Turning a profit from war is an old story, way before September 11, 2001, but the last decade has seen an explosion of companies making a killing from countless, Washington-led wars.
This recent story in USA Today is a cracking yarn and reveals how deeply problematic is vulture capitalism:
As the Pentagon has sought to sell wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to often-hostile populations there, it has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on poorly tracked marketing and propaganda campaigns that military leaders like to call “information operations,” the modern equivalent of psychological warfare.
From 2005 to 2009, such spending rose from $9 million to $580 million a year mostly in Iraq and Afghanistan, Pentagon and congressional records show. Last year, spending dropped to $202 million as the Iraq Warwrapped up. A USA TODAY investigation, based on dozens of interviews and a series of internal military reports, shows that Pentagon officials have little proof the programs work and they won’t make public where the money goes. In Iraq alone, more than $173 million was paid to what were identified only as “miscellaneous foreign contractors.”
“What we do as I.O. is almost gimmicky,” says Army Col. Paul Yingling, who served three tours in Iraq between 2003 and 2009, including as an information operations specialist. “Doing posters, fliers or radio ads. These things are unserious.”
As to whether the hundreds of millions of dollars spent in Afghanistan and Iraq have been worth the U.S. investment, the USA TODAY investigation found:
The Pentagon’s top information operations contractor in Afghanistan, California-based Leonie Industries, was started in 2004 by a brother-and-sister pair with no apparent experience working with the military. Camille Chidiac and Rema Dupont have more than $4 million in liens on their homes and property for failure to pay federal income taxes. Leonie Industries has Army contracts that could surpass $130 million; the Army has already paid them more than $90 million.
•Contractors like Leonie plant unattributed broadcasts, plaster the countryside in war zones with billboards, stage concerts and drop leaflets with the intent of bending the will of civilians and combatants to U.S. aims. Contracts show that the companies often measure the effects of the propaganda they produce, essentially grading their own work, although the military reviews the metrics.
•In Afghanistan, the Pentagon continues to create at least 11 hours a day of what it calls “unattributed” radio and television programming. Information operators seek to tell Afghans who their real enemies are, why Taliban propaganda was wrong, what the Afghan government is accomplishing, how non-governmental organizations are helping them, and why they should serve in the security forces. Whether that’s all worthwhile is open to debate.
Karl Eikenberry, the former U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan and a retired Army three-star general who led forces there, wrote the State Department in July 2009 to say that information operations campaigns that “focus predominantly on negative enemy operations may be counterproductive” because they emphasize the Taliban’s success, scare the Afghan people and show that the Afghan government can’t protect them.