If there is one constant in the private military and security contracting industry it is that nobody has a good record in predicting what the industry will be doing in the future. And much of the time the public is relatively clueless about what they are currently doing
In the 1980s, when the U.S. Army came up with the U.S. Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) program to help provide logistics support to U.S. forces globally nobody foresaw just how massive that support would become in Iraq or Afghanistan, let alone the major presence of gun-toting private security contractors.
In the early 2000s, nobody envisioned that the threat of pirates in Somalia and elsewhere attacking commercial shipping would produce a private maritime security industry that now numbers in the hundreds of companies.
Until the revelations of Edward Snowden, most of the public was unaware about just how much the intelligence community depended on private contractors.
The only thing one can say with reasonably certainty is that if there is a way to make money off of it private contractors will be there to make a contract bid.
So, now that Iraq is mostly a memory for contractors, although the threat of ISIS is bringing up the numbers a bit, and Afghanistan is trending downwards to the inevitable zero it is a good time to ask what other things private contractors are into these days, aside from logistics and security details.
One answer — to paraphrase the old 1950s “Superman” television show introduction — is “look, up in the sky, it’s a bird, it’s a plane, no, it’s a PDC (Private Drone Contractor)!”
Yes, it’s PDCs — strange visitors from planets SAIC, BAE, CACI and others in galaxy Androneda — who came to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of ordinary servicemen. PDCs — enablers of targeted killings. Champions of covert counterterrorist strikes, valiant, courageous fighters against the forces of “inherently governmental” federal employees, who, disguised as Dark Rents, mild-mannered contractors for great metropolitan corporations, fight a never-ending battle for secrecy, obscurity and the American cost-plus contract.
Well, okay, a little over the top, perhaps, but not all that much.
One should not be fooled by the term UAVs (unmanned aerial vehicles). They may not have a pilot in the drone but there are many people, including contractors, involved in each and every drone flight.
A 2012 article, “Drone-Sourcing? United States Air Force Unmanned Aircraft Systems, Inherently Governmental Functions, and the Role of Contractors” by Air Force Captain Keric D. Clanahan, noted:
A single Combat Air Patrol (“CAP”) mission for a Predator or Reaper demands approximately 160 to 180 personnel to complete the 24 hour mission; the more complex Global Hawk system requires between 300 and 500 personnel — human capital requirements are adjusted depending on the intelligence capabilities required for the mission.
What are they doing? Some of what they do is fairly uncontroversial and totally within the government framework of acceptable activities to outsource, such as providing logistics and maintenance, including weapons, services or sustaining sensor and ground station equipment.
And then there are activities, which some scholars consider to verge on, if not outright be intelligence collection, especially at the tactical level; activities, which are considered “inherently governmental” and are supposed to be done just by governmental personnel, such as performing video and imagery analysis.
According to Clanahan, “the Department of Defense has relied quite extensively on contract support for intelligence operations.”
While it is no surprise that contractors would want to get as much of the UAV pie as possible, the ambiguity regarding what they should and should not be able to do is not just an academic concern.
Some scholars think that those involved with UAV operations might be subject to prosecution in foreign courts or the International Criminal Court if misconduct is committed while performing inherently governmental functions.
How did all this come about? One reason is classic; bureaucratic rivalry. In an article published last year in Armed Forces and Security Journal, scholars Eugenio Cusumano and Christopher Kinsey wrote:
The CIA’s choice to employ contractors to arm the unmanned aerial vehicles employed for hunting terrorists in Southern Afghanistan reflects the controversy on the proper roles and missions of US military forces and intelligence agencies, often referred to as the Title 10-Title 50 debate and specifically the struggle surrounding the use of Special Operations Forces (SOF) in intelligence missions. Since its establishment, the CIA has seen its role challenged by the increasing involvement of the military in intelligence collection activities.
Over the last decade especially, the intelligence community found itself increasingly dependent on military personnel and assets, lamenting that the Pentagon’s efforts to create a separate human intelligence capability and its involvement in covert activities were “encroaching on the CIA’s realm,” and required the Agency to “regain its ground and reclaim its lost territory.” The US military, by contract, has frequently resisted against the detachment of SOF for CIA missions obliging its personnel to operate outside of the protection of the Geneva Conventions and seen as undermining the moral and the moral standing of its servicemen and women.
The resort to contractors for tasks such as the arming of Predator drones has therefore provided the CIA with the opportunity to maximize its autonomy over the targeted killings of terrorists and circumvent the reluctance of the US military to detach military teams in support of its operations.
Regardless of the reason, business is, wait for it, booming.
Writing about the Distributed Common Ground System, a weapons system which produces military intelligence for both the United States Army and Air Force drones, Andrew Cockburn, author of the book “Kill Chain: The Rise of the High Tech Assassins,” noted that:
Ever since William Perry championed the privatization of defense operations and support functions in the 1990s, outsourcing key missions to civilian contractors has taken up an ever-increasing share of military operations and budgets. This makes it legally difficult, given the sanctity of contracts and corporate litigiousness, to cut spending in this area. The esoteric world of “D-Sigs” is no exception. Just as private contractors handle drone takeoffs and landings before handling them over to the military crews to conduct actual strikes, so corporations not only built this complex electronic nervous system but also to a considerable extent operate and maintain it.
A simple check on Internet job posting from our corporations on contract to service the system helps to convey the scale of the business. Openings at just the Langley node, for example, were appearing daily, with no signs of a slowdown even as Washington rang with talk of austerity and a “hollowed out military.”
A typical day’s sample in early March 2014 advertised openings for, variously, a “systems administrator” (the position that Edward Snowden put to good use) required by CACI International, a “subject matter expert” sought by Sehike Consulting, an “intelligence capabilities analyst” required by Digital Management, while General Dynamics was looking for a network engineer.
All positions required at least a Top Secret Clearance, and most mandated SCI (special compartmented information) which usually meant signals intelligence. Salaries ranged between $120,000 and $170,000 annually, though, of course, the contractors would be adding a hefty overhead when submitting bills to the taxpayer.
While providing various kinds of support for drones and other unmanned military robotic systems, and not just for the U.S. military, is a growing market for private contractors they are, at least to some degree, under some kind of military control.
A much more interesting, and potentially troubling, development is when private contractors have their own in house robotic operations; a sort of Terminators Inc., if you will. This is hardly fanciful.
For example, AirScan, a Florida based company, which has, pardon the pun, long flown under the radar of media coverage, reportedly conducted drone surveillance for the U.S. military in Iraq and Kosovo.
But that is only a taste of what may come. In his seminal 2009 book, “Wired For War,” Peter Singer, who also wrote the much acclaimed “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry,” published in 2005, wrote:
The infamous private military firm Blackwater, for example, added an unmanned section to tis business in 2007, seeking to rent out drones and even unmanned blimps for reconnaissance and surveillance jobs. Indeed, on U.S. Special Forces solider expected a growing “corporate use” of unmanned systems by private military and corporate intelligence-gathering firms, even coining the term “robot mercenaries” for it.
Content posted to MyMPN open blogs is the opinion of the author alone, and should not be attributed to MintPress News.