Five years into the Iraq War, the most heavily outsourced war in history, the Pentagon has issued a memorandum clearly giving authority of military commanders over the civilian contractors in their areas of operation. Until now, lines of authority have been unclear and local commanders often been frustrated with contractors with seemingly no accountability. A year and a half ago the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ) was amended to extend jurisdiction to contractors serving alongside DoD personnel in a war or contingency operation, but the DoD did not issue guidelines on the amended code. In fact, no one seemed to notice the changes for several months until after the question was called by a 2006 Christmas shooting by a Blackwater armorer in the Baghdad Green Zone.
The memorandum outlines how commanders should respond to civilian contractors who break federal laws, including granting them court-martial authority, albeit in cases in which the Department of Justice determines that it will not initiate criminal proceedings. This authority is not extended to include Department of State contractors, although the DoS was notified of the changes.
A policy buried in the memo does raise some potentially interesting questions for CIA contractors:
Commanders possess significant authority to act whenever criminal activity may relate to or affect the commander's responsibilities, including situation in which the alleged offenders' precise identity or actual affiliation is to that point undetermined.
The CIA and its contractors do not operate under Department of Defense authority, but rather under the authority of the Chief of Mission (i.e. Ambassador), even though both military and intelligence may be operating parallel in a particular region. Things can get particularly sticky in cases were the CIA uses some time of military cover (i.e. individual, such as guys posing as DoD civilian contractors, or organizational cover in which military cover is used to hide an Agency base, etc.) Now the memo allows commissioned, warrant, petty and noncommissioned officers to detain DoD contractors believed to be committing crimes. It's easy to see how in the flurry of trying to quell a potential problem, local MPs could detain civilians who ostensibly fall under this memo and its references. The real issue would be what to do with them...
If the military lets these guys go because it is discovered that they actually fall under the Chief of Mission and thus are a Department of Justice problem, their cover is blown. However, if the cover façade is maintained, the military might actually end up having to let the accused perps go because they don’t have jurisdiction.
In actual practice, these situations are generally resolved by hustling the alleged perps out of country as quickly as possible back to CONUS, which was the Department of State/Blackwater solution to the 2006 Christmas shooting before anyone had discovered the changes to the UCMJ.
This assumes, however, that the perps are willing to cooperate. What if they are not, a la Frank Terpil? Then we'll find out whether Chavez can really measure up to Fidel's hospitality.
Note to regular readers. My apologies for the long delay between posts. It's been a slow news period, one that coincided with me being hit by a particularly nasty flu bug. Needless to say, backlogged while I was sick, so it took a little longer to get around to regular posts. I expect to be more active in the next few weeks.
As contractor news has been rather slow, tips are particularly welcome right now and can be emailed to rjh AT thespywhobilledme.com.