Former Iraq Security Contractors Say Firm Bought Black Market Weapons, Swapped Booze for Rockets

by T. Christian Miller, ProPublica and Aram Roston, Special to ProPublica – September 18, 2009 10:05 am EDT (Excerpts reprinted from ProPublica under Creative Commons License)

Last spring, the U.S. diplomatic mission in Iraq got a makeover,replacing the scandal-plagued Blackwater private security company with a firm named Triple Canopy.

The new $1 billion contract cemented Triple Canopy’s status as the pre-eminent provider of private security services in Iraq, with its heavily armed employees appearing side by side with senior State Department diplomats.

But the company’s rise to prominence followed a long, often chaotic route, marked by questionable weapons deals, government bungling and a criminal investigation that was ultimately closed without charges being filed, according to newly released investigative files.

Company employees told federal investigators that Triple Canopy swapped booze for weapons and supplies from the U.S. military. They said the company bought guns and other arms on the black market in Iraq. Some worried that the money was flowing into the hands of insurgents, records show.

The previously undisclosed documents and interviews with current and former Triple Canopy officials raise new questions about the U.S. government’s ability to oversee private security contractors in a fluid and uncertain legal environment. And they give a glimpse into the messy business of creating a private army on the fly in the middle of a war zone.

“We’re spending a lot of money on these rifles, millions of dollars — where do you think that money is going to?”
[1] Ronald Boline, a former Triple Canopy manager, said in a lawsuit deposition videotaped [2] in June 2007. “Who are we supporting in doing that? We’re supporting people who are trying to kill Americans is the logical conclusion.”

That lawsuit against the company, filed in a Virginia circuit court by other former employees who sued Triple Canopy for wrongful termination, was settled this week, records show, but no terms were disclosed.

The criminal investigation began in 2007 after federal investigators received a tip that Triple Canopy was using stolen cars and captured Iraqi weapons [3] to boost profits to over 40 percent on some contracts. Andrew T. Baxter, the interim U.S. attorney for the Northern District of New York, declined to comment on why his office decided not to file charges. (His office handled the case because Triple Canopy’s invoices were paid out of a nearby federal contract processing center.)

Stuart Bowen, the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction, who oversaw the investigation, refused to talk about details. But he said the difficulty in building the case were indicative of the haphazard atmosphere in which billions of dollars of U.S. money was spent in Iraq without oversight.

“It’s unclear if anything that Triple Canopy did was criminal, but it was symptomatic of the chaos that prevailed at the time,” Bowen said. “It’s another example of contracting gone wrong.”


A State Dept. official acknowledged that the department had been slow to respond to the need to arm the private companies it was hiring to carry guns. Until late 2004, the department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls blocked most requests for the export of automatic weapons to private firms — the result of a decades-old policy to cut down on international arms trafficking.

When private security companies began requesting weapons to fulfill U.S.-issued contracts, the department was caught off guard, the official said. It wasn’t until November 2004 that the policy was changed to grant private security companies export licenses — more than a year and a half after the first such firms were hired in Iraq.

“This was something that the State Department hadn’t considered as a possibility” until the requests for licenses started coming in, said the official, who spoke on background per department policy. “What they did was go through a relatively long discussion and decision process to figure out how to deal with the problem.”

While the system for importing weapons has improved in Iraq, industry and State Department officials acknowledged that problems remain in Afghanistan.

Partly, this reflects the fact that more groups are at work there. Unlike Iraq, there is a substantial presence of nonprofits and international aid organizations in need of security. Companies buying weapons from local sources continue to run the risk of money flowing to insurgents, one official said.

Afghanistan is similar in one way, however. Just as in the early days in Iraq, there are comparatively few investigators on the ground to watch the billions of dollars now flowing into the country.

“It’s an even worse Catch-22 over there,” one industry official said.

Read the whole thing here.

Related Items:

AfPak Channel Launches: Covering Afghanistan

Foreign Policy and New America Foundation launched The AfPak Channel at the Foundation’s digs in DC yesterday. Video below of the panel on “Covering Afghanistan.”

Speakers include:

Steve Coll: New America Foundation President
Rajiv Chandrasekaran: The Washington Post’s Afghanistan Correspondent
Peter Bergen: AfPak Channel Editor
Karen DeYoung: Moderator (The Washington Post)
Susan Glasser: Introductions (Foreign Policy)

The AfPak blog is here.

SFRC Clears Six State Dept Nominees

Jacobson, Solomont, Feinstein, White, Posner, Hormats

The following six nominations were reported by Mr. Kerry of the Committee on Foreign Relations (without printed report) on September 17. The nominations now go to the Senate for a full vote.

David C. Jacobson, of Illinois, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Canada.

Alan D. Solomont, of Massachusetts, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Spain, and to serve concurrently
and without additional compensation as
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Andorra.

Lee Andrew Feinstein, of Virginia, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to the Republic of Poland.

Barry B. White, of Massachusetts, to be
Ambassador Extraordinary and
Plenipotentiary of the United States of
America to Norway.

Michael H. Posner, of New York, to be
Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy,
Human Rights, and Labor, vice David J.
Kramer, resigned.

Robert D. Hormats, of New York, to be an
Under Secretary of State (Economic, Energy,
and Agricultural Affairs), vice Reuben Jeffery
III, resigned.

Robert D. Hormats, of New York, to be United
States Alternate Governor of the
International Bank for Reconstruction and
Development for a term of five years; United
States Alternate Governor of the Inter-
American Development Bank for a term of
five years; United States Alternate Governor
of the African Development Bank for a term
of five years; United States Alternate
Governor of the African Development Fund;
United States Alternate Governor of the
Asian Development Bank; and United States
Alternate Governor of the European Bank for
Reconstruction and Development, vice
Reuben Jeffery III.

The Ambassador and His Gulfstream Jet

Ambassador Murphy and Family
Photo from US Embassy Berlin

Ambassador Philip Murphy presented his credentials to the President of the Federal Republic of Germany, Prof. Dr. Horst Köhler on September 3 (see photos). On September 9 CQ Politics reported on his arrival in Berlin:

“Former Goldman Sachs chief Philip D. Murphy evidently arrived in the style to which he is accustomed last month to take up his new post as U.S. envoy to Germany, touching down in an ostentatious top-of-the-line executive jet that left German Chancellor Angela Merkel grinding her teeth over President Obama’s gift of ambassadorships to wealthy donors.

Sources familiar with the incident said the arrival of Murphy, his wife and four soccer-uniformed kids on what some said was a Gulfstream V executive jet came just as the German press was describing how top embassy posts in the Obama administration were going almost exclusively to wealthy campaign donors.”

AFSA in its Facebook page says that “A career diplomat would probably have arrived in economy class.”

C’mon folks!
gelakguling The next thing somebody will complain about is that large, hairy dog they brought to Berlin in a private jet.

This is all quite simple, really.

Diplomatic courtesy requires that before a state appoints a new chief of diplomatic mission to represent it in another state, it must be first ascertained whether the proposed appointee is acceptable to the receiving state. The approval of the receiving state is always sought in confidence prior to the formal nomination or appointment of the ambassador. The acquiescence of the receiving state is signified by its granting its agrément to the appointment. If the German Chancellor did not find Ambassador Murphy acceptable, her government could have simply refused to grant agrément.

Now as to that
Gulfstream V executive jet – can you really blame the guy for traveling in style?

Premium class travel has been a no-no in the State Department for some years now since some apples — presidential appointees and senior executive service officials gave premium travel a rotten name. State personnel must only use
coach-class airline accommodation. The use of contract air carriers offering discount fare is also mandatory. It does not matter if travel time is 9 hours going to Berlin or 29 hours with circuitous stops in four countries. To add to the fun, travel must also be on a US carrier.

There are, of course, always exceptions to the rule (this one has very few exceptions). One has to do with security and another has to do with travel by a chief of mission and accompanying eligible family members going to post for the first time or leaving from post the last time. So to my friends at AFSA Facebook, a career diplomat assuming his/her chief of mission position in a foreign capital would have arrived in business or first class, too; he/she just won’t have a plane to park in some hangar.

Besides –14 FAM 580 says that “t
ravel on official business shall be by the method of transportation that will result in the greatest advantage to the U.S. Government, considering cost and other factors.” Unless Ambassador Murphy starts charging the USG for airplane fuel or hangar fees, this looks to me like a great arrangement. He might even start refurbishing the ambassador’s digs, too.

Between you and me – if I had a Gulfstream V, I would ditch cattle class travel, too. But my online store is not even good for buying coffee so that ditching may take some time.
kenyit Still, just because I don’t have a jet doesn’t mean he shouldn’t use his jet. Frankly, I don’t care if he got to Berlin on a chariot, just as long as he does the job the President sent him to do. End of story.

Insider Quote: There are no bad missions, just bad ambassadors

Flag of a US AmbassadorImage via Wikipedia

Every previous reorganization of the Foreign Service and the State Department has involved at least some such straitjacketing of operations in the field. The hope this time, one which I fully share, is that we can achieve major improvements without suffering much of this kind of damage, because this reorganization is being done from within, by the professionals themselves. Even professionals, however, can mesmerize themselves with their own generalizations, particularly if they have been steeped for a while in the hothouse atmosphere of Washington; so even the present effort requires constant attention from its leaders to keep it honest and pragmatic rather than theological. In the final analysis, there are no bad missions, just bad ambassadors. No set of rules is a substitute for executive talent.

Letter From the Ambassador to Nepal (Laise) to the Deputy Under Secretary of State for Administration (Macomber)

Foreign Relations of the United States, 1969-1976, Volume II
Carol Laise served as Ambassador to Nepal from 1966 to 1973