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October 3, 2011 / jeni

War, Inc.

In focusing on crime and conflict, it’s easy to pay too much attention to swaggering warlords and dashing transnational merchants of death. After all, they often have amusing nicknames and an endless string of bravado-laced stories of risk and profit, not to mention the associated excitement of the feds chasing them around.

So let’s pause and remember that some of the biggest profiteers in the last ten years of conflict have been dodgy corporate entities. This isn’t an exercise in moral relativism, but just to point out that our counter-crime efforts in conflict zones are an exercise in changing norms and attitudes toward crime and corruption, and these efforts are doomed to fail when we are perceived as criminal and corrupt ourselves.

Hence this helpful annotation of the Commission on Wartime Contracting’s report to Congress, by Mother Jones, in the form of an ‘All-Time 10 Worst Contracting Boondoggles’ list. I’ve written about #10 here: the funding of warlords and insurgents by trucking contractors. But there’s lots of other good stuff to read about: roads and bases falling apart after costing hundreds of millions, financial systems collapsing under the watchful eye of hired accountants, shady employees diverting funds into their own private villas — and that’s before you even get to allegations of human trafficking and slave labour.

In all, the report estimates that the US government has lost between $31 and 60 billion to contractor fraud and waste in the last ten years. That’s at least $3 billion per year — roughly the same, according to some estimates, as total profits on opium in Afghanistan per year. Unlike the opium trade, however, we can actually do something about contractor criminality.

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