Two recently released reports, one by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) and one by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), show that not only is the number of private contractors in Afghanistan increasing, but the Pentagon is also unable to tell what they are even doing there. Citing the reports, David Francis of the Fiscal Times points out that there are now 108,000 private contractors in Afghanistan (over 30,000 of whom are Americans), far more than the 65,700 U.S. troops still there, and the number was counted at 110,404 last month. That amounts to 1.6 contractors for every American soldier, roughly 18,000 of which are private security contractors.
Although the U.S. presence in Afghanistan is ostensibly winding down towards an eventual handover to Afghan security forces, as Francis argues, “the increase in the contractors to troop ratio is yet another indication that although the vast majority of troops are leaving Afghanistan, a private army will remain in the country for years.”
According to the CRS, the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan show the increasing reliance of the military on private contractors. But replacing the military with private contractors is not necessarily a good thing. Highlighting the abuses committed by private military contractors, Angela Snell of the University of Illinois College of Law has called this trend a “convenient way for the U.S. government to evade its legal obligations, including the responsibility to protect the human rights of civilians in war and peace, by allowing private individuals, rather than official state actors, to perform services on behalf of the U.S. military.”
Not only does the growing use of private contractors give lie to the idea of a withdrawal from the country, but they are also very costly. Although still dwarfed by the ever-mounting total costs of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, CRS reports that “over the last six fiscal years, DOD [Department of Defense] obligations for contracts performed in the Iraq and Afghanistan areas of operation were approximately $160 billion and exceeded total contract obligations of any other U.S. federal agency.”
Moreover, Francis points out that the CRS and GAO did not just measure the number of contractors and the cost, but the reports also assessed the Pentagon’s ability to monitor the work of contractors. And the results are damning. According to Francis, taken together the reports:
“Amount to yet another indictment of how the Pentagon deals with private workers. CRS found that the Pentagon lacked the ability to document the work each contractor is performing. It also found even when the government has information on contractors, it’s often inaccurate and doesn’t reflect the actual work being done. This leaves the Pentagon unable to determine if the hundreds of billions it’s spending are leading to effective results.”
So despite the increasing number of private contractors being used and the hundreds of billions of dollars being spent on them, the Pentagon is not even able to determine what they are doing or whether it is effective. As CRS reports, the information the Pentagon has on private contractors is probably not reliable enough to be used to make decisions “at the strategic level,” thus hindering its ability to tell whether the work of contractors is contributing to “achieving the mission.”
The U.S.-led wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have been massive, and destructive, wastes of lives and money. Although the U.S. and its allies say that they plan to remove combat troops from Afghanistan by 2014, this will in no way be the end of the West’s presence in the country. Francis reports that much of the work currently done by the military will be done by the private contractors after the military leaves. So while the attention paid to Afghanistan is likely to continue to dwindle even further, as has been the case in Iraq, as the military withdrawal picks up, the foreign occupation, by what one analyst has called “a de facto army,” looks set to continue on.
Like a villain in a horror movie, the widely debunked concept of terrorist “radicalization” is once again raised from the grave by the Congressional Research Service (CRS) in its 2013 report, “American Jihadist Terrorism: Combating a Complex Threat.” CRS is an influential legislative branch agency charged with providing objective policy analysis for members of Congress, which makes its continued reliance on the “radicalization” model promoted in a now-discredited 2007 New York Police Department report, “Radicalization in the West,” particularly troublesome.
The NYPD report purported to describe the process that drives previously “unremarkable” people to become terrorists. According to Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly’s preface, the document was intended to “to assist policymakers and law enforcement officials, both in Washington and throughout the country by providing a thorough understanding of the kind of threat we face domestically.” It theorized a simple four-step process starting with the adoption of a particular set of beliefs to becoming a terrorist, though it strangely conceded that not all terrorists need to go through all, or any of these steps, and that people who did go through the steps would not necessarily become terrorists – though that didn’t mean they weren’t dangerous. Confused? It gets worse.
The report only examined terrorist acts committed by Muslims, and essentially suggested that all Muslims were potential terrorists that needed to be watched, stating that “[e]nclaves of ethnic populations that are largely Muslim often serve as ‘ideological sanctuaries’ for the seeds of radical thought.” It posited a profile of potential terrorist “candidates” so broad that it’s no profile at all: within these “Muslim enclaves,” potential terrorists could range from members of middle class families to “successful college students, the unemployed, the second and third generation, new immigrants, petty criminals, and prison parolees.” In other words: anyone and everyone. It identified “radicalization incubators,” including mosques, as well as “cafes, cab driver hangouts, flophouses, prisons, student associations, nongovernmental organizations, hookah (water pipe) bars, butcher shops and book stores.” In other words: any place and every place. Commonplace activities for Muslim-Americans, like wearing Islamic clothing, growing a beard, abstaining from alcohol and joining advocacy organizations or community groups were all listed as potential indicators of radicalization. In other words: any kind of behavior and all kinds of behavior.
If it sounds like the report’s description of potential terrorists is so overbroad it could include entire Muslim-American communities, this does not appear to be accidental. Indeed, the report provided the ideological foundation for the NYPD Intelligence Division’s program of mass surveillance of Muslim communities throughout the Northeast. Not surprisingly, this poorly focused program “never generated a lead or triggered a terrorism investigation,” according to the Associated Press, which received a Pulitzer Prize for its coverage of the NYPD’s program.
The NYPD radicalization report was quickly denounced by advocacy and academic organizations for its overstated and flawed facts and serious methodological errors. The NYPD responded by inserting a “Statement of Clarification” in 2009 that made this remarkable claim:
“…this report was not intended to be policy prescriptive for law enforcement. In all of its dealings with Federal, State and Local authorities, the NYPD continues to underscore this important point.”
What? In addition to completely contradicting its own preface, the disclaimer refutes the entire purpose of the report. If a police terrorist study isn’t intended to impact police counterterrorism policy, what is it for? Is it just a thought experiment?
Yet, despite all we know of the admitted shortcomings of the NYPD report, the CRS continues to cling to its model of radicalization, suggesting that individuals can become terrorists “by radicalizing and then adopting violence as a tactic.” This concept, that the adoption of a particular belief set is a precursor to violent action is refuted in empirical studies of actual terrorists, like one from RAND, which concludes that an individual’s decision to engage in terrorist violence is a complex one involving a matrix of different environmental and individual factors, no one element of which is necessary nor sufficient in every case (see its “Factor Tree for Root Causes of Terrorism” above, which looks a whole lot more complex than the NYPD’s four-step process).
In addition to being factually wrong, this radicalization concept is also dangerous, because, as the CRS report points out, adopting beliefs and associating with like-minded people is First Amendment-protected activity. But if counterterrorism officials believe that adopting radical beliefs are a necessary first stage to terrorism, they will obviously target belief communities and activists with their enforcement measures, as they often do. The CRS report highlights the NYPD radicalization theory, and while it acknowledges the criticism of the NYPD report it continues to hew closely to the model of radicalization it promotes. This is particularly true in its discussion of the appropriate law enforcement response to radicalization, in which it describes the “major challenge” as determining “how quickly and at what point individuals move from radicalized beliefs to violence.” The faulty assumption that radical thoughts lead to violence drives many of the inappropriate law enforcement actions against Muslim-American communities and political activists that, like the NYPD surveillance program, violate civil rights but don’t actually improve security.
It is long past time to euthanize this erroneous and dangerous theory, as many terrorism researches are already suggesting. Moreover, a more recent study from the Triangle Center of North Carolina suggests that recent data reflects a small and declining threat from Muslim-American terrorists, not the “uptick” that CRS reports. And West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center issued a revealing study indicating that far-right extremists have engaged in more comparatively violent activity over the last twenty years, which the FBI and policy makers have failed to recognize. Effective counterterrorism policies can’t be made from flawed theories and analysis. It is time that CRS heeds the NYPD’s recommendation that its radicalization report not be used to drive policy.
The United States’ weapons sales tripled in 2011, reaching to a record high of USD 66.3 billion, with Persian Gulf Arab countries as the main customers, a new Congressional report said.
A new report from the Congressional Research Service said that the country’s weapons sales in 2011 was an “extraordinary increase” over the USD 21.4 billion in deals in 2010.
The report also said that the figure was the largest single-year sales total in the history of US arms sales.
The former high record was in 2009, when the country’s arms exports reached to USD 31bn.
Saudi Arabia was the largest customer of the US arms, as it bought USD 33.4bn worth of weapons, including 84 advanced F-15 fighters, ammunition, missiles and logistics support.
The Kingdom’s arms deal with the US also included dozens of Apache and Black Hawk helicopters and upgrades of 70 of the F-15 fighters in the current fleet.
The United Arab Emirates spent USD 3.49 billion to purchase a Terminal High Altitude Area Defense, which is an advanced anti-missile shield containing radars. The Arab nation also bought 16 Chinook helicopters for USD 939 million.
Oman also spent USD 1.4bn last year to buy 18 F-16 fighters.
Other significant customers for the US arms were India with a USD 4.1bn deal for 10 C-17 transport planes and Taiwan with USD 2bn for Patriot antimissile batteries, that has angered Chinese officials.
Members of Congress, led by the team of Senators McCain, Graham and Ayotte, are touring military contracting plants, bases and defense-dependent communities this summer raising the alarm about “sequestration.” This is the part of the current budget deal that will force $1.2 trillion in across-the-board cuts to federal spending, unless Congress comes up with the same amount of money some other way. Half is supposed to come from the military, half from domestic programs, beginning January 2.
It is true: cutting everything indiscriminately is no way to run a government. But this alarm-raising campaign, buttressed by defense industry spending to buy and promote “independent”studies, and mount lobbying campaigns, is focused not on federal spending in general, but on military cuts in particular. And the centerpiece of their pitch against these cuts is not the standard line that we need to spend ever more on the Pentagon because it needs every penny to keep us safe. Instead the focus is: jobs.
We’re in the process of ending two wars. Since 9-11, spending on the Pentagon has nearly doubled. Clearly we’re due for a military budget downsizing.
And the urgent need for job creation is on everyone’s mind.
That’s why the military contractors and their congressional allies are departing from the usual script to argue for more military spending. Instead of saying, as usual, that the Pentagon needs every penny to keep us safe, they’re saying it needs every penny to preserve jobs.
From the crowd that wants to shrink government because this will create jobs, we are now hearing that we can’t shrink the Pentagon because that would cost jobs.
Here are main points of their case, rebutted one by one.
Myth # 1: The military cuts will cost a million (or, according to the Pentagon, a million and a half) jobs.
You don’t need to get into the details of the many reasons to question these figures to recognize the big flaw: Cutting military spending will only cost jobs if nothing else is done with the money. As economists from the University of Massachusetts have shown, (findings recently corroborated by economists at the University of Vienna [i]) military spending is an exceptionally poor job creator. Taking those cuts and investing them in other things—clean energy, education, health care, transportation—will all result in a net gain in jobs. Even cutting taxes creates more employment than spending on the military.[ii]
Myth # 2: More Pentagon spending will create more jobs.
A researcher at the Project on Government Oversight recently exposed the shaky foundation of this argument. He found that since 2006 the largest military contractor, Lockheed Martin, has increased its revenues from military contracts, even as it was cutting jobs.[iii]
Myth # 3: Defense sequestration will gut our military industrial base.
Hardly. The Pentagon cuts contained in the budget deal will bring the military budget, adjusted for inflation, to where it was in 2006. Close to its highest level since World War II. More than the next 17 countries (most of them our allies) put together.[iv]
These cuts are easily doable, with no sacrifice in security, because they are being made to a budget that has nearly doubled since 2001.
Myth # 4: The public is buying the myth.
President Obama is actually running an ad criticizing his opponent for advocating military spending increases. The clear pattern in recent polling shows that this is a smart move. Majorities agree military spending is too high.[v]
Myth # 5: The military economy is part of the bedrock of our jobs base.
A researcher at the Project on Defense Alternatives looked at this one. He cited a Congressional Research Service study of aerospace employment. More than 500,000 Americans are employed in aerospace manufacturing. About two-thirds of this is commercial, however. Though the defense industry has worked hard to spread itself around for maximum political effect, more than half (61%) of the nation’s aerospace industry jobs are concentrated in six states.[vi]
By contrast, more than 8 million Americans are employed in education, law enforcement, fire fighting, and other emergency and protective services — working in every community in America.
The effects on the jobs base from cuts on the domestic side of the budget, in other words, will be much larger and more widespread than the effects of military cuts.
Myth # 6: The military economy is part of the bedrock of our overall economic health.
Alan Greenspan, among many others, has contrasted spending on infrastructure, education, and health care with military spending. The former, he noted, strengthens the productivity—the performance—of the economy as a whole; the latter does not.
Military spending is like a family’s insurance policies, he said. The family should spend enough to insure against disaster, but not a penny more, because that family should put as much as possible toward increasing its well-being through education and other enhancements to its quality of life.
Myth # 7: Military workers have already taken their share of the hits.
No. The global outplacement firm Challenger, Gray and Christmas tracks layoffs month by month. For the past three years, while military spending has absorbed more than half of the discretionary budget (the part Congress votes on every year), the private sector contractors it supports have absorbed an average of only 4% of the nation’s job loss. See this spreadsheet (docx).
During those three years, the defense industry laid off a total of 106,000 workers. During the same period, state and local governments laid off more than 500,000 workers.
Myth # 8: The political campaign against sequestration is consistent with the dominant economic philosophy of the politicians doing the campaigning.
No again. The free marketeers who think shrinking government will create jobs are preaching that the Pentagon budget can’t be shrunk because this will cost jobs.
Congressman Barney Frank has summed up nicely what they are asking us to believe: “that the government does not create jobs when it funds the building of bridges or important research or retrains workers, but when it builds airplanes that are never going to be used in combat, that is of course economic salvation.”
Myth # 9: The contractors have their workers’ interests at heart.
If they did, they might narrow the gap a bit between the CEO’s and the average worker’s salary. For Lockheed Martin (CEO: $25 million[vii]; average worker: $58,000[viii]) this gap is more than 400 to 1.
Myth # 10: Sequestration will force contractors to warn most of their workers of an impending layoff.
Lockheed is threatening to send these notices a few days before the November election. The argument for this bit of political blackmail is that since the cuts aren’t specified, all workers are at risk. While Lockheed claims these notices are required by law, the Labor Department, i.e. the controlling legal authority, says they are not.
In fact, as researchers from Win Without War and the Center for International Policy recently pointed out,[ix] the defense and aerospace industry is sitting on a pile of cash from yet another year of record revenue and profits in 2011.[x] Lockheed alone has $81 billion in backlogged orders, and more coming in.[xi] They have it a lot better than most companies.
And this cushion gives them time to plan for the downsizing, and keep the workers they profess to care about employed, by developing new work in other areas. See Fact Sheet: Replacing Defense Industry Jobs for some ideas on how.
[vi] “US Aerospace Manufacturing: Industry Overview and Prospects,” Congressional Research Service, December 3, 2009.
- Poll: 76% of Americans favor cutting military spending (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Ryan vs. Romney on Pentagon Spending (cato-at-liberty.org)
- McCain Can’t Explain Why Military Spending Cuts Would Be ‘Devastating’ (thinkprogress.org)
- House Republican Calls Warnings On Military Spending Cuts ‘A Hysteria Parade’ (thinkprogress.org)
- Romney Campaign Can’t Explain How He Would Boost Military Spending To $945 Billion And Cut The Deficit (thinkprogress.org)
- Guess What % of Americans Know Military Spending Is Increasing (my.firedoglake.com)
- CATO Study: Reshaping the Pentagon Budget Won’t Negatively Impact on the Economy (pogoblog.typepad.com)