Category Archives: Contractors

NGA has plan for total “Map of the World”

John Goolgasian, NGA

According to the NGA, one of the most popular sessions at the recent GEOINT 2013* (held over from 2013) conference was one which offered a total “Map of the World:”

But what is it?

Map of the World is the foundation for intelligence integration, said NGA Director Letitia A. Long in her keynote address at the four-day event.

The clue lies in this statement:

Twelve different data views will make up Map of the World and nine of them are online now, including maritime and aeronautical.

This, along with Goolgasian’s involvement, indicates that it is probably related to, or draws from, the work of the World-Wide Human Geography Database Working Group (WWHGD). I’ve written about Goolgasian on this blog before.

The WWHGD is a government-private contractor (Booz Allen Hamilton are the provided contact points and presumably run it) group that is seeking to:

The WWHGD Working Group is designed to build voluntary partnerships around human geography data and mapping focused on the general principle of making appropriate information available at the appropriate scales to promote human security. This involves a voluntary “whole-of-governments” national and international approach to create a human geography data framework that can leverage ongoing efforts around the world to identify, capture, build, share, and disseminate the best available structured and unstructured foundation data.

Here are the data they’re looking at in these layers:

The inclusion of things like land ownership maps directly on to the arguments of Geoffrey Demerest, who was a key player in the Bowman Expeditions. You can judge for yourselves about the set of information here. Personally I think it’s way too rigid and a-historical (what about a history of foreign intervention in an area, or standards of living and well-being?).

But even beyond that it reflects a belief in the efficacy of totalizing indexes. We heard something about this at the AAG, and Brad Evans and Julian Reid have a discussion about it in their new book Resilient Life.

The article continues:

“Through a single point on the Earth, the Map of the World will present an integrated view of collection assets from across the community, mapping information for military operations, GEOINT observations, and NGA analytic products, data and models,” said Goolgasian.

Worth keeping an eye on.

Contractor receives $400K federal funds for automatic license plate reading

According to reporting by Bloomsberg News the IRS, the Forest Service and the U.S. Air Force’s Air Combat Command have awarded a contractor over $400,000 in contracts for its automated licence plate recognition (ALPR) system since 2009.

It’s not clear if the contracts to Vigilant Solutions are ongoing, given the context that Homeland Security dropped similar plans in February of this year following widespread opposition form civil liberties groups.

“Especially with the IRS, I don’t know why these agencies are getting access to this kind of information,” said Jennifer Lynch, a senior staff attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a San Francisco-based privacy-rights group. “These systems treat every single person in an area as if they’re under investigation for a crime — that is not the way our criminal justice system was set up or the way things work in a democratic society.”

Other countries (including the UK) have long had such systems in place.

If you go to the Vigilant website they have a long complaining blog post about the lies and distortions by civil liberties groups:

License plate readers are under siege nationwide, thanks to a well-funded, well-coordinated campaign launched by civil liberties groups seeking to take advantage of the growing national debate over surveillance. 

Unfortunately, the campaign led by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has deliberately clouded and even omitted those facts.

According to this article, Vigilant actually successfully used the First Amendment to overturn an anti license-plate recognition law in Utah:

Vigilant Solutions and DRN [Digital Recognition Network] sued the state of Utah on constitutional grounds, arguing that the law infringed on the First Amendment right to take photographs of public images in public places, a right that everyone in Utah shares.

The law was overturned, but Vigilant com,plains that state agencies were then barred from using any of the data collected, impacting their profits. They also complain about data retention limits.

What’s also interesting about companies such as this is that they illustrate the argument for understanding policing and military together (see this blog post by Derek Gregory for example).

Andrew Friedman on our “Covert Capital” and “Landscapes of Denial”

Andrew Friedman, who teaches history at Haverford College, has a superb-looking new book Covert Capital: Landscapes of Denial and the Making of U.S. Empire in the Suburbs of Northern Virginia (University of California Press, 2013).

While I wait to get my copy, let me reproduce the description on his home page:

Covert Capital is a cultural and spatial history that chronicles how the CIA and other “national security” institutions that defined U.S. foreign policy in the era of global decolonization created domestic space around their own headquarters and abroad. The project argues for an alternate genealogy for U.S. migration by tracing the social, work and family relationships, formed during violent U.S. endeavors, which carried American agents abroad and migrants from Vietnam, El Salvador, Iran, the Soviet Union, Cuba and elsewhere home to the D.C. suburbs. As U.S. empire expressed itself abroad by developing roads, embassies and villages, its subjects arrived in the covert capital as real estate agents, home owners, mall builders and landscapers, constructing places, living monuments and a complex political space that nurtured, reflected and critiqued U.S. foreign policy and global operations after World War II. Ushering the study of U.S. empire into everyday life, the book explores how an imperial U.S. citizenship was lived and disavowed in everyday space, and re-narrates the history of postwar suburbanization as the spatial device that helped produce an imperial citizenry and subjectivity.

You can also read the Introduction on Amazon preview. A sample:

By studying the landscape’s close interweaving of national security institutions, houses for covert agents, and sprawling suburbs, I reveal how the geography of empire established abroad by the United States reproduced itself at home in architecture and spatial relations, and how that home front, in turn, incubated empire.

As a former resident of this landscape, I have to say how much this resonates with me. While “covert capital” may be hyperbole (the “real” DC is literally next door), it’s superb hyperbole to point out that this “war-torn” landscape (the Crystal and Pentagon Cities, Falls Church, Arlington National Cemetery, Tyson’s Corner, Maclean et al.) as we might call it, is a landscape of “denial.” I’d add in all the defense and intelligence contracting that Tim Shorrock has brilliantly exposed (see his photo essay here on the very places Friedman is talking about), and the think-tanks and academic support structures (eg., NSF).


Annals paper on Geographical Intelligence

I’m very excited to say that our (myself, Sue Roberts and Ate Poorthuis) paper for the Annals of the Association of American Geographers is now at the proofs stage. The first page is below. I believe it will be out in an early 2014 issue.

Pages from Proofs

PDF of first page

Jeremy Crampton – The Costs of Security

“The Costs of Security.” My new piece at the Society & Space open access site. Thanks to Stuart Elden and the editors at EPD for their interest in this, as well as the longer version coming out in the print journal.

The case for and against drones

Earlier this year, an American philosopher at the Naval Postgraduate School, Bradley Strawser, made what he called “the moral case for drones.” Perhaps realizing that this was a somewhat unusual argument, he received coverage in both the Guardian (also here) and the New York Times. His basic argument was simple, and certainly seriously proposed:

after a concentrated study of remotely piloted vehicles, he said, he concluded that using them [drones] to go after terrorists not only was ethically permissible but also might be ethically obligatory, because of their advantages in identifying targets and striking with precision.

Whatever you think of this argument on its own grounds, or whether the data are sufficient to assess it, it is not possible to either ignore it or dismiss it. Why not? Simply because it is the prevailing position of the Bush/Obama administrations and policy-makers.

The post-election lull in US drone strikes now appears to be over. Thus, geographers and others will need to once again address this argument. Engaging on the moral calculus of death (for example the claim that drone strikes are more precise than bombing) will strike many as iniquitous. But if it’s not done, then this argument hangs out there. (Good work on this thankless job has been done by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.)

Drones are not yet a major part of warfare in terms of numbers or in munitions deployed (around 9% of the latter are from UAVs). No one thinks that number will go down. So here are the top three counter-arguments against armed drones, leaving out objections on personal moral grounds for the moment:

1. They contribute to an increasing militarization of everyday life, not just “over there” but domestically too. Police departments, companies–even universities–are applying for waivers to use drones, and we may soon see America’s skies  occupied by state and/or private drones, either for surveillance or weaponized. Additionally, everyday life becomes weaponized, not just our activities and practices, but the knowledge we produce as well. Here I’m thinking of the enrollment of scientific and scholarly knowledge (“cloak and gown,” military-academic-industrial complex), area studies, overseas expeditions, etc.

2. Drones make military activity more likely. As Derek Gregory points out, in an important post, they are cheaper and less likely to involve domestic troop injuries or deaths (because operated remotely). (By “domestic” I don’t just mean the USA; there is no reason to suspect that China et al. won’t develop weaponized drones capable of flying overseas.) This argument, like the first, requires a supplement to detail exactly why or when “military activity” may be counter-productive. Ie., many people are of the opinion that it is justifiable if it produces certain ends, security for example.

A related point made by Gregory is that they carry out this military activity by stealth and are therefore less accountable. Part of the reason for this stealth is that drone activity is taking place far from the battlefield or even in countries with which the US is not at war.

However, this is an argument that could be rebutted. Perhaps these factors are really part of the same point–what if drone strikes were only in places with which the US was at war and the order for their use went up through a proper chain of command? What if the Obama administration published an official list of drone strikes every time (or, for more political distance, tacitly endorsed an approved agency or contractor to do so)?

3. Thirdly then, I would like to explore the argument that drones–as part of a larger strategy of countertorrism, foreign intervention, special ops, and signature strikes–are not “sustainable.” Here I mean sustainable in the sustainability science meaning of not being possible to continue because they will decrease human well-being. There are two issues worth pointing out here. First, we are talking about not just a single technology and activity (drones), but an assemblage. Here I’m talking as much about an integrated military strategy of which drones are a part (occupying the skies from low-altitude to satellite constellations), and especially understanding satellite/drone imagery and surveillance not so much as a product, but as data files and calculative “code space.”

Second, does sustainability science give us worthwhile data measurement proxies and leverage that allow us to get beyond on the one hand objections to war on personal/ethical/moral [religious] grounds, and on the other acceptance of it because it leads to security? Neither of these arguments appear to me to be particularly fruitful, because you can’t do anything with them. Would sustainability/resilience/well-being provide such an avenue? Perhaps no more than climate science and the IPCC has, but surely no less than either. In a time when the US spends $1T a year on security, surely we can ask, is that even sustainable?

Booz Allen wins huge NGA contract

Given that the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency (NGA) awards about a billion dollars a year in contracts (the exact figure is classified) this contract by Booz Allen Hamilton (BAH) represents a huge win:

Booz Allen Hamilton (NYSE: BAH) has won $295 million in prime awards from the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency since May under a potential $873 million contract for enterprise support and technical services.

As usual, details are lacking on what taxpayer’s money is being spent on, except some vagueness about ” helping NGA get geospatial intelligence data to users.”

No wonder BAH executives at the annual GEOINT are often the MC’s at its most important presentations! (Clapper’s references to “Joan” is to Joan A. Hamilton, a Senior Vice President at BAH, see here.)

How much does the US spend on “security”?

How much does the US spend on security each year? Taking everything into account, and including the Pentagon military base budget and overseas contingency operations (foreign wars), intelligence, Department of State, past wars that have to be paid off, etc, the total comes out to $1.2 trillion, according to Chris Hellman, of the National Priorities Project.

That’s a good base number to keep in mind during talk of sequestration (obligatory spending cuts if no budgets are agreed to).

How does this affect spending on military/intelligence contractors? The pattern is clear: since 2006 contractors have shrunk the number of people they employ (jobs they provide) while at the same time increasing the amount of federal contracting dollars they take in.

As David Swanson puts it, “the logic of bigger contracts = more jobs is essentially a bucket of hope and change.”

What remains to be seen is if smaller contracts = fewer jobs. But here’s two indications it won’t necessarily be so simple.

GeoEye stock takes a tumble

Interesting to see how badly GeoEye has been doing following the recent mutual hostile offers between them and Digital Globe. Both companies are down for the year, but it looks like the market prefers the Digital Globe financials to GeoEye right now, with DGI trending up and GEOY trending down.

See chart here.

America’s drift to war and the end of the Abrams Doctrine

(NB. This is a long post, but it contains a first sketch of some material I am working on for a paper on the new political economy of geographical intelligence.)

Rachel Maddow’s new book Drift makes a subtle and highly important argument, that, if true, goes a long way to explaining America’s current foreign policy.

The overall thrust of the book is that the US now finds it easier and more likely to prosecute war. This involves not just military action abroad, but also a huge security state at home, massive budget commitments, and the construction of thousands of secret facilities across the country. It also means the employment of private corporations in as much as half the war effort; contractors operating drones to perform strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, collecting intelligence (human and satellite) and selling it to the government.

Maddow takes this situation and sets out to explain it. This is where her argument draws together a number of points in an original way. Although writers such as Tim Shorrock and others have noted the explosion of spending since 9/11, Maddow takes a more structural approach by noting the following three developments. And she starts prior to 9/11.

1. After Vietnam became deeply unpopular in America, military leaders moved to ensure that any future wars would necessarily involve not just the military as an arm of the country, but the country in fact. The way they did this was by requiring wars to include the Reserves and National Guard as active-duty military, in what was called the Total Force Policy, but often known informally as the Abrams Doctrine.

Ironically, according to Maddow, Creighton Abrams (a former commander in Vietnam and after whom this policy is known) did not have as his goal the reduction in willingness to fight nor any policy effects. His concern was to increase the readiness of the American military and transform the Guard and the Reserves into a more professional force. And in many ways this was a return to the vision of the original founding fathers. The Second Amendment of course talks of the need for a “well regulated militia”–this was because the US government didn’t see itself as maintaining a large standing army.

2. The first Gulf War was the last time the Abrams Doctrine ever really worked to “anchor” the move to war, as Maddow puts it. In January 1991 Congress took a vote on whether to offer its support to President Bush, who had secured a United Nations deadline of January 15 for Saddam Hussein to leave Kuwait or face military opposition. According to the Constitution, Congress has the sole power to declare war, not the Executive. But it had not done so since WWII. This vote was not a declaration of war, but it did involve genuine debate and at least in the Senate was close (52-47).

For the US Congress however, this was distant from a war declaration, and the Executive had been advancing the argument that that office could (as Commander-in-Chief of the military) deploy troops and fight wars with or without Congress as far back as the Reagan administration. Although the Gulf War involved hundreds of thousand of war-fighters it was perhaps the last time there was a real debate in the country about going to war.

3. Although contracting and outsourcing is often thought of as something that blossomed after 9/11 when immediate needs could not be met by existing military resources (soldiers but also materiel and intelligence), Maddow points to something rather different and intriguing that I don’t recall seeing put this way before. By the mid-1990s the huge number of deployed troops (including the Guard and Reservists) had the knock-on effect of creating a budget crisis (and a morale issue). That is, family separation. With so many troops deployed and active, for example in the first Gulf War, it was necessary to pay benefits, employer reimbursements and even day care to the reservists. (Maddow states that over 250,000 were called up in the Gulf War.) “It was the toddlers who did it” (pushed toward outsourcing and contractors) as she puts it. Some 80 percent of preschoolers with a parent in the military needed day-care.

Up to this time outsourcing was still regarded with distaste. But it was also assumed that the private sector could do things more cheaply. What about personnel who didn’t have the need for day-care (or other benefits) from the government? Or, what about contracting out day-care itself? Or both? Maddow points to a number of reports (such as the 1996 Defense Science Board Task Force on Outsourcing and Privatization), stocked as they were with former corporate executives who saw huge cost-savings in going private. (Here we see the first mention of now-familiar contractors such as Boeing, GE, Perot Systems and Military Personnel Resources, Inc. or MPRI.) The 1996 Task Force for example cited figures of $7 to $12 billion annually in cost savings to the military (which could then spend this money on weapons procurement). “The private sector…is more likely than government organizations to provide cost-effective support to the Nation’s military forces” concluded the report. It’s hard to imagine a similar sentence being written today without being instantly dismissed as self-serving.

Maddow notes that at the end of the first Bush administration, Dick Cheney and his DOD colleagues operationalized the Logistics Civilian Augmentation Program (LOGCAP). The first private contractor was in 1992 (to [Kellogg] Brown & Root Services, a subsidiary of Halliburton, Dick Cheney’s company). The $4 million KBR “cost-plus” contract was  to provide logistics support for deployed US forces (see Shorrock, p. 99). In 1995 KBR earned a contract worth $546 million to provide “logistical” support in Bosnia (Singer, p. 143).

The next LOGCAP contract went to DynCorp, a private military contractor headquartered in Falls Church, northern Virginia. (DynCorp employees have reportedly been involved in child sex trafficking in the Balkans, and a former employee Kathryn Bolkovac won a UK tribunal case for unfair dismissal after being a whistleblower [the movie The Whistleblower starring Rachel Wiesz was based on these events]. DynCorp was also mentioned in a 2009 WikiLeaks cable for allegedly hiring “dancing boys” to perform for them in Afghanistan, see Guardian coverage here.)

Maddow makes the case that this outsourcing began for real during the Balkan war. At the same time, it also gave birth to cost overruns. The Balkan origin has been made previously, notably in Shorrock’s Spies for Hire, and Singer’s Corporate Warriors (she misses a beat here by not drawing on Shorrock). Shorrock notes for example that MPRI was “hired to train the Croatian army and later signed a contract to train the Bosnian armed forces” in 1995 (p. 101-2). This is very likely. As I wrote in an article in 1996 about the Dayton Peace Accords, already major contractors were being involved in negotiating the peace. 24 hour mapping support was provided by the Army Corps of Engineers’ Topographic Engineering Center (TEC, now the Army Geospatial Center, AGC) with 3D visualizations from Cambridge Research Associates and the Camber Corporation (Crampton, 1996). Such was the computing power available that the computer room was dubbed “The Nintendo Room” containing two $400,000 computers running CRA’s “Powerscene” program. Camber used Esri ARC/INFO to digitize the lines and borders as they were proposed. Although headquartered in Huntsville, AL (home to Intergraph) it had a division in N. Virginia on base at Fort Belvoir, then the HQ of Army TEC.

It would be worth making a graph of DOD contracting from the “few hundred million” dollars worth in 1992 (cited by Maddow) to today. It’s hard to calculate this because of the many types of grants, contracts, loans, benefits and so on, but (a government data website) gives the figure of $4.996 trillion spend on contracts, 2000-2012, and another $5.9 trillion in grants. Of this, the DOD accounts for $3.423 trillion in contracts over the same time period (not all contracts go to private contractors of course; many may go to state or local government, police, etc.

Nevertheless, the DOD’s top five biggest contractors 2000-2012 are:

1. Lockheed Martin Corporation $286,928,039,158
2. The Boeing Company $209,549,224,764
3. General Dynamics Corporation $146,308,202,903
4. Northrop Grumman Corporation $122,747,072,546
5. Raytheon Company $120,484,497,965

Also, KBR was awarded $43 billion, the University of Kentucky $16.7 million, and Esri $420 million by the DOD (Esri also receives nearly as much from other government agencies, as I’ve documented previously).

(See here for all DOD contractors. The full spreadsheet of the number of DOD contractors goes to 50,001 exactly.)

The bulk of this was aircraft and fuel, but you can also see health care and $81 billion on “logistics” in the top five services purchased:

1. Aircraft, Fixed Wing $194,592,888,801
2. Liquid Propellants -Petroleum Base $101,272,449,085
3. Engineering and Technical Services $92,295,401,642
4. General Health Care Services $87,508,556,276
5. Logistics Support Services $81,505,205,740

Maddow’s book concludes by linking these sorts of developments with the new military doctrine of counterinsurgency (COIN). This is an important, even critical step to note. Why? Because the basis of COIN is that you have to know your enemy, and you have to know how your enemy differs from your friend. Particularly in the context of nation-building (rather than just warfighting) what was needed was knowledge (intelligence and information), especially geographical knowledge.

In the longer paper, we will go on to document what that knowledge consists of, where it came from, and how it’s being used.

Crampton, J.W. 1996. Bordering on Bosnia. GeoJournal, 39(4), 353-361.