OUTSOURCED, published today by Forge Books, raises the question, has the CIA outsourced the secret CIA prisons, the black sites?
Let's look at the possibility a little closer. We already know that in the CIA's National Clandestine Service--the division responsible for the black sites--the majority of employees and functions are outsourced. We also know from open sources that this outsourcing includes the most sensitive program in the CIA: the non-official cover (NOC) program, which is at least partially in the hands of Abraxas Corporation. The NOC program recruits, screens and trains what is popularly known as deep undercover spies. These true name NOCs (as opposed to Plame, a NOCC, NOC of Convenience) have no visible ties to Washington or to the Agency. They infiltrate foreign governments, corporations and, we hope, terrorist organizations. This program is arguably the CIA's greatest success and its greatest weapon against an asymmetrical opponent in the War on Terror where good human intelligence is sometimes the only way to discover the inner-workings of a terrorist organization. And key components of the NOC program have been outsourced. We can safely conclude that if the NOC program can be privatized, no function of the CIA is off-limits to private industrial contractors. The NOC program broke the ultimate outsourcing taboo, paving the way for the outsourcing of the black sites.
Now this is a national security issue potentially so dark, I'm going to use the privilege of being a fiction author and hide in those shadows for part of this discussion, so I'll quote OUTSOURCED. Yes, this is just a literary discussion, firmly protected by freedom of speech and of the press. <wink>:
"The CIA has been hiding and interrogating some of its most important al Qaeda captives at a Soviet-era compound in Eastern Europe, according to the US and foreign officials familiar with the arrangement. The secret facility is part of a covert prison system set up by the CIA nearly four years ago that at various times has included sites in eight countries."
--The Washington Post, November 2, 2005, as reported by Dana Priest
"The current transfers mean that there are now no terrorists in the CIA [black site/secret prison] program...[T]he Supreme Court's recent decision has impaired our ability to prosecute terrorists through military commissions, and has put in question the future of the CIA black site/secret prison] program."
--President George Bush, Address to the nation, September 6, 2006
And editorial snafu kept this third quote out of the final edition:
"Although 14 detainees were publicly moved from CIA custody to the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, scores more have not been publicly identified by the U.S. government, and their whereabouts remain secret."
--The Washington Post, February 28, 2007, as reported by Dafna Linzer and Julie Tate
CAMP RAVEN, THE GREEN ZONE, IRAQ
“There’s more," Iggy said. "I was talking to some old Agency compadres about the black sites—you know, the prisons. Seems the heat’s been on ever since that Post reporter broke the story that the Agency’s running its own gulag system. The Poles and Romanians kicked them out. That Supreme Court ruling extending the Geneva Convention to detainees really mucked things up.”
“Interesting, but what does that have to do with Hunter?”
“Hold on. The Agency’s been scrambling to come up with a new way to keep control over prisoners and interrogations. Word is they’ve privatized.” Iggy raised his voice, trying to be heard over the roar of the generators.
Camille stopped walking and looked at him. “You’re kidding? You mean the Agency is using contractors to run their secret prisons?”
“Privately run prisons are a billion-dollar industry back home. Makes sense to me. They’re a proven concept.”
“Let me guess, another sole-source provider contract so they didn’t have to open it up for competitive bids. Damn. I’d like to have had that one. We never get anything decent from them other than knuckle-dragger gigs from the SAD.” She hated prisons, but knew they could be a good way to diversify her company if they could somehow land a contract. She could always hire someone else to run them.
The sun burned Camille’s face and she moved into the shade with Iggy. “Last I heard the Agency only outsourced torture to shifty governments, not private companies.”
“They use their own guys for the heart-to-hearts. It’s the facility management they’ve outsourced, along with detainee transport. Remember the president’s speech about how the CIA was no longer in the business of black sites? He was telling the truth, more or less. The CIA isn’t doing it anymore—Rubicon is.”
“Any idea what the money’s like?”
“Margins are supposed to be terrific. I’ll make some calls and get the specifics.” Iggy’s Gargoyle sunglasses slid down his nose and he pushed them back into place as he started walking toward the helicopters. “You know, it’s brilliant. The Agency for once is actually looking ahead and positioning itself for the future. Bush isn’t going to be around forever. If the next president’s a bleeding-heart , first day in office, he’ll repeal the presidential finding that allows black sites. Even Clinton let us outsource interrogations to the Third World, so I’m sure that’ll still be an option, but so much of what they give you is self-serving shit. You need control of your own interrogations. That’s the beauty of outsourcing: you can do whatever the fuck you want. You don’t need a presidential finding because you’re not the SOB doing it—the contractor is. Things go south, the contractor went too far. And god only knows if any laws apply to them. Geneva Conventions sure as hell don’t. So much for that Supreme Court ruling. It’s a beautiful workaround.”
As recently as last week, the New York Times reported:
Six human rights groups on Wednesday released a list of 39 people they believe have been secretly imprisoned by the United States and whose whereabouts are unknown, calling on the Bush administration to abandon such detentions.
We already know that a key component of the rendition program, the rendition flights, have at least partially been outsourced. A Boeing subsidiary was sued in late May for its involvement in these flights and the European Parliament has implicated Blackwater in some of the flights, although most of them are probably performed by CIA proprietary companies.
If parts of the back site program have been outsourced for years, namely detainee transport, why not outsource the facilities management of the black sites? Privatization would offer a convenient political workaround to the Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld which extended the Geneva Convention to all detainees--despite Administration assertions that they were immune as "enemy combatants." Outsourced black sites would explain the sudden policy reversal when President Bush acknowledged the black sites in September last year shortly after the Supreme Court decision. He could then distance himself from the black sites if private contractors--not government employees were running them. (Using private companies for purposes of deniability is not exactly a new page in the CIA playbook.)
And if there really are the 39 or so unaccounted for detainees still in secret government facilities, as human rights groups claim, this would also indicate that President Bush was more or less telling the truth when he said , "there are now no terrorists in the CIA program."
Some might be worried about how running black sites could ever pass muster in the current review of Agency personnel to determine which positions are performing "inherently government functions" that by law have to be conducted by government employees. It's very simple. Running a prison--keeping up the facilities, providing the local nationals who act as the jailors and do the physical labor, and supervising this would all come under generic "facilities management" which will easily slide by as a "nonessential government function --work suited for green badgers. Given that most branches of the government contract out facilities management, it will be a much easier case to make than for the known Abraxas contracts in the NOC program.
Whether a prison is outsourced to a private corporation or is run by government employees makes no difference to the War on Terror--as long as we're all abiding by the Constitution that many of us are sworn to uphold. Outsourcing facilities management of the black sites might even be a good idea, but it does call interesting questions about the role of industrial contractors in the War on Terror.
Note to the Agency Spy Who Monitors Me: You might want to give this one directly to your branch chief boss rather than funnel and filter up through corporate's own branch project manager. A discreet drop copy to the corporate head office along with a copy of OUTSOURCED probably wouldn't be a bad idea either. There are some other passages they'll definitely want to take a serious look at.
And keep in mind no soldiers or spies were harmed in the making of this book. Any release of classified national security information is purely the product of vigorous analysis and a vivid imagination.
"Perhaps it is the political thriller we deserve. By traveling the more complicated route, Hillhouse manages a neat trick: to balance nonfiction-style education with a gripping story that opens with great betrayal and only worsens after that. Here, perhaps, we have definitive proof that McGrath was wrong: Espionage writers are ready to write fiction that tells the darkest possible truths."
--The Los Angeles Times