The inevitable happened: "Security Contractors" break a man out of an Iraqi jail... and a GAO report is released

From the Los Angeles Times today:

A once-prominent Iraqi American, jailed on corruption charges, was sprung from a Green Zone prison this weekend by U.S. security contractors he had hired, several Iraqi officials said.

Ayham Sameraei, a Chicago-area businessman, returned to Iraq after the 2003 U.S.-led invasion and assumed the position of electricity minister during the interim government of former Prime Minister Iyad Allawi....

Neither the security contractors nor their company was named by Iraqi officials Monday....

There have been no suggestions that American officials had a role in Sameraei's escape Sunday afternoon. But the B-movie scenario of a rich businessman hiring armed muscle to bust himself out of jail from inside the fortress-like, U.S.-protected enclave could further contribute to Iraq's image of instability and lawlessness. The flamboyant former government minister's arrest and prosecution were held up by Iraqi and U.S. officials as a rare example of good government prevailing in the new Iraq.

His high-profile escape, splashed across Iraqi television channels Monday night, also could further damage the reputation of the U.S., which is already believed by many Iraqis to have wasted and stolen billions of dollars in Iraqi revenue.

Iraqi officials were enraged by his escape and the suggestion that any Americans had a hand in it.

This should not surprise anyone, even private military companies. It will be interesting to learn if the individuals were working on a behalf of a company contracted by Sameraei or if this was an ad hoc arrangement of freelancing individuals. Even if it was by a company that was under some contract (likely a subcontract off a subcontract... or further removed), the chance of sanctions by the US Government (USG) are slim.

DefenseTech quotes P.W. Singer, author of the default book on private military firms, Corporate Warriors, on the failure of the USG to hold contractors accountable to any standard:

So the Great Private Military Escape joins the lengthy list vying to be made into a bad Hollywood movie (sorry, Blood Diamonds). My other favorites include the Triple Canopy lawsuit which alleges that a company supervisor told his employees that he had "never shot anyone with my handgun before" and then fired his handgun through the windshield of a parked taxi, killing the driver; the Aegis "trophy video," in which employees posted footage on the web of shooting at Iraqi cars on the web, set to Elvis music; the Donald Vance case, in which a US contractor was held 97 days without charges in a US military prison; the various Blackwater episodes, ranging from the 4 guys sent to Fallujah without maps, intell, or proper equipment, to the plane crash in Afghanistan, in which the plane lacked basic safety equipment and didn’t even follow basic flight safety procedures, flying by guesswork into a box canyon, killing 3 civilians and 3 US Army; and of course don’t forget the wonderfully named Custer Battles charging for all sorts of fraud at Baghdad airport, such as a bomb-sniffing dog that in the words of a US Army colonel turned out to be "a guy with his pet."

At what point do we accept that this whole situation has gone well beyond the original idea of privatization and start to rein it in? Then again, the Army Under Secretary testified to Congress 2 months back that the Army had never authorized Halliburton or its subcontractors to carry weapons or guard convoys, denying we even had firms handling these jobs. So, I guess its like the end of Dallas, where the whole private military industry in Iraq (estimated by Centcom to be 100,000) was "just a dream."

Two things. The first is we don't know if these guys were freelancing or corporate, which will make a difference. Second, this really isn't earth shattering behavior. It's new, but not unusual or unexpected. Private military enterprises eventually began to interfere with states, especially their home state, at times becoming antagonistic. One example is the United East India Company. This PMC (private mercantile company) was granted the right to "make war, conclude treaties, acquire territories and build fortresses”. Emboldened by its own success, it sought to sell territory to enemies of its home country, the United Provinces (the Netherlands today). In another example, the British East India Company, using the Crown's military that was licensed to it along with other private resources actually demanded the land from the Royal Navy.

So far, busting a guy out of jail doesn't seem so bad. It's terrible public relations and it is yet another jab in the eye of the Iraqis (i.e. bad public diplomacy), as the LA Times commendably picks up on.

Now if he had been held in a US military jail and not an Iraqi police jail, this wouldn't have happened. Not because of increased security and bureaucracy but because of respect.

It should be interesting how this plays out. As of the time I'm posting this, there's nothing but the LAT article on GoogleNews, nothing on CNN, FoxNews, or BBC News.

However, there is something timely: a new GAO report on contractors, titled Military Operations: High-Level DOD Action Needed to Address Long-standing Problems with Management and Oversight of Contractors Supporting Deployed Forces (GAO-07-145). The executive summary is worth posting, with my highlights:

Prior GAO reports have identified problems with the Department of Defense's (DOD) management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces. GAO issued its first comprehensive report examining these problems in June 2003. Because of the broad congressional interest in U.S. military operations in Iraq and DOD's increasing use of contractors to support U.S. forces in Iraq, GAO initiated this follow-on review under the Comptroller General's statutory authority. Specifically, GAO's objective was to determine the extent to which DOD has improved its management and oversight of contractors supporting deployed forces since our 2003 report. GAO reviewed DOD policies and interviewed military and contractor officials both at deployed locations and in the United States. DOD continues to face long-standing problems that hinder its management and oversight of contractors at deployed locations. DOD has taken some steps to improve its guidance on the use of contractors to support deployed forces, addressing some of the problems GAO has raised since the mid-1990s. However, while the Office of the Secretary of Defense is responsible for monitoring and managing the implementation of this guidance, it has not allocated the organizational resources and accountability to focus on issues regarding contractor support to deployed forces. Also, while DOD's new guidance is a noteworthy step, a number of problems we have previously reported on continue to pose difficulties for military personnel in deployed locations. For example, DOD continues to have limited visibility over contractors because information on the number of contractors at deployed locations or the services they provide is not aggregated by any organization within DOD or its components. As a result, senior leaders and military commanders cannot develop a complete picture of the extent to which they rely on contractors to support their operations. For example, when Multi-National Force-Iraq began to develop a base consolidation plan, officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed to bases in Iraq. They therefore ran the risk of over-building or under-building the capacity of the consolidated bases. DOD continues to not have adequate contractor oversight personnel at deployed locations, precluding its ability to obtain reasonable assurance that contractors are meeting contract requirements efficiently and effectively at each location where work is being performed. While a lack of adequate contract oversight personnel is a DOD-wide problem, lacking adequate personnel in more demanding contracting environments in deployed locations presents unique difficulties. Despite facing many of the same difficulties managing and overseeing contractors in Iraq that it faced in previous military operations, we found no organization within DOD or its components responsible for developing procedures to systematically collect and share its institutional knowledge using contractors to support deployed forces. As a result, as new units deploy to Iraq, they run the risk of repeating past mistakes and being unable to build on the efficiencies others have developed during past operations that involved contractor support. Military personnel continue to receive limited or no training on the use of contractors as part of their pre-deployment training or professional military education. The lack of training hinders the ability of military commanders to adequately plan for the use of contractor support and inhibits the ability of contract oversight personnel to manage and oversee contractors in deployed locations. Despite DOD's concurrence with our previous recommendations to improve such training, we found no standard to ensure information about contractor support is incorporated in pre-deployment training.

Fun stuff.

See other posts on PMCs on MountainRunner here that relate to Singer's comments, like the lawsuit against Custer Battles.