I received a book a few months ago that I have not yet had time to read: Savages and Scoundrels: the untold story of the American road to empire through Indian territory by Paul Vandevelder. It is a story all Americans know, really – how every treaty between an Indian nation and the U.S. was merely an instrument used to remove the Indians from the soil, to exterminate them or push them into uninhabitable territory, or to disperse them utterly within the American cosmos as though they had never been.
“Even in the 1830s, James Fenimore Cooper could see how this story would play out. By the end of Natty Bumpo’s life, in The Prairie, the famous frontiersman realizes that the freedoms he imagined, so beautifully symbolized by the vast and unfenced panorama of the American West, would inevitably be transformed into cruel illusions.”
Every American war has a strain of Cowboys and Indians in it. It was simply more so in the Iraq fiasco. The dialectic between the stated principles underlying the American mission (contravening reality with the sort of lunatic delight characteristic of the Bushites) and the mean, atrocious, measly way the war was managed for the profit of the few and the misery of the many (a misery resulting in two million refugees and half a million Iraqi deaths, as the valedictory articles in the papers will resolutely not inform us) from the Green zone was a speeded up version of past American exterminationist ventures, with its faux humanitarianism, its penchant for creating “reservations”, its denial of self interest in the midst of vast and shameless profit-seeking – this was the war that was.
To ‘celebrate’ the holiday – Maliki’s end of the war holiday – I went back to Limited Inc and tried to find some item in the midst of my mental morass to comment on. I hit on a curious theme that emerged in the first months of the occupation – the part played by that sinister company, SAIC. A San Diego company with no record of experience in Iraq, SAIC was the beneficiary of some astonishingly generous contracts. SAIC, for a while, even paid the Iraqi Council – in a deal in which the Bushites literally rented out the government of the country. SAIC controlled the first Iraqi tv station. Here’s what I wrote at the time:
Not much attention is being paid to the renting out of Iraq to SAIC (Science Applications International Corporation)-- which is apparently the plan hatched by Paul Wolfowitz and Smilin' Jay Garner. Iraq has already been graced with a paramilitary group, flown out at Pentagon expense, to surround the eventual proconsul of Iraq, Ahmad Chalabi. Now the Pentagon is flying out a group of exiles to take over Smilin' Jay's ministries -- including the ever juicy Oil Ministry -- and they are paying them, for reasons unexpressed in the press releases, through SAIC -- an employee owned defense tech company. SAIC is run by one J. R. Beyster, who has worked, in the past, in Los Alamos. SAIC was last in the spotlight for buying the company that has the privilege of deciding who gets domain names on the Internet. At that time, a lot of paranoia was generated among the true net-cognescenti by the composition of the Board of Directors. Yes, here's a bunch of fun facts to know and tell: that board of directors has included former National Security Agency chief Bobby Inman, former Defense Secretary Melvin Laird, and the former head of research and development for the Pentagon, Donald Hicks, ex-CIA Director Robert Gates, Secretary of Defense William Perry, and another ex-CIA Director John Deutch
Business 2.0, to its credit, has an article this month that explores the super-secretive SAIC -- although it is explored in the gung-ho spirit of geek patriotism. As long as they use neat technology to curtail our freedom, it is alright with Business 2.0.
Here are a few excerpts to make you confident that we are in good hands -- xray hands, the hands of Donald Rumsfeld and company:
SAIC is now the country's largest privately held infotech company, with 2002 revenues of $6.1 billion. About a third of SAIC's business is systems integration for other companies, such as Pfizer (PFE) and BP (BP), but its heart and soul is spy tech. Intelligence agencies don't list or rank their contractors. Intelligence sources, however, say SAIC was the NSA's top supplier last year and in the top five at the CIA. In addition to the high-powered data-mining software that helped nail Mohammed, SAIC makes undersea thermal imaging sensors for tracking submarines. It produces software that spy satellites use to map the earth and feed target data to precision munitions, including those that have been pounding Iraq. It's also a leader in the booming homeland security business: It builds gear that uses gamma rays to peer inside cargo containers and truck trailers. Adding to SAIC's covert aura, Beyster has hired an unusual number of former spies, law enforcement chiefs, and secret warriors. Some 5,000 employees -- roughly one-seventh of the workforce -- have security clearances. Beyster himself has one of the highest arrays of top-secret clearances of any civilian in the country. "We are a stealth company," says Keith Nightingale, a former Army special ops officer. "We're everywhere, but almost never seen."
My interest in SAIC was diverted by the downward turn of events in Iraq. Curious about how good the war was for SAIC, I searched the net and found a nice, juicy article on them by Donald Bartlett and James Steele, published in Vanity Fair in 2007. SAIC is proof that even a bad war can be very very sweet for investors
“SAIC maintains its headquarters in San Diego, but its center of gravity is in Washington, D.C. With a workforce of 44,000, it is the size of a full-fledged government agency—in fact, it is larger than the departments of Labor, Energy, and Housing and Urban Development combined. Its anonymous glass-and-steel Washington office—a gleaming corporate box like any other—lies in northern Virginia, not far from the headquarters of the C.I.A., whose byways it knows quite well. (More than half of SAIC's employees have security clearances.) SAIC has been awarded more individual government contracts than any other private company in America. The contracts number not in the dozens or scores or hundreds but in the thousands: SAIC currently holds some 9,000 activefederal contracts in all. More than a hundred of them are worth upwards of $10 million apiece. Two of them are worth more than $1 billion. The company's annual revenues, almost all of which come from the federal government, approached $8 billion in the 2006 fiscal year, and they are continuing to climb. SAIC's goal is to reach as much as $12 billion in revenues by 2008. As for the financial yardstick that really gets Wall Street's attention—profitability—SAIC beats the S&P 500 average. Last year ExxonMobil, the world's largest oil company, posted a return on revenue of 11 percent. For SAIC the figure was 11.9 percent. If "contract backlog" is any measure—that is, contracts negotiated and pending—the future seems assured. The backlog stands at $13.6 billion. That's one and a half times more than the backlog at KBR Inc., a subsidiary of the far better known government contractor once run by Vice President Dick Cheney, the Halliburton Company.”
At the time, I wondered why SAIC was the stealth company of choice for Iraq. As Steele and Bartlett make plain, the Iraq invasion was sort of a stepchild of SAIC. They financed propaganda for it, they rolled out their military analysts as early as 1998 to make the case for it, and once the invasion started, it was SAIC that organized the Iraqi “advisors”:
David] Kay [a former U.N. official associated with the first Gulf war] and others associated with SAIC hammered away at the threat posed by Iraq. Wayne Downing, a retired general and a close associate of Ahmad Chalabi, proselytized hard for an invasion of Iraq, stating that the Iraqis "are ready to take the war … overseas. They would use whatever means they have to attack us." In many of his appearances on network and cable television leading up to the war, Downing was identified simply as a "military analyst." It would have been just as accurate to note that he was a member of SAIC's board of directors and a company stockholder. (Downing was also the chief proponent of a weapons system called Metal Storm, capable of firing a million rounds of ammunition a minute; SAIC received $10 million from the Pentagon to develop prototypes, but in the last two years the Metal Storm company has lost millions.) In the run-up to the war, David Kay remained outspoken. He told NBC News in October of 2002, "I don't think it's possible to disarm Iraq as long as Saddam is in power and desires to maintain weapons of mass destruction."
On all these points Kay and Downing were buttressing the views of Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, and others in the Bush administration. They were also echoing the assertions of Iraqi exiles living in the United States, who had been trying to overthrow Saddam Hussein for years. Many of those exiles—people like Khidhir Hamza, a onetime atomic-energy official in Iraq, who insisted that Saddam posed an imminent nuclear danger to the United States—would in time receive paychecks from SAIC. Although his evidence had long been discredited by weapons experts, Hamza was among about 150 Iraqi exiles designated by the Pentagon as members of the newly chartered Iraqi Reconstruction and Development Council. The plan was that, once American troops secured Iraq, the I.R.D.C. recruits would move into influential positions in a rebuilt Iraqi government.
SAIC served as the paymaster for the Iraqi exiles under a $33 million government contract. It brought them all together in the Washington, D.C., suburbs, rented apartments for them, paid their living expenses, provided various support services, and, later, after the invasion and occupation, flew them to their jobs in the new, democratic Iraq. This SAIC operation reported to Douglas Feith, the undersecretary of defense for policy at the Pentagon, a key assistant to Rumsfeld, and one of the architects of the Iraq invasion and occupation. Feith's deputy was Christopher "Ryan" Henry, a former SAIC senior vice president.”
And so it goes. Matt Taibbi maintains that TARP was essentially a Goldman, Sachs operation, mounted by former Goldman Sachs employees to rescue Goldman Sachs butt. Throw in the SAIC influence on the war in Iraq, and you have an x-ray of power in the U.S. And, honey, that power ain’t exercized by the people. The human product are just supposed to watch tv and nod their heads.