U.S. Contractor Accused Of Fraud Still Winning Big Projects In Afghanistan

WASHINGTON | On July 31, 2006, an employee of The Louis Berger Group, a contractor handling some of the most important U.S. rebuilding projects in Afghanistan, handed federal investigators explosive evidence that the company was intentionally and systematically overbilling American taxpayers.

Neither the whistle-blower’s computer disk full of incriminating documents nor a trail of allegations of waste, fraud and shoddy construction, however, prevented Louis Berger from continuing to reap hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts.

In fact, two months after the government learned of the employee’s allegations, the U.S. Agency for International Development tapped Louis Berger — which has an office in Kansas City — to oversee $1.4 billion in reconstruction contracts in Afghanistan.

The decision to brush aside the allegations and the evidence and keep doing business with Louis Berger, underscores a persistent dilemma for the Obama administration in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Cutting ties with suspect war-zone contractors in Afghanistan would threaten the administration’s effort to rebuild the country and begin withdrawing some of the nearly 100,000 U.S. troops there next July. However, as the recession, unemployment and budget deficits prompt belt-tightening at home, the billions the administration is spending to try to rebuild Afghanistan and Iraq are receiving increasing scrutiny from Congress and the public.

Louis Berger’s alleged overbilling, a practice that dates at to least the mid-1990s, swelled to tens of millions in lost tax dollars, according to a person familiar with the inquiry who spoke to McClatchy Newspapers on the condition of anonymity because the allegations are the subject of a sealed court case.

Court documents, however, reveal that the Justice Department is negotiating a deal that would “aid in preserving the company’s continuing eligibility to participate” in federal contracting in Afghanistan and elsewhere.

Founded in 1953, The Louis Berger Group does engineering and construction-related work domestically and in about 80 countries worldwide, according to the company’s website. It has more than 5,000 employees and is based in Morristown, N.J.

Holly Fisher, a Louis Berger spokeswoman, said the investigation into the company’s pricing shouldn’t taint its work for the government.

“While its work in Afghanistan was covered by that methodology, it is the methodology that is in question, not the work in Afghanistan,” she said.

Fisher declined to answer additional questions about the investigation or to make any corporate officers available for interviews.

USAID officials acknowledged last year in an internal report that they’d lost confidence in Louis Berger to oversee projects under the latest, $1.4 billion Afghanistan contract, which is jointly held with Black & Veatch of Overland Park.

USAID, however, didn’t respond for three weeks to repeated requests for interviews about why it continued to award contracts to Louis Berger or about the ongoing criminal investigation or on contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Instead, the agency issued a statement pointing to its internal report about the joint venture.

“The assessment found vulnerabilities, and we immediately worked to address the identified issues,” USAID said.

The agency said it began to hold weekly meetings with company officials, assigned monitors to every site and changed personnel involved in the contract.

“USAID continues to take necessary actions to protect U.S. taxpayer funds in this matter,” the statement said. “We are engaged in ongoing dialogue with the Louis Berger Group, Inc. to ensure that the corporation is in full compliance with our contracts.”

However, Ashley Jackson, the head of policy in Afghanistan for the international aid organization Oxfam, said little has changed despite the Obama administration’s pledge to revamp the agency.

USAID hasn’t been an aggressive watchdog in Afghanistan, partly because it’s under political pressure to pump billions into the country without regard to the quality of the work, Jackson said.

“A system has emerged where USAID is basically like a pass-through for these contractors,” she said.

Source: Kansas City Star

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Another False Ending: Contracting Out the Iraq Occupation

Another false ending to the Iraq war is being declared. Nearly seven years after George Bush’s infamous “Mission Accomplished” speech on the USS Abraham Lincoln, President Obama has just given a major address to mark the withdrawal of all but 50,000 combat troops from Iraq. But while thousands of US troops are marching out,
thousands of additional private military contractors (PMCs) are marching in. The number of armed security contractors in Iraq will more than double in the coming months. While the mainstream media is debating whether Iraq can be declared a victory or not, there is virtually no discussion regarding this surge in contractors. Meanwhile, serious questions about the accountability of private military contractors remain. In the past decade, the United States has dramatically shifted the way in which it wages war – fewer soldiers and more contractors. Last month, the Congressional Research Service reported that the Department of Defense (DoD) workforce has 19 percent more contractors (207,600) than uniformed personnel (175,000) in Iraq and Afghanistan, making the wars in these two countries the most outsourced and privatized in US history. According to a recent State Department briefing to Congress’ Commission on Wartime Contracting, from now on, instead of soldiers, private military contractors will be disposing of improvised explosive devices, recovering killed and wounded personnel, downed aircraft and damaged
vehicles, policing Baghdad’s International Zone, providing convoy security and clearing travel routes, among other security-related duties.

For the rest of the story, CLICK HERE

Profile: General Atomics

General Atomics.png
Type Private
Founded 1955
Headquarters San Diego, California, U.S.
Key people Neal Blue
Linden Blue
Website www.ga.com

General Atomics is a nuclear physics and defense contractor headquartered in San Diego, California. General Atomics’ research into fission and fusion matured into competencies in related technologies, allowing the company to expand into other fields of research. General Atomics and its affiliated companies are a leading resource for systems development ranging from the nuclear fuel cycle to remotely operated surveillance aircraft, airborne sensors, and advanced electric, electronic, wireless and laser technologies.

General Atomics Aeronautical Systems, Inc. (GA-ASI), an affiliate of General Atomics, provides unmanned aerial vehicles and radar solutions for military and commercial applications worldwide. The company’s Aircraft Systems Group is a leading designer and manufacturer of unmanned aircraft systems (UAS), including the Predator, Predator B, Sky Warrior and Predator C. The Reconnaissance Systems Group designs, manufactures, and integrates the Lynx Synthetic Aperture Radar (SAR)/GMTI radar into both manned and unmanned aircraft, as well as the CLAW sensor control and image analysis software, and integrates sensor and communications equipment into manned ISR aircraft.

MQ-9 Reaper in Afghanistan.

source: Wikipedia

DynCorp Running “Counter-Narcotics” Missions Along Pakistan/Afghanistan Border

Counter-Narcotics. *wink*

Via: Wired:

The airspace along the Afghanistan/Pakistan border is pretty crowded these days: Along with U.S., Afghan and Pakistani military missions, the CIA is running its own covert drone ops. Less well known, but perhaps equally controversial, is the State Department’s counter-narcotics air force, staffed by mercenaries.

A recently released State Department Inspector General report, however, gave an unusually detailed look at the size and scope of these operations. The report fills in more details about America’s growing and undeclared war in Pakistan.

The State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs (known by the abbreviation INL) operates an air wing of around 14 aircraft in Afghanistan and another 17 in Pakistan. The aircraft help monitor the border, fly crop-eradication and interdiction missions, and move equipment and personnel around the region.

These kinds of missions aren’t new: The State Department has similar Air Wing programs in Bolivia, Colombia, Guatemala, and Peru. Perhaps more importantly, the State Department has outsourced much of this mission. The INL’s air wing in Afghanistan and Pakistan is operated by private military company DynCorp, and the presence of U.S. contractors in Pakistan has proven extremely controversial (the released IG report, not surprisingly, was originally marked “sensitive but unclassified”).

Contractor Deaths Accelerating in Afghanistan as They Outnumber Soldiers

Source: RawStory

Of the 289 civilians killed since the war began more than eight years ago, 100 have died in just the last six months. That’s a reflection of both growing violence and the importance of the civilians flooding into the country along with troops in response to President Obama’s decision to boost the American presence in Afghanistan.

The latest U.S. Department of Defense numbers show there are actually more civilian contractors on the ground in Afghanistan than there are soldiers. The Pentagon reported 107,292 U.S.-hired civilian workers in Afghanistan as of February 2010, when there were about 78,000 soldiers. This is apparently the first time that contractors have exceeded soldiers by such a large margin.

Afghans Trained by Blackwater Defect to Taliban

via Huffington Post

Remember when Sarah Palin said that “the surge principles that have worked in Iraq need to be implemented in Afghanistan.” Well…as Ms. Palin would say, many Afghans working for the Afghan security forces are now switching sides and are now defecting to the Taliban.

Guess who trained many of them? Blackwater!

Marine reportedly killed by opium-fueled private contractors

via:RawStory

Pentagon originally said Marine killed in combat

The Pentagon confirmed late Tuesday that it is investigating the death of a 24-year-old Indiana Marine after he was shot to death in Afghanistan, allegedly by several US-paid private security contractors.

The contractors, according to a fellow Marine in Afghanistan who communicated with an investigative reporter in Chicago, were Afghanis who were found with “copious amounts of opium” and had been paid by the United States as guards.