Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Blackwater, Dark Skies

Bush's Shadow Army

Jeremy Scahill

On September 10, 2001, before most Americans had heard of Al Qaeda or imagined the possibility of a "war on terror," Donald Rumsfeld stepped to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver one of his first major addresses as Defense Secretary under President George W. Bush. Standing before the former corporate executives he had tapped as his top deputies overseeing the high-stakes business of military contracting--many of them from firms like Enron, General Dynamics and Aerospace Corporation--Rumsfeld issued a declaration of war.

"The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America," Rumsfeld thundered. "It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk." He told his new staff, "You may think I'm describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world.... [But] the adversary's closer to home," he said. "It's the Pentagon bureaucracy." Rumsfeld called for a wholesale shift in the running of the Pentagon, supplanting the old DoD bureaucracy with a new model, one based on the private sector. Announcing this major overhaul, Rumsfeld told his audience, "I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself."

The next morning, the Pentagon would be attacked, literally, as a Boeing 757--American Airlines Flight 77--smashed into its western wall. Rumsfeld would famously assist rescue workers in pulling bodies from the rubble. But it didn't take long for Rumsfeld to seize the almost unthinkable opportunity presented by 9/11 to put his personal war--laid out just a day before--on the fast track. The new Pentagon policy would emphasize covert actions, sophisticated weapons systems and greater reliance on private contractors. It became known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine. "We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists," Rumsfeld wrote in the summer of 2002 in an article for Foreign Affairs titled "Transforming the Military."

Although Rumsfeld was later thrown overboard by the Administration in an attempt to placate critics of the Iraq War, his military revolution was here to stay. Bidding farewell to Rumsfeld in November 2006, Bush credited him with overseeing the "most sweeping transformation of America's global force posture since the end of World War II." Indeed, Rumsfeld's trademark "small footprint" approach ushered in one of the most significant developments in modern warfare--the widespread use of private contractors in every aspect of war, including in combat.

The often overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is their unprecedented scale of outsourcing and privatization. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion of Iraq, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the government gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, Halliburton was prepping for a massive operation. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in modern war. By the end of Rumsfeld's tenure in late 2006, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq--an almost one-to-one ratio with active-duty American soldiers.

To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld resigned he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon's 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a "road map for change" at the DoD, which he said had begun to be implemented in 2001. It defined the "Department's Total Force" as "its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors--constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions." This formal designation represented a major triumph for war contractors--conferring on them a legitimacy they had never before enjoyed.

Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints. Despite the presence of more than 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq, only one has been indicted for crimes or violations. "We have over 200,000 troops in Iraq and half of them aren't being counted, and the danger is that there's zero accountability," says Democrat Dennis Kucinich, one of the leading Congressional critics of war contracting.

While the past years of Republican monopoly on government have marked a golden era for the industry, those days appear to be ending. Just a month into the new Congressional term, leading Democrats were announcing investigations of runaway war contractors. Representative John Murtha, chair of the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Defense, after returning from a trip to Iraq in late January, said, "We're going to have extensive hearings to find out exactly what's going on with contractors. They don't have a clear mission and they're falling all over each other." Two days later, during confirmation hearings for Gen. George Casey as Army chief of staff, Senator Jim Webb declared, "This is a rent-an-army out there." Webb asked Casey, "Wouldn't it be better for this country if those tasks, particularly the quasi-military gunfighting tasks, were being performed by active-duty military soldiers in terms of cost and accountability?" Casey defended the contracting system but said armed contractors "are the ones that we have to watch very carefully." Senator Joe Biden, chair of the Foreign Relations Committee, has also indicated he will hold hearings on contractors. Parallel to the ongoing investigations, there are several bills gaining steam in Congress aimed at contractor oversight.

Occupying the hot seat through these deliberations is the shadowy mercenary company Blackwater USA. Unbeknownst to many Americans and largely off the Congressional radar, Blackwater has secured a position of remarkable power and protection within the US war apparatus. This company's success represents the realization of the life's work of the conservative officials who formed the core of the Bush Administration's war team, for whom radical privatization has long been a cherished ideological mission. Blackwater has repeatedly cited Rumsfeld's statement that contractors are part of the "Total Force" as evidence that it is a legitimate part of the nation's "warfighting capability and capacity." Invoking Rumsfeld's designation, the company has in effect declared its forces above the law--entitled to the immunity from civilian lawsuits enjoyed by the military, but also not bound by the military's court martial system. While the initial inquiries into Blackwater have focused on the complex labyrinth of secretive subcontracts under which it operates in Iraq, a thorough investigation into the company reveals a frightening picture of a politically connected private army that has become the Bush Administration's Praetorian Guard.

Read the rest here.

Jeremy Scahills' book site here.

Picture: Blackwater USA President Gary Jackson, a former SEAL


micki said...

Den, we are currently living under the most corrupt regime in American history. But, you know that...

micki said...

Catch the final paragraph --

March 21, 2007

Editorial, The New York Times
Tom DeLay Looks Back

Since his forced retreat from power in a corruption scandal, Tom DeLay, the former House Republican majority leader, must have been watching re-runs of “Cool Hand Luke.” That film’s cynical rationalization of life’s conflicts as merely a “failure to communicate” is Mr. DeLay’s approach to explaining the Republicans’ loss of Congress last year.

No, no, he insists in a new memoir, it wasn’t voters revolting against the quid pro quo corruption that Mr. DeLay turned into a dark art. Rather, Republicans “did not communicate their message” and overcome “short-term, media-fed issues.”

Despite Mr. DeLay’s retreat from public office after his indictment for political money laundering, the memoir is, of course, entitled “No Retreat, No Surrender.” Mr. DeLay excoriates former colleagues from Newt Gingrich to the leader of the moribund House ethics committee that finally found the temerity to admonish him. He is furious that Republicans didn’t back his attempt to stay in power after his indictment.

The private sector that the DeLay Inc. machine milked like a political cash cow is defended as if it were an underdog. “We should start recognizing that those who work in that sector have a right to political representation also,” says the former lawmaker as he defends his golf junket to Scotland — arranged by Jack Abramoff, the now-imprisoned lobbyist — as a genuine savings for the taxpayer.

Occasionally, truth peeks through. At one point, Mr. DeLay does allow that voters faced “a general perception of Republican incompetence and lack of principles.”Well, at least that got communicated, Mr. Former Leader.

micki said...

Praetorian Guard

The Praetorian Guard has become a byword for any military force which is used to prop up a ruthless regime.

micki said...

When bush mentioned his regime's plan to supplement the military with a Civilian Reserve Corps in his SOTU address in January, we should have all come to attention!

"Such a corps would function much like our military Reserve. It would ease the burden on the armed forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them," bush claimed. bush was just giving a new name to something it was already practicing -- PRIVATE MILITARY CONTRACTORS TO FIGHT AND RUN A WAR.

It's high time more attention is focused on the bush regime's increasing reliance on private military contractors!

Thanks, Den.

DEN said...

Micki, everything about the fellow pictured on the post reeks of Nazi.

Pure evil in his eyes.

Fits with the rest of the evil in the WH.

micki said...

Go to Buzzflash and read the interview with Jerry Scahill.

DEN said...

Watched him on Democracy Now yesterday and today, the evil empire continues to build it's power.

Still read the article anyway tho.

Alan said...

Den, one of the guys who helped at TPM with reading the documents found something potentially big.
I think a commenter in our document dump research thread may have been the first to notice that the emails released by the Justice Department seem to have a gap between November 15th and December 4th of last year….

The firing calls went out on December 7th. But the original plan was to start placing the calls on November 15th. So those eighteen days are pretty key ones.

Alan said...

ehhh, forgot to say... that's part of a thread at FireDogLake.

18 days beats the hell outta Nixon's 18 minutes.

DEN said...

Alan, so it was not was IN the papers it was what was NOT in the papers.

I thought the papers looked pretty benign with a few exceptions.

323 coming Friday

Alan said...

" was what was NOT in the papers."

Looks like it. All the more reason to point out why we need public testimony, under oath. They've misrepresented the facts several times (on this issue alone), so the obvious logic is to make them swear to it from now on... and produce the rest of the docs.

DEN said...

It is my opinion that Bush with his phony 'coffee clatch' offer was intentionally attempting to deceive Congress and is prima-facie evidence that a CRIME has been committed against the people of the United States by WILLFULL withholding of evidence and INTENT to decieve the peoples representatives, Congress.

As such, Articles of Impeachment should be drawn up against Bush IMMEDIATELY.

Micki said...

For what it's worth, 'insiders' are saying that Gonzales is definitely a goner -- but the WH is having trouble getting a replacement AG to commit to the job.

The WH wants to have someone all lined up (someone who has already been confirmed by the Senate for a previous job), before Alberto tenders his resignation.

micki said...

Making a list of reasons for firing U.S. attorneys

Justice Department memos show performance issues were being detailed after the fact in order to justify the terminations.

By Richard A. Serrano, LA Times Staff Writer
March 21, 2007

micki said...

Oh, boy! I bet the denialists were HOT under their dog collars on this!!! Gore said to Joe Barton (R-TX) today:

"The planet has a fever," Gore said. "If your baby has a fever, you go to the doctor. If the doctor says you need to intervene here, you don't say, 'Well, I read a science fiction novel that told me it's not a problem.' If the crib's on fire, you don't speculate that the baby is flame retardant. You take action."

Go, Big Al!

•¿•arol said...

Take the Independence Day Quiz

I got 25 out of 30.

David B. Benson said...

Well, I never, ever want to meet the Blackwater president, even in the middle of a sunny day!

I have never seen such a frightening photograph. Horrors, I'm shivering...

micki said...

Creator of 'Hillary 1984' Video Unmasked -- Has Obama Link

By E&P Staff and The Associated Press

Published: March 21, 2007 10:25 PM ET

WASHINGTON The mystery creator of the Orwellian YouTube ad against Hillary Rodham Clinton is a Democratic operative who worked for a digital consulting firm with ties to rival Sen. Barack Obama. Philip de Vellis, a strategist with Blue State Digital, acknowledged in an interview with The Associated Press that he was the creator of the video, which portrayed Clinton as a Big Brother figure and urged support for Obama's presidential campaign.

De Vellis said he resigned from the firm on Wednesday after he learned that he was about to be unmasked by the, a liberal news and opinion Internet site.

"Hi. I'm Phil. I did it. And I'm proud of it," he quickly wrote on his own (new) blog at Huffington Post.

"I made the 'Vote Different' ad because I wanted to express my feelings about the Democratic primary, and because I wanted to show that an individual citizen can affect the process. There are thousands of other people who could have made this ad, and I guarantee that more ads like it--by people of all political persuasions--will follow."

Blue State designed Obama's Web site and one of the firm's founding members, Joe Rospars, took a leave from the company to work as Obama's director of new media.

"It's true ... yeah, it's me," de Vellis said Wednesday evening.

He said he produced the ad outside of work and that neither Blue State nor the Obama campaign was aware of his role in the ad.

"But it raises some eyebrows, so I thought it best that I resign and not put them in that position."

In a statement released Wednesday evening, the Obama campaign said:

"The Obama campaign and its employees had no knowledge and had nothing to do with the creation of the ad. We were notified this evening by a vendor of ours, Blue State Digital, that an employee of the company had been involved in the making of this ad. Blue State Digital has separated ties with this individual and we have been assured he did no work on our campaign's account."

The Clinton campaign had no immediate comment.

The connection to the Obama camp, however, poses a public relations problem for the campaign. Obama has argued that he is a different type of presidential candidate who rejects negative politics.

The ad was guerrilla politics at its cleverest and had become the boffo hit of the YouTube Web site.

The 74-second clip, a copy of a 1984 Apple ad for its Macintosh computer, has recorded nearly 1.5 million views, with an enormous surge in the past two days. The video's final image reads ""

De Vellis remained hidden for weeks, protected by the anonymity afforded by YouTube and the absence of federal regulations governing most Internet political speech.

The ad portrayed Clinton on a huge television screen addressing robotic humans in a stark, futuristic hall. A female athlete tosses a hammer at the screen, destroying Clinton's image with an explosive flash. Then this text: "On January 14th the Democratic primary will begin. And you will see why 2008 isn't going to be like '1984.'"

De Vellis said he used footage of an updated Apple ad that portrayed the female athlete wearing an iPod. He said he used standard Apple equipment to modify the video and edit Clinton's image into the clip.

Obama, appearing on CNN's "Larry King Live" Monday night, said his campaign knew nothing about the origins of the anti-Clinton ad.

"Frankly, given what it looks like, we don't have the technical capacity to create something like this," he said. "It's pretty extraordinary."

DeVellis concludes his Huffington Post posting, "Let me be clear: I am a proud Democrat, and I always have been. I support Senator Obama. I hope he wins the primary. (I recognize that this ad is not his style of politics.) I also believe that Senator Clinton is a great public servant, and if she should win the nomination, I would support her and wish her all the best.

"I've resigned from my employer, Blue State Digital, an internet company that provides technology to several presidential campaigns, including Richardson's, Vilsack's, and -- full disclosure -- Obama's. The company had no idea that I'd created the ad, and neither did any of our clients. But I've decided to resign anyway so as not to harm them, even by implication.

"This ad was not the first citizen ad, and it will not be the last. The game has changed."