“In the latest incident, three American crewmen on contract to the CIA and a Peruvian officer were flying surveillance when they spotted the missionaries’ Cessna as it headed over the Amazon jungle.” (emphasis added)
This quote, from one of the news articles about the shoot down of the private plane in Peru and the murder of the mother and her baby by the Drug Warriors [Note 1], while getting little notice by the news media or the public, is the most important piece of information in the whole news report. That is, the fact that three American government contractors were on a surveillance plane accompanying the war planes, exposes the heart and soul of what the Drug War is all about.
Which is money, jobs and control. But you knew that already. You had to know that this massively failed Drug War illogically fighting a societal problem that pales in comparison to the damage resulting from alcohol and smoking abuse but which continues to absorb massive funds, manpower, decency, and Constitutional rights has to have some logic behind it. It most certainly is not the health and welfare of the citizens of this country and the world.
Eisenhower warned of the “Military-Industrial Complex." He must be doing cartwheels in his grave today for what we had then is insignificant to what has developed since then.
The complex network of contractors, military, politicians, foreign governments, and the drug traffickers will be examined in this essay.
CONTRACTOR INVOLVEMENT IN THE DRUG WAR
As with nearly all government activity in these times, contractors are involved extensively in all aspects. They provide people, equipment, and many forms of support. In fact, it is obvious that a major force in continuing and expanding the “Drug War” is the profit motive for government contractors. Of course, politicians want to maintain control and government employees have a strong incentive to protect their jobs and the permanence of their agencies but “bringing in the bucks” is probably the number one motivation for the whole mess of them.
It is disturbing that businesses have little concern about accepting government contracts for doing, if not sleazy work, certainly less than noble work. But I suppose this is just the way it is. A corporation has no morals and the people that run the corporations seem to not be much better off. Civilian contractors willingly and enthusiastically supplied Hitler with arms and materials in World War II, and it appears we can expect no better from most of the large government contractors we have in the USA today.
But let us get to the specifics in Latin America, a very representative example about what President Ike was trying to warn us about.
"PLAN COLOMBIA," A $1.3 BILLION AID BILL
To get a feel for how strong this profit incentive is, we only have to look at the recent $1.3 billion aid bill passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton.
In an article in the Dallas Morning News, “Contractors Playing Increasing Role in U.S. Drug War," February 27, 2000, By Tod Robberson, it is stated that “At least six U.S. military-specialty companies have set up operations in the region, apparently in anticipation of future Colombia-related contracts, according to U.S. military sources. Two Virginia-based companies, DynCorp Inc. and Military Professional Resources Inc., or MPRI, are completing contracts related to logistical support and training of Colombian police and counterinsurgency forces, officials of those companies say. ”
Curiosity overwhelms me and I have to know what these and other companies find so interesting in this dangerous land full of snakes, drug lords, and leftist guerrillas.[Note 2] Could this relatively poor country possibly pay the kind of salaries and travel perks that these Beltway Bandits are accustomed to getting? Sure, the $1.3 billion is bound to have some influence but allegedly the Colombian government itself will be funding the vast majority of the drug fighting effort there.
So, the first question that comes to mind is why did the U.S. decide to make this major contribution. That question was fairly well answered by a page at the D2KLA site, an organization set up to “to coordinate and support events and nonviolent protests during the Democratic National Convention in Los Angeles, August 14-17." At that site they have a list of issues, appropriately named “What are the issues?," in which they summarize some of the financial exchanges between industry and the Washington Politicians which relate to this appropriation. Here is a quote from the sub-section titled, “Defense Contractors And The Colombia Military Aid Package”:
The aid package was written [Note 3] and passed with the help of a major lobbying effort by drug czar Barry McCaffrey, arms manufacturers, and corporations with investments in Colombia. Bell Helicopter Textron and United Technologies Corp., makers of the helicopters listed in Clintons proposal, offered chopper rides to members of Congress. United Technologies gave more than $700,000 to both parties in the past two election cycles, and Bell Helicopter gave nearly $1 million. In 1999, United Technologies shifted most of its soft-money donations to the Democrats, giving $125,000 to the party $75,000 of that in a single check 11 days before the Clinton Administration proposed the package. United Technologies has also been especially generous to individual legislators recently. According to the Center for Responsive Politics, during the past two years the company and its employees gave $33,200 to Democratic Senator Christopher Dodd and Republican Representative Sam Gejdenson, both from Connecticut. Rep. Gejdenson is the ranking member of the House International Relations Committee. Sen. Dodd is the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Narcotics. Dodd, traditionally a progressive ally on human rights issues and the effort to end the Cuban embargo, is supporting the plan. A Bell Helicopter lobbyist told the Legal Times, “Its business for us, and we are as aggressive as anybody. Im just trying to sell helicopters.”
Members of the US-Colombia Business Partnership a group of multinational corporations with interests in Colombia also lobbied the administration and Congress for aid. The Occidental Petroleum Corp., which claims that its project in Colombia has lost $100 million because of terrorist activity, sent a representative to testify on behalf of the new military support before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Drug Policy. Since 1992, Occidental has donated nearly half a million dollars to the Democrats, and Vice President Al Gore, who owns stock in Occidental, has received $10,000 from company executives and their wives for his presidential run.
Well, there you have it a clear explanation of why the bill got passed.
Still, more details of the actual spending would be interesting to know. Like, are we really giving all this money to Colombian politicians to spend as they please? Are there strings attached? Well, of course. I found the details in the essay “The Contents of the Colombia Aid Package” at the Center for International Policy site. Here are some quotes on the details:
The biggest single item in the military assistance category is $328 million for helicopters. The new counternarcotics battalions are to receive sixteen UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters at a cost of $208 million. (An additional two Blackhawks are to go to the Colombian National Police at a cost of $26 million.) The battalions will also receive thirty UH-1H Huey helicopters, upgraded to the “Super Huey” configuration; the Colombian National Police are to receive another twelve Hueys. The $120 million price tag for the Hueys includes maintenance and operation costs for these helicopters and for eighteen more that were provided to Colombia’s Army in late 1999.
Of course, all this complexity will require training, maintenance, etc. and that is where the Beltway Bandit Body Shops come in. They will get a nice chunk, you can be assured.
So, basically, in case you were worried, practically all the money will come back to the US. The giving of “aid” to all these countries Central and South America, Kosovo, Bosnia, etc., is simply part of the pipeline to funnel money from the taxpayers to the politicians and U.S. corporations.
As I noted in a previous paper, “Cheney Takes Another Spin Around the Washington Revolving Door," Vice President Cheney is an old hand at this operation. In fact, he (while Secretary of Defense) and Bush I, set up the original “Andean Initiative” in 1989 wherein they provided $65 million in “emergency aid." Details of this exercise are covered in the book, Drugs and Foreign Policy, edited by Raphael Perl, a chapter of which is temporarily online, thanks to Google’s Cache!
This effort was one of the early “trial balloons” to test how far the government could go in getting around the “Posse Comitatus” law in providing military solutions to civilian law enforcement problems. Once they noticed that military intervention by American forces was only prohibited in the U.S. itself, this concern quickly melted away.
THE MILITARY INVOLVEMENT IN POLICING CITIZENS
When there is a public or press outcry against government or military infringement on citizen’s rights, the first and major response by the agencies involved is to figure out a way around the restriction. For example, if the public gets riled at certain employees of the government, like the government participants of the Ruby Ridge disaster, they will hide these individuals from public view for awhile and then quietly reinstate them in some other position, usually as good or better than their old positions.
It seems clear that the purpose of the Posse Comitatus Act was to prohibit military involvement in civilian law enforcement. But the act only specifically mentioned the Army (Air Force is included because it used to be part of the Army) the Navy, Marines, and Coast Guard were left out (see “The Posse Comitatus Act: A Principle In Need Of Renewal”). However, the Act was later extended to the Navy and Marines by regulation. Since the Coast Guard has an express law enforcement responsibility in peacetime, the act does not apply to it. They are not part of the military except in time of war.
So, legally the Coast Guard could search and seize ships at sea suspected of smuggling drugs. But they don’t have all the technical goodies and the almost infinite funds and political clout of the military, particularly the Navy. So what to do? Simple. You transfer “control” of the Navy vessel to the Coast Guard at the appropriate time.
Specifically, that means that all the force, power, and resources of the military will be brought to bear in intercepting a suspected drug smuggler. At the last moment the ship’s Navy flag is replaced with a Coast Guard flag and a USCG person takes “control” of the ship. Then they order the suspected drug smuggling ship to stop and the USCG detachment boards and searches the ship under threat of being blown out of the water by this, now “Coast Guard ship." Neat but don’t try this with your own vehicle.
Training, Offloading Hardware, and Supporting Police Departments
Since the start of the Drug War, the military has become increasingly involved with the police departments across our country. This is of great concern to civil libertarians and many essays have been written warning us of the dangers. Of course, the politicians have paid little attention to those warnings for other interests drive them.
Some recent papers I found on the web are: “Sacramento Bee: Beware of feds bearing weapons," “Warrior Cops: The Ominous Growth of Paramilitarism in American Police Departments," and “The Militarization of ‘Mayberry’."
The Posse Comitatus Act, as revised, and other statutes, allow some domestic use of the military, specifically when there is an emergency that the states cannot handle. The law has been further weakened in modern times by the drug warriors and now allows the military to get involved in drug interdiction at our borders.
The military also has a great need to offload obsolete equipment (and new, I suppose). The constant need for the industries to sell new stuff to the military requires that something be done with the old. While we offload billions of dollars worth of the stuff on third world countries, dumping some of it on police forces can help too. So, we have police forces that now look like armies.
And act that way too, for they are receiving military training also. As the above listed articles point out, this is a grave mistake because to the soldier, you are either a friend or an enemy and if you are enemy, the goal is to cause you great harm and even death. Police are technically not suppose to be that way. In fact, in the old days, policemen in the US were often considered to be friends of the community. It is a sad thing to see that culture pass away.
It Could Be Worse
The essay, “The Posse Comitatus Act: A Principle In Need Of Renewal” by Matthew Hammond, states that there have been several recent attempts to further weaken the Posse Comitatus Act. Fortunately, they have failed so far. Some examples (quoted from the essay):
- After the bombing of the federal building in Oklahoma City, President Clinton proposed an exception to the PCA to allow the military to aid civilian authorities in investigations involving “weapons of mass destruction.” (fertilizer bombs?)
- [Presidential] candidate Lamar Alexander even proposed replacing the Immigration and Naturalization Service and the Border Patrol with a new branch of the armed forces.
- Congress also considered legislation to directly involve federal troops in enforcing customs and immigration laws at the border.
THE WORKING-LEVEL GOVERNMENT IS 90% CONTRACTORS NOW
As I pointed out in my article, “How Can You Tell When a Politician Is Lying?," politicians are very deceitful when it comes to discussing just how big our bloated government is. In his extensive study on this subject, Paul Light of the Brookings Institute has shown that the true size, when you add in all the government contractors, is nearly ten times the admitted size. These contractors literally take the place of lower level government employees, doing exactly the same work as was done by the civil servants, often working directly for a legitimate civil service manager. There are several reasons why “outsourcing” has become so popular:
- Congress wants it to promote more profit making by private industries
- Government people may feel that a contractor can do a better job or that the job is just too nasty or difficult. Pure laziness may be involved too and why not when the taxpayers, with very deep pockets it seems, are paying the bills.
- Liability and political considerations. Contractors are less liable than uniformed soldier might be see the Dallas Morning News article, “Contractors Playing Increasing Role in U.S. Drug War” for more on this.
- Government wants to claim that it is not a huge bloated monstrosity (and still growing, in fact)!
Nearly every government agency is now outsourcing essentially all the real work that their agency is supposed to do. I will mention a few federal agencies, but state governments also extensively use contractors.
- The Military and NASA
The military has been rapidly outsourcing more and more of its functions in the last 50 years or so. They have always had the support and the involvement of contractors in developing and building war machines. Since retired military often are hired by these companies, usually in positions that match the position they had in service, the entanglement that President Eisenhower referred to is very real. You can read about a specific example of this, the contracts that Halliburton received for support in the Balkans and other areas of conflict around the world in my article previously mentioned, “Cheney Takes Another Spin Around the Washington Revolving Door."
- Department of Justice (DOJ)
As discussed elsewhere in this essay, DOJ has a number of sub-contractors, but by far the number one is DynCorp, which does most of their routine paper work, including computer programming, database management, whatever. Through the US Marshals, they also contract out the management of the seized property, auctions, etc. to many private contractors all over the country.
- The very profitable prison business
There are many government agencies involved in the management of the huge number of incarcerated citizens that has resulted from the Drug War (supposedly, we have the highest incarceration rate in the world, 6 or 7 times greater than the other free world nations). There are many articles on the web about this. A good one is ABC News’ “Profit & Punishment."
- Others too numerous to go into here.
Would any public spirited American corporation stoop so low as to accept these jobs that debase the Constitution and infringe on the rights of citizens? All of them in a heartbeat! I personally worked for many years as one of those warm bodies provided by one of the contractors mentioned below (I hastily add, my work was in support of the NASA Space Station program, in some ways a little less sleazy than being an “advisor” in Kosovo and Columbia). The bidding for these kinds of jobs was pursued vigorously!
From what I have seen on the web in preparation of this article it appears that the primary players in the government contracting or outsourcing (commonly known as “Beltway Bandits” because of their locations or major offices are generally on the beltway around Washington, D.C.) are:
According to the Knight Ridder Newspaper article, “U.S. civilians taking risks in Colombian drug war," of 26 February 2001,
… DynCorp is the biggest, with sales of $1.2 billion a year 95 percent from contracts with the U.S. government. It runs everything from one of the computer centers that handled the 2000 Census to the maintenance of the Kuwaiti Air Force, the administration of a U.S. military air base in the Honduran town of Palmerola and the sale of military surplus from former U.S. bases in Panama.
It is also a major source of bodies for the Department of Justice, providing contract employees to help manage the massive amount of loot take under their Asset Forfeiture program. There the contract employees do a wide range of tasks about everything except doing the actual seizures.
According to Bill Weinberg in his article, “Corporate Interests Behind $1.7 Billion Colombia Drug War Aid Package”:
MPRI spokesman Ed Soyster, a retired Army lieutenant general and former director of the Defense Intelligence Agency, told the Dallas Morning News his company is gearing up for new business after the aid package is approved. MPRI even helped the Colombian government devise the official, three-phase “action plan” that was presented to Congress outlining how the $1.28 billion would be allocated.
Says Soyster: “We’re a military company. We’re able to hand-pick our people from a select group of guys who like to come into this type of environment.” MPRI maintains a database of 11,000 vets available to work on assignment, and has also provided training and logistical support for military operations in the Balkans, Middle East and Africa.According to Time Magazine, January 15, 1996; page 34, MPRI is:
“the greatest corporate assemblage of military expertise in the world.” With 160 full-time employees and some 2,000 retired generals, admirals and other officers on call, it is making a fair claim.
A huge government contractor that markets both hardware and services. According to the Knight Ridder Newspaper article mentioned above,
Northrop Grumman of Los Angeles provides an unknown number of U.S. citizens that operate and maintain five radar stations in eastern and southern Colombia that track suspected drug smuggling flights.
Tracking data is beamed to Key West in Florida, home of the drug-fighting Joint Interagency Task Force-East, under the 1998 contract administered by the Defense Department’s Air Combat Command in Hampton, Va.
All I know about Halliburton, I reported on in my article, “Cheney Takes Another Spin Around the Washington Revolving Door."
According to the article, “A Hiroshima in the U.S.?," by Maria Tomchick, SAIC is involved in the Balkans along with MPRI and other companies too numerous to mention.
Military regimes in Latin American have tended to be the norm. In the old days when we had a government that made some pretense at following the Constitution and supporting human rights around the world, we actually took some actions to help stifle these military and dictatorial regimes and to establish civilian governments there.
Now we support the encourage and military no matter how ruthless. We now have a higher call making money!
In particular, the Colombian military is considered one of the most ruthless in the world at this time (See “Columbia” at the Teknopunx, “People Against Power Abuse," site). Working with and through the very powerful paramilitary force in that country, they have murdered, maimed and otherwise inflicted harm on thousands of Colombian citizens, especially the peasants.
When a twinge of conscience surfaced for some of our legislators, they added provisions in the “Plan Columbia” to require certain conditions to further and protect human rights. But they quickly recovered and quietly added a provision that would allow the President to suspend these provisions.
And he did.
So it all worked out; all the politicians got their fat contributions, the defense industry got to sell a bunch of iron, the Beltway Bandits will keep their macho, former military, employees busy and out of trouble, the Colombian military gets a stockpile of new exotic toys to play with, and the murder and torture of helpless civilians goes on as usual. Oh, I almost forgot: the drug business also goes on as usual, the eradication of the Colombian vegetation having no significant impact (only hurting the peasants that happen to live there) and the guerillas will have had a substantial increase in the support for their cause by the Colombian civilians being further harassed by their evil government and the Gringos.
Everybody is happy.
Just as this article was being finished, I received an email from Matthew Gaylor’s “Freematt” mail group [Note 4] in which he quoted an article from Jane’s Foreign Report , titled “Colombians bypass Plan Colombia." It appears that the devastation of the coca crops and any other vegetation in the area is already underway. Unfortunately, the money to support the native farmers who must now find a new source of sustenance hasn’t quite arrived yet. You know how these things are you can’t have everything on time. Here are some quotes:
Vast stretches of southern Colombia now look like desert – crops withered away, the ground parched and brown, vegetation burnt by chemicals. The American-sponsored aerial drug eradication, the biggest in the world, is well under way, destroying every plant that grows over 30,000 hectares in this fragile Amazonian ecosystem. “This is a carefully planned campaign,” says James Mack, the American point-man for Plan Colombia, the anti-drugs plan financed by $1.3 billion of American aid. “These crop-dusting aircraft are spraying areas plotted with aerial photographs and are guided by satellite positioning systems.”
On the ground, however, there is evidence that legal crops are being destroyed too. Fields of plantain, almost a mile from the nearest drug field, were withered and brown after the passing of a crop- dusting plane. While the fumigation campaign has been going since the end of last year, the other component of Plan Colombia, the $80m to help coca farmers switch to legal crops, has not arrived. “What are we supposed to do?” asks Cecilia Amaya, who heads a peasant association based in Puerto Asis, the largest town in Putumayo province. “The promised help has not arrived, and we suspect it will never arrive. Corrupt politicians have already pocketed it.”
Few Colombians believe the American strategy has any chance of success. The street price of cocaine has not changed since the fumigations began. The only visible effects are the ravaged landscape, some 10,000 people displaced since the programme began at the end of last year, and an increase in acts of violence. A kilo of cocaine is worth up to $50,000 in the United States, $80,000 in Europe, and most Colombians believe that as long as the demand remains the supply will feed it.
Senator Mitch McConnell (KY) did propose a bill in the summer of 1989 to empower the military to shoot down suspected drug-smuggling aircraft but Congress refused to let it out of committee; see J. Baker, “The ‘You Fly, You Die’ Debate,” Newsweek (October 2, 1989), 26. The executive branch later made it clear that: “consistent with international law and in the interests of aviation safety, no action may now be taken to stop or interrupt the progress of a target aircraft in flight”; see ONDCP, 1989 National Drug Control, 76. (“The Role of the Military” Note 31, from the book, Drugs and Foreign Policy, Westview Press, 1991, edited by Raphael Perl.
2. For political reasons, in the U.S. these guerrillas are called “Narco-guerrillas," a term credited to former Drug Czar, General McCaffrey. Per Stan Goff, in the article, “‘Narco-guerrillas’: alibi for intervention,"
White House antidrug chief Gen. Barry McCaffrey (no coincidence that he is the former commander of Southcom, the Theater Command for the U.S. armed forces in Latin America) and Defense Secretary William Cohen are arguing for a massive expansion of aid to Colombia.
“Fighting communists” no longer goes well with the public after the Vietnam disaster.
… [MPRI] should be well-placed for a contract, since it also helped the Colombian government devise the official, three-phase “action plan” that was presented to Congress last month outlining how the $1.6 billion would be allocated.
Leon Felkins is a retired Engineer, Army officer and former teacher of Computer Systems. He now maintains a web page on Political Philosophy, “A Rational Life“, and another on the history of politics, “Political Almanac.”