Intelligence in Iraq: L-3 Supplies Spy Support
The official headquarters for a 300-person intelligence support operation in Iraq is discreetly located in a two-story red building in a business park in Chantilly, Virginia, just outside the border fence of Washington, DC's Dulles airport. From its nondescript corporate offices, Government Services Incorporated (GSI) supplies staff for an operation that spreads over 22 military bases in the Middle East.
Walk through the entrance and to the left of the reception desk, next to a glass case showcasing electronic surveillance gear, is an announcement congratulating employees on winning a $426.5 million intelligence contract from the Pentagon last year.
GSI is a major subsidiary of L-3 Communications, a Fortune 500 company. Retired Lieutenant General Paul Cerjan took GSI's helm in May, after spending a year running Halliburton's multi-billion dollar military logistics contract in Iraq and around the world.
GSI is only one of several L-3 subsidiaries enjoying the Bush
administration's largesse. On March 10, Titan won a no-bid contract
worth $840 million over 12 months to supply translators for
intelligence and regular military operations in the "global war on
terror." Yet another L-3 subsidiary, MPRI, manages the recruitment of
U.S. military advisors to key Iraqi ministries such as defense and
Military "prime" contractors such as L-3 extend the complex web of
contracts by farming out work to smaller subcontractors, sometimes
disabled- or minority-owned businesses. Its partners on the
intelligence contract include Florida-based, disabled-owned Espial
Services and Virginia-based Gray Hawk Systems. Both are currently
advertising for interrogators. Other L-3 subcontractors on the project
include Future Technologies Incorporated, a South Asian-owned company
which is hiring Middle East regional intelligence analysts; and
Operational Support and Services, an obscure North Carolina company
seeking counter-intelligence agents.
"The government is
desperate for qualified interrogators and intelligence analysts so they
are turning to industry," says Bill Golden who now runs
IntelligenceCareers.com, one of the biggest intelligence employment
websites in the business. "Over half of the qualified
counter-intelligence experts in the field work for contractors like
Trends in Military Intelligence
Over the last five years, the Pentagon, in an apparent turf war with
the CIA, has been expanding its intelligence work and relying
increasingly and heavily on private contractors. Undersecretary of
Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone, for example, created a new
high-level office where 100 private contractors work with 130
government employees to oversee domestic counterintelligence,
long-range threat planning, and budgeting for new technologies.
Officially, L-3 works for the U.S. generals in Iraq and not with Cambone's office, but some military observers see the arrangement with both the private company and the DOD as part of an effort by senior military officials, including Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, to sideline the existing Pentagon bureaucracy.
W. Patrick Lang, who used to run worldwide intelligence collection for the Defense Intelligence Agency in the mid 1990s, says that explaining the privatization of military intelligence in Iraq is easy. "The military intelligence bureaucracy is incompetent; many intelligence general officers are mere bureaucrats who are incapable of dealing with real world intelligence problems. Also, many of them are so wrapped up in their own careers that they are afraid to do anything that might be controversial and won't think outside the box," he told CorpWatch.
"The commanders on the ground are reaching out to the private sector to get good people, and I say more power to them. But is this a good trend, the fact that the military is incapable of doing its own work? No, it's a terrible trend."
The possible downside of using private contractors to gather and analyze intelligence ranges from waste and compromised national security, to a deliberate strategy to avoid accountability and establish plausible deniability.
Larry Korb, a former assistant secretary of defense who oversaw most of the Pentagon contracting under Ronald Reagan, is sharply critical. "The privatization of what should be inherently government functions is growing by leaps and bounds. It's one thing to outsource food, but then it was security and now intelligence. What next, private companies running Stryker brigades?" he said, referring to the ubiquitous armored vehicles that patrol Iraq.
Indeed the military increasingly relies on private contractors to do just about everything in Iraq except make decisions and shoot weapons. Halliburton cooks the food and cleans the toilets, Bechtel fixes roads and schools, DynCorp trains the police, Blackwater provides security, and now companies like L-3 are taking over what were once considered core government work such as intelligence.
Who is L-3?
Despite being in business for less than a decade, L-3 is now the sixth-largest military contractor in the nation. Based in Manhattan, it is headquartered on the upper floors of a skyscraper on Third Avenue, a few blocks from the United Nations.
The company was created as a spin-off of several Lockheed Martin and Loral manufacturing units that specialized in advanced electronics. These small business units were having a hard time selling their products to major military manufacturers such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon, because of perceived competition with Lockheed. L-3 was created as an independent "mezzanine" or middle company, not linked to Lockheed or Loral, that would supply advanced electronics to anyone.
The deal was engineered in 1997 by Wall Street investment bankers, the Lehman brothers, with the help of two former Loral executives, whose name coincidentally began with the letter L: Frank Lanza and Robert LaPenta. (L-3 stands for Lanza, LaPenta and Lehman).
Lanza told a reporter at the time that their plan was "to build one big company, that would be like a high-tech Home Depot."
The company quickly expanded through an aggressive acquisition strategy of buying up some 70 small advanced technology manufacturers. As it grew, it recruited big names to its senior management and board: General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army and General Carl Vuono, the former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army, among others.
Within eight years, this new company had ousted other older companies including General Electric from the list of top ten military contractors. In the last few years, L-3 has been aggressively taking over prime contracts, especially in the field of intelligence. In 2005 alone it won $4.7 billion in Pentagon contracts.
Border Failure, Iraq Bonanza
Along with success has come a record of badly completed projects that makes L-3 an odd choice for intelligence gathering in Iraq. Only three months before the government awarded it the huge $426.5 million contract, it busted the company not once, but twice, for supplying faulty surveillance electronics.
In April 2005, the Pentagon placed L-3 subsidiary Interstate
Electronics Corporation under criminal investigation for concealing
test failures and providing flawed parts for emergency radios used by
Special Forces and Air Force teams in Iraq and elsewhere. The
investigation is ongoing.
hen on June 16, 2005, Joe Saponaro, then the head of GSI, was hauled before a Congressional committee to testify about the company's $257 million contract to install cameras and sensors for the Border Patrol along remote areas of the Mexican and Canadian borders. The project not only cost a fortune but the system didn't work. In 2004 for example, investigators found that at three sites on the U.S.-Mexico border-Naco, Nogales, and Tucson, not one of GSI's remote surveillance systems was functioning properly. (see box)
Nonetheless, on July 8, 2005, three weeks after Saponaro testified to Congress, L-3 subsidiary GSI sealed a contract worth $426.5 million over four years for intelligence support in Iraq. The paperwork on the contract was not signed in either the United States or Iraq, but, in a move that made the deal harder to track, by Cindy Higginbotham, operations chief of Division B of the United States Army Contracting Agency office at the Amelia Earhart hotel in Wiesbaden, Germany.
An elated Saponoro issued a press release a week later: "We are very proud to have been selected to support our warfighters in Iraq. This award reflects the U.S. intelligence community's continued confidence in L-3 Communications' ability to solve its complex problems and challenges."
The contract extended L-3's intelligence contracting in Iraq with the Pentagon. That relationship began at least as far back as January 2005, when L-3 was tasked with providing advisors to the Special Forces under an older no-bid contract. It was also one of four companies invited to bid on a five-year, $209 million contract to provide information technology, management, and intelligence support services to the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.
After L-3 won the $426.5 million intelligence contract for Iraq just over a year ago, the company ramped up its work in Iraq, deploying dozens of people across the battle-scarred nation. The private intelligence analysts report to Major General Richard Zahner, the top intelligence officer in Iraq.
The L-3 contract appears to represent an evolution in the privatization of intelligence. There were almost no private interrogators in Afghanistan or Guantanamo in 2001 and 2002 but with the invasion of Iraq, the government secretly hired CACI, a Virginia-based company, to supply intelligence personnel to Iraq. When one of its employees was implicated in the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal, investigators discovered that the government had covered up the outsourcing by hiring the interrogators through an information technology contract with the Department of Interior in southern Arizona.
The ensuing scandal prompted the government to hire Sytex, a subsidiary of Lockheed Martin, which supplied interrogators until late last year. (see CorpWatch article) Both CACI and Sytex apparently dropped out of the business after L-3 signed its new contract and offered to hire their former workers.
Asked to comment on the investigations and the current contract in Iraq, GSI spokesman Rick Kiernan referred queries to Cynthia Swain, L-3 vice president for communications at the company headquarters in New York. Swain did not return multiple calls and emails information.
The military was equally tight-lipped. "We're not going to talk about intelligence contracts," Lieutenant Colonel Barry Johnson, spokesman for the Multi-National Force Command in Baghdad, told CorpWatch.
Four months before L-3 signed the $426.5 million contract for intelligence support in Iraq, it made its biggest acquisition yet, paying $2.65 billion for Titan, a San Diego-based military contractor. "This acquisition is very strategic for L-3 because Titan is a major provider of intelligence services to the Department of Defense and key U.S. intelligence agencies," said Frank Lanza, chief executive officer of L-3 at the time.
Titan's most important contract, providing translators to the U.S. military in Iraq, earned it more than a billion dollars, a sixth of the company's total revenue over the past three years. Titan translators, many of whom were recruited through a sub-contractor, SOS International as far back as November 2002, were part of the initial planning for the invasion of Iraq. (see related story)
Several Titan employees have been implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal where they translated for the interrogators. A report by Major General George Fay cited one detainee's charge that an interpreter "allegedly raped a 15-18 year old male detainee." According to the report, this same interpreter was also allegedly "present during the abuse of detainees depicted in photographs." A detainee told investigators that this interpreter "hit him and cut his ear, which required stitches."
U.S. Army records show that, of 15 Titan or SOS translators working at Abu Ghraib prison last fall, only one held a security clearance. Most had no military background at all. Khalid Oman WAS a hotel manager in Kalamazoo, Michigan, and Emad Mikha, a Chaldean from Basra, managed the meat department at a supermarket in Pontiac, Michigan, before signing on for Iraq.
A Titan supervisor in the Sunni Triangle, interviewed by CorpWatch, says that contract translators underwent little or no background checking and their qualifications varied. "I'd say most of them were just there for the pay check and should never have been involved in military operations because they were incompetent or unqualified. Many of them did a terrible job," the former U.S. soldier said.
Another Titan translator says that the company hired mostly Shiite Muslims and sent them to work for the military where they would interview detainees who were primarily of Sunni heritage, causing potential conflicts.
The media have exposed several examples of Titan's problem hires. The Orlando Sentinel reported that Titan hired an Egyptian, Ahmed Fathy Mehalba, who had flunked out of Army interrogation school and been placed under surveillance by Massachusetts police. He was later arrested with what authorities said appeared to be classified information about Joint Task Force-Guantanamo, the secret detention-and-interrogation operation at the U.S. Navy base on Cuba's southern coast.
Another Titan employee who worked for an intelligence group in the U.S.
Army's 82nd Airborne Division in Iraq allegedly faked his name and
birth date, according to Army Times. Calling himself Noureddine Malki,
he claimed was single and that his parents and siblings had been killed
by shelling in Lebanon. The FBI arrested him and said he was Moroccan
the translators lack military experience, GSI's new director certainly
does not. A 34 year veteran of the U.S. Army, Paul Cerjan retired from
active service in 1994 to work for L-3's predecessor, Lockheed and
Loral. He stayed in touch with his military roots even after retirement
as a trustee of the National Defense University, and did some political
work as a board member of the Jewish Institute for National Security
Then for three years, he became president of Christian
televangelist Pat Robertson's Regent University. There, the man who had
been deputy commanding general of the U.S. Army in Europe and led
Pentagon delegations to China, spearheaded student enrollment drives
and hosted award presentations to Miss America, Nicole Johnson.
returned to a more active military role in spring 2003, when he got a
call to assist Jay Garner, the man President Bush first asked to manage
the reconstruction of Iraq. Cerjan oversaw the demobilization of the
Iraqi army until this project became moot when the Iraqi Army disbanded
But it was not long before Cerjan found use for his
military background. In July 2004, Halliburton hired him to run its
worldwide military logistics operation, a multi-billion dollar behemoth
that was already running into trouble with allegations of cost
over-runs in Iraq. He quit the job in July 2005, nine months before he
came to work at L-3.
Bleak Future, Big Profits
"Dusty" Foggo and "Nine Fingers"
It is hard to gauge if L-3 is simply supplying "warm bodies" for slots
that military recruiters have not been able to fill, or if they
represent a sea-change in outsourced intelligence. One things is
certain, the government is becoming increasingly reliant on contractors
in large part because it no longer has a pool of intelligence analysts
who stick around long enough learn the necessary skills.
Bill Golden, who runs IntelligenceCareers.com, told CorpWatch that on an average, people applying for jobs last year had 11 years experience in intelligence; this year they have just eight and next year he expects that the average applicant's experience will drop to five years.
"That's not a sufficient base of expertise when you are fighting a worldwide war on terrorism," says Golden, a former military intelligence analyst with 20 years Army experience.
"We are now entering a new phase. Previously, government exported jobs to industry requiring subject matter expertise because that expertise was being institutionally lost. Now there are indications that industry may be losing some of [this expertise] as well."
L-3 is certainly the main beneficiary from this arrangement. Federal data show that the company drew almost $75 million in the first three months of the contract alone--a sixth of the budget for what is supposed to be a three year contract.
Pratap Chatterjee is managing editor of CorpWatch. He can be reached at "email@example.com"
- 9 Lockheed Martin
- 24 Intelligence
- 192 Technology & Telecommunications
- 208 Regulation