“Defense investigates information-operations contractors” Walter Pincus

 "Between 2006 and 2008, Central Command alone had 172 contracts worth $270 million just for information operations in Iraq, according to a Defense Department inspector general report released in September.

Purchases of products and services made through major contracts included "military analysts, development of television commercials and documentaries, focus group and polling services, television air time, posters, banners, and billboards," the inspector general reported. Smaller individual purchases under information-operations programs included "magazine publishing and printing services, newspaper dissemination, television and radio airtime, text messaging services, internet services and novelty items," the report said."  Pincus


The US armed forces generally don't like to make staff specialists into senior officers with broad command authority.  They prefer to take officers of "the line,"  infantry. fighter pilots, ship drivers, etc. and give them that broad authority.  There are pockets of activity where that does not apply, the whole medical field for example.  Nevertheless, the tendency to appoint senior commanders from among the ranks of generalists leads to an inability on the part of many senior officers to deal directly with the many, many specialized and often very esoteric aspects of modern military activity.  The same thing happens in the senior civil service where generalist managers are preferred for promotion and "command."  To make up for the resulting incapacity, there is a tendency to hire support contractors from among the retired specialists.  Such contractors have no intention of providing their services gratis and so this is expensive.

Asa result there are some very large support contractor companies.  These are the fabled "beltway bandits," (I won't name them) but there are also a myriad of small to medium companies, often formed by the retired specialists.   Obviously the money is a lot better for the partners in a small company that gains a contract or sub-contract.  Sometimes a retired general or SES member is installed as the titular or actual head of the company.

There are "fads" in government activity, often spawned by a book, or a charismatic young personality.  The appeal of such books and people often leads to the creation of new "think tanks"into which pour endowment money.  Such "think tanks" are always popular in the beltway world because they are a wonderful source of well funded fellowships.  These foundations  attract the attention of politicians and the subject matter of the "foundation" easily becomes a new "fad" for which someone on high opens the money faucet.

Counterterrorism, counterinsurgency, information operations, cyberwar, irregular warfare, climate change, these are some of the current crop of emergent "industries" in the government-academic-think tank-consultant- contractor companies world.  pl 


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9 Responses to “Defense investigates information-operations contractors” Walter Pincus

  1. par4 says:

    Col. do cadets at West Point or VMI choose a specialty (MOS) while in school or does that come after a commission is obtained?

  2. Patrick Lang says:

    Part of the commissioning process is to choose a basic specialty. That is true throughout the ROTC system generally. pl

  3. par4 says:

    THX Col.

  4. crf says:

    I didn’t get a sense from the article what activities information contractors were doing.
    How much of the money they get goes to iraqis (paying them for information, or providing funding for propaganda)?
    What will happen to those relationships when the American money is stopped?
    The amount being spent by the US makes it a huge part of the Iraq economy. Wouldn’t a “hard think” be needed for every relationship between the American government and Iraq, because each relationship further melds American and Iraqi interests together, limiting their individual interests, and making a detachment much harder for either party?

  5. walrus says:

    Let me explain the central core enablers of profitable outsourcing;
    1. Multi level marketing.
    The contractor targets each person in the Government contract management chain from Congressional committee members down to contract manager and perhaps below.
    You go to a meeting to resolve some issue with the contractor and one them makes an implicit threat to your employment as follows: “Senator XXXX was our guest at the Opera/tennis/theatre last night and I told him how well our project was going.” You therefore resolve matters in the contractors favour.
    2. Transformation of Accountability.
    This is a mystical process that occurs about Nine months after contract award…
    At some stage the General public finds out that the contractor has been gouging the public purse, been corrupt, performed criminal acts and produced no deliverables at all.
    Is the contractor publicly vilified and pilloried as they should be?
    Nope, instead the meme has become ” Why did the Government make such a rotten contract with this company? It’s obviously Governments fault that this has happened!”
    I have the scars.

  6. The Twisted Genius says:

    This Pentagon investigation was precipitated by Michael Furlong’s JIEDDO (Joint IED Defense Organization) funded contract to collect intelligence on insurgents in Afghanistan with contrators. From what I read in the press, Furlong seems to have initiated this effort in good faith. I can’t blame him for going after JIEDDO money. That’s the biggest pot of contracting money in DOD that I am aware of at the moment. Whether this effort was a clandestine HUMNT collection activity or open source collection is debatable, until further details are released. I am very curious to know if this effort was yielding significant results. If it was, I can definitely see why the IC would want to see it shut down. MG Michael Flynn recently tore the IC a new one when he wrote that what the IC was currently doing in Afghanistan was next to useless. That had to hurt and the last thing the IC would want to see is a contractor collection activity showing them up. Of course, the whole effort could just be inherently illegal. If anyone can shed more light on this particular situation, I would be delighted.

  7. The Twisted Genius says:

    In today’s Salon, Glenn Greenwald wrote an editorial entitled “The WashPost & The Dangers of Sleazy Corporatism” that I find most pertinent to this discussion.
    I found this article while doing a little quick research to illustrate a point that I want to make about the current government fads/industries of information operations and all things cyber.
    Just last February, Mike McConnell oversaw a command post exercise simulating a cyber attack on the US telecommunications infrastructure. Just to add to the drama, the exercise was called Cyber Shockwave. As I expected, the exercise showed the US ability to withstand a cyber attack is woefully inadequate. Mike McConnell testified to this before a Senate committee after the exercise. The beltway bandits, including McConnell’s Booz Allen Hamilton, are aggressively pushing their capabilities in cyber defense and information operations (specifically cyber attack). They smell the money. Unfortunately, not one of the senior experts taking part in Cyber Shockwave is a network engineer (to my knowledge) and wouldn’t know a poorly written firewall configuration if it bit him on the ass!
    Happily, Howard Schmidt, Obama’s new cybersecurity czar, made a refreshing response to this scare show. He said there is no cyberwar. He called it a terrible metaphor and a terrible concept. What the government needs to do is pay more attention to online crime and espionage. Schmidt echoes the sentiments of many practicing cyber security experts and hackers (in the good sense). The best response to McConnell’s frantic warnings I saw appeared in Slashdot. One poster sent the following:
    “What they don’t understand is that it isn’t going to be the government or the military that responds to a real cyber attack, it’s going to be a nation wide army of several hundred thousand IT admins working 70 hour weeks to keep their companies secure and operational. Once solutions are found they’ll be posted to the web and disseminated faster than the new attacks can be devised. In short, cyberwarfare won’t work for the exact same reasons that censorship won’t work, there’s too many people working against the attackers who can communicate too quickly and too effectively.”
    In other words, the very same people that keep the internet running for their customers every day are already deeply involved in keeping it safe from the predations of online criminals and spies. It’s just part of doing business. We don’t need massive government or beltway bandit run cyber operations centers. They might look cool, but the technogeeks watching the code streaming through their core routers are the ones confronting the bad guys… and they don’t like anybody screwing with their boxes.
    A humorous note. I’ve been communicating with online criminal types for close to twenty years. Within this community cyber is short for cyber sex, which runs the gamut from just talking dirty to really imaginative flirting. I have to snicker (just like Bevis and Butthead) when I hear government officials and contractor bigwigs talk about cyber this and cyber that.

  8. R Whitman says:

    How well do I remember the DOD contracts given to Operations Research companies(the forerunners of think-tanks on a large scale in the mid-60’s) on the subject of “How much ammunition a GI needed to carry to kill one Viet-Cong”

  9. Lance says:

    I think that it must be really hard to find some good contractor leads i really dont know to much about this, i find it really interesting.

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