On Sunday night, 60 Minutes aired an important story exposing Iraqi war profiteering that has stolen billions, crippled reconstruction and put the lives of troops at fatal risk.
As Steve Kroft reported, “The United States has spent over one-quarter trillion dollars in three years in Iraq, and more than 50 billion of it has gone to private contractors, hired to guard bases, drive trucks and shelter the troops and rebuild the country.” This money, more than the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security, “has been handed out to companies in Iraq with little or no oversight. Millions of dollars are unaccounted for. And there are widespread allegations of waste, fraud and war profiteering.” The segment focused on a company called Custer Battles, which is the subject of a civil lawsuit that goes to trial today.
The $2 million given to Custer Battles was only the first installment–of $100 million–on a contract to provide security at Baghdad International Airport. What’s significant is that the company was started by two guys with absolutely no security experience. What one of them had was (a claim of) ties to the Republican Party and connections at the White House. In a memo obtained by 60 Minutes, the Baghdad airport’s director of security wrote to the Coalition Authority, “Custer Battles have shown themselves to be unresponsive, uncooperative, incompetent, deceitful, manipulative and war profiteers. Other than that, they’re swell fellows.”
The company continued to work in Iraq even after one of Custer Battles’s main subcontractors went to federal authorities with allegations of criminal misconduct–bilking the government out of $50 million. (The subcontractor and another whistleblower are suing the company on behalf of US taxpayers to recover some of the money.)
What’s happened since? Well, as Kroft reports, “To date, the only action that’s been taken against [the company] has been a one-year suspension from receiving government contracts. It has since expired.”
“I think what’s happening over there is an orgy of greed here with contractors,” says North Dakota Senator Byron Dorgan, whose committee has held hearings on the giants of war profiteering–Halliburton and its subsidiary, Kellogg, Brown and Root, which has collected half of all the money awarded to contractors in Iraq and, according to the Defense Department’s own auditors, has overbilled taxpayers by more than $1 billion.