Just an hour north of the Mexican border, at the base of the cloud-capped Huachuca Mountains, sits a military base with a long history of covert military action.
In its early days as a military fort, it was the location of the capture of Geronimo, the last Apache warrior to resist the United States. More recently, Fort Huachuca housed the training of many of the interrogators who worked in the prisons of Cuba’s Guantanamo Bay and Iraq’s now infamous Abu Ghraib.
In 2003, just 237 interrogators graduated from the United States Army Intelligence Center, headquartered at the fort. Today, because of the war on terrorism, there are plans to quadruple the number of qualified interrogators to 1,000 a year by 2006 and the number of soldiers trained in basic intelligence skills to 7,000.
This is an astronomical increase, far beyond the current capabilities of the fort. Enter private contractors like Virginia-based Anteon, which has grown tenfold in the last decade. The company has become one of the nation’s primary contractors for intelligence sharing, intelligence training and video game warfare simulators.
One of Anteon’s offices is located on the Huachuca base, itself, while the second sits a mile away on Main Street, in a bright, freshly-painted pink building, sandwiched between Enterprise Rent-A-Car, with whom it shares a parking lot, and Filiberto’s Mexican restaurant.
While military contracting for construction or weapons manufacturing is decades, if not centuries, old, the privatisation of intelligence instruction is a new and rapidly expanding sector that came about less than four years ago.
One estimate in Mother Jones magazine, compiled from interviews with military experts, suggests that as much 50 percent of the 40-billion-dollar budget given to the 15 intelligence agencies in the United States is now spent on private contractors.
Although Anteon first came into existence in 1976, its profits really began to soar 20 years later, when former investment banker Frederick Iseman bought the company assets for a mere 48 million dollars. Today, Anteon’s annual revenues exceed a billion dollars and its share price has jumped from its initial public offer of 18 dollars to 36 dollars in the last three years.
Iseman, who admits he knew nothing about military contracting before he bought the company (his other investments range from orange juice to waste management), says he realised he needed connections to expand on the business.
So he recruited a group of highly-placed former military officials to his board ranging from William Perry, former head of the Pentagon, to Hugh Shelton, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff under Bill Clinton.
”We are an information technology systems integrator,” said Mark Meudt, director of corporate communications for Anteon. ”Roughly 90 percent of our work is for the federal government and the rest is for other governments or sub-contracts with other companies that have federal contracts.”
Meudt refused to comment on any of the intelligence contracts at Fort Huachuca but estimated that a fifth of the company’s work is in simulation training for the military.
Today the company holds a master contract to teach a wide variety of courses for the Initial Entry Training (IET) in the intelligence school: ranging from the basic course to the more specialised Advanced Individual Training (AIT) courses such as counter-intelligence training, interrogation, signals intelligence, electronic intelligence and signal identification.
Traditionally these IET and AIT jobs were handled by two battalions of the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade based at Fort Huachuca: the 305th and 309th (a third battalion, the 344th, conducts similar training in Texas). Today the tasks of teaching — from drawing up the curriculum to the final exams for the students — still take place on the military base, but many are conducted by the private instructors.
Classes are held at Nicholson Hall, a big pink H-shaped building in the northwest quadrant of Fort Huachuca with a red tiled roof, named after an American intelligence officer who was shot and killed by Soviet sentries in East Germany in 1985.
New students approaching the building must pass under a steel blue ribbon over the main entrance, emblazoned with the words: ”Through these gates, pass the leaders of Military Intelligence.” Also known as building number 81505, the windows on the structure are painted a light green to prevent the casual visitor from seeing in.
”Instructors portray human intelligence sources in a variety of role playing scenarios, in diversified settings and environments, such as practical, situational and field training exercises and tests,” reads a description of jobs completed on the website of Isis, one of Anteon’s sub-contractors.
For example, one of the private intelligence contractors recently designed a war game simulations to test intelligence skills of students in the fictitious country of Kazar, a ”former” province in the Federal Republic of Slavia, in the face of ”Gordian” and ”Skandian” paramilitary forces.
The myriad intelligence contracts are typically vague about exactly what the contractor’s work will involve. In fact, many contracts read as if they are for entirely unrelated services.
A great number of the contracts signed at Fort Huachuca are officially for ”information technology” but in reality have been used to fund intelligence work — more specifically, the hiring of civilian interrogators to work directly in Afghanistan, Cuba and Iraq.
At least one was administered by the staff in Building 22208, an unremarkable old military office, on the southeastern edge of the Brown Parade Field in the heart of the Fort, which hosts the Department of Interior, Directorate of Contracting. This civilian agency holds a technology contract for a company named Premier Technology.
Soon after the contract was issued, however, Premier was bought up by another Virginia company named CACI, which used the original contract to hire private interrogators to work in Abu Ghraib prison.
A similar technology contract scam was pulled by Maryland-based Lockheed Martin, which bought up a small company named Affiliated Computer Services (ACS) with a Department of Interior technology contract, and then used the contract to employ private interrogators into Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The Titan Corporation, which describes itself as ”a leading provider of comprehensive information and communications products, solutions, and services for National Security,” was also awarded contracts that were used in Abu Ghraib. Although not signed at Fort Huachuca, these contracts supplied the prison with translators, who have also been implicated in the prison abuse.
Most of the translators hired by Titan did not have security clearances. At least one (Ahmed Fathy Mehalba) had actually failed out of Fort Huachuca’s intelligence school while CACI hires were drafted to do intelligence tasks that they had never been trained to do.
Stephen Stephanowicz is a good example. He was trained at the base to inspect satellite pictures, but worked as an interrogator and is now being sued for allegedly humiliating, torturing and abusing prisoners detained by U.S. authorities.
These are the concerns that weigh heavily on the minds of experts who monitor the shadowy world of interrogation and intelligence.
James Bamford, whose book ”The Puzzle Palace” began as an expose about the National Security Agency, an ultra-secret government spy agency, but is now used as a textbook at the Defence Intelligence College, is especially worried.
”As was made clear by the Abu Ghraib prison scandal, involving private contractors in sensitive intelligence operations can lead to disaster,” Bamford wrote recently in an New York Times op-ed. ”And the potential for disaster only grows when not just the agents on the ground, but their supervisors and controllers back at headquarters, are working for some private company.”
”While there is nothing inherently wrong with the intelligence community working closely with private industry,” he added, ”there is the potential for trouble unless the union is closely monitored.”
*Pratap Chatterjee is the managing editor of Corpwatch (www.corpwatch.org). This article is the first of a series of two on the often secretive world of military privatisation. Pratap Chatterjee, Copyright © 2005 IPS-Inter Press Service. All rights reserved.