Friday, September 22, 2006


Projects and Propaganda

At the risk of giving too much attention to the people behind this film, supporters of our Military need to beware of a just-released propaganda piece, Iraq For Sale: The War Profiteers. Produced by Brave New Films, the film is directed by Robert Greenwald, who in a similar vein produced a propaganda hit piece against Walmart, Wal-Mart: The High Cost of Low Price, Outfoxed and Uncovered.

This film was brought to my attention by what I assume is one of the film’s publicists. A cursory review of the film’s website aroused immediate suspicion, further confirmed by postings on the site’s blog. These posts referenced all manner of coordinated events with Democratic Congress people, and are heavily laden with partisan invective about how the Republicans need to be “exposed,” and other evidence of proactive attempts to tie the film to Democratic Party talking points. (Culture of corruption, all about oil, Halliburton, real support for the troops, etc.)

Having deployed to Iraq, I am amazed and perhaps somewhat concerned over the breadth and depth of outsourcing in the Military. But I know that many factors played into this three decade old process, not how chummy President Bush or Vice President Cheney are with major military services contracting companies.

These corporations and companies that provide services for the US Military, or for that matter, implement projects for the Iraqi Government, are among the largest and most professional service organizations in the world. They employ many ex-military, they have been engaged to perform services the US Government has decided over time to outsource, and they are not war profiteers in any sense intended by the participants or political and financial backers of this propaganda.

Callimachus at Winds of Change recently reported some moving, first hand testimony

from his friend Kat, a Contractor who providing project auditing and oversight of development and reconstruction projects in Iraq. Kat expressed extreme frustration with media non-reporting of reconstruction efforts, and the failure of mainstream media (MSM) perceiving any newsworthiness of the tremendous amount of effort and good work being done, against high risks and extreme circumstances.

Kat points out that the great untold story in Iraq about contracting is at heart a business news story. As such, what few “war correspondents” in Iraq are ill-equipped and largely ignorant of business processes with which Business Desk writers would find easy to understand and write about knowledgably.

Here’s a background of what Kat did for nearly two years in Iraq:

"To the press," Kat wrote, "we might as well have been selling lemonade on little stands in front of our parents' houses." So here's her description, in answer to my questions, of her company's duties:

Without going into too much detail, those basically consist of providing added oversight and a separate control structure between governments and contractors. We act as a semi-autonomous break between the contractors and the governments who hire them. We often are contracted to provide oversight for critical phases of projects. If you aren't involved in a specific range of work, you'd not even know of us.

Unlike regular auditing firms, we have people on the ground full time with detailed knowledge of the contracts, including the structural and material requirements, the scheduling, and the payment process. We can review these against ongoing job conditions as well as the resulting expenses being reported, and we can provide recommendations where problems arise.

We are hired to help accomplish three specific tasks. First, assure the quality of the projects being performed. Second, to reduce the possibility of waste or corruption through a critical review process of the actual product compared to contract requirements and submitted invoices. Third, reduce the need for additional legal expenditures to contractors and completion expenditures for the government.

In other words, we exist for the sole purpose of assuring product quality and fair costs for governments, while at the same time providing additional surety to the businesses who contract with them. The fact that our company, and at least three others like it, was so heavily involved in Iraq reflects the commitment of the parties who hired us to do these jobs properly at the most reasonable costs.


Our company had 28 contracts providing engineering and managerial review and oversight for more than 100 section projects. Within these were more than 200 individual contracts and subcontracts directly reported to three US agencies, the hundreds of contractors and subcontractors themselves, and four semi-autonomous agencies of the Iraqi government.

In civilian life, I am a certified Project Management Professional (PMP), and for many years performed project audits for my employer of many of our information technology (IT) projects. I understand completely the work Kat describes. It is demanding, detailed, and can as complicated as the complex projects upon which audits are performed. But I can’t imagine undertaking that already difficult work within a combat zone, with the added stress and strain of physical danger and potential political instability.

Projects in the Third World magnify all the normal factors for Risk, Quality, Change, Acceptance, and Subcontractor Management processes. As I related in a Presentation I gave earlier this week, Opposition Stakeholders have guns.

All of this by way of background to my suggestion that Iraq For Sale should be viewed as the simplistic propaganda it is, on par with other classic moments in partisan political film-making like Fahrenheit 9/11.

As with many of us who have informed and first hand experience in Iraq, Kat is most frustrated and angry with the utter failure of the MSM in reporting some of the most important stories in Iraq. And at the same time, fixating on the Halliburton bogey-man, itself a media prevarication, made-to-order to suit Democratic Party talking points:

Halliburton and all its political ramifications aside, maybe the lack of other press coverage is because the details of these jobs were a little too confusing and boring to assure great headlines. (I get paid to work through all that confusing and boring stuff; I admit, it can be pretty bland.) Fair enough.

But you at least might expect that when major project sections or complete projects were finished, the press might come out, give it a fair look, and send something back on what they saw. After all, those things at least produce pretty pictures and opportunities to mix and mingle with a few big shots and some of the little people. It’s a nice chance to get right down to the things that really are making day-to-day Iraq better.

Part of the irrigation systems we worked with was literally responsible for providing the restoration of thousands of square kilometers of marshlands in southern Iraq, which in turn has restored an ancient way of life to thousands of people. When that’s considered, you’d think it might be worth making a bit of a fuss about.

But that's not what happened. Instead, out of the more than 200 project completions and section completions we and government sources reported to the press, only two that I know of ever reached outside the country in the MSM, and those two were buried in a report about an increase in oil production. That's it. That’s the whole show. That's all of the reporting anyone ever got from four major irrigation systems, twelve major water supply systems, and twelve major oil and natural gas systems.

So just from my own company’s position, I can see more than 200 lost opportunities to cover some good news.

It goes way beyond trying to find good news to offset bad news. It is about finding the news that provides the full picture of what Iraq is all about.

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