Daniel Schulman

Senior Editor

Based in DC, Dan covers politics and national security. His work has appeared in the Boston Globe Magazine, the Village Voice, the Columbia Journalism Review, and other publications. He is the author of the new Koch brothers biography, Sons of Wichita (Grand Central Publishing). Email him at dschulman (at) motherjones.com.

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The Other Paravant Scandal

| Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:28 PM EST

When salacious details emerge about run-amok contractors, it's easy to lose sight of the big picture—the reason why these scandals keep happening and happening and happening. So what's the big picture, you ask? Great question. Let me tell you. In military parlance, oversight is FUBAR. (If you don't know what that means, look it up.) And the Paravant/Blackwater scandal I've been reporting on for the past few days is a perfect case study in what happens when oversight goes AWOL. Yes, the firm's personnel acted recklessly and knowingly violated military regulations—even the company acknowledges that—but no one bothered to stop them, to enforce the rules in place. As an investigation by Sen. Carl Levin's armed services committee documents, there was mass confusion about who was actually responsible for monitoring Paravant on the ground.

Ultimately Paravant had a contract with Raytheon. Raytheon had a contract with the Army's Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training, and Instrumentation. PEO STRI, headquartered in Orlando, Florida and without a rep on the ground, says it relied on a Dutch military officer attached to NATO's Combined Security Training Center-Afghanistan. That officer's supervisor told Levin's committee he had "no idea" why anyone would think this officer was responsible for Paravant—in fact, he knew of no one at CSTC-A who was. And things got even more ridiculous from there.

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Blackwater Did Rescue Alan Grayson

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 6:10 PM EST

Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.), who made his substantial fortune by suing military contractors and later lambasted them as a lawmmaker, was indeed evacuated from Niger by personnel working for Xe Services (the private security empire formerly known as Blackwater), his spokesman confirms.

Earlier today I reported on the testimony of Fred Roitz, an executive vice president at Xe, at a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Blackwater subsidiary Paravant. In his prepared remarks, he stated: "Xe Services, through its subsidiary Presidential Airways, provides aviation support and medevac services to Defense Department personnel in Africa. Just last week, our personnel evacuated a congressman from Niger during civil unrest."

This sure seemed to fit the description of Grayson, who was traveling in the country last week when a military coup erupted. The lawmaker was quickly evacuated out the country to neighborhing Burkina Faso. "The flight was arranged through the State Department," Todd Jukowski, Grayson's spokesman, told me. "The Congressman did not know, and frankly did not care, who owned the plane.” Later, Jurkowski followed up with an email confirming that Grayson was flown out of the country on a "Xe helicopter."

I also asked Jurkowski whether the experience had changed Grayson's thinking on the use of private military firms. Jurkowski replied: "The Congressman does not deny that there is admirable work being done by some employees of private contractors.  However, he stands by his criticism of companies who have been found to cheat the American people, defraud our government, and unnecessarily risk the lives of members of our military, all in the name of making a profit."

If it Looks Like Blackwater and Acts Like Blackwater...

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 5:32 PM EST

Why did Blackwater set up a new corporate identity when it inked a subcontract with Raytheon to train Afghan troops? Masking its scandal-tainted brand was the brainchild of its defense contractor client, according to a top executive for Xe Services (as Blackwater is now known).

Testifying before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday, Fred Roitz, an executive vice president at Xe, pulled back the curtain on the creation of Paravant, LLC. He suggested that Raytheon wanted to do business with Blackwater—so long as it didn't appear that it was actually doing business with the controversial security firm. Roitz said it was his "understanding... that the request for a company other than Blackwater came from Raytheon."

So Paravant was born. As Brian McCracken, a former Paravant vice president who now works for Raytheon, acknowledged, the subsidiary and Blackwater were effectively "one and the same." Along with a bank account and address, Paravant also shared its corporate parent's propensity for stirring up controversies. In May, two of the firm's trainers, Justin Cannon and Christopher Drotleff, opened fire on an oncoming car, killing two Afghan civilians and wounding a third. The men are currently being prosecuted by the Justice Department on second-degree murder and weapons charges. A months-long investigation by the armed services committee followed, unearthing evidence [PDF] that Paravant personnel had acted recklessly, disregarded military regulations, and improperly acquired hundreds of AK-47s and other firearms that were intended for use by the Afghan National Police. The probe also indentified a series of vetting lapses by Blackwater and major oversight failures by the army officials that were supposed to be supervising its work.

Did Blackwater Rescue Alan Grayson in Niger?

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 12:35 PM EST

Before joining Congress, Rep. Alan Grayson (D-Fla.) was the scourge of military contractors, filing dozens of whistleblower lawsuits against companies who defrauded the government in connection with their work in Iraq. In the past, the freshman lawmaker, who's known for his pugilistic style and no-holds barred remarks, has blasted the firms working on the payroll of the US government overseas: "We're not going to let the defense contractors use our money to bribe our government and take it over," he once said. And he has singled out Blackwater (now known as Xe) for special criticism: "We can't let, basically, Blackwater take over the entire government here. We have to draw the line somewhere."

But did Blackwater contractors come to his rescue last week, when Grayson was traveling in Niger and a military coup erupted? It certainly seems that way, considering the prepared testimony of Xe executive vice president Fred Roitz, who will testify later today in connection with a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on Blackwater subsidiary Paravant. In his remarks, he stated: "Xe Services, through its subsidiary Presidential Airways, provides aviation support and medevac services to Defense Department personnel in Africa. Just last week, our personnel evacuated a congressman from Niger during civil unrest."

The description certainly seems to fit the dicey circumstances Grayson found himself in last week. As CNN reported:

Rep. Alan Grayson, D-Florida, narrowly escaped harm earlier this week after being caught up in a military coup in the African country of Niger.

Grayson's press secretary, Todd Jurkowski, confirmed to CNN that Grayson was close to the action. "He heard the gunshots. They were literally in the building next door."

The outspoken congressman was in Niger as part of a congressional delegation focused on science, technology and humanitarian relief, according to Jurkowski. When the situation began to unravel, Grayson was taken to the residence of the United States Ambassador to Niger, where he was placed under armed protection.

Roitz offered his remarks in defense of Xe's personnel, who he described as "good corporate citizens," who "support numerous charitable and civic organizations in the region, including the Special Olympics, the USO, the Boy Scouts, and local nonprofit food service organizations."

In his prepared statement, Roitz said that Xe was a changed company following the departure of a series of high-level Blackwater employees and installation of a new management team. "Unfortunately, there were times when the first priority of the former leadership of the company was supporting those missions, even at the expense of complying administrative and regulatory requirements," Roitz said, referring to the firm's work in Iraq and Afghanistan. "That will not happen under the company's new leadership team, which emphasizes core values of honesty, integrity, reliability, and accountability." He also said the company is "in many significant ways, a new company when compared to the old Blackwater."

As for Grayson, if he was in fact saved by Blackwater, I wonder whether the experience has given him a newfound respect for the work of contractors. I have a call in to Grayson's spokesman. I'll update this post when I hear back.

UPDATE: Todd Jurkowsk, Rep. Grayson's spokesman, says the congressman's office is still trying to confirm whether he was in fact evacced by Presidential Airways. "The flight was arranged through the State Department," Jukowski says. "The Congressman did not know, and frankly did not care, who owned the plane.” On the subject of contractors, Jurkowski added, "The Congressman does not deny that there is admirable work being done by some employees of private contractors.  However, he stands by his criticism of companies who have been found to cheat the American people, defraud our government, and unnecessarily risk the lives of members of our military, all in the name of making a profit."

UPDATE 2: Case closed.

Blackwater Outtakes

| Wed Feb. 24, 2010 6:00 AM EST

When Senator Carl Levin (D-Mich.) and his staff briefed reporters Tuesday on their six-month investigation into Blackwater subsidiary Paravant, ahead of a hearing on the topic scheduled for this morning, the chairman of the armed services committee was asked whether the findings of the probe had given him any ideas about strengthening the contracting "procedures" currently in place. His response didn't make it into my story, but it's worth sharing:

What you need is oversight and hopefully this hearing is going to lead to dramatically better oversight, as well as much more care with who we contract with, looking at backgrounds of contractors before we contract with them, so I would say that the deterrent effect will be forthcoming. I don't see that we need new rules. What we need is an implementation of contract terms. And much more care as to who we contract with.

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