Best known as a place where the Air Force shoots satellites into orbit, the Eastern Space and Missile Center–just south of the Kennedy Space Center in Florida’s Brevard County–would appear to focus solely on the wild blue yonder and beyond. Indeed, the 45th Space Wing’s web page is pretty clear about the mission of Patrick Air Force Base and the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station: to enhance “national strength through assured access to space for Department of Defense, civil, and commercial users.”
But according to a closely held government document, in the corner of the base that’s occupied by the defense contractor Raytheon there’s an operation that has absolutely nothing to do with the 45th’s role as “premier gateway into space.” In fact, the 10,000-square-foot fenced-in yard isn’t used by Raytheon at all. Nor is the 62,000 square feet of office, storage and hangar space located at 1038 South Patrick Drive. Officially, it’s the province of the State Department, which maintains a dedicated high-speed data line linking its Foggy Bottom headquarters in Washington with Buildings 984-986.
What the State Department is doing here has little to do with the genteel art of diplomacy but everything to do with combat. For all intents and purposes, South Patrick Drive is the gateway to the US government’s private war in the South American Andes.
Building 985 at Patrick Air Force Base is occupied by at least two State Department officers and a handful of administrators from DynCorp, a giant contractor which does most of its $1.4 billion in business with the US government–particularly in the realms of defense and intelligence. Since 1991, the company has effectively–and quietly–served as the State Department’s private air force in the Andes, providing pilots and mechanics for US-owned aircraft. Both DynCorp and the State Department have been reticent about just what DynCorp does. A handful of media reports and public statements have shown that the company’s pilots are flying fumigation and search-and-rescue missions, primarily in Colombia.
There’s also been passing mention of DynCorp operating in Peru and Bolivia. But when reporters, activists and even members of Congress have asked for more details on what DynCorp does for the Aviation Division of State’s International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau, they’ve received nothing. Sometimes State simply doesn’t respond. “We’re hitting a stone wall here,” sighs Nadeam Elshami, an aide to Representative Jan Schakowsky, who recently introduced a bill banning the use of private military companies like DynCorp in the Andes. “We’ve asked State for information, and we haven’t received any yet.”
Other times State says it can’t say anything because to do so would compromise information proprietary to DynCorp that’s protected by the “trade secrets exemption” in the Freedom of Information Act. If DynCorp ever responds to queries, it says it won’t divulge any details because the State Department won’t let it. “We haven’t gotten any answers from them, either,” says Elshami, “though they did contact us after Veronica Bowers’s plane was shot down over Peru last month and told us they weren’t involved. I think they made sure everyone knew that, but about what they’re actually doing, no.”