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Monday, January 03, 2005

War Profiteering, Corruption and Greed: The True WMDs

There is much evidence that the so-called “reconstruction effort” in Iraq has amounted to little more than a depraved carnival of corporate greed. But just how bad is it? It’s bad. Really bad. So bad that Senate Minority Whip Dick Durbin (D-Il), along with Senators Larry Craig (R-ID) and Daniel Akaka (D-HI) have introduced a resolution to re-convene Harry Truman’s WWII committee on war profiteering. The shit COULD hit the proverbial fan shortly after the first of the year, when BushCo. is expected to belly up to the trough once again and ask for another $100 billion for Iraq.

At last report, fewer than 140 of the 2,300 reconstruction projects funded by the US were underway in Iraq. The Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) has consistently bypassed Iraqi firms in awarding billions in reconstruction contracts, when Iraqi companies could have done the work more cheaply and quickly, in addition to generating good will in the country. So let's take a closer look at the Top Ten War Profiteers (as determined by the Center for Corporate Policy) and examine how each has fared in the news of late:

1. AEGIS: Awarded biggest piece of the private-security pie in Iraq, they coordinate security operations among thousands of private military companies or “PMCs” (read: mercenaries). Headed by former mercenary Tim Spicer, who has been linked to arms sales to Sierra Leone in 1998 in violation of a UN arms embargo. In 1992, two soldiers in a unit commanded by Spicer were convicted of murdering an 18 year-old Catholc boy in North Belfast. He also figured prominently in a 1997 military coup in Papua New Guinea. Yes, this is the guy we've hired to coordinate security operations and guard against physical abuse of detainees. "This contract is a case study in what not to do," according to Peter Singer of The Brookings Institution. "The Army never even bothered to Google this guy to find out that he was involved in political scandal, that he was the source of parliamentary investigations and the owner of failed businesses.”

2. BearingPoint: Management-consulting firm who received the contract to help develop Iraq's competitive private sector. Ironic, since they wrote the specs for the contract they were bidding on, and sent some employees to Iraq to begin work before the contract was awarded. Gave more to the Bush election campaign than any other Iraq contractor. Subpoenaed by a California Grand Jury last month regarding federal contracts; a former BearingPoint employee has already plead guilty to one count of criminal conspiracy in connection with the government inquiries. In April of this year they agreed to pay $34 million to settle charges of overbilling clients.

3. Bechtel: Really, where to start? Former company President and Reagan Secretary of State George Schultz was head of "Committee for the Liberation of Iraq." No wonder. No-bid contract for building schools, bridges, airports, water treatment plants and other Iraqi infrastructure could be eventually be worth $100 billion. Overcharged City of San Francisco for unnecessary and overpriced work, as well as employees' personal expenses, in 2002. Bechtel's errors in design and construction of a highway cost city of Boston $1 billion plus, and in a truly Homer Simpson-esque moment, they installed one of the reactors at the San Onofre nuclear power plant -- backwards -- which resulted in all manner of marine life, including seals, being sucked in with the waters to cool the reactors. Not to mention the environmental chaos and massive cost overruns that ensued. Bechtel nearly caused a revolution in Bolivia when it tried to charge the country's poor exorbitant rates for their own rainwater. (I guess it was one of those “triumphs of privatization.”) Good at hiring Iraqis to do grunt work, bad at hiring Iraqi engineers and managers for jobs that required hands-on knowledge of the country's infrastructure. Funny enough, has yet to meet any of the deadlines in its original contract, including the restoration of basic services like electricity. Spreading good cheer all 'round.

4. BKSH & Associates: PR firm chaired by Charlie Black, old time Bush family friend, Republican lobbyist and big fundraiser for Bush/Cheney campaign. Represent big Iraqi contractors including Fluor International, Cummins Engine and the Iraqi National Congress. Until 2003 BKSH & Associates was paid $25,000 per month by the State Department to promote liar, embezzler, would-be dictator and Bush crony Ahmet Chalabi and the INC. In June of this year, an Iraqi judge ordered the arrest of Francis Brooke, Evangelical Christian and consultant for BKSH, for reportedly obstructing a raid on Chalabi's headquarters in Baghdad. Brooke bragged last year to New Yorker that he engineered the war by delivering evidence of WMD to the Pentagon.

5. CACI and Titan: CACI had a hand in drawing up its own no-bid contract to provide interrogation services; Titan has a $400 million contract to provide translation services. Recently, as the result of a military investigation, six CACI employees were referred to the Justice Department for prosecution in the Abu Graib prison abuse scandal. The WaPo said that "about half of CACI's interrogators were not properly trained and that the military officer in charge of interrogation did not screen them before allowing them to conduct interrogations." The military concluded that interrogators and linguists were involved in 16 of the 44 alleged abuses at Abu Ghraib. The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed RICO suits against both Titan and CACI, saying that they promoted their businesses by "proving they could extract information from detainees in Iraq, by any means necessary."

6. Custer Battles: A politically connected start-up firm awarded a no-bid contract to provide security for Baghdad's airport, suspended from all federal contracts in September for fraudulent billing practices. Maybe it should have happened in 2003, when CPA employees found a misplaced Custer-Battles spreadsheet showing that their currency exchange operation had cost the company $3,738,592, but they had billed the CPA $9,801,550? Or when they submitted a $2.7 million invoice that the Air Force said was based on "forged leases, inflated invoices and duplication?" A former employee, Robert Isakson, has filed a claim against Custer Battles for "war profiteering...[that] contributed to the deaths of at least four Custer Battles employees." Says Isakson's attorney: "This is corruption at its worst, perpetrated by Bush cronies and protected by the Bush administration."

7. Halliburton: Awarded a 5-year oil-related contract worth up to $10.8 billion, now the subject of numerous investigations into overcharging and kickbacks. Government auditors have found "widespread, systemic problems with almost every aspect of Halliburton's work in Iraq, from cost estimation and billing systems to cost control and subcontract management." Their subsidiary, Kellog, Brown & Root (KBR) has been the subject of a House Government Reform Committee investigation. Seems they submitted bills totaling more than $3 billion that were "so lacking in documentation" that they were summarily rejected even by the Pentagon. They encored with a new bill, $700 million cheaper, that was hastily withdrawn due to "continuing pricing issues." Forced to refund the Pentagon $27.4 million for food they never delivered to US troops; as a result soldiers were limited to one bottle of water a day in the desert heat. Scammed $61 million in overcharges for gas trucked from Kuwait to Iraq, not including the $6.3 milliion in kickbacks that went to two Halliburton employees. The list goes on. And on. And on.

8. Lockheed Martin: Dollar for dollar, Lockheed continues to be the biggest war pirate, with Pentagon contracts worth $21.9 billion in 2003 alone. E.C. Aldridge Jr., the former undersecretary of defense for acquisitions and procurement, gave final approval for the F-35 contract worth $200 billion to Lockheed just prior to leaving the Pentagon to join Lockheed's board. Have paid millions in the past in the past three years through their partnership with Northrup Grummon to settle charges they defrauded the Pentagon.

9. Loral Satellite: Chairman Bernard L. Schwartz is close chum with big BushCo. neocon war hawks and principle funder of "Blueprint," the newsletter of the DLC. Stand to profit big time from Pentagon's decision to create a new global intranet for military that will take two decades and hundreds of billions of dollars to build. Suspected of giving away classified missile guidance secrets to the Chinese in 1996.

10. Qualcomm: Iraq's cellular market is worth millions of dollars for any company who can establish itself as the standard for the region. Which maybe explains why two CPA officials claimed that John Shaw, the deputy undersecretary of defense technology security, put the screws to them to change an Iraqi police radio contract to favor Qualcomm's patented cellular technology. Shaw says he, in turn, was nudged by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), whose district Qualcomm calls home. Issa previously sponsored a bill that would require the military to use Qualcomm technology. The DoD's inspector general has asked the FBI to investigate Shaw's activities.

As if that weren’t enough -- in October, it was revealed that the CPA used $12 billion in Iraqi oil revenues to pay US contractors, rather than using the money earmarked by Congress. (Way to go with the hearts and minds!) As Henry Waxman said, "This money belongs to the Iraqi people. It is not a slush fund."

The real kicker (and here you thought it couldn’t get any better) -- thanks an order issued from the CPA by Paul Bremer, contractors and other foreign personnel are granted immunity from Iraqi law -- even if they injure or kill someone. Neither are they subject to US military law. And since BushCo. has issued contradictory memos about the CPA’s status to whether it’s a government agency or not, nobody is sure WHO the hell has oversight authority over private contractors, if anyone.

So what can we do? Well, for starters, email Dick Durbin, Larry Craig and Daniel Akaka and let them know you support their efforts to re-convene the Truman Committee on War Profiteering. And while you're at it, drop a note to Republicans Richard Luger (R-IN), who blasted BushCo. as “incompetent” in their failure to provide management and oversight, and Chuck Hagel (R-NE), who has said that “it''s beyond pitiful, it's beyond embarrassing, it's now in the zone of dangerous.” On the rare occasion when the GOP does something worthwhile, positive reinforcement is a good thing; besides, bi-partisan support is going to be essential.