Pentagon and Contractors One Happy Family?
TAHOMA, Calif. -- A Pentagon office that claims to monitor terrorist threats to U.S. military bases in North America has just awarded a multi-million-dollar contract to a company that employs a top aide to former U.S. Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld. That aide, Stephen Cambone, helped create the very office that issued the contract.
The company winning the contract was QinetiQ (pronounced "kinetic") North America (QNA), a major British-owned defence and intelligence contractor based in McLean, Virginia. On Jan. 7, QNA's Mission Solutions Group, formerly Analex Corporation, signed a five-year, 30-million-dollar contract to provide a range of unspecified "security services" to the Pentagon's Counter-Intelligence Field Activity office known as CIFA.
Since 2003, CIFA has been the Pentagon's lead domestic intelligence agency and is one of the largest employers of private contractors within the U.S. intelligence community. In 2004, it was reprimanded by Congress for spying on U.S. antiwar and religious activists opposed to the George W. Bush administration's foreign policies.
QNA's contract was awarded just two months after QinetiQ hired Stephen Cambone, the former undersecretary of defence for intelligence and a longtime Rumsfeld aide, as its vice president for strategy. Cambone is the most senior of a savvy group of former high-ranking Pentagon and intelligence officials hired by QinetiQ to manage its expansion in the 50-billion-dollar U.S. market for intelligence outsourcing services.
While he was at the Pentagon, Cambone oversaw CIFA and was deeply involved in the Pentagon's most controversial intelligence programs. It was Cambone, for example, who reportedly issued orders to Major General Geoffrey Miller to soften up Iraqi prisoners for intelligence interrogators in Abu Ghraib in 2003. With Rumsfeld, he also set up a special unit within the Pentagon that alienated the CIA and the State Department by running its own covert actions without seeking input from other agencies.
The new CIFA contract comes on the heels of a series of QinetiQ deals inked with the Pentagon in the booming new business of "network centric warfare" -- the space-age technology-driven intelligence and warfighting policies established by Rumsfeld and Cambone during their six-year tenures at the Pentagon. Other Cambone-pioneered programs that QinetiQ has won include military drones and robots, low-flying satellites and jamming technologies.
Cambone's appointment at QinetiQ reflects the "incestuous" relationships that exist between former officials and private intelligence contractors, said Steven Aftergood, the director of the Project on Government Secrecy at the Federation of American Scientists and a long-time observer of U.S. intelligence.
"It's unseemly, and what's worse is that it has become normal," he said in an interview. The problem, he added, "is not so much a conflict of interest as it is a coincidence of interests -- the intelligence community and the contractors are so tightly intertwined at the leadership level that their interests, practically speaking, are identical."
QinetiQ was created in 2001 when the British Ministry of Defence (MoD) split up the Defence Evaluation Research Agency (DERA), its equivalent to the U.S. Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA). One part of the company remained inside the MoD, but the other half was sold to the private sector and became QinetiQ. In February 2003, 33 percent of QinetiQ's shares were acquired by the Carlyle Group, the powerful Washington-based private equity fund with close ties to the Bush administration.
With the infusion of capital from Carlyle (which sold its shares in 2006), QinetiQ went on a U.S. buying spree. In November 2004, for example, it acquired Foster-Miller, which builds what it calls "mobile platforms" for the U.S. military, including the Talon robot, a battery-powered machine loaded with night-vision cameras and sensors that can fire both machine gun bullets and anti-tank weapons. The five other companies it acquired hold contracts with a range of U.S. intelligence agencies, including the National Reconnaissance Office, the super-secret agency that maintains the U.S. fleet of spy satellites, and the Department of Homeland Security.
With 1.5 billion dollars in defense revenue in 2006, QNA is now the 11th largest U.S. intelligence contractor. QinetiQ officials were not available for comment on Cambone's appointment or any other matter. As for the former undersecretary of defense, "Stephen Cambone is not interested in an interview at this time," said Sophie Barrett, QNA's spokesperson.
QinetiQ's main reason for hiring Stephen Cambone was the fact that he had the unprecedented job of commanding the full spectrum of defense intelligence agencies controlled by the Pentagon. He also oversaw CIFA, which he helped set up in 2003 and transformed into one of the U.S. government's largest collectors of domestic intelligence. Despite occasional criticism from the U.S. Congress for spying on ordinary U.S. citizens, it has thrived at the Pentagon during the administrations of both Donald Rumsfeld as well as Robert Gates, the current secretary of defense.
Cambone was also deeply involved in Rumsfeld's so-called "transformation" policies at the Pentagon, which fused data flowing from those agencies into the Pentagon's high-tech war machine. The decisions he made greatly reduced the Pentagon's acquisitions of large weapons systems like aircraft carriers and radically increased its purchases of space-age war technologies as communications systems, sensors, robots, low-flying satellites and unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs).
It is precisely these technologies that QinetiQ produces. Its work for CIFA, the company said in the release announcing the deal, reflects QinetiQ's role "as a pioneer in planning and executing the protection of government personnel, critical infrastructure and sensitive defense programs."
QinetiQ is the largest supplier of UAVs and robots to the Pentagon and the U.S. intelligence community. It developed the Zephyr, the world's most advanced UAV, a solar-powered drone that can transmit data and pictures continuously for periods up to three months. QinetiQ also specializes in a jamming technology (called "interference protection") that protects satellite systems from outside activity. And the company is a major supplier of acoustic microsensors designed to track the movements of "insurgents" or "illegal immigrants".
For QinetiQ and Cambone, therefore, this is a match made in heaven. Cambone's insights into "national security affairs and priorities," said CEO Duane Andrews, a former top Pentagon aide to Vice President Dick Cheney, will help shape QinetiQ's ability "to rapidly deliver solutions to the complex challenges that face our defense and intelligence customers."
In other words, there was a natural fit between QinetiQ's products and Cambone's inside knowledge of the future plans and strategies behind the U.S. intelligence enterprise.