Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lawyers, Guns and Blackwater

It’s shameful enough for the country that spends more on defense than the rest of the world combined to hire mercenaries to fight its woebegone wars; the mercenaries we hire are hooligans who we kicked out of our overpriced military.

As Tim McGlone of The Virginian-Pilot reported on March 8, two Blackwater "workers" – Christopher Drotleff of Virginia Beach and Justin Cannon of Texas – got themselves escorted to the front gate with other-than-honorable discharges shoved up their pockets over a shopping list of infractions. Drotleff and Cannon are now ex-workers of Blackwater because in May 2009 they shot three unarmed Afghan civilians, which, to be fair to Drotleff and Cannon, is a relatively small number of unarmed civilians to shoot by Blackwater standards, and what’s more, only two of them were killed, for cripes’ sake. The third civilian was just wounded and is probably grateful to still be alive.

Not surprisingly, Blackwater didn’t have either of these hooligan’s military records on file even though they were required to by contractual agreement. The contract also required Blackwater to review the hooligans’ records before hiring them, which Blackwater probably did, and that’s probably why the records weren’t on file, so Blackwater could plead ignorance when the hooligans pulled a stunt like shooting unarmed Afghan civilians.

Drotleff and Cannon’s boss at Blackwater was no altar boy either. Johnnie Walker (supposedly that really is his name) was a two-fisted, double-barreled, heat-seeking disaster. A senior Blackwater executive wrote an internal memo that said Walker’s management at Camp Alamo in Kabul “cultivated an environment that indirectly” led to the May shootings, and he described Walker as “an exceptionally ineffective” manager who habitually blew off meetings with Department of Defense and NATO officials. The Blackwater executive also mentioned that Johnnie Walker was a Hemingway-class drinker and characterized him as having “no regard for policies, rules, or adherence to regulations in country.”

Local military brass weren’t enamored of Walker’s Wild West show. Maj. Gen. Richard P. Formica at one point wrote a memo to the Camp Alamo’s commanding officer, Lt. Col. Brian Redmon, demanding that he get the Blackwater cowboys under control, but there wasn’t much Redmon could do about them. The mercenaries weren’t in his chain of command, and they weren’t subject to discipline under the Uniform Code of Military Justice. Redmon wrote to his superiors asking for clarification as to just what his responsibilities regarding the Blackwater workers were, but he never heard back.

Walker had a deal worked out where Blackwater employees had access to the weapons arsenal at Camp Alamo, even though the weapons were for use by the Afghan police and the U.S. Army only. One Blackwater worker checked out weapons under the name "Eric Cartman," which is the name of the fat kid on the TV show South Park. Sometimes the Blackwater workers didn’t bother to sign for the weapons as Stan or Butters or any of the other kids on South Park, or as anybody at all, for that matter.

The Blackwater workers managed to get hundreds of guns from a Navy buddy of theirs identified as Chief Warrant Officer Sailer (another allegedly real name) with no paperwork or receipts of any kind to document the transition. In a teleconference interview with Senate Armed Services Committee staffers investigating the weapon-custody shenanigans, Sailer allowed as how yeah, he’d given guns to Blackwater guys, but he didn’t remember the circumstances. Sailer also said in response to written questions that he did "not recall ever having a conversation with anyone picking up weapons … regarding the intended use of the weapons." He probably didn’t recall bothering to ask what their intended use was either, nor did he likely recall why he thought it was no big deal to hand over weapons without getting any documentation. Chief Warrant Officer Sailer needs to become Seaman Recruit Sailer for as long as it takes the military legal system to turn him into Mr. Sailer, at which time he’ll no doubt use his other-than-honorable discharge to get a civilian job with Blackwater.

The musical gun monkey business led to an "accident" in December 2008 in which one Blackwater worker shot another worker in the head. As Johnnie Walker told Senate committee staffers, some of his workers determined they needed "learn how to shoot" from a vehicle. One of the workers decided it would be a good idea to get on the back of a moving car with an AK-47 and "ride it like a stagecoach." The car hit a bump and the gun went off and shot one of the other workers in the head.

The worker who got shot in the head suffered brain damage and is partly paralyzed. Even though the incident involved "unauthorized activities" and, in Walker’s words, "poor judgment," Army and Blackwater supervisors allowed the reindeer games to continue, and that led to the May shooting of Afghan civilians by Drotleff and Cannon. On the day of that shooting, Drotleff, Cannon, and Walker attended a party of the sort that in my day we called a "DRUNK-EX." Hey, who doesn’t need a little liquid courage before they go out and plug a few unarmed civilians?

Days after the deadly incident, Walker, still tight as a tick, made a phone call to his superiors at Blackwater and threatened to pull his entire security team out of Afghanistan if he were fired. In retrospect, Blackwater probably wishes it had taken him up on the offer. Raytheon, the primary contractor, fired Blackwater from the job last summer. Now renamed "Xe" in an effort to clean up its image but still referred to by the entire known universe as "Blackwater," the company is trying to get a new contract for $1 billion to do the same job it was doing before it got the ax from Raytheon, which is training Afghan police. Yikes. With security forces trained by the likes of Walker and Drotleff and Cannon, who needs insurgents?

Xe Vice President Fred Roitz says the bad old Blackwater days are over, that the company has cleaned up its act now. Roitz doesn’t mention that the new management and policies were already in place when the May killings occurred, or that the killings were merely the latest chapter in a long litany of bad behavior displayed by mercenaries who we’re ostensibly paying to fight terrorism, not to practice it.

Mercenary work is an ugly business that new vice presidents and new policies won’t make any prettier. It’s the kind of work done by the Drotleffs and Cannons and Walkers of this world, and for every Johnnie Walker you fire or bring to justice, there’s a Jim Beam and a Jack Daniels and an Old Granddad or two from Vietnam days who are ready, willing, and able to knock down fast money for behaving like homicidal sociopaths.

Blackwater is under investigation by Congress and the Justice Department over more sins than you can throw a grand inquisitor at, and that’s fine, but the best way to get mercenaries to stop running amok is to quit hiring them. That alone, however, won’t stop our national rampage, because, as horrible as it is to admit, our mercenaries haven’t killed the tiniest fraction of innocent civilians that our official uniformed military has.

Originally posted @ Antiwar.com

Commander Jeff Huber, U.S. Navy (Retired) writes at Pen and Sword. Jeff's novel Bathtub Admirals (Kunati Books), a lampoon on America's rise to global dominance, is on sale now.


  1. Those names, Walker, Sailer,and the South Park kid, they can't be real. What parent would name their kid Johnnie Walker? Don't tell me. I don't want to know.

    That brings to mind several terrible names:

    General Delivery
    Major Disaster
    Corporal Punishment
    Private Lives
    Admiral Butterfly
    Commodore Sixty Four
    Field Marshal Fields
    Captain Morgan
    Captain Kangaroo
    Colonel Korn

    There was that town in southern California that rose up and ran the Blackwater types outta town when they wanted to set up a "training center" there. Nothing like explosions, gunfire and speeding vehicles racing up and down the only access road all day to improve the quality of life.

    Something similar happened in a small Quebec town a few years ago when a chapter of the Hell's Angels wanted to build one of their armoured "clubhouses" in the area. The locals refused to supply them with food, beer or gas and pretty well got out the torches and pitchforks until they got on their hogs and beat a hasty retreat. Where? I don't want to know that either.

    As for a joke that goes with Commander - I wouldn't dare.

  2. I'm partial to Commander Pander, myself.

  3. Well, "we" sure hire only the best don't we?
    With clowns like these mercenaries we don't need enemies. Our own hired guns seem to be worse than the supposed "bad guys".
    America is getting further down the rat hole every day.

    Just for the record(?). When I was in Vietnam with 5th Marines, we used call signs like "Captain Kool-ade" or "General Nuisance".
    Commander Pander?....sure, why not?

  4. Privatization is supposed to be great. I guess that's if you are a friend of the government contract managers. New Jersey's new governor Christie is also promising lots of new privatization of government services soon too.

  5. Michael Lafferty3:28 PM

    The concept of 'contracting' has reduced otherwise deployable US Army units to marginal fighting forces, unable to maneuver and saddled with a heavy and costly logistical train. To the extent that the US Marine Corps has resisted this 'civilianization' process and stuck to its mantra that every Marine is first a rifleman, it remains—to a greater extent than the Army—a lethal fighting force. Not one well suited for deployment to a theater such as Afghanistan mind you, but a more effective and maneuverable force nonetheless.

    The Army has become hopelessly mired in utter helplessness as it continued to pass on a larger share of its support system to non-soldiers, and is largely combat ineffective—in any sustained sense—as a result.

    The hiring of armed mercenary forces to 'supplement' the US Armed Forces has been a program effective in only a few ways: the primary 'positive outcomes' have involved the shifting of funding away from those who should be engaged (if anyone should) in our present military adventures, while handsomely rewarding these 'alternative' fighting forces and enriching their masters for marginal performance at best and reprehensible criminal conduct at worst, all while demoralize troops, burdening commanders with unnecessary distractions, and effectively neutering the US Army.

    Richard Cheney, Donald Rumsfeld and a host of others have done a masterful job of 'reinventing' the Army. Way to go, boys!

  6. I know it is totally off topic and probably impolite but given your professional background, I would be interested in a post on your views on how successful an Israeli attack on Iran's nuclear facilities (I suspect not very) and what the issues would be. Also,whether or not the US Navy, Air Force, Army or Marine Corp (for that matter) could disrupt such an attack so as to render it pointless.


  7. I'm wondering what happens when our foreign creditors finally slam on the fiscal brakes, and the gravy train sputters to a stop. These guys will come home to double-digit unemployment, mass civil unrest, and Tea Party demagoguery in full blow. If you want some idea of what the future history of America will look like, just rewrite Lord of the Flies with AK-47s and a laugh track.

    Of all the awful legacies of the Bush years, this has to be the absolute worst.

  8. Thanks to all for commenting. A quick answer to Blowback: like you, I don't think an Israeli attack on Iran's facilities would be all that successful.

  9. Anonymous12:04 PM

    I do not think that all Mercenary work is illegitimate. Working as a bodyguard for a diplomat or a reporter or a doctor or a proffessor is doing a legitimate job, even if it is done in Iraq or Afghanistan. Such work does not require one to go on offensive operations.
    However guarding war material destined for US forces in either of these countries is illegitimate even if it is defensive because it directly contributes to the illegal offensive operations of the US military.
    (the expert juror)

  10. agincajun12:32 PM

    Speaking of mercenary work. Do you have anything to offer up concerning the NYTs story concerning the reported operations of Michael Furlong with an assist by none other that Duane "Dewy" Clarridge? The characterization of Dewy as just a well connected contractor is hysterical. Would love to hear your take. Thanks for your efforts Jeff. I always look forward to your next post.

  11. Great minds, Cajun. That's the subject of next week's article.

  12. It was quite amazing how Filkins and Mazetti let Smith disavow all knowledge of something he had to have known about all along, and how they go so far out of their way to avoid making the obvious connection between Furlong's follies and McChrystal's JSOC activities.


  13. agincajun2:02 PM

    If I'm not mistaken, they do not mention Stanley at all. If I was Gen. McKiernan, I think I would stock up on industrial strength "Poo Repellent". It appears to me that the boys are trying to push him in front of the fan. All of it begs a question. Has there been a "Death Squad" operation in the past 40 odd years when Dewy was not in the neighborhood?

    As to the willing fools at the Times.............are they complicit or just dog poo stupid?

  14. Filkins is complicit; he's been embedded with the beast so long he's suffering from a form of Stockholm Syndrome.


  15. agincajun11:24 PM

    Went back and read the Times article again. I was astounded even more the second time. Every so often I still want to believe that the media trolls are just stupid, not complicit. If context was fattening, the Memory Hole would be morbidly obese.

  16. And looks like we're back to trying to frame the Iranians for something, anything:

    Tehran accused of arming Taleban with weapons and explosives

    When you put it together with
    story, it kind of makes one wonder if Obama is whipping up some secret sauce for the midterm elections. Nothing like a nice war to make you look tough.

    One bit of good news, though; it seems that the U.S. military presence in Afghanistan has had a
    positive effect
    , at least for lovers of free-market economics.

  17. Groovy, JP, thanks for the links.


  18. This looks like a case of 20/20 hindsight to me. Reuters had this piece yesterday.

    Kandahar campaign already underway, general says

    "Preliminary U.S. efforts to gradually retake full control of the Taliban's birthplace Kandahar are already underway, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Afghanistan said on Wednesday, offering few details....[K]andahar is already being shaped," McChrystal said, briefing reporters in Washington via teleconference, adding that efforts will "ramp up" in the coming weeks and months. "What you are going to see in the months ahead, without giving too much detail, is a number of activities to shape the political relationships in and around Kandahar," he said.

    After those bombs in Kandahar several days ago that killed three dozen people - well, McChrystal did warn them that he was coming, - I'd have to say it has already started, too.

    But what about that security "noose" around Kandahar that was supposed to prevent this sort of thing?

    Was it this noose?

    Noose tightens around Kandahar

    WASHINGTON, Nov. 30 (UPI) -- U.S. warplanes resumed bombing the last Taliban stronghold of Kandahar Friday amid speculations a ground offensive could follow soon. Encouraged by their leader Mullah Mohammed Omar's radio speech on Thursday, some Taliban fighters vowed to fight till death while others were reportedly leaving the city to avoid being caught in the fight.

    Whoops! Wrong noose. That was November 30, 2001.

    It was this noose, tied in December 2009.

    The U.S. army is to send an elite combat brigade from the 101st Airborne to assist Canadian Forces to create a security noose around Kandahar City, a further indication that NATO war planners believe that the war against the Taliban may be won or lost in coming year in the southern province.

    Plus ça change and all that...

  19. Thanks a ton, Fil.



  20. anything we try to do to protect ourself is considered the first priority and everybody know that. But i do think that all the above need to be under the circumstance of not killing the innocent people otherwise we will become one of them.

  21. any kind of miss take can happen all the time and believe me i do under stand that but please think hard before you shot someone.

  22. cigar9:30 PM

    It has been sooo long since I laughed sooo hard. Almost every paragraph pointed out something unimaginably ridiculous. It is soo ridiculously funny, that the cliché about it being funny if it weren't so sad juts doesn't apply. The whole thing reads like a satire, but it is so sad so many people have to die to validate another lousy cliché, that truth is stranger than ficition...

  23. wao what a fine and informative post. thanks for sharing with us...

  24. I am so proud that our 500 men (or so) under NATO command i Afghanistan are so totally different from the American troops there. We have sent our saints you see (as I understand it from our media) to Afghanistan and they are there protecting the opium deal.. pardon whomen and girls. They don't kill any innocent people (more than occationally and by mistake).
    But of course, we have a draft resister as a Minister of Defence.