Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Inheriting Halliburton’s Army

February 19, 2009

February 19, 2009
Tomgram: Pratap Chatterjee, Inheriting Halliburton’s Army

The name search took a year, while the company became persona non grata in Iraq, but now it’s a reality. The notorious Blackwater Worldwide has officially rebranded itself Xe. According to a company memo, “Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics.”

It’s pronounced “Zee,” by the way, and it’s also, oddly enough, the symbol for Xenon, a colorless, odorless noble gas found in trace amounts in the Earth’s atmosphere. If only Blackwater and its ilk in the hire-a-gun private security business were found, under whatever names, in mere trace amounts in American foreign and military policy. But no such luck.

In the last eight years, many of the tasks formerly associated with the U.S. military have been privatized and outsourced in a wholesale way — from guard duty for U.S. diplomats to peeling potatoes and delivering the mail, not to speak of building and maintaining the U.S. bases that now dot the Middle East and Afghanistan. Without its private crony corporations, the Pentagon might, in fact, be on something like life support.

Maybe, in the end, Blackwater, under pressure from the Iraqi government, can be separated from U.S. operations in Iraq, but — it’s a guarantee — some similarly outfitted private contractor will simply fill in. This is one of the more entrenched legacies Barack Obama has inherited from the Bush years. It doesn’t matter whether you’re talking about those security firms or KBR, the former Halliburton subsidiary that does just about everything the U.S. military needs to survive but actually fight, separating them from the Pentagon would involve an almost inconceivable set of operations at this point.

No one has done more striking work on this question than the managing editor of the website Corpwatch, Pratap Chatterjee, who has traveled the world, visiting U.S. bases and spending time with KBR’s employees (who make up a hidden “U.S. Army” in Iraq and Afghanistan), just to see how the largest of these crony corporations actually functions. Now he’s written a remarkable new book, Halliburton’s Army: How A Well-Connected Texas Oil Company Revolutionized the Way America Makes War, on just how it all works, up close and personal.

If only his book were history. Unfortunately, it’s evidently going to be our military future, as well as our past, as long as the American “mission” in the world isn’t downsized. So don’t miss either Chatterjee’s book or his report on KBR below, including “Welcome to McArmy!,” a special feature on the food KBR serves at one base in Iraq. It follows the main piece below. While you’re at it, catch a TomDispatch audio interview in which Chatterjee discusses KBR World by clicking here. Tom

The Military’s Expanding Waistline
What Will Obama Do With KBR?
By Pratap Chatterjee

President Obama will almost certainly touch down in Baghdad and Kabul in Air Force One sometime in the coming year to meet his counterparts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and he will just as certainly pay a visit to a U.S. military base or two. Should he stay for breakfast, lunch, dinner, or midnight chow with the troops, he will no less certainly choose from a menu prepared by migrant Asian workers under contract to Houston-based KBR, the former subsidiary of Halliburton.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.

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KSP: Harper’s Agenda / Unwarranted Media Bias Against Dion

September 20, 2008

The opinion piece below was written by my good friend, KSP. It is posted here with permission:

It seems I was right and Harper pulled an election to avoid this. It happened a little faster than he expected though and he can’t turn back. That military takeover is a distinct possibility; that may explain PMSH’s confidence and the fact his people are not campaigning; he doesn’t worry about local ridings chances at all. I still say he is sure the US will take us over, when their civil unrest hits the streets. Bush will keep him in power as his personal puppet. Remember Harper allowed the armed forces to sign a deal in February that he will supply soldiers to th US if they rebel and the US will do the same for him. As things stand in the marketpalce, all this could happen before the election in November. Why else would they appoint that bimbo Palin, to distract the public? McCain will not be reelected, Bush will not leave office. He can declare himself Commander in chief in times of trouble, declare Martial Law and that’s it. Of course, the following bloodbath will be horrid to behold, when all the poor hungry people go on a rampage with their guns ablaze. The 800 FEMA concentration camps will come in mighty handy. (Google FEMA concentration camps). I am hoping they will be too busy with their problems to bother with Canada for the time being. (They also have another possible scenario, start another war. Either Pakistan or Iran will do.)

The only chance we have to get out ot this is to elect Dion. He may be able to ward off a collapse here by nationalizing the financial system and put the Bank of Canada in charge. Their mandate is or precisely was, to keep Canada safe and prosperous. The act says the bank can lend money from future projected revenue and lend to the banks and businesses at minimal rates. Which means the interest goes back to the government and foreign bankers cannot charge high interest rates set by their private owners like the FED and take money out of the country and bleed it dry. He is not a corporate hack, he is a professor and he has a vision. If he becomes PM, his own party people will have to follow his lead, much like they did Trudeau. He will have the power to implement his vision which will be to make Canada as good a country as Sweden. I actually think he can do it. Of course, a major civil war in the US will help greatly, 10% of Americans know this is coming and are armed to the teeth because of it. Most of them have been hoarding food, ammunition and gold for such an emergency. (Ten percent is 30 million very angry patriotic citizens.) This will be the first time a government tries to take over a nation with more ammo than the military. I can’t say I can predict which side would win. However, a 1798 type revolution where the upper class was guillotined might happen here with the Senate, Congress and the Banking members enjoying similarly effective poetic justice.

Since a currency crash might affect our banking system it may be advisable to keep some cash at home for emergencies. Food for a few months might help too. This is too big to predict and anything could happen. I am hoping that since a great many governments know about this impending disaster, they might have devised a system to act when a crash occurs. Because th US dollar is the reserve currency of the world everyone will be equally affected. China is threatening to pull away from US dollars and nobody is buying US Treasuries anymore. They are very close to a meltdown. The minute the dollar stops being the reserve currency the dollar will crash. The consequences are too long to explain; suffice it to say it will be disastrous for the US and to all the poorer countries without vast resources like Canada. We must put all effort in this election to get Dion into power; he alone has the vision and brainpower to find a solution to this unmitigated mess. If not, heaven help us all.


About me:

I am not paranoid or a lunatic, but everything seems to point in this direction. Hope I am wrong. I base these thoughts on my extensive reading and my vast knowledge of history. Also having been born under a Nazi regime and witnessing the takeover of the Communists in 1948; I think my judgment is fairly reasonable. I knew about the coming meltdown over 2 years ago. KSP


See related articles:

PENTAGON SHIPS TROOPS TO THE U.S. TO PREPARE FOR CIVIL UNREST

Unwarranted Media Bias Against Dion:

In the past few weeks the press has been overly negative, as if promoting a very well educated, good man to run this country would be bad for us. I would like to mention that the spin on his image as a weak leader is utter rubbish. In Canada the word Prime Minister means just that, first minister of the many elected able members. It does not mean a dictator, it means first among equals. In an educated society, especially where the baby boomers outnumber the young, why would we need a younger dogmatic ideologue to decide things for us? Are the people that built this country since the Second World War incapable of making decisions about what is good for ourselves? Do we really think we have a president in the making? … [Read more here]

Progressives for Stephane Dion: Alerts Page

Progressives for Stephane Dion: Home Page


Tomgram: Frida Berrigan, The Pentagon Legacy of the MBA President

September 15, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Part two of Frida Berrigan’s three-part series on the expansion of the Pentagon is just the sort of post — a major story of the Bush era — that you can only get at this site. The expansion and privatization of the Pentagon should, of course, be the subject of front-page pieces in newspapers across the country as the dark legacy of the Bush presidency begins to be considered. In the light of just this sort of work from TomDispatch, let me mention a new feature at the site. If you look to your right while at the main screen, you’ll see a clickable button (“Resist Empire. Support TomDispatch.”) that leads you to a secure page where, if you wish, you can give modest $$ to help this site fund projects like Berrigan’s and do outreach work of various kinds. I’ve always enjoyed the “freeness” of TomDispatch, but readers, from time to time, have sent in contributions anyway. Now, this added feature makes it easier, if you are so disposed, to do so and, believe me, I’ll be grateful. We’ll use whatever you send our way to improve the site. (Just make sure you never send in even a dollar that you need!) And, by the way, click over to Book TV on C-SPAN2, if you want to catch an appearance I made with Michael Schwartz for the new book, The World According to TomDispatch.]

Having laid out the staggering expansion of a budget-busting Pentagon — as diplomat, arms dealer, spy, intelligence analyst, domestic disaster manager, humanitarian caregiver, nation-builder, and global viceroy — in part one of her series on the Bush military legacy, Frida Berrigan, arms expert at the New America Foundation, turns to the issue of privatization. In these last seven years, the Pentagon’s key role as war fighter has increasingly become a privatized operation. In Iraq, for instance, a Congressional Budget Office report in August revealed that the U.S. has already spent at least $100 billion on private contractors. (Pentagon auditing has, however, been so bad that that’s considered a low-ball figure.)

Approximately one out of every five war dollars spent on the war went private. That’s not so surprising, as James Risen of the New York Times reported, since private contractors now outnumber the 146,000 U.S. troops in that country. At 180,000, they represent, as Risen writes, “a second, private army, larger than the United States military force, and one whose roles and missions and even casualties among its work force have largely been hidden from public view.”

Moreover, as modest drawdowns of U.S. troops occur, American taxpayer dollars going to private contractors in Iraq, especially private security contractors, are actually on the rise. Part of the charm of privatizing war, of course, is that you can also privatize information about it, so we really have little idea just how many armed, Blackwater-style mercenaries there are in that country (though the number may rise into the tens of thousands). No less curious, amid all the talk of drawdowns and withdrawals, you seldom see any serious discussion of those hired guns in the mainstream. When withdrawal does come, who withdraws them? Who decides that? Who knows?

In the meantime, let Frida Berrigan take you past the obvious Blackwater issues and into the deeper quagmire of the massive privatization of the American military. It’s an issue whose time should long ago have arrived, but don’t hold your breath till the media discussion and debate begins. Tom

Military Industrial Complex 2.0

Cubicle Mercenaries, Subcontracting Warriors, and Other Phenomena of a Privatizing Pentagon
By Frida Berrigan

Seven years into George W. Bush’s Global War on Terror, the Pentagon is embroiled in two big wars, a potentially explosive war of words with Tehran, and numerous smaller conflicts – and it is leaning ever more heavily on private military contractors to get by.

Once upon a time, soldiers did more than pick up a gun. They picked up trash. They cut hair and delivered mail. They fixed airplanes and inflated truck tires.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Nick Turse, The Future of Death at the Pentagon

August 27, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers This is the second post in a pre-Labor Day “best of TomDispatch” series. The first was Chalmers Johnson’s 2005 “Smash of Civilizations.” Now, we backpeddle another year to 2004 and reconsider the Pentagon’s ceaseless efforts to dream up and build ever more effective, ever more invasive and destructive weaponry not just for 2010, but for 2020, 2030, 2040, and beyond. The new model car or the next version of the iPhone has nothing on the Pentagon, which fully expects to roll out the next version of destruction until Hell freezes over. This makes TomDispatch Associate Editor Nick Turse’s 2004 piece — in those distant days he still signed his posts “Nicholas” — on ways the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was planning to weaponize the wild kingdom as shiny new as tomorrow’s HDTVs.

A version of this piece would later became part of Turse’s 2008 book, The Complex: How the Military Invades Our Everyday Lives, which will someday be considered a classic on the militarization of American society and should be in your library — yes, I mean you! It’s a shame, really, that TomDispatch pieces, now collected in a new book, The World According to TomDispatch, America in the New Age of Empire (Verso, 2008), hold up so well. If only a better world had made them obsolete — but no such luck. As Chalmers Johnson did, so here Turse provides a new introduction to his old post, reconsidering a world in which, however new its weaponry, the Pentagon is starting to look its age. Tom]

The Pentagon: Some-Things-Never-Change Department

What a difference four and a half years makes. When I first penned “The Wild Weapons of DARPA,” in March 2004, I was a new TomDispatch writer; the war in Iraq was not yet a year old; the war in Afghanistan had been bubbling for less than two and a half years, and I suggested that “what’s left of the USSR is a collapsed group of half-failed states, while the U.S. stands alone as the globe’s sole hyperpower.” Today, I’m the long-time associate editor of TomDispatch.com; the United States, now far from a “hyperpower,” continues to be bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan with no end in sight in either occupation; and a resurgent Russia, now an energy superpower, has only recently invaded the hardly-failed state of Georgia.

Similarly, at that time, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Pentagon’s blue-skies research outfit, still looked young and vigorous. Today, DARPA is beginning to show the stresses of age. The agency turned 50 this year and, as Sharon Weinberger reported at Wired Magazine’s Danger Room last month, “its birthday present appears to be another $100 million in budget cuts, according to a Defense Department document…” — and this was on top of a $32 million loss the month before.

Still, much remains the same. Despite current budget cuts, the agency is still “both intellectually and financially, a fabulous and alluring gravy train,” and its funding for the life sciences still offers “a fertile area to further the science of death and destruction.” For example, back in 2004, I wrote that “DARPA has been creating insect databases while increasing efforts to ‘understand how to use endemic insects as collectors of environmental information,'” and I asked: “How long until they start thinking about weaponizing insects as well?” Earlier this year, I answered my own question. Not long was the reply. I reported that DARPA was now working to create cyborg insects for surveillance purposes, and — an even more frightening prospect — “that such creatures could be weaponized, and the possibility, according to one scientist intimately familiar with the project, that these cyborg insects might be armed with ‘bio weapons.'”

I wish I could claim some special prescience, but that prediction was a total no-brainer. After all, this is just the way the Pentagon operates, whatever changes or budget cuts come down the pike. Four years later, plenty of people have written about various DARPA projects, but most still fail to ask the most salient question: Why does the U.S. government foster unfettered, blue-skies creativity only in the context of lethal technologies (or those that, indirectly, enhance lethality by aiding the functioning of the armed forces)? Some things never change. Nick Turse, August, 2008

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Andrew Bacevich, The Lessons of Endless War

August 20, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch Readers: Andrew Bacevich will discuss his new book — and the limits of American power in the Bush era — for a full hour on “Bill Moyers Journal,” Friday, August 15th. Don’t miss it. If you’re watching the Olympics, TIVO it or look for a repeat.]

To the problem of an overstretched, over-toured military, there is but one answer in Washington. Both presidential candidates (along with just about every other politician in our nation’s capital) are on record wanting to significantly expand the Army and the Marines. In his remarkable new book, The Limits of Power, The End of American Exceptionalism, Andrew Bacevich suggests a solution to the American military crisis that might seem obvious enough, if only both parties weren’t so blinded by the idea of our “global reach,” by a belief, however wrapped in euphemisms, in our imperial role on this planet, and by the imperial Pentagon and presidency that go with it: reduce the mission. It’s a particularly timely observation to which Bacevich returns in part two of his TomDispatch series, adapted from his new book. (Click here for part one, “Illusions of Victory.”)

Unfortunately, the mission looks all-too-ready to expand, no matter who makes it to the White House in January. Just last week, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, increasingly being mentioned in the media as a possible carry-over appointment for either candidate, endorsed a $20 billion down payment on our future role in Afghanistan — to be used to double the size of the Afghan army — and a restructuring of the U.S. and NATO commands in that country. All of this is meant as preparation for a new president’s agreement to consign yet more American troops to our war there. This, in a phrase Bacevich has used in another context, is no less “the path to perdition” for the globe’s former “sole superpower” than was the dec! ision of a small country in the Caucasus to essentially launch a war, no matter the provocation, against its energy-superpower neighbor. This way to the madhouse, ladies and gentlemen.

Consider, in this context, the immodest lessons our leaders have chosen to learn from the Bush era, and then, with Bacevich, what lessons we might actually learn if we seriously (and far more modestly) considered the real limits of American power. Tom

Is Perpetual War Our Future?

Learning the Wrong Lessons from the Bush Era
By Andrew Bacevich

To appreciate the full extent of the military crisis into which the United States has been plunged requires understanding what the Iraq War and, to a lesser extent, the Afghan War have to teach. These two conflicts, along with the attacks of September 11, 2001, will form the centerpiece of George W. Bush’s legacy. Their lessons ought to constitute the basis of a new, more realistic military policy.

In some respects, the effort to divine those lessons is well under way, spurred by critics of President Bush’s policies on the left and the right as well as by reform-minded members of the officer corps. Broadly speaking, this effort has thus far yielded three distinct conclusions. Whether taken singly or together, they invert the post-Cold War military illusions that provided the foundation for the president’s Global War on Terror. In exchange for these received illusions, they propound new ones, which are equally misguided. Thus far, that is, the lessons drawn from America’s post-9/11 military experience are the wrong ones.

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Why We Can’t See America’s Ziggurats in Iraq

June 16, 2008

[Note for TomDispatch readers: Just a reminder. Today’s post on the mega-bases in Iraq represents but one of the missing stories of the Bush years that TomDispatch has been dedicated to covering. The site’s new book, The World According to TomDispatch: America in the New Age of Empire, just published, is, in essence, a striking history of the missing stories of our mad age, the stories the mainstream media chose to ignore. I urge TomDispatch readers to pick up a copy. It’s a great way to support the site and — if you care to give it to a friend — to introduce others to a source of information that has, for years, been an “antidote to the mainstream media.” If you can, do recommend the book and the site to your private e-lists and suggest, as well, that people consider going to TomDispatch.com to sign up — in the window at the upper right of the main screen — for the regular! emails indicating that a new post has gone up. There will be surprises galore this summer as TomDispatch explores the Bush legacy and whether what the Bush administration has embedded in our lives can ever be unbuilt. You can also check out a video in which I discuss the issue of the missing mega-bases in Iraq, now finally in the news, by clicking here. Tom]

The Greatest Story Never Told

Finally, the U.S. Mega-Bases in Iraq Make the News


By Tom Engelhardt

It’s just a $5,812,353 contract — chump change for the Pentagon — and not even one of those notorious “no-bid” contracts either. Ninety-eight bids were solicited by the Army Corps of Engineers and 12 were received before the contract was awarded this May 28th to Wintara, Inc. of Fort Washington, Maryland, for “replacement facilities for Forward Operating Base Speicher, Iraq.” According to a Department of Defense press release, the work on those “facilities” to be replaced at the base near Saddam Hussein’s hometown, Tikrit, is expected to be completed by January 31, 2009, a mere 11 days after a new president enters the Oval Office. It is but one modest reminder that, when the next administration hits Washington, American bases in Iraq, large and small, will still be undergoing the sort of repair and upg! rading that has been ongoing for years.

In fact, in the last five-plus years, untold billions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on the construction and upgrading of those bases. When asked back in the fall of 2003, only months after Baghdad fell to U.S. troops, Lt. Col. David Holt, the Army engineer then “tasked with facilities development” in Iraq, proudly indicated that “several billion dollars” had already been invested in those fast-rising bases. Even then, he was suitably amazed, commenting that “the numbers are staggering.” Imagine what he might have said, barely two and a half years later, when the U.S. reportedly had 106 bases, mega to micro, all across the country.

By now, billions have evidently gone into single massive mega-bases like the U.S. air base at Balad, about 60 miles north of Baghdad. It’s a “16-square-mile fortress,” housing perhaps 40,000 U.S. troops, contractors, special ops types, and Defense Department employees. As the Washington Post’s Tom Ricks, who visited Balad back in 2006, pointed out — in a rare piece on one of our mega-bases — it’s essentially “a small American town smack in the middle of the most hostile part of Iraq.” Back then, air traffic at the base was already being compared to Chicago’s O’Hare International or London’s Heathrow — and keep in mind that Balad has been steadily upgraded ever since to support an “air surge” that, unlike the President’s 2007 “surge” of 30,000 ground troops, has yet to end.

Building Ziggurats

While American reporters seldom think these bases — the most essential U.S. facts on the ground in Iraq — are important to report on, the military press regularly writes about them with pride. Such pieces offer a tiny window into just how busily the Pentagon is working to upgrade and improve what are already state-of-the-art garrisons. Here’s just a taste of what’s been going on recently at Balad, one of the largest bases on foreign soil on the planet, and but one of perhaps five mega-bases in that country:

Click here to read more of this dispatch.


Tomgram: Michael Klare, The Pentagon as Energy Insecurity Inc.

June 16, 2008

If you thought things were bad, with a barrel of crude oil at $136 and the oil heartlands of our planet verging on chaos, don’t be surprised, but you may still have something to look forward to. Alexei Miller, chairman of Russia’s vast state-owned energy monopoly, Gazprom, just suggested that, within 18 months, that same barrel could be selling for a nifty $250. Put that in your tank and… well, don’t drive it. It will be far too valuable.

Think of Miller’s sobering prediction as, at least in part, a result of the Bush administration’s attempt to “secure” the Middle East and the oil-rich Caspian basin by force in two failing wars (and occupations). Now, imagine for a moment, what his price scenario might be if, as journalist Jim Lobe — never one to leap from rumors to sensational conclusions — recently suggested, forces in the Bush administration (and in Israel) in favor of launching an air campaign against Iran are gaining strength. Just the suggestion last week by Shaul Mofaz, an Israeli deputy prime minister, that an attack on Iran is “unavoidable” if that country doesn’t halt its nuclear program — “If Iran continues with its program for developing nuclear weapons, we will attack it. The sanctions are ineffective.” — helped send the price of crude oil soaring. Imagine what an actual air attack might do.

You know that old joke: military justice is to justice as military music is to music; well, someday, not so far into the future, a similar, though far grimmer joke, is likely to be made about Washington’s attempts to secure the U.S. oil supply by military means. In the meantime, Michael Klare, author most recently of Rising Powers, Shrinking Planet: The New Geopolitics of Energy, considers the madness of Washington’s long-term militarization of oil delivery and the devastating oil wars that have resulted. (His previous book, Blood and Oil, by the way, has recently been turned into a documentary film. Check it out.) Tom

Garrisoning the Global Gas Station

Challenging the Militarization of U.S. Energy Policy

By Michael T. Klare

American policymakers have long viewed the protection of overseas oil supplies as an essential matter of “national security,” requiring the threat of — and sometimes the use of — military force. This is now an unquestioned part of American foreign policy.

On this basis, the first Bush administration fought a war against Iraq in 1990-1991 and the second Bush administration invaded Iraq in 2003. With global oil prices soaring and oil reserves expected to dwindle in the years ahead, military force is sure to be seen by whatever new administration enters Washington in January 2009 as the ultimate guarantor of our well-being in the oil heartlands of the planet. But with the costs of militarized oil operations — in both blood and dollars — rising precipitously isn’t it time to challenge such “wisdom”? Isn’t it time to ask whether the U.S. military has anything reasonable to do with American energy security, and whether a reliance on military force, when it comes to energy policy, is practical, affordable, or justifiable?

How Energy Policy Got Militarized

Click here to read more of this dispatch.