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Prophets of War: How Defense Contractor Lockheed Martin Dominates the Military Establishment

William Hartung reveals how Lockheed Martin's presence in the U.S. military goes far deeper than mere weapon supplying.

The following is an excerpt from William Hartung’s new book Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex(Nation Books, 2010)

Global Domination

While contracts for supplying weapons for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are a significant part of Lockheed Martin’s business, the new company that has taken form since the merger boom of the 1990s has a far wider reach. These activities include everything from involvement in interrogation and police training to profiting from the new post-9/11 wave of domestic surveillance activities.

Of all the new ventures that Lockheed Martin has undertaken, the least well known may be its role in interrogating prisoners at U.S. facilities in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

The fact that employees of private companies are even allowed to interrogate terror suspects came as a surprise to most Americans when it was revealed in the wake of the Abu Ghraib scandal. The revelations of the use of “enhanced interrogation techniques”—many of which were viewed by human rights analysts as torture plain and simple—rocked the world as pictures of naked inmates threatened by dogs and subjected to other serious abuses were disseminated in print and electronic media. The damage to the reputation of the United States as a country governed by the rule of law is still being felt, even as accountability has been limited to the low-level military personnel involved directly in the abuses.

As the scandal unfolded, it was revealed that employees of two private contractors—CACI and the Titan Corporation—were present when inhumane techniques were being used. According to a U.S. Army report compiled under the direction of Major General Antonio Taguba, Steven Stefanowicz, an interrogator employed by CACI, lied about his knowledge of abusive activities and told military police to engage in practices that he “clearly knew . . . equated to physical abuse.” No charges were filed against Stefanowicz as a result of these findings. Another civilian was accused of raping an Iraqi inmate. In all, six contractor employees were referred to the Justice Department for prosecution, but no charges have been filed against any of them. In a separate case resolved in 2007, a CIA contract employee named David Passaro was sentenced to eight and a half years in prison for beating a prisoner to death in Afghanistan.

An analysis conducted by Osha Gray Davidson for Salon determined that private contractors were the rule, not the exception, at Abu Ghraib. All twenty of the translators working there were from Titan, and almost half of the analysts and interrogators were from CACI.

Eugene Fidell, the president of the National Institute for Military Justice, has expressed particular concern about the Pentagon’s use of private contractor employees to interrogate terror suspects. “That’s really playing with fire,” says Fidell. “That kind of activity, which so closely entails the national interest and exposes the country to terrible opprobrium, is something that ought to be done by people who are government employees.” This logic did not prevent Lockheed Martin from getting into the interrogation business.  

The company’s first brush with the issue of private interrogations came with its effort to buy the Titan Corporation. Unbeknownst to its management, Lockheed Martin’s September 2003 bid for Titan almost placed it in the center of the Abu Ghraib torture scandal: It came more than six months before the Abu Ghraib photos were released and the allegations of abuses by Titan employees were made public.

The Titan deal started to unravel in early 2004 when it was revealed that the company was being investigated by the Justice Department for overseas bribery. As a result, Lockheed Martin announced that it was extending the timeline within which the deal would be considered so that it could see how Titan dealt with the bribery investigations. At this point, the alleged interrogation abuses by Titan employees had yet to be revealed. Even after the allegations did come out in May, they did not appear to play a role in Lockheed Martin’s decision about whether to buy Titan. The bribery charges were still the main issue.

By the time Lockheed Martin’s self-imposed deadline for considering the deal came in June, the bribery case against Titan had yet to be resolved. Given its own past problems with bribery, Lockheed was reluctant to take on a company with the same issues. So Lockheed withdrew its bid for Titan, a move that it did not “take lightly,” in the words of company spokesperson Tom Jurkowsky. “We did not want the uncertainty that surrounded the transaction to continue indefinitely,” Jurkowsky said. Lockheed Martin’s concerns were justified. In March 2005, Titan paid $28.5 million in fines for giving $2 million to the reelection campaign of Mathieu Kerekou, the President of the African nation of Benin. At that point, it was the largest fine ever imposed under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.

Despite the collapse of the Titan deal, Lockheed Martin became involved in the supply of both interrogators and translators to the U.S. government via two other routes. In March 2005, it bought the Sytex Corporation. Sytex provided interrogators and translators for employment in Iraq at the prisons at Abu Ghraib, Camp Cropper, and Camp Whitehorse. The exact number of personnel supplied by Sytex is not known, but a sense of the scale of the effort can be gleaned from the fact that in one post-9/11 ad alone the company sought 120 “intelligence analysts,” many of whom would have the skills needed to serve as translators and/or interrogators in Iraq.

A serious issue regarding Sytex’s military interrogation work came up in a report by the Army Inspector General. The report found that two of the four Sytex interrogators working at Camp Bagram in Afghanistan had not received training in military interrogation techniques that would have included instruction in the Geneva Conventions requirements on the treatment of prisoners of war.

Sytex was not Lockheed Martin’s only link to interrogation work. In early 2003, it acquired the federal government information technology unit of Affiliated Computer Services (ACS), a company that held a contract to supply up to fifty interrogators and intelligence analysts at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. FBI documents released in January2007 indicated that ACS interrogators were involved in supervising U.S. government personnel—a practice that is prohibited. At least one private contractor employee engaged directly in abusive behavior, including wrapping duct tape around the head of a detainee. FBI personnel alleged that another civilian contract employee frequently “lost it” when interviewing prisoners.

The incidents cited in the FBI reports predated Lockheed Martin’s purchase of ACS. Lockheed spokesperson Tom Jurkowsky asserted that since its takeover of ACS, the company “did not direct the actions of any military member, active or reserve.” To date, there is no evidence to contradict Jurkowsky’s claim.

There is one direct allegation of abusive behavior by a Lockheed Martin contract employee: the case of Mamdough Habib, a former taxi driver in Sydney, Australia, who spent over three years at Guantanamo before being released in January 2005. According to a May 2008 report by the Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General, “Habib alleged that ‘Mike,’ a private contract interrogator with Lockheed Martin, had hit him during an interrogation.” The FBI agent whom Habib told about the incident suggested that it was highly unlikely that the interrogator in question would have hit a suspect. However, she was not present when the reported events occurred. The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) has since launched an investigation into Habib’s charges, but as of this writing the Pentagon has reported no results from the probe.

Tim Shorrock, a journalist whose book Spies for Hire offers the most comprehensive assessment yet made of the outsourcing of intelligence activities, has described Lockheed Martin as “a major force in military interrogations,” but the most recent evidence of these activities ends in 2007. At that point the company was still actively recruiting interrogators. But according to Lockheed Martin spokesperson Matt Kramer, the company is no longer involved in “hiring, recruiting or providing interrogators.”

Lockheed Martin’s involvement in the interrogation of suspects in the “war on terror” is just a small part of the work it has performed for the CIA, the National Security Agency (NSA), the Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), and other U.S. government intelligence and surveillance bodies. According to Spies for Hire, nearly three-quarters of the budget of the U.S. intelligence community goes to private contractors. This amounts to a market of $50 billion, the largest source of government funding for goods and services outside of the Pentagon. Retired Vice Admiral Herbert A. Browne, former head of a major intelligence contractor trade group, calls it the “Intelligence Industrial Complex.” Tim Shorrock has identified Lockheed Martin as the largest contractor:

The bulk of this $50 billion market is serviced by 100 companies. . . . At one end of the scale is Lockheed Martin, whose $40 billion in revenue and 52,000 cleared IT personnel [employees with high-level security clearances] make it the largest defense contractor and private intelligence force in the world.

Lockheed Martin executives have acknowledged their central role. At a 2005 meeting, Ron Romero—the company’s Director of Intelligence and Homeland Security Programs—noted that although “everyone talks about the Intelligence Community as ‘these guys in government,’” in fact “you [the contractors] are all part of the Intelligence Community.In fact, you probably make up the largest part of it[emphasis added].”

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William D. Hartung is the director of the Arms and Security Initiative at the New America Foundation and author of "Prophets of War: Lockheed Martin and the Making of the Military-Industrial Complex."