Contractors write the rules

Army policy governing use of contractors omits intelligence restrictions

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A private military company that has won contracts to assist the U.S. military in Iraq wrote the Pentagon rules for contractors on the battlefield.

Since 1997, Military Professional Resources Inc., which has two contracts (see the first for integration of Iraqi forces, and the second for linguists) worth a total of $2.6 million related to reconstruction in Iraq, has also produced Field Manual 100-21, also known as Contractors on the Battlefield. The manual "established a doctrinal basis directed toward acquiring and managing contractors as an additional resource in support of the full range of military operations," according to the company's Web site.

Michael B. Williams, the MPRI employee who is the primary author of the most recent edition of the manual, said the company started "with some basic guidelines" from the Army. "For the most part, however, this was a clean slate," he told the Center for Public Integrity.

The Army reviewed MPRI's draft, submitted revisions to the company and published the manual on January 3, 2003.

While the new manual contains detailed instructions on how deployed commanders should use contractors – from force protection measures to what kind of shoes contract employees should bring – it makes no mention of intelligence gathering or restrictions on contractor roles.

In a December 2000 memo, previously posted by the Center, Assistant Secretary of the Army Patrick Henry sharply restricted the use of private companies in intelligence work, stating that the tactical intelligence gathering could not be contracted because it was "integral to the application of combat power." At the strategic level, he wrote, contracting out intelligence work posed unacceptable risks to national security.

His memo concludes: "Field Manual 100-21, Contractors on the Battlefield (March 2000) should be modified and clarified to reflect these determinations."

Despite the directive from Henry, the prohibition on contractors performing intelligence work never made it into the Army's official contracting doctrine. In recent months, reports on the use of contractors in Iraq have disclosed that private-sector employees have been performing sensitive intelligence work in and around combat zones. A report by Major General Antonio Taguba on the alleged abuse of prisoners at the Abu Ghraib Prison noted the involvement of civilian contractors at the Baghdad facility.

In his December 2000 memo, Henry raised serious concerns about the Army's ability to control contractors as a reason for barring them from intelligence gathering. "The contract administration oversight exerted over contractors is very different from the command and control exerted over military and civilian employees," Henry wrote. "Therefore, reliance on private contractors poses risks to maintaining adequate civilian oversight over intelligence operations."

The field manual written by MPRI acknowledges that Pentagon oversight of contractors is uniformly ambiguous. It notes, "Currently, there is no specifically identified force structure nor detailed policy on how to establish contractor management oversight within an AOR [area of responsibility]."

The manual continues, "Consolidated contractor management is the goal, but reality is that it has been, and continues to be, accomplished through a rather convoluted system."

Dan Guttman, a government contracting expert who serves as a consultant to the Center for Public Integrity, states that the use of a contractor to prepare the Army field manual on contracting "should not be a surprise; official documents are routinely prepared by contractors and presented to the world as official work products. The public is entitled to disclosure of the contractor role and relevant further interests served by the contractor."

Omission has no author

When asked about the lack of specific restrictions on contractor roles in intelligence work in Contractors on the Battlefield, Williams said that an earlier manual that gave guidelines to commanders hiring contractors, Contracting Support on the Battlefield, was the more appropriate location for that information. But that manual was published by MPRI in 1999, before Henry's memo, and has not been updated since.

"For the manual we're discussing [Contractors on the Battlefield], there was no intent of even addressing those issues," Williams told the Center.

When contacted, officials of the Army Training and Doctrine Command [TRADOC], which hired MPRI to write the manuals, could give little explanation of why MPRI was not instructed to include the restrictions on contracting intelligence, as required by Assistant Secretary Henry's 2000 memo.

"Memos aren't to my knowledge Army policy," said TRADOC spokesman Major Kevin Inglin. Yet Henry's memo reads, "Accordingly, [this document], as a matter of Army policy, bars the contracting of the intelligence function," outside of the "limited circumstances" where a contractor is the sole available source of information, analysis, or technology. And Army spokeswoman Lt. Col. Pamela Hart told the Associated Press on June 12, 2004, that the ban on contractors engaging in intelligence work is current Army policy.

Public affairs officers at the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, the office of the Secretary of the Army, and the Combined Armed Services Command were unable to explain why the information was not included in the field manual. One TRADOC officer was instructed by his public affairs officer to stop answering questions on the matter.

Six days after being contacted by the Center for comment, Inglin could neither confirm nor deny that TRADOC had been instructed to revise the doctrine according to Henry's instructions, nor could he confirm or deny that TRADOC passed those instructions to MPRI.

Williams acknowledges knowing "there was some memo or some comment that in a future revision, field manuals should be updated to reflect" limitations on the functions that should be contracted. But he maintains that MPRI received no specific or definite instructions to do that.

"It's sort of a moving train in regards to the decisions on what can or cannot be performed by a contractor," said Williams.

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