Doing Business In Iraq: Part 2 Custer Battles

Thursday, July 07, 2005

How do you handle security at the world's most dangerous airport? If you're the U.S. government the answer is simple: hire a security firm with 2 years experience that has never guarded a site in the history of the company. This upstart company was founded by Scott Custer, a former Army Ranger, and Mike Battles, an ex-CIA agent. The company, Custer Battles, had less than $200,000 in revenue before the war and saw their revenue jump to over $32 million within six months of winning the Baghdad Airport contract. The airport contract alone was worth $16.8 million, and the new company beat out two more experienced firms. Shortly after securing the airport contract, Custer Battles won a second contract worth $9.8 million to build housing for workers. This contract grew to $21.4 million and problems started surfacing. Custer Battles was missing deadlines, and not paying subcontractors. Despite a Pentagon investigation into fraudulent invoicing (reports of $2.1 million in charges for $913,000 worth of work) the Coalition Authority approved an additional $5.6 million in contract changes. The Air Force in September of 2004 forbid any U.S. agency from issuing contracts to Custer Battles. There is also a False Claims Act lawsuit filed on behalf of the U.S. government against Custer Battles. In addidtion the Justice Department has an ongoing criminal investigation of the company in place. Pentagon auditors tried to look at the company's books in February of 2004 but were unsucessful due to the fact that the contract signed had no audit clause in it. What did this company do in the 15 months before they were banned from government contracts? It seems most of the company is made up of former military personel and some of them have gone public with accounts of the type of work being done by Custer Battles. Retired Capt. Bill Craun quit his work for Custer Battles after being disgusted by the practices of their employees and management. What does this Bronze Star recipient have to say about Custer Battles : "These aren't insurgents that we're brutalizing, it was local civilians on their way to work. It's wrong. What we saw, I know the American population wouldn't stand for." How does current employee Shawn Green handle traffic jams in Iraq: "Usually, you know, we give them a tap at about 20 miles an hour or so." (Keep in mind these are American contractors driving the streets of Iraq) I believe there is a name for the type of people who work for this company: mercenaries. Once again I have to ask the question: why would the U.S. government give such large and important contracts to such a new company? Why did they continue to receive contracts after reports of inflated invoices and brutality? Maybe a better question would be why does the U.S. government have its head in the sand when it comes to controlling and tracking government contracts in Iraq? Could anyone be this careless? Do you not know how much money you have in your wallet/account and how and where you spent that money? Why does the government not keep track of money in this way, or maybe just maybe they don't care. Stay with me here, maybe they even know about these practices of overcharging and they like it. War is good business and there are some companies out there making a killing off of the U.S. taxpayer and the blood of the Iraqi people.

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