should just pack it in and go home.” Canada, however, received praise from Prince. “The Canadians have lost per capita more than America has in Afghanistan. They are fighting and they are doing it and so if you see a Canadian thank them for that. The politicians at home take heavies for doing that,” Prince said. He did not mention the fact that his company was hired by the Canadian government to train its forces.
Prince also described how his private air force (which he recently sold) bailed out a US military unit in trouble in Afghanistan. According to Prince, the unit was fighting the Taliban and was running out of ammo and needed an emergency re-supply. “Because of, probably some procedure written by a lawyer back in Washington, the Air Force was not permitted to drop in an uncertified drop zone… even to the unit that was running out of ammo,” Prince said. “So they called and asked if our guys would do it and, of course, they said, ‘Yes.’ And the cool part of the story is the Army guys put their DZ mark in the drop zone, a big orange panel, on the hood of their hummer and our guys put the first bundle on the hood of that hummer. We don’t always get that close, but that time a little too close.”
Blackwater: Teaching Afghans to Use Toilets
Prince said his forces train 1300 Afghans every six weeks and described his pride in attending “graduations” of Blackwater-trained Afghans, saying that in six weeks they radically transform the trainees. “You take these officers, these Afghans and it’s the first time in their life they’ve ever been part of something that’s first class, that works. The instructors know what they’re talking about, they’re fed, the water works, there’s ammunition for their guns. Everything works,” Prince said. “The first few days of training, we have to do ‘Intro to Toilet Use’ because a lot of these guys have never even seen a flushed toilet before.” Prince boasted: “We manage to take folks with a tribal mentality and, just like the Marine Corps does more effectively than anyone else, they take kids from disparate lifestyles across the United States and you throw them into Paris Island and you make them Marines. We try that same mentality there by pushing these guys very hard and, it’s funny, I wish I had video to show you of the hilarious jumping jacks. If you take someone that’s 25 years old and they’ve never done a jumping jack in their life—some of the convoluted motions they do it’s comical. But the transformation from day one to the end of that program, they’re very proud and they’re very capable.” Prince said that when he was in Afghanistan late last year, “I met with a bunch of generals and they said the Afghans that we train are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.”
Prince also discussed the Afghan women he says work with Blackwater. “Some of the women we’ve had, it’s amazing,” Prince said. “They come in in the morning and they have the burqa on and they transition to their cammies (camouflage uniforms) and I think they enjoy the baton work,” he said, adding, “They’ve been hand-cuffing a little too much on the men.”
Hurricane Katrina and Humanitarian Mercenaries
Erik Prince spoke at length about Blackwater’s deployment in 2005 in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, bragging that his forces “rescued 128 people, sent thousands of meals in there and it worked.” Prince boasted of his company’s rapid response, saying, “We surged 145 guys in 36 hours from our facility five states away and we beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene.” What Prince failed to mention was that at the time of the disaster, at least 35% of the Louisiana National Guard was deployed in Iraq. One National Guard soldier in New Orleans at the time spoke to Reuters, saying, “They (the Bush administration) care more about Iraq and Afghanistan than here… We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but almost all of our guys are in Iraq.” Much of the National Guard’s equipment was in Iraq at the time, including high water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators.
Prince also said that he had a plan to create a massive humanitarian vessel that, with the generous support of major corporations, could have responded to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis across the globe. “I thought, man, the military has perfected how to move men and equipment into combat, why can’t we do that for the humanitarian side?” Prince said. The ship Prince wanted to use for these missions was an 800 foot container vessel capable of shipping “1700 containers, which would have lined up six and a half miles of humanitarian assistance with another 250 vehicles” onboard. “We could have gotten almost all those boxes donated. It would have been boxes that would have had generator sets from Caterpillar, grain from ADM [Archer Daniels Midland], anti-biotics from pharmaceutical companies, all the stuff you need to do massive humanitarian assistance,” Prince said, adding that it “would have had turnkey fuel support, food, surgical, portable surgical hospitals, beds cots, blankets, all the above.” Prince says he was going to do the work for free, “on spec,” but “instead we got attacked politically and ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills the last few years. It’s an unfortunate misuse of resources because a boat like that sure would have been handy for the Haitian people right now.”
Outing Erik Prince
Prince also addressed what he described as his outing as a CIA asset working on sensitive US government programs. He has previously blamed Congressional Democrats and the news media for naming him as working on the US assassination program. The US intelligence apparatus “depends heavily on Americans that are not employed by the government to facilitate greater success and access for the intelligence community,” Prince said. “It’s unprecedented to have people outed by name, especially ones that were running highly classified programs. And as much as the left got animated about Valerie Plame, outing people by name for other very very sensitive programs was unprecedented and definitely threw me under the bus.”
The trial of a British security contractor accused of murdering two colleagues in Iraq has been adjourned for two months so he can undergo psychiatric tests.
Former paratrooper Danny Fitzsimons, 29, is charged with shooting dead fellow ArmorGroup employees Paul McGuigan and Darren Hoare, both 37, in Baghdad’s green zone in August last year.
Fitzsimons, who could face the death penalty if he is convicted, appeared at the central criminal court in Baghdad for a pre-trial hearing today.
Reprieve, a legal charity supporting Fitzsimons, said his case was adjourned until 13 June, apparently so he could be examined by a psychiatric team at Baghdad’s Al Rashad psychiatric hospital.
In a detailed account of the killings given to the Guardian earlier this month, Fitzsimons admitted shooting both men dead but insisted he acted in self-defence.
Fitzsimons said he shot McGuigan, a former Royal Marine from Innerleithen in Scotland, three times when McGuigan allegedly pointed an assault rifle at him.
He said Hoare, from Australia, was killed during a fight that followed. All three men had been contracted to work as guards for ArmorGroup, a British security company.
Fitzsimons – who faces two counts of murder and one of the attempted murder of an Iraqi guard – and his lawyers claim he acted in self-defence and was suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder after a previous tour of Iraq and service in the military in the former Yugoslavia.
His lawyers, who are aware of his admission to the Guardian, claim he should never have been allowed to work for a security company given his condition and record. This defence is disputed by relatives of McGuigan, who say Fitzsimons is trying to escape justice by concocting a story of a drunken fight when none occurred.
Fitzsimons has admitted his recollection was at points “blotchy” because of heavy drinking and claimed McGuigan and Hoare had been harassing him throughout the evening.
Fitzsimons said in a statement issued through Reprieve: “I miss my family very much but I’m grateful for the support I have been getting from home, particularly from my former comrades who know a bit about what we all went through. I know that this has been a tragedy and hurt a lot of people besides myself.”
He is understood to be the first westerner facing trial on murder charges in Iraq since an agreement giving foreign workers immunity was lifted.
The shootings took place in the early hours of 9 August last year, within 36 hours of Fitzsimons’s arrival in Baghdad to work for ArmorGroup.
It emerged after the killings that Fitzsimons had a conviction for firearms offences and was facing a possible jail term in Britain for firing a flare gun to scare off children on 1 April last year.
His family said he had suffered from alcoholism and depression and was a damaged individual who should never have been given a job as an armed security guard in Iraq.
They fear his mental state has deteriorated while awaiting trial, and are appealing for him to be allowed to serve any sentence he is given in Britain. Original Story here
The 25-year-old Riverview native was employed as a civilian contractor with Falls Church, Va.-based DynCorp International, where he served as a personal security specialist.He was protecting U.S. diplomats in Kirkuk, Iraq, last Wednesday when his life was cut short by a sniper’s bullet. HERE
RIVERVIEW, Mich. — A U.S. veteran who returned to Iraq as a civilian contractor was shot to death while protecting American diplomats in Iraq, his employer said Sunday.
Justin Pope, 25, died after being shot late Wednesday or early Thursday in Kirkuk, said Douglas Ebner, a spokesman for Falls Church, Va.-based DynCorp International.
Detroit-area television station WJBK reported Saturday that Pope was killed by sniper fire. Ebner denied that, saying Pope died of “an accidental gunshot wound.” He would not elaborate, saying the incident was under investigation by DynCorp and the U.S. State Department.
“We’re very sorry that this happened,” Ebner said. “The family has our condolences.”
Pope’s mother, Patricia Salser, said her son joined the Marines after graduating from Riverview High School in 2002. He served two military tours of duty in Iraq and Afghanistan before returning to Iraq as a DynCorp employee, WJBK reported.
Pope’s survivors include his wife and a 7-year-old son.
The AP has reported 1,264 civilian employees of U.S. government contractors died through Sept. 30, 2008, the latest figures available. The vast majority of civilian contractors in Iraq are employed by the Pentagon.
DynCorp is one of three U.S.-based security contractors that work for the State Department in Iraq.
Miss. man sentenced for manslaughter in Iraq
GULFPORT, Miss. — Authorities say a Mississippi man who worked as a security contractor has been sentenced to three years in federal prison for accidentally shooting a co-worker in Iraq.
U.S. District Judge Louis Guirola Jr. sentenced 27-year-old Kyle Palmer of Biloxi on Monday.
Court records said Palmer and Justin Pope worked as security contractors for DynCorp, a Department of State contractor, at a U.S. embassy office in Erbil, Iraq.
A news release from the U.S. attorney’s office said Palmer was intoxicated when he and Palmer pointed a 9 millimeter pistol at each other during an informal party in March 2009.
Palmer allegedly fired Pope’s weapon without checking whether the gun was loaded and accidentally killed Pope.
By Spencer Ackerman 3/26/10 8:35 AM
Last time, it was the lascivious behavior of ArmorGroup — the private security firm handling the U.S. Embassy in Kabul — that attracted headlines. Those revelations led to disclosures of how contractors knowingly hired guards with poor English skills to save money — something the State Department knew about before renewing the company’s contract. Now it’s Triple Canopy, which guards the gargantuan U.S. Embassy in Iraq.
The Project on Government Oversight, the good-government group that discovered ArmorGroup’s State Department-abetted negligence, has obtained a report from the State Department investigating the department’s management in handling its contract with Triple Canopy for embassy security. POGO was good enough to pass the report on to me. Labor standards are such that Triple Canopy guards often worked ten or eleven consecutive days on average, with some working 39 days in a row without a break.
Here are some highlights of how State’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security, which controls the contract, is managing your money and protecting American diplomats in what remains a warzone.
Embassy Baghdad has not adequately planned for a reduced Department or Department of Defense (DoD) presence in Baghdad, resulting in a projected unnecessary cost of approximately $20 million to the U.S. Government for site security over the next two years. Of this sum, the Department would incur approximately $12 million and DoD would incur more than $8 million in unnecessary costs.
Remember that everything the U.S. is supposed to be doing in Iraq is predicated on the 2011 troop withdrawal. I’ve heard from former administration officials that the embassy is lax in its political mission in Baghdad. Apparently that attitude has some spillover effect.
This will be familiar:
DS does not ensure that [Triple Canopy] personnel have required English language proﬁciency.
The report further finds that DS did not carry out the random language checks they were supposed to have carried out. True story: when I visited the embassy in 2007, the Triple Canopy guards were very nice people from (if I recall correctly) El Salvador, who made up for their lack of English with warm attitudes. I saw one guard actually reading a Teach-Yourself-English handbook on post in the Green Zone. Clearly DS’s negligence with ArmorGroup’s English-challenged guards is hardly an isolated case.
This might be my favorite:
The contracting ofﬁcer’s representative in Baghdad does not verify either the guards’ attendance at their posts or the accuracy of personnel rosters (muster sheets) before they are submitted, to ensure contractor charges for labor are accurate. In addition, DS does not ensure that personnel have required English language proﬁciency.
DS lacks standards for maintaining training records. As a result, Triple Canopy’s training records are incomplete and in disparate locations making it difﬁcult for the Bureau to verify whether all personnel have received required training.
And yet the IG’s overall conclusion is “The Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) generally manages the Triple Canopy contract well.” The last State Department Inspector General to take such a sunny interpretation of contract security in spite of the accumulated evidence resigned in disgrace.
POGO executive director Danielle Brian comments in a prepared statement, “How could State not have learned their lesson after the public flogging they got for their handling of the Kabul contract?…This report again raises an important point about whether State can properly manage Embassy security contracts in a war zone.”
• Security contractor admits shooting two men dead
• Text messages to Guardian detail events of August
Martin Chulov in Baghdad
A former British soldier facing the death penalty in Iraq for allegedly murdering two fellow security contractors has given his first detailed account of the killings to the Guardian, admitting to shooting both dead but insisting he acted in self-defence.
Daniel Fitzsimons sent a series of messages to this newspaper detailing the events of last August in Baghdad’s green zone that led him to become the first foreigner to face justice in Iraq since the fall of Saddam Hussein.
Fitzsimons told the Guardian that he shot one of the men, former Royal Marine Paul McGuigan, from Innerleithen in Scotland, three times as McGuigan allegedly pointed an assault rifle at him.
He says the second victim, Darren Hoare, from Australia, was killed during a fight that followed. All three men had been contracted to work as guards for the British security firm ArmorGroup.
Fitzsimons – who faces two counts of murder and one of the attempted murder of an Iraqi guard – and his lawyers claim he acted in self-defence and was suffering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder following a previous tour of Iraq and service in the military.
His lawyers, who are aware of his admission to the Guardian, claim he should never have been allowed to work for a security company given his condition and record.
This defence is disputed by relatives of McGuigan, who say Fitzsimons is trying to escape justice by concocting a story of a drunken fight when none occurred.
Fitzsimons disclosed his version of the events of 8 August last year through a series of text messages. In the first, he reveals he was with a group using the internet in a colleagues’ room. The meeting spiralled into a series of drunken brawls.
Fitzsimmons wrote that he was “drinking Grants whiskey” and “chatting on MSN to friends in country and back home. Paul McGuigan came into the room, pissed out of his skull. He was being a knob, having a go at me and slating some of my pals. I had enuf [sic] and punched him once on the nose. He was shocked and didn’t retaliate … We shook hands. I held a towel to his bloody nose. Drank more. Started on me again, telling me to punch him again. He was unstable, not me. This went on, hot and cold. Darren came in …”
Fitzsimons said he, McGuigan and Hoare had made numerous visits to each other’s rooms throughout the night, with tensions escalating each time. He claims the evening spilled over into violence when both men came to his room after he passed out from drinking half a bottle of whiskey.
“Paul punched me repeatedly,” his texts say. “I fought savagely to get out of bed. Managed to get out, but ended up on the floor being stomped on. I lost consciousness for a few seconds. Heard Paul shout: ‘We’re going to fucking kill you, you little ….’ I was getting it from both of them.”
“Paul grabbed my M4, which I had been scattered away from my assault vest and armor. He cocked the weapon. I pulled the glock from my vest chambered a round. Paul had already told me he was gonna kill me now he had my M4 in his shoulder. I shot him three times in the chest. After the first shot he was still standing. I double tapped and put a further two into him. he was dead before he hit the ground. In slow motion I saw the life leave his body.”
He said Hoare then “went for the glock” and a struggle ensued. “We were like animals …The booze had rushed rnd my body so quick coz of the fighting. The exact events at this point are blotchy at best. I remember blackness then madness. I know I fought for control of the pistol with Darren and I know I gained control and he was shot at point blank I’m sure. We were literally wrapped together arms and legs. Fighting and biting when the shots were fired.”
Fitzsimons had only been in Iraq for three days on a third tour as a private security contractor since leaving the British army. He had spent seven months in prison in 2007 on a charge of being in possession of illegal ammunition. He had been receiving psychiatric treatment since 2004, when he was still in the army. He was consulted again in May 2008 and June 2009, with a psychiatrist confirming his condition had worsened each time. The last diagnosis was made two months before he was hired to return to Iraq.
Clive Stafford Smith, director of the charity Reprieve, which is helping with Fitzsimons’ defence, told the Guardian: “As a British soldier, in the service of his country in Kosovo, Danny came across the dissected body parts of a young boy who had been bringing the troops bread, floating in the water supply. After this and other horrors, it is hardly surprising that he suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder. It is unfathomable that ArmorGroup would dispatch him to a war zone without a proper screening, and one must wonder who ultimately bears the greatest responsibility for the tragedy that followed.”
Fitzsimons’s account of the night is at odds with a statement provided by McGuigan’s former fiance, Nicola Prestage, who claims shespoke to McGuigan via webcam for most of the night from 5:30pm. “We eventually said goodbye and logged off at 12.03am,” she said in a statement. “Paul was murdered at approximately 1.15am in an unprovoked attack.”
The confession also appears to conflict with the account ofJohn Pollard, the British coroner who received McGuigan’s body in the UKa month after the incident. He said: “There were no injuries on his body which might have revealed he had been involved in a physical altercation.”
In response to questions by the Guardian, ArmorGroup said: “We confirmed publicly on 15 September that, in this particular case, although there was evidence that Mr Fitzsimons falsified information during the recruitment process, his screening was not completed in line with the company’s procedures.
“We received two separate medical documents which certified that Mr Fitzsimons was fit to work in Iraq. It has subsequently come to light that the most recent of those documents was forged – we have reason to believe it was forged by Mr Fitzsimons.”
Prestage continued: “The fact they were not shot from close range rules out any notion of self-defence. Paul was sat on one side of the room on a chair and Darren was sat on the other side of the room on a bed. Paul was shot through the heart, the chest and through the mouth, and Darren was shot from behind, through his legs and through his temple.
Three weeks later, without the man I loved, I gave birth to his daughter, a beautiful baby girl who will never see her daddy, or receive a cuddle from him. I live a life sentence every minute of every day without Paul, and not fully enjoying our daughter. Everything she does is tinged with sadness knowing her daddy will never get to experience her.
“Can I claim I have PTSD living through this? I think not.”
Fitzsimons has been sent by a Baghdad court for further psychiatric evaluation. His trial will resume on 7 April.
Military investigators have now determined that a U.S. Marine from northern Indiana was shot and killed in Afghanistan by a private security contractor hired by the US government, according to records obtained Wednesday by the ABC7 I-Team.
It is believed to be the first American casualty at the hands of a government-paid Afghan security contractor.
Lance Corporal Joshua Birchfield, 24, of Westville, Indiana, was on routine patrol in the Farah province of southern Afghanistan February 19 when he was shot in the head. The shooter, an Afghan national hired by a local contractor, was taken into custody and has been turned over to Afghan authorities for criminal prosecution according to Marine Corps records received by the I-Team under the Freedom of Information Act.
The I-Team first reported two weeks ago that Birchfield’s fellow Marines said that he was killed by private guards paid by the Pentagon to protect a road paving project, guards who had been using opium, the cash crop of that province.
A Pentagon spokesman said that investigators seized a 5oz bag of opium at the time of the shooting death. There is no reference to drugs or drug use in the military investigative report however the 17 pages received by ABC7 on Wednesday were heavily redacted.
On the day he was killed, Birchfield’s Marine squad had left at 6 am on a counter-insurgency mission according to the report prepared by the Naval Criminal Investigative Service. Shortly after they took up surveillance positions in a dry river bed, the squad came under rifle fire from the roof of a checkpoint building manned by private security officers.
When the Marine’s identified them as U.S. personnel, the shooting ceased. But during the barrage, Lance Corp. Birchfield was shot once in the head and killed.
When the remains of Birchfield were returned to the United States following his death, his father in LaPorte County, Indiana, was told only that his son had been killed in combat.
An e-mail to the I-Team from a fellow military member who says he was at the scene of Birchfield’s death said: “Since the guards are ordinary Afghanis, they are subject to corruption and play both sides of the fence between the US military and the local Taliban. They are also drug abusers. The shooter was found to have copious amounts of wet opium on him shortly after the shooting.” Birchfield was described in one of the e-mails from Afghanistan as “the glue that held his squad together… a constant moral (sic) booster and a fierce Marine.”
We will have more on this story on the ABC7 News today at 6pm.
Tonight at ten the I-Team will report: “Contract Combatants.” With all the other dangers on the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq, why are American Marine’s and soldiers also having to worry about contractors hired by their own government?
If Blackwater would prefer I write that it “took weapons from the U.S. military in Afghanistan under false pretenses” to writing that it “stole” those weapons, I am happy to oblige the company.
The private security company, renamed Xe Services, objects to my use of the verb “stole” to refer to the guns it got from the U.S. military in Afghanistan in 2008. A letter from its general counsel reads, in part:
Xe Services LLC disagrees with several statements and opinions in the on-line article by Spencer Ackerman yesterday (”DynCorp Wins Its Bid to Stop Blackwater’s Next Afghanistan contract — For Now”), but the statement that the company “stole guns intended for the Afghan police from a U.S. military depot near Kabul” is factually wrong and warrants correction. No guns were stolen. As documents released by the Senate Armed Services Committee (”SASC”) demonstrate, the company obtained weapons from “Bunker 22,” which is an Afghan National Police weapons and ammunition storage facility (including weapons coalition forces seized from insurgents or discovered in caches often dating back to the Soviet occupation) whose operation is managed by U.S. military personnel. The company obtained these weapons with the knowledge and assistance of U.S. military personnel managing the facility. Therefore, these weapons could not have been stolen.
What Blackwater’s attorney neglects to point out is that the company’s employees obtained weapons from Bunker 22 from the U.S. military under false pretenses. Gen. David Petraeus affirmed to the committee that Blackwater was never authorized to carry guns kept at Bunker 22 (”there is no current or past written policy, order, directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers”), commensurate with the broader fact that Blackwater employees in Afghanistan under Army subcontract were never allowed to carry weapons for their personal use. On at least one occasion, a person identifying himself as a Blackwater employee signed for hundreds of guns using the name “Eric Cartman,” apparently after the sassy “South Park” character who, appropriately, does what he wants without regard for authoritah. What’s more, according to committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.) at the February hearing, Blackwater is still in possession of 53 guns from the U.S. military command in Afghanistan that it was never authorized to possess in the first place.
If Blackwater would prefer I write that it “took weapons from the U.S. military in Afghanistan under false pretenses” to writing that it “stole” those weapons, I am happy to oblige the company. Original story here
Forty Colombian ex-soldiers are currently part of the large international body of security contractors now in Afghanistan, bolstering the U.S.-led war against the Taliban and Al Qaeda.
Following the precedent set four years ago in Iraq, where a large number of ex-Colombian soldiers were recruited by Western contractors to perform various security-related roles across the country, many Colombians today are attracted by the prospect of earning up to $4500 a month in Afghanistan.
Colombian former soldiers are in demand to work in Afghanistan because of their experience in unconventional warfare, and in spending long periods in combat areas. They are popular hires because they are paid less than half the salary of American or European contractors, who receive around $10,000 a month, reports El Tiempo.
The risks incurred by those who take up the offer include not just include death or injury in combat, but also the threat of not being paid the promised salary.
According to El Tiempo, many Colombians who were contracted to work in Iraq accuse their employers of failing to pay the agreed wage, or, in some cases, abandoning them at Baghdad airport.
The 40 Colombian civilian contractors currently in Afghanistan form part of the largest contractor contingency in any war in recent history. According to the New York Times, there are more civilian contractors in Afghanistan than there are U.S. troops.
Blanca Luz Castro, a retired Colombian sergeant whose husband is currently working in Afghanistan, told El Tiempo her story.
According to Castro, after she and her husband retired from the military in 2007, they were approached by representatives of Blackwater, a firm which recruits security contractors for Iraq. A recruitment letter from the firm said “Do you remember the people who went to Iraq and returned with lots of money? Here is the same offer, but for Afghanistan, and they also accept women. $4500 per month.”
After applying, Castro decided that the risks were too great, and backed out at the last second. “Although it is legal, I felt very vulnerable because the contract stipulates that we cannot talk about our work with anyone and if we die, everything will remain hidden, secret, and anonymous.”
March 2, 2010 (CHICAGO) (WLS) — A US Marine from northern Indiana was killed in Afghanistan, and now the ABC 7 I-Team has learned that defense officials are investigating whether Lance Corporal Josh Birchfield was shot to death by private security contractors hired by the US government.
Birchfield’s fellow Marines say the Afghan guards were high on opium at the time.
Birchfield was from Westville. He was buried in LaPorte County over the weekend.
Birchfield, 24, was on routine patrol in the Helmand province of southern Afghanistan when he was shot in the head. The Department of Defense said only that Birchfield was killed while supporting combat operations. In e-mails, Birchfield’s fellow Marines said that he was killed by private guards paid by the Pentagon to protect a road paving project, guards who had been using opium, the cash crop of that province.
When the remains of Birchfield were returned to the United States following his death February 19, his father in LaPorte County, Indiana, was told only that his son had been killed in combat.
According to some of the men who served with Lance Corporal Birchfield, the enemy that took Birchfield’s life was closer than anyone knew. He was killed by American-hired afghan security contractors, said one of Birchfield’s colleagues in an e-mail– contractors who were high on opium the morning of February 19.
In Westville, Indiana, last weekend, people lined the streets to pay their respects, while NATO investigators overseas were trying to determine exactly how he was killed.
Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell provided the I-Team with the first detailed statement on the Marine killing:
According to Morrell:
- Seven contracted security guards were detained after the incident.
- and that investigators confiscated guns and drugs from the guard’s compound
- including 9 machine guns
- rocket propelled grenade equipment
- 1000 rounds of ammunition
- and a 5oz bag of opium
An e-mail from a fellow military member who says he was at the scene of Birchfield’s death said: “Since the guards are ordinary Afghanis, they are subject to corruption and play both sides of the fence between the US military and the local Taliban. They are also drug abusers. The shooter was found to have copious amounts of wet opium on him shortly after the shooting.”
A Pentagon spokesman says the contractors have been questioned by U.S. military police. It is unclear if all or any of the seven are still in custody.
The The Department of Defense says a “full investigation” continues with the provincial Afghan governor in the loop.
Birchfield was described in one of the e-mails from Afghanistan as “the glue that held his squad together… a constant moral booster and a fierce Marin
WESTVILLE — New details are emerging about a LaPorte County Marine’s death in Afghanistan. The Department of Defense is now reportedly asking questions about his death.
WLS-TV in Chicago is reporting Lance Corporal Josh Birchfield was killed by a private security contractor, hired by the U.S. government and paid by the Pentagon.
WLS says Birchfield’s fellow Marines told them the Afghan guards were using opium, and were high when they killed Birchfield.
The TV station says a Pentagon spokesman released a statement saying seven security guards have been detained for questioning because of Birchfield’s death.
A news release received by WSBT this week indicated only that the military was investigating Birchfield’s death, but provided no other details.
The 24-year-old Marine grew up in Westville, in LaPorte County. He died on February 19. Original Story here
By JAMES RISEN Published: March 2, 2010
WASHINGTON — An official at the United States Embassy in Iraq has told federal prosecutors that he believes that State Department officials sought to block any serious investigation of the 2007 shooting episode in which Blackwater Worldwide security guards were accused of murdering 17 Iraqi civilians, according to court testimony made public on Tuesday.
David Farrington, a State Department security agent in the American Embassy at the time of the shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, told prosecutors that some of his colleagues were handling evidence in a way they hoped would help the Blackwater guards avoid punishment for a crime that drew headlines and raised tensions between American and Iraqi officials.
The description of Mr. Farrington’s account came in closed-door testimony last October from Kenneth Kohl, the lead prosecutor in the case against the Blackwater guards.
“I talked to David Farrington, who was concerned, who expressed concern about the integrity of the work being done by his fellow officers,” Mr. Kohl recalled. He said that Mr. Farrington had said he was in meetings where diplomatic security agents said that after they had gone to the scene and picked up casings and other evidence, “They said we’ve got enough to get these guys off now.” Read full story here
by Spencer Ackerman
Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47 assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee. On at least one occasion, an individual claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons shipment using the name of a “South Park” cartoon character. And Blackwater has yet to return hundreds of the guns to the military.
A Blackwater subsidiary known as Paravant that until recently operated in Afghanistan acquired the weapons for its employees’ “personal use,” according to committee staffers, as did other non-Paravant employees of Blackwater. Yet contractors in Afghanistan are not permitted to operate weapons without explicit permission from U.S. Central Command, something Blackwater never obtained. A November 2008 email from a Paravant vice president named Brian McCracken, obtained by the committee, nevertheless reads: “We have not received formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet but I will take my chances.”
Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security contractor of defrauding the government for years with phony billing, including charging for a prostitute, alcohol and spa trips.
In newly unsealed court records, a husband and wife who once worked for Blackwater said they had personal knowledge of the company falsifying invoices, double-billing federal agencies and charging the government for personal and inappropriate items whose real purpose was hidden. They said they witnessed “systematic” fraud on the company’s security contracts with the Department of State in Iraq and Afghanistan, and with the Department of Homeland Security and Federal Emergency Management Agency in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina.
After the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, Blackwater rose to become the largest of the State Department’s private security contractors and has since been paid billions of dollars to protect diplomatic employees in Iraq and Afghanistan and for other agencies’ security missions. The company became a major source of anti-American sentiment in Iraq because of repeated, deadly shootings involving its guards. Iraq moved to expel Blackwater after a September 2007 incident, in which witnesses told the FBI that the company’s guards shot without provocation into a busy intersection, resulting in the deaths of 17 Iraqis.
The company last year changed its name to Xe Services, LLC. An Xe spokesperson could not be reached for comment late Wednesday.
Brad and Melan Davis worked in various Blackwater locations. Brad Davis, a former Marine, served as a team leader and security guard, including in Iraq. His wife, Melan Davis, worked as a finance and payroll employee, starting in Louisiana. They have filed their allegations that Blackwater defrauded the government as part of a false claims lawsuit, which allows the whistleblowers to win a portion of any public money that the government recovers as a result of the information. However, the Justice Department has chosen not to join them in pursuing their civil suit, a decision that led to the Davises’ claims being unsealed this week in a Virginia federal court.
The Davises assert that Blackwater officials kept a Fillipino prostitute on the company payroll for a State Department contract in Afghanistan, and billed the government for her time working for Blackwater male employees in Kabul. The alleged prostitute’s salary was categorized as part of the company’s “Morale Welfare Recreation” expenses, they said.
Melan Davis said that while working in Blackwater’s finance department, she questioned how Blackwater could bill the government for its workers’ travel expenses to and from Iraq when it lacked the documentation for those trips. She said in court papers that she later traveled to a hotel in Amman, Jordan, where Blackwater personnel were often housed en route to Iraq. She said that while there, she and two co-workers spent numerous hours generating reams of false invoices for plane travel at inflated rates, so that her Blackwater bosses could overcharge the government for the travel.
In one instance, the Davises claimed the company was paying inflated prices to a vendor whose work was billed to the Department of Homeland Security for services related to post-Hurricane Katrina security. They said the overpayments allowed the vendor to provide a barbecue pit grill for Blackwater staff parties.
Melan Davis argues that Blackwater terminated her in February 2008 as a result of her questioning fraudulent billing. Brad Davis resigned.