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Robert Reich: Why the 'Gig' and 'Share' Economy Is the Last Thing You Want to Depend on to Pay the Bills

As Labor Day looms, more Americans than ever don’t know how much they’ll be earning next week or even tomorrow.

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Meet 11 of the Private Defense Contractors That Are Raking It in from the Drone War

Hundreds of private sector intelligence analysts are being paid to review surveillance footage from U.S. military drones in Central Asia and the Middle East, according to a new report from the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.

Bureau reporters Crofton Black and Abigail Fielding-Smith name eleven companies that have won hundreds of millions of dollars in contracts to plug a shortage in personnel needed to analyze the thousands of hours of streaming video gathered daily from the remotely piloted aircraft that hover over war zones around the world: Advanced Concepts Enterprises, BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, General Dynamics, Intrepid Solutions, L-3 Communications, MacAulay-Brown, SAIC, Transvoyant, Worldwide Language Resources and Zel Technologies. (see details below)

“Contractors are used to fill the gap to give enough manpower to provide flexibility necessary for military to do things like take leave,” one analyst who worked with the Air Force at Hurlburt Field airbase in Florida, told the Bureau.

Private companies have been providing support for military intelligence for many years. Ever since CACI’s role in supplying interrogators at Abu Ghraib came to light in 2004 (http://www.corpwatch.org/article.php?id=10828), CorpWatch has regularly documented dozens of companies like BAE Systems, Booz Allen Hamilton, L-3 Communications and SAIC that have provided such services to the federal government ranging from surveillance equipment and weapons to propaganda experts and imagery analysts.

Today, these contractors are flocking to the drone business, which has become the linchpin of President Barack Obama’s military strategy, just as the ground war has wound down. Although the Central Intelligence Agency has garnered most of the media attention for targeted killing delivered by drones in countries like Pakistan and Yemen, the bulk of the so-called “War on Terror” is really conducted by U.S. Air Force pilots and support personnel who fly 65 round-the-clock “combat air patrols” of Global Hawk, Predator and Reaper drones around the world from faraway locations.

Each of these patrols, which involve three to four aircraft, require as many as 186 individuals who staff a complex and global system. Typically pilots and camera operators work out of bases like Creech in Nevada, while maintenance crews work in friendly countries like Afghanistan and Saudi Arabia. Video analysts work out of military bases like California and Florida while military lawyers who are required to approve strike decisions are stationed at the Al-Udeid base in Qatar.

Imagery analysts who review video footage are among the lowest ranked among the personnel who work in the drone war hierarchy. Typically these are entry level “airmen” who only need a high school diploma and eleven months of military training. The drone pilots are officers with undergraduate degrees and more years of training.

Both airmen and officers become eligible to work as private contractors after they complete their military service, where they can be paid twice as much for the same work, and get the added bonus of picking their hours and work locations. (The Air Force Times estimates that drone maintenance pilots stationed overseas who work for companies like Raytheon can make as much as $225,000 a year) Since all the initial training and the security clearances are provided by the military, all the contractors are required to do is recruit Air Force veterans and then put them on their payrolls.

By all accounts, the private contractors do not take part in making decisions as to who to kill nor are they allowed to fire missiles.

But contractors do sometimes play a key role in military missions by the very nature of their analytical work. In 2010, Major General Timothy McHale identified an SAIC staffer who led a team of imagery analysts to track three vehicles in Daikundi province, Afghanistan. The information provided by these analysts led to some two dozen people being killed but later investigations would reveal that none of the people on board the vehicles were militants.

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Like Alan Gross, USAID Contractors Asked Me to Work in Cuba in 2009

The email arrived in my inbox on October 13, 2009, just six weeks before Alan Gross was arrested in Cuba. A program director for the Development Research Center, one of many for-profit USAID contractors, had an innocuous-sounding query: “I am wondering if you might be interested in working with us to conduct a training, in Spanish, through our USAID funded program which is aimed at supporting independent civil society in Latin America. We would like to conduct a training in the next 4-6 months, focused on global non-violent movements, tools and techniques.”   

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How Greedy Out-of-Control Private Contractors Botched the Obamacare Rollout

Whatever the ultimate benefits of Obamacare, it's clear that the rollout of its $400m registration system and website has been a disaster. Healthcare.gov was unusable for millions who visited the site on launch day earlier this month, and the glitches reportedly continue. What went wrong?

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One Reason GOP Loves the Sequester: It Punishes Union Workers

Back in 2011, in order to prevent the crash of the global economy that could have easily followed a default by the United States of America on its national debt, the president signed a deal with obstinate Republicans so that the government would be allowed to pay its creditors with a lifting of a limitation known as the debt ceiling.

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Meet the Contractors Turning America's Police Into a Paramilitary Force

The national security state has an annual budget of around $1 trillion. Of that huge pile of money, large amounts go to private companies the federal government awards contracts to. Some, like Lockheed Martin or Boeing, are household names, but many of the contractors fly just under the public's radar. What follows are three companies you should know about (because some of them can learn a lot about you with their spy technologies).

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5 Ways Speeding and Red Lights Cameras Are Causing Political Outrage

Across the world, the rise of red-light and speeding cameras is causing a head-on collision between those who think we should slam the breaks on these surveillance systems and others who want to green light the initiative in even more cities. Having trouble following the debate? Here are five stories on the front lines of traffic camera politics.

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Will Obama Issue an Order Exposing Big Corporate Political Spenders in Citizens United Era?

A executive order requiring that federal contractors disclose their electoral spending—by top officers and as corporations—is being reconsidered by the White House despite stiff opposition from the business lobby after it was first proposed last spring, according to civil rights attorneys working on the issue.

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How the Drone Warfare Industry Took Over Our Congress

At the Unmanned Systems Fair on September 21, the latest drone technology was on display. The drone fair, which took place in the lobby of the Rayburn House Office Building, also displayed the easy mix of government and business. Also on exhibit was the kind of bipartisan unity often seen when Democrats and Republicans rally around security and federal pork. 

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Controversial Pentagon's Private Contract Killers Operating in Afghanistan and Pakistan

Author and adventurer Robert Young Pelton is perhaps best known for his best-selling guides to The World's Most Dangerous Places. A veteran of battles in Afghanistan, sieges in Chechnya and attacks in Liberia, and a survivor of an assassination attempt in Uganda and a kidnapping in Colombia, Pelton has also spent time hunting for Osama bin Laden with the CIA and hanging out with both Blackwater contractors and the insurgents they were fighting in Iraq.

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Firm Run by Ex-Israeli Special Forces Soldier Wants U.S. Security Contracts in Jerusalem, Iraq, Afghanistan

The Obama administration has continued the Bush-era reliance on private contractors to sustain the U.S. occupation of Iraq and the U.S. operations in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Obama has surpassed Bush’s reliance on contractors with current contractor levels surpassing 100,000 Defense Department contractors deployed. In Iraq, Obama has maintained the long-standing ratio of one contractor to every US soldier.

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