Thursday, July 22, 2004
Mud-wrestling: Dyncorp vs. Aegis (Updated)
In America the secrets of government and business have three main routes of egress.
One is official ineptitude. A recent example, though British, was the disclosure of the Heathrow airport counterterrorist plans. These were somehow lost by a police officer and found “flapping by the roadside.” A motorist picked them up and turned them over to a newspaper.
Of course, ineptitude accounts for the government’s contribution, but it has to be paired with a certain fortunate serendipity. The Heathrow papers might just as well have been picked up by a trash clean-up crew and burned. Then no one would have been the wiser.
The second route is through the whistleblowers. This is one of the most important sources of information. Where would we have been during the Vietnam era without Daniel Ellsberg’s release of the Pentagon Papers? And now in the Bush administration we have Richard Clarke, Sibel Edmonds, and Joe Wilson to name but a few.
The third route, however, is the most important. It is the only route in which the participants are actually constrained to reveal the truth. And the lovely part of it is that it is woven into the very fabric of capitalism. It is more reliable than whistleblowing because it does not depend upon individual courage. And it is more constant than official ineptitude because it depends upon greed. I am referring, of course, to the lawsuit.
How many more Jim Ryan’s would be sitting in the halls of Congress, preaching about “family values,” if it were not for the divorce courts? How many more Firestone tires would be on those SUVs, if the families of the victims hadn’t sued Ford, which sued Firestone?
The lawsuit is an instrument of the ruling classes, and because it’s their system, they want it to work.1 They rely on it because otherwise they might have to start killing each other, in which case they would not be able to enjoy the “fruits of their labor.” They would become essentially indistinguishable from the groups we refer to as “organized crime.” Of course, even in the best of society you have your occasional bad apple, but with regard to the courts, most of them “go along to get along.”
At a level below the lawsuit, there is the “formal protest” to some oversight body. In today’s action that body is the Government Accountability Office (GAO),2 the Congress’ auditing firm.
So yesterday comes an article in the Financial Times—“Dyncorp seeks to overturn Iraq contract.”
Assuming a copy of the Financial Times should somehow lodge itself in the hands of the man-on-the-street, this is the sort of headline that makes people wonder who’s going to be on Oprah today. Who, pray, would read it? And isn’t that the intention?
You see, news in the Financial Times, just as in the Wall Street Journal, is not intended for “general consumption.” It’s for the “movers and shakers,” and they know how to read a headline. If the headline had said “Shady arms dealer wins military contract and charges an extra $80 million,” even your average Joe or Jane might read it. Then where would we be?
So what are we talking about here? For some background let’s go to Robert Young Pelton’s article carried by Australia’s Stop the War Coalition:
On May 25, the US Army awarded Lt Col. Tim Spicer and his company Aegis (a tiny London-based holding corporation only incorporated on Sept, 23, 2002) contract #W911S0-04-C-0003, the largest and most important piece of Iraq security business in its history. For almost one third of a billion dollars over three years, Aegis will be in charge of all security for our $18.4 billion in reconstruction projects. They will coordinate all other private security groups and hire a force protection detail of around 600 armed men. But this is just the beginning. Aegis will also coordinate the operations of the 60 other Private Military Companies and their 20,000 men currently in Iraq as well as take charge of new hires, intelligence, prisoners, and oilfield security. A no-risk, cost-plus arrangement of up to $293 million over three years. [emphasis mine]
As for Lt. Col. Spicer, his first real notoriety came in 1998 with the revelation that he had been selling arms to Sierra Leone in contravention of a U.N. embargo. He came under investigation by British Customs, to which he took umbrage, since he claimed he was acting on behalf of the British Foreign Office. This revelation almost brought down Robin Cook, Blair’s Foreign Secretary at the time.
But Blair managed to put a favorable spin on the doings and referred to the matter as an “overblown hoohah.” Lt. Col. Spicer of course went on to further adventures. In the wonderful way of the British media, all this was known as “the Sandline Affair,” after the company that was involved. (See this report from Sierra Leone.)
Spicer’s new company Aegis is constituted of people as lively as he is.
Spicer not only brings drama and surprise to his endeavors but also runs with an interesting crowd. His company Aegis lists two senior advisors; Sir Roger Wheeler, former UK Chief of Staff and Sir John Birch, a former UK rep to the UN. Both are on record as two staunch opponents of the invasion and occupation of Iraq. The man that hired Spicer to run one of Aegis’ many predecessor companies, Simon Mann, is currently languishing in jail in Zimbabwe for allegedly trying to overthrow the oil rich government of Equatorial Guinea. The PMO head of security who wrote the proposal specs and Spicers direct boss is retired UK army Brigadier Tony Hunter-Choat, a retired British officer…and you guessed it, a former mercenary. Hunter-Choat is a former French Foreign Legionnaire who fought in Algeria in the late 50’s and early 60’s. And that’s just scratching the surface.
Pelton ends his article with this tidbit:
Two of the losing bidders have asked for a review and a spokesman for one losing bidder has ominously warned us to “Stay Tuned”...
Which brings us to yesterday’s news in the Financial Times.
One of the losing bidders was Dyncorp, a company that “has a long and close relationship with the US government”—not to mention that they’re based in Texas. That a British upstart firm should win a contract that was rightfully theirs would make any Texan grieve. After all, the most salient attributes of the company that won were sleaze and skulduggery, and Dyncorp stands second to none in either category.
According to the Financial Times,
The Dyncorp complaint said its bid was "shockingly" rejected by the US army despite being more than $80m lower than the winning offer.
Dyncorp claimed it was wrongly taken out of the running after a technical analysis incorrectly ruled that its bid was "marginal" in several important respects. Even if that were true, the company argued, its bid should not have been excluded under the tender rules. ... Dyncorp confirmed that it had lodged an appeal but declined to comment while the contract was under review. However, the company has enlisted a Republican Congressman from Texas to lobby the Pentagon on its behalf.
That Congressman is apparently Pete Sessions, who wrote,
It is inconceivable that the firm charged with the responsibility for co-ordinating all security firms and individuals performing reconstruction . . . has never even been in the country.
Peter Singer, a Brookings Institute thinktank expert on military contracts, said “It would be laughable if it weren't so sad.”
Was the Spicer award a sop to the British, who so far have so little to show for their faithfulness to the Bushies? It appears that they fear such a connection will be made.
UK officials are concerned about the potential political fall-out of the contract continuing given Mr Spicer's history. “The contract in question was awarded by the US government to Aegis and the British government is not a party to the contract nor has it been involved in any way in its negotiation,” said the Foreign Office last night.
My tea leaves tell me that Aegis is going to lose this one. If Dyncorp—with a Congressman for a lobbyist—persists in raising a stink, all sorts of unsavory information could surface about Army contracts. And if that should happen, it might even make it onto the nightly news. Now how would that look?
Boston.com ran a story on Aegis yesterday, omitting the info on Dyncorp, but ending with an interesting tidbit--
Paul O'Connor, a spokesman for the Belfast-based Pat Finucane Center for Human Rights and Social Change, said Spicer remains a controversial figure in Northern Ireland. "He has refused to accept the court's ruling that two soldiers under his command committed murder of an unarmed civilian," O'Connor said. "Someone like that should never be given any kind of command responsibility."
1 On the other hand, they don’t want the lawsuit to work against them, as a class. The class-action lawsuit was a most unwelcome judicial innovation. And the ruling-class fear of the lawsuit in the hands of the less well-to-do is at the heart of the blather about “tort reform” and “trial lawyers.” As a group, the moneyed classes are surely overrepresented in the courts by tort claims and trial lawyers. [back]
2 Until July 7 it was known as the General Accounting Office. Since the GAO has never been able to account for anything, especially how money in the military is spent, they apparently decided that a name change was needed—something that would appear more high-minded while having the advantage of being less specific. “Government Accountability” should do the trick. [back]