Use of Security Contractors Increasing Dramatically in Iraq

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For the past several years, MediaMouse.org has repeatedly criticized any Iraq “withdrawal” plan that does not include a provision to remove U.S. contractors are entirely inadequate. Without addressing that issue, the U.S. could easily remove a substantial number of troops–as President Obama is intending to do–but maintain the occupation with contracts.

Journalist Jeremy Scahill is reporting that the number of contractors in Iraq is rising:

According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country. These numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors. Companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy work on State Department contracts and it is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. This means, the number of individual “security” contractors could be quite higher, as could the scope of their expansion.

Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two U.S. wars. These statistics come from two reports just released by Gary J. Motsek, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Program Support): “Contractor Support of U.S. Operations in USCENTCOM AOR, IRAQ, and Afghanistan and “Operational Contract Support, ‘State of the Union.'”

Perhaps that this is a good indication that the U.S. is intending to make up any troop withdrawals with private security contractors. After all, it has been pretty clear that the U.S. does not intend to leave Iraq–no matter what the hype was during the last election.

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Headlines: Afghanistan Now Military’s ‘Main Effort’; KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

Democracy Now Headlines: Afghanistan Now Military's 'Main Effort'; KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

Headlines from DemocracyNow.org, a daily TV/radio news program, hosted by Amy Goodman and Juan Gonzalez, airing on over 650 stations, pioneering the largest community media collaboration in the US.

Obama Proposes to Close Corporate Tax Loopholes

President Obama vowed Monday to overhaul tax policies that he said reward companies for shifting US jobs overseas and that allow wealthy people to evade taxes using offshore accounts. Obama said the White House plan would save taxpayers $210 billion over the next decade.

President Obama: “And that’s why today, I’m announcing a set of proposals to crack down on illegal overseas tax evasion, close loopholes, and make it more profitable for companies to create jobs here in the United States. For years, we’ve talked about ending tax breaks for companies that ship jobs overseas and giving tax breaks to companies that create jobs here in America.”

House Democrats Reject Funding to Close Guantanamo

On Capitol Hill, House Democrats have rejected a request from President Obama for $80 million to close the US prison camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. House Democrats removed the funding request from a $94 billion emergency spending bill to cover the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. House Appropriations Chair David Obey said the funding wasn’t included because Obama has not yet outlined a concrete plan to close Guantanamo.

Taliban Seizes Main Town in Swat Valley; Civilians Urged to Flee

In news from Pakistan, The Guardian reports the Taliban has seized control of Mingora, a main town in the Swat Valley, signaling the death knell for a fragile peace deal with the provincial government. Pakistani authorities are urging civilians to leave the region in a sign that a military attack on the Taliban in the Swat Valley may be imminent. For the last two weeks, Pakistani troops have been battling Taliban fighters in Buner and Lower Dir, two districts bordering Swat.

Kerry Pushes for Tripling US Aid to Pakistan

In Washington, Senator John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has introduced legislation for tripling US civilian aid to Pakistan to $7.5 billion over the next five years.

Mullen: Afghanistan Is Now Military’s “Main Effort”

On Monday, Admiral Mike Mullen, chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, officially designated the war in Afghanistan as the military’s main effort, while acknowledging the fighting isn’t over in Iraq. Mullen said, “The main effort in our strategic focus from a military perspective must now shift to Afghanistan.” But President Obama’s plan to escalate the war in Afghanistan is continuing to come under criticism from within parts of his own party. In an interview with the American News Project, former senator and presidential candidate George McGovern said he is worried Afghanistan will become President Obama’s Vietnam.

Sen. George McGovern: “I have a very deep concern about President Obama putting in another 21,000 troops into Afghanistan and with the promise of more to come. I think if we continue to send troops in there, it could be the Vietnam of this present administration.”

Karzai Assailed for Picking Ex-Warlord to be Running Mate

In other news from Afghanistan, human rights organizations are expressing alarm over Afghan President Hamid Karzai’s decision to pick former warlord Mohammad Qasim Fahim to be his running mate. Brad Adams of Human Rights Watch said, “To see Fahim back in the heart of government would be a terrible step backwards for Afghanistan. He is one of the most notorious warlords in the country, with the blood of many Afghans on his hands from the civil war.” Fahim is still believed to be involved in many illegal activities, including running armed militias, as well as giving cover to criminal gangs and drug traffickers.

Pentagon Denies Troops Are Trying to Convert Afghans to Christianity

The US military is denying it has allowed soldiers to try to convert Afghans to Christianity, following a report on Al Jazeera that showed pictures of soldiers with Bibles translated into Pashto and Dari. The military claimed the Bibles were never distributed to Afghans. Al Jazeera also aired footage of Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley, the chief of the US military chaplains in Afghanistan, calling on soldiers to hunt people for Jesus.

Lieutenant-Colonel Gary Hensley: “The special forces guys, they hunt men, basically. We do the same things as Christians: we hunt people for Jesus. We do. We hunt them down, get the hound of heaven after them, so we get them into kingdom. Right? That’s what we do. That’s our business.”

The Pentagon criticized Al Jazeera’s report. Military spokesperson Colonel Greg Julian said, “Most of this is taken out of context…This is irresponsible and inappropriate journalism.”

All-White Jury Acquits Teens in Murder of Mexican Immigrant

The Justice Department is investigating whether to prosecute two white Pennsylvania teenagers on civil rights statutes for their role in the fatal beating of Luis Ramirez, a Mexican immigrant in the town of Shenandoah. On Friday, an all-white jury exonerated the two teenagers of the most serious charges in connection with the fatal beating. The Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund condemned the jury’s finding. Witnesses said six teenagers brutally beat Luis Ramirez last year while yelling racial slurs. When a friend of Ramirez tried to stop the beating, one of the teenagers said, “Tell your Mexican friends to get out of town, or you’ll be laying next to him.”

Sen. Sessions Becomes Top Republican on Judiciary Committee

In news from Capitol Hill, Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama has been named the ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, replacing Arlen Specter, who switched to the Democratic Party last week. Sessions will play a key role in the upcoming confirmation hearings for President Obama’s eventual nominee for the Supreme Court. Sessions is a staunch conservative who once described the NAACP and American Civil Liberties Union as “un-American” and “Communist-inspired” because they “forced civil rights down the throats of people.”

Report: Stress Tests Show 10 Banks Need More Capital

The Wall Street Journal reports the Obama administration is expected to direct about ten of the nineteen banks undergoing government stress tests to boost their capital. The exact number of banks affected remains under discussion. It could include Wells Fargo, Bank of America, Citigroup and several regional banks.

Supreme Court Limits Identity Theft Law

The Supreme Court has ruled undocumented workers using false papers cannot be charged with aggravated identity theft unless they knew their fake IDs belonged to a real person. The Bush administration frequently charged undocumented immigrants with felony identity theft, which carries a two-year sentence. Prosecutors had used the threat of a felony to persuade undocumented workers to plead guilty to lesser charges of document fraud.

Louisiana State Board Sued for Not Probing Psychologist Tied to Torture

A Louisiana state board has been sued for failing to investigate possible professional and ethical violations committed by Larry James, who served as the chief psychologist at Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib. The lawsuit alleges that James, a retired Army colonel, helped design and implement the Bush administration’s harsh interrogation programs. Larry James is a licensed psychologist in Louisiana. He is now the dean of Wright State University’s School of Professional Psychology in Dayton, Ohio. The lawsuit against the Louisiana State Board of Examiners of Psychologists was filed by an Ohio-based psychologist named Trudy Bond.

Pentagon Auditor: KBR Linked to Vast Majority of Fraud Cases

The Pentagon’s top auditor said the military contractor KBR constituted the “vast majority” of thirty-two cases of suspected combat-zone fraud referred by government auditors for criminal investigation. KBR is a former subsidiary of Halliburton and is the Army’s largest contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Rep. Murtha’s Nephew Received $4 Million in No-Bid Pentagon Contracts

Meanwhile, questions are being raised about no-bid Pentagon contracts given to a nephew of Democrat John Murtha, the chair of the House Appropriations Defense Subcommittee. The Washington Post reports Robert Murtha received $4 million in Pentagon contracts last year, all without competitive bidding.

Report: 2.4 Million Workers Lose Employer-Provided Health Insurance

The Center for American Progress is estimating 2.4 million workers have lost the health coverage their jobs provided since the start of the recession. More than 320,000 Americans lost their employer-provided health insurance in March alone, which amounts to over 10,000 workers a day.

CODEPINK Disrupts AIPAC Conference

Members of the peace group CODEPINK disrupted Israeli President Shimon Peres’s speech Monday at the annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee policy conference in Washington. Members of the group raised banners “Want Peace? End the Occupation,” “What About Gaza?” and “No Money for War Crimes.”

NYT Postpones Threat to Close Boston Globe

In media news, the New York Times Company has postponed its threat to start the process of closing the Boston Globe after wringing major concessions from all but one of the Globe’s labor unions.

US Blocks Cuban Musician from Playing at Pete Seeger Concert

And the prominent Cuban musician Silvio Rodriguez has criticized the Obama administration after the State Department blocked his entry into the United States to perform at Sunday’s ninetieth birthday celebration for Pete Seeger. Rodriguez said, “As a worker for Cuban culture, I still feel as blockaded and discriminated against as I do by other administrations…and I truly hope that changes someday.”

Obama’s Defense Budget to Increase in 2010

Obama's Defense Budget Increased Over Bush's

The proposed defense budget for fiscal year 2010, announced last Wednesday by Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, has been praised by the mainstream media for cutting funding to weapons programs. Although this is true — for example, the high profile F-22 fighter jet, a project that has been in development since 1986, costs $300 million per plane, and has been openly talked about by Gates as useless to operations in Afghanistan and Iraq, has been cut. Yet, the overall budget is still increased by 3.4% — surpassing George Bush’s spending on defense by $20 billion, amounting to about $700 billion total.

Economic Stimulation Myth

Military spending is being portrayed as a sort of stimulus package by industry leaders and their publicists. The Aerospace Industries Association (AIA), which represents more than 100 defense and aerospace corporations, claims that these corporations contribute $97 billion in exports a year and maintain 2 million jobs. Yet according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Aerospace Product and Parts Manufacturing, which includes some non-defense related corporations, employed 472,000 wage and salary workers in 2006.

The claim that spending more money on defense will stimulate the economy begs the question of why, after spending increasingly ludicrous amounts on defense since 2002, the U.S. is not experiencing an economic boom now. The truth is that spending billions on defense only stimulates the pockets of corporate CEOs. In 2002, the top three defense contractors – Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrop Grumman – split $42 billion in Pentagon contracts. In 2007 (the latest year for which there is data), the Big Three split $69 billion. Yet, according to the University of Massachusetts Political Economy Research Institute, for every $1 billion invest in defense, 8,555 jobs are created. That same billion invested in health care creates 12, 883 jobs. Invested in education, it creates 17,687 jobs.

Implications for War

Part of Obama’s military budget includes an additional $130 billion on wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. By cutting spending on weapons programs, Obama is not seeking to reduce the U.S.’s commitment to war – rather, he is looking to shift the focus of U.S. military capabilities away from traditional wars against other armies, to the counterterrorism and counterinsurgency skills needed for the type of wars the U.S. has been fighting since 2001. Obama continues to increase troops in Afghanistan – a 4,000-troop increase was announced on top of the 17,000-troop increase previously planned — and maintain the number of troops stationed in Iraq.

It is easy to see that despite cutting funding to some weapons programs, the overall defense budget increase, new focus, and increase in troops are clear signs that Obama is as committed to senseless war as his predecessor.

Plans Emerging for Reduction of Private Contractors in Iraq

Reductions--over a long period of time--are planned for the use of private contractors in iraq

Over the year and a half, MediaMouse.org has been critical of Democratic plans to “end the war” in Iraq, arguing that the plans have–for the most part–intended to maintain the U.S. occupation of Iraq, albeit in a more subtler manner. This is true of Obama’s recent order, which will maintain a residual force in Iraq of 30,000 to 55,000 troops.

One of the areas we have repeatedly criticized is the absence of any plans to address the military’s reliance on contractors who provide both critical services to the military–feeding soldiers, cleaning barracks, and driving supply contracts–as well as security services to companies and governments with a presence in Iraq. They have been a critical component of the occupation and will likely continue to be for some time. It’s also possible that as the U.S. reduces its formal military presence, contractors could step into fill the gaps left by departing troops.

However, according to the Christian Science Monitor, the U.S. military is hoping to reduce the use of 150,000 contractors in Iraq over the next few years.

Reduction Planned over Next Several Years

The Christian Science Monitor obtained a directive from U.S. General Ray Odierno who is ordering the military to reduce the number of contractors in Iraq by 5% each quarter. Odierno ordered reductions at some 50 bases and small installations across Iraq. He further is asking that the jobs that are not eliminated (many contractors will simply be fired as U.S. troops are removed) go to Iraqis instead.

However, this presents a series of logistical problems–training Iraqis, questions about what happens if the U.S. removes critical equipment, and security concerns–that may slow the removal of contractors. Moreover, the directive does not address the private security contractors in Iraq who operate outside the General’s jurisdiction. They will likely remain in the country for some time to provide security to U.S. interests.

There are currently an estimated 150,000 contractors in Iraq, down from a high of 200,000. Of those 150,000, 39,000 are from the U.S., 70,000 are so-called “third-country nationals” (essentially imported labor that is paid far less than what U.S. workers are paid), and 37,000 are Iraqis.

Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO

West Michigan Native Erik Prince has Resigned as Blackwater CEO

Erik Prince–the West Michigan native who founded the private mercenary company Blackwater using money from the Prince family fortune–has resigned as CEO of the infamous company.

Prince announced that he will no longer be CEO of the company, instead he has appointed a new president. Prince will stay on as Chairman but will no longer oversee day-to-day operations.

Blackwater recently rechristened itself “Xe” and is in the midst of a rebranding and restructuring effort following the loss of its coveted State Department contract in Iraq and the continued negative publicity following the shooting of 17 Iraqi civilians in 2007.

West Michigan Companies Received $14 Million in Military Contracts in June

West Michigan companies received $14 million in military contracts in June. The companies receiving contracts are among those that have received the most money from the military in West Michigan since the start of the “War on Terror.”

West Michigan companies received $14,109,991 from the military according to ongoing research conducted as part of Mediamouse.org’s military contracts database. The contracts–awarded to three of the top military contractors in the area–include work on components for military aircraft that is critical to the United States ongoing occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The contracts are as follows:

* Woodward FST received $13,955,406 from the Air Force for the repair and overhaul of spray rings used in engines in the F16, F15, and F100-PW aircraft.

* GE Aviations Systems received a $91,655 for the repair of a digital computer for the Navy.

* L-3 Communications Avionics received a $62,930 contract for a directional antenna from the Department of Homeland Security.

Also, Wolverine Worldwide, the Rockford, Michigan based shoe manufacturer, announced record revenue and earnings for the last quarter. The company is the largest beneficiary of military contracts in West Michigan since the start of the “War on Terror.”

Companies in West Michigan Awarded $7.8 in Military Contracts

In May, West Michigan companies were awarded $7,873,864 in military contracts for a variety of components used in military aircraft and vehicles. The contracts were awarded to the following companies:

* Woodward FST received three contracts worth $7,611,513 from the Air Force.

* Borisch Manufacturing received a $120,166 contract from the Army.

* Eaton Aerospace received a $76,060 contract from the Navy.

* Armick received a $66,125 contract from the Army.

As always, it is important to remember that this work is necessary to maintain the United States military and economic dominance of the world. As such, the companies on this list and others in our military contracts database are worthy targets to organize around.

West Michigan Companies Received $6.7 Million in Military Contracts in April

Last month, military contractors in Grand Rapids were awarded $6,754,306 in contracts from the military. The contracts went to the following companies:

* CSS Alliance (Corporate Security Solutions) received a contract for $6.4 million.

* Borisch Manufacturing received three contracts worth $275,215.

* Evans Tempcon received one contract worth $49,978.

* Armick received one contract worth $34,825.

As always, it is important to remember that these contracts are necessary for the United States military to maintain the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as other military engagements. As such, the contractors represent critical local links between Grand Rapids and US wars abroad.

Iraq Blackwater Contract Extended

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On Monday, the State Department announced that it is extending its contract with Blackwater for an additional year. Under the contract, the private military company will continue its role protecting State Department delegations in Iraq despite its involvement in several controversial incidents, including the killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. Despite an ongoing investigation by the FBI and the military’s labeling the killing “a criminal event,” there have been no charges against Blackwater and many have argued that contractors–who operate outside of Iraqi law and are not covered by US military tribunals–are largely exempt from any oversight. Still, the Pentagon recently charged one contractor in Iraq under military law–a Canadian-Iraqi citizen who worked as a translator and is accused of stabbing another contractor in Iraq. Two other contractors have been punished under US civilian law, but no contractors have been punished for crimes harming Iraqis.

Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, who is a native of West Michigan, will be speaking in Grand Rapids on May 19 to the Grand Rapids Economic Club. Prince will speak at a luncheon open to members–who pay between $150 and $380 per year–of the Club. The general public, despite paying millions to Blackwater since its founding, is not invited.

$7.2 Million Awarded to West Michigan Companies for Military Contracts

In March, $7,287,080 was awarded to companies in West Michigan in government contracts for military work. The work includes a variety of different components for aircraft as well as providing shoes for the military. The contracts were awarded to the following companies:

  • Wolverine Worldwide received a $7.1 million contract for leather dress shoes for the Navy.
  • Evans Tempcon received a $45,395 contract for a “parts kit” for the Defense Logistics Agency.
  • Woodward FST received a $42,000 contract for “engine accessories” from the Air Force.

GE Aviations Systems (formerly Smiths Aerospace) received a contract for $35,000 for a wiring board for the Defense Logistics Agency.

Of the companies received contracts, Wolverine Worldwide, GE Aviations Systems, and Woodward FST are the top contractors in West Michigan and have received over $100 million each in military contracts since the start of the “War on Terror.” Additionally, L-3 Communications the fourth highest ranking contractor, received a $20.8 million contract for work on the transmissions used in Bradley Fighting Vehicles. The work on that contract will be performed in Muskegon.