Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Kirk von Ackermann

In the weeks that followed, various articles and references on the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann were published. Some as short as one or two sentences, others a recap of the original article written by Colin Freeman. In a local paper, Half Moon Bay Review, the reporter had fun speculating von Ackermann was a spy, resulting in some angry letters to the editor.

The following article on another American contractor in Iraq contains a brief section on von Ackermann. It is fairly typical of wire reports published at the time.

U.S. Civilian Contractor Killed in Iraq, The Associated Press, Friday 14 November 2003

Von Ackermann's car was found abandoned on Oct. 9 on a roadside with his satellite phone, a laptop computer and a briefcase containing around $40,000, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. Von Ackerman is employed by Ultra Services, an Istanbul-based company that provides supplies and logistics assistance for U.S. Army bases in Iraq.

Lt. Col. Steven Russell, a battalion commander in the 4th ID, said he was told by von Ackerman's companions that the American apparently stopped on the road to change a flat tire. There was speculation that he was kidnapped but the military has not come up with any evidence of that so far, he said.
Here is the article that resulted in letters to the editor. It includes a photo of Kirk von Ackermann.

Von Ackermann: 'a regular guy?', by Jeanine Gore, Half Moon Bay Review, November 24, 2003
Joel Farbstein always knew there was something intriguing about the professional life of Kirk von Ackermann.

The Moss Beach resident said it was something people wondered about and, occasionally, even gossiped about - that von Ackermann, when he wasn't at home in Moss Beach tending to his beloved family or coaching his son's 10-and-under soccer team, he was some sort of government spy or perhaps even a secret agent.

For the most part, the stories seemed farfetched and Farbstein didn't give them much thought.

That all changed Wednesday, when he learned that his 37-year-old friend had mysteriously disappeared Oct. 9 while driving on a desolate stretch of road in northern Iraq.

For what it's worth, the letters to the editor are no longer online. But a response to one of the letters still is: Reader takes issue with definition of 'terrorism', Half Moon Bay Review, November 26, 2003.
Dear editor:

The American Heritage Dictionary defines terrorism as "the unlawful use or threatened use of force or violence by a person or an organized group against people or property with the intention of intimidating or coercing societies or governments, often for ideological or political reasons."

For Phillip J. Sena to apply that particular word to the actions of the media covering Kirk Von Ackermann's disappearance is so far over the top that it borders on idiocy. The inescapable fact is that the reporters were just doing their jobs in covering a legitimate news story, a task that must be performed whether they are invited or not, and the ones I know try very hard to handle difficult situations like this with professionalism and compassion.

For several months, there was little mention until a long editorial on privatization of the military referenced von Ackermann. It first appeared at, now reprinted at the Brookings Institution where Peter W. Singer is a National Security Fellow, Foreign Policy Studies. While the reference to von Ackermann is short, Singer raises important questions on the quality of investigation von Ackermann's disappearance received.

Outsourcing the War
Peter W. Singer,, April 16, 2004
The rights and responsibilities between the military and its contractors also constitute an uncertain, gray zone. As opposed to what happens with a U.S. soldier, the military is under no compulsion to launch a full-scale search when a contractor goes missing. For instance, the U.S. military has spent 13 years searching for Navy Capt. Scott Speicher, whose plane crashed during the 1991 Gulf War. But when Kirk von Ackermann, a former Air Force captain working for Istanbul-based Ultra Services, disappeared outside Tikrit in November, the response was not a frantic mobilization or house-to-house hunt. Instead, von Ackerman's photo was given to local Iraqi police, and little has been heard of the incident since. Indeed, the difference carries all the way to when a [private military firm] PMF's employees are killed; the firms are responsible for notifying the families, deciding what level of grief counseling to provide, and shipping the bodies home. A PMF executive I spoke with grumbled that when one of his employees was killed in western Iraq, the only support he got from the U.S. military unit in his sector "was a free body bag."

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