by Pratap Chatterjee
(IPS) WASHINGTON -- Private military contractors like the Virginia-based Anteon, which has grown tenfold in the last decade, are becoming ever more integral to the nation's programs for intelligence sharing, intelligence training and video game warfare simulators.
But experts like James Bamford who monitor the shadowy world of interrogation and intelligence warn that "involving private contractors in sensitive intelligence operations can lead to disaster."
"Because the issue is hidden under heavy layers of secrecy, it is impossible for even Congress to get accurate figures on just how much money (is being spent) and how many people are involved," says Bamford, whose book "The Puzzle Palace" began as an expose about the National Security Agency, an ultra-secret government spy agency, but is now used as a textbook at the Defense Intelligence College.
Bob Baer, a former CIA Middle East specialist and author of "See No Evil," says the same phenomenon is happening within his former agency.
"After 1997, practically all training is done by contractors," he says. "The CIA is even hiring contractors as station chiefs in other countries."
"I think it was by default -- to get around personnel limits and to get rid of severance problems. But these companies don't vet people, you cannot keep track of who they are working for and of course they are not efficient. They have lower standards," he said in an interview.
"Their job is to make money and so they will tell you whatever you want to hear," Baer added. "It's called 'customer satisfaction' -- you want a convertible, you get a convertible."
Part of the problem with hiring private contractors, Baer believes, is the lack of checks and balances.
"Now if you ask a private company to produce a report on Afghan opium production, they will produce the report, but it might not be the truth. If you ask a CIA nitwit to write the report, he will care about getting it right, although he will probably get it wrong. But at least his motivation is correct."
There are also a number of legal loopholes providing for small, start-up contractors to enter the fray. These new companies build expertise by poaching military personnel and paying them higher salaries or tapping into the market of retired intelligence officers.
Take Castillo Technologies, founded by Alan Castillo, a former Marine. After quitting his job at Motorola in 2000, Castillo registered as a disadvantaged business owner (he is Latino), so that he could snap up federal contracts to supply intelligence trainers at Fort Huachuca, home to the U.S. Army Intelligence Center.
Likewise, Isis -- named after the Egyptian goddess of fertility and motherhood -- was founded by Janice Walker and promotes itself as a woman-owned business. Walker recently hired Steve Manigault, who worked for the 304th battalion, to go back and work at the same battalion as a contractor.
Walker offers military battalions at the fort a quick and easy way to hire her company to work on the base for a variety of tasks -- from environmental impact assessments to database management -- using what is known as a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA), a government license to get contracts without competitive bidding.
Neil Garra is an example of someone who was hired after retirement. Garra worked off and on the base for over a decade of his military career, beginning as a military instructor in 1989, rising to vice deputy director of the Battle Laboratory on the base in 1999, before retiring in 2000. Today he has his own small business, named S2, which takes on sub-contracts to design war game simulations.
Walker and Garra did not return phone calls and e-mails requesting their comment on the contracts. Castillo spoke briefly with CorpWatch, but hung up when asked about his new intelligence contracts.
The United States Training and Doctrine Command, the umbrella organization for all military training, agreed to answer questions about the Anteon contracts, but has yet to provide any answers, despite two months of phone calls and email communication.
"We are waiting for the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade to give us the information but we cannot provide you with any timeline as to when that might be," says Tanja Linton, the spokeswomen for Fort Huachuca.
Today Fort Huachuca is still smarting from the attention brought by the Abu Ghraib scandal. Yet the revolving door between intelligence training, the battlegrounds of the Middle East, and private business continues to spin.
James "Spider" Marks, who was commander of the base when news of the scandals broke last April, recently said: "We train our soldiers to do what's right. I'm disgusted (by the Abu Ghraib allegations). It's simply not how we train."
But like many of his former interrogators, Marks too quit the military last fall to take a job in the lucrative private intelligence business, becoming the senior vice president of intelligence and security for a company named McNeil Technologies.
Visitors to the base today will notice that there is a blank spot at the entrance gates where the picture of Marks used to hang. It has not been replaced with the picture of his successor, Maj. Gen. Barbara Fast.
That's because Fast is being investigated for her role in Iraq, where she supervized two Army intelligence officers implicated in the scandal -- Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, both with the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which operated the Abu Ghraib prison.
Official investigations allege that Fast was notified of abuses in the prisons but did nothing about them. Only time will tell whether there's a job waiting for her in the private sector, as well.
Business for Anteon is also thriving far from the gates of Fort Huachuca. For example the company has a contract to build fake villages where soldiers can practice urban warfare.
Called Military Operations on Urban Terrain, or MOUT sites, these units cost millions of dollars apiece and are scattered around bases like Fort Irwin in California and Fort Polk in Louisiana, as well as overseas in countries such as Korea and Kuwait.
The smallest is really just a converted shipping container and the largest has an airfield and a sewer from which the enemy can attack. Thousands of sensors, embedded in the units, determine where a soldier has been hit with infrared shots.
Inside the units, high-speed roman candles mimic the flash of gunshots; canned sound effects give the impression of helicopters and barking dogs; and there is even the smell of apple pie or rotting corpses.
"It's like Hollywood," Joseph M. Kampf, Anteon's president and CEO, told USA Today, except that he claims that Anteon's version is saving U.S. lives. "I'm sleeping well at night, even after watching CNN."
The company also recently won a 118-million-dollar contract to recruit new soldiers for the entire United States Army, process the new recruits and give them credentials.
Kampf believes that the hottest new business is providing identification cards to foreign visitors to the United States, which it is already doing for Mexican and Canadian citizens who have to cross into the United States daily across the two borders.
"We have already issued 20 million laser-made cards under the border-crossing program -- we are talking about 4 billion to 10 billion dollars to issue not just cards but systems in every port of entry," Kampf told the Federal Times.
And today the company is merging the border identification work with the military training. In October 2004, Anteon set up shop at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park on Tucson's Southeast Side.
"They are going to create and deploy curriculum used by border defense and Homeland Security," John Grabo, the park's director of marketing of marketing international programs, told the Tucson Citizen.
March 18, 2005 (http://www.albionmonitor.com) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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