“The Special Operations Command is outsourcing many of its most sensitive information activities, including interrogation, drone and psychological operations. Remote warfare is increasingly being shaped by the private sector.” – Crofton Black
A new report that analyses a US procurement database to shed light on the activities of US military special operations contracting has found that private corporations are integrated into some of the most sensitive counter-terrorism activities.
US Special Operations Command Contracting: Data-Mining the Public Record, commissioned by the Remote Control project, examines federal spending by the US Special Operations Command (USSOCOM) through transaction records. The report, by Crofton Black, is the first to mine the Federal Procurement Data System, an open access database, to look into the financing of US counter-terrorism operations.
The report looks at procurement by USSOCOM over a five year period. Transactions listed over this period amount to a sum of nearly $13 billion.
The dataset has revealed that corporations are integrated into some of the most sensitive aspects of special operations activities: flying drones and overseeing target acquisition, facilitating communications between forward operating locations and central command hubs, interrogating prisoners and translating captured material, and managing the flow of information from regional populations to the US military presence and back again.
Although over 3000 companies provided services as Global Vendors, eight of these companies accounted for over 50% of the total transaction value: Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications, Boeing, Harris Corporation, Jacobs Engineering Group, MA Federal, Raytheon, and ITT Corporation.
Among the report’s focal points are a group of transactions in the dataset referencing “ISR” (intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance services). Over two thirds of these were with US corporation Boeing, with performance divided between Afghanistan, Iraq, the Philippines and the US. By looking at key references in the dataset, the report reveals how contractors are involved with drone operations in Afghanistan and a US counterinsurgency campaign in the Philippines.
The report also uncovers the role in interrogation operations of Shee Atika, a company whose provision of translation services accounts for one of the largest single transactions in the dataset ($77 million), raising concerns over the mechanisms for ensuring effective accountability and oversight in these operations.
Other findings include the prevalence of information technology in modern warfare and the reliance on corporations to process this information. In 2011 a series of high value awards were given to four contractors for Special Operations Forces Information Technology Enterprise Contracts (SITEC). SITEC is intended to provide a wide range of integrated IT services to support special operation forces globally, revealing the US military’s increasing commitment to networked information sharing. More specifically, the report also reveals that in 2010 USSOCOM transacted $19 million with General Dynamics Corporation to run a website as part of its information operations initiative in Africa. The website, which is used to express US counter-terrorism operations in the region in a positive light, demonstrates the prominent role of information communication in waging counter-terrorism campaigns across Africa.
According to the report, USSOCOM tendered a $1.5 billion contract that required support with “Psychological Operations related to intelligence and information operations.” Prospective contractors were told they would have to provide “military and civilian persuasive communications planning, produce commercial quality products for unlimited foreign public broadcast, and develop lines of persuasion, themes, and designs for multi-media products.” The contract suggested that aim of these “persuasion” operations was to “engage local populations and counter nefarious influences” in parts of Europe and Africa.
A separate document related to the same contract noted that one purpose of the effort was to conduct “market research” of Al-Qaeda and its affiliates in Libya, Tunisia, Mali, Northern Nigeria, and Somalia. Four American companies eventually won the $1.5 billion contract: Tennessee-based Jacobs Technology and Virginia-based Booz Allen Hamilton, CACI-WGI, and SRA International.
The report from the Remote Control Project is a reminder of how public data can sometimes be used to obtain information about even the most shadowy government activities – in this case, offering a valuable glimpse into the burgeoning nature of the U.S. military’s special operations and, in particular, the supporting role played by private contractors.