Would Blackwater Be Beta Dog Now?

Iraq to Deny New License To Blackwater Security Firm, WaPo reports (January 29, 2009; A12). The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

I don’t think this is a totally unexpected development. I think folks have been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while now.

Quick review of the protective services contracts:

March 2000
– Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS-I) Contract
(former Yugoslavia)
DynCorp International

July 2002
– WPPS-I (expanded) Palestinian Territories
DynCorp International

November 2002
– WPPS-I (expanded) Afghanistan
DynCorp International

– WPPS-II Contract Iraq
Blackwater USA (Baghdad and Hillah)
DynCorp (Erbil and Kirkuk)
Triple Canopy (Tallil and Basra)

– WPPS-III (contract to be awarded early 2009?)

The OIG reports that “there have been no assessments or analysis to determine the personal protective service requirements in Iraq, including how many security personnel to employ, where they should be deployed, or the level and manner of protection given the threat in particular locations. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) noted several instances that raised concerns over the efficient deployment of contractor security assets.”

The concerns it cited over efficient deployment are as follows:

  • In Tallil in 2007, there were no security protection movements for more than six consecutive months despite having between 30 to 53 security specialists stationed there.
  • At the Basra Regional Embassy Office, chief of mission personnel had engaged in five security movements since January 2008 off the Air Base, and as of late-September 2008, approximately 113 security specialists, support staff, and guard force personnel were assigned there.
  • In August 2008, at the mostly vacated Kirkuk Regional Embassy Office, the OIG team observed that 14 private security specialists and guard force personnel were assigned to protect one Foreign Service administrative officer.

That infamous shooting at Nisur Square involved 19 private security specialists, in four heavily armed trucks transporting a USAID protectee. I’m not begrudging the protection afforded COM personnel in Iraq but how effectively can they really do their jobs if they are delivered and extracted by troops of armed guards to/from their every meeting point? And considering that we have people who want us dead there, aren’t the other parties in these meetings put at risk simply by meeting US officials? No answers, just questions …

According to the OIG, Department security officials have also stated there were no plans to conduct an overall assessment of the security requirements in Iraq before the solicitation and awarding of WPPS III contract. Why not? I’m scratching my head here, why not?

Wouldn’t it make sense to find out how many you need before you contract out those services? While at it, perhaps the new administration can put rightsizing the embassy in Baghdad in somebody’s top must-do list, too (please not HR)? With transparency in the air, it’s about time we see some sunlight on the logic of the staffing pattern there.

In any case, Blackwater is the largest provider of private security specialists, administrative and support staff, and guard force for the State Department, so this development has the potential to significantly impact what State can do in Iraq. Unless, Blackwater buys a stake either/both in DynCorp or Triple Canopy, and be the beta dog or the two other companies hire the former BW guards.

Or there is this …

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said during the indictment of the Blackwater guards on December 8:

As set forth in the indictment, the five defendants were all employed by the Armed Forces outside the United States. Specifically, the defendants worked as independent contractors and employees of Blackwater Worldwide, a company contracted by the Department of State to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq, within the meaning of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, or MEJA.

This indictment represents the first prosecution under MEJA to be filed against non-Defense Department private contractors, which was not possible prior to 2004 amendments that specifically expanded the reach of MEJA to non-Defense Department contractors who provide services, quote, “in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas” end quote.

So apparently — these guards were contracted by the State Department “to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq.” If that is the case, if State is supporting DOD in Iraq, then perhaps the time has come for Hill and Bob to have that MOU for DOD to provide security protection for our embassy personnel?

BTW, am I the only one confused by that attorney’s convoluted reasoning about why these guys are covered by the MEJA? On December 12, the Congressional Research Service writes that “As the term is defined in the agreement, “U.S. contractors and their employees” only applies to contractors that are operating under a contract/subcontract with or for the United States Forces. Therefore, U.S. contractors operating in Iraq under contract to other U.S. departments/agencies are not subject to the terms of the SOFA and are, arguably, immune from Iraqi civil and criminal jurisdiction as long as CPA Order 17 remains in effect.”

Since CPA Order 17 have not been rescinded when the SOFA was signed, doesn’t it stand within reason that it was in effect prior to the signing of the SOFA, and thus still covered the now indicted guards? I don’t know if these guards are guilty or not, I don’t know them from Adam, never met any of them — but I have some Vulcan blood; I like logic served cold.

Related Items:

OIG: Review of Diplomatic Security’s Management of Personal Protective Services in Iraq
(January 2009)

CRS: U.S. – Iraq Withdrawal: Status of Forces Agreement: Issues for Congressional Oversight
December 12, 2008

OIG: Status of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq Report Recommendations
(December 2008)

Ambassador McGee Slogs on in Fruitcake Bob’s Zimbabwe

Here is something that will get Mugabe’s goat. On January 29, Ambassador James D. McGee, visited the Unicef warehouse in Workington, Harare. The visit by the ambassador followed the arrival, last week, of a USAID-provided consignment of nearly 440,000 bars of soap—valued at nearly US$365,000—to the UN Children’s Fund, which will provide it to humanitarian organizations to distribute as part of hygiene education programs in areas most affected by the cholera outbreak. During the tour, Ambassador McGee inspected warehouse commodities and received UNICEF briefing on distribution and general U.N. health and water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) programs. He also took questions from journalists during the event. Asked why the aid did not come through the host government, he made the following response (from SW Radio Africa):

Ambassador McGee: Let me be very frank about that. Too many things disappear when they go to the government. You all know that. I will just cite one recent case. Recently, 14 million dollars from the Global Fund which was destined for people who had HIV and AIDS disappeared. And we went to the Government, they said, ‘well, we needed that money for other things, – what’s more important than taking care of a person who has HIV and AIDS, getting the anti- retro-viral drugs that they need to continue to live. But the government took this money and freely admitted that they took this money and used it for something else. What? We don’t know. So of course, we are not going to give this money to government. We are not going to give these commodities to government, until government shows us that they can do the right thing and take care of the people of Zimbabwe. That’s all we ask- something very, very small. Take care of your own people.

Since October of last year, 2007, a year and a half ago, over US $250 million have come into Zimbabwe in assistance- 250 million dollars. Since 2002, one billion United States dollars has come to Zimbabwe in assistance. I don’t want to hear anybody telling me about illegal sanctions. A billion dollars- can the government of Zimbabwe say that they spent a billion dollars on their people during that time? I don’t think so. So I don’t want to hear anything about illegal sanctions. It makes me angry when U.S. tax dollars have to go to feed the people of Zimbabwe, but I see a lot of people in government with 60 bedrooms in their house. You know what I am talking about, don’t you?

Wanna bet that this would make Bob the Destroyer cranky as hell? And yeah, yeah, yeah … he’s going to threaten to kick Ambassador McGee out of there. Again. Can’t somebody please convince Bob to get out already, like somebody convinced Marcos to leave the Philippines in 1986 for Hawaii? Dictators may have “staying power” but in the end they are either deposed, tried and executed (not necessarily in that order) or exiled to rot and die in some foreign country. Unless rotting in your own country while taking everyone with you, is the more er, patriotic thing to do.

Fair Pay Act of 2009 – About Time, Too!

President Obama signed the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 into law today! Yay!

In my other life, I did work as a software analyst for a tech company. As I was considering whether to stay in the company or not, I learned that I was paid significantly less than my colleagues even as we were doing exactly the same work. At that time, I had yet to complete my graduate degree. My project manager told me, they were paid more because they had advanced degrees. I still remember feeling crappy about it but it also made my decision to leave easier. No, I did not take my employer to court; I went back to school to complete my degree.

The new law amends title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, and modify the operation of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 and the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, to clarify that a discriminatory compensation decision or other practice that is unlawful under such Acts occurs each time compensation is paid pursuant to the discriminatory compensation decision or other practice, and for other purposes.

So President Obama’s first piece of legislation signed into law has real meaning for me. I’ve been there, they’ve done that. The Court ruled that employees subject to pay discrimination like Lilly Ledbetter must file a claim within 180 days of the employer’s original decision to pay them less. The new law means that complaints can now be filed 180 days after any discriminatory paycheck. I won’t recover anything from my former employer since gone bankrupt but this would make employers think twice before pulling these kind of tricks on others.

More info here and here. The blog post here also includes links to the SCOTUS’ majority and minority opinions.

Bad News Round-up

Tell me there will be some good news tomorrow …

On January 27: Fox News reports that “U.S. Consulate Mistakenly Sells Secret Files in Jerusalem”

Three years ago, in December 2005, a woman reportedly purchased a file cabinet from the American Consulate in Jerusalem during its regular furniture auction. Fox News reports last Tuesday (January 27, 2009) that “hundreds of files — with social security numbers, bank account numbers and other sensitive U.S. government information — were found in a filing cabinet.”

“We thought of calling the American consulate right away, and then we thought, you know they’ll just hide it and say, ‘Oh, we made a mistake.” The buyer, a woman named Paula was quoted as saying.

According to the report, Paula decided to come forward with the file after hearing about a Sept. 22, 2008 incident in which a Palestinian teenager crashed a BMW into a group of Israeli soldiers (her son’s unit); and she was angered when she heard that the car was purchased from an auction held by the consulate. The report includes a statement about U.S. officials denying any connection to the car. Fox News investigation also found there was no connection. Paula, an Israeli who also holds U.S. citizenship, says she wanted to expose the incident because her loyalty is to the state of Israel.”

I just want to point out that a U.S. Consulate is normally a much smaller presence than an embassy. Whereas an embassy would have a senior General Services Officer (GSO) who may directly supervises auctions like this (reporting to a Management Officer), in smaller posts, auctions and other management and administrative duties become collateral duties for Consular, Political, or Econ/Pol Officers. So one becomes post management officer or post security officer in addition to one’s primary gig. But in this case, it looks like Jerusalem has its own Management Officer, GSO and its own Regional Security Officer.

Read more about this here.

The Department’s Acting Spokesman, Robert Wood confirmed to the press yesterday that there is an investigation underway and that “the file – the components of the file cabinets have been returned,” but could not say when.

TSB at the Skeptical Bureaucrat has written about this here.

On January 28: Third State Department worker pleads guilty to passport snooping

A third former employee of the U.S. Department of State has pleaded guilty to illegally accessing the electronic passport application files of Barack Obama and dozens of other politicians and celebrities in a snooping case that came to light last March.

Gerald Lueders, 65, of Woodbridge, Va., entered the guilty plea yesterday in U.S. District Court in Washington, admitting to a single count of unauthorized computer access, the U.S. Department of Justice announced.

In his guilty plea, Lueders acknowledged that between July 2005 and last February, he logged into the State Department’s Passport Information Electronic Records System (PIERS) and viewed the passport applications of more than 50 politicians, actors, musicians, athletes, members of the media and other people.

Since all the three incidents appear to be all out of idle curiosity, makes one wonder why they had time to be idle in the first place. Once I worked with somebody who often pretends she was doing work while reading magazines as the rest of the office scrambles to attend to customers. Nobody ever said anything about it. Until a new supervisor arrived. The supervisor, a lovely, grouchy old lady marched up to this woman’s desk and simply growled, “Doris (not a real name) what are you doing?” I loved that lady! And that was the end of “Doris’s” hobby work during office hours.

Read the whole thing here.

One January 28: An ABC News Exclusive: CIA Station Chief in Algeria Accused of Rapes

The CIA’s station chief at its sensitive post in Algeria is under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department for allegedly raping at least two Muslim women who claim he laced their drinks with a knock-out drug, U.S. law enforcement sources tell ABC News.

The suspect in the case is identified as ***** in an affidavit for a search warrant filed in federal court in Washington, D.C. by Scott Banker, Special Agent with the United States Department of State, Diplomatic Security Service (DSS). The allegations against the suspect were for committing aggravated sexual abuse and sexual abuse, in violation of 18 U.S.C. §§ 2241(b)(2) and 2242. Officials say the 41-year old *****, a convert to Islam, was ordered home by the U.S. Ambassador, David Pearce, in October after the women came forward with their rape allegations in September.

Greg Miller reporting for the LA Times quotes an unnamed government official speaking of the suspect: “He is exactly the guy we need out in the field,” said a senior U.S. government official who had met with the accused officer in Algiers last summer before the scandal emerged. “He’s African American. He’s Muslim. He speaks the language. He seemed well put together, sharp and experienced.”

More on this here, here and here. And one more from CQ. I’m sure there’ll be a lot more coverage on this as the story develops. However this turns out, his cover is blown now.

Click here to read the affidavit (graphic details).

Excuse me, I need to go to the vomitorium now.