What Smith had blundered into is one of the most disturbing developments of the post-9/11 world: the growth of a national security industrial complex that melds together government and big business and is fuelled by an unstoppable flow of money. It takes many forms. In the military, it has seen the explosive growth of the contracting industry with firms such as Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, or DynCorp increasingly doing the jobs of professional soldiers. In the world of intelligence, private contractors are hired to do the jobs of America’s spies. A shadowy world of domestic security has grown up, milking billions from the government and establishing a presence in every state. From border fences that don’t work to dubious airport scanners, spending has been lavished on security projects as lobbyists cash in on behalf of corporate clients.
Contractors form huge parts of the lines of supply for American troops. But they also fly planes, provide security and take on big infrastructure projects. Next year, as US combat troops draw down from Iraq, an estimated 5,000 private contractors will provide security on behalf of the US state department. That’s a deployment roughly the size of an army brigade.
Worldwide, the ratio of contractors to US soldiers in uniform is about one-to-one. During Vietnam it was one-to-eight. It has speeded up since 9/11. “In the last 10 years, spending at the Pentagon has shifted enormously to contractors,” said Pratap Chatterjee, a fellow at the Centre for American Progress and industry expert.
Oversight of contracting is weak or opaque – and is often contracted out, too. One recent investigation found $4.5bn of contracts awarded to firms with a history of problems or which had violated laws. A federal audit found an oil firm had overcharged the Pentagon by $204m for fuel in Iraq.
Reading this, I can’t help but think the acceleration of the war/business complex is responsible for much, if not most of the ills of the last ten years in the States. Without such a gigantic money sink going from the government directly to corporations, without such callous disregard for human life to the end of increasing the profits of a certain business model, we might not be seeing the decline and fall of the American empire. The terrorists won. They were playing a long con, and they won. I’m sorry.