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Blazing the terrorism trail: The US war industry

New York Times investigative reporter, James Risen, has released his latest investigation into the hidden costs of the war on terror

In a recent op-ed, Noam Chomsky, who is often acclaimed as America’s greatest intellectual, wrote, “It's official: The US is the world's leading terrorist state, and proud of it."

Chomsky cites a New York Times piece that had quoted President Obama as saying he had demanded the CIA to conduct a review to find cases of “financing and supplying arms to an insurgency in a country that actually worked out well. And they couldn’t come up with much.” Each case cited was a “major terrorist operation conducted by the US,” according to Chomsky. The self-defeating war on terror has destabilised and wrought social chaos in the Middle East, and “helped spread jihadism from a corner of Afghanistan to a larger part of the world.”

Chomsky says to this, “We may add the world's greatest terrorist campaign: Obama's global project of assassination of ‘terrorists.’ The ‘resentment-generating impact’ of those drone and special-forces strikes should be too well known to require further comment. This is a record to be contemplated with some awe.”

This US “record” as the “world’s leading terrorist state” is set to deliver even more unintended consequences for the peoples of the Middle East, thanks to the growing trend of the US state outsourcing its military capabilities to private, for profit corporations.

New York Times investigative reporter, James Risen, has released his latest investigation into the hidden costs of the war on terror. In “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War,” Risen reveals the intersection between corporate greed and outrageous government abuse. It’s a terrifying expose of how 9/11 not only funnelled trillions of dollars to the military industrial complex, but also how the self-defeating war on terror gave birth to the money sucking homeland security-industrial complex. “In the name of fighting terrorism, our government has done things every bit as shameful as its historic wartime abuses - and until this book, it has worked very hard to cover them up,” writes Risen.

At the peak of the respective wars, there were more private contractors than military personnel in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The war on terror has become the modern day version of the 19th century gold rush, with frauds and opportunists leeching billions in taxpayer money via no-bid government contracts. “During the war on terror, greed and ambition have been married to unlimited rivers of cash and the sudden deregulation of American national security to create a climate in which clever men could seemingly create rogue intelligence operations with little or no adult supervision,” writes Risen.

A Washington Post report that found there are “more than 1,200 government organisations and nearly 2,000 private companies working on counterterrorism, homeland security, and intelligence programs,” and a 2011 Pentagon study that found “during the ten years after 9/11, the Defence Department had been given more than $400 bn to contractors who had previously been sanctioned in cases involving $1 mn or more in fraud.”

Not only do these examples of corporate greed and opportunism have consequences for the way in which the US carries out counterterrorism; it also has broad consequences for the Middle East.

The military industrial complex and the homeland security-industrial complex has created a revolving door of opportunity for government bureaucrats, military personnel, and elected officials. A recent study by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and the Brave New Foundation found that “70 percent of recently retired three and four star generals left the Pentagon for employment by major defence contractors.”

Today, it’s nearly impossible to tell where government ends and corporations begin. Politicians are paid by military and security corporations to sell new wars as new products. “These contractors are hired to help Washington determine the scale and scope of the terrorist threat; they make no money if they determine that the threat is overblown or, God forbid, if the war on terror ever comes to an end,” writes Risen. “Opportunities that would disappear if America was suddenly at peace. To most of America, war has become not only tolerable, but profitable, so there is no longer any great incentive to end it.”

The war on terror has created an entire military based oligarchic class. Risen provides many examples, but one that has direct and immediate implications for the Middle East is the one told of the brothers Neal and Linden Blue. The Blue brothers bought General Atomics Aeronautical Systems for $38 mn in the late 1980s. In 2001, the company had revenues of $110 mn. In 2012, the brothers “received $1.8 bn in government contracts.” The Blue brothers build the “soulless hunter-killers that circle the skies of Pakistan, Yemen, and other chaotic lands” - military drones - “they [Blue brothers] are the beneficiaries of one of the largest transfers of wealth from public to private hands in American history,” writes Risen.

Corporations are not formed to serve national interests. They are formed to pursue and maximise profit. Corporations lie, steal, and cheat in the pursuit of profit, and if national interests must be sacrificed to achieve said profit, then so be it - US technology and products end up being sold to the highest bidder. “Every country in the Middle East, from United Arab Emirates to Pakistan, is searching for ways to buy or build their own versions of the Predator [drone]. Even small Arab countries like Jordan have been eager to build up their UAV capability to liberate themselves from their chafing tether to American power,” contends Risen. “The Arab demand for drones presents an exciting business opportunity, and the defence industry has been gearing up to supply the market, with companies in both the United States and Europe eagerly shopping their wares to new customers in the Middle East.”

In a region already awash with US manufactured weapons, Risen says that drone sales are creating a new arms race in the Middle East. “Drone sales are fast becoming bargaining chips in the international arms race; Israel sold advanced UAVs to Russia, but only after Russia agreed to drop its sales of advanced fighter jets to Syria.”

In an even more explosive revelation, Risen claims that a corporate front for the CIA “considered selling advanced American-built UAVs to Jordan, as well as to Lebanon and Syria.” If you follow this trend to its natural conclusion, American-built drones will soon end up in the hands of terrorist organisations like Hezbollah. “A drone program for Hezbollah could alter the military dynamics along the Israeli-Lebanese border...and advanced fleet of missile-carrying drones could, overnight, turn a group like Hezbollah into a legitimate military power,” warns Risen.

The outsourcing of the military to private corporations has put the corporate profit motive before national security interests, and that CIA officials, who have an eye for future career opportunities, have devised elaborate schemes to help US weapons manufacturers get their products into the hands of declared enemies of the US. A source told Risen that CIA officers helped find a way to sell drones to Lebanon and Syria. “They discussed a scheme through which drones would be shipped to a company based in Cyprus, where documents would be forged to make it appear as if the unmanned vehicles were from China rather than the United States. They would then be shipped from Cyprus to Damascus as if they had just been trans-shipped from China, leaving no official record of any shipments of American-made drones to Syria,” writes Risen.

Ultimately, it’s impossible to discern the difference in the way the respective Obama and Bush administrations have executed the war on terror. “The war now has a bipartisan veneer and “it shows no signs of slowing down; hustlers and freebooters continue to take full advantage, and the war’s unintended consequences continue to pile up.”

These “unintended consequences” of America’s war on terror will continue to be magnified for the citizens of the Middle East.  As the saying goes, when America sneezes, the Middle East gets a cold, social chaos, civil war, and even more lethal U-US manufactured weapons. These are the by-products of “greed, power, and endless war.”

- CJ Werleman is an opinion writer for Salon, Alternet, and the author of Crucifying America, and God Hates You. Hate Him Back. Follow him on twitter: @cjwerleman

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Eye. 

Photo: Part of the book cover of James Risen's new release “Pay Any Price: Greed, Power, and Endless War”.