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.

Get my RSS |

Accountability Time for Contractors?

| Tue Feb. 2, 2010 6:01 PM EST

When a federal judge recently tossed out the Justice Department's case against five Blackwater contractors accused of massacring Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisour Square, the episode raised troubling questions of accountability—or lack thereof. These questions are by no means new. Jurisdictional uncertainty over crimes committed by contractors overseas has persisted for years, even as the federal government has dramatically ramped up its reliance on military contractors and security firms in Iraq and Afghanistan. But if a trio of Democratic lawmakers have their way, the legal grey area could become black and white.

On Tuesday, Senators Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Ted Kaufman (D-Del.), along with Rep. David Price (D-N.C.), introduced bills intended to clarify the legal authority over contractors, who are currently subject to a patchwork of statutes. The legislation expands on the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA), which provides criminal jurisdiction over personnel "employed by or accompanying the armed forces” and primarily applies to DOD employees and contractors. The Blackwater contractors were being prosecuted under MEJA, though their lawyers had argued that the law didn't apply to them since they were on the payroll of the State Department, not the Pentagon. (The case was dismissed not on these grounds, but because the judge concluded that government lawyers had built their prosecutions on statements the contractors were compelled to make when they were debriefed by State Department officials following the shooting. The Justice Department is expected to appeal the decision.) 

Advertise on MotherJones.com

Parsing the Suspicously Timed Eikenberry Leak

| Tue Jan. 26, 2010 8:27 PM EST

When copies of Ambassador Karl Eikenberry's classified cables showed up on the web site of the New York Times Monday night, the timing of the leak surely seemed suspicious. The controversial memos appeared just as two high-profile events were set to take place later in the week—one a conference in London to discuss Afghanistan's future, and the second President Obama's first State of the Union address where the US mission in Afghanistan is sure to figure in.

The memos, sent to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as the administration formulated its Afghanistan strategy, were first described by the Times in general terms last November. Back then, the disclosure of Eikenberry's dissent was just the latest leak from administration factions that were apparently competing for influence in the Afghanistan debate. According to the latest Times story, the complete memos were ultimately provided by an "American official" who believed Eikenberry's grim assessment "was important for the historical record."

That explanation, said Alexander Thier, the director of the US Institute of Peace's Afghanistan and Pakistan program, doesn't wash. "They want it to be part of the public record because of what motivation?" The leaker, he said, certainly wasn't doing Eikenberry any favors. "There's no question that whatever the motivation of the leaker or leakers they would have had to understand that this would have a damaging impact on Eikenberry's ability to affectively fulfill his duties."

Writing on Foreign Policy's web site today, Peter Feaver, a former National Security Council staffer during the Bush administration, said the leak indicated that the "the internal debate over Afghanistan is ongoing" and pointed to "serious problems within" Obama's "national security team."

Iraq IG Slams Training Contract Oversight

| Mon Jan. 25, 2010 1:01 AM EST

In October 2007, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR), was forced to temporarily call off an audit of a billion-dollar contract to train Iraq's troubled police force. The problem was there wasn't much to audit. Invoices and other supporting documentation were missing or error-riddled—in such "disarray," as Bowen put it, that it was impossible for his office to render any definitive judgment. His staff could only conclude [PDF] than the State Department division overseeing the contract simply had no idea what it had received in return for most of the $1.2 billion it had paid out to the contractor, DynCorp International.

More than two years later the main thing that has changed is the amount of money the government can't fully account for. In a new audit [PDF] released Monday, SIGIR concludes that the State Department's Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (INL) "continues to exhibit weak oversight" of DynCorp's work under the police training program. "As a result, over $2.5 billion in US funds are vulnerable to waste and fraud."

Are Contractors Undermining US War Efforts?

| Thu Jan. 21, 2010 2:56 PM EST

Gun-carrying contractors working for the Defense Department now account for between 22 and 30 percent of the total armed force in Afghanistan, according to a new report [PDF] by the Congressional Research Service. And between June and September 2009, the number of armed security contractors in the country spiked by more than 100 percent. This sharp increase is likely to continue as the Obama administration deploys 30,000 more troops to the country.

The figures reported by CRS are limited to armed contractors employed by the Pentagon in Iraq and Afghanistan (see my former MoJo colleague Justin Elliot for a good rundown of the numbers). In Afghanistan, factoring in security contractors employed by other US agencies (namely USAID and the State Department), and those working for corporate clients, NGOs, and foreign governments, the ratio of armed contractors to US troops is vastly higher. By some estimates there are as many as 70,000 security contractors working in Afghanistan, as compared to 68,000 US troops currently on the ground, a large percentage of them serving in a support, not a combat, capacity. The truth is that no one is quite clear on how many security contractors are actually working in Afghanistan—not even the government agencies paying their salaries, a fact the GAO has highlighted [PDF] in the past.

Many of the armed contractors in Afghanistan are locals who work for companies that are effectively illegal—they operate unlicensed and outside of the regulatory framework overseen by the country's Ministry of Interior. Here, the term contractor applies loosely—many are just dudes with guns attached to local militias or associated with provincial powerbrokers who have set up their own private security companies (PSCs). According to CRS, "Many analysts believe that regulations governing PSCs are only enforced in Kabul; outside Kabul there is no government reach at present and local governors, chiefs of police, and politicians run their own illegal PSCs." These illegal operations serve various clients, including, the CRS report notes, "NATO and the U.S. Government." This means that as the US and NATO are actively pushing to strengthen Afghan governance, they are simultaneously empowering players who are flouting Afghan law.

Wed Jan. 11, 2012 12:49 AM EST
Sun Jan. 8, 2012 11:56 AM EST
Sat Jan. 7, 2012 11:22 AM EST
Tue Jul. 12, 2011 8:45 AM EDT
Tue May. 17, 2011 11:33 AM EDT
Tue Oct. 19, 2010 11:22 AM EDT
Fri Sep. 10, 2010 10:55 AM EDT
Fri Aug. 13, 2010 7:36 AM EDT
Thu Aug. 5, 2010 8:02 AM EDT
Mon Jul. 26, 2010 5:05 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 23, 2010 11:46 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 22, 2010 10:16 AM EDT
Fri Jun. 18, 2010 12:53 PM EDT
Fri Jun. 18, 2010 6:00 AM EDT
Wed Jun. 16, 2010 8:00 AM EDT
Tue Jun. 15, 2010 10:58 AM EDT
Mon Jun. 14, 2010 12:51 PM EDT
Wed Jun. 9, 2010 3:13 PM EDT
Tue Jun. 8, 2010 1:49 PM EDT
Wed May. 26, 2010 3:18 PM EDT
Fri May. 14, 2010 12:25 PM EDT
Fri May. 14, 2010 6:15 AM EDT
Thu May. 6, 2010 4:47 PM EDT
Wed May. 5, 2010 2:00 PM EDT
Wed Apr. 21, 2010 11:07 AM EDT
Sat Apr. 10, 2010 9:23 AM EDT
Fri Apr. 9, 2010 10:33 AM EDT
Thu Apr. 8, 2010 1:57 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 1, 2010 12:44 PM EDT
Thu Apr. 1, 2010 10:15 AM EDT
Fri Mar. 26, 2010 11:42 AM EDT
Thu Mar. 25, 2010 12:29 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 23, 2010 4:47 PM EDT
Tue Mar. 23, 2010 11:58 AM EDT
Wed Mar. 10, 2010 8:31 AM EST
Thu Mar. 4, 2010 12:18 PM EST
Wed Mar. 3, 2010 5:38 PM EST
Wed Mar. 3, 2010 10:45 AM EST
Thu Feb. 25, 2010 3:00 PM EST
Thu Feb. 25, 2010 2:28 PM EST
Wed Feb. 24, 2010 6:10 PM EST