By Walter Pincus
Monday, August 20, 2007
When years from now historians and government officials reexamine precedents set by the U.S. experience in Iraq, many "firsts" are likely to pop up.
One still playing out is the extraordinarily wide use of private contractors. A Congressional Research Service report published last month titled "Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues," puts it this way: "Iraq appears to be the first case where the U.S. government has used private contractors extensively for protecting persons and property in potentially hostile or hostile situations where host country security forces are absent or deficient."
Only estimates are available for the total employment by contractors in Iraq that perform "functions once carried by the U.S. military," according to the study. Testimony at an April 2007 congressional hearing gave the impressive figure of 127,000 as the number working in Iraq under Defense Department contracts. Breakdowns don't exist, but one Pentagon official said less than 20 percent were American.
CIA and the Pentagon intelligence agencies have hired contractors in Iraq, but the tasks and the funds involved are secret.
Surge or no surge, the work that contractors do there remains highly dangerous. The study reports that private contractors risk death and injury handling security for convoys that carry gasoline, oil and all sorts of supplies and equipment into and around Iraq.
It quotes U.S. Army Corps of Engineers data that show "an increasing proportion of registered supply convoys has been attacked." In the first 18 weeks of 2007, 14.7 percent of the convoys were struck, according to the data, while only 5.5 percent were hit in 2005. Earlier this month, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) reported that Labor Department figures show 1,001 civilian contractors had died in Iraq as of June 30, 2007.
While U.S. contractors have provided personal security to officials in other conflict zones, those in Iraq are now being used in all aspects of the struggle because, as the CRS report says, doing otherwise would require policymakers "to contemplate an increase in the number of U.S. troops, perhaps increasing incentives to attract volunteers or re-instituting the draft."
But the expanded contractor use has evoked new attention to a 1995 criticism of the practice. According to the study, a Defense Department Commission on Roles and Missions found then that depending on contractors was detrimental and that it kept the Pentagon "from building and maintaining capacity needed for strategic or other important missions."
An advertisement last week on IntelligenceCareers.com illustrates part of the problem. It seeks an "Intelligence Analyst" to work in Iraq for a Dayton, Ohio-based outfit called MacAulay-Brown, or MacB, which in turn is a subcontractor to the giant Lockheed Martin information technology group. The client is Counterintelligence Field Activity, the Defense Department's newest intelligence arm, which is responsible for coordinating force protection for the military services inside the United States and abroad.
The capabilities required for the job include "CI Analysis, related Intelligence Analysis experience, or similar CI/Intelligence community experience." The employee, the ad says, would work in Baghdad supporting CIFA's participation in the Strategic Intelligence Directorate to counter foreign intelligence and terrorist activities. That directorate, which includes members of Navy, Air Force and Army security units, will "recruit informants, investigate terrorist attacks, process evidence from raids, and interrogate detainees," according to the ad.
MacB analysts also support other major U.S. military outfits in Iraq, the ad says, analyzing captured documents and supporting counterinsurgency and counterterrorism operations while using "our extensive understanding of Iraqi former regime forces, current government elements, and insurgent and terrorist factions affecting the present security situation into intelligence products for national-level special projects."
MacB is needed now because the military did not foresee the need to do this work itself 12 years ago.
National security and intelligence reporter Walter Pincus pores over the speeches, reports, transcripts and other documents that flood Washington and every week uncovers the fine print that rarely makes headlines -- but should. If you have any items that fit the bill, please send them firstname.lastname@example.org.