By Patrick Henningsen
21st Century Wire
There was a time when the theatre of war remained exclusive from the type of blue-collar crime, racketeering and fraud we entertain at home.
Throughout the 20th century, organised rackets were a venerable industry in America. Within an official military context, activities like “insurance jobs”, staged lorry thefts, money and arms laundering, narcotics and human trafficking are not exactly simple fayre for the average commissioned soldier. For a private contractor however, this is a gold mine – the kind of under-the-table work can land an easy payday for anyone organised and bold enough to go through with it.
Truck drivers, security guards, fork lift operators, stock checkers, middle managers and a few key bent police officers all working in collusion with each other to take in merchandise and then distribute it through black market channels. Everyone gets a cut along the way. This might be a scene straight out the Baltimore shipping yards in the popular HBO series The Wire.
It could be from any classic teamster or mob-controlled US port, or any Sicilian Mafia-controlAled market in Italy, or Marseilles. It’s organised crime – Nand it’s the exact same blueprint we are witnessing in Afghanistan and Iraq.
According to a recent report from the BBC this week, some owners of oil tankers being used to supply fuel to NATO Forces in Afghanistan believe that some of the attacks on their convoys are suspicious. Yes, you heard that right. Contractors have been caught red-handed attacking their own vehicles whilst travelling from Pakistan to Afghanistan.
The reports explains, “Evidence suggests that bombs have been planted in the tankers by the “Nato contractors” – individuals or companies who have been contracted by Nato to supply fuel and goods to forces in Afghanistan.”
Dost Mohammad, an oil tanker owner from Nowshera district, stated that a Nato contractor had recently been caught trying to plant a bomb in an oil tanker. He added that the contractor had apparently sold off the fuel before staging a bombing of the vehicle. “Only 2,000 litres from the original 50,000 litres had been left in the tanker to cover up the crime,” he said.
While NATO and US operations have alternative supply routes into Afghanistan, the Pakistani route still remains the cheapest and most convenient. With no regulation or real oversight, it has become a virtual breeding ground for the teamster-style criminal. In the case of fuel transport, it’s a win-win situation for the contractor. According to Mohammad : “If an old vehicle is burnt, Nato gives them money for a new vehicle. In addition, they receive compensation for all the fuel lost as well.”
In these regions, under the tax-payer funded protection of US and NATO forces, private security and civilian contractors currently control both the white and black markets in most major goods and services, no doubt helped in part by a few key cooperative people in the military and government structures. The results are becoming clear: in and amongst these many thousands of private contractors, you now have an established criminal class that has been allowed to mature and develop their own unique supply lines and niche black markets over the past decade.
It’s not enough to get a no-bid contract in an occupation zone, or for blue-collar workers to be paid in excess of $1000 per day tax-free. No, they have additional needs. It seems that the best practices of classic American and European organised crime has well and truly made its way into the war zone, having established a virtual criminal’s playground.
At home, this class of blue-collar ‘goodfellas’ crime, insurance fraud and larceny is harder and harder to pull off because law and order mostly rules, and strict regulation applies to trade. The days of the wild west and the hay days of the black syndicates are mostly long gone. Over the decades our authorities at home have gotten wise to certain shady practices, and insurance claims investigators are too good at their jobs to be hoodwinked. In places like US occupied Iraq, NATO occupied Afghanistan and Pakistan, however, the criminal war booty is plentiful and the market is wide open for business.
The BBC report follows the revelation recently that British soldiers sent to fight the Taliban were buying drugs from Afghan dealers and shipping them back home to Britain. Heroin and other drugs are apparently being smuggled in by a syndicate group of soldiers returning each week to RAF Brize Norton in Oxfordshire. The temptation would be too much to resist, as Afghanistan is the source of 90 per cent of the world’s opium. This is not so shocking, as throughout history drugs and war have often gone hand in hand. The same situation we find in Afghanistan would also apply to cocaine stocks if US or NATO troops and private contractors were to occupy Columbia or Peru.
We are witnessing a major trend here. Subsidised by the State, war zones have provided a lucrative market for private organised crime over the last 20 years. Examples of Dyncorp and Halliburton sex trafficking rings in Bosnia, Blackwater’s mercenary death squads in Iraq, Germany’s private waste disposal firm Ecolog AG’s drug running operations in Afghanistan are all well documented by now.
It’s clear that the US and NATO occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan have been designed to last for 50 years or more, similar to the permanent operation along the DMZ in Korea, staffed by over 30,000 military and civilians since its construction in the late 1950’s. Western interests clearly hope to colonise and bring eventual ‘civilisation’ to these war-torn regions and once business stability is achieved, the corporations can move in properly. Recently, a delegation of representatives from 14 American companies sets off for Iraq, on what the US Commerce Department referred to in a Freudian slip, “the first trade mission since the end of the US government’s combat operations in Iraq.”
After the corporations are able to harvest these fresh new markets, the bulk of occupational forces and throngs of contractors will eventually wind down. Then the real fun begins at home. After honing their criminal skills overseas, namely… fraud, larceny, protection rackets, extortion, bomb making… and in some cases murder, these thousands of professional criminal contractors will be returning to an economically weakened US and Europe with enough cash and muscle, to stake a claim in one of many new domestic organised crime arenas.
As if we don’t have enough domestic criminals to contend with already.
About the author: Patrick Henningsen is an independent writer, filmmaker, communications consultant and managing editor of 21st Century Wire.
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