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Must shoot spit balls… yeah, that's the ticket!

So I was doing some web browsing when I had some down time at work — these days, there isn't much — and, wouldn't you know it, the House Government Reform Committee (!) picked apart the Blackwater USA contract. (Major hat tip to Facing South, blog for the Institute for Southern Studies):

The world watched in horror when an Iraqi mob killed four Blackwater contractors guarding a convoy and dragged their mutilated bodies through the streets of Fallujah in March 2004.

On Thursday, the Army said that Blackwater was not authorized to guard convoys or carry weapons. [emphasis added]

Wow. Let's recite that one more time: Blackwater, the private security firm, was not allowed to "guard convoys or carry weapons."

 

As it turns out, several companies were getting in on the action through an assortment of subcontracts, each gorging themselves on the federal treasury. That's FOUR companies making a profit off of, essentially, the SAME job. 

One unsolved mystery at the hearing was whether Blackwater, based in Moyock in North Carolina's northeast corner, was ultimately working for U.S. taxpayers when its contractors were killed.

U.S. Rep. Chris Van Hollen held up a copy of Blackwater's contract, which said Blackwater was ultimately working for the Army's main contractor in Iraq, Kellogg Brown & Root, with two companies in between. [emphasis added]

So how did they do it?

Committee members have tried to get answers on the Blackwater contract for almost two years, since The News & Observer detailed how multiple layers of contracts inflated war costs.

At the lowest level, Blackwater security guards were paid $600 a day. Blackwater added a 36 percent markup, plus overhead costs, and sent the bill to a Kuwaiti company that ordinarily runs hotels, according to the contract.

That company, Regency Hotel, tacked on its costs and a profit and sent an invoice to ESS. The food company added its costs and profit and sent its bill to Kellogg Brown & Root, which also added overhead and a profit and presented the final bill to the Pentagon. [emphasis added]

It sounds like, in this instance, KBR was making a profit for doing virtually nothing.

Chris Taylor, a Blackwater vice president, testified that the 36 percent markup included all of Blackwater's costs.

Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican, interrupted, reminded Taylor he was under oath and ordered Blackwater to provide the documents to back up his testimony. Blackwater has provided no documents to the committee.

Surprising. Taylor, who conducts strategy for Blackwater, was quoted earlier this year by the Boston Globe stating: ''We offer the ability to create a right-sized solution-which creates a cost savings right off the bat." [Emphasis added] Somehow, I'm not seeing it.

At the hearing Thursday, Van Hollen held up a copy of Blackwater's contract that showed the trail of subcontractors — Blackwater, Regency, ESS — leading to Kellogg Brown & Root. Did the Army contend that Blackwater provided no services to Kellogg Brown & Root?

Tina Ballard, an undersecretary of the Army, said that is correct.

"Was this contract authorized?" Van Hollen asked. "Did the American taxpayer pay [Kellogg Brown & Root] for those unauthorized contracts?"

Ballard promised that the Army would provide answers.

Translation: Of course we did, and Dick Cheney thanks you.

Related From the New York Times (again, hat tip to ISS)

[Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction Stuart] Bowen made available copies of an inspection report on one of the 13 substandard projects, a $72 million police college in Baghdad where plumbing work was so poor that the pipes burst, dumping urine and fecal matter throughout the college's buildings.

How delightful.

Rep. Henry Waxman (D-California) was quoted in the story, which I believe, really gets at the heart of why we need to dig into this mess:

"This debacle is not just a waste of taxpayers'’ funds, and it doesn't just impact the reconstruction,"” Representative Henry A. Waxman, the ranking Democrat on the committee, said of one of the failed projects. "“It impedes the entire effort in Iraq. This is the lens in which the Iraqis will view America." [emphasis added]”

With the recent NIE completely contradicting the fairytale fantasy of right-wingers and the Bush White House, Rep. Waxman is spot on here. And as I have been arguing from the get-go of this series, these profiteers fatten their wallets and load up their bank accounts at the expense of America's national security and our armed forces.

Had enough? I have.