News / USA

Pakistan Case Highlights US Reliance on Intelligence Contractors

Supporters of religious parties burn a U.S flag during a protest against U.S. citizen Raymond Davis near the U.S consulate in Lahore February 18, 2011.
Supporters of religious parties burn a U.S flag during a protest against U.S. citizen Raymond Davis near the U.S consulate in Lahore February 18, 2011.

The case of an American arrested in Pakistan for shooting two men dead has sparked anger in Pakistan and soured relations between Washington and Islamabad.  It turns out that Raymond Davis, who said he opened fire to ward off an attempted robbery, was a security contractor for the CIA.  American agencies have become reliant on security contractors to fill personnel gaps.

Analysts say U.S. intelligence agencies, the State Department, and the military have become increasingly dependent on contractors in places like Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, doing everything from guarding people and convoys to collecting and analyzing intelligence.

Scott Stewart, vice president for tactical intelligence at the private intelligence firm Stratfor, says using contractors gives the U.S. government flexibility during surges in trouble spots. "You look at the security budgets of organizations like the State Department, and you look at the CIA’s budget and the cycles that it runs in over time, there are booms and busts.  And when they run into that bust period of time, it’s very difficult to start cutting staff. And so it’s just easier to cut contractors.  It’s far less painful," he said.

But while providing flexibility, the increased use of security contractors is controversial and has irked some host governments. Some contractors have been accused of offensive behavior, including killing civilians. Afghan President Hamid Karzai has tried to get security contractors out of his country. Pakistan's Inter-Services Intelligence directorate has demanded an accounting of all security contractors operating in Pakistan.  Some contractors also have been accused of stealing millions of dollars.

Shawn Engbrecht, who has a company training security contractors, says the problem is that U.S. agencies don’t have the same level of control over contractors as they do over their own employees.  He calls for private security contractors to be licensed.

"We can either all come to the table together and adjudicate and negotiate and compromise and figure out a universal game plan on how to build private security companies into this grand scheme of maneuver, represented by DOD [Department of Defense] and DOS [Department of State], or we’re going to continue to let it evolve in its own evolutionary manner where every little or different company goes its completely own way and we will, in the end, suffer chaos, waste, corruption, and inadvertent deaths," he said.

Exactly what tasks Raymond Davis performed as a security contractor in Pakistan remain murky.  Published reports agree that at a minimum, he was providing security for a team of CIA officers and contractors working out of a safe house in Lahore.  Whether he played a more active role in intelligence operations is not clear.  But Stewart says it is likely the CIA would for secrecy reasons want to use its own people to provide personal security instead of embassy officers.

"Quite frankly, there are also some operational concerns there as far as the CIA is concerned. So they want to handle things in-house, and so they will use, where they have the capability, people from their Office of Security to provide a security function.  And they will augment those OS [Office of Security officers] with contract employees," he said.

Shawn Engbrecht, who has himself worked as a private security contractor in Iraq, says that, as a general rule, using contractors gives the CIA some distance from operations that may come to light. "The more of that stuff that you can outsource, the more you have - and the CIA loves this - plausible deniability. 'Well, he’s just a civilian and kind of subcontracted out.  Yeah, he’s a member of the team, but he’s not really one of us.' So they are actually able to expand their reach without increasing their overall risk," he said.

The U.S. has repeatedly described Davis as a member of the "administrative and technical" staff of the embassy and is thus entitled to diplomatic immunity.

You May Like

Video Russia’s Syrian Escalation Tests Obama’s Crisis Response

Critics once again question whether president has been slow to act on Syrian conflict, thus creating opening for powers like Russia More

Ancient African DNA Shows Mass Migration Back Into Africa

First genetic analysis of ancient human remains in Africa suggests massive migration from north around time of Egyptian empire More

NASA: Pluto Has Blue Sky

New photos also reveal the presence of water ice More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugeesi
Henry Ridgwell
October 08, 2015 8:02 PM
Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

Video Nano-tech Filter Cleans Dirty Water

Access to clean water is a problem for hundreds of millions of people around the world. Now, a scientist and chemical engineer in Tanzania (in East Africa) is working to change that by creating an innovative water filter that makes dirty water safe. VOA’s Deborah Block has the story.

Video Demand Rising for Organic Produce in Cambodia

In Cambodia, where rice has long been the main cash crop, farmers are being encouraged to turn to vegetables to satisfy the growing demand for locally produced organic farm products. Daniel de Carteret has more from Phnom Penh.

Video Botanists Grow Furniture, with Pruning Shears

For something a bit out of the ordinary to furnish your home, why not consider wooden chairs, crafted by nature, with a little help from some British botanists with an eye for design. VOA’s Jessica Berman reports.

VOA Blogs