To protect the Iraqis I worked with during my internship, I have changed their names for this article.
This contract was first delayed and then finally canceled, and by mid-August many of these Lincoln Group employees had returned home. Most were outraged by the vast disparity between the vital work that had been promised them by the company back in Washington and the pointlessness of their actual time in Iraq.
Because I knew so little about Iraq at this point in my internship, I had to spend a good part of that first day looking up acronyms on Google—somewhat more obscure ones such as ISF (Iraqi Security Forces), MNCI (Multi-National Corps Iraq), and PAO (Public Affairs Office) but even, embarrassingly, such things as Centcom and PSYOP. I also realized very quickly that I needed to learn much more about this country, so I ordered a small library of books on Iraqi history and politics from Amazon.
Although Lincoln Group claims that aspects of this article are inaccurate or exaggerated, it declined to offer specific corrections. “Because the policies of some clients are regarded as controversial and newsworthy by a few members of the media,” Suzanne McKoy, the company’s director of human resources, wrote, “there has been interest in covering some of our activities. Lincoln Group’s commitment to client confidentiality has constrained its ability to correct errors in coverage of the firm.”
Jon, who was known to spend hours in the villa’s courtyard drinking beer and attempting to land bullets ejected from a pistol into a paper cup, taught me how to handle the company’s various firearms before he left for Chicago. With practice, I was able to put together and load the Glock but had much more trouble with the larger MP5 submachine gun. Its dirty-bronze-colored bullets would lodge in the chamber whenever I tried cocking the gun, and it repeatedly jammed as I tried to fire rounds into the ground. Jon told me not to take it personally, as this MP5 was a cheap Iranian knockoff.
Jim, Gina, and other senior Lincoln Group employees who worked on Western Mission all eventually left the company, after large bonuses they were promised failed to materialize, Although Bailey and Craig had initially offered them 10 percent of the profit on the entire Western Mission contract, after arbitration this summer the employees were able to recoup only a fraction of this amount.
Less than two months later, gunmen entered this Sunni’s house and shot and killed him and a number of his male relatives. The killings could have been retribution for his activities under the former regime. They also could have been reprisals for his involvement with our American company.
When U.S. newspapers broke the story late last year of Lincoln Group’s secret propaganda work, it seemed a small victory had been won for journalistic ethics. Editorial writers condemned the business of paying Iraqi editors to run U.S.-military stories, and even the White House and the Joint Chiefs of Staff declared the practice a matter of serious concern. But such clarity was quickly obscured. A Pentagon investigation in March actually cleared Lincoln Group of any wrongdoing, with Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld extolling such “nontraditional” means of fighting terror in Iraq. In a companywide email sent around that time, Paige Craig assured his employees that their work had been honorable. “We’ve taken the fight to the enemy,” he wrote, “and every member of the Lincoln team can be proud that their sacrifice and hard work has advanced the cause of the free world.”