A military contractor returning from Iraq was charged yesterday with distributing identity badges that control access to Baghdad's heavily fortified Green Zone to people not allowed to receive them, including an Iraqi woman he was dating.
Thomas Nelson Barnes III, who worked for DynCorp International, was arrested by federal agents as he arrived at Dulles International Airport. He is accused of defrauding the U.S. government by issuing the high-security badges to other Iraqi civilians and a DynCorp executive.
Security in Baghdad's International Zone -- commonly referred to as the Green Zone -- has been extremely tight since U.S. forces took control of Baghdad during the invasion of Iraq in 2003. The zone, surrounded by blast walls and heavily guarded entry checkpoints, encompasses much of central Baghdad and houses the U.S. Embassy, Iraq's interim government and many coalition and civilian military personnel.
Although law enforcement sources said they knew of no specific security problem resulting from Barnes's alleged actions, federal and military officials warned that any breach could have dire consequences. The Green Zone's entry checkpoints have been the scene of numerous car bombings and are guarded by heavily armed coalition soldiers.
"A free pass to the International Zone is something that an insurgent would love to get his hands on," said Lt. Col. Barry Venable, a Pentagon spokesman. "A compromised badge represents a potential avenue of approach into the zone for folks who would want to commit violence."
The badges allegedly passed out by Barnes have different colors indicating level of access to the Green Zone. The highest access is blue. An FBI affidavit, filed in federal court in Alexandria, said Barnes gave a blue badge to an Iraqi woman he was dating, when she was allowed only a purple badge -- a lower clearance.
He allegedly gave various badges to other Iraqi friends, along with a blue badge to a DynCorp vice president who was not entitled to receive it. Barnes, 48, of Fort Worth appeared in U.S. District Court in Alexandria yesterday and was released on a personal recognizance bond pending another hearing Thursday. He could not be found later for comment, and a defense attorney had not been appointed for him.
Barnes is charged with conspiracy to defraud the United States and use and possession of military passes with the intent to defraud. If convicted, he faces up to five years in prison.
Gregory Lagana, a spokesman for Irving, Tex.-based DynCorp, said Barnes had worked for the company for just over a year and was fired recently because of the investigation. The company was awarded a $7.7 million Pentagon contract in March 2004 to establish a program to centralize ID badges being given out for the Green Zone by a variety of government agencies.
Barnes, a supervisor, was one of fewer than 50 DynCorp employees on the project. "We are disturbed by this," Lagana said. "We do a lot of work for the U.S. government, and we have a very good record. We are cooperating fully and absolutely."
Stan Soloway, president of the Professional Services Council, a trade association for government contractors, said the case should not be viewed as an indictment of the tens of thousands of military contractors in Iraq. "There is absolutely no evidence that there have been any more security problems with contractors than with federal government employees or anyone else."
The case is among the first brought by federal prosecutors in Alexandria since February, when U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty announced a crackdown on fraud in government programs. Law enforcement sources familiar with the case said the allegations against Barnes arose from that initiative.
Staff writer Renae Merle contributed to this report.