Friday roundup

Odds and ends you have probably seen elsewhere, but if I let that sort of thing stop me, I’d never have anything to write about.

There’s more on the private-contractors-who-carry-guns-and-act-like-soldiers business in the Times today, here:

“This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do,” said Peter W. Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written a book on the industry, “Corporate Warriors” (Cornell University Press, 2003).

“And they’re not out there screening passengers at the airports,” Mr. Singer said. “They’re taking mortar and sniper fire.”

— snip —

Though there have been private militaries since the dawn of war, the modern corporate version got its start in the 1990’s after the collapse of the Soviet Union.

At that time, many nations were sharply reducing their military forces, leaving millions of soldiers without employment. Many of them went into business doing what they knew best: providing security or training others to do the same.

The proliferation of ethnic conflicts and civil wars in places like the Balkans, Haiti and Liberia provided employment for the personnel of many new companies. Business grew rapidly after the Sept. 11 attacks prompted corporate executives and government officials to bolster their security overseas.

But it was the occupation of Iraq that brought explosive growth to the young industry, security experts said. There are now dozens, perhaps hundreds of private military concerns around the world. As many as two dozen companies, employing as many as 15,000 people, are working in Iraq.

They are providing security details for diplomats, private contractors involved in reconstruction, nonprofit organizations and journalists, security experts said. The private guards also protect oil fields, banks, residential compounds and office buildings.

And also here:

This raises some obvious questions. Shouldn’t war be a government function? Why rely on the private sector for our national defense, even if it is largely a supporting role? Part of the reason is practical: since the end of the cold war, the United States military has been shrinking, from 2.1 million in 1989 to 1.4 million today. Supporters of privatization argue that there simply aren’t enough soldiers to provide a robust presence around the world, and that by drafting private contractors to fix helicopters, train recruits and cook dinner, the government frees up bona fide soldiers to fight the enemy. (Of course, in the field, the line between combatant and noncombatant roles grow fuzzier, particularly because many of the private soldiers are armed.) Private contractors are supposed to be cheaper, too, but their cost effectiveness has not been proved.

Low manpower and cost savings aren’t the only reasons these companies appeal to the Pentagon. For one, substituting contactors for soldiers offers the government a way to avoid unpopular military forays. According to Myles Frechette, who was President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Colombia, private companies performed jobs in Latin America that would have been politically unpalatable for the armed forces. After all, if the government were shipping home soldiers’ corpses from the coca fields, the public outcry would be tremendous. However, more than 20 private contractors have been killed in Colombia alone since 1998, and their deaths have barely registered.

This points to the biggest problem with the outsourcing of war: there is far less accountability to the American public and to international law than if real troops were performing the tasks. In the 1990’s, several employees of one company, DynCorp, were implicated in a sex-trafficking scandal in Bosnia involving girls as young as 12. Had these men been soldiers, they would have faced court-martial proceedings. As private workers, they were simply put on the next plane back to America.

(Update: more from the author of this piece, Barry Yeoman, here.)

Meanwhile, at home…the Bush Administration is again stonewalling the 9/11 commission — this time trying to keep them from seeing Clinton Administration papers. And a speech Condi Rice was scheduled to give on 9/11/01 gives us some insight into just how concerned the Bushies were about terrorism on 9/10/01 (hint: not very). And a former FBI translator says the administration knew that al Qaeda was planning to attack the US — with airplanes.

And as if that weren’t enough for the Gang that Can’t Shoot Straight to be dealing with, it looks like the Plame investigation is about to heat up again:

Prosecutors investigating whether someone in the Bush administration improperly disclosed the identity of a C.I.A. officer have expanded their inquiry to examine whether White House officials lied to investigators or mishandled classified information related to the case, lawyers involved in the case and government officials say.

In looking at violations beyond the original focus of the inquiry, which centered on a rarely used statute that makes it a felony to disclose the identity of an undercover intelligence officer intentionally, prosecutors have widened the range of conduct under scrutiny and for the first time raised the possibility of bringing charges peripheral to the leak itself.

The expansion of the inquiry’s scope comes at a time when prosecutors, after a hiatus of about a month, appear to be preparing to seek additional testimony before a federal grand jury, lawyers with clients in the case said. It is not clear whether the renewed grand jury activity represents a concluding session or a prelude to an indictment.

Politicians never seem to remember that the coverup often causes more trouble than the crime.