Was Spionagefirmen in Deutschland für die USA treiben

Die US-Geheimdienste sammeln so viele Daten, dass sie alleine nicht hinterherkommen. Deswegen mieten sie Zusatzkräfte bei privaten Dienstleistern. Die arbeiten wie Spione – auch in Deutschland.

Ein einfacher Miet-Hacker kostet die US-Regierung 117,99 Dollar die Stunde. Sollte er noch etwas mehr können – die US-Firma MacAulay Brown bewirbt auf ihrer Internetseite Computerspezialisten von “Level 1” bis “Level 4” -, dann wird es teurer: bis zu 187,30 Dollar die Stunde. Und das sind schon die reduzierten Preise für Regierungsaufträge, heißt es in einem Prospekt im Internet (hier als PDF).

Die USA spionieren auf der ganzen Welt, und der Staat allein kommt nicht mehr hinterher, alle Informationen zu verarbeiten. Deswegen setzen Militär und Geheimdienste auf private Firmen, die ihnen zuliefern, auf sogenannte Contractors. Ein Milliardenmarkt. Große Konzerne wie CSC, L-3 Communications, SAIC und Booz Allen Hamilton haben Zehntausende Mitarbeiter. Die Firmen pflegen die Computer der US-Truppen, warten die Datenbanken der Geheimdienste, sortieren Unterlagen. Und manchmal schicken sie “Analysten”: Mitarbeiter, die die nackten Informationen der Geheimdienste für Einsatzbesprechungen zusammenfassen. Alle wichtigen Contractors haben auch Aufträge in Deutschland.
Datenbank-Recherche
Alle Geheimdienst-Aufträge an Privatfirmen in Deutschland

Was treiben die USA in Deutschland? Antworten finden sich auch in einer offiziellen US-Datenbank. Hier finden Sie alle Verträge für Geheimdienstarbeiten in Deutschland.

Die Bundesrepublik ist einer der wichtigsten Stützpunkte der USA, allein im Fiskaljahr 2012 haben sie hier drei Milliarden Dollar ausgegeben. Mehr als im Irak, und auch mehr als in Südkorea – wo die US-Armee tatsächlich einem Feind im Norden gegenübersteht. Von Deutschland aus kämpfen die USA gegen einen Feind, der weit weg ist: Wenn in Somalia US-Drohnen vermeintliche Terroristen beschießen, läuft das über Stuttgart, wo das Hauptquartier für US-Afrika-Missionen sitzt. Auch im Drohnenkrieg sind private Firmen beteiligt, deren Mitarbeiter warten die Fluggeräte, sie kalibrieren die Laser, sie sammeln die Informationen zur Zielerfassung.

Den größten Umsatz mit Analysten auf deutschem Boden verbucht die Firma SOS International, kurz SOSi, an die bislang 61 Millionen Dollar geflossen sind – so steht es in der US-Datenbank für Staatsaufträge. Gerade sucht SOSi neue Mitarbeiter für den Standort Darmstadt. Es geht um die Auswertung von Geo-Daten: Wer ist wann wo? Auf welcher Straße fährt der Mensch in Somalia, der vielleicht ein Terrorist ist, immer abends nach Hause? Informationen, die für tödliche Drohnenschläge verwendet werden können. Geospatial-Analysten verwandeln die Signale der Satelliten in bunte Bilder – und finden darin die Zielperson. Die Konsequenzen zieht der US-Militärapparat.
(Foto: Screenshot exelisvis.com)

Wie sehr die USA in Deutschland auf die privaten Helfer setzen, zeigt ein Auftrag an die Firma Caci aus dem Jahr 2009. Der US-Konzern bekam fast 40 Millionen Dollar, um SIGINT-Analysten nach Deutschland zu schicken. SIGINT steht für Signals Intelligence: Informationen, die Geheimdienste im Internet gesammelt haben. Dabei ist Caci nicht irgendein Unternehmen. Ihre Mitarbeiter waren 2003 als Befrager im US-Gefängnis Abu Ghraib im Irak eingesetzt, aus dem später die Bilder eines Folterskandals um die Welt gingen: Nackte Häftlinge, aufgestapelt zu menschlichen Pyramiden, angeleint wie Hunde und selbst nach ihrem Tod noch misshandelt – fotografiert von grinsenden US-Soldaten und ihren Helfern. Zwei Untersuchungsberichte der US-Armee kamen später zu dem Schluss, dass Caci-Leute an Misshandlungen beteiligt waren. Caci bestreitet das.

Die Episode zeigt: Die Contractors stecken tief drin in Amerikas schmutzigen Kriegen. Jeder fünfte Geheimdienstmitarbeiter ist in Wahrheit bei einer privaten Firma angestellt. Das geht aus den geheimen Budgetplänen der US-Geheimdienste hervor, die dank des Whistleblowers Edward Snowden öffentlich wurden. Snowden ist der wohl berühmteste Ex-Angestellte eines Contractors, bis Juni arbeitete er als Systemadministrator für Booz Allen Hamilton. Der Konzern übernimmt viele IT-Jobs für US-Behörden, so hatte Snowden Zugriff auf hochsensible Unterlagen, die streng geheime Operationen von amerikanischen und britischen Geheimdiensten belegen – obwohl er nicht einmal direkt bei einem US-Geheimdienst arbeitete. Viele Contractors haben Zugriff auf das Allerheiligste. Auf die vom Geheimdienst gesammelten Daten, und auf die interne Kommunikation.

Genau diese Aufgaben sorgen auch für hohe Umsätze in Deutschland. Caci und der Konkurrent SAIC haben zusammen hierzulande in den vergangenen Jahren Hunderte Millionen Dollar umgesetzt. Der Konzern suchte noch vor Kurzem in Stellenausschreibungen Entwickler für das Programm XKeyscore. Nachdem der Guardian enthüllt hatte, dass der US-Geheimdienst NSA damit Bewegungen im Internet von E-Mails bis Facebook-Chats live verfolgen kann, gingen die Gesuche offline. Eine SAIC-Sprecherin betonte, dieses Geschäft sei in dem im September abgespaltenen Unternehmen Leidos aufgegangen. Weitere Fragen ließ sie unbeantwortet.

Die CIA beteiligt sich sogar über eine eigene Investmentfirma names In-Q-Tel an Start-ups, um später deren Technologie nutzen zu können. Auch personell sind die beiden Welten verbunden: Der oberste US-Geheimdienstdirektor James R. Clapper war erst Chef des Militärgeheimdienstes DIA, dann beim Contractor Booz Allen Hamilton und kehrte schließlich in den Staatsdienst zurück – er soll die Arbeit aller US-Nachrichtendienste koordinieren. Arbeit, die oft privatisiert wird, wovon Unternehmen wie sein ehemaliger Arbeitgeber profitieren.

Die Beziehungen zwischen Privatfirmen und dem Staat sind so eng, dass Contractors Büros in US-Militärbasen beziehen. Für MacAulay Brown saß bis vor einem Jahr ein Mitarbeiter auf dem Gelände des Dagger-Complexes in Griesheim. Der Standort gilt als Brückenkopf der NSA. Der Mitarbeiter von MacAulay Brown hatte die gleiche Telefonnummer wie die dort stationierten Truppen und eine eigene Durchwahl. Als gehörte er dazu.
Ein Soldat vor einer sogenannten “Shadow”-Drohne in der US-Basis in Vilseck-Grafenwöhr (Foto: REUTERS)

16. November 2013 11:31 Amerikanische Auftragnehmer
Von Bastian Brinkmann,Oliver Hollenstein und Antonius Kempmann

Find this story at 16 November 2013

Copyright: Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

Die Top 3 der Mietspione

Alleine in Deutschland haben die USA bisher 140 Millionen Euro für private Spione ausgegeben. Die meisten Aufträge gingen an die drei Firmen SOSi, Caci und MacAulay-Brown. Was sind das für Konzerne?

Etwa 70 Prozent ihres Budgets geben die US-Geheimdienste für Aufträge an Privatfirmen aus. Das ist bekannt, seit vor Jahren eine interne Präsentation des amerikanischen Geheimdienstdirektors im Internet auftauchte. Die privaten Auftragnehmer, auf Englisch Contractors, sind eine riesige Schattenarmee (mehr dazu hier).

Und sie sind auch in Deutschland tätig: Rund 140 Millionen Dollar haben die USA in den vergangenen zehn Jahren in Deutschland für private Spione ausgegeben (hier alle Aufträge in einer Tabelle zum Herunterladen). Dazu kommen Hunderte Millionen Dollar für spionagenahe Dienstleistungen wie Datenbankpflege oder Datenverarbeitung.

Süddeutsche.de stellt die drei Spionagehelfer vor, die am meisten Umsatz in Deutschland mit Geheimdienstarbeiten machen.
Nummer 1: SOSi – Vom Übersetzungsbüro zum Flughafenbetreiber

Mitarbeiter von SOSi seien das Ziel von internationalen Terroristen und ausländischen Geheimdiensten, sagt der Sicherheitschef der Firma. Das Unternehmen arbeite mit den geheimsten Daten der US-Regierung. Es gelte daher, besondere Sicherheitsmaßnahmen zu treffen, erzählt er in einem Video im Intranet. Nach dem Urlaub müssten die Mitarbeiter eine kurze Befragung über sich ergehen lassen: Wen haben sie getroffen? Warum? Änderungen im Privatleben seien der Firma bitte umgehend zu melden. Und wichtig sei auch, sagt er, den Vorgesetzten von verdächtigem Verhalten von Kollegen zu berichten.

SOS International, der Sicherheitschef kürzt es gerne S-O-S-i ab, ist der größte Spionagedienstleister der Amerikaner in Deutschland. Allein 2012 hat die Firma für Geheimdiensttätigkeiten in Deutschland 11,8 Millionen Euro von der US-Regierung bekommen, insgesamt waren es in den vergangenen Jahren rund 60 Millionen Dollar.

Auf den ersten Blick gibt sich die Firma offen: Es gibt eine Internetseite, eine Facebook-Seite, die Vorstände twittern, der Firmenchef sendet Videobotschaften. Mehrere Anfragen zu ihrer Tätigkeit in Deutschland ließ die Firma allerdings unbeantwortet. Wie die Firma tickt lässt sich trotzdem gut rekonstruieren: aus den öffentlichen Daten – und aus einer älteren Version des Intranets der Firma, die sie offenbar versehentlich ins Internet stellte.

Dort findet sich allerhand: Hinweise zum Dresscode (konservativ-professionell), Empfehlungen zum Umgang mit Drogen (geringe Mengen Alkohol bei Firmenfeiern erlaubt) oder Anweisungen zur Reaktion auf Kontaktversuche der Medien (nichts herausgeben). Und auch das eindringliche Briefing des Sicherheitschefs, in dem er an den Patriotismus und die Paranoia seiner Mitarbeiter appelliert.

Öffentlich verkauft sich das Unternehmen als Familienunternehmen mit Vom-Tellerwäscher-zum-Millionär-Geschichte. Ursprünglich ist Sosi der Vorname der Unternehmensgründerin: Sosi Setian kam 1959 als Flüchtling aus Armenien nach Amerika, heißt es in der Selbstdarstellung der Firma. Sie arbeitete als Übersetzerin für US-Behörden, gründete 1989 ein Übersetzungsbüro. Nach sechs Monaten hatte sie 52 Mitarbeiter, die sie angeblich alle regelmäßig zum Abendessen in ihr Zuhause einlud.

Heute ist der Sohn der Gründerin, Julian Setian, Geschäftsführer, seine Schwester Pandora sitzt ebenfalls im Vorstand. Der große Erfolg kam nach dem 11. September 2001 – und mit den immens gestiegenen Spionageausgaben der USA. 2002 begann SOSi Übersetzer nach Afghanistan und in den Irak zu schicken. Ein Jahr später heuerten sie auch Spionageanalysten und Sicherheitstrainer an – die Firma hatte erkannt, wie lukrativ das Geheimdienstgeschäft war. Inzwischen beschäftigt das Unternehmen zwischen 800 bis 1200 Mitarbeiter und ist auf allen Feldern der Spionage aktiv, steht auf der Firmenhomepage.

Was das konkret heißt, lässt sich mit Broschüren aus dem Intranet rekonstruieren: SOSi hat die US Army in Europa bei der Auswertung ihrer Spionageergebnisse unterstützt, in Afghanistan PR-Arbeit für die US-Truppen gemacht, im Irak Einheimische auf der Straße angeworben, um die Sicherheitslage im Land einzuschätzen, und in Amerika FBI-Agenten die Techniken der Gegenspionage beigebracht.

Neben den USA hat die Firma Büros in acht weiteren Ländern, darunter Deutschland, heißt es in der Broschüre, die aus dem Jahr 2010 stammt. Auf seiner Homepage sucht das Unternehmen Mitarbeiter in Darmstadt, Heidelberg, Mannheim, Stuttgart und Wiesbaden – also an den traditionellen Standorten der Amerikaner. Im September hat SOSi in einer Pressemitteilung veröffentlicht, dass sie die 66. Military Intelligence Brigade in Darmstadt in den kommenden drei Jahren beim Planen, Sammeln und Auswerten von Geo-Daten unterstützen werde, der sogenannten Geospatial-Intelligence.
Solche Software müssen GEOINT-Analysten von SOSi bedienen können. (Foto: Screenshot exelisvis.com)

Im Mai gewann die Firma eine Ausschreibung der irakischen Regierung. SOSi übernimmt nach dem Abzug der letzten amerikanischen Truppen aus dem Irak die Verantwortung für die Logistik und die Sicherheit von drei ehemaligen US-Stützpunkten sowie einem Flugplatz. Mehr als 1500 Mitarbeiter werden dafür gebraucht, das würde die Unternehmensgröße fast verdoppeln.

Die Verantwortung für das Geschäft trägt dann Frank Helmick, der seit Dezember 2012 bei SOSi arbeitet. Vor seiner Pensionierung war Helmick übrigens General der US-Army. Zuletzt kommandierte er den Abzug der US-Truppen aus dem Irak.

“Du siehst den Hund dort? Wenn du mir nicht sagst, was ich wissen will, werde ich den Hund auf dich hetzen”, soll Zivilist 11 gesagt haben, damals 2003 im berüchtigten US-Militärgefängnis Abu Ghraib im Irak. Sein Kollege, Zivilist 21, soll einen Gefangenen gezwungen haben, rote Frauen-Unterwäsche auf dem Kopf zu tragen. So steht es in zwei internen Berichten des US-Militärs (dem Fay- und dem Tabuga-Report). Und dort steht auch: Zivilist 11 und Zivilist 21 waren Angestellte der US-Firma Caci.

Bis heute bestreitet das Unternehmen, an den Misshandlungen beteiligt gewesen zu sein, deren Bilder damals um die Welt gingen: Nackte Häftlinge aufgestapelt zu menschlichen Pyramiden, traktiert mit Elektroschocks, angeleint wie Hunde. Unstrittig ist nur, dass Dutzende Mitarbeiter der Firma im Irak waren, um dort Gefangene zu befragen – weil das US-Militär mit dem eigenen Personal nicht mehr hinterherkam. Für viele Kritiker der US-Geheimdienste ist Caci damit zum erschreckendsten Beispiel geworden, wie weit Privatfirmen in die schmutzigen Kriege der Amerikaner verstrickt sind.

Nachhaltig geschadet haben die Foltervorwürfe der Firma aber nicht: 2012 hat Caci einen Rekordumsatz von 3,8 Milliarden Dollar erwirtschaftet, 75 Prozent davon stammen immer noch aus Mitteln des US-Verteidigungsministeriums. 15.000 Mitarbeiter sind weltweit für das Unternehmen tätig. Unter dem Firmenmotto “Ever vigilant” (stets wachsam) bieten sie den Geheimdiensten Unterstützung in allen Bereichen der Spionage, wie das Unternehmen im Jahresbericht 2006 schrieb: Informationen sammeln, Daten analysieren, Berichte schreiben, die Geheimdienstarbeit managen.

Caci hat 120 Büros rund um die Welt, in Deutschland sitzt die Firmen in Leimen, einer Kreisstadt in Baden mit 25.000 Einwohnern. Laut der offiziellen Datenbank der US-Regierung hat die Firma in den vergangenen zehn Jahren in Deutschland 128 Millionen Dollar umgesetzt. Auf seiner Homepage hat Caci Mitarbeiter in Wiesbaden, Schweinfurt, Stuttgart, Heidelberg, Darmstadt und Bamberg gesucht, den klassischen Standorten des US-Militärs. Bei manchen Jobs sind die genauen Standorte geheim, bei fast allen die Berechtigung nötig, “Top Secret” arbeiten zu dürfen.

Was die Firma in Deutschland treibt, zeigt sich an einem Auftrag aus dem Jahr 2009. Damals bekam das Unternehmen den Zuschlag, für fast 40 Millionen Dollar SIGINT-Analysten nach Deutschland zu schicken. SIGINT steht für Signals Intelligence, Fernmeldeaufklärung sagen die deutschen Behörden. Was das heißt? Mitarbeiter von Caci haben in Deutschland demnach Telefonate und Internetdaten wie E-Mails abgefangen und ausgewertet.

MacAulay-Brown, Eberstädter Weg 51, Griesheim bei Darmstadt. Offiziell ist der Deutschlandsitz des drittgrößten Spionagezulieferers des US-Militärs in Deutschland nirgendwo angegeben. Doch in einem Prospekt aus dem Jahr 2012 findet sich diese Adresse. Und die ist durchaus brisant: Es ist die Adresse des Dagger Complex. Streng abgeschirmt sitzt dort die 66. Military Intelligence Brigade des US-Militärs und offenbar auch die NSA.

Sogar eine Telefonnummer mit Griesheimer Vorwahl hatte MacAulay-Brown veröffentlicht. Wer dort anruft, bekommt erzählt, dass der Mitarbeiter der Firma etwa seit einem Jahr dort nicht mehr arbeitet. Mehr erfährt man nicht; nicht einmal, wer den Anruf jetzt entgegengenommen hat.

Dass die Firma so engen Kontakt zu Geheimdiensten und Militär hat, überrascht nicht. Geschäftsführer Sid Fuchs war früher Agent der CIA. Weitere Vorstandsmitglieder waren Agenten oder ranghohe Militärs. Die Firma rühmt sich damit, dass 60 Prozent ihrer Mitarbeiter mehr als 15 Jahre Erfahrung im Militär oder sonstigen Regierungstätigkeiten hat.

Dementsprechend ist auch das Tätigkeitsspektrum von MacAulay-Brown, die sich auch MacB abkürzen. Auf seiner Homepage wirbt das Unternehmen damit, einen Rundum-Service für Geheimdienste anzubieten. Die Firma habe, heißt es, kostengünstige, innovative und effiziente Spionage-Möglichkeiten für die Geheimdienste gefunden. Der Fokus liegt dabei auf den eher technischen Spionagebereichen der Signalauswertung und Erderkundung (Fachwörter: Geoint, Masint, Sigint).

Auch in Deutschland hat MacB in diesem Bereich gearbeitet. 2008 hat das Unternehmen mitgeteilt, einen Auftrag der 66. Military Intelligence Brigade in Darmstadt für technische Spionage über Satelliten und Sensoren bekommen zu haben. Insgesamt hat MacAulay-Brown laut Zahlen aus der offiziellen US-Datenbank für Staatsaufträge in den vergangenen Jahren fast zehn Millionen Dollar von der 66. Military Intelligence Brigade erhalten, mit der sich das Unternehmen den Bürositz in Darmstadt zumindest zeitweise teilte.

Mit Signaltechnik und Erderkundung hat das Unternehmen lange Erfahrung. MacAulay-Brown wurde 1979 von zwei Technikern gegründet, John MacAulay und Dr. Charles Brown. Sie waren zunächst ein Ingenieurbüro für die Army, arbeiteten unter anderem an Radarsystemen. Später fokussierte sich die Firma auf das Testen militärischer System für die Air Force. Bis heute ist MacB in diesem Bereich tätig, auch in Deutschland: Das Unternehmen sucht beispielsweise derzeit in Spangdahlem einen Flugzeugtechniker, in dem Ort in Rheinland-Pfalz unterhält die Air Force einen Flughafen.

Ein weiterer Geschäftsbereich von MacB ist die Cybersicherheit – auch hier ist die Firma offenbar in Deutschland tätig: Dem veröffentlichten Prospekt mit der Büroadresse im Dagger-Complex ist eine Liste von Experten angehängt, die das Militär auf Abruf von dem Unternehmen mieten kann – inklusive der Stundenpreise. Neben technischen Schreibern und Grafikdesignern finden sich dabei auch Jobbeschreibungen, die Hackertätigkeiten beinhalten.

Bis heute ist die Firma in Privatbesitz. Sie gehört Syd und Sharon Martin, die MacB 2001 mit ihrer inzwischen verkauften Mutterfirma Sytex gekauft hatten. Als sie 2005 Sytex an den US-Rüstungskonzern Lockheed Martin verkauften, behielten sie MacB – und machten es immer erfolgreicher. Der Umsatz ist seit 2005 von 65 auf 350 Millionen Dollar gewachsen. Die Firma beschäftigt inzwischen 2000 Mitarbeiter weltweit.

Den Erfolg haben dabei vor allem Verträge der US-Regierung gebracht. 2012 war das Unternehmen erstmals auf der Liste der 100 größten Regierungs-Contractors, 2013 steht sie bereits auf Platz 91. Und wenn es nach dem Management geht, soll es so weiter gehen. In einem Interview mit den Dayton Business News sagte Geschäftsführer Fuchs, er wolle in den kommenden Jahren den Umsatz auf eine Milliarde steigern und die Mitarbeiterzahl verdoppeln.

16. November 2013 12:21 Aufträge in Deutschland
Von Oliver Hollenstein

Find this story at 16 November 2013

© Süddeutsche Zeitung Digitale Medien GmbH / Süddeutsche Zeitung GmbH

Private firms selling mass surveillance systems around world, documents show

One Dubai-based firm offers DIY system similar to GCHQ’s Tempora programme, which taps fibre-optic cables

Advanced Middle East Systems has been offering a device called Cerebro, which taps information from fibre-optic cables carrying internet traffic. Photograph: Corbis

Private firms are selling spying tools and mass surveillance technologies to developing countries with promises that “off the shelf” equipment will allow them to snoop on millions of emails, text messages and phone calls, according to a cache of documents published on Monday.

The papers show how firms, including dozens from Britain, tout the capabilities at private trade fairs aimed at offering nations in Africa, Asia and the Middle East the kind of powerful capabilities that are usually associated with government agencies such as GCHQ and its US counterpart, the National Security Agency.

The market has raised concerns among human rights groups and ministers, who are poised to announce new rules about the sale of such equipment from Britain.

“The government agrees that further regulation is necessary,” a spokesman for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills said. “These products have legitimate uses … but we recognise that they may also be used to conduct espionage.”

The documents are included in an online database compiled by the research watchdog Privacy International, which has spent four years gathering 1,203 brochures and sales pitches used at conventions in Dubai, Prague, Brasilia, Washington, Kuala Lumpur, Paris and London. Analysts posed as potential buyers to gain access to the private fairs.

The database, called the Surveillance Industry Index, shows how firms from the UK, Israel, Germany, France and the US offer governments a range of systems that allow them to secretly hack into internet cables carrying email and phone traffic.

The index has details from 338 companies, including 77 from the UK, offering a total of 97 different technologies.

One firm says its “massive passive monitoring” equipment can “capture up to 1bn intercepts a day”. Some offer cameras hidden in cola cans, bricks or children’s carseats, while one manufacturer turns cars or vans into surveillance control centres.

There is nothing illegal about selling such equipment, and the companies say the new technologies are there to help governments defeat terrorism and crime.

But human rights and privacy campaigners are alarmed at the sophistication of the systems, and worry that unscrupulous regimes could use them as tools to spy on dissidents and critics.

Libya’s former leader Muammar Gaddafi is known to have used off-the-shelf surveillance equipment to clamp down on opposition leaders.

Privacy International believes UK firms should now be subject to the same strict export licence rules faced by arms manufacturers.

“There is a culture of impunity permeating across the private surveillance market, given that there are no strict export controls on the sale of this technology, as there are on the sale of conventional weapons,” said Matthew Rice, research consultant with Privacy International.

“This market profits off the suffering of people around the world, yet it lacks any sort of effective oversight or accountability.

“This lack of regulation has allowed companies to export surveillance technology to countries that use their newly acquired surveillance capability to spy on human rights activists, journalists and political movements.”

Privacy International hopes the Surveillance Industry Index will give academics, politicians and campaigners a chance to look at the type of surveillance technologies now available in the hope of sparking a debate about improved regulation.

The documents include a brochure from a company called Advanced Middle East Systems (AMES), based in Dubai. It has been offering a device called Cerebro – a DIY system similar to the Tempora programme run by GCHQ – that taps information from fibre-optic cables carrying internet traffic.

AMES describes Cerebro as a “core technology designed to monitor and analyse in real time communications … including SMS (texting), GSM (mobile calls), billing data, emails, conversations, webmail, chat sessions and social networks.”

The company brochure makes clear this is done by attaching probes to internet cables. “No co-operation with the providers is required,” it adds.

“Cerebro is designed to store several billions of records – metadata and/or communication contents. At any time the investigators can follow the live activity of their target with advanced targeting criteria (email addresses, phone numbers, key words),” says the brochure.

AMES refused to comment after being contacted by the Guardian, but said it followed similar protocols to other surveillance companies. “We don’t want to interact with the press,” said a spokesman.

Another firm selling similar equipment is VASTech, based in South Africa, which has a system called Zebra. Potential buyers are told it has been designed to help “government security agencies face huge challenges in their combat against crime and terrorism”.

VASTech says Zebra offers “access to high volumes of information generated via telecommunication services for the purposes of analysis and investigation”.

It has been designed to “intercept all content and metadata of voice, SMS, email and fax communications on the connected network, creating a rich repository of information”.

A spokesman for the company said: “VASTech produces products for governmental law enforcement agencies. These products have the primary goal of reducing specifically cross-border crimes such as child pornography, human trafficking, drug smuggling, weapon smuggling, money laundering, corruption and terrorist activities. We compete internationally and openly against several suppliers of similar systems.

“We only supply legal governments, which are not subjected to international sanctions. Should their status change in this regard, we hold the right to withdraw our supplies and support unilaterally.”

Ann McKechin, a Labour member of the arms export control committee, said: “Obviously we are concerned about how our government provides licences, given these new types of technology.

“Software technology is now becoming a very large component of our total exports and how we police it before it gets out of country will become an increasingly difficult question and I think the government has to review its processes to consider whether they are fit for the task.”

She said the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills, which has responsibility for granting export licences, had to ensure it has the skills and knowledge to assess new technologies, particularly if they were being sold to “countries of concern”.

“The knowledge of staff which maybe more geared to more traditional types of weaponry,” she added.

A business department spokesperson said: “The government agrees that further regulation is necessary. These products have legitimate uses in defending networks and tracking and disrupting criminals, but we recognise that they may also be used to conduct espionage.

“Given the international nature of this problem we believe that an internationally agreed solution will be the most effective response. That is why the UK is leading international efforts to agree export controls on specific technologies of concern.

“We expect to be able to announce real progress in this area in early December.”
What’s on offer

Some companies offer a range of spy equipment that would not look out of place in a James Bond film

Spy vans

Ordinary vans, cars and motorbikes can be customised to offer everything a spy could need. Tiny cameras and microphones are hidden in wing mirrors, headlights and even the makers’ logo. Vehicles can also be fitted with the latest mass surveillance technology, allowing them to intercept, assess and store a range of digital communications from the surrounding area.

Hidden cameras

The range of objects that can hide high-quality cameras and recording equipment appears almost limitless; from a box of tissues giving a 360-degree view of the room, to a child’s car seat, a brick and a key fob. Remote controls allow cameras to follow targets as they move around a room and have a powerful zoom to give high definition close-ups.

Recorders

As with cameras recording equipment is getting more sophisticated and more ubiquitous. From cigarette lighters to pens their are limitless ways to listen in on other people’s conversations. One firm offers a special strap microphone that straps to the wearer’s would be spies’ back and records conversations going on directly behind them. According to the brochure: “[This] is ideal because people in a crowd think that someone with their back turned can’t hear their conversation.. Operatives can work much closer to their target.”

Handheld ‘biometric cameras’

This system, made by a UK firm, is currently being used by British forces in Afghanistan to help troops identify potential terrorists. The brochure for the Mobile Biometric Platform says: “Innocent civilian or Insurgent? Not Certain? Our systems are.” It adds: “The MBP is tailored for military use and enables biometric enrolment and identification of finger, face and iris against on board watchlists in real time from live or forensic data.”

Mobile phone locators

It is now possible, from a single laptop computer, to locate where a mobile phone is calling from anywhere in the world, with an accuracy of between 200 metres and a mile. This is not done by attaching probes, and it is not limited to the area where the laptop is working from. The “cross border” system means it is now theoretically possible to locate a mobile phone call from a town abroad from a laptop in London.

Nick Hopkins and Matthew Taylor
The Guardian, Monday 18 November 2013 21.42 GMT

Find this story at 18 November 2013

© 2013 Guardian News and Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved.

Snowden case not the first embarrassment for Booz Allen, or D.C. contracting industry

When allegations of improper contracting behavior hit Booz Allen Hamilton, the national security consulting firm in McLean bounced back stronger than ever.

In 2008, a Booz Allen employee at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida was granted the highest-level “top secret” security clearance even though he had been convicted a few months earlier of lying to government officials in order to sneak a South African woman he had met on the Internet into the country.

Last year, the Air Force temporarily suspended the San Antonio division of the company from future contracts because it had obtained and distributed confidential Pentagon bidding data for its own competitive advantage. In 2006, the Justice Department said the company overbilled travel expenses, and the agency initially recommended that Booz Allen be barred from federal contracting.

Those incidents had little or no impact on Booz Allen’s success in recent years or on its ability to compete for federal contracts, which last year provided 99 percent of the company’s $5.8 billion in revenue.

Booz Allen now faces a greater test: Lawmakers and other officials are asking whether the company should be held to account for Edward Snowden, a former employee who had obtained national security documents and leaked them to the news media while at the firm.

But if the past is a guide, the government is not likely to scale back its reliance on Booz Allen or other large contractors soon, industry officials and policymakers agree. Although intelligence agency reliance on outside firms has declined some in recent years, the latest available estimates still show that about 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is spent on contractors. And big, well-established companies continue to have outsize influence.

That is particularly true for Booz Allen, one of the most powerful firms within the government’s defense and national security structure. Nearly half of the company’s 24,500 workers have top-secret clearance.

The company also has deep connections within the defense and intelligence communities, including James R. Clapper Jr., a former Booz Allen executive who is the director of national intelligence, and R. James Woolsey, a former CIA director who was a senior vice president at the firm until 2008.

The man now heading Booz Allen’s intelligence operations, retired Vice Adm. John Michael McConnell, was the head of the National Security Agency in the mid-1990s and was appointed in 2007 by President George W. Bush to lead the government’s newly established Office of the Director of National Intelligence, which was set up to coordinate domestic and foreign intelligence gathering.

Those relationships and the sheer volume of work Booz Allen does for the federal government may have given the firm and others like it leverage when they face disciplinary actions, watchdog groups say.

The Project on Government Oversight testified in June that since 2000, there have been tens of thousands of suspension and debarment actions levied against companies and individuals. But its chief counsel said the number of large name-brand contractors, such as Booz Allen, that have been sanctioned can be counted on two hands.

“The government’s reliance on large contractors is often difficult to overcome,” said Scott Amey, general counsel to the nonprofit watchdog group, which maintains a contractor misconduct database. “Therefore, large contractors are in a powerful position to avoid suspension or debarment actions.”

There is no indication that Booz Allen faced penalties when its employee at MacDill received top-secret clearance despite his criminal record. The travel-overbilling case was settled with the payment of a fine.

Only the case concerning the San Antonio office resulted in an actual suspension. That action, taken by the Air Force, did not affect ongoing work and lasted two months.

The company declined comment on the past cases. But a spokesman, James Fisher, said, “Booz Allen is proud of our reputation for the highest ethical standards, built over nearly 100 years of service to our government and commercial clients.”

As the Snowden story continued to generate front-page news, Booz Allen chief executive Ralph Shrader predicted that his company would overcome the bad publicity from the Snowden leaks.

In remarks to employees at a “town hall” meeting late last month, Shrader said, “I think the important thing to understand is we cannot and will not let Snowden define us.”

“You define us. The work we do for our clients defines us, not the occasional aberrant in our midst,” he added. “There is nothing here for us to hang our heads about. We are a fine, fine firm. We stand on the list of Fortune’s Most Admired Companies. I plan to be on the list year after year.”

Past complaints

The disclosures by Snowden represent one of the most grievous breaches of security in the history of the super-secret NSA. Snowden, 30, who worked for just three months at Booz Allen, managed to obtain top-secret documents detailing broad government surveillance of telephone records and Internet traffic.

Little is known about how Snowden, a former security guard without a college degree, was able to get top-secret clearance and position himself at Booz Allen to obtain national security secrets.

“My position with Booz Allen Hamilton granted me access to lists of machines all over the world the NSA hacked,” he told the South China Morning Post on June 12. “That is why I accepted that position about three months ago.”

Booz Allen has accepted responsibility for past complaints of wrongdoing but continued to win contracts.

In 2006, the Justice Department proposed barring the company, along with four other major consultants, from participating in contracts for having received rebates from airlines, credit card companies and hotel chains while billing the government for the full undiscounted cost of the travel. The government dropped its lawsuits against the firms after they agreed to monetary settlements, with Booz Allen submitting nearly $3.4 million to the Treasury.

A few years later, the company received unwanted attention in a federal court prosecution of the MacDill employee working as a “counter threat analyst” at U.S. Central Command’s Joint Intelligence Operation Center in Tampa.

The employee, Scott Allan Bennett, had received one of the highest-level security clearances available in late 2008, even though a few months earlier he had been convicted of making “willful false and misleading representations” to the U.S. government.

The case, raised in Senate correspondence last week by Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), concerned an effort Bennett made on behalf of a South African woman he had met on the Internet who wanted to visit the United States. According to court documents, Bennett sought to get her a visa by falsely claiming that she would be working with the White House and the State Department while in the United States. He was sentenced to three years of probation.

In 2010, Bennett was arrested again after appearing intoxicated at the gate to MacDill Air Force Base, home to U.S. Central Command. He was subsequently charged and convicted on weapons charges and charges of making additional false statements to the government.

At the trial in Tampa, U.S. District Court Judge Virginia M. Hernandez Covington asked how Bennett could receive a top-secret clearance after his conviction. The U.S. attorney’s office in Florida was unable to answer the question, according to news reports.

The judge’s concern was echoed in a letter written by Nelson to the Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) in June. “Serious quality-control questions have been raised here,” Nelson wrote, asking that the committee investigate such cases. “We may need legislation to limit or prevent certain contractors from handling highly classified and technical data.”

Now in prison at the Schuylkill Federal Correctional Institution in Minersville, Pa., Bennett could not be reached for comment. His Washington attorney, Jeffrey O’Toole, declined to comment.

In 2012, the Air Force proposed barring the San Antonio office of Booz Allen from bidding on future contracts. The division had hired a Pentagon official who brought with him on his first day of work “non-public information,” which he shared with the company to help it win an information technology contract.

The Air Force lifted a temporary suspension on Booz Allen in April 2012 when the firm agreed to implement ethics and other reforms and pay $65,000. At the time, Booz Allen issued a statement saying that the company “accepts responsibility for that incident and related matters and agrees to implement firm-wide enhancements to its ethics and compliance program.”

Although the 2006 and 2012 requests for barring the company from bidding for certain contracts surprised those who follow intelligence contracting, those cases did not seem to damage the firm’s overall reputation.

“The company did have a few instances of misconduct,” said Steven Aftergood, who follows intelligence contracting for the Federation of American Scientists. “But that number is not terribly surprising for a company of that size.”

Yet the problems, in particular those raised by Snowden and other employees with improper access to confidential materials, suggests a broader systemic problem, Aftergood said.

“The current situation didn’t come about by accident,” he said. “It is the product of economic and political incentives that favor it. Those incentives continue to exist, so there is a serious question about how much it is going to change.”

Future of contracting

Booz Allen is hardly the only company touched by allegations of mishandled government contracts. In 2011, 1,094 individual and corporate contractors were suspended or barred by the departments of Defense and Homeland Security alone, according the latest available federal data. There were probably more, but transgressions by firms that contract intelligence work are not released publicly by the federal government.

Michael Birmingham, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, said the intelligence community has lessened its reliance on private-sector contractors.

In 2008, about 27 percent of intelligence-community security clearances had been granted to private-sector workers, he said. Today, that number has declined to about 18 percent.Overall, as of late 2012, 4.9 million people have been granted security clearances, about one-fifth of them work in the private sector, according to data made public by the Office of the Director of National Intelligence.

But the growth in contracting in defense and homeland security work continues. That has been fueled by several factors — ongoing public worry about terrorism, antipathy toward big government and an evolution in Washington’s revolving-door culture that provides extraordinary rewards to top government officials who go private, experts say.

Yet even outsourcing’s most vocal skeptics agree contractors are here to stay, despite what they contend are illusory savings.

“Curbing the use of contractors would be difficult or impossible,” said Chuck Alsup, a retired Army intelligence officer and vice president of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, an Arlington County-based association of private companies and individual experts. “It would be, frankly, unwise.”

By Tom Hamburger and Robert O’Harrow Jr., Published: July 8
Alice Crites contributed to this report.

Find this story at 8 July 2013

© The Washington Post Company

Company allegedly misled government about security clearance checks

Federal investigators have told lawmakers they have evidence that USIS, the contractor that screened Edward Snowden for his top-secret clearance, repeatedly misled the government about the thoroughness of its background checks, according to people familiar with the matter.

The alleged transgressions are so serious that a federal watchdog indicated he plans to recommend that the Office of Personnel Management, which oversees most background checks, end ties with USIS unless it can show it is performing responsibly, the people said.

Cutting off USIS could present a major logistical quagmire for the nation’s already-jammed security clearance process. The federal government relies heavily on contractors to approve workers for some of its most sensitive jobs in defense and intelligence. Falls Church-based USIS is the largest single private provider for government background checks.

The inspector general of OPM, working with the Justice Department, is examining whether USIS failed to meet a contractual obligation that it would conduct reviews of all background checks the company performed on behalf of government agencies, the people familiar with the matter said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because the investigation has not yet been resolved.

After conducting an initial background check of a candidate for employment, USIS was required to perform a second review to make sure no important details had been missed. From 2008 through 2011, USIS allegedly skipped this second review in up to 50 percent of the cases. But it conveyed to federal officials that these reviews had, in fact, been performed.

The shortcut made it appear that USIS was more efficient than it actually was and may have triggered incentive awards for the company, the people briefed on the matter said. Investigators, who have briefed lawmakers on the allegations, think the strategy may have originated with senior executives, the people said.

Ray Howell, director of corporate communications at USIS, declined to comment on Thursday.

In a statement last week, USIS said it received a subpoena from the inspector general of OPM in January 2012. “USIS complied with that subpoena and has cooperated fully with the government’s civil investigative efforts,” the statement said. The company would not comment on the Snowden case.

It is not known whether USIS did anything improper on its 2011 background check of Snowden, the 30-year-old who leaked documents about the inner workings of the NSA and is now the subject of a global drama. He gained access to those documents after he was cleared to work at NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton.

Last week, Patrick E. McFarland, the inspector general of OPM, said he has concerns about Snowden’s background check. “We do believe that there may be some problems,” he said.

The broader concerns about background checks are not limited to USIS. McFarland’s office has 47 open investigations into alleged wrongdoing by individuals in the background checks industry, according to a statement from the inspector general’s office. Separately, since 2006, the watchdog has won convictions in 18 cases in which employees claimed to have verified information that ultimately turned out to be false or not even checked.

“There is an alarmingly insufficient level of oversight of the federal investigative-services program,” McFarland said last week in congressional testimony. “A lack of independent verification of the organization that conducts these important background investigations is a clear threat to national security.”

McFarland’s office declined to comment on the details of the investigation. “We have never indicated whether the case was criminal, civil, or administrative,” a statement from the office said.

Last week, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) said USIS is the subject of a criminal probe as a result of a “systematic failure” to conduct background checks. She did not elaborate. A spokesperson said Thursday that the senator stands by her statement.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who chairs a Homeland Security subcommittee, said he plans to introduce legislation within two weeks to increase oversight of the security clearance process, including giving inspectors general more power to audit funding and other aspects of the massive effort to provide 4.9 million Americans with authorized access to classified and other sensitive government information.

“I cannot believe that this is handled in such a shoddy and cavalier manner,” Tester said in an interview Thursday. “I personally believe that if you are under criminal investigation, you should be suspended from the process until it is resolved.”

Tester added: “We have spent hundreds of billions in this country trying to keep classified information classified and to keep people from outside coming in. And what we see here is that we have a problem from the inside.”

USIS, which was spun off from the federal government in the 1990s, has become the dominant player in the background checks business. It does about 45 percent of all background checks for OPM, according to congressional staffers. USIS has 7,000 employees.

USIS has been under financial pressure in recent years because of federal cutbacks and less generous contracts from the government, according to financial analysts working at Moody’s and Standard & Poor’s. The firm’s parent company, Altegrity, is owned by Providence Equity Partners, a private equity firm. USIS has two main competitors, KeyPoint Government Solutions and CACI.

By Tom Hamburger and Zachary A. Goldfarb, Published: June 28

Find this story at 28 June 2013

© The Washington Post Company

A Bet on Peace for War-Torn Somalia

Michael Stock is pursuing an extreme version of that basic investor’s principle: Get in early. He’s just finished building a resort on the coast of war-torn Mogadishu, Somalia. WSJ’s Christopher S. Stewart reports. (Photo: Dominic Nahr/WSJ)

MOGADISHU, Somalia—Michael Stock sees things that others don’t. “Imagine this,” he says one recent afternoon, standing on the sunny second-floor deck of his new oceanside hotel in Somalia’s war-battered capital. “There are banana trees where there’s desert now, and there’s this view.”

The banana trees haven’t grown in yet, but International Campus, as he calls the complex, is the closest thing to a Ritz for many miles. A fortified compound sprawled across 11 acres of rocky white beach, it offers 212 rooms including $500-a-night villas, several dining rooms, coffee and snack shops, and a curving slate-colored pool where sun-seekers can loll away Somali afternoons.

“It’s going to be ridiculous!” Mr. Stock said, just weeks before residents began arriving for April’s opening.

A few hours later, the jittery sound of gunfire split the warm February air not far from his new hotel—a reminder that the country is still muddling through a decades-old conflict and that there are still bullets flying, bombs detonating.
Bananas in the Desert

Most Western countries have avoided Somalia, leaving a void to be filled by contractors like Michael Stock’s Bancroft Global Development. He envisions ‘banana trees where there is desert.’

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos for The Wall Street Journal

Here, Mr. Stock, left, outside Mogadishu, Somalia’s war-battered capital, with an employee, Richard Rouget.

Mr. Stock isn’t just anyone gambling on a far-fetched idea in a conflict zone. In an unusual twist of the war business, the 36-year-old American is deeply involved in the conflict itself. In addition to being a real estate developer, his company also helps train Somalis in modern military techniques.

His security company, Bancroft Global Development, has supported African troops since 2008 as they fought al-Shabaab, the Somali Islamic group tied to al Qaeda, which the U.S. views as a terrorist threat. The United Nations and the African Union, with U.S. State Department money, pay Bancroft to support soldiers in everything from counterinsurgency tactics to bomb disposal, sniper training, road building and, as Mr. Stock puts it, “bandaging shot-off thumbs.”

Security companies have, of course, been rushing into war zones forever, sometimes controversially. A recent congressional study on wartime contracting estimated that the U.S. spent some $206 billion on outside contracts and grants in Iraq and Afghanistan between 2002 and 2011.

Most Western countries have stayed out of Somalia. Contractors like Bancroft partly fill that void. The U.S., which pulled its troops after American soldiers died in the 1993 Black Hawk Down tragedy, has spent more than $650 million since 2006 on supporting the African Union Mission in Somalia, known as Amisom, and its more than 17,000 soldiers.

Unlike many security contractors, Mr. Stock’s company, based in Washington, D.C., is a nonprofit not primarily concerned with making money on military support services. In fact, it actually sustains stretches of multimillion-dollar losses, Mr. Stock says. Meanwhile its sister company, Bancroft Global Investment, chases profits by pouring money into war-zone real estate.

Dominic Nahr/Magnum Photos for The Wall Street Journal

Michael Stock develops real estate in Somalia and Afghanistan.

Mr. Stock’s gamble: The security outfit will help guide the country toward peace, turning his investments into big money. “It’s like getting in at the bottom of the stock market,” says Mr. Stock. His unusual war operation is making him into a kind of ultimate gentrifier, a mini mogul of Mogadishu, perhaps.

His first properties went up in Afghanistan. But Somalia represents his latest push. Along with the new place, Mr. Stock says he has invested more than $25 million in various for-profit ventures, including a “trailer park” hotel built out of shipping containers at the airport, a compound of prefabricated buildings fronting the city’s old port and a cement factory.

Bancroft is the only contractor supplying military training to Amisom soldiers in the country. Mr. Stock estimates that his team of 100 or so people in Somalia works with roughly a third of the 17,000 Amisom forces at any given time.

After more than two decades of violence in Somalia, there are glimmers of hope. African troops, with Bancroft’s support, have pushed the insurgents to more rural areas. In January, the U.S. recognized the Somali government for the first time since 1991 and last month a U.S. Agency for International Development official urged at a news conference, “Get in on the ground floor.”

A new president leads Somalia. Expats are returning to rebuild and there are even people on the beaches. “We swim here all the time,” said a Russian helicopter operator, as a friend floated on an inner tube along a bullet-littered stretch of ocean near the airport. “The water’s good!”

With dwindling war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan, other American contractors are moving in, too. A Virginia company, Atlantean, is setting up an airport hotel in the south. Among its board members, according to its website, is former Maj. Gen. William Garrison, who led the mission associated with Black Hawk Down. In the movie version, he was played by Sam Shepard. Maj. Gen. Garrison couldn’t be reached for comment.

‘Will we get shot at the first day?’ a colleague asked as they flew into Somalia. ‘Probably,’ Mr. Stock laughed.

“There are infinite possibilities in a country that has to be literally built from the ground up,” said Ken Menkhaus, a Somalia expert at Davidson College. These possibilities, however, also include the worst: a return to a hell-ripped Somalia. That reality loomed only weeks ago when militants bombed the capital’s main courthouse, killing more than two dozen people.

Contracting out security has its perils. An investigation by the U.N.’s Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea last summer found companies “operating in an arguably paramilitary fashion.” The investigation found a “growing number” of foreign private security companies working in Somalia with diplomatic missions, international companies and individuals.

According to one person familiar with the confidential part of the report and unaffiliated with Bancroft, the report found that Bancroft was “very transparent about the way they operated,” whereas some other companies were “more deceptive.”

Mr. Stock has attracted some big-name attention. In November, he flew in Warren Buffett’s son Howard to look at potential agricultural projects—part of Mr. Stock’s interest in creating a farming operation to service his hotels, among other things.

“He was the only one who would bring me into the country,” said Mr. Buffett, who has been involved in philanthropy around the Horn of Africa.

Almost monthly, Mr. Stock commutes here from Washington, D.C. This time his “fast plane,” a 10-seat jet, was in the shop so he borrowed a five-seater Cessna in Kenya from a friend.

Accompanying him was a new Bancroft recruit. He had been a part of an Army Delta Force squad that chased al Qaeda in Iraq.

“Will we get shot at the first day?” the former soldier asked at one point.

“Probably,” Mr. Stock said, laughing. “I promised you some spice!”

Bancroft says it employs about 200 men around the world. About half work in Somalia. Some have roots in elite military forces including the Navy SEALs, French Foreign Legion and British Special Air Service, the employees say. “It’s like an extreme sport,” says one, Richard Rouget, a South African resident and former French soldier.

The idea for the business came during a summer job in 1998 with the U.S. embassy in Morocco, where Mr. Stock visited a refugee camp in the Sahara ringed by land mines. “Why hasn’t someone shown them how to remove the mines?” he recalls thinking.

A year later, after graduating from Princeton, he started a mine-removal company. “Like a dot-com,” is how Mr. Stock describes the early days. He had no full-time staffers and spent months meeting people in the field. There was only sporadic mine-removal work, for little money, in some of the world’s most unstable places: Mali, Chad, and Iraq.

His family’s wealth helped. His great-grandfather, Lewis Strauss, made tens of millions as partner at the investment firm Kuhn, Loeb & Co. In time, Mr. Stock borrowed some $8 million from different banks and invested about $2 million of his own money.

As the U.S. military went after the Taliban in 2002, Mr. Stock’s company landed in Afghanistan and offered services through a local partner, Mine Pro. He invested in the company and built a group to train bomb-detecting dogs and do anything from plumbing to car repair.

But his company operated at a loss, he says. It didn’t make money for about two years, the time it took to get his local Afghan partner up to speed and wait for it to win contracts.

A more profit-minded security contractor might have called it quits. Mr. Stock, however, had another idea. “My thinking was that you could lose money on security to bet on development,” he says.

Afghanistan certainly lacked decent, secure accommodation. Initially he built an eight-bedroom compound in Kabul and another, bigger residence in Herat, the country’s third-largest city. He started a car rental service, too.

Eventually, security began paying off, Mr. Stock says. He started receiving a share of his partner company’s contracts, with that revenue peaking at about $1.8 million in 2005.

But the bigger money was in his properties. Today, the original two have been expanded into protected city blocks of multiple buildings. They house tenants associated with the World Bank and the International Development Law Organization, among others.

Over the past eight years, the real estate and other commercial services like car rental in Afghanistan have brought in about $32 million in net revenue, according to financial documents provided by Bancroft. Much of that money is now being invested in Somalia.

“It was like Stalingrad in 1942,” Mr. Stock says of the day in late 2007 when he flew into Mogadishu. The city was a smoky battlefield of bomb explosions and firefights between the Shabaab and the African troops, who had arrived earlier in the year.

But that was the point, he says. “We wanted get in at the worst time, when it’s really bad.”

The Shabaab, Arabic for “The Youth,” had taken over much of the capital. They built power over years, though the bloodshed had begun long before, in 1991, when armed clans forced out Somalia’s military-run government.

His team set up tents at the airport and struck a deal with the African troops, he says. “We said we’ll help you, if you keep us from getting killed.”

Some worry that contractors like Bancroft face little scrutiny—an issue of “accountability,” as one Western intelligence analyst put it. “Who works for them?” he said. “What are they doing?”

“The pro side,” he said, “is that they were here when no one else would come.”

A person familiar with the U.S. State Department’s policy on Somalia said that the company had helped create an “effective fighting force.” A U.N. official, meanwhile, noted that Bancroft’s training in roadside bombs had reduced deaths among African soldiers.

Mr. Stock winces at the terms “mercenary” and “hired guns,” which he considers inaccurate. He calls his men “mentors” who train people rather than fight.

Even though they don’t carry weapons, working closely with soldiers, medics and others means that they are in the line of fire. “If the African forces are overrun, we’re all dead,” he says.

Dressed in body armor and a helmet one morning, Mr. Stock says he had never considered joining the military himself. “I don’t take orders well,” he joked, riding along in a convoy of armored carriers in downtown Mogadishu, gunners manning the roof hatches. It was part of a sweep Burundi and Somali soldiers for insurgents.

The streets alternated between bombed-out buildings and stretches of fresh paint. Soon, a sniper was spotted. Later, a gunfight broke out. Then, an exploded roadside bomb brought the convoy to a halt. By the end, six suspected militants were detained and Bancroft took the bomb for analysis.

“Danger comes and goes quickly here,” says Mr. Stock. “It’s like lightning. If it hits, it hits.”

It was nearly three years of free security training in Somalia, and $6 million out of pocket, according to financial filings, before he landed his first contract with the U.N. Various U.N. agencies have paid the company some $15 million since then and the African Union, with the U.S. State Department money, will have paid Bancroft a total of about $25 million by the end of the year.

All along, though, he expanded into real estate. In 2011, he created the for-profit side of the company, Bancroft Global Investment. That year, he sold an 18% stake, just under $1 million, in the Somali properties to a Washington, D.C., developer, Michael Darby.

“When you hear Somalia, you think of the most dangerous place on earth,” says Mr. Darby. “But I’m prone to take more risks than others.”

Making real-estate deals in Somalia wasn’t easy, Mr. Stock says. It took “dozens” of meetings with government officials, clan leaders and neighbors of the properties. “You have to spend a lot of time figuring out who is who,” he says. There is no formal contract for the land, but rather “consensus building,” he says, that results in a verbal go-ahead from the collective parties.

Mr. Stock made a similar land deal, a public-private partnership with the Somali government for some beach property near the port, but didn’t work out as well.

A version of this article appeared April 27, 2013, on page A1 in the U.S. edition of The Wall Street Journal, with the headline: A Bet on Peace for War-Torn Somalia.

Updated April 26, 2013, 10:37 p.m. ET

By CHRISTOPHER S. STEWART

Write to Christopher S. Stewart at christopher.stewart@wsj.com

Find this story at 26 April 2013

Copyright 2012 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.

Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy

WASHINGTON — It seemed like a simple idea: In the chaos that is Somalia, create a sophisticated, highly trained fighting force that could finally defeat the pirates terrorizing the shipping lanes off the Somali coast.

But the creation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force was anything but simple. It involved dozens of South African mercenaries and the shadowy security firm that employed them, millions of dollars in secret payments by the United Arab Emirates, a former clandestine officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, and Erik Prince, the billionaire former head of Blackwater Worldwide who was residing at the time in the emirates.

And its fate makes the story of the pirate hunters for hire a case study in the inherent dangers in the outsourced wars in Somalia, where the United States and other countries have relied on proxy forces and armed private contractors to battle pirates and, increasingly, Islamic militants.

That strategy has had some success, including a recent offensive by Kenyan and African Union troops to push the militant group Al Shabab from its stronghold in the port city of Kismayu.

But with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.

A United Nations investigative group described the effort by a company based in Dubai called Sterling Corporate Services to create the force as a “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation” of the arms embargo in place on Somalia, and has tried to document a number of grisly cases in which Somali trainees were beaten and even killed. In one case in October 2010, according to the United Nations group, a trainee was hogtied with his arms and feet bound behind his back and beaten. The group said the trainee had died from his injuries, an accusation disputed by the company.

Sterling has portrayed its operation as a bold private-sector attempt to battle the scourge of piracy where governments were failing. Lafras Luitingh, a senior manager for the project, described the October 2010 occurrence as a case of “Somali-on-Somali violence” that was not indicative of the overall training program. He said that the trainee had recovered from his injuries, and that “the allegations reflect not the professional training that occurred but the fact that professional training was needed,” he said.

A lawyer for the company, Stephen Heifetz, wrote an official response to the United Nations report, calling it “a collection of unsubstantiated and often false innuendo assembled by a group with extreme views regarding participants in Somali politics.”

Sterling officials have pointed out that in March, a United Nations counterpiracy organization — a separate entity from the investigative group that criticized Sterling — praised the semiautonomous Somali region of Puntland for creating the program. Moreover, the company argues, Somalia already is a playground for clandestine operations, with the C.I.A. now in the midst of an extensive effort to arm and equip Somali spies. Why, they ask, is Sterling Corporate Services singled out for criticism?

Concerned about the impact of piracy on commercial shipping in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has sought to take the lead in battling Somali pirates, both overtly and in secret by bankrolling operations like Sterling’s.

American officials have said publicly that they never endorsed the creation of the private army, but it is unclear if Sterling had tacit support from parts of the United States government. For instance, the investigative group reported in July that the counterpiracy force shared some of the same facilities as the Puntland Intelligence Service, a spy organization answering to Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Farole, that has been trained by C.I.A. officers and contractors for more than a decade.

With the South African trainers gone, the African Union has turned to a different security contractor, Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington, to assess whether the pirate hunters in Puntland can be assimilated into the stew of other security forces in Somalia sanctioned both by the United States and the African Union. Among those groups are a 10,000-man Somali national army and troops of Somalia’s National Security Agency, based in Mogadishu, which is closely allied with the C.I.A.

Michael Stock, Bancroft’s president, said a team of his that recently visited the camp where the Puntland force is based witnessed something out of the Wild West: nearly 500 soldiers who had gone weeks without pay wandering the main compound and two other small camps, an armory of weapons amassed over two years at their disposal.

Although the force is far from the 1,000-man elite unit with helicopters and airplanes described in the United Nations report, Mr. Stock and independent analysts said the Puntland soldiers still posed a potential threat to the region if left unchecked.

“Sterling is leaving behind an unpaid but well-armed security force in Puntland,” said Andre Le Sage, a senior research fellow who specializes in Africa at the National Defense University in Washington. “It’s important to find a way to make them part of a regular force or to disarm them and take control of them. If that’s not done, it could make things worse.”

Mr. Stock, whose company trains soldiers from Uganda and Burundi for counterinsurgency missions in Somalia under the African Union banner, said Bancroft would not take over Sterling’s counterpiracy mission.

The Sterling operation was shrouded in a degree of secrecy from the time Mr. Luitingh and a small group of South Africans traveling in a private plane first touched down in Bosasso, Puntland’s capital, in 2010. The men worked for Saracen International, a South African private military firm hired by the emirates and composed of several former members of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, the feared paramilitary squad during the apartheid era.

The following year, after The New York Times wrote about the operation, Saracen hired a prominent Washington law firm to advocate for the mission at the State Department and the Pentagon, and a rebranding campaign began. A new company, Sterling Corporate Services, was created in Dubai to oversee the training in Puntland. It was an attempt to put distance between the Somalia operations and Saracen’s apartheid-era past, but some of the officers of the two companies were the same.

Two well-connected Americans were also involved in the project. Michael Shanklin, a former C.I.A. station chief in Mogadishu, was hired to tap a network of contacts both in Washington and East Africa to build support for the counterpiracy force. More significant was the role of Mr. Prince, who had become an informal adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

At the time, Mr. Prince was also involved in a project to train Colombian mercenaries at a desert camp in the emirates to carry out missions at the behest of the Emirati government.

But the emirates’ refusal to publicly acknowledge their role in the operation, or to make a formal case to the United Nations Security Council to receive permission to build the army under the terms of the Somalia arms embargo, drew the ire of United Nations arms monitors, who repeatedly pressed the emirates to shut down the mission.

Lawyers for Sterling gave extensive briefings on the program to the State Department, the Pentagon and various United Nations agencies dealing with piracy.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the emirates’ ambassador to Washington, declined to comment for this article.

American officials said they had urged Sterling’s lawyers, from the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, to have the operation approved by the Security Council. Mr. Heifetz, the company’s lawyer, said Puntland and other Somali authorities did receive permission to build the police force. A spokeswoman for the State Department said the United States government never approved Sterling’s activities.

“We share the monitoring group’s concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the Saracen and Sterling Corporate Services’ train-and-equip program for the Puntland Maritime Police Force, as well as the abuses alleged to have occurred during the training,” said Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman, referring to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the investigative arm.

October 4, 2012
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT

Find this story at 4 October 2012

© 2012 The New York Times Company

Private Security Companies in Somalia are in violation of the arms embargo – UN

The United Nations is concerned that member states are failing to uphold the arms embargo on Somalia by allowing private security companies (PSCs) to operate in the country. South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates were singled out in a UN report.

In its Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the United Nations said that the provision of security assistance, in the absence of UN authorisation, “constitutes a violation of the general and complete arms embargo on Somalia.” It added that the Monitoring Group was concerned that member states “routinely fail to fulfil their obligations” which require them to prevent “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons and military equipment and the direct or indirect supply of technical assistance or training, financial or other assistance” to Somalia.

The report highlights several of the numerous security companies operating in Somalia, notably Sterling Corporate Services/Saracen International Lebanon. In late 2011, the assets, personnel and operations of Saracen International Lebanon were transferred to Sterling Corporate Services (SCS), reportedly a Dubai registered company, which resumed large-scale military training, technical assistance and support to the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

“Established in May 2010, with the involvement of Erik Dean Prince, the American founder of Blackwater U.S.A., this externally-financed assistance programme has remained the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a PSC,” the report said. “In 2011, Saracen’s training camp near Bosaaso became the best-equipped military facility in Somalia after AMISOM’s bases in Mogadishu. The SCS base today includes a modern operational command centre, control tower, airstrip, helicopter deck and about 70 tents, which can host up to 1,500 trainees.”

“Thanks to this massive initiative, the Puntland Maritime Police Force is now a well-equipped elite force, over 1,000 strong, with air assets used to carry out ground attacks, that operates beyond the rule of law and reports directly to the President of Puntland. This private army disingenuously labeled a ‘counter-piracy’ force, has been financed by zakat [Muslim charity] contributions mainly from high-ranking officials from the United Arab Emirates, including Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE government, however, has officially denied any involvement in the project,” the UN reports.

The Monitoring Group stated that SCS was characterised by a lack of transparency, accountability or regard for international law and this was unlikely to change without intervention from its state sponsor.

Another private security company mentioned in the report was the South African-based Pathfinder, which in August 2011 was contracted by Africa Oil, via its local subsidiaries, to provide security advice and risk analysis. Pathfinder personnel on the ground liaise with local authorities in charge of security and oversee the Exploration Security Unit (ESU), a special branch of the Puntland security forces established to protect oil exploration and exploitation.

The UN report noted that Pathfinder’s transparency and its efforts to comply with the sanctions regime arguably represent ‘best practices’ for private security companies in Somalia. “However, its ‘temporary issue’ of military equipment and the direct funding of the ESU by Africa Oil (via its subsidiary, Canmex) constitute violations of Security Council resolution 733 (1992).”

Also singled out in the report was the Washington DC-based charity Bancroft Global Development, operating in Somalia under the auspices of AMISOM. The report said it is currently the only private company providing assistance to Somali security sector institutions that complies with UN resolutions.

Other security providers form part of a growing network of private contractors that provide security details for individuals, foreign companies, diplomatic missions, international non-governmental organisations and international organizations in Somalia. They supervise local militias, provide armed escorts and static guards, often importing armoured vehicles, personal protective equipment (PPE) and operating in an arguably paramilitary fashion, according to the United Nations report.

Apart from organisations based in Somalia, private security companies are also used to provide protection to diplomats, international NGO workers, journalists, foreign contractors and businessmen visiting Mogadishu. Since November 2011, even the United Nations has also engaged a private local militia in Mogadishu to protect the movements of its staff.

Written by defenceWeb
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 14:28

Find this story at 8 August 2012

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