Systemic Failures May Give Blackwater Another Afghanistan Contract
Blackwater guards in Iraq in 2003 (ALI HAIDER/EPA/KEYSTONE Press)
By March 24, the private security corporation formerly known as Blackwater — last seen in Afghanistan shooting civilians and stealing weapons intended for the Afghan police — may win a new Defense Department contract to train the Afghan police. And nearly no one in the government wants to own up to how it could happen.
Interviews over the past week with numerous Pentagon officials and military officers in Washington and Kabul have presented a portrait of a contracting process in which it is remarkably difficult to deny a contract to a security company involved in numerous civilian deaths and possible fraud. While it is not certain that Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, will receive a contract that could be worth as much as a billion dollars, the fact that the company is still eligible for the bid — while no one involved in the process wishes to claim responsibility for the potential award — highlights a confusing, unaccountable and systemic problem in how the government delivers security contracts.
[Security1]Last year, at the request of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the commanding general of U.S. forces in Afghanistan, the Defense Department took control of a contract for training Afghan policemen from the State Department’s Bureau of Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs — an office that the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction signaled out as exercising weak oversight. According to four senior military officers with the NATO military command responsible for training Afghan security forces, known as CSTC-A, the command “identified a requirement” for a contractor to perform “tasks we specified” for training the police, said Brig. Gen. Gary Patton, the director of programs for CSTC-A. But all four officers said they had no further involvement with how the contract will be awarded.
That decision belongs to an obscure Army office called CNTPO. Short for the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office, CNTPO is a subdivision of the Army’s Space and Missile Defense Command. No one interviewed for this article could explain why CNTPO is responsible for overseeing a contract that has a tenuous connection to counter-narcoterrorism. Patton explained that CSTC-A’s advice to CNTPO on the contract is limited to designing the shape of the contract’s requirements, including what he described as a focus on “training the trainer” of Afghan forces and “more counterinsurgency in the program instruction, more counterinsurgency lessons, operating conditions and the like brought into the program instruction.” CNTPO had prior relationships with five security companies that it allowed to bid on the Afghan police training contract: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, NG, ARINC — and Blackwater.
It doesn’t appear like CNTPO is a particularly well-known organization inside the Pentagon. Several of Patton’s colleagues at CSTC-A described it as being based in Huntsville, Ala., but several attempts to contact the office over the past week were unsuccessful.
In mid-December, DynCorp, another private security contractor that held the police-training contract back when the State Department controlled it, filed an objection with the Government Accountability Office over the decision to move the acquisition authority for the contract to CNTPO from State. The GAO has until March 24 to adjudicate the dispute. Several sources throughout the Pentagon and Congress expect CNTPO to award the contract almost immediately afterward if GAO rules that the office is indeed allowed to award it. CSTC-A officers said they did not know which company CNTPO believes ought to hold the contract.
Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.) has expressed frustration that Blackwater is eligible for another government contract. In late February, an investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee, which Levin chairs, uncovered that Blackwater created a shell company called Paravant in 2008 to help it win a sub-contract with the Army for training Afghan soldiers. While holding that contract, employees of Paravant who were never authorized to carry weapons simply took hundreds of rifles and pistols intended for Afghan police use from a U.S. military weapons depot near Kabul, even signing for those guns using the name of a “South Park” cartoon character.
Levin wrote to Defense Secretary Robert Gates on Feb. 25 to request that Pentagon officials “consider the deficiencies in Blackwater’s performance under the weapons training contract before a decision is made to award the police training work to Blackwater.” In a separate letter, Levin requested Attorney General Eric Holder investigate Blackwater for contract fraud. Justice Department officials would not comment for the record, but told TWI that Holder is considering Levin’s request.
Any action from Holder would represent perhaps the only chance to stop Blackwater from receiving any additional government contracts. Several CSTC-A officers and Pentagon officials said that good-government contract rules prevent them from banning Blackwater. Specifically, an obscure contracting rule known as Federal Acquisition Regulation 9.406-2 prevents an acquisition official for banning a company from being awarded a contract unless the company has been formally “debarred” from eligibility — something that has never happened in Blackwater’s case. However, several criteria for debarment appear to apply to Blackwater, including “commission of fraud,” “theft,” “falsification or destruction of records, making false statements,” “a history of failure to perform, or of unsatisfactory performance of, one or more contracts,” and “violations of the Drug-Free Workplace Act of 1988.”
Asked what message it would send to the Afghans if a company whose employees have shot Afghan civilians and stolen weapons meant for the Afghan police wins a contract to train Afghan policeman, Patton said we was “not going to address hypotheticals.” He added, “I’ve got faith in the system, and we’re going to let the system play out and go from there.”