In case you thought all the recent bad news about Blackwater might be curtailing the market for private military contractors, two new reports suggest otherwise. Given the Bush Administration’s obsessive efforts to privatize our entire government, it should come as no surprise that Blackwater may be, in fact, as have so many Bush cronies, failing upward. What they have done to Iraq, they may soon have the opportunity to do on our own border.
First, the New York Times reports that the privatization of security in Iraq has been acknowledged to be a mess and a disaster. This according to an internal State Department report, and an audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction.
A State Department review of its own security practices in Iraq assails the department for poor coordination, communication, oversight and accountability involving armed security companies like Blackwater USA, according to people who have been briefed on the report. In addition to Blackwater, the State Department’s two other security contractors in Iraq are DynCorp International and Triple Canopy.
At the same time, a government audit expected to be released Tuesday says that records documenting the work of DynCorp, the State Department’s largest contractor, are in such disarray that the department cannot say “specifically what it received” for most of the $1.2 billion it has paid the company since 2004 to train the police officers in Iraq.
The review was ordered last month by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and did not include the recent massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians by Blackwater “guards.” The FBI gets to investigate that one.
But in presenting its recommendations to Ms. Rice in a 45-minute briefing on Monday, the four-member panel found serious fault with virtually every aspect of the department’s security practices, especially in and around Baghdad, where Blackwater has responsibility.
Not much new, in that. Virtually every aspect of everything the Bush Administration has done in Iraq has been found to be at serious fault. If the words “serious fault” can somehow encapsulate mass murder, torture, and a humanitarian crisis that has created more than 4,000,000 refugees.
The report also urged the department to work with the Pentagon to develop a strict set of rules on how to deal with the families of Iraqi civilians who are killed or wounded by armed contractors, and to improve coordination between American contractors and security guards employed by agencies, like various Iraqi ministries.
Strict rules would be nice for a lot of things, in Iraq, but this borders on the surreal. Strict rules for dealing with the families of civilians who are killed and wounded?
“Oops. Sorry. Have some money, and we’ll try not to kill anyone else. Today.”
How about some strict rules in pursuance of the goal of not killing or wounding civilians?
The audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction has to do with the waste and fraud of DynCorp, who were supposed to be building police training facilities and training police. There were exactly two government employees monitoring the efforts. DynCorp has been caught overcharging the government by $29,000,000 in the past year. DynCorp says the number is insignificant, because they’ve been paid $1,200,000,000, since 2004! Isn’t that reassuring? Because the results have been so worth the money. And because those two government employees couldn’t possibly have missed any waste and fraud in previous years.
Rep. Henry Waxman is investigating, and wants the reports delivered to him by November 2. I’m guessing the deadline won’t be met. The larger issue is, of course, the beyond casual manner with which the Bush Administration tosses away billions of dollars to private contractors, who continue to fail at everything they do, while funding for things such as children’s health insurance is just to hard to find. This is the Republican ethos. This is conservative ideology laid bare.
Even more disturbing, though, is what Blackwater plans to do next. Salon has this one:
There are signs that Blackwater USA, the private security firm that came under intense scrutiny after its employees killed 17 civilians in Iraq in September, is positioning itself for direct involvement in U.S. border security. The company is poised to construct a major new training facility in California, just eight miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. While contracts for U.S. war efforts overseas may no longer be a growth industry for the company, Blackwater executives have lobbied the U.S. government since at least 2005 to help train and even deploy manpower for patrolling America’s borders.
One need not be paranoid to see the problem here. A private army, whose CEO, Erik Prince, has close ties to the religious right, and which has been murderously out of control in Iraq, wants now to be involved in border security. And is building a “major new training facility” in California.
lackwater is planning to build an 824-acre military-style training complex in Potrero, Calif., a rural hamlet 45 miles east of San Diego. The company’s proposal, which was approved last December by the Potrero Community Planning Group and has drawn protest from within the Potrero community, will turn a former chicken ranch into “Blackwater West,” the company’s second-largest facility in the country. It will include a multitude of weapons firing ranges, a tactical driving track, a helipad, a 33,000-square-foot urban simulation training area, an armory for storing guns and ammunition, and dorms and classrooms. And it will be located in the heart one of the most active regions in the United States for illegal border crossings.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection denies specific plans to work with Blackwater, which makes one wonder if there are any non-specific plans. Blackwater also says the facility will be used to train government officials, under existing contracts.
But statements and lobbying activity by Blackwater officials, and the location for the new complex, strongly suggest plans to get involved in border security, with potential contracts worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Moreover, Blackwater enjoys support from powerful Republican congressmen who advocate hard-line border policies, including calls for deploying private agents to beef up the ranks of the U.S. Border Patrol. Lawmakers supporting Blackwater include California Rep. and presidential candidate Duncan Hunter — who met last year with company officials seeking his advice on the proposal for Blackwater West — and Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who is sponsoring a bill to allow private contractors such as Blackwater to help secure U.S. borders.
Action item: call your congressional representatives and senators and demand that they vote down the Rogers bill! We have seen the disastrous consequences of hiring private military contractors in Iraq- we want to shut them down, not reward them by allowing them to practice the same tactics on our own border!
A Blackwater spokesman says they have no current contracts for border security, but would like some. They have been trying to get such contracts since 2005. Hunter has been helping them in that quest. There has been more doubletalk from both Blackwater and government officials, trying to allay fears about the new training facility, but Prince himself has expressed that Blackwater is trying to diversify its operations, particularly now that Iraq is becoming a less lucrative market. The Salon article points out that with immigration and border security an increasingly strong subject of Republican concern, it doesn’t take a great leap of logic to assume that Blackwater might be interested. And Blackwater’s ties to the Bush Administration are both strong and deep.
Of course, Blackwater isn’t the only private military contractor who might be interested in sucking up your tax dollars to lawlessly patrol our borders. The article mentions another company that’s vying for such action: DynCorp.
Are you angry and frightened, yet?