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 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.
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.
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 and have been dominated by a relatively small group of companies. Although over 3000 companies provided services as Global Vendors, eight of these companies accounted for over 50% of the total transaction value.
Crofton Black, author of the report, says,
Information has always been essential in warfare. However, as the quantities of available information grow and as information technology becomes increasingly embedded in warfare systems, corporations are relied upon to create, store and move this information. 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.
Caroline Donnellan, Manager of the Remote Control project, says,
This report is distinctive in that it mines data from the generally classified world of US special operations. It reveals the extent to which remote control activity is expanding in all its facets, with corporations becoming more and more integrated into very sensitive elements of warfare. The report’s findings are of concern given the challenges remote warfare poses for effective investigation, transparency, accountability and oversight. This highlights the difficulties in assessing the impact and consequences of remote control activity.
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The Remote Control project is a project of the Network for Social Change hosted by the Oxford Research Group. Remote Control examines changes in military engagement, in particular the use of drones, special forces, private military companies and cyber warfare. The project acts as a facilitator for the exchange of information and commissions and publicises work undertaken in the area, aiming to examine the long-term effects of remote warfare.
Crofton Black is an investigator and researcher specialising in US and UK counter-terrorism activities. He has spent many years working on aspects of the CIA’s “Rendition, Detention, Interrogation” programme and on military, government and corporate cooperation worldwide. He works for Reprieve’s “Abuses in Counter-Terrorism Team” and is a senior investigator for One World Research. He has a doctorate from the University of London in the field of Medieval and Renaissance hermeneutics, and was formerly a Humboldt fellow at the Freie Universitaet Berlin.