Just an hour north of the Mexican border, at the base of the cloud-capped Huachuca Mountains in southern Arizona, lies a military base with a long history of covert military action. In its early days as a military fort, it was the location of the capture of Geronimo, the last Apache warrior to resist the United States. More recently, Fort Huachuca housed the training of many of the interrogators who worked in the prisons of Cuba's Guantanamo Bay and Iraq's now infamous Abu Ghraib prison.
In 2003, just 237 interrogators graduated from the United States Army Intelligence Center, headquartered at the fort. Today, because of the war on terrorism, there are plans to quadruple the number of qualified interrogators to 1,000 a year by 2006 and the number of soldiers trained in basic intelligence skills to 7,000. This is an astronomical increase, far beyond the current capabilities of the center.
While military contracting for construction or weapons manufacturing is
nothing new, the privatization of intelligence instruction is a new and
rapidly expanding sector that came about less than four years ago. One
estimate in Mother Jones
magazine, compiled from interviews with military experts, suggests that
as much 50 percent of the $40 billion given annually to the 15
intelligence agencies in the United States is now spent on private
Teaching for Profit
Among the private contractors cashing in on the privatization boom is
Virginia-based Anteon International Corp., which has grown tenfold in
the last decade. The company has become one of the nation's primary
contractors for intelligence sharing, intelligence training and video
game warfare simulators. One of Anteon's offices is located on the
Huachuca base itself, while the second sits a mile away on Main Street,
in a bright, freshly-painted pink building, sandwiched between
Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with whom it shares a parking lot, and
Filiberto's Mexican restaurant.
Although Anteon first came into existence in 1976, its profits really began to soar 20 years later, when former investment banker Frederick Iseman bought the company assets for a mere $48 million. Today, Anteon's annual revenues exceed a billion dollars and its share price has jumped from it's initial public offering of $18 to $36 in the last three years.
Iseman, who admits he knew nothing about military contracting before he bought the company (his other investments range from orange juice to waste management), says he realized he needed connections to expand on the business. So he recruited a group of highly-placed former military officials to his board, ranging from William Perry, former head of the Pentagon, to Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bill Clinton.
The company is shy about revealing the nature of its work for the military. "We are an information technology systems integrator," says Mark Meudt, spokesman for Anteon. "Roughly 90 percent of our work is for the federal government and the rest is for other governments or sub-contracts with other companies that have federal contracts." Meudt refused to comment on any of the intelligence contracts at Fort Huachuca, but estimated that a fifth of the company's work is in simulation training for the military.
Today the company holds a master contract to teach a wide variety of courses for the Initial Entry Training (IET) in the intelligence school: ranging from the basic course which is titled 96B, to the more specialized Advanced Individual Training (AIT) courses such as counter-intelligence training (97B), interrogation (97E), signals intelligence (98C), electronic intelligence (98J) and signal identification (98K).
Traditionally, these IET and AIT jobs were handled by two battalions of the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade based at Fort Huachuca: the 305th and 309th (a third battalion, the 344th, conducts similar training in Texas). Today the tasks of teaching - from drawing up the curriculum to the final exams for the students - still take place on the military base, but many are conducted by instructors from the private companies.
Classes are held in a big pink H-shaped building in the northwest quadrant of Fort Huachuca with a red tiled roof, named Nicholson Hall after an American intelligence officer who was shot and killed by Soviet sentries in East Germany in 1985.
New students approaching the building must pass under a steel blue ribbon over the main entrance, emblazoned with the words: "Through these gates, pass the leaders of Military Intelligence." Also known as building number 81505, the windows on the structure are painted a light green to prevent the casual visitor from seeing in.
"Instructors... portray human intelligence sources in a variety of role playing scenarios, in diversified settings and environments, such as practical, situational and field training exercises and tests," reads a description of jobs completed on the website of ISIS, one of Anteon's sub-contractors.
In addition, these instructors "conduct post-role verbal critiques... complete written evaluations of student performance...grade student reports...and perform duties as team leaders for 6-12 student teams."
The myriad intelligence contracts are typically vague about exactly what the contractor's work will involve. In fact, many contracts read as if they are for entirely unrelated services. A great number of the contracts signed at Fort Huachuca are officially for "information technology," but in reality have been used to fund intelligence work -- more specifically, the hiring of civilian interrogators to work directly in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq.
At least one was administered by the staff in Building 22208, an unremarkable old military office on the south-eastern edge of the Brown Parade Field in the heart of the fort, which hosts the Department of Interior, Directorate of Contracting. This civilian agency holds a technology contract for a company named Premier Technology.
Soon after the contract was issued, however, Premier was bought up by another Virginia company named CACI International Inc., which used the original contract to hire private interrogators to work in Abu Ghraib prison.
A similar technology contract deal was pulled by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corporation, which bought up a small company named Affiliated Computer Services Inc. (ACS) with a Department of Interior technology contract, and then used the contract to employ private interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Titan Corporation, which describes itself as "a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for National Security," was also awarded contracts that were used to provide services atAbu Ghraib prison. Although not signed at Fort Huachuca, these contracts supplied the prison with translators, who have also been implicated in the prison abuse.
Most of the translators hired by Titan did not have security clearances. At least one, Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, had actually failed out of Fort Huachuca's intelligence school (and later pled guilty to mishandling classified information and making false statements), while CACI employees were drafted to do intelligence tasks that they had never been trained to do. Stephen Stephanowicz is a good example. He was trained at the base to inspect satellite pictures, but worked as an interrogator and is now being sued in federal court for allegedly humiliating, torturing and abusing Iraqi prisoners detained by U.S. authorities.
These are the concerns that weigh heavily on the minds of experts, who monitor the shadowy world of interrogation and intelligence. James Bamford, whose book "The Puzzle Palace," (which began as an expose about the National Security Agency, an ultra-secret government spy agency, but is now used as a textbook at the Defense Intelligence College), is especially worried.
"As was made clear by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, involving private contractors in sensitive intelligence operations can lead to disaster," Bamford wrote recently in an New York Times op-ed. "And the potential for disaster only grows when not just the agents on the ground, but their supervisors and controllers back at headquarters, are working for some private company."
"While there is nothing inherently wrong with the intelligence community working closely with private industry," he added, "there is the potential for trouble unless the union is closely monitored. Because the issue is hidden under heavy layers of secrecy, it is impossible for even Congress to get accurate figures on just how much money [is being spent] and how many people are involved."
Another major problem with privatizing intelligence, Bamford told CorpWatch, is cost. "After spending millions of dollars training people, taxpayers are having to pay them twice as much to return as rent-a-spies."
Bob Baer, the former CIA Middle East specialist and author of the book See No Evil, says the same phenomenon is happening within his former agency. "After 1997, practically all training is done by contractors," he says. "The CIA is even hiring contractors as station chiefs in other countries.
"I think it was by default -- to get around personnel limits and to get rid of severance problems," Baer adds. "But these companies don't vet people, you cannot keep track of who they are working for and of course they are not efficient. They have lower standards. Their job is to make money, and so they will tell you whatever you want to hear. It's called 'customer satisfaction' -- you want a convertible, you get a convertible."
| Video Games & Alien Ids
Business for Anteon is also thriving far from the gates of Fort Huachuca. For example, the company has a contract to build fake villages where soldiers can practice urban warfare. Called Military Operations on Urban Terrain, or MOUT sites, these units cost millions of dollars apiece and are scattered around bases like Fort Irwin in California and Fort Polk in Louisiana, as well as overseas in countries such as Korea and Kuwait.
The smallest is really just a converted shipping container and the largest has an airfield and a sewer from which the enemy can attack. Thousands of sensors, embedded in the units, determine where a soldier has been hit with infrared shots.
Inside the units, high-speed roman candles mimic the flash of gunshots; canned sound effects give the impression of helicopters and barking dogs; and even the smell of apple pie or rotting corpses.
"It's like Hollywood," Kampf told USA Today, except that he claims that Anteon's version is saving American lives. "I'm sleeping well at night, even after watching CNN."
The company also recently won a $118 million contract to recruit new soldiers for the entire United States Army, process the new recruits and give them credentials.
Kampf believes that the hottest new business is providing identification cards to foreign visitors to the United States, which it is already doing for Mexican and Canadian citizens who have to cross into the United States daily across the two borders.
"We have already issued 20 million laser-made cards under the border-crossing program - we are talking about $4 billion to $10 billion to issue not just cards but systems in every port of entry," Kampf told the Federal Times.
And today the company is merging the border identification work with the military training - in October 2004 the company set up shop at the University of Arizona Science and Technology Park on Tucson's Southeast Side.
"They are going to create and deploy curriculum used by border defense and Homeland Security," John Grabo, the park's director of marketing of marketing international programs told the Tucscon Citizen.
Part of the problem with hiring private contractors, Baer believes, is the lack of checks and balances. "Now if you ask a private company to produce a report on Afghan opium production, they will produce the report, but it might not be the truth. If you ask a CIA nitwit to write the report, he will care about getting it right, although he will probably get it wrong. But at least his motivation is correct."
A related article, printed in WorldNetDaily in January 2002, quoted a source on the base saying that many of the instructors were "a bunch of soldier's housewives, most who have never been in the Army [and who do not] even meet the minimum requirements set forth in the hiring guidelines for the contract." These instructors, the source said, "are married to the student [course] graders, who will assure that no student complains that the teaching is not up to par."
There are also a number of legal loopholes providing for small, start-up contractors to enter the fray - some by qualifying as disadvantaged minority enterprises, but most by poaching military personnel straight off the base and paying them higher salaries or tapping into the market of retired intelligence officers.
Take Castillo Technologies, founded by Alan Castillo, a former Marine. He registered as a disadvantaged business owner (he is Latino), so that he could snap up federal contracts to supply intelligence trainers at Fort Huachuca, after quitting his job at Motorola in 2000.
Likewise, ISIS -- named after the Egyptian goddess of fertility and motherhood -- was founded by Janice Walker, is headquartered in Sierra Vista and promotes itself as a woman-owned business. Walker recently hired Steve Manigault, who worked for the 304th battalion, to go back and work at the same battalion as a contractor. Walker offers military battalions a quick and easy way to hire her company to work on the base for a variety of tasks -- from environmental impact assessments to database management - using what is known as a Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA), a government license to get contracts without competitive bidding.
Neil Garra is an example of someone who was hired after retirement. Garra worked off and on the base for over a decade of his military career, beginning as a military instructor in 1989, rising to vice deputy director of the Battle Laboratory on the base in 1999, before retiring in 2000. Today he has his own small business, named S2 Company, which takes on sub-contracts to design war game simulations.
Walker and Garra return neither phone calls nor emails requesting their comment on the contracts. Castillo spoke briefly with CorpWatch, but hung up when asked about his new intelligence contracts.
Today Fort Huachuca is still smarting under the attention brought by the Abu Ghraib scandals. And officials at Fort Huachuca are reluctant to talk openly about whether privatization has anything to do with the problems that have come to light.
The United States Training and Doctrine Command, the umbrella organization for all military training, agreed to answer questions from us about the Anteon contracts, but has yet to provide any answers, despite two months of phone calls and email communication. "We are waiting for the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade to give us the information, but we cannot provide you with any timeline as to when that might be," says Tanja Linton, the spokeswomen for Fort Huachuca.
Meanwhile, the revolving door between intelligence training, the battlegrounds of the Middle East, and private business continues to spin. General James "Spider" Marks, who was commander of the base when news of the scandals broke last April, told National Public Radio last May: "I'm disgusted by (the Abu Ghraib scandal) just like you are, and those aren't interrogation techniques. That's a bunch of rogue soldiers conducting evil acts."
But like many of his former interrogators, Marks too quit the military last fall to take a job in the lucrative private intelligence business - he become the senior vice president of intelligence and security for a company named McNeil Technologies Inc..
Visitors to the base today will notice that there is a blank spot at the entrance gates where the picture of Marks used to hang - it has not been replaced with the picture of his successor, Major General Barbara Fast.
That's because Fast is being investigated for her role in Iraq, where she supervised two Army intelligence officers implicated in the scandal -- Col. Thomas M. Pappas and Lt. Col. Steve Jordan, both with the 205th Military Intelligence Brigade, which operated the Abu Ghraib prison. Official investigations allege that Fast was notified of abuses in the prisons but did nothing about them. Only time will tell whether there's a job waiting for her in the private sector, as well.
Pratap Chatterjee is managing editor of CorpWatch. He can be reached at "firstname.lastname@example.org"
- 24 Intelligence
- 174 War & Disaster Profiteers Campaign