As of today, more than 3000 private companies have been assigned to do the job Americans believe are exclusive to U.S. agents and James Bond lookalikes: clandestine, special operations. The recently released “Remote Control Project” report reveals how the American government is now using private corporations for special operations like surveillance, “psychological operations,” and interrogation. This outsourcing of highly volatile and sensitive missions absolves the U.S. government from a huge portion of the responsibility but is still a tricky maneuver as these corporations still represent America and Americans on foreign soil.
The United States Special Operations Command (USSOC), which includes the Army, Air Force, Marine Corps and the Navy, is responsible for carrying out special operations which often times are clandestine missions in countries in which the US is engaged. The USSOC is now falling prey to a bug that has bit a majority of businesses across America: outsourcing. The report by the “Remote Control Project,” published in September 2014, reveals that the USSOC now delegates special operations, like surveillance and interrogation, to private contractors. In the last five years, USSOC spent almost $13 billion on receiving the service of private contractors on special operation missions. This $13 billion only includes the amount that could be assessed based on public record, as most of the expenses and details related to USSOC and their missions is classified, thus not available to the public. This overhead extends to almost 3,000 different companies for services such as: surveillance of targets, interrogation of prisoners and drone operations.
Perhaps the most shocking service that USSOC is being billed for is “psychological operations.” “Psychological Operations,” classified under the all-encompassing expression of “Intelligence and Information Operations,” is a masked term for apparent propaganda campaigns. According to the report, the main aim of these operations is for contractors to provide “military and civilian persuasive communications planning, produce commercial quality products for unlimited foreign public broadcast, and develop lines of persuasion, themes, and designs for multimedia products.” This description shows that the USSOC entrusted private contractors with the task of promoting or altering public perception of US activities in foreign countries. This task was achieved by commissioning the contractors to do “market research” and “recommend available media to disseminate messages, synchronize messages across multiple mediums, and recommend proper intensity/media saturation information”. This essentially means that contractors were given the duty of investigating foreign public opinion of the US, as well as the task of figuring out the best possible way to manipulate it.
Propaganda is not the only thing the U.S. government has outsourced. Interrogation of suspects has also been subcontracted to private corporations. Notably, $77 million, the largest traceable transaction in the report, has been given to an Alaska based company “Shee Atika” for ‘interrogation services’. Many critics believe that delegating contentious tasks like interrogation and surveillance to private contractors allows politicians and those answerable to the public to claim plausible deniability, while others feel that it is just another step towards the ‘privatization’ of the military. A researcher for the report, Crofton Black said, “Remote warfare is increasingly being shaped by the private sector.” This may be true considering the fact that in 2010 there were 94,413 contractors being used for U.S presence in Afghanistan, compared to the 91,600 U.S. troops on the ground.
Another disturbing factor for some people is the constricted nature of the market for special operations contracts. As mentioned, the $13 billion spent by the USSOC over the past five years has been allotted to over 3,000 companies, which might indicate a free and competitive market. However, further analysis of the documents revealed that more than 50% of the $13 billion went to just eight companies. These companies include giants like: Lockheed Martin, L-3 Communications and Boeing (who notably donated $800,000 to President Obama’s re-election campaign in 2012).
Even though liberal circles are making claims about the detrimental effects of the military industrial complex and President Obama’s defense spending (President Obama has spent more on defense than President Bush), public opinion is very disjointed from this rhetoric. A Pew Research Center poll published on August 28, 2014 revealed that 54% of Americans believe that President Obama is “not tough enough” in his approach to national security. Professor Terri Bimes, Assistant Director of Research at Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley, believes that this disconnect exists because of the simple fact that “people worry.” Professor Bimes explains that in her opinion “defense spending is very complicated because it is very hard for people to evaluate [what is the right amount] and they want to make sure the country is safe.” This may be an explanation for the puzzling public opinion of President Obama’s handling of defense spending– the fear of not spending enough and leaving the country unsafe overshadows the problems Americans have with too much government spending.
Compounding private contracts and increased defense spending may be the result of a culture that has been established in Washington. “Once a precedent is in place, it is hard to go back, especially with war power” says Professor Bimes. This would indicate that a newly christened President can only expand upon his predecessor’s war and defense spending as the alternative would not be well-accepted. Privatization of special operations appears like just another ‘precedent’ that has been set and as recent data have shown, this trend seems to be on the rise. The implications of this trend, however, are still unclear, but it only takes a public mistake by one of the many corporations representing America abroad to create a full-blown international incident and diplomatic crisis. The responsibility of handling that diplomatic crisis would fall to our government; diplomacy is one thing we haven’t outsourced quite yet.
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