War Profiteering

Just read "The Great Iraq Swindle," a terrific (and quite angry) article by Matt Taibbi in Rolling Stone. It's about war profiteering in Iraq, and the astonishing (but not really surprising) refusal of the Bush administration to do anything about it.

The fact that a number of (mostly American) companies are getting very, very rich off the war in Iraq is hardly news, but the scale of the problem of profiteering, and the sheer brazenness of the abuses, are not widely appreciated.

I thought I'd describe one representative story from the many related in the article, but there are just too many to choose from: a construction firm called Parsons wins a contract to build the Baghdad Police College, resulting in "one of the great engineering clusterfucks of all time, a practically useless pile of rubble so badly constructed that its walls and ceilings are literally caked in shit and piss, a result of subpar plumbing in the upper floors." The cost to American taxpayers: $72 million.

An inexperienced security company called Custer Battles is given millions of dollars to do things like provide security for civilian flights into the Baghdad airport (even though there were no civilian flights into Baghdad during the term of the contract). They were given "scads of money" to buy x-ray equipment and set up a canine bomb-sniffing unit. Well, they didn't buy the equipment. As for the canine unit, the inspector general of the Army, Richard Ballard, described it thus:

"I eventually saw one dog. The dog did not appear to be a certified, trained dog." When the dog was brought to the checkpoint, he added, it would lie down and "refuse to sniff the vehicles" -- as outstanding a metaphor for U.S. contractor performance in Iraq as has yet been produced.
Custer Battles, it seems, were not simply being lazy. Sometimes some effort was put into ripping off the American taxpayer, like when they "found a bunch of abandoned Iraqi Airways forklifts on airport property, repainted them to disguise the company markings and billed them to U.S. tax­payers as new equipment."

The story of how they were caught, and why they nevertheless got away with it, is by turns hilarious and infuriating, but for that you'll have to read the article for yourself. I definitely recommend it.



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