When a private company is granted a government contract, it’s a stamp of approval. What about the flipside? What does it say when the government—say, the German government—does business with companies involved in abduction and torture? What does it say when German ministries share IT servicers with the CIA and the NSA? And what does it mean for Germany that those same agencies are involved in projects concerning top-secret material including ID cards, firearms registries and emails in the capitol?
NDR (the German public radio and television broadcaster) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (SZ, Germany’s leading broadsheet newspaper) are proving that these aren’t just hypothetical questions. Especially when it comes to spying, security and an American contractor called Computer Sciences Corporation, the CSC.
Khaled el-Masri sits blindfolded in a container in Kabul. His hands are tied and he can hear a plane engine. It’s a white gulfstream jet. It’s May 28, 2004 and el-Masri has lived through hell. For five months he was tortured while in U.S. custody. He was beaten and humiliated. He received enemas and had to wear diapers. He was drugged and interrogated repeatedly. All this is public knowledge. It eventually became clear—even to the CIA—that they had the wrong man; el-Masri was innocent.
That’s where the CSC comes in.
The CIA had had good experiences with the company for years, as one of its largest private contractors. The mission: the unrightfully detained prisoners should be unobtrusively removed from Afghanistan. So, the CSC subcontracted a company with a jet. Records from July 2, 2004 show that the CSC paid $11,048.94 to have el-Masri picked up in Kabul, flown in handcuffs to Albania and once there driven to some hinterland and dropped-off. Mission accomplished.
Everyone knows about the el-Masri case, but it doesn’t stop the contracts from coming in. The German government continues to give work to the CSC. In the past five years German ministries have given over 100 contracts to the CSC and its subsidiaries. Since 2009 alone, the CSC has earned €25.5 million, some $34.5 million. And since 1990, it’s earned almost €300 million, some $405 million, from its German contracts.
We paid a visit to the German headquarters at 1 Abraham Lincoln Park in Wiesbaden, Germany. It’s a modern building made of grey concrete, a little metal and a lot of glass. The receptionists are friendly, but will they talk? No one here wants to talk.
The German branch of the CSC was incorporated in 1970. On the CSC’s homepage it states vaguely that the company is a world leader in providing “technology enabled business solutions and services”.
In fact, the CSC is a massive company with at least 11 subsidiaries in 16 locations in Germany alone. It’s no coincidence that these locations are often close to U.S. military bases. The CSC and its subsidiaries are part of a secret industry, the military intelligence industry. And they do the work traditionally reserved for the military and intelligence agencies, but for cheaper and under much less scrutiny.
Related branches in this industry include security servicers, such as Blackwater (now going by the name Academi). Blackwater is now being legally charged for a massacre in Iraq. And then there’s Caci, whose specialists were allegedly involved in Abu Ghraib and the ‘enhanced interrogation’ methods used there.
German CSC operations refuse to be tarnished by their bad reputation in the Middle East. Every year German companies including Allianz, BASF, Commerzbank and Dailmer pay for their services. Mostly they pay for IT consulting. But some German ministries who are among their regular costumers request more than IT help.
The CSC’s annual report says nothing abduction. (They don’t advertise that on their homepage either.) For that kind of information you have to read investigative reports or human rights organization statements.
And the Ministry of the Interior is quick to say: “Neither the federal government nor the Office of Procurement know of any allegations against the U.S. parent company of CSC Germany.”
The first report of the CSC’s involvement in extraordinary rendition flights came out in 2005 in the Boston Globe and then again in 2011 in the Guardian. Since then at least 22 subsequent contracts have been signed, among them a contract to begin a national arms registry.
After the abduction and torture of el-Masri, in 2006, the CSC sold its subsidiary Dyncorp. But the CSC remains more involved than ever in American intelligence operations. Thus, the company was part of a consortium that was awarded the so-called Trailblazer project by the NSA. The contract was to build a giant data vacuum, which would have dwarfed the later-developed PRISM program whistleblower Edward Snowden revealed to the world. The program ran over budget, failed and was cancelled altogether. But the CSC continued to be granted contracts.
Basically, the CSC is like the IT department for the entire U.S. intelligence apparatus. And this is the company that has been handling German information at the highest of levels security for years.
A few examples? The CSC tested the controversial Trojan horse spyware for the Federal Criminal Police Office. It helped the Justice Department implement electronic federal court recordkeeping. It has received several contracts to encrypt government communications.
Should Germany be putting so much trust in the CSC, when the company’s more important partner is the U.S. intelligence apparatus?
The Federal Ministry of the Interior who awards the framework agreements assures us, “usually there is a clause in the contracts prohibiting confidential information be passed onto third parties.”
Somehow, that’s not very assuring.
By Christian Fuchs, John Goetz, Frederik Obermaier and Bastian Obermayer
November 16, 2013 12:55 pm CET
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