First Mercenaries, Now Spies For Hire

Spy Museum_Poster-2
Spy Museum_Poster-2 by catface3, on Flickr

I have never understood the fetish for privatization that has gripped our nation for the 15 years or so. Sure I get it that most of the companies that get the contracts for things that the government used to do are the buddies of the Republican Party and they get a ton of money from it. Still there are something’s that should be inherently the government’s purview.

We have had tons of contractors in the wars zones over the last decade. Some of them are just contracting for things like building things and supplying food and water to the soldiers in field. Others have been shadier like Xe (formerly Blackwater) who where providing protection services to State Department personnel but also performing duties like scouting convoy routes and other less defined activities.

This was needed since we where told by Gen. Shinseki that the Iraq war would require 300,000 troops and we brought in nowhere near that number (mainly because we would have had to commit just about all of ready to go military to that mission) so we had to supplement them with contractors if we were going to have our military adventure in the Middle East.

Putting aside the fact that contractors never do the job as cheaply as the government (how can they when they have to make a profit?) there are myriad of problems with using contractors. They don’t have the same status as our troops and they are not bound by the same laws.

Knowing all this you can imagine my surprise when I find that we are using private spies in Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is one thing for someone like Raymond Davis, a contractor for the C.I.A to be doing work in Pakistan. He was there under our official cover. Meaning we asked for and received diplomatic status for him from the Pakistani government. It is quite another to be granting contracts to wholly private companies to gather intelligence for us under no official sanction.

This is what it appears the Pentagon was doing with a company called the Eclipse Group until last spring. This group run by a former C.I.A official named Duane Clarridge, who founded the counter-terrorist center at the intelligence agency. If that name seems vaguely familiar it is because Mr. Clarridge was sent to indicted for lying to Congress about the Iran/Contra affair. He was pardoned before he went to trial, which is part of why we never had any accountability for that illegal program.

Now he is running a private spy network in Afghanistan and Pakistan. He had a 22 million dollar contract with the Pentagon that was canceled after it was disclosed. It seems that the Eclipse Group was providing intelligence reports on militants that were used to target drone strikes. We all know how “affective” those have been, perhaps we were getting crappy intelligence?

His operatives were also took part in looking at corruption in the Kharzi government. The FSM knows that it is not hard to find corruption in Kabul and the Kharzi government but Mr. Clarridge had a particular desire to show that the Afghan President was a heroin users. Obviously that would be important information to know but it should be the evidence that drives that conclusion instead of having the conclusion and trying to find evidence that fit it. Isn’t that how we wound up in Iraq?

Now that the Pentagon has stopped funding this group they are trying to hold on with private financing. Which I find even stranger. The New York Times is reporting they are doing pro bono work for the F.B.I in the killing of ten aide workers in Afghanistan in August of last year.

All this is very troubling. The problem with contractors is they don’t operate under the same level of oversight that government agencies do. Given that intelligence oversight has been a huge problem anyway having groups that can circumvent that oversight and act in ways we can’t know about is an even bigger problem.

The fact is what the Pentagon was doing with the Eclipse Group was probably illegal. The Pentagon is prohibited by law from hiring contractors as spies, specifically for the reasons I mention above. From the Times article:

The Defense Department’s inspector general is investigating the circumstances of how Mr. Clarridge and other subcontractors were hired for the spying operation. An initial Pentagon investigation found that the private contractors carried out “unauthorized” intelligence gathering operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan. The military is prohibited from hiring private contractors as spies.

Combine this with the revelations that Lt. Gen. William Caldwell ordered psy-ops techniques on visiting Senators we see a very disturbing pattern emerging. We see a military bent on doing whatever they think best to “win” the war in Afghanistan.

The final reason that contractors for military operations and intelligence operations is such a bad idea is that civilian control of the military is a primary requirement of real democracy. One of the major worries in all of the revolutions in the Middle East is that after the government, the military is the strongest force in those counties and there is going to be a lot of temptation for them to take control and keep it.

I do not want to be alarmist but it seems clear that our military and intelligence community has found a very good way to get around the civilian controls imposed on them by hiring contractors. If the contractors do something really heinous or even just screw up from incompetence the Pentagon and C.I.A can just disavow responsibility and hire someone else.

That is great for the leadership of the military or intelligence agencies, but it is very bad for the United States. The rest of the world makes no distinction between our regular army and spies and the ones the military has hired. Their actions are seen as the actions of the government of the U.S. and they are right to see it that way.

By putting groups lead by people who want to just make money and have been found to be so lacking in respect for the laws of the land they would lie to Congress out in the war zones we have given up far to much control and made any possibility of even a moderately successful outcome an order of magnitude harder.

It is time to insist that the military and the intelligence agencies do their own work. If they are incapable of doing it, then we really need to know that. If they are capable then we need to reduce the costs of those activities by removing the profit motive from the cost. If they are doing it to circumvent the laws of our nation, then we must reassert control of the military and do it now.

Ending our wars will not be enough if we do not reign in the people who run our military and have been given carte blanche for far too long. Lots of things kill democracy, a military that operates outside of civilian control is one of the worst.

The floor is yours.

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