New Light on Private Security Contractors in Iraq

The use of thousands of private security contractors in Iraq represents a quantitatively new feature of U.S. military operations, but relatively little has been publicly disclosed about the contractual arrangements involved.

The war in Iraq “is apparently the first time that the United States has depended so extensively on contractors to provide security in a hostile environment,” according to a recently updated Congressional Research Service report (pdf).

But “the use of armed contractors raises several concerns, including transparency and accountability,” the CRS report said.

“The lack of public information on the terms of the contracts, including their costs and the standards governing hiring and performance, make evaluating their efficiency difficult. The apparent lack of a practical means to hold contractors accountable under U.S. law for abuses and other transgressions, and the possibility that they could be prosecuted by foreign courts, is also a source of concern,” the CRS report said.

Thanks to a Freedom of Information Act request filed by David Isenberg of United Press International, new information is now available on the U.S. State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) contract, which provides security services throughout Iraq (as well as Afghanistan, Bosnia and Israel).

UPI obtained the WPPS contract specifications from the State Department and reported on the material in “Dogs of War: WPPS World” by David Isenberg, September 19. The newly disclosed contract material itself was posted by UPI here (pdf).

Extensive background information on the issue is available from the Congressional Research Service in “Private Security Contractors in Iraq: Background, Legal Status, and Other Issues,” updated August 25, 2008.

Dept of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance, and More from CRS

The structure, development and ramifications of growing U.S. Department of Defense foreign assistance activities are described in a major new report from the Congressional Research Service. See “The Department of Defense Role in Foreign Assistance: Background, Major Issues, and Options for Congress” (pdf), August 25, 2008.

Other noteworthy new reports from CRS that have not been made readily available to the public include the following (all pdf).

“Pay-for-Performance: The National Security Personnel System,” September 17, 2008.

“The Defense Base Act (DBA): The Federally Mandated Workers’ Compensation System for Overseas Government Contractors,” September 15, 2008.

“The North Korean Economy: Leverage and Policy Analysis,” updated August 26, 2008.

“Presidential Claims of Executive Privilege: History, Law, Practice and Recent Developments,” updated August 21, 2008.

“Periods of War,” updated August 19, 2008.

“The Manhattan Project, the Apollo Program, and Federal Energy Technology R&D Programs: A Comparative Analysis,” September 3, 2008.

Ideological Conflict Puts Al Qaeda on the Defensive

Al Qaeda is “imploding,” a State Department counterterrorism official told the Associated Press last week, as a result of growing opposition in the Muslim world.

The implication that al Qaeda’s demise may be imminent is almost certainly incorrect. But what is true is that “a severe intellectual conflict has emerged” within the jihadist movement, said Kamal Habib, a former official of the Egyptian Jihad Organization (Al Arab, September 14).

Over the past year, al Qaeda has been publicly criticized by several of its own former supporters and ideological leaders, most notably Sayyid Imam Al-Sharif, also known as Dr. Fadl, who once saved the life of Usama bin Laden.

“Sayyid Imam is viewed as the greatest and most important authority for all of the jihadist salafist groups,” said Kamal Habib.

So when Sayyid Imam declared in a November 2007 book that killing non-combatant civilians, including Christians and Jews, is prohibited and that Al Qaeda’s conduct of jihad against the west was illegitimate, it produced an ideological earthquake within Islamist ranks.

“Fadl’s arguments undermined the entire intellectual framework of jihadist warfare,” wrote Lawrence Wright in an illuminating article in The New Yorker (June 2, 2008).

“Al Qaeda senior leaders in 2008 have devoted nearly half their airtime to defending the group’s legitimacy,” observed National Intelligence Officer Ted Gistaro in an August 12 speech (pdf). “This defensive tone … reflects concern over allegations by militant leaders and religious scholars that al Qaeda and its affiliates have violated the Islamic laws of war, particularly in Iraq and North Africa.”

One of the major al Qaeda responses came in a book by bin Laden deputy Ayman al Zawahiri called “The Exoneration: A Treatise Exonerating the Community of the Pen and the Sword from the Debilitating Accusation of Fatigue and Weakness” (pdf).

The book is an attempt to defend the legitimacy of al Qaeda’s tactics, including the killing of civilians, against the critiques of Sayyid Imam and other Islamic figures.

“Those who claim that killing innocent persons is absolutely forbidden are in a position of accusing the prophet, may God’s peace and prayers be upon him, his companions, and the generation following them that they were killers of innocent persons, as they see it,” wrote Zawahiri.

He noted that the prophet authorized the use of catapults, which do not discriminate between innocent and guilty, and he also killed all the males of a Jewish tribe “and made no distinction between one person and another.”

“The Exoneration,” which was published in January 2008, was translated a few months later by the DNI Open Source Center. The translation has not been approved for public release, but a copy was obtained by Secrecy News.

“Zawahiri’s strategic thinking and understanding of asymmetrical warfare and revolutionary violence is heavily indebted to vanguardism, a Leninist theory of revolution which posits that a small, revolutionary elite uses violence to rouse the people to fight against the government,” according to a contractor analysis (pdf) performed for the Department of Defense and obtained by Secrecy News.

“The potential problem with Zawahiri’s application of the theory of vanguardism… is that terrorism usually diminishes the support of both the government as well as the terrorist organization,” as appears to be the case today.

See “Zawahiri Tries to Clear Name, Explain Strategy,” Transnational Security Issues Report, prepared for the Department of Defense by the International Research Center, April 21, 2008.

“Is Al Qaeda going to dissipate as a result of the criticism from its former mentors and allies? Despite the recent internal criticism, probably not in the short term,” said analyst Peter Bergen at a July 30 congressional hearing.

“However, encoded in the DNA of apocalyptic jihadist groups like Al Qaeda are the seeds of their own long-term destruction: Their victims are often Muslim civilians; they don’t offer a positive vision of the future; they keep expanding their list of enemies, including any Muslim who doesn’t precisely share their world view; and they seem incapable of becoming politically successful movements because their ideology prevents them from making the real-world compromises that would allow them to engage in genuine politics,” Mr. Bergen said.

Book: The Secret War with Iran

In 1997, acting on intelligence that a Hizballah cell was preparing to blow up the American embassy in Asuncion, Paraguay, a U.S. special forces team reportedly flew to the scene in several giant transport planes where it arrested the conspirators and prevented the attack.

If that episode happened as described (and it cannot readily be confirmed), it left no traces on the public record. It “is only one of many hidden battles” between Iran and the West, writes Israeli journalist Ronen Bergman in his new book “The Secret War with Iran” (Free Press, 2008).

The book, translated from the Hebrew and based on extensive interviews with Israeli intelligence officials and others, provides a wealth of insights, unfamiliar anecdotes, and telling observations regarding the three-decade-old confrontation with Iran. A few random examples:

Hizballah, acting as a proxy for Iran, temporarily refrained from taking American hostages between June 1985 and September 1986 in support of the secret arms sales deal between the U.S. and Iran that later became known as the Iran-contra affair.

Israel itself helped arm revolutionary Iran in a secret operation codenamed “Seashell” and described in the book. Earlier, Israel had also supplied advanced weaponry to the Shah, and “if Khomeini had not taken power as early as he did, he might have taken over a country armed with long-range missiles capable of carrying nuclear warheads… as well as a jet fighter that was supposed to be the best in the world.”

Out of a list of some 500 opposition figures targeted by Khomeini, nearly 200 of them were killed by Iranian assassins in Europe between 1980 and 1997.

Writing from an Israeli perspective, Mr. Bergman does not delve deeply into Iranian grievances or aspirations. But neither does he flatter the competence, judgment or morality of Israeli intelligence and military officials.

Categorized by the publisher as “political science,” the book is more of a work of intelligence history, with numerous strange tales of intelligence deeds and misdeeds, like the Israeli intelligence officer who was arrested for murdering his agent, and the Lebanese source who provided perfect warning of an impending attack only to be ignored in a turf battle between Israeli security agencies. The CIA is credited with “brilliantly” dismantling the Abu Nidal Organization, “sewing discord among its members by getting them to believe that they were being robbed by other operatives.”

Mr. Bergman, an investigative journalist who writes for Israel’s Yediot Aharonot, earned his doctorate under historian Christopher Andrew at Cambridge University. His dissertation explored Israeli intelligence operations in Africa.

FAS Presenting at the ASCE AEI Annual Conference

I’m off to Denver later this week for the American Society of Civil Engineers Architectural Engineering Institute’s Annual Conference. FAS has been asked by Dr. Mohammed Ettouney, the conference’s chair, to present our research on applying cementitious structural insulated panels to multi-story buildings at the event.

I will be chairing the presentation, presenting along with John Millhone, Dr. Khalid Mosalem, and Eric Tompos. John is a senior advisor at FAS, and will be speaking about the role of buildings in the carbon economy, and how advanced building technologies offer one of the most important solutions to our national energy problems. Eric, the Executive Vice President of NTA Inc., is a very well respected engineer in the SIP community, and has provided instrumental advice and guidance to FAS throughout the research project. Eric will be presenting generally about SIPs, focusing on the panel mechanics and basic engineering. Dr. Mosalem, a civil engineering professor at the University of California at Berkeley, will present his research on seismic testing of CSIP panels. I will wrap up our session with a talk about the specifics of our research – the multi-story applications of CSIPs, future areas of research, and the overall potential for CSIPs in the architectural and engineering worlds.

I think the conference will be a great opportunity for FAS, and I’m looking forward to a positive dialogue about the research. I’ll be out of touch while at the conference, but I’ll be sure to post a recap afterwards with some thoughts and insights.

New SmartGrid Research Partnership

Today Google and GE announced a new partnership, teaming to develop smart grid technologies and clean energy. The concept of the smart grid is essentially bringing electricity transmission, distribution, and use into the 21st century through the use of two-way communications, advanced sensors, and distributed computers to improve the efficiency, reliability and safety of power delivery and use. The system has not been integrated into America’s energy distribution system, but the concept offers increased reliability, efficiency and safety of the power grid, enables decentralized power generation so homes can be both an energy client AND supplier (allowing individual loads to tailor their generation directly to their load, making them independent from grid power failures), and enabling flexibility of the power consumption on the clients side.

Developing and implementing this concept will be crucial if plug-in vehicles (getting closer and closer over the horizon) are going to be a benefit instead of a detriment to the electric system. Smart power grids would allow people to conduct tasks such as recharging electric cars at times of day when demand is not high, and enable them to sell solar or other renewable energy back to utility companies.

Surprisingly, it is political and regulatory hurdles, not technological ones, that block the path to revamping the US power grid, and it is this side of the puzzle that this new partnership will investigate. FAS hasn’t done much research into smart grids, but we see it as an important upgrade in the bigger picture of improving our national energy use, and we’re very interested to see where this partnership will go.

A fact sheet on the partnership can be found here.

Some Thoughts on the House Energy Bill

On Tuesday, the House of Representatives passed the Comprehensive American Energy Security and Consumer Protection Act (HR 6899). While the bill itself is very wide-reaching, unfortunately the majority of it its focus (and debate) has gotten caught up in the issue of off-shore drilling, an issue that has been shown to have little impact (immediate or long term) on our national energy use and needs.[i] While the bill did pass the house, and now moves to the Senate to be voted on, President Bush has threatened to veto the bill.

Regardless of its unfortunate focus on drilling and its apparent doom by the hand of a presidential veto, the bill does include many positive provisions for efficiency in buildings. The bill also includes the GREEN Act of 2008, a bill sponsored by Rep. Perlmuttter (D-CO), a bill that FAS helped develop. Some of the many important measures included in the bill, along with some thoughts: Continue reading

Improving Energy Codes – An Upcoming Opportunity

In a few days, the International Code Council’s (ICC) final action hearings of the 2009 code development process will take place in Minneapolis. The hearings are the final step in a 3 year long code development cycle aimed at re-evaluating and improving the ICC’s myriad of building codes.

I bring this up because it’s the final determination for what has been deemed as the “30 percent solution” by the Energy Efficient Codes Coalition (EECC) to be adopted into the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), the nationally recognized model energy efficiency code.  The proposals included in this “30 percent solution” look to improve the energy efficiency of the entire code by 30 percent by using current, everyday products and practices that are affordable (paying dividends through positive cash flow for the homeowner).

This lengthy process began in 2007 with the submission of over 150 proposed amendments, which have been revised to incorporate comments and recommendations throughout the development process. The result is a set of 21 individual proposals – fourteen of which were approved by the Development Committee in Palm Springs, with modifications as appropriate, and seven other proposals which were initially not approved but have now been modified by the EECC in its public comments. One of these, EC-14 is a compilation of all the individual parts and would essentially revise the entire code, and another (EC-154) is a voluntary appendix, designed to provide jurisdictions interested in increasing their energy efficiency  beyond the basic IECC measures with a means to do so.

The product of this “Final Action Hearing” will become the 2009 IECC, which can then be ratified as a new building requirement by municipalities across the country.

FAS is very interested in the outcome of these hearings. Improving building codes is one of the many ways to spur future focus and development on building energy efficiency, and if these measures are passed, they will represent a significant jump in one fell swoop.  FAS will be keeping an eye of these hearings, and will update the blog with developments.

Missile Watch No. 2: Somalia

CNN and AFP are reporting that the Shabaab, a militant wing of a Somali insurgent group, the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), has threatened to treat “as an enemy combatant” any plane that attempts to land at Mogadishu Airport.  According to AFP, the threat, which was posted on the Internet, was confirmed by Shabaab leader Mukhtar Robow.  The web posting reportedly includes a list of grievances used to justify the threat, including the airport’s use by “Ugandan and Bulgarian mercenaries,” money generated by the airport for the Ethiopian government, and harassment of “Somali religious personalities” by “US and Israeli secret services…”  The warnings are accompanied by a graphic of a man pointing a shoulder-fired missile at a plane as it is landing.

The threat is not to be taken lightly. Last year, the FAS identified Somalia as one of three MANPADS proliferation hotspots worldwide in response to numerous reports of illicit missile activity, most of which involved the ICU and the Shabaab.  In 2006, UN investigators identified at least six shipments of MANPADS and other weapons to the violent Insurgent group, including a shipment of “50 units” of ”shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles and second generation infrared-guided anti-tank weapons” from Eritrea, “45 units” of surface-to-air missiles from Iran, and three surface-to-air missiles from Syria.  In each case, the missiles were part of larger arms shipments that also included dozens of assault rifles, machine guns, and other small arms and light weapons.  The Associated Press later reported that the ICU had received 200 shoulder-fired missiles from Eritrea alone.

In March 2007, the Islamists fired two advanced SA-18 missiles at a Belarussian cargo aircraft as it was departing from Mogadishu International Airport.  One of the missiles hit the plane, causing it to crash and killing all eleven people on board.  UN investigators later concluded that the missiles used in the attack were part of a consignment of six SA-18s acquired from Eritrea.  This summer, the UN traced another SA-18 found in Somalia back to a batch of Russian missiles that were shipped to Eritrea in 1995. The Eritrean government denies allegations that it provides missiles and other weapons to the ICU.

To sign up for Missile Watch, click here.  For more information on illicit MANPADS in Somalia and elsewhere, see ASMP Issue Brief #1: MANPADS Proliferation.

written by Matt Schroeder

An Argument for Open Source Intelligence Secrecy

“There is altogether too much discussion about the deliverables that OSINT [open source intelligence] can produce,” said Jennifer Sims, a former State Department intelligence official, at a DNI conference on open source intelligence last week.

Open source intelligence refers to intelligence that is derived from unclassified, legally accessible information sources.

But the fact that the underlying sources of OSINT are unclassified doesn’t mean the resulting intelligence can be disclosed, said Dr. Sims, who is now director of intelligence studies at Georgetown University.

“If it is providing decision advantage [to policymakers], then it is sensitive” and it should be withheld from disclosure, she said. “And decision advantage has nothing to do with the classification of the sources and methods. It has to do with the insights that the intelligence can deliver.”

Consequently, “OSINT needs to become a bit more closed-mouth about its deliverables,” she said.

By the same token, said Dr. Sims, if it’s not classified, then intelligence agencies should not be doing it.

“Democracies should sharply curtail classified intelligence organizations to the business that absolutely must be kept secret: gaining and keeping decision advantages in national security policy-making. Everything else should be unclassified and funded outside the intelligence establishment,” she wrote in an email message.

“Of course, if the processing of open sources gains you those insights, then ‘OSINT’ must be one of the jobs that intelligence institutions perform. But the measure of its success will always be the competitive edge it provides; and edges disappear if you give them away.”

The argument for greater open source intelligence secrecy suggests that U.S. intelligence agencies have been recklessly broadcasting OSINT products and thereby compromising the unique advantages that they provide. But most OSINT products are withheld from the public anyway.

And although some OSINT products have reportedly been included in the President’s Daily Brief, few of them seem to offer operationally significant insights that could be compromised by disclosure.

“Copyright, not classification, is the main barrier to disclosure of OSINT products,” said Kim A. Robson, deputy director of the DNI Open Source Center. But she added that “The better we get at OSINT, the more the need to classify it.”

Dr. Sims’ views were reported in “Analysis: Classifying open source intel?” by Shaun Waterman, United Press International, September 16.

A new recruitment video for the DNI Open Source Center presents the Center as it sees itself and would wish to be seen by potential recruits. A copy of the seven-minute video is posted here.

See also Open Source Intel Rocks — Sorry, It’s Classified by Noah Shachtman, WIRED Danger Room, September 17.