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Posts Tagged ‘David Isenberg’

Contractors in War Zones: Not Exactly “Contracting”

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on October 9, 2012

There are more contractors than troops in Afghanistan

Time’s Battleland  October 9, 2012 by David Isenberg

U.S. military forces may be out of Iraq, but the unsung and unrecognized part of America’s modern military establishment is still serving and sacrificing — the role played by private military and security contractors.

That their work is dangerous can be seen by looking at the headlines. Just last Thursday a car bomb hit a private security convoy in Baghdad, killing four people and wounding at least nine others.

That is hardly an isolated incident. According to the most recent Department of Labor statistics there were at least 121 civilian contractor deaths filed on in the third quarter of 2012. Of course, these included countries besides Iraq.

As the Defense Base Act Compensation blog notes, “these numbers are not an accurate accounting of Contractor Casualties as many injuries and deaths are not reported as Defense Base Act Claims. Also, many of these injuries will become deaths due to the Defense Base Act Insurance Companies denial of medical benefits.” To date, a total of 90,680 claims have been filed since September 1, 2001.

How many contractors are now serving on behalf of the U.S. government?

According to the most recent quarterly contractor census report issued by the U.S. Central Command, which includes both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as 18 other countries stretching from Egypt to Kazakhstan, there were approximately 137,000 contractors working for the Pentagon in its region. There were 113,376 in Afghanistan and 7,336 in Iraq. Of that total, 40,110 were U.S. citizens, 50,560 were local hires, and 46,231 were from neither the U.S. not the country in which they were working.

Put simply, there are more contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan.

These numbers, however, do not reflect the totality of contractors. For example, they do not include contractors working for the U.S. State Department. The CENTCOM report says that “of FY 2012, the USG contractor population in Iraq will be approximately 13.5K.  Roughly half of these contractors are employed under Department of State contracts.”

While most of the public now understands that contractors perform a lot of missions once done by troops – peeling potatoes, pulling security — they may not realize just how dependent on them the Pentagon has become.

Please read the entire post here

Posted in Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Department of Defense, Iraq, KBR, State Department | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Joe Biden’s Uncounted Angels

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 11, 2012

“By the way, lest you think I’m a Republican partisan, neither Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney at the Republican national convention so much as mentioned Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone casualties. That might be funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic, given that this is the party that normally falls all over itself, playing up its supposed support for wartime sacrifice.”

by David Isenberg at Huffington Post  September 11, 2012

No disrespect to Beau, Biden’s son, who served honorably in Iraq but perhaps if he was working  for KBR or Academi, instead of the Delaware National Guard, Biden might have been more sensitive to those who are also sacrificing.

If you weren’t listening closely you might have missed it but last week, at the Democratic national convention, Vice President Joe Biden gave a major diss to the private military and security contracting (PMSC) industry.

In the course of his speech he said:

And tonight — (applause) — and tonight — tonight I want to acknowledge — I want to acknowledge, as we should every night, the incredible debt we owe to the families of those 6,473 fallen angels and those 49,746 wounded, thousands critically, thousands who will need our help for the rest of their lives.
Folks, we never — we must never, ever forget their sacrifice and always keep them in our care and in our prayers.

Biden might actually be a bit off; another famed Biden gaffe perhaps. The official Pentagon estimate through Sept. 7 for fatalities, which includes Defense Department civilians is 6,594 but their wounded estimate is exactly the same as Biden’s.

Don’t get me wrong. As an American and military veteran the toll of the military dead and wounded, especially those killed or wounded in Iraq, a war of choice, not necessity, tears at me. All these deaths and casualties should be remembered.

But as long as we are going to do body counts let us not low ball. What about all the PMSC personnel who have also made the ultimate sacrifice?

I’ve written about this before but since this is such an unappreciated subject, let’s review.

The U.S. Department of Labor publishes figures based on data maintained by its Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs, saying, “These reports do not constitute the complete or official casualty statistics of civilian contractor injuries and deaths.” These figures are not that useful as they refer to numbers of claims filed and not actual total fatalities. Their wounded totals also include figures for those injuries where there was no lost time or where lost time was just three or four days.

Still, through June 30 this year, the number of claims filed for Iraq and Afghanistan total 47,673 and 17,831, respectively. The number of deaths in Iraq and Afghanistan are 1,569 and 1,173. So that’s 2,742 dead “fallen angels”, who were working to support U.S. troops, diplomats, and private firms per overall U.S. goals in those countries, that Biden did not include.

By the way, to get an idea of the sheer Joe Heller surrealism of trying to track contractor casualties see this post by Overseas Civilian Contractors.

A better sense of the toll can be seen in this 2010 paper written by Prof. Steve Schooner and Colin Swan of George Washington University Law School. As they noted:

As of June 2010, more than 2,008 contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. Another 44 contractors killed were in Kuwait, many of whom supported the same missions. On top of that, more than 44,000 contractors have been injured, of which more than 16,000 were seriously wounded (see Figure 3). While these numbers rarely see the light of day, Figure 1 reflects the startling fact that contractor deaths now represent over twenty-five (25) percent of all U.S. fatalities since the beginning of these military actions.

In fact, in recent years contractors have, proportionately speaking, sacrificed even more than regular forces.

What is even more striking is that — in both Iraq and Afghanistan — contractors are bearing an increasing proportion of the annual death toll. In 2003, contractor deaths represented only 4 percent of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan. From 2004 to 2007, that number rose to 27 percent. From 2008 to the second quarter of 2010, contractor fatalities accounted for an eye-popping 40 percent of the combined death toll. In the first two quarters of 2010 alone, contractor deaths represented more than half — 53 percent — of all fatalities. This point bears emphasis: since January 2010, more contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan than U.S. military soldiers. In other words, contractors supporting the war effort today are losing more lives than the U.S. military waging these wars. Indeed, two recent estimates suggest private security personnel working for DoD in Iraq and Afghanistan — a small percentage of the total contractor workforce in these regions — were 1.8 to 4.5 times more likely to be killed than uniformed personnel.

No disrespect to Beau, Biden’s son, who served honorably in Iraq but perhaps if he was worked for KBR or Academi, instead of the Delaware National Guard, Biden might have been more sensitive to those who are also sacrificing.

By the way, lest you think I’m a Republican partisan, neither Paul Ryan or Mitt Romney at the Republican national convention so much as mentioned Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone casualties. That might be funny, if it wasn’t so pathetic, given that this is the party that normally falls all over itself, playing up its supposed support for wartime sacrifice.

 Follow David Isenberg on Twitter:

Posted in Afghanistan, Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Department of Defense, Department of Labor, Iraq, KBR, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

Burn, Baby !, Burn !

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on September 4, 2012

Remember when rioters in Watts, Calif., began shouting “Burn, Baby! BURN!” in the turmoil of 1965? I’m sure they didn’t have the following future in mind.

That would be the various lawsuits against KBR for operating burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we should all be paying attention to this and not just for the human toll it has taken on soldiers and contractors. It also says something disturbing about the ability of the federal government to exercise proper control over its private contractors.

by David Isenberg at Huffington Post  September 4, 2012

An article, “Military Burn Pits in Iraq and Afghanistan: Considerations and Obstacles for Emerging Litigation” by Kate Donovan Kurera, in the Fall 2010 issue of the Pace Environmental Law Review provides the necessary insight.

For those who haven’t been paying attention the last four years the background goes thusly:

Burn pits have been relied on heavily as a waste disposal method at military installations in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of United States military presence in these countries in 2001 and 2003, respectively. Little attention was paid to the pits in Iraq and Afghanistan until Joshua Eller, a computer technician deployed in Iraq, filed suit in 2008 against KBR for negligently exposing thousands of soldiers, former KBR employees, and civilians to unsafe conditions due to “faulty waste disposal systems.” Eller and a group of more than two hundred plaintiffs returning from their tours of duty, attribute chronic illnesses, disease, and even death to exposure to thick black and green toxic burn pit smoke that descended into their living quarters and interfered with military operations.

The plaintiffs assert that they witnessed batteries, plastics, biohazard materials, solvents, asbestos, chemical and medical wastes, items doused with diesel fuel, and even human remains being dumped into open burn pits. Defense Department officials say this waste stream contained items now prohibited pursuant to revised guidelines. Plaintiffs contend that KBR breached these contracts by negligently operating burn pits.

As of August 2010 there were an estimated two hundred and fifty one burns pits operating in Afghanistan and twenty two in Iraq. The most attention has focused on the burn pit operating at Joint Base Balad in Iraq, which was suspected of burning two hundred and forty tons of waste a day at peak operation

While the health impact of the pits is what the media focuses on, Kurera sees even more important legal issues: She writes:  Please read the entire article here

Posted in ACE, Afghanistan, AIG and CNA, AWOL Medical Records, Burn Pits, Cancer, Chartis, Civilian Contractors, Defense Base Act, Exclusive Remedy, Iraq, KBR, Misjudgements, Political Watch, Toxic Exposures, Zurich | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Price of Sacrifice

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 24, 2012

The government decided that contractors are eligible for public honor as civilians, through awards such as the Defense of Freedom Medal. This is described as the “civilian equivalent” of a Purple Heart, as both require the recipient to have been injured or killed. But the contractor is honored as victim; not hero.

David Isenberg at Huffington Post  May 24, 2012

Please see David’s blog  The Isenberg Institute of Strategic Satire

How should one recognize an act on the battlefield that gets you wounded? If you are a soldier, marine, sailor or airman the answer is easy; you get a Purple Heart. That medal, originally created by General George Washington, is awarded to U.S. soldiers wounded by the enemy in combat. It was ordered by the Continental Congress to stop giving commissions or promotions, since the Congress could not afford the extra pay these entailed, so Washington drew up orders for a Badge of Military Merit made of purple cloth. In 1782 he directed that “whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk edged with narrow lace or binding.”

In short, Washington gave cloth because he could not give money. But if you are a private contractor and you get wounded you don’t get a Purple Heart.

You, hopefully, will get medical care and benefits which your employer is required, at least theoretically, to provide under the Defense Base Act.

To Mateo Taussig-Rubbo, a professor at the State University of New York, Buffalo Law School this raises the question as to whether they are forms of value which can be substituted one for the other.

In an essay he wrote, “Value of Valor: Money, Medals and Military Labor,” published earlier this year he explores the divide between money and medals. This raises interesting questions about motivation.

Please read the entire post here

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Defense of Freedom Medal, Injured Contractors, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Uncounted Contractor Casualties

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 9, 2011

Your team here at the blog researches every news report or release both military and civilian, injured or killed, Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Libya, Africa.  The Casualties that you will find listed here, The Civilian Contractors blog or at the ACIIA Memorial Page are the only ones we can find.   MsSparky keeps on filled on on the suspicious deaths. Less than 10% of the Casualties reported as Defense Base Act Claims are acknowledged.

Special Thanks to David Isenberg for putting this one together

Please see his blog The PMSC Observer

Of all the things said and written about private military and security contractors working for the U.S. government in various war zones one of the least discussed is the sacrifices they make. And like regular military forces they also pay the ultimate sacrifice, as in dying. Unlike regular military personnel their deaths rarely get any notice, aside from a company press release and a few paragraphs in the hometown newspaper.

Their sacrifices are so unrecognized that if Washington, D.C. were to build yet another war memorial on the mall The Tomb of the Unknown Contractor would have to be considered a viable candidate for selection. To paraphrase the old saw about regular military forces, one might say in regard to recognition of contractors wounded and killed, “nothing is too good for our contractors so that’s what we’ll give them. Nothing.”

Admittedly there is slightly better recognition of the wounded and dead contractors than when the U.S. invaded Afghanistan and Iraq but that is not saying a whole lot.  There simply has not been much detailed analysis of this subject. That is why a recent paper strongly deserved attention. It is Dead Contractors: The Un-Examined Effect of Surrogates on the Public’s Casualty Sensitivity by Prof. Steven L. Schooner and student Collin D. Swan, both of the George Washington University Law School,  was recently published in the Journal of National Security Law & Policy.

In the paper they examine the “casualty sensitivity” effect. Economists define this as an inverse relationship exists between the number of military deaths and public support. Currently, most studies suggest that “majorities of the public have historically considered the potential and actual casualties in U.S. wars and military operations to be an important factor in their support.”

But Schooner and Swan believe this effect is being undermined by the use of contractors and merits reexamination. Sadly, the unrecognized fact is that

The military is populated by a “blended workforce” that integrates soldiers with private-sector contractor employees—comprised of both U.S. citizens and, to a large extent, foreign nationals—in every conceivable aspect of the mission abroad.” Not surprisingly, one result of this integration is that contractors are dying alongside—or in the place of—soldiers at unprecedented and (arguably) alarming rates. For the most part, this “substitution” has taken place outside of the cognizance of the public and, potentially, Congress.

Just how much risk are contractors exposed to? The authors note that on today’s battlefield, the ratio of U.S. troops to contractors has never been lower.  While the number of contractors employed by the military varied from conflict to conflict, historically, the ratio of contractors to troops averaged around one-to-six. Other than Bosnia, the last decade witnessed the U.S. government’s first sustained operations where contractors consistently outnumbered troops in the battle space. The Congressional Research Service recently reported that private security contractors are four times more likely to be killed in Afghanistan than uniformed personnel.

As a consequence contractors are inevitably bearing a larger portion of the casualty rate.  The paper notes that cumulatively, contractor deaths account for over twenty-five percent of total losses since the U.S. entered Iraq and Afghanistan. But even that dramatic figure understates the extent to which—in the last two-to-three years—contractors have increasingly absorbed the most significant cost of our military actions.

And despite the fact that U.S. troops have been withdrawing from Iraq and will do the same in Afghanistan starting this year contractor casualties are unlikely to decrease. A number of actions work against that. These include:

  • Secretary of Defense Gates plans to reduce the number of Army and Marine ground forces by as many as 27,000 troops within the next three years.
  • On February 1, 2011, Army Secretary John M. McHugh suspended the Army’s current effort to in-source work from contractors and subjected all future insourcing proposals to rigorous review.
  • As the State Department prepares to take over the U.S. reconstruction effort in Iraq, James F. Jeffery, the U.S. ambassador to Iraq, testified in early 2011 that he expects his staff to more than double in size within the coming year, from 8,000 to 17,000 people; most of that personnel growth will be contractors.
  • The outsourcing of military responsibilities is not limited to DOD but extends well into other agencies, such as the Department of State, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), and the Department of Homeland Security.

The paper attempts to total contractor casualties to date. They leave out certain categories such as contractors working for other states or governments or non-military/non-contractor U.S. civilian deaths, such as fatalities amongst non-uniform employees of the U.S. Department of State, the Agency for International Development, or the various Defense Department agencies so the following figures understate the total. Still, the number is more than large enough to merit attention. According to the data, more than 2,300 contractors have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan (in addition to another 58 contractors killed in Kuwait) between 2001 and the first quarter of 2011. Another 51,000 contractors have been injured; more than 19,000 at least somewhat seriously. This reflects the startling fact that contractor deaths now represent over 27 percent of U.S. fatalities since the beginning of these wars.

In Iraq more than 1,537 contractors, about a quarter of the overall U.S. death toll in that country, have died since 2003. In Afghanistan, the 763 dead contractors represent approximately one third of U.S. deaths in that country.

What is even more striking is that—in both Iraq and Afghanistan—contractors are bearing an increasing proportion – annually and cumulatively – of  the death toll.  DBA fatality claims by contractors in 2003 represented only four percent of all fatalities in Iraq and Afghanistan.  From 2004 to 2007, that number rose to twenty-seven percent.  From 2008 to the end of 2010, DBA [Defense Base Act] fatality claims accounted for an eye-popping forty percent of the combined annual death toll.  In 2010, contractor fatality claims represented nearly half (forty-seven percent) of all fatalities.  In the first quarter of 2011, contractors represented forty-five percent of all fatalities.

So contractors get killed you say. Certainly tragic, but one can say the same about regular military casualties Why do contractor casualties matter then? The answer, according to the authors, is:

All of this matters because of the idea, inherent in our democratic notions of governance, that public support (or public consent) is critical to any successful military action abroad…. Unfortunately, the number of military casualties no longer tells the whole story of human sacrifice associated with military actions…  In fact, a massive contractor presence permits the administration to suggest, and the public to believe, that our military presence on the ground is smaller—by as much as half—than what is actually required to accomplish the mission.

Thus high contractor casualties produce a substitution effect that artificially reduces the public’s perceived human cost of our efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan—quantified by some exclusively as soldier casualties.

There is a lot of fascinating detail in the paper which I don’t describe here due to space limitations so let’s go to the author’s conclusion:

An honest, accurate tally of the human toll of military conflicts plays a critical role in a representative democracy.  Yet the public, the media, and American policy-makers currently lack relevant, accurate data.  The pervasive deployment of contractors on the modern battlefield requires the injection of contractor deaths into the casualty sensitivity equation

Perhaps most importantly, we encourage the media to report responsibly on the true human costs of the government’s contemporary military actions. This tally, particularly to the extent that it proves inconsistent with conventional wisdom, is important for the public—and Congress—to grasp and internalize both the level of the military’s reliance on contractors and the extent of contractor sacrifice.  Increasingly, contractors make the ultimate sacrifice, and that sacrifice merits respect and gratitude.  Ultimately, the public weighs the intangible benefits of achieving foreign policy objectives against the most tangible costs imaginable—the lives of those sacrificed to achieve those objectives.

In weighing that balance, all lives must be counted.

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Defense Base Act, Department of Labor, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

A Tale of Two Lobbyists

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on May 10, 2010

The Podesta Group: Playing Both PMC Sides

by David Isenberg at Huffington Post

While private military contractors are not exactly like the larger traditional, military industrial contractors that everyone knows about, i.e., Lockheed Martin. Northrop Grumman, et cetera, that is not to say they don’t have some things in common with their much larger corporate brethren.

Take lobbying, for example. It is well known that for lobbyists there is no such thing as partisanship. It is all about results and getting paid for them. As long as someone can deliver for a lobbyist’s client their ideology and political affiliation don’t matter. And in that regard PMC, like politics, makes for interesting bed fellows.

Consider, for example, the Podesta Group. It is just one of the myriad, albeit better connected than many, of DC-based lobbying firms. Or as its website phrases it, a “bipartisan government relations and public affairs firm with a reputation for employing creative strategies to achieve results.”

The group was founded in 1988 by brothers John and Tony Podesta. It represents U.S. corporations, as well as non-profits, associations and governments. In 2008, the firm reported nearly $16 million in lobbying income. In 2007, Chairman Tony Podesta was ranked by his peers as the third most influential lobbyist in Washington.

John Podesta is President and CEO of the liberal Center for American Progress. Prior to founding the Center in 2003 he served as White House Chief of Staff to President Clinton. He served in the president’s cabinet and as a principal on the National Security Council. Most recently, he served as co-chair of President Obama’s transition team.

The Podesta Group’s client list includes both the Professional Services Council and National Public Radio.

The Professional Services Council is the national trade association of the government professional and technical services industry. It is solely focused on preserving, improving, and expanding the federal government market for its members. PSC’s more than 330 member companies represent small, medium, and large businesses that provide federal agencies with services of all kinds, including information technology, engineering, logistics, facilities management, operations and maintenance, consulting, international development, scientific, social, environmental services, and more. Its member companies include many PMC heavyweights, both logistics and security, such as AECOM, Aegis Defence, CACI, DynCorp, L-3, MVM, PAE, Triple Canopy, and Xe Services (formerly Blackwater).

National Public Radio is, well, I don’t have to introduce NPR. But it is worth noting that NPR is very sympathetic to the Nation magazine’s Jeremy Scahill, perpetual PMC critic and bête noire. Scahill frequently appears on NPR’s Fresh Air. Indeed, search online for Scahill and NPR and you get about 11,000 hits.

So, the Podesta Group has the distinction of lobbying for both one of the largest private contractor associations, and a media network, whose coverage of PMC issues, as reflected by its choice of commentators on the subject, is about as balanced as Fox News. Talk about playing both sides!

I’ve got to say it’s not every lobbying shop that can simultaneously represent two such directly countervailing groups but the Podesta Group seems to do it nicely. Of course, given that Xe Services, a Professional Services Council member company, has been the subject of countless unbalanced articles, as well as one highly acclaimed, albeit deeply flawed, book, by Scahill one might think that the PSC is not getting good value for its money.

Of course, trying to put lipstick on a pig by using lobbyists is hardly new. Back in 2008 this post appeared on the Project on Government Oversight’s blog:

Offensive Defense Contractors
Politico’s story “Defense contractors buy lobbying muscle” highlights how defense contractors are hiring public relations experts and lobbyists to fight off the bad press and legislative oversight efforts that have stemmed from contracting scandals. A day doesn’t go by without an article on KBR, Blackwater, or the Air Force tanker deal. Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) even started the Smart Contracting Caucus, stating that he wanted to “make sure others who care about procurement have a forum to discuss and push for sound procurement policy.”

I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but I’m gonna go out on a limb and state that Rep. Davis’ mark on contracting won’t end when he retires later this year. As Politico pointed out, David Marin, formerly the Republican Staff Director on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee (i.e., Ranking Member Davis), is working at the Podesta Group, an influential lobbying shop serving many large defense contractors and the Professional Services Council (PSC). Can you hear the pro-contractor lobbying train coming?

PSC, known for educating Congress about federal contracts, is offering similar services to the public. Its pro-contractor spin on federal spending can be found at OMG, what a coincidence–that’s the same name as Rep. Davis’ new caucus!

POGO was, of course, right about Davis. On November 17, 2008, Davis joined Deloitte Consulting in their Washington, D.C. office. That was six days before he resigned from Congress on November 24.

Dave Marin is still at the Podesta Group. His bio says that as the Majority Staff Director for the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee from 2005-2007, he oversaw some of the highest profile congressional investigations in recent years, including the performance of the departments of Defense and Homeland Security contractors.

Follow David Isenberg on Twitter:

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Political Watch | Tagged: , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Private Military Contractors and Sex Crimes

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on April 21, 2010

“The crime that dare not speak it’s name”

By David Isenberg at the Huff Post

On April 16 the Department of Defense Inspector General released a report that nobody has been talking about. Allow me to be the first. Perhaps we should subtitle it the crime that dare not speak its name, as it deals with a topic that most private military contractors (PMC) generally don’t talk about publicly.

The title of the report is “Efforts to Prevent Sexual Assault/Harassment Involving DOD Contractors During Contingency Operations.” .

My first thought is how is it that some contractors can’t seem to keep it in their pants?

This is an issue that seems to keep happening over the years; from the days when DynCorp contractors were involved in a sex trafficking scandal in Bosnia when employees and supervisors engaged in sex with 12 to 15 year old children, and sold them to each other as slaves to the gang-rape of Jamie Leigh Jones a former KBR employee who claimed that seven KBR employees drugged and gang-raped her on July 28, 2005 at Camp Hope, Baghdad, Iraq.

For those who like to dismiss such things as isolated occurrences just head on over to the “Rape, Hazing, Discrimination & Harassment” section of Ms, Sparky’s blog and you will be promptly disabused of such a notion.

In fact the situation is serious enough that the sexual assault of employees of U.S. military contractors working in Iraq and Afghanistan will be tracked by the Pentagon under a system it is setting up.

Please read the entire story at David’s blog at the Huffington Post

Posted in Civilian Contractors, Contractor Casualties and Missing, Department of Labor, Exclusive Remedy | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment »

The Unknown Contractor

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on March 29, 2010

By David Isenberg at Huff Post

In my March 25 post I mentioned how difficult it still is, despite years of trying, to collect accurate data on basic private military and security contractor (PMSC) facts, such as how many are there,

And I noted that to help increase oversight of activities supporting the Defense and State departments and USAID’s efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, the three agencies designated the Synchronized Predeployment and Operational Tracker (SPOT) as their system for tracking the required information. That information, required for each contract that involves work performed in Iraq or Afghanistan for more than 14 days, includes:

* a brief description of the contract,* its total value, and

* whether it was awarded competitively; and

* for contractor personnel working under contracts in Iraq or Afghanistan,

* total number employed,

* total number performing security functions, and

* total number killed or wounded.

Now, despite years of effort SPOT still has problems in terms of collecting and saving information. Some reasons are disappointing but understandable, given differing methodologies for collecting and saving information across different departments and agencies.

But one truly disappointing thing it does not do well is to keep track of contractors who are killed or wounded. According to John Hutton, Director, Acquisition and Sourcing Management, U.S. Government Accountability Office, who on March 23 testified before the House Armed Services Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations regarding “Interagency Coordination of Grants and Contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan: Progress, Obstacles, and Plans“:

In addition to agreeing to use SPOT to track contractor personnel numbers, the agencies agreed to use SPOT to track information on contractor personnel killed or wounded. Although SPOT was upgraded in January 2009 to track casualties, officials from the three agencies informed us they are not relying on the database for this information because contractors are generally not updating the status of their personnel to indicate whether any of their employees were killed, wounded, or are missing. In the absence of using SPOT to identify the number of contractor personnel killed or wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, the agencies obtain these data from other sources. Specifically, in response to requests made as part of our ongoing review, State and USAID provided us with manually compiled lists of the number of personnel killed or wounded, whereas DOD provided us with casualty data for U.S citizens, but could not differentiate whether the individuals identified were DOD civilian employees or contractors.

While contractors are not active duty military, although they may very well have been not that long ago, they don’t deserve to be treated like the Unknown Soldier either. Whether or not you like the idea of the government relying on PMSC the reality is that they make a significant contribution, just like regular military personnel. Contractors know going in that if they are killed their family members won’t get the same survivor benefits, except for what they get under the Defense Base Act, as a soldier or marine who is killed. They know no chaplain will arrive at the door of their home to comfort the grieving.

So it is really too much to ask that at the very least the government could at least kept track of those who are wounded and killed? After all, one can find contractor casualty lists on Wikipedia. If websites like could include contractor casualties, as it used to do, the U.S. government with vastly greater informational resources at its disposal should be able to do so as well, albeit in far more comprehensive fashion.

Some contractors are extremely good about letting the world know when their people are killed. DynCorp, for example, has for years, put out a press release every time one of its contractors dies. Why other contractors “are generally not updating the status of their personnel to indicate whether any of their employees were killed, wounded, or are missing” is an interesting question that someone ought to ask. Perhaps the Commission on Wartime Contracting can do so the next time it holds a hearing.

Needless to say, SPOT data, should include contractors of any and all nationalities working for a PMC, not just a citizen of the host country

Posted in Contractor Casualties and Missing | Tagged: , , , , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Supporting the troops: Making them sick

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on February 21, 2010

David Isenberg

The biggest portion of U.S. private military contractors has always been, by far, on the logistics, not the weapons bearing security side.

These contractors deliver fuel and supplies, construct bases, prepare meals at the DFAC (Dining Facility), clean laundry, provide interpreters, and a host of other unglamorous but vital jobs.

Most of the time they do it very well, under very difficult conditions. Many of their supporters herald this as an unprecedented achievement in American military history. Such a view has long been the sound bite for which Doug Brooks, head of the International Peace Operations Association, a leading industry trade group, is best known for, i.e., “We have the best supported, supplied military in any military operation in history.” Indeed, if you search online for Doug Brooks and that phrase you get 1,400,000 hits.

That is why this article in the Los Angeles Times earlier this week grabbed my attention. It described how numerous returning veterans have reported leukemia, lymphoma, congestive heart problems, neurological conditions, bronchitis, skin rashes and sleep disorders — all of which they attribute to burn pits on dozens of U.S. bases in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Items burned in the pits have included medical waste, plastics, computer parts, oil, lubricants, paint, tires and foam cups, according to soldiers and contractors.

The Pentagon operates at least 84 burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Rep.
Timothy H. Bishop (D-N.Y.), who cosponsored legislation last fall that prohibited burning hazardous and medical waste unless the military showed it had no alternative. The law also requires the Defense Department to justify burn pits, develop alternatives and improve medical monitoring.

What does this have to do with private military contractors? Well, simply put, military contractors burned nearly every bit of waste from military bases

Military leaders originally saw the pits as temporary, the simplest way to dispose of trash before troops quickly exited Iraq. But as the war continued, they burned because it saved money, according to subsequent lawsuits, allowing U.S. contractors to avoid having to install costly incinerators.

It is KBR (formerly Kellogg, Brown & Root) which ran the pits. Last October a class action suit combining 22 lawsuits from 43 states was filed in US District Court in Maryland against KBR, Halliburton, and other military contractors for damages to health from open air burn pits in Iraq and Afghanistan. According to plaintiffs’ lawyers KBR had been paid millions of dollars to safely dispose of waste on bases but negligently burned refuse in open pits, spewing toxins, including known carcinogens, into the air.

What was KBR’s defense? Earlier this month it sought to challenge its liability for any ensuing problems. According to KBR’s press fact sheet on the suit, the Army, not KBR, decides if a burn pit or an incinerator will be used, where it will be built in relation to living and working facilities, and what it can burn. KBR insists it was and is still just “performing under the direction and control of military commanders in the field.” In short, they were only following orders. Where have we heard that before?

Now, none of this new. The admirable Ms. Sparky blog has long chronicled KBR’s misdeeds in this and other areas.

Still, it is a blatant blemish on the otherwise often commendable performance of private contractors that it is still going on. I am sure that Doug Brooks and IPOA don’t think that increasing the risk that a returning veteran will contract lung cancer or cardiovascular disease is what they have in mind when they say the American military is the “best supported” in history.

I noted in a January post that an article published last fall in Military Law Review contests legal popular wisdom that the “political question doctrine” means that tort claim cases by military members and U.S. civilians injured in Iraq and Afghanistan must not proceed.

A more recent article “Revisiting and Revising the Political Question Doctrine: Lane v. Halliburton and the Need to Adopt a Case-Specific Political Question Analysis for Private Military Contractor Cases” in the Mississippi College Law Review examines Lane v. Halliburton, a decision handed down in the Fifth Circuit reversing three decisions by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas [KBR’s corporate offices are in Houston] which dismissed as nonjusticiable [meaning not appropriate or proper for judicial consideration or resolution ] political questions three suits, brought by former employees of KBR and their survivors for injuries sustained as a result of the alleged negligence and fraud of KBR.

The article concludes:

The judiciary has returned to an earlier era and begun strongly favoring judicial review once again. After all, a majority of the Supreme Court has only found two cases that constitute a political question since Baker. The Court has not ruled on a PMC case, but the Fifth Circuit’s decision in Lane 2 falls in line with the re-emerging trend of favoring judicial review. The need for predictability in this area is great. In fact, one of the rationales for political question treatment in PMC cases – i.e. that adjudication would require judging the Executive branch’s policy of using military contractors, and thus would lead to the demise of PMCs – is actually undercut by a body of case law that is so unpredictable. It is generally understood that businesses prefer the known to the unknown, whether the known is good or bad, because it allows for proper planning.

KBR performance, or lack thereof, on the burn pits should be considered with respect to the argument that private military contractors make, namely that they are more efficient than the public sector counterparts. Efficiency in the free enterprise marketplace is, at least in part, based on competition. KBR has been and still is part of the Army’s Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). But as Martha Minow wrote in the edited work Government by Contract: Outsourcing and American Democracy, published last year, there is no real competition for the initial award, and there is also a serious constraint on the effectiveness of subsequent monitoring because the government cannot afford to terminate the contract. Second, the private contractor’s employees cannot be fully monitored or controlled because they lie outside the hierarchical structure that is so central to military discipline, and are thus exempt from many of the rules that constrain military personnel. Third, legal and moral norms can never be fully imposed on private contractors because private firms lack the democratic accountability of public agencies.

Original at Huff Post

Posted in Exclusive Remedy, KBR, Toxic Exposures | Tagged: , , , | 1 Comment »

KBR is asking for it

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on February 9, 2010

By David Isenberg at Huff Post

To paraphrase comedian Henny Youngman’s famous one-liner, take my KBR, please.

After all the bad press U.S. engineering and construction company KBR has received over the years for its operations in Iraq , both during its time as a Halliburton subsidiary and since, one might think it had learned a thing or two about how to avoid sticking its foot in its mouth.

But you would be wrong, As case in point consider the following legal brief KBR filed, which was posted online by the estimable Ms. Sparky — who is to chronicling KBR misdeeds, including those against it own employees, as white is to rice — in regard to the case of Jamie Leigh Jones,

For those who missed this news Ms. Jones is the then 20-year old former KBR/Halliburton worker, who says she was gang-raped by Halliburton/KBR coworkers in Baghdad in late July 2005.

The main points are by now well known. She says that just four days after arriving in Iraq she was raped by multiple men at a KBR camp in the Green Zone, the company put her under guard in a shipping container with a bed and warned her that if she left Iraq for medical treatment, she’d be out of a job.

In a lawsuit filed in federal court against Halliburton and its then-subsidiary KBR, Jones says she was held in the shipping container for at least 24 hours without food or water by KBR, which posted armed security guards outside her door, who would not let her leave.

According to her lawsuit, Jones was raped by “several attackers who first drugged her, then repeatedly raped and injured her, both physically and emotionally.” Jones said that an examination by Army doctors showed she had been raped “both vaginally and anally,” but that the rape kit disappeared after it was handed over to KBR security officers.  See KBR’s AWOL Medical Records here and here

Ms. Jones had to be rescued from her American employer by U.S. State Department agents from the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, after she was able to contact her father by cell phone, who then contacted his congressman, Rep. Ted Poe (R-TX), who contacted the State Department.

In late 2007, over two years after the reported rape occurred, the Justice Department had brought no criminal charges in the matter. In fact, an investigation by ABC News could not confirm any federal agency was investigating the case.

Early on, in a statement, KBR said it was “instructed to cease” its own investigation by U.S. government authorities “because they were assuming sole responsibility for the criminal investigations.”

Read the full story here

Posted in KBR | Tagged: , , , , , , | 2 Comments »

Screwing over Civilian Contractors

Posted by defensebaseactcomp on January 13, 2010

By David Isenberg at the Huffington Post

Thank you David for putting this so well.

We often hear about how private military contractors are supposedly screwing the American government and taxpayers through fraud, waste or abuse. But almost nothing ever gets said or written about how those contractors are themselves often screwed by incompetent or unscrupulous employers.

Contrary to popular culture most private contractors are not armed and the vast majority of them are just ordinary people trying to do the best job they can in exceptionally difficult circumstances. But you would never know that if all you read is Daily Kos or The Nation

A rare exception is T. Christian Miller, a former reporter for the Los Angels Times and author of the 2006 book called Blood Money: Wasted Billions, Lost Lives and Corporate Greed in Iraq,” who who now works with ProPublica. There, Miller has published has investigative series, “Disposable Army: Civilian Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan” which is a must-read for anyone interested on the subject, on how contractors are often not given the medical care or insurance benefits which are required under U.S. law, notably the Defense Base Act.

Yesterday, Miller was on the NPR Fresh Air Program speaking with host Terry Gross. The title of the program “Wounded in Wars, Civilians Face Battle Care at Home,” is clear on what to expect. Here is some of what was said:

Read this at Huff Post

Posted in AIG and CNA | Tagged: , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments »

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