Monday, March 26, 2007

Iraq's Mercenary King: Politics and Power--Vanity Fair

Robert Baer is a former C.I.A. officer. His most recent book is Blow the House Down, a novel. A portion of the article from Vanity Fair is below. Whole article at:

"It's easy to imagine how a young man in Fallujah, where the unemployment rate is now perhaps 70 percent, views private military contractors. They arrive in the form of an armored GMC Suburban, with smoked windows, bearing down at high speed. The closest thing to a visible human being is the turret gunner. But in his Kevlar helmet and blue-mirrored wraparound Oakleys, the gunner doesn't seem all that human. The young Iraqi knows that the gunner makes more money in a year than he will in a lifetime, that he is effectively immune from prosecution, and that he won't hesitate to shoot if people don't get out of the way fast enough.

"One of the first things on the new Democratic agenda in Congress will be to get a grip on military contractors. [Really????] The question is: How tight will that grip be? A five-word change in a federal provision, slipped into recent Pentagon legislation, has the effect of bringing contractors for the first time under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. (Up to now, as one industry newsletter has noted, "not one contractor of the entire military industry in Iraq has been charged with any crime.")

We'll see what happens. Private military companies—companies providing security in the field—make up a $30-billion-a-year industry globally, and with all the lobbying clout that comes from that kind of money, getting any kind of grip won't be easy. And the mercenaries have many friends, who move in and out of government. The current deputy director of the C.I.A., Steve Kappes, came from ArmorGroup, a private military company that has security contracts in Iraq. Before Kappes was at ArmorGroup, he was at the C.I.A. Cofer Black, a former counterterrorism chief at the C.I.A. and then the coordinator for counterterrorism at the State Department, with ambassadorial rank, left to become the vice-chairman of Blackwater, which does much of its business in Iraq. The pieces all fit a little too snugly.

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