WASHINGTON, D.C.—If Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld has his way, the vaunted U.S. military of the future will be transformed into what amounts to corporate-owned units. The daffy secretary calls his plan “outsourcing.” The intention, he claims, is to put the lid on money going into expanding of the army so it can be diverted to new technologies such as Rummy’s favorite hobby, fighting wars from space.
Rumsfeld has already outsourced much of the logistics and supply functions of the military to private firms, especially to Cheney’s old employer Halliburton. There are now 90-odd companies competing to provide private soldiers from places like Fiji and Nepal to work as machine-gun-toting guards in Iraq.
Rumsfeld has considered privatizing U.S. military arsenals, its ammunition plants, and repair depots by spinning them off into federal corporations modeled along the lines of Fannie Mae. The secretary, whom Jesse Helms once called “the Energizer Bunny,” also wants to free up some of the military budget as venture capital to entice private industry into running our armed forces.
It’s hard to gauge the full effect of Rummy’s outsourcing, but one estimate puts gross revenues of renting private armies at $100 billion a year. That compares with the total defense budget of around $400 billion.
Private contractors are appealing for other reasons too. Carrying machine guns in the field, contract soldiers look like a regular army, but they wear no name tags, and when asked questions, they refuse to say anything at all. Dead private army soldiers don’t get included in casualty reports. Laws that require government officials to disclose war information to Congress don’t pertain to the executives in corporate suites. According to a recent investigative article by the Associated Press, as these companies grow in size, they are getting involved in politics, making campaign contributions and engaging in corporate lobbying.
Contractors do just about everything: man missile batteries in Iraq, shoot satellite images of potential targets, guide unmanned aerial vehicles. The jobs are dangerous—contractors can be mistaken for enemies and attacked not just by Iraqi but also by the U.S., says the AP. In Fallujah, a contractor and an American engineer died when their vehicles was attacked. Some have speculated that the attackers were U.S. soldiers, but the military denies that. Three Kellogg, Brown and Root workers have been killed in ambushes. Three DynCorp workers got killed in Gaza during a Palestinian ambush. The CIA has lost two civilian contractors in Afghanistan in recent weeks. Contract soldiers guard the U.S. embassy in Liberia and have engaged in combat to defend it. The armed soldier-bodyguards surrounding Afghanistan’s President Hamid Karzai and occupation honcho L. Paul Bremer are not U.S. military soldiers but private contractors.
Much of the U.S. military logistics has been farmed out to private companies, the most prominent of which is Cheney’s Halliburton subsidiary Kellogg, Brown and Root, which does everything from putting up tents, building toilets, getting rid of mosquitoes, and importing cheap cooks from Bangladesh and India
The U.S. army has declined in size from 2.1 million in 1990 to 1.4 million now. It has been stretched thin by the war in Iraq, but also by conflicts in Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Kosovo. More reserves and national guard are being called up for longer periods of time.
All this has brought pressure from Congress to increase the size of the army, but Rumsfeld insists that outsourcing will allow us to fight wars all over the place without boosting the number of soldiers. One way to cut costs is to send military personnel now performing administrative tasks into the field and giving their jobs to civilians. “More than 300,000 uniformed personnel” are engaged in work civilians could do, Rummy told The Washington Post last year. “Those who argue that the end strength should be increased, I think, have an obligation to say: where do you want to take the money out of?” Rumsfeld said recently. “Are you going to take it out of the Navy, the Air Force, or the Marines? Are you going to take it out of research and development and our future?”
Peter W. Singer, a Brookings Institution military analyst, estimates there is one contractor for every 10 foreign soldiers in Iraq—10 times the private involvement in the Gulf War, according to the AP.
Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel