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Darfur Diplomacy: Enter the Contractors

by Pratap ChatterjeeSpecial to CorpWatch
October 21st, 2004

Cartoonist: Khalil Bendib

Rwandan and Nigerian soldiers will arrive in western Sudan this week as the first deployment of a five nation 4,500 strong peacekeeping force dispatched from the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa to stem the violence in Darfur. Providing logistical support for the mission will be two private contractors from California, both of whom have mixed records carrying out similar enterprises in the past.

In Iraq and Afghanistan, it is widely known that the U.S. Army uses contractors like Halliburton to carry out its missions. However, the Sudan contracts are run, not by the military, but by the U.S. State Department, a civilian agency comparable to a foreign ministry in most governments.

Lieutenant-Colonel Michael Bittrick, the deputy director of regional and security affairs for Africa at the State Department, flew to Addis two months ago to hammer out an agreement to support African Union troops by committing to provide housing, office equipment, transport, and communications gear. This will be provided via an "indefinite delivery, indefinite quantity" joint contract awarded to Dyncorp Corporation, and Pacific Architects & Engineers (PAE) worth $20.6 million.

The two companies are already recruiting new staff to send to the region. A "resourceful retired military officer who has a through understanding of logistics" is being sought for $85,000 a year as well as security chief to lead "40-60 personnel daily" at a salary of $53,750 a year.

The State Department has assigned the work to DynCorp even as the same agency officially rebuked the company last week for its employees "aggressive behaviour" doing guard duty for Afghan leader Hamid Karzai and despite PAE's record of allegedly overcharging the United Nations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

The Sudan work is being carried out under a five-year task order issued on May 27th, 2003 by the State Department. The open-ended contract allows the State Department to use the two companies anywhere in Africa. It is identical to the kind of contract that the Pentagon uses to employ Halliburton anywhere in the world from Afghanistan to Iraq, according to Ed Mueller, the director of international programs at the State Department's acquisition division.

"The only difference with the Pentagon contracts is that this is a smaller contract," Mueller told CorpWatch. The contract has been used to buy $67 million worth of services from both companies in Burundi, Sudan and Liberia in the past year and is capped at $100 million for each company. "These are cost-plus contracts so the companies get reimbursed for all expenses and can charge a profit that ranges between 5 and 8 percent."

Neither Andy Michels, the director of peacekeeping programs for Dyncorp, nor Stacy Rabin, Sudan program director for PAE, agreed to comment on either company's current or future role in Sudan. "We have a clause in our contract that says we are not allowed to talk to the media," said Rabin.
Disaster in Darfur

The situation in Darfur is grim. More than one million people have fled their homes and up to 50,000 people have been killed as a result of clashes between pro-government nomadic militias and the settled Darfur population. (Both sides are Muslim).

The conflict began in the arid and impoverished region of Darfur, which means land of the Fur, over land and grazing rights between the nomads and farmers from the Fur, Massaleet and Zagawa ethnic groups. Early in 2003 two rebel groups, the Sudan Liberation Army (SLA) and the Justice and Equality Movement (JEM), began attacking government targets, claiming that the region was being neglected by the central government in Khartoum.

The government reacted by mobilizing "self-defence militias" following rebel attacks but denies any links to the most notorious groups that have attacked the settled farmers - the Janjaweed - who have been accused of trying to "cleanse" large swathes of territory of black Africans.

Refugees from Darfur say that following air raids by government aircraft, the Janjaweed ride into villages on horses and camels, slaughtering people and stealing whatever they can find. Women have reported being kidnapped by the Janjaweed and held as sex slaves.

Kofi Annan, the United Nations secretary general and Colin Powell, the Secretary of State, are among the many dignitaries who have paraded through the region this summer taking stock of what the U.N. calls the worst current humanitarian crisis on the planet.

Some commentators point out that the United States sudden interest in Sudan may also have to do with the fact that the country has vast oil reserves, including in southern Darfur. In the early 1980s Chevron, an oil company from California, was exploring for oil in the country, but abandoned its concessions in 1985 when fighting broke out between government and rebel forces. Sudan turned over the rights to other countries and today the country exports 320,000 barrels of oil per day to China and Pakistan.


State Department officials says that PAE is expected to play the main role in the Darfur mission and that the company has already started constructing housing for the troops that will be arriving this week if all goes well (the deployment has already been delayed at least once because of the shortage of housing).

"Private companies can do the job more quickly and efficiently in the short term than a government bureaucracy," says Charles Snyder, the director of Sudan programs for the State Department who was formerly National Intelligence Officer for Africa in the Central Intelligence Agency in the early 1990s. "Whether or not they can do better in the long term is situational," he told CorpWatch.

PAE already provides staff for a so-called Civilian Protection Monitoring Team (CPMT) which monitors human rights in Sudan under the State Department contract. The CPMT office is run by Brigadier General Frank Toney (retired), who was previously commander of Special Forces for the United States Army and organized covert missions into Iraq and Kuwait in the first Gulf War. Their job is to investigate complaints from the local community about human rights violations and issue independent reports on these matters.

Georgette Gagnon, deputy director of the Africa division of Human Rights Watch, who has just returned from a month long trip to Darfur is concerned about the use of private contractors, based on her previous experience of monitoring private contractor human rights abuses in Bosnia.

"There is not a lot of transparency about these contracts, we don't know how they vet recruits or what kind of training they get," she says. Unlike a government agency, the private companies are not required to tell the public exactly what they do, often citing "business confidentiality."

Military Contractors Working for Peace
Dyncorp is already working in Sudan, under the same State Department contract, on the long-standing "North-South" peace negotiations to end the 21-year civil war between the Government of Sudan and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement, the rebel group based in the south. The company provides staff in Washington DC who arrange housing and transportation to the delegates who meet in Nairobi, Kenya.

"Why are we using private contractors to do peace negotiations in Sudan? The answer is simple," says a senior United States government official who works on Sudan-related issues who preferred to remain anonymous. "We are not allowed to fund a political party or agenda under United States law, so by using private contractors, we can get around those provisions. Think of this as somewhere between a covert program run by the CIA and an overt program run by the United States Agency for International Development. It is a way to avoid oversight by Congress."

DynCorp has dozens of these little contracts all over the world from Afghanistan to the Mexican border, several of which have landed the company in hot water. Most recently French defense minister, Michele Alliot-Marie, who recently visited Afghan president Hamid Karzai in Kabul, was quoted saying that the behavior of Karzai's DynCorp bodyguards "gives a very bad impression" because of the aggressive way they treated visitors. Indeed even Colin Powell's security staff were once reported by the Washington Post as "furious" at the way that DynCorp guards treated them.

The State Department rebuked DynCorp last week for the incident. Mike Dickerson, director of communications for Computer Sciences Corporation, DynCorp's parent company, declined to comment on the State Department scolding but pointed out that the government had also stated that DynCorp was providing "outstanding" services in difficult and dangerous circumstances in Afghanistan.

But DynCorp's role in another State Department contract also appears designed to circumvent United States law under Plan Colombia. In the Colombian conflict, Washington has supplied more than 70 Black Hawk and Huey helicopters and other military hardware that are maintained and flown by private contractors.

Anxious to avoid the "secret wars" conducted by the Pentagon in Laos and Cambodia in the 1960s, Congress limited the number of US personnel that can operate in Colombia to 400 in uniform and 400 civilian contractors at any given time. US law also requires congressional notification before the government can approve the export of military services valued at $50 million or more.

By limiting each individual contract to several million dollars; labeling them peace-keeping missions; employing retired CIA and Special Forces personnel working for private contractors as well as foreign nationals (to whom the 400 person ceiling does not apply), Congress does not have to be notified, making the contracts harder to oversee.

Gagnon also points out that in the late 1990s, DynCorp contractors in Bosnia were caught trafficking in child sex slaves in Bosnia while working on a peace-keeping mission. "Many of the private contractors didn't have a clue about the local culture or anything about the country so you wonder how effective they can be. Most of them were just ex-military or police officers," she said.

PAE's African Past
Aside from the risk of unauthorized ventures being run by the executive branch beyond the scrutiny of Congress, there's a more prosaic reason to wonder whether private contractors are the best way for the US to carry out its foreign policy. As in the well documented abuses by Halliburton and the other Iraq contractors, PAE has a history of being accused of overcharging.

PAE, which also offers support for oil drilling projects around the world, has been involved in several African peacekeeping missions such as the air and sealift of personnel and supplies, equipment maintenance, and the provision of food fuel and water for the United Nations in Sierra Leone in 2003 and in the Congo in 2001.

The company's work in the Congo was investigated by the U.N. auditors because it was so expensive. When they won the contract to support the expanded UN peacekeeping mission in the Congo, PAE had been hired to replace South African Air Force specialists. Instead, when PAE managers arrived in the Congo, they hired away the South African fire-fighters and cargo-handlers for better, dollar-based salaries - but at a higher cost to the U.N..

Allegations of favoritism in the bid award were at first dismissed but when the final costs of the mission exceeded $75 million, despite the fact that the initial contract was capped at $34.2 million an investigation ensued. United Nations auditors subsequently reviewed the contract and presented a report to the General Assembly criticizing the decision to reject the original low bid. The award had been given to PAE on the grounds that Crown Agents, the low bidder which had offered to do the contract for $12 million less, had provided incomplete information. The auditors found that the lowest bidder was "erroneously penalized," and that the information alleged to be lacking (details on equipping and maintaining seven airfields) had in fact been supplied.

PAE group executive for government services Barry Wright told a South African journalist that the matter was no longer relevant. "All of the issues were resolved a long time ago," he said.

Peter Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution and the author of Corporate Warriors is not so sure that the secretive ad-hoc use of private contractors are the best way to support peace-keeping. "A trend seems to be developing that when the US government finally decides to support peacekeeping in Africa --be it in Liberia or now Sudan-- it increasingly avoids a firm political commitment by avoiding using [official] US government means. There are obvious reasons for this, but we need to take the measure of the advantages and disadvantages of this in the policy debate as well."

But clearly for the current U.S. administration, the risks of using contractors are outweighed by the benefits. If the peacekeeping mission in Darfur is successful, the government can take credit. If anything goes wrong, as in Bosnia, the contractors can be blamed for the mistakes.