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Part One: The Interrogators

by Pratap ChatterjeeSpecial to CorpWatch
April 29th, 2008

HISTORY OF L-3

L-3 was created as a spin-off of several Lockheed Martin and Loral manufacturing units that specialized in advanced electronics. These small business units were having a hard time selling their products to major military manufacturers such as Boeing, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon, because of perceived competition with Lockheed. L-3 was created as an independent “mezzanine” or middle company, not linked to Lockheed or Loral, that would supply advanced electronics to anyone.(6)

The deal was engineered in 1997 by Wall Street investment bankers working for Lehman Brothers, with the help of two former Loral executives, whose names coincidentally began with the letter L: Frank Lanza and Robert LaPenta. (L-3 stands for Lanza, LaPenta and Lehman).

Lanza told a reporter at the time that their plan was “to build one big company, that would be like a high-tech Home Depot” competing against the “major gorillas” like Lockheed and Northrop Grumann.(7)

The company quickly expanded through an aggressive acquisition strategy of buying up some 70 small advanced technology manufacturers. As it grew, it recruited big names to its senior management and board: General John Shalikashvili, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the U.S. Army and General Carl Vuono, the former deputy chief of staff for the U.S. Army, among others.(8) In the last decade, this new company has ousted other older companies from the list of top ten military contractors to join the ranks of the “major gorillas.” In the last few years, L-3 has been aggressively taking over prime contracts, especially in the field of intelligence. In 2007 alone it won $10.3 billion in Pentagon contracts, representing almost three-quarters of its total business.(9)

INTELLIGENCE CONTRACTS

On July 8, 2005, L-3 subsidiary Government Services Incorporated (GSI) won a contract to provide over 300 intelligence specialists for an operation that spans across 22 military bases in Iraq. The $426.5 million contract was awarded by Cindy Higginbotham, operations chief of Division B of the United States Army Contracting Agency office at the Amelia Earhart Hotel in Wiesbaden, Germany. (10) The contract is scheduled to run out in July 2009, although the Pentagon has the option of canceling the contract this coming July if it wishes.

GSI’s partners on the intelligence contract include Florida-based, disabled-owned Espial Services and Virginia- based Gray Hawk Systems. Other L-3 subcontractors on the project include Future Technologies Incorporated, a South Asian-owned company which is hiring Middle East regional intelligence analysts; and Operational Support and Services, a North Carolina company. This consortium was not the first to work on an Iraq interrogation contract; that distinction belongs to CACI, a Virginia-based company that was implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal (see box).

L-3 also works on other high-level military contracts in Iraq. In January 2005, L-3 was tasked with providing advisors to the U.S. Special Forces under a no-bid contract. It was also one of four companies invited to bid on a five-year, $209 million contract to provide information technology, management and intelligence support services to the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command (INSCOM) at Fort Belvoir in Virginia.(11)

While these intelligence and related contracts are a significant expansion of the core electronics business of L-3, they also represent a significant evolution in the privatization of intelligence for the U.S. government. The U.S. employed almost no private interrogators in Afghanistan or Guantanamo in 2001 and 2002, relying on the existing capacity of military interrogators. However, the Bush administration’s decision to go to war in Iraq and to occupy that country has resulted in the U.S. military taking thousands of prisoners without adequate capacity to process them. The military first hired CACI in 2003,(12) but when the initial contract was exposed and severely criticized in the Abu Ghraib scandal, the company chose not to pursue an extension of the work. So, in 2005, the U.S. government turned to L-3 to take over the explosion in demand for retired interrogators.

“The government is desperate for qualified interrogators and intelligence analysts so they are turning to industry,” says Bill Golden who now runs IntelligenceCareers.com, one of the biggest intelligence employment websites in the business. “Over half of the qualified counter-intelligence experts in the field work for contractors like L-3.”(13)

The demand has risen much more quickly than it can be met. Golden says that on average people applying for jobs in 2005 had 11 years experience in intelligence; in 2006 they had just eight and he expects that the average applicant’s experience is now dropping to as little as five years.

“That’s not a sufficient base of expertise when you are fighting a worldwide war on terrorism,” says Golden, a former military intelligence analyst with 20 years Army experience. “We are now entering a new phase. Previously, government exported jobs to industry requiring subject matter expertise because that expertise was being institutionally lost. Now there are indications that industry may be losing some of [this expertise] as well.”

BAD HIRING AND TRAINING PRACTICES


The L-3 contract for intelligence services in Iraq requires the company to provide three kinds of personnel: analysts, interrogators and screeners. The company is required to provide a total of 306 people in 22 Forward Operating Bases (FOBs) at an average cost to the taxpayer of about $320,000 per person per year.(14) If the company fails to meet this quota, it has to pay a monetary fine of thousands of dollars for each position that remains unfilled, creating a strong incentive for bad hiring practices. Indeed, the military contracting authorities noted this problem in March 2005 when the project was first put out to bid, suggesting that it may become “impossible for the Contractor Team to fill the slots within the required timeframe, if at all. In this highly unlikely, yet possible scenario, the Contractor Team will accrue an unlimited amount of Damages.” At the time, contracting authorities stressed that excessive fines for not filling the positions could be counter-productive, and that it would take a “reasonable approach” to a failure to fill the positions.(15)

But the reality is that the company has sought to avoid the fines by hiring a number of unqualified personnel, simply to fulfill the contract. For example, in order to fill the required positions, CorpWatch sources indicate that L-3/Titan hired several former Special Forces soldiers with no previous intelligence experience as site managers, who in turn have often hired unqualified workers to meet the quota provided for in the contract.(16)

One of the areas in which L-3 has been particularly lax is the hiring of “screeners” who are in charge of doing background checks on every Iraqi who wishes to visit or work on a U.S. military base. Because the contract does not specify what kind of experience these screeners need to possess, some hires have only tangential qualifications. At least one employee’s professional experience consisted solely of working as a baggage screener at a U.S. airline. While some speak Arabic, others do not, which makes it impossible for them to evaluate who should have access to military locations and who should not.(17)

An L-3 interrogator who worked closely with the screeners told CorpWatch that “It is hard to say whether (the screener) is doing a good job because the result from our work is not measured in any type of tangible result. It is more measured in the amount of bad people you prevent from having access. You cannot gauge how many people get access from unqualified people. Most of the people looking for access are doing it to collect intelligence, not attack directly. I don’t know how many people (the screener) has stopped from gaining access, but if you are not trained correctly it would be safe to say the amount people you miss would be higher then someone who was trained.”(18)

L-3 also provides dozens of interrogators in Iraq who are typically retired military intelligence. These contractors actually do have years more experience than the enlisted soldiers conducting interrogations who have often just graduated from a three-month training course in Fort Huachuca. The contractors get paid a lot more than the enlisted soldiers — a qualified interrogator can get up to $250,000 a year, three times what a soldier would get.(19)

The Abu Ghraib scandals, where unqualified contractors like Steven Stefanowicz were hired as interrogators, have led to some changes in contractor hiring practices. Thus today, in order to work in Iraq, contractors are required to take regular training classes, but these are often just window-dressing. “To be an interrogator you have to go through a refresher course (at Fort Huachuca)“ one L-3 interrogator told CorpWatch. “Then every 90 days you get a four-hour block of instruction on the rules of interrogation. It is called 0502 training. This training was implemented some time after Abu Ghraib to cover someone’s ass in case that sort of thing ever happened again. It is a check-the-box type of training, meaning it teaches you nothing but makes the leadership feel like they are covered if someone crosses the line.”(20)

“The refresher course is done by power point. Everyone sits in a room and listens to some officer tell everyone else how things should be done and the laws that apply. Most of the time the officers have never done this job but only watched. The course is a joke. But it helps the military cover their ass if anything happens. They can always go back and say you had the training, you were told what you could do.”

PRISON QUOTAS

The two sites at which L-3 provides a significant number of interrogators are Camp Bucca in the south, near the Kuwaiti border, and Camp Cropper, which is part of the gigantic U.S. military base located at Baghdad International Airport.(21) Every one of the other U.S. military bases in Iraq, as well as the prison at Fort Suse in the Kurdish north, has at least one U.S. military interrogator stationed on site and often one or more contract interrogators. (Interrogators are often flown in to the other sites when a significant number of new prisoners arrive, and then leave when the interrogations are over.(22)

CorpWatch has been able to glean some knowledge of the problems with the interrogation contracting system by talking directly to L-3 interrogators and translators in the field. Many have complained that one of their biggest problems is the vast number of new people that are being arbitrarily rounded up by U.S. troops to be imprisoned to fill unwritten “quotas.”

“The units that capture are all military. Every size. There are no quotas in writing, just if the previous unit arrested some many people, then the incoming unit wants to do better and show they made a bigger impact. They have to justify the bronze star they are going to get for sitting behind a desk,” an L-3 interrogator told CorpWatch.(23) “Most units DO NOT have counter-intel people with them. They watch TV and figure that is how it is done. A regular line unit made up of infantry will allow some captain to run sources because they see it on TV. It is illegal for an untrained person to run a source. So the units don’t recruit anyone. They treat them all as if they are just people offering information. The line gets crossed when you have talked to the person four times or more and you ask them for something. Now you are running a source.

[This] is not getting vetted by higher-ups which is the way it should be. In most cases these unit sources are feeding bad information to the unit and using them to help cleanse the area. The units don’t have enough trained persons to do the job and the ones that are trained are not allowed to do the job correctly. Every unit wants to be the unit to capture the next big terrorist and thus does not share their information. When you request information from them, you are usually stonewalled or ignored completely. Then they think they have something good and continue to run things their way. No one in the chain will force them to stop because they make arrests. It does not matter if the arrests are right or wrong, they are simply numbers to boost the unit.

If the unit you are replacing captured 200 people, then you must capture 250. I think the number is now up around 400. No one is tracking the number of people captured for no reason, just that they were captured. These are the kind of errors that can occur from unqualified people.”

TASK FORCE 145

Have L-3 interrogators been involved in any of the cases of abuse that have taken place at Iraq’s prisons and military detention centers? To date, none have been revealed, but press reports indicate that the company has provided interrogators to Task Force 145 at Camp Anaconda in Balad, the successor to Task Force 626 at Camp Nama at the Baghdad International Airport complex.(24) This autonomous and clandestine unit of Delta Force and Navy Seals, which was tasked with tracking down high-level alleged terrorists, has been accused of numerous human rights abuses although no civilian contractors have been named or charged in these abuses.

Task Force 626, first put together in 2003, has been accused of cruel as well as juvenile practices in its early days (before L-3 supplied interrogators to the group), by both the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI). Indeed, the CIA banned its staff from working with interrogators at Camp Nama.(25) For example, interrogators on Task Force 145 allegedly stripped prisoners naked and hosed them down in the cold, beating them, used “stress positions” as well as kept them awake for long hours. Some 34 Task Force members have been disciplined, and 11 have been removed from the unit for mistreating prisoners.

In the summer of 2004 Task Force 626 was renamed Task Force 145 and moved north to Camp Anaconda. A May 2007 Atlantic Monthly article by Mark Bowden says that several L-3 interrogators were hired to work at the new facility, and described at least one: “Tall, wiry, and dark-haired, Nathan (a pseudonym used by Bowden) was one of the few (interro)gators who could speak some Arabic” who was described as questioning a prisoner nick-named “Abu Raja.”

NOTE: This report is about L-3’s role in U.S. military interrogation, which is distinct from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) rendition program. The bulk of the alleged human rights abuses to date have been blamed on military police at Abu Ghraib, Bagram, Guantanamo and Task Force 626 at Camp Nama in Iraq, not on civilian interrogators. (Roughly five percent of the 500 cases of detainee abuse studied by Human Rights Watch/Human Rights First were linked to civilians.(26)

Box: CACI’s Interrogation Contracts

CACI, (referred to as “Khaki” in military circles) was originally called California Analysis Center Incorporated. It was formed in the 1960s by Harry Markowitz and Herbert Karr. (Markowitz later won a Nobel prize in economics in 1990 for his research on stock portfolio diversification.) The company’s first federal contracts were for custom-written computer languages that could be used to build battlefield simulation programs.(27)

In the last decade or so CACI, which moved its headquarters from California to the Washington DC area in 1972, has quietly pursued an aggressive business strategy. It has acquired weaker companies and bid on new military contracts ranging from Navy shipyard repair contracts to personnel support at the Kelly Air Force base in Texas and the McLellan Air Force base in California, to become a billion dollar company.(28)

In 2003 CACI bought up a company named Premier Technology Group. Included in the sale was Premier’s “blanket purchase agreement” (an open-ended contract used by government agencies to buy anything from beans to bullets). The contract was issued to Premier from contracting office Building 22208, an unremarkable old military office on the south-eastern edge of the Brown Parade Field in the heart of Fort Huachuca, Arizona, the main interrogation training campus for the U.S. Army.(29)

In August 2003, Command Joint Task Force-7, the military group overseeing operations in Iraq, decided it wanted CACI to provide interrogators under the blanket-purchase agreement, and informed the Department of Interior (DoI), which was in charge of the contracting office at Building 22208, of its plan.(30)  An Interior contracting officer was asked to evaluate the new orders to make sure the work was not “outside the scope” of the contract. According to the agency’s spokesperson, Frank Quimby, the official decided that the Army request was legal because the order included computer integration and data processing work. DoI issued a $19.9 million order for the work.

During the two-year period (August 2003 to 2005) that the contract was in force, CACI provided up to 28 interrogators to the military in Iraq at any given time. (A total of some 60 different individuals worked on this contract, according to a company FAQ. (31)

An Army investigation in July 2004 by Lieutenant General Paul Mikolashek, on behalf of the Army Inspector General, found that a third of the interrogators supplied in Iraq by CACI had not been trained in military interrogation methods and policies.(32)

One of the CACI interrogators, Steven Stefanowicz (aka Big Steve), was accused of involvement in the Abu Ghraib prison torture scandal that broke in May 2004. It was soon revealed that Stefanowicz, who was trained as a satellite imagery analyst, had received no formal training in military interrogation or the Geneva Conventions on human rights.(33)

According to a military policeman who testified at the court-martial of Sergeant Michael J. Smith, an Army dog handler at Abu Ghraib, Stefanowicz directed the abuse in one of the most infamous incidents photographed at Abu Ghraib: A prisoner in an orange jumpsuit being threatened by an menacing looking dog, a black Belgian shepherd named Marco.(34)

“I was told by his interrogator, Big Steve, that he was al-Qaida,” testified Private Ivan Frederick II. “He said, ‘Any chance you get, put the dogs on.’” Frederick said that Stefanowicz would occasionally ask him to pause for the interrogations. “He would come down in between and we would pull the dogs off and he would go in and talk to him,” said Frederick.

Likewise Corporal Charles Graner told Army investigators that Stefanowicz gave instructions about “harassing, keeping off balance, yelling, screaming” and stripping prisoners naked. Under Stefanowicz’s direction, according to Graner, prisoners could be sexually humiliated, kept awake for 20 hours at a stretch and put in “stress positions.”(35)

Another Abu Ghraib photograph shows Daniel Johnson, another of the civilian contractors, putting an Iraqi prisoner in “an unauthorized stress position.” This led the Army to conclude that there was “probable cause” that a crime had been committed.(36)

Graner said that Johnson told him to inflict pain by squeezing pressure points on the same prisoner’s face and body and that he “roughed up” the prisoner at Johnson’s instigation. Frederick told the investigators that Johnson twice personally interfered with the prisoner’s breathing and that he copied him: “I would put my hand over his mouth and pinch his nose,” so the prisoner could not breathe.(37)

CACI is now being sued for torture on behalf of several detainees in a civil case that names Johnson and Stefanowicz as defendants by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and the law firm of Susan Burke in Philadelphia.(38) The lawsuit also names Timothy Duggan, a civilian interrogator from Pataskala, Ohio (aka Big Dog(39) and alleges that he directed others such as soldiers “to torture and mistreat prisoners” and made death threats to one person who reported the abuse to military authorities. Titan, now an L-3 subsidiary, was also a defendant in the lawsuit for providing translators who allegedly took part in the torture. (See next section.)

On November 6, 2007, U.S. District Judge James Robertson denied CACI International’s motion to dismiss a civil lawsuit on behalf of more than 200 Iraqis who at one time were detained at the Abu Ghraib prison, but granted summary judgment for Titan, ending the case against that company.(40)

Nor was CACI the only company to be awarded vaguely worded contracts that were then used to employ interrogators. A small company named Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) was issued a General Services Administration (GSA) technology contract in Kansas City, Missouri. ACS was subsequently bought up by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin Corporation, who then used the GSA contract to employ private interrogators at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba as early as November 2002.(41)

Lockheed also bought up a company named Sytex in February 2005 that had been providing the military with “intelligence analysts” ranging from Arabic translators to counterintelligence and information warfare specialists, as far back as 2001. In mid-2005, Sytex was still advertising to hire 11 new interrogators for Iraq and 23 interrogators for Afghanistan. Once L-3 took over the Iraq interrogation contract, Lockheed appears to have discontinued its interrogation work.(42)

Box: Border Surveillance Scandal


Congressman Mike Rogers, a Republican from Alabama, and chairman of the Homeland Security Subcommittee on Management, Integration and Oversight, conducted a hearing on June 16, 2005, to find out why an L-3 subsidiary botched a key U.S. border surveillance project.(43)

In 1998, the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS, now part of the Department of Homeland Security) awarded a contract to International Microwave Corporation (IMC) to build a border crossing monitoring system known as Integrated Surveillance Intelligence System (ISIS) to detect undocumented immigrants and drug traffickers. A major component of this was the Remote Video Surveillance Program that was to integrate multiple color, thermal and infrared cameras mounted on 50- to 80-foot poles along the borders, into a single remote-controlled system.(44)

When Congress threatened to eliminate the ISIS program, IMC turned to Congressman Silvestre Reyes from Texas, a former Border Patrol agent, and others to help rescue it. Congressman Reyes says that he never talked to U.S. officials to help IMC win the contract but that he did help the project win congressional funding because he believes cameras “are an important part of our ability to defend the borders.” (Reyes is now a senior member of both the Armed Services and Select Intelligence Committees of the House of Representatives.)

INS official Walter Drabik, who helped select IMC for the $2 million contract in 1999, told the Washington Post that he recommended that IMC hire Rebecca Reyes, daughter of the Congressman as liaison to the INS. She ultimately became IMC’s vice president for contracts, and ran the ISIS program. In 2001, her brother, Silvestre Reyes Jr., a former Border Patrol employee, was also hired by IMC as an ISIS technician. (He quit a few years later to form his own company, according to the Post.)

In 2000, Drabik was taken off the ISIS project, after his superiors expressed discomfort over his close dealings with IMC. In 2003 IMC was bought up by L-3.

In December 2004, after IMC became an L-3 subsidiary, an audit of ISIS was issued by the inspector general of the General Services Administration (GSA), which found numerous problems with the ISIS project. The audit noted that the initial $2 million contract had been awarded without competition, yet, one year later IMC received a $200 million extension for many tasks that were outside the scope of the original contract.(45)

GSA also found multiple problems with the surveillance equipment that the company provided. At the Border Patrol location in Blaine, Washington, for example, auditors found cameras and other pieces of equipment that did not work or needed frequent repair. At three other locations, including Detroit, Michigan, auditors found surveillance sites where no equipment had even been delivered and no work was underway. At other sites in New York, Arizona and Texas, some equipment had been installed, but was not operational.

Other problems, according to the GSA report, included: 60-foot poles that were paid for but never installed; sensitive equipment that failed to meet electrical codes; an operations center where contractors and government employees did little or no work for over a year; and, not surprisingly, numerous cost overruns.

“The contractor sold us a bill of goods, and no one in the Border Patrol and INS was watching,” Carey James, the Border Patrol chief in Washington state until 2001 told the Post. “All these failures placed Americans in danger.”

In September 2004, GSA abruptly halted extending the contract, leaving approximately 70 border sites without monitoring equipment. It also told the contractor to ship truckloads of equipment back to the Border Patrol, which then stored it in a warehouse where it gathered dust.

“What we have here, plain and simple, is a case of gross mismanagement of a multimillion dollar contract,” said Congressman Rogers. “This agreement has violated federal contracting rules. And it has wasted taxpayers’ dollars. Worst of all, it has seriously weakened our border security.”

At the hearing, Joe Saponaro, president of Government Services, Inc., the L-3 subsidiary that absorbed IMC, admitted that there were problems with the project: “It is fair to say that the contract outgrew the company performing it and the Government offices administering it, neither of which had the processes in place at that time to efficiently work a contract of this magnitude.” Saponaro said that the company had “corrected” or “fully remediated” problems that were discovered but that many of the allegations were “clearly erroneous.”(46)

Despite the sub-committee hearing almost three years ago, the investigation has since been dropped. Robert Samuels, a spokesman for the General Services Administration, emailed an update to CorpWatch: “The results of the investigation were not sufficient, however, to pursue further legal action.”(47)

L-3’s then CEO Frank Lanza said that the Rebecca Reyes was cleared of any wrongdoing.(48) She is now director of policy, procedures and administration at L-3 subsidiary MPRI.(49)

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