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Contractors Hijack Counter IED Effort, Say Counter-Insurgency Experts

Bryan Bender of the Boston Globe is one of the best reporters on the Pentagon beat.  His latest article takes a look at the rapid expansion of the relatively new Joint IED Defeat Organization (JIEDDO), where $6 billion has been spent to date, and criticism of it.

Not surprisingly, an internal Pentagon report written by counter-insurgency specialists argued that the new bureaucracy has overly prioritized technical solutons at the expense of common-sensical, cheaper and more effective solutions, such as "preventing Iraqis from becoming part of the insurgency." Intelligence and short-term projects have been sidelined in favor of long-term expensive, Cold War style contractor-driven initiatives, say anonymous members of the task force which wrote the report.  "The response to the IED has been primarily to increase force protection by emphasizing technical solutions which have proven insufficient," said the internal report. ``Business as usual will no longer suffice."

The head deputy director of JIEDDO, Brigadier General Daniel Allyn, told the Globe that his organization was not too close to large defense contractors: "We reach out to a broad array of people. We are interested in the what -- not the who. We don't have favorites." 

However, one of those companies appears to may have been MZM Inc. (now Athena Innovative Solutions), whose former CEO, Mitchell Wade, has pled guilty to bribing disgraced Congressman Randy "Duke" Cunningham (R-CA).  MZM was looking for "Counter IED Specialists" last year and Athena is continuing the search.  Whether MZM was inappropriately awarded contracts for counter IED work with JIEDDO, or not, is unknown.

More from the article:

The campaign ``is poorly focused," stated the Pentagon assessment prepared for Abizaid's command. ``A better strategy would focus on preventing Iraqis from becoming involved in the insurgency." It criticized the IED effort for failing to protect ordinary Iraqis from the homemade bombs and suicide car bombs.

The Pentagon ``has given little attention to effects of IEDs on the [Iraqi Security Forces], the civilian population, and the Iraqi infrastructure," according to the assessment. ``Protecting the population is one of the key precepts of counterinsurgency."

Some who work in the organization agree that it must look to means other than technology.

``You need to step back and look at the whole kill chain," said Starnes Walker , the chief scientist for the Office of Naval Research who was brought into the IED effort last year to help provide new thinking. ``That goes from the making of explosives to the packaging to the idea of distributing it, actually positioning it."

He said the organization needs to continue funding physical sciences, but to devote more money and brainpower to ``human, behavioral, and cultural sciences as well."

One participant told the Boston Globe that General Abizaid said, "Expensive Pentagon devices will not  stop the bombings. Only people can stop the bombings."

By: Nick Schwellenbach
Director of Investigations, POGO

Nick Schwellenbach At the time of publication, Nick Schwellenbach was Director of Investigations for the Project On Government Oversight.

Authors: Nick Schwellenbach

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