The Obama administration has continued the Bush-era reliance on private contractors to sustain the US occupation of Iraq and the US operations in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Obama has surpassed Bush’s reliance on contractors with current contractor levels surpassing 100,000 Defense Department contractors deployed. In Iraq, Obama has maintained the long-standing ratio of one contractor to every US soldier.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan/Pakistan, said recently that he believes the US has “created in ourselves a dependency on contractors that is greater than it ought to be.” He added: “I think it doesn’t save money. I actually think it would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved, increase the number of military if necessary.”
Despite such proclamations, the pattern of dependence on contractors is continuing unabated—and not just within the Department of Defense.
On April 20, the US State Department posted a solicitation for armed private security contractors to deploy in “critical or higher than critical threat areas” globally under its Worldwide Protective Services program. Among the firms that have held these contracts are Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Armor Group. ArmorGroup was exposed last year by whistleblowers for a range of misconduct at the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among the actions revealed by the Project on Government Oversight were hazing rituals involving nudity and heavy drinking that at times included personnel urinating on each other. The whistleblowers alleged that ArmorGroup personnel created a general atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Last December, following POGO’s revelations, the State Department said it was phasing out ArmorGroup.
In its solicitation for contract bids, the State Department says it will hire as many as six “qualified US firms” for “anticipated and unanticipated personal protective, static guard, and emergency response” functions. The contracts are slated to last one year with the potential for four, year-long options.
To qualify for the contracts, security companies must have a total annual value of at least $15 million in security contracts and must possess a valid “Final Secret Facility Security Clearance.” After the contracts are awarded, the State Department says that it will then sponsor the contractor for “Top Secret Facility Clearance.” In addition, bidding companies must have at least two years of experience operating in “austere and hostile environments overseas” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and experience in “operating long term personal protective security details for executive level dignitaries.” The solicitation indicates that the work will include “a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Baghdad, Iraq, a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a personal protective security service requirement in Jerusalem.”
Among the companies listed as “interested vendors” to bid on the contracts are the predictable list of industry giants: L-3 Services, SAIC, USIS, Northrop Grumman, and DynCorp. Blackwater, which has been a prime contractor under the WPS program since the beginning of the Iraq invasion, does not appear to be bidding on the contract. If that remains the case, it could represent the end of an era in the mercenary business. In a sea of heavy-hitters, two lesser-known firms in particular that have expressed interest in the contracts jump out: Instinctive Shooting International and Evergreen International Aviation.
Hiring Instinctive Shooting International for any type of armed contract in a Muslim country, particularly to operate in Jerusalem with a stamp of US government legitimacy, should be cause for serious concern and Congressional inquiry. Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) was founded by Hanan Yadin, a former member of the Israel National Counter-Terrorism Agency and a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. According to his bio [PDF], Hanan “received advanced training at the Israeli Anti-Terror Academy and served as an instructor at the Israeli Military Intelligence Academy. As part of a Special Ops unit he executed high-risk missions against terrorist’s cells. Hanan is an expert marksman and has completed advanced training in crisis response, Krav Maga (the Israeli unarmed fighting system), urban warfare and tactical operations.”
I encountered ISI operatives, all former Israeli soldiers, manning an armed check-point in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At the time, in 2005, its website described ISI’s personnel as “veterans of the Israeli special task forces from the following Israeli government bodies: Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, Instructors of Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, General Security Service (GSS or ‘Shin Beit’), Other restricted intelligence agencies.”
Today the website has changed dramatically. Its main graphic is of US soldiers wearing American flag patches, wielding automatic weapons in what appears to be Iraq. “After 9/11, ISI was able to bring to bear all of its resources, expertise and experience to work with U.S. military and government agencies in gaining a deeper understanding of radical Islam and provide proven tactical techniques to improve counter-terror operations,” according to the website. This would hardly be ISI’s first US government contract. It has received many training and security contracts since its founding in 1993. According to the company, it is currently under a five-year contract with the US Army that began in November 2009.
Evergreen has had long-standing ties to the CIA. “In 1980 an Evergreen plane flew the recently deposed Shah of Iran from Panama to Egypt, hours before the Panamanian government was due to receive an extradition request from the new government in Tehran,” according to SourceWatch. “Giving rides to dictators is something of a specialty for the company – it also allowed El Salvador’s President Duarte to use its helicopter, which was officially in the country to help repair power lines. And according to a series of articles in The Oregonian in 1988, Evergreen’s owner and founder Delford M. Smith ‘…acknowledged one agreement under which his companies provide occasional jobs and cover to foreign nationals the CIA wants taken out of other countries or brought into the United States.’”
Evergreen is perhaps best known more recently for offering—unsolicited—its security services to Oregon county clerks ahead of the 2008 elections. “During this crucial election Evergreen Defense and Security Services has recognized the potential conflict that could occur on November 4,” an email from company president Evergreen president Tom Wiggins to election officials stated. “Never has there been a more heated battle in the race for president and voters seem more involved and determined to achieve their respective goals. EDSS proposes to post sentries at each voting center on November 4 to assure that disputes among citizens do not get out of control. All guards will be unarmed but capable of stopping any violence that may occur, and detaining troublemakers until law enforcement help arrives.” The offer was suspect on several fronts, not the least of which being that Oregon has no polling places and votes by mail.
According to State Department documents, among the projects up for bidding are:
—Private security teams in Jerusalem. The solicitation calls for 46 personnel, including 36 “security specialists” and team/shift leaders for armed details.
—Embassy guards and an Emergency Response Team in Kabul. The solicitation calls for 219 personnel, including a 142-member embassy guard force and 49 “emergency response” personnel.
—Embassy guards and an Emergency Response Team in Baghdad, Iraq. The solicitation calls for 551 personnel, including 357 “armed guards” and an Emergency Response Team consisting of 30 protective security specialists and four “designated defense marksmen.”
The US embassy in Iraq, according to the documents, requires the greatest number of contractors. This is likely because the embassy there is the largest of any embassy of any nation in history.
The State Department has a conference for prospective bidders scheduled for April 27-28 in Arlington, Virginia. Attendance is mandatory for interested companies.