Friday, January 29, 2010

Recommendations to Take Private Prisons Out of the Shadows

(Note: These are recommendations aimed at ensuring that both immigrant prisons and immigrants no longer remain in the shadows of our country's politics and economy. They are taken from testimony prepared for a Jan. 25 congressional briefing on a bill to make private prisons subject to Freedom of Information Act requests. For the entire policy report see: )

Recommended Solutions

Reforms to address the lack of accountability and transparency that is endemic to the prison outsourcing system include:

* Support H.R. 2450 to extend the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to all federally contracted prisons and detention centers. The details and reports of operations of prisons and detention centers that rely totally on federal contracts should be open to FOIA requests. If these firms find that onerous or intrusive, they can decide not to renew their contracts.

* Insist that the Office of Inspector General of DOJ undertake an examination of the transparency problem—generalized congressional, public, and media inability to secure nonproprietary information about the management, operations, and conditions of the BOP and USMS prisons and detention centers.

* Promulgate binding minimum standards for federal detention facilities, and immediately ensure that USMS and ICE detention centers comply with the existing and nonbinding standards.

* Eliminate the federal tax-exempt provision for municipal bonds financing prison construction that are not reviewed and approved by voters.

* The DOJ's Inspector General and the Government Accountability Office should study the rationale and the legality of the BOP prisons and USMS detention centers designed solely for immigrants. This segregation of immigrants within the criminal justice system raises serious issues of unequal treatment, including grossly inadequate medical care, routine solitary confinement, difficult access to lawyers and family, and little federal oversight.

*End the current practice of continuing and renewing prison contracts with irresponsible, negligent, and abusive contractors. Instead, BOP, ICE, and USMS should immediately terminate federal contracts and IGAs with private firms and government entities that intentionally overcharge the government or that grossly or repeatedly fail to meet the conditions of these federal contracts and agreements for prison and detention services.

*Given new revelations about the continuing pattern of deaths and the absence of proper medical care of immigrant detainees in privately operated ICE detention centers, Congress and the administration should launch investigations to review the number of possibly wrongful deaths of legal and illegal immigrants held in the immigrant-only USMS and BOP correctional facilities.

Such reforms would constitute important first steps in improving accountability and transparency in federally contracted private prisons. However, the underlying, causal problem is the federal government's unwillingness to assume full and direct responsibility for the consequences of its enforcement and sentencing policies. 

The criminal justice and immigration systems are both badly broken and immensely costly, having resulted in the mass incarceration of nonviolent citizen and noncitizens.

Structural reforms are urgently needed that will substantially reduce the numbers of citizens and immigrants that are relegated to expensive and ineffective lock-ups and that will give more consideration to alternatives to detention, community supervision, and the termination of prison sentences for many nonviolent offenses, particularly drug law and immigration violations.

Our country cannot afford the high financial, social, and moral price of mass incarceration and mass detention. What is more, imprisonment and detention are inherently governmental responsibilities, which should not be outsourced to private firms and local governments that view criminal and immigration law violators primarily as a source of profit and revenue.

Photo/Tom Barry: Protest vigil in Pecos, Texas on anniversary of death in solitary confinement of Jesus Manuel Galindo in county-owned immigrant prison.)

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed.

Go to the CIP online donation page, and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Shadow Prison Industry & Govt. Enablers

(Note: This is an excerpt from a policy report by CIP's Americas Program that was prepared for a Jan. 25 congressional briefing hosted by Rep. Sheila Jackson. For more, see:

Outsourcing governmental responsibilities to private contractors is routine and alarming. The Blackwater, Wackenhut, CACI, and Halliburton scandals have highlighted the damage to our foreign affairs resulting from the reliance on private contractors to perform essential foreign policy missions. However, it is at home—in our domestic system of crime and punishment—where government outsourcing and private contracting may be causing the most damage to our system of democratic governance.
Elements of our criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems are spinning dangerously out of public control. Increasingly, the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are outsourcing their imprisonment and detention responsibilities to hundreds of contractors and subcontractors—with scant oversight, little transparency, and often tragic consequences. As a result, human rights abuses, squandering of public revenues, and unscrupulous profiteering pervade and pervert the U.S. system of crime and punishment.
A shadow prison industry has spread to all parts of the federal detention and prison system. It is, with a few exceptions, in complete charge of all immigrant imprisonment and detention at both DOJ and DHS. Because the shadow industry has evolved without a plan or strategy, it has become a bizarre, labyrinthine complex of public and private players that is little understood and frighteningly out of control.
The Main Players in the Shadow Prison Industry
The Outsourcers:
Within DOJ, since the mid-1990s, the United States Marshals Service (USMS) and the Bureau of Prisons (BOP) have increasingly contracted private prison firms and local governments to assume responsibility for the custody of federal detainees and prisoners. The largest USMS detention centers and most of its immigrant detention centers are operated by private corporations. Since 1998 the BOP has created 10 large prisons solely for immigrants that are managed by private firms.
The other DOJ player in detainee outsourcing is the Office of Federal Detention Trustee (OFDT), created in 2000 to coordinate and provide oversight to a woefully uncoordinated and unmonitored patchwork of detention centers and jails variously operated by local governments, state governments, private companies, and federal agencies. In part because of the creation of DHS in 2003 and in part due to diminished White House concern about the detention center crisis, OFDT currently functions not as a central oversight and coordinating office for federal detention but rather as small DOJ agency that caters to private contractors seeking detention business with the USMS.
DHS now surpasses DOJ as the leading federal custodian of detainees. The DHS agency Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) subsumed the legacy of the Immigration and Naturalization Services, taking charge of the criminal detention and deportation of immigrants. Currently ICE holds about 33,000 immigrants on any given day in its network of 350 detention centers—some 400,000 annually.
Prison and Detention Center Owners:
Prisons and detention centers with federal prisoners and detainees are owned variously by: 1) federal agencies (of both DOJ and DHS), 2) private prison companies, and 3) local governments that have agreements and contracts with both federal agencies and private prison firms. Generally, when either owned directly by the federal government or owned by local governments that have custodial agreements with the federal government, the actual operators and managers of the facilities are private prison companies.
Three private prison companies—Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Cornell Companies—are the largest firms holding federal prisoners and detainees, which constitute the source of about 40% of their revenues. Others include Management & Training Corporation, Emerald Corrections, and Community Education Centers. The prison contractors contract either directly with BOP, USMS, and ICE, or indirectly through contracts with local government intermediaries that have custodial agreements with these three federal agencies.
In addition to supplying private prison firms with an increasing stream of federal prisoners and detainees (along with associated per diem payments for "man days"), federal prison outsourcers also have created an adjunct prison services industry of subcontractors. These service subcontractors include private security firms such as Akal Security and Wackenhut Corporation (division of G4S) and correctional healthcare firms such as Physicians Network Association and Correctional Healthcare Management. This network of prison-services companies contracts or subcontracts with all the main actors in the prisoner outsourcing complex: federal agencies, local government intermediaries, and private prison firms.
A federal prisoner can, for example, legally be under BOP custody, but held in a local government prison that is operated by a private prison firm where his or her medical care is provided under a subcontract between the local government and a correctional healthcare firm. As another example of this complicated web of outsourcers, contractors, and subcontractors, a detainee held in one of the several detention centers owned by ICE may actually not be under ICE care but rather under the actual custody of a private security firm.
Local Government Intermediaries:
Federal government outsourcers routinely sign inter-governmental agreements (IGAs) with local and state governments (mostly county governments) that authorize the cooperating government to hold federal detainees or prisoners. In many such cases, the local government then turns around and contracts out the management and operation of the prison or detention center to private prison companies and to prison services subcontractors. USMS or ICE will then typically pay the local government a per-diem stipend for each prisoner. In practice, only a small portion (a couple of dollars) of this per diem goes to the local government, with the balance being transferred to the contractors, subcontractors, and investors who provide the capital to build prisons. Local governments that have signed prison IGAs often subcontract medical care responsibilities to correctional healthcare firms. In practice, the local government intermediaries exercise no oversight of their contractors and subcontractors.
The Main Problems in the Shadow Prison Industry
The federal government has proved increasingly unwilling to take direct responsibility for the human products of its vast criminal justice and immigration enforcement systems. Instead, it has outsourced this thankless, costly task. In doing so, the federal government has: 1) largely avoided its responsibilities for contract management and oversight; 2) ignored its continuing responsibility to monitor conditions inside these federally financed prisons; and 3) created a shadow industry that has, in practice, near-absolute control over more than a half-million prisoners and detainees.
Problems with the shadow prison industry mostly fall under the following issues of concern:
1. Lack of Coordination: Federal government outsourcers rely largely on the same patchwork system of hundreds of contractors and subcontractors. Both ICE and USMS depend exclusively on this contracting network to hold the rapidly expanding number of federal detainees, largely legal and illegal immigrants. Described by congressional studies as a crisis in the late 1990s, the now bifurcated (DHS and DOJ) federal detention system, overwhelmed in both departments by the surge of immigrant prisoners and detainees, has recently become vastly more complicated and problematic.
DHS's new promise to overhaul its own part of the federal detention system ignores the recent history of attempts to reform the system, and illustrates the bureaucratic tension between DOJ and DHS. What is more, DHS has failed to acknowledge its own role—by increasing criminalization of immigration violations and launching new criminal alien programs—in driving the surge of immigrant prisoners in the BOP and USMS facilities.
2. Lack of Effective Oversight: While the prison industry and its supporters argue that the chief motivation for prisoner outsourcing is to improve efficiency and reduce costs, little evidence exists to support this conclusion. Instead, the operative factors driving this booming shadow prison industry include intense prison-industry lobbying, the spread of the government downsizing ideology, and the eagerness of federal justice and immigration agencies to rid themselves of the burden of incarceration.
Rather than providing effective oversight and contract monitoring, federal outsourcers function mostly as expeditors of contracts and per diem payments. In the absence of due diligence at DOJ and DHS, federal prisoner/detainee outsourcing has led to gross abuses of prisoner/detainee rights, a pattern of financial irregularities, and the emergence of a virtually uncharted archipelago of private/public prisons.
3. Lack of Transparency: A near-total absence of committed oversight has allowed the prison industry to flourish in the shadows. Requests for the most basic information about the functioning of these prisons and detention centers routinely lead nowhere.
Private operators like GEO Group bounce back media requests and questions from advocacy organizations to local government prison owners and to the federal outsourcers. In turn, local government entities with IGAs refer inquiries to their contractors and subcontractors, knowing that this will lead to another dead end. For their part, the federal outsourcers refer inquiries to their local government and private partners and demand that requests for the even the most basic information be channeled through FOIA submission, and then belatedly reply with denials or heavily redacted documents, citing trade secrets and proprietary information.
It is a revolving pass-the-buck system in which all the main players deflect questions to the other players. The outsourcing system permits them to evade their own responsibility and to contend that the problems and failings of the prison outsourcing systems belong to their contract partners. The result is a convoluted system of incarceration that is little understood. However, more importantly, there are no effective pathways to seek understanding and clarity about the functioning of the heavily outsourced prison system. It is a system that thrives in the absence of systematic governance—a system that daily consigns thousands of U.S. residents to this shadow world.

Photo/Tom Barry: Protest of medical care at immigrant prison in Pecos, Texas.

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed.

Go to the CIP online donation page, and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Obama's Border and Immigration Busts

(Note: See Americas Program article on Obama's first year of Americas policy, based on the perspectives and projections of Center for International Policy analysts, at . Following are my responses to questions from Americas Program director Laura Carlsen about U.S.-Mexico border and immigration policies.)

1. How do you rate Obama administration polices toward U.S.-Mexico border and immigration policy over the past year?

Border policy: politically opportunistic, financially wasteful, and predictably ineffective.

Immigration policy: marginal improvements over some crude Bush enforcement practices, overall institutionalization and increased funding of immigrant crackdown and imprisonment, no effective commitment (and no leadership or vision) for reform, no apparent concern about huge costs of crackdown that comes only with high social costs and few, if any, economic benefits.

Border security programs at DHS and DOJ are largely comprised of pork-barrel projects for local law enforcement, Border Patrol, and other federal law enforcement that continue failed drug war, crime war, anti-immigrant war campaigns.

Immigration policy agenda is particularly reprehensible because instilling false hopes for reform while detaining, imprisoning, and deporting more immigrants (legal and illegal) through programs that could easily be constrained and refocused through administrative decree.

2. What do you expect to see from the administration in 2010? 

* More hard-line rhetoric, funding initiatives, and programs for border security, responding to political demands from region and its own effort to bolster its security credentials.

* No real leadership to effect immigration reform.

* Continue to condescendingly dismiss constructive proposals for drug decriminalization and end to drug war overseas. 

3. What policy changes are needed in your area/region for 2010? 

* Administration should call end to “enforcement-first” immigration policy, noting policy’s multibillion dollar price tag, its tragic impact on U.S. communities, and the failure to fix broken immigration system through congressional reform. Nation has other priorities, and cannot afford to institutionalize these anti-immigrant backlash politics. 

* Obama officially ends “war on drugs” and invigorates national and international debate by leading collective call for an end to drug prohibition policies and a commitment to treat regular use of harmful drugs with medical programs and education.

* Call a halt to exorbitantly expensive, unproven, mismanaged SBInet (virtual fence), and tear down border fence outside of border cities.

* Refocus Homeland Security away from ideologically driven immigration enforcement and border security to targeted intelligence gathering on prospective threats.

4. What stories from your area/region do you think could potentially capture the headlines in 2010?

* The scandalous waste of billions in economic recovery funds for wasteful border infrastructure (ports of entry, Border Patrol stations, etc) and border criminal justice programs that ply local law enforcement with politically motivated funding.

* Homeland Security as a haven for private contractors like Boeing, CACI, Lockheed Martin that manage themselves and provide no effective goods or services, like virtual fence and information systems.

* The administration’s unconvincing song-and-dance about its support for immigration reform without any real leadership or political muscle to advance reform. Bush immigration stance anew.

* The unsustainable price of the immigrant crackdown, immigrant imprisonment, and border security. It’s breaking the budget without any effective focus on security.

Photo: Obama the candidate promising what Latinos wanted to hear at National Council of La Raza convention.

Commitment, energy, experience over three decades are all still there . But I need to count on base of sustainers who will also help stay the course of independent, penetrating analysis and investigative research. Plan is to attract five-hundred $100 sustainers of TransBorder Project of the Americas Project at the Center for International Policy in 2010. Already have received sustainer contributions of $4100. Please consider becoming an annual sustainer. Go to CIP donations page if you believe this work is worth sustaining, and note Tom Barry or TransBorder in comment section of donation page. Mil gracias, y adelante!

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Proposed bill would extend public records law to private prisons

(Note: This item comes from the Reporters' Committee for Freedom of the Press, at:

Proposed legislation that would apply existing public records laws to all prisons housing federal inmates was discussed during a congressional briefing on Monday.

The bill, H.R. 2450, was crafted to extend the Freedom of Information Act to private prisons that contract with government agencies. If the bill is passed, publicly financed private prisons, which house more than 100,000 federal inmates, would be subject to the same reporting standards as the Bureau of Prisons.

The companies that run private prisons say they are not required to disclose basic information about the facilities or the inmates -- except for reports issued upon an inmate's death -- under existing FOIA law because while they receive taxpayer money, they are not public agencies. A panel of specialists at the briefing spoke about the need for more transparency.

"If they do answer the requests, all the documents are redacted and they cite 'trade secrets' as the reason they can't disclose," said Tom Barry, senior analyst at the Center for International Policy, of his experiences getting information about inmates in private facilities from the Bureau of Prisons.

David Shapiro, an attorney for the National Prison Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, put the scope of the issue in perspective, noting "over 70 percent of the prisoners we represent are in for-profit prisons."

— Curry Andrews

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed.

Go to the CIP online donation page, and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Expanding Freedom of Information Act Accountability to all Federal Prisons and Detention Facilities

(Note: The Private Corrections Working Group is helping to organize a congressional briefing this Monday on the need for Congress to pass legislation aimed at ensuring accountability and transparency in the private prisons run by such corporations like Corrections Corporation of America, GEO Group, and Cornell Corrections that depend on federal contracts for more than 40% of their revenues.)

Monday, January 25, 2010, 2pm - 4pm
2226 Rayburn House Office Building, Washington, DC

Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee will hold a congressional briefing concerning H.R. 2450, a bill to ensure fiscal accountability and reduce fraud and waste by expanding the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to include all correctional facilities that hold federal prisoners or immigration detainees.  The briefing will be held on Monday, January 25, 2010 from 2:00PM - 4:00PM in 2226 Rayburn House Office Building.

Currently, some federal prisoners and detainees are housed by state, local and privately-run prisons under contracts with various federal agencies. By enacting this legislation, privately-operated prisons would be obligated to live up to the same public information reporting standards as federal correctional facilities. This measure is supported by corrections officers, civil liberties advocates, prison reform supporters and media organizations. Speakers will include:

Tom Barry – Transborder Project: A senior analyst at the Center for International Policy in Washington, DC, Mr. Barry directs the TransBorder Project of the Americas Policy Program at the Center for International Policy. The author of numerous books, Barry writes regularly on immigration imprisonment by private companies and the increasing merger of immigration enforcement and the criminal justice system. 

Alex Friedmann – President, Private Corrections Institute; associate editor for Prison Legal News, a monthly criminal justice publication; and a former Corrections Corporation of America inmate.

Judy Greene – Justice Strategies. A criminal justice policy analyst whose essays and articles on criminal sentencing issues, police practices and correctional policy have been published in numerous books, as well as in national and international policy journals.

Joshua Miller – Mr. Miller has worked for the American Federation of State County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) for 15 years. During that time he has been involved in numerous collective bargaining issues and has specialized in the area of corrections and public safety.  Mr. Miller’s work in the area of corrections has focused
on improving working conditions and fighting privatization. 

David Shapiro – Staff Attorney at the ACLU National Prison Project. Since arriving at the ACLU in 2008, Mr. Shapiro has overseen the ACLU’s Freedom of Information Act litigation that has unearthed thousands of pages of government documents revealing systemic abuses of immigration detainees by ICE officials that have contributed to 107 in-custody deaths since October 2003.

Phil Glover – AFGE Council of Prisons (invited).
For more information please contact:
Talib I. Karim, Esq., Chief Counsel
202-226-1690 (direct)

Photo: Reeves County Detention Center, the prison in Pecos, Texas that holds immigrants incarcerated by the Bureau of Prisons but under the custody of the infamous GEO Group.

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed!

Go to the CIP online donation page, and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Friday, January 22, 2010

Immigration Detention Centers Operated by Alaska Native Corps Faced Hunger Strikes and Protests

(Note: NYT's Nina Bernstein continues her great reporting on ICE detention centers this week, with an update on the controversy over the Varick Street Detention Facility in New York City, which is under contract to a Native Alaskan Corporation. Below is an excerpt from a new article, based on Border Line postings, on a new CIP Americas Program article on ANCs and immigration detention.)

Another ANC that has taken advantage of preferential government contracts is Ahtna Development Corporation, which describes itself as "A Full-Service Operations and Maintenance Company."
DHS contracted with the ANC's subsidiary, Ahtna Technical Services, Inc. (ATSI), which had no experience in correctional services, to provide operational, maintenance, and other support services at four ICE facilities: Buffalo Federal Detention Facility, Krome Service Center, Port Isabel Service Processing Center, and the Varick Street Detention Facility in New York City.
In addition, ICE has contracted the Alaskan corporation to manage food services at six other ICE processing centers.
New York Times article (Nov. 1, 2009) highlighted the history of abuses at the Varick facility, which is an adjunct to the ICE field office in New York City. Operated by ATSI under a DHS contract, the security staff at the Varick detention center are employees of a Texas security subcontractor.
In April last year 200 immigrant detainees at ICE's Port Isabel detention center organized a passive resistance campaign and hunger strike to protest alleged physical and verbal mistreatment by the staff of Ahtna Technical Services. According to immigrant-support groups, detainees also suffered due process violations and were not receiving adequate medical care.
The immigrant inmates involved in the protest complained that despite repeated complaints to ICE the abuses and deplorable conditions at the detention center had gone unresolved.
According to Maria Muentes, an organizer with Families for Freedom, "Many of the detainees are legal permanent residents from northeastern cities [and] they've been shipped to this desolate prison away from any kind of family and community support. ATSI [Ahtna] staff is being very brazen in their lawlessness. I think there's a perception that no one will speak up in defense of immigrants. It all seems designed to break down the will of the detainees so that they will agree to being deported."
DHS says that it owns and operates the Port Isabel detention center. However, by contracting out the operation of the center to a company with dubious professional credentials and experience and which then outsources its responsibilities to yet another company, DHS gives the impression that it is not taking direct and full responsibility for this homeland security and immigration regulation mission.
On Jan. 19 ICE agents in riot gear broke up a hunger strike at the Varick facility, according to detainee accounts. But an ICE spokesperson denied that there was a "sustained hunger strike," although he acknowledged that immigration agents entered and searched a jail dormitory after detainees began complaining about conditions and refused to leave it.
A Jamaican detainee in one dorm told New York Times (NYT) reporter Nina Bernstein that "all hell broke loose" after about 100 inmates refused to go to the mess hall on Tuesday morning and gave guards a flier declaring they were on a hunger strike to protest detention policies and practices. The detainee said a SWAT team "beat up" some detainees, took many to segregation cells as punishment, and transferred about 17 to immigration jails in other states, according to the NYT report.
Another detainee, an architect who said he has been a legal resident for 30 years, said he didn't want to give his name. "I don't want to be singled out," he said. "A lot of things are happening in the night—people are being moved secretly."
Last week ICE said it was closing the immigrant jail, which had become the subject of much criticism by immigrant advocates for its practice of transferring detainees, without notice, to other ICE detention centers. Immigrants inside the detention facility opposed the closure and consequent mass detainee transfer, apparently because their removal from Varick would also remove them from contact with family and legal advocates. However, they told the NYT that the hunger strike was part of a larger protest over immigration and detention policies.
The problems and concerns at ICE's Varick detention center reflect the generalized state of immigrant detention abuses, vindictive and unreasonable transfers, and the lack of accountability and transparency in an immigration incarceration system that is largely outsourced to private firms.
Media reports and immigrant advocacy are raising new awareness about the injustices that characterize the outsourcing of legal and illegal immigrants to private security firms like Ahtna and Doyon, and to prison companies like GEO Group.
But the lack of accountability and transparency and irresponsible profiteering are problems that are also prevalent in the very heart of Homeland Security operations, including intelligence, information systems, and infrastructure protection—all of which are largely outsourced using highly questionable bidding and contracting processes.

Photo: Protest Outside Varick Detention Facility

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed!

Go to the CIP online donation page  and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Connecting the Intelligence Dots -- It's Easy

Within the intelligence community, it’s easy to connect the dots. Corporations like IBM, CACI, and Lockheed Martin – among the main intelligence contractors -- are making it easier all the time. 

Corporate mergers, acquisitions, and the intelligence community’s revolving doors are making it easier than ever to understand who’s in control and to assess the motivations of U.S. intelligence operatives.

The effectiveness and reliability of U.S. intelligence is in increasing question. Decades of intelligence failures, abuses, politicized intelligence, and wildly wrong intelligence assessments have cast persistent doubts about the reliability and integrity of the 16 agencies that comprise the U.S. intelligence community.

Things aren’t getting much better under the Obama administration and the Democratic Congress, which, respectively, has failed to fill the CIA’s vacant inspector general position and which relies on national security sycophants like Rep. Silvestre Reyes (Texas) to provide congressional oversight as chairman of the House Select Intelligence Committee.

It’s been hard monitoring the intelligence community because its budget is classified, congressional oversight hearings are classified, and, well, they are spooks. But two factors over the past decade are making it easier at least to understand. 1) the rapid increase in outsourcing intelligence to private contractors (now constituting about 70% of the intelligence budget), and 2) the emergence of communications and information technology as the leading growth area in intelligence – and most areas of national security.

IBM’s acquisition this week of the National Interest Security Company, which is a conglomerate of intelligence, homeland security, and defense consulting firms, illustrates both these trends. According to Forbes, IBM’s “purchase of an intelligence firm signals boom time in the spy business” and “shows that the technology sector believes it can find growth servicing the government with high-end intelligence services.” Another business publication Information Week Government noted: “Big Blue's buyout of NISC deepens its presence in sensitive areas like homeland security, defense, and intelligence.”

The deal also highlights another common feature of high-tech intelligence, homeland security, and defense contracting – the critical role of high finance in configuring the new players of the national security complex.  

In this case, the key hidden player is DC Capital Partners, which describes itself as a Washington, DC investment firm whose “domain expertise provides a competitive advantage, primarily in the defense, aerospace, government services, information technology, and business services industries.”

Lately, to understand intelligence and, indeed, the entire spectrum of national security you need to follow the flows of venture capital.

Among NISC’s “continuum of services” are information systems development, datamining, cybersecurity initiatives, information assurance, and multilingual data-exploitation and mining. NISC says it is dedicated to providing innovative information technology, information management, and management technology consulting services in support of the national interest and security.”

Among the federal government departments the company “supports” include: Defense Intelligence Agency, Department of Homeland Security, National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, National Reconnaissance Office, Office of the Director of National Intelligence, Department of Defense, and “other classified agencies.”

NISC says its “main markets” are intelligence, homeland security, defense, energy, and federal health.

With more than a thousand employees, NISC is headquartered in Farifax, Virginia. The company has “$200 million in revenues and 80% of its employees hold security clearances and mostly work on classified contracts,’ according to Forbes.

According to DC Capital Partners, NISC was established through the acquisitions of a series of other high-tech companies specializing in intelligence and security. Since its establishment in a few years ago NISC, through the investment strategy of DC Capital Partners, has acquired the following intelligence-related firms: Edge Consulting, MITI, Information Manufacturing Corporation, Technology and Management Services, Omen Inc., National Intelligence Support Services, Athenyx, Kaseman, and Strategic Intelligence Group. It is unclear if all these subsidiaries will be transferred to IBM.

The company’s published descriptions of these integrated firms help illuminate the dimensions of the current merger of private contractors, intelligence operations, and intrusive technology.

Information Manufacturing Corporation providesa wide range of information technology and knowledge management services to the Intelligence Community, the Department of Defense, and other federal agencies,” with services including data capture, convergence, manipulation, mining, and exploitation.”

Omen Inc. provides the intelligence community with analysis of communications and electronic intelligence.

Kaseman offers “critical operational support” to State Department and Homeland Security in “anti-terrorism, counter-terrorism, and counter-narcotics training,” and “technical security advisory and assessment services, and risk analysis.”

Strategic Intelligence Group is “an intelligence consulting firm specializing in the development and implementation of innovative business platforms for human, financial and technical intelligence collaboration in the public and private sectors.”

Government Insiders Come Out

NISC like most homeland security, intelligence, and DOD contractors is a home for former high government officials. NISC’s chief executive officer, for example, is Andrew Maner, who served as chief financial officer for the Department of Homeland Security (2002-2006). Maner also served as chief of staff at Customs and Border Protection, which includes the Border Patrol.

Among the members of its board of directors are General Michael Hayden, former Director of the Central Intelligence Agency and former head of the National Security Agency. Hayden is also a principal at the Chertoff Group, a national security consulting agency formed by former Homeland Security Secretary Michael Chertoff.
Other NISC board members include former Senator Chuck Hagel, Ambassador Henry Crumpton, and five former retired generals and admirals, including General Anthony Zinni and General Michael Hagel,
The Forbes’ report of IBM’s purchase (which will be completed this quarter) of NISC noted that DC Capital Partners realized “$180 million and making nine times its original investment of $19.6 million in the company in less than three years.”
In a press release, IBM said NISC "will enable IBM to expand its capabilities with federal, state and local government entities, particularly in the fast-growing areas of defense, health care, energy, logistics and security."
“THINK” is the longtime slogan of IBM. That thinking has led IBM to follow the lead of other major corporations like Lockheed Martin, CACI, and Boeing in the emerging national security complex to pursue profits in the booming business of intelligence. 

Photo: General Michael Hayden

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

CACI, Boeing, and Others Running Homeland Security’s Information Systems

CACI International, a company that says it specializes in the “new defense era” and “asymmetric warfare,” is the top private contractor at NOC, and is joined by Boeing and Unisys, along with such consulting firms as Engineering Consultants Service, Electronic Consulting Services, and Security Assistance Corporation.

CACI, which relies on the federal government for 96% of its revenues and does 40% of its federal work for the intelligence community, has won three contracts for communications operations support for NOC. CACI, which was implicated by the U.S. Army for the involvement of its contracted interrogators in the Abu Ghraib prison abuses in Iraq, is facing a lawsuit by the Center for Constitutional Rights for torturing Iraqis.

Illustrative of the central role that private contractors play in the most fundamental information-gathering, intelligence assessment, and management operations of DOC is the following job announcement by DHS contractor Engineering Systems Consultants.

The consulting firm advertised that it was “seeking an Incident Management Officer (IMO) Desk Support. The IMO will supports (sic) the Senior Watch Officer (SWO) within the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Operations Center (NOC) by providing senior leadership and other elements of DHS with situational awareness of incidents, events or concerns impacting the United States or its interests.”

Among the specific duties of this contract employee:

  • “Provides baseline analysis, assessments and threat monitoring, while sharing information to help deter, detect, and prevent terrorist acts and to manage domestic incidents.
  • “Cultivate cooperative relationships with officials of different agencies (state, territory, district, and tribal Directors of Homeland Security, Emergency Operation Centers, and Law Enforcement).
  • “Produce and publish the National Operations Center Initial Incident and Update Reports for all National and International Situation Summary’s and ensuring that the developed products are posted to the National Common Operating Picture (COP).
  • “Write and publish the DHS Situation Reports and Executive Summary’s (sic).”

A November report by DHS’s own Office of Inspector General on the department’s National Operations Center noted that a review to determine what should be considered “inherently governmental functions” at DHS was “outside the scope of this review.” It added, though, that “we believe the issue warrants further attention by our office.”

Funds are running low. With no foundation grants or institutional support, Tom Barry and the TransBorder Project of Center for International Policy count on individual financial support to continue this investigative, analytical, and advocacy work. Independent thinking guaranteed!

Go to the CIP online donation page, and write TransBorder Fellowship in comment section when making your donation. Or mail a check to CIP, noting this project. Thank you!

Monday, January 18, 2010

Frontline Dispatches from Drug War Zone

Drug War Zone
Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez
By Howard Campbell
University of Texas Press, 2009

Most frontline dispatches about the drug war in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands are just that – news reports dispatched by journalists attempting to tell the story of the intensifying drug violence in Juárez and other border communities. 

This drug war journalism is often excellent. But too often the context, history, and culture of drug trafficking, consumption, and enforcement are missing – if for no other reason because of the space and time limits of news reporting.

Howard Campbell’s dispatches in his new book, Drug War Zone: Frontline Dispatches from the Streets of El Paso and Juárez, inject humanity and history into the drug story by allowing the protagonists of the drug war zone (DMZ) to speak for themselves. Campbell, an anthropologist at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) since 1990, has made his home territory -- the twin cities of El Paso and Juárez – the subject of his study. For this, we should be grateful and take the time to listen to these voices.

The Drug War Zone that Campbell has studied and brought so vividly to his readers through his interviews and thoughtful analysis comprises “the cultural world of drug traffickers and the law-enforcement agents who combat drug trafficking.” It is a “transnational, fluid cultural space in which contending forces battle over the meaning, value, and control of drugs.”

Campbell convincingly makes the case that the drug war zone is not new but rather only the current manifestation of a dynamic relationship between drug traffickers, drug users, and anti-drug narcs that has helped define the area’s culture, economy, and politics for many decades. Indeed, the explosive drug plaza of Juárez, while having its own distinctive dimensions and dynamic, may be best understood as an extension of “a nearly permanent part of world culture since the advent of agriculture.”

Interviewees include a high-level drug kingpin, middle-level organizers of drug deals, low-level mules, and street-level drug sellers as well a variety of law-enforcement officials including an undercover narc, a Juárez beat cop, the former head of an antinarcotics task force, an active Border Patrol agent, and a retired Border Patrol-DEA agent who is now a critic of the drug war.

These dispatches go beyond the killings, corruption, and politics to explore the narcocultura – the cultural complex or whole way of life centered around drug trafficking.  It’s a culture, writes Campbell, that is “now accepted as a given by mexicanos, fronterizos, and many social scientists.”

So pervasive is the drug economy and drug culture, observes Campbell, that in the El Paso area “everyone knows someone or is related to someone, who is a drug trafficker or a consumer.”

Indeed, “so common is the prefix narco- that it is attached to almost any noun to specify some reputed aspect of la narcocultura… not just in the case of the drug ballads known as narcocorridas, but also in reference to narcomansiones or narcocastillas, narcoarte, narcotienditas, narcointeligencia, narcoabogados, narcotumbas, narcosantos, narcocumbres, narcocerveza, and even narcomenonitas.”

By letting his contacts within the narcocultura speak for themselves, Campbell shares with us a world that is all around us but little known except by its own members. A Mexican journalist explains, for example, that he learned to decipher the code words of drug-smuggling world – where street dealers are referred to in code as burreros (burrito venders) and high-ranking drug dealers are commonly called ganaderos (cattlemen).

The concluding interview is with Terry Nelson, a native Texan and former longtime Border Patrol and customs agent. Since retirement, this former “drug warrior” has waged an educational campaign to raise consciousness about “the futility and counterproductive effects of the war on drugs” through his involvement in Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). “I had seen enough drug use,” says Nelson, “to know that it was not the huge evil that the government was portraying it as.”

Learning about LEAP after retirement, “I knew they were not a bund of ‘drug-smoking wackos’ and that they truly wanted to help by reducing crime and violence as well as by treating user that become addicted with medical care instead of incarceration.”

At UTEP’s 2009 Border Security Conference, which brought together high officials in the Obama administration with representatives of the major homeland security contractors, Professor Campbell stood up to counter the rosy drug war scenarios of the administration.

He spoke truth to power. And that truth is, as he writes in the book’s conclusion, that the U.S. counternarcotics aid to Mexico “cannot fix a broken policy.” While there are no quick solutions, Campbell says that the “the voices presented here all point toward the need for revised practices, innovative strategies, and new ways of thinking about the DMZ.”

These dispatches from the frontline are indeed persuasive. But even those who may already share this criticism of the drug war will surely appreciate this cutting edge anthropological work for deepening one’s understanding of the drug war zone and for reinforcing the increasingly widespread conviction that this is a war that cannot be won.