We look at how private contractors are now working at almost every level of the so-called war on terror, specifically in military interrogations at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo and Afghanistan. We speak with investigative journalist Pratap Chatterjee. He is author of "Iraq, Inc." and his latest article is called "Intelligence Inc.: Military Interrogation Training Gets Privatized." [includes rush transcript]
Since the Bush administration launched its so-called war on terror four years ago, places like Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo have become household names. And the conduct of the US military and intelligence agencies have come under increasing scrutiny for their conduct while detaining and interrogating prisoners.
Over the past several months on this program, we have reported extensively on the US government’s extraordinary rendition policy, where prisoners are sent to countries that have poor human rights records where they are tortured. But it is not just foreign governments that the US is using. Private contractors are now working at almost every level of the so-called war on terror.
- Pratap Chatterjee, managing director of CorpWatch.org. His latest piece, which comes out this week is called "Intelligence, Inc." He is the author of "Iraq, Inc."
AMY GOODMAN: We’re joined now by investigative journalist, Pratap Chatterjee, the managing director of Corpwatch.org. He’s author of the book, Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation. His latest piece, which comes out this week, is called "Intelligence, Inc.: Military Interrogation Training Gets Privatized." Welcome to Democracy Now!
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Thank you so much for having me, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about what’s happening now in Iraq with the privatization of the intelligence?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Sure, it actually begins right here in the United States in southern Arizona in a place called Fort Huachuca, which was set up actually to hunt Geronimo 120 years ago. That base is where all military intelligence is trained. And so, today what’s happening is all that instruction or much of that instruction, rather, is provided by private companies. There’s a company called Anteon in Virginia, and they train what are called 97-Es. Those are interrogators. This is also the company that does what are called MOUTs, Mobile Operations in Urban Terrain. So when soldiers learn how to do military operations in video games, this is the company that runs it. This is the company that’s doing the recruitment of soldiers, the private recruitment of soldiers. This is the company that provides alien ID cards on the US border for Mexican citizens. They now train everybody, all the interrogators, or have — much of the interrogators that go to Abu Ghraib are trained by private companies.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, this is happening in southern Arizona?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: Place called Fort Huachuca, just north of the border, about an hour north of the border.
AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about the other companies now that are at work.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: So, one of the most famous companies, and what’s most interesting, on this base is a little office called —- for the Department of Interior, and they send contracts for information technology, and when I asked Anteon what they do -—
AMY GOODMAN: This is on the Base in southern Arizona?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: This is on the base in southern Arizona. They say that what they do is they do intelligence — information technology systems integration, which is a euphemism for pretty much anything. So a company called Premier Technology, for example, signed a contract a couple years ago to do database work in this company — in this base in southern Arizona. That was the contract under which they did interrogation in Abu Ghraib, the same contracts they all called database contracts. And it’s all information technology. And I guess you could say it is information and a technology of some kind that’s done. The company that actually did the contracting was a company called CACI which many of your listeners have heard of.
AMY GOODMAN: Spell it.
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: CACI is C-A-C-I. It’s based in Virginia. There’s another company called Titan, and they’re in San Diego. They provide the interrogators and the translators that work in these prisons. Of those number, at least six have been arrested. A man called Steven Stephanowitz, who was trained on this base in Fort Huachuca. He was trained as an imagery analyst, which is somebody who looks at satellite images, and he became an interrogator. And this is the problem with the privatization of intelligence. You’re handing over authority to these companies who hire people, including people who failed out of military intelligence school in Fort Huachuca. There is a guy who was working in — was trying to get a job in Boston Airport, ended up getting sent to Guantanamo Bay as — in this job as translator and a lot of people — there’s a guy called Adel Nakhla, an Egyptian who was hired by Titan and was found — is now being tried for the sexual abuse of a prisoner in Iraq, all private citizens. These people are supposed to have secret classification, which means they’re allowed to do, you know, these sort of top-secret jobs. However, the problem in the system is that most of this vetting of people, whether or not they can do that, is backed up by two-five years. So you have citizens going there. I was talking to Bob Baer, who is a former CIA agent. And he says, you know, in capitalist America, if you want a convertible, you get a convertible. By hiring people — and Anteon, for example, all intelligence information that goes between the United States and Afghanistan and Iraq is handled by this one company, Anteon. It’s a $100 million contract. If you ask them for intelligence, they are going to give you what you want to hear. This is the problem when you privatize information that’s top secret. There was a case, for example, in Russia where British Petroleum commissioned a group of private Russian intelligence agents to provide information on Halliburton. That information was then turned over to the NSC and eventually made its way to the White House as a top-secret intelligence report, but it was provided by a private company who had been contracted to BP and, of course, what they wanted was to get the contract from this Russian company. We are talking about competition. You cannot privatize intelligence and expect to get accurate information. You will get what you want to hear.
AMY GOODMAN: What about the latest news, front page story in The New York Times yesterday about the CIA being concerned about war crimes charges against — charges against these interrogators?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: If they’re private contractors, they cannot be tried under military law. They become — it’s what’s called plausible deniability. So a private contractor no longer can be tried in these courts, in military courts. So this is — it’s kind of — it’s perfect in many ways.
AMY GOODMAN: And your conversations with the military authorities at the southern Arizona base?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: We have been talking for two months. I went to the base. They’re not happy that I went to the base. They promised — the 111th Military Intelligence Brigade is the company that’s in charge of teaching interrogators, and they’re the ones who privatize to these companies, one company, in particular, Anteon. A lot of other companies like ILEX, ISIS, ISS, ElectroWave engineers with these contracts to do private intelligence training. And I have been waiting for two months. Every week I talk to them, and I’m still waiting to hear back from them the details of these contracts. Nobody in the companies will talk to me and give me details. It is, after all, intelligence and more so, it’s private business information. So it’s a little hard to get that information. But I’m starting to get a little information from whistleblowers and people like that.
AMY GOODMAN: And you are talking to people who know about the torture?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: I am talking to people who witnessed the torture. I hope, in fact, I will be able to bring somebody to Democracy Now! in a couple of weeks who was a prison interrogator in Guantanamo Bay, in Abu Ghraib and worked in Afghanistan and witnessed. He was one of the people who testified and gave information to Antonio Taguba, the report proving the problems over there. His name is Torin Nelson. We hope to speak to him —
AMY GOODMAN: And he says?
PRATAP CHATTERJEE: And he basically says that everybody he works — he’s a private contractor. This is a man who worked for CACI. And he says that this is an evolution. When this business started in Afghanistan, there were a couple of places where they picked up people, the Qala-i-Janghi fortress, Sheberghan prison, where I reported from, and these are places they then — they funneled people from Afghanistan to Guantanamo Bay. At that time, they still didn’t do torture. Camp Delta was the first base in which they did interrogation. When Halliburton built this new base, Camp X-Ray, Torin Nelson got information that there was a new unit being set up who would be using unconventional methods, and he refused to take part in that.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you very much. This is part one, Pratap Chatterjee, Author of Iraq, Inc.: A Profitable Occupation, managing director of CorpWatch. You can go to CorpWatch.org. Thanks, Pratap.