In the U.S. Eastern District Court in Brooklyn on Valentine’s Day, a Muslim and naturalized American citizen with five different aliases – stretching from Mauritania to Morocco to Lebanon – pleaded guilty to a charge of illegally possessing classified documents and was sentenced to 13 years, according to a report in the New York Sun – a light sentence for committing espionage and passing classified documents to Iraqi Sunni insurgents during one of his two stints in Iraq. Federal prosecutors allege he did this when deployed at Al Taqqadam Air Base west of Baghdad in March 2004.
The irony is that his military superiors reportedly gave him high marks for his work with an intelligence unit in Iraq. Little did they know what he really was doing. He was found out when he applied for a security clearance. He even entered the U.S. back in 1989 under false pretenses seeking “political asylum.”
The information he passed on may have caused the deaths and injuries of hundreds of U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqi civilians in the horrific Najaf battle in 2004. In his Brooklyn apartment on his home computer was evidence that he was an al-Qaida sympathizer. One example cited in a New York Daily News was a photo of the second airliner that hit the Twin Towers on 9-11 with the caption “We fly straight to you.”
He is a spy who used false documents to become a U.S. citizen, engaged in deep espionage against our government and put our troops in the field at great peril.
This person was recruited originally as a translator for the 82nd Airborne in Iraq by a multi-billion dollar U.S. company headquartered in Manhattan, L-3 Communications-Titan Group. Titan has received several billion dollars in procurements for in-country translation services in Iraq for INSCOM, the U.S. Army Intelligence and Security Command, since it began contract translation services in 1999.
In 2005, Titan merged with giant L-3 Communications, a defense contracting firm specializing in global communications, surveillance and intelligence technology. This followed SEC investigations about bribery charges and Army procurement penalties concerning Titan because of the revelations involving translators in the detainees “controversy” at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Baghdad. The combined entity continues to be awarded translation services contracts by the Army.
This Brooklyn federal court trial of an al-Qaida translator is just the tip of the iceberg confronting the Pentagon and its contractor Titan concerning Iraqi insurgent infiltration of our military in the field – which wreaks death and destruction on our soldiers and loyal Iraqis.
If you go to L-3 Communications-Titan Group website, you’ll see postings of translator positions in Iraq clearly labeled as putting yourself in harm’s way. The announcement for qualified linguists interested in assignments in Afghanistan and Iraq states that applicants “must be willing to live and work in harsh conditions co-located with U.S. Army.” That’s an understatement. According to a report in USA today, one hapless Titan linguist, an Iraqi Kurd, was captured and beheaded in October 2004 in a grisly video posted on the Internet. Of the more than 665 contractor deaths in the war in Iraq, L-3 Communications-Titan Group Iraqi translators accounted for nearly one-third, or 216 fatalities. This is “deadly duty.” blared the headline of a San Diego Union-Tribune report.
How did we let this counterintelligence debacle occur with such disastrous results?
The short answer was Titan’s screening program for local personnel in Iraq enabled infiltration through ineffective and unprofessional interrogations. When information gathered by professional counterintelligence linguist/analysts was presented to U.S. military commanders pointing this out, it was sloughed off.
According to informed sources, the late Saddam Hussein and his intelligence cadres prepared the way. Beginning in 2002, he enlisted Iraqis loyal to him to infiltrate as English-speaking operatives into American bastions in the event of a conquest. These operatives were trained to gather intelligence and foment insurgency.
When President Bush gave his stirring graduation speech at West Point in June 2002 in the run up to the Iraq war, Hussein allegedly ordered an accelerated English-language training program for “qualified” members of his intelligence and Baathist cadres to become “lay behind assets” in the event of an American invasion and conquest. The purpose was to infiltrate the unwary American military forces and bore from within by providing intelligence and targeting for insurgents. As one of my sources said, “Pretty wily, but effective strategy.”
To find out how this incredible lapse in counterintelligence occurred, I spoke with qualified sources who conducted screenings of Iraqi personnel at Camp Falcon in South Baghdad. The sources were former military intelligence specialists and linguists working under separate contractual arrangements.
In the aftermath of the conquest of Baghdad in April 2003, local U.S. military intelligence personnel were approached by English-speaking Iraqis offering to be of “assistance.” In May of 2003, the first of a series of contracts with Titan was awarded to procure U.S. law enforcement trained personnel to assist military commanders at Camp Falcon in screening local employees.
According to these sources, the Titan Local Employment Personnel screenings resulted in a rejection rate of less than 8 per 5,000 persons. That contrasted with a rejection rate of former military intelligence specialists and linguists of one-third (33 percent). Camp Falcon was heavily infiltrated by Hussein’s lay behind assets, and the information they provided to insurgents resulted in the deaths of several hundred Iraqis and U.S. personnel.
The sources indicated that they passed the counterintelligence information up the line from Camp Falcon to CENTCOM intelligence, only to receive little or no response. One of the other U.S. contractors, Kellogg Brown Root, found the procedures and information helpful and implemented more effective screening, filtering out suspected insurgents and sympathizers.
These sources indicated that after they left Iraq, “the situation worsened.”
The media was pre-occupied by the alleged abuses in the Abu Ghraib Prison and litigation by Iraqi detainees against defense contractors like Titan and CACI. No attention has been paid to how insurgents infiltrated Camp Falcon and the defective screening procedures put in place by Titan.
For this our taxpayers paid the convicted al-Qaida sympathizer who pleaded guilty in the Brooklyn Eastern Federal District Court over $100,000 as a translator. Meanwhile, billions went to Titan for ineffective translator services possibly resulting in the deaths of hundreds of Americans and thousands of innocent Iraqis.
But will this change now that INSCOM awarded a $4.6 billion contract to Global Linguistics Solutions (GLS), LLC, and a joint venture of another defense contracting giant DynCorp International and McNeil Technologies that will start in early March? L-3 Communications-Titan Group acknowledged the loss of this competitive award in press releases but, I understand, may contest it. The award covers procurement hiring of more than 6,000 local in-country translators and 1,000 U.S. citizens with security clearances in Iraq. The president of GLS is retired Maj. Gen. James Marks, former CNN military analyst and Iraq land war intelligence chief with the Coalition forces’ Land Component Command, who holds controversial views on the inadequacy of pre-war intelligence. GLS vice president is the former commandant of the Defense Language Institute, retired Col. Michael R. Simone.
I asked the GLS partners several questions about the INSCOM mega linguists contract and lessons learned from the previous L-3 Communications-Titan Group experience. To wit:
“At startup of the INSCOM contract with Global, will you take over existing local in-country translators from the prior L-3 Communications-Titan hires, or go through an independent screening process? If so, what are the criteria that GLS project managers apply in making professional selections? Would GLS hire qualified heritage speakers of critical languages required under the terms of the INSCOM contract, regardless of religion, country of origin and citizenship? What are the GLS criteria in hiring and screening recruiters who would do the hiring of in-country and U.S. translators? What are the prospective salary and compensation terms for linguist hires vis-?-vis qualifications and ability to obtain requisite security clearances?
“Given the high death toll among contract foreign linguists in Iraq, what security arrangements has Global Linguist LLC proposed in the winning INSCOM submission that may mitigate the previous vendor’s less than stellar record?”
I have yet to hear back from them.
If I do, their responses may be revelatory; however, I’m not counting on it.
The “translator scandal” needs congressional scrutiny and a quick fix on the Pentagon’s procurement pipeline for required translators in Iraq and elsewhere. Otherwise, as my sources said, “it will get worse.’
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