Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman, Betraying Our Troops: The Destructive Results of Privatizing War (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007)(foreword by Jonathan Alter) $24.95.
Dina Rasor and Robert Bauman have a long record of effective exposé work dealing with military contracting. Rasor is an investigative journalist who used to run the Project on Government Oversight (POGO), and Bauman was a career criminal investigator at the Department of Defense and a Certified Fraud Examiner. They have collaborated in a new book, Betraying Our Troops, that takes a hard-nosed look at the unprecedented outlays to private contractors in connection with the war on terror. They focus on what this contracting regime has meant for the health and safety of the men and women in uniform deployed into the conflict zones in Afghanistan and Iraq. What they uncover is a horrifying tale of corruption and abuse with G.I.s as the victims: forced to subsist on little food and often contaminated water, left in the lurch in a dangerous and hostile environment as contractors fail to perform vital support functions. The authors juxtapose contractors living in luxury in four-star hotels, not performing their jobs due to a deteriorating security situation, while soldiers face life-threatening conditions. Even more alarming is the Defense Department’s indifference to abuse. Indeed, the most striking episodes they recount involve vicious retaliation against whistleblowers. While the authors give good marks to the Pentagon’s inspector general (while saying the office is understaffed and underfunded), attitudes elsewhere in the Defense Department are hostile. Many feel that the message to those who expose fraud is “shut up, if you know what’s good for you.” And the case of Major Rick Lamberth, set out in this book, is a good example. Rasor and Bauman’s work can be tracked on their website, followthemoneyproject.org.
1. Can you describe why the force deployed in Iraq after the invasion was so heavy with contractors, and to what extent the contractors are performing functions that are essentially the same as those performed by the military?
Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, ignoring the recommendations of his senior military officers to send more than 300,000 soldiers, insisted on an invasion force of about 180,000 soldiers instead. In order to carry out his wishes, the military needed to utilize most of those soldiers as combat units, not support or logistics units. That meant having to augment military support with a heavy dose of contractors in order to keep up with the invasion force. The primary function of contractors, the military supply line, was previously performed by the military. In performing that function, the contractor has had to operate on the battlefield, driving trucks of supplies in convoys even though they were not allowed to carry weapons.
2. In Iraq, contractors have often been required to provide their own security rather than rely on the uniformed military. What issues does this raise in your mind?
Contractors using private security contractors for security raise several issues. First, security operators have been performing their duties with little or no supervision or management control, sometimes leading to uncontrolled actions against Iraqi citizens that breed contempt for Americans (especially the troops) in those citizens. Secondly, the Army and Iraqi civilian authorities have no control or authority over security contractors. That can lead to conflicts with military operations and allows those contractors to escape prosecution if crimes are committed.
3. The book is closely related to your Follow the Money project, which investigates inconsistencies between what the Pentagon spends, and what military forces in Iraq actually receive. In Iraq, were the DOD’s usual accountability rules for cash followed? What in your mind accounts for so much money going missing?
Accountability of contractors in Iraq has been a major problem leading to huge cost overruns. The Army has not had proper levels of acquisition personnel to ensure accountability and has pretty much relied on contractors to do the right thing. Information we have obtained over the last several years and the results of many governmental investigations such as those carried out by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR) have exposed an almost complete lack of oversight and accountability, putting the DOD at extreme risk. Poor oversight and internal controls have also led to a lack of accountability with regards to considerable amounts of money.
4. You have been working closely with a number of whistleblowers in producing your book. How has the Pentagon dealt with these whistleblowers?
The primary whistleblower featured in our book, Major Rick Lamberth, has suffered retaliation and threats of his career being ruined by the Army if he continued to talk publicly about the problems. Harsh treatment and retribution has been a pattern against those who dare to blow the whistle about contracting problems for Iraq. There have been very few, if any, success stories for whistleblowers trying to expose fraud during this war.
5. In your experience, how has the Department of Defense Inspector General dealt with contractor abuse allegations?
The DOD Inspector General (IG), including the Defense Criminal Investigation Service (DCIS), has been the most competent agency within DOD in investigating contract fraud, waste, and abuse. During the 1980s, DCIS was the lead agency on almost all contract fraud cases, and was very successful. Starting in the 1990s, the IG’s effectiveness was hampered by staffing reductions and jurisdictional squabbles. This has led to the military investigative agencies taking over the lead in contract fraud investigations with DCIS support only if requested. The Army’s investigative agencies are not nearly as competent nor as independent as DCIS, or the IG in general, including in the investigation of contract fraud, waste and abuse, mainly due to the control the Army chain of command has over investigations.
6. Have the contractors gained influence over the contracting process through politics, a revolving door policy, or other factors? How do you think it will be possible to create a more arm’s length relationship in the future?
There is no question that DOD contractors control the acquisition process. This has been true for decades. DOD’s acquisition personnel do not have the numbers or the same level of expertise that contractor acquisition personnel have. Also, the DOD’s stifling bureaucracy, the desire not to upset the contractor, and poor morale due to low staffing levels created in the 1990s have all allowed contractors to take more control. When a DOD contract specialist or auditor upsets the contractor, that specialist or auditor is usually transferred and/or disciplined. And many DOD acquisition officials end up going to work for contractors. It is possible to restore control by the DOD, but it would take many changes, starting with a significant increase in acquisition personnel. As compromised as the acquisition process has been in the past decades, the rush to war and the fact that we are on a wartime footing make questioning the acquisition process more risky for investigators, whistleblowers, and Congress. There has been an effort to question the patriotism of anyone who questions where the money is going and whether it is really helping the troops.