Contracting War
June 6, 2009 1:59 PM   Subscribe

Jeremy Scahill talked with Bill Moyers recently about the continued role and increasing centrality of private military contractors in Afghanistan and Iraq, the use of military drones, and other issues related to these two ongoing wars.

According to Jeremy Scahill, newly released Pentagon statistics show that in both Iraq and Afghanistan the number of armed contractors is rising, and that contractors (armed and unarmed)* now make up approximately 50% [of the total force].

Yet, since these numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors, [and since] companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy (more on them here) work on State Department is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. In other words, the numbers could be higher.

Questions of statistics aside, the larger questions--of whether the increasingly privatized US military could even function without contractors, and the degree to which the systematic reliance on contractors has become business as usual--remain. The "complex" is alive and well.

(*I'm not sure the significance of this distinction, since presumably even contractors not engaged in combat or security are also armed.)
posted by ornate insect (10 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Triple Canopy? Why not just call it the Umbrella Corporation and be done with it?
posted by dunkadunc at 2:43 PM on June 6, 2009 [3 favorites]

(*I'm not sure the significance of this distinction, since presumably even contractors not engaged in combat or security are also armed.)

Not necessarily. A lot of private contractor work overseas can be things like food service or construction. The private employees working the lunch line are not going to be armed.
posted by lullaby at 2:51 PM on June 6, 2009

That was a terrific (and depressing) show; I urge everyone to watch it. Scahill is both gutsy and well informed.
posted by languagehat at 3:02 PM on June 6, 2009

(*I'm not sure the significance of this distinction, since presumably even contractors not engaged in combat or security are also armed.)

This is incorrect. DoD contracts explicitly specify whether going about armed is allowed, and most contractors prohibit employees from being armed if the contract does not require it, since it raises their insurance rates.

You would never catch me signing up for a contract where I'm open to getting shot at but unable to do anything but bend over and kiss my ass goodbye (and I have walked away from supposed "opportunities" for this reason), but that's pretty much the position many logistics and service contracts put employees in.
posted by Kadin2048 at 3:34 PM on June 6, 2009

Democracy Now! has been running excellent coverage of Blackwater for quite some time. mp3 | Interview with Jeremy Scahill
posted by ageispolis at 4:09 PM on June 6, 2009

Related: Five U.S. Security Contractors Detained in Connection With the Killing of Another American Contractor: ...Kitterman was found bound, blindfolded and fatally stabbed in a car in the district, formally known as the International Zone, on May 22. The 60-year-old Houston, Texas, resident owned a construction company that operated in Iraq.
posted by ornate insect at 5:13 PM on June 6, 2009

You can work on a contract in Iraq, on BIAP/VBC and in 12 months, never go outside the wire, never wear body armor and never have a weapon.

I would say a majority of contractors are not armed. The people doing security are a small minority, maybe between 10-20% of the total contractor population.
posted by Dagobert at 4:05 AM on June 7, 2009

How is Afghanistan ‘winnable’? I don’t get at all why anyone would portray that - with legitimate intent – that simplistically.

It’s like saying the people there are ‘eradicatable’ – well, yeah, we could kill pretty indiscriminately, but we’re back to this damn stupid attrition metric of reflecting progress, when the only really valid goal there is to stabilize the region and have it be self-supporting - so we can leave. And without it again being an anarchy.

“We can no longer allow these individuals to perform what are inherently governmental functions. And that includes carrying a weapon on U.S. battlefields.”
F’ing A.

“I think that what we have seen happen, as a result of this incredible reliance on private military contractors, is that the United States has created a new system for waging war. Where you no longer have to depend exclusively on your own citizens to sign up for the military and say, "I believe in this war, so I'm willing to sign up and risk my life for it." “

And it circumvents accountability and oversight of foreign policy by the American people for interests other than their own.

“The fact is that I think most Americans are not aware that their dollars being spent in Afghanistan are, in fact, going to for-profit corporations in both Iraq and Afghanistan…That is the intricate linking of corporate profits to an escalation of war that President Eisenhower warned against in his farewell address…(KBR was) allowed to do things that were dangerous for U.S. troops. Provide then with unclean drinking water.. And so we've had, U.S. troops that have died from electrocution in Iraq as a result of the faulty work of KBR….

Yeah, War is a... uh...illegitimate enterprise? fraudulent scheme? criminal undertaking? larcenous project? breach of trust with fraudulent intent? foreign laundered domestic embezzlement project? violent pilferage? thieving escapade? misappropriation of taxpayer wealth? criminal syndicate operation? despoiling action? ...can't think of the word here....

“When the United States goes in and bombs Farah province in Afghanistan, on May 4th, and kills civilians, according to the Red Cross and other sources, 13 members of one family, that has a ricochet impact…”

This is what kills me about this particular engagement. Just recently militias in Pakistan have been mobilized against the Taliban. The writing is essentially on the wall for the Taliban - once you lose support from the people, tacit, overt, willing or otherwise, you lose.
This could actually be extremely successful in terms of uniting otherwise disparate groups and forming communities, and other social mechanisms resistant to the kind of incursions the Taliban represents.
And yet - bombers overhead.
And now what - ?
You've got a textbook case of success, or at least the potential, but no, gotta bomb, gotta expend ordinance, can't take the risk of losing even one man because it might shift domestic public opinion, so we kill hundreds of civilians. Meanwhile that just prolongs the war so more of our troops do die anyway, just not en masse in any single engagement, just rolls on and on and on over years so it seems like less (like the frog in the slowly warming water) in this slow motion meat grinder and it screws up the genuine success that was possible.

But hell, you think Mother Courage wants to see an end to war anyway? Not a chance. Too much money to be made. Endangering innocent lives might be something no one, the people of no government anywhere, wants. But you can't make money off the will of the people if they want peace.
So it becomes pro-wrasslin. An exhibition rather than anything decisively settled. Which, you'd think, war would be, given the violence and death. Nope. Not anymore. The birth rate is plenty high enough so we'll always have enough fodder, and there's never any shortage of spectators - who love to yell and scream - for whatever cause, at whatever side, just as long as they're distracted from the guys behind the curtain, they'll keep yelling at the ref to do something.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:11 AM on June 8, 2009

The Private Military Contractor's Creed

I am a U.S. contractor. I look out for myself, the operators to my left and
right, and no one else. I will always take advantage of the fact that I
can finally tell military officers to pound sand, and will do so at every

I am my country's scapegoat, the "plausible deniability"
warrior, and I love it.

Less than $700 dollars a day is unacceptable.

I am trained to eat things that would make a billy goat puke, but will
refuse anything less than 60 dollars per diem because I am greedy.

I care not for ribbon's and awards for valor. I do this job for the
opportunity to kill the enemies of my country, and to finally get that
boat I've always wanted.

I will be in better shape than 99% of the active duty personnel, although
this is not hard.

I will equip myself with the latest high speed gear, and will trick out
my M4 until it weighs more than 24 lbs, not because it works better, but
because it looks cool in the photographs.

I will carry more weapons, ammunition, and implements of death on my
person, than an infantry fire team, and when engaged I will lay waste to
everything around me.

In any combat zone, I will always locate the swimming pool, beer, and
women, because I can.

I will deploy on my terms, and if it ever gets too stupid,

I will simply find another company that pays me more.

I swear!

posted by ageispolis at 10:52 PM on June 15, 2009 [1 favorite]

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