Sunday, February 27, 2005

Letters to the Editor

Sojo Mail posts letters in response to the recent article linked* to a few days ago: Murder mystery in Iraq by David Batstone, Sojourner, February 17, 2005.

Sojo Mail
February 24, 2005

Letter 1

Your warm remembrance [of Kirk von Ackermann] reinforces what I experience every day when I read the obituaries in the paper or hear of death in the news - TV or otherwise. That is to say that even though I may not have a personal link with the deceased, someone did and does still, for which empathy is required of me, not just passing sympathy.


Arden C. Hander, Flourtown, Pennsylvania
Letter 2
With Michael Moore-ish manipulative flair, Batstone paints von Ackermann as a blue-blooded soccer dad who equally loves foreign children and hates American oppression of them. I do not repudiate Ackermann's virtue but Batstone's implication that powerful Americans hate and kill such saints and all they stand for.


Jacob Anderson, Baytown, Texas
*See Missing Man post, Sojourner, February 20, 2005.

Saturday, February 26, 2005


A short reference to Kirk von Ackermann was included in a recent radio program on NPR.

Hostage Families Face Tough Choices
by Libby Lewis, NPR, Morning Edition, February 7, 2005

Program Description: The State Department says as many as five American civilians could be hostages in Iraq. The U.S. government's policy is not to negotiate with hostage-takers -- or draw attention to them. Each of their families is left with a tough choice: keep a low profile and hope for the best or try to bring attention to their loved one's plight.


Other US citizens who are missing and have not been accounted for include Kirk von Ackermann. He's a contractor for the US Army who disappeared October 9th, 2003. The Army says it's actively investigating.
Transcripts are available for purchase or listen online.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Ultra Services

The company that employed Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick in Iraq was Ultra Services, also referred to as Ultra Services Group on their website.

Corporate Headquarters
Ultra Services
4046 Central Lane
Winters, CA 95694 USA

Company locations are listed as: Baghdad, Kirkuk, Mosul, Basra, Zaho and Suleymania in Iraq; Istanbul and Silope,Turkey; Beirut, Lebanon; Kabul, Afghanistan; Tashkent, Uzbekistan; Herndon-VA and Winters-CA, USA. Note: The recent article in the San Francsico Chronicle states Ultra Services personnel withdrew from Iraq shortly after the death of Ryan Manelick.

Ultra Services Management is listed as:

Baki Guzelciftci - Chairman of the Board
John Dawkins - President & Business Development
William Dawkins - Chief Executive Officer
Egemen Cakmak - General Director of Turkey
Bora Tuncay - Financial Director and Controller
Geoff Nordloh
Paul Shultz
Brief bios are available at the website.

Ultra Group describes itself as one of a "coalition of US, Iraqi, and Turkish Companies". The company website reports they "successfully executed $14 million in contracts to provide goods and services from Baghdad to Mosul."
Our first contract with the Department of Defense came in October, 2001 in Uzbekistan. We entered Afghanistan in December, 2001. We set up in Turkey in January, 2003 and entered Iraq in April, 2003 getting our first contract in early May.
Ultra Services provides a number of services, including containerized buildings, of which sample photographs are posted at their website.

John Dawkins, President, is also credited with having been a founding member of the company Stratex Freedom Services where Geoff Nordloh is Chief Finance Officer.

Tuesday, February 22, 2005


Originally uploaded by s dow.
The President of Ultra Services, John Dawkins, and Greg Manelick (Ryan Manelick's father), chief of security for ExxonMobil in Russia, first met while working in Russia.

Dawkins' bio at Ultra Services states he "lobbied for and managed the permitting process for the $22 billion Sakhalin-1 oil and gas project in Russia."

The Sakhalin-1 Project is located on Sakhalin Island in Far East Russia, just north of Japan. Since the signing of Production Sharing Agreements in the mid 1990's, Sakhalin has become a significant attraction to international oil and gas development.

ExxonMobil Neftegas Limited is a participant in the international consortium of the Sakhalin-1 Project.

Sunday, February 20, 2005


The recent Sojourner contains an article about Kirk von Ackermann under the section "Batteries Not Included". It includes excerpts of personal emails from von Ackermann to the author.

Murder mystery in Iraq
by David Batstone, Sojourner, February 17, 2005.

My friend Kirk von Ackermann has joined the list of American casualties in Iraq. Not that long ago he was designated as "missing." He is now "presumed dead." Suspiciously so. [...]

I first met Kirk a couple of years ago on a soccer field in Half Moon Bay, California. I was his son's soccer coach. When Kirk could get off work at his business software company, he would come out to the field to help me out with practices.

As our friendship evolved, Kirk shared with me his background as a former deputy director of intelligence for NATO operations in Kosovo. He told me that he subsequently had worked as a Pentagon advisor on counterterrorism and espionage, and had high-level security clearance. He confessed that he could not share details with me, but he was disturbed by the rise of terrorism internationally and the lack of thoughtful U.S. foreign policy that would nourish democracy and freedom abroad. One thing about Kirk: He was a true believer in the potential for America to do good in the world. In Kosovo, he was convinced that the U.S. presence had helped to stop genocide and build a fragile peace.

When Kirk told me that he was going to Iraq to work with Ultra Services, I could only guess what actual role he would be playing in intelligence and security. Early in April 2003, only weeks after the invasion, he wrote me an e-mail from Iraq, and it was flush with hope of a quick end to the conflict, yet also concern for the long-term destiny of the country:

What is perplexing is that all of the press to date has stated von Ackermann left the US in late August of 2003. An April date places him in Iraq, just weeks after the war had begun, months ahead of what has been reported.

Below is one of the emails quoted in the above article.
On October 6, three days before his disappearance, he wrote me the following e-mail:

"The real problem is that - not surprisingly - the [Bush] administration seems to have dramatically overestimated the willingness of corporate America to take the risks of Iraq. Other than myself, there really are no contractors operating in Tikrit, Samarra, Balad, etc.... It cannot be stressed enough that even pro-Saddam Iraqis are not anti-American. They are violently opposed to U.S. occupation forces, but not an individual American. The tribal leader in the city where Saddam was born told me, 'We have our Arab pride, we will fight, we will lose, and then we will move on. No one wanted these days, but these are what we have, although it will not forever be this way.' It's dangerous, but not like Bosnia was."

Friday, February 18, 2005

A Sudden Flurry

Five days ago, on February 13, 2005, numerous articles on Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick were published simultaneously: Time, San Francisco Chronicle, wire reports both foreign and domestic.

The article in the San Francisco Chronicle was again written by Colin Freeman from Tikrit, Iraq. Published on page A1, long and detailed, it focused on suspicions that the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann and the murder of Ryan Manelick were connected. The most extensive to date, it also contained interviews with family members and business colleagues.

Suspicion surrounds missing Bay Area man by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, February 13, 2005

In the midafternoon of Oct. 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann, an American contract worker from the Bay Area, used a satellite phone to call a colleague from a lonely desert road between Tikrit and Kirkuk in northern Iraq. He told his colleague he had a flat tire and needed a jack.

About 45 minutes later, the colleague found von Ackermann's car, abandoned. There was no sign of von Ackermann, who had been alone when he called. No hint of struggle, not even a footprint. All that remained was his satellite phone, his laptop computer, and, on the car's backseat a briefcase holding $40,000 in $100 bills.

"It was as if he had been abducted by aliens," Ryan Manelick told The Chronicle shortly after von Ackermann disappeared. Manelick was one of von Ackermann's colleagues at Ultra Services, a civilian contracting company they both worked for in Iraq, supplying U.S. military bases with tents, mobile homes, toilets, computers and Internet access.

Just over two months later, on the morning of Dec. 14, Manelick was shot dead near Camp Anaconda, a U.S. military base about 50 miles north of Baghdad, and about 50 miles south of where von Ackermann had disappeared.

Without A Trace In Iraq by Douglas Waller, Time Magazine, February 13, 2005.

The same article also appeared at Time Online Edition under the title and url Foul Play in Iraq?
The army has launched a fraud investigation into the mysterious disappearance of an American contractor in Iraq and the killing of a co-worker shortly afterward, Defense officials tell TIME. On Oct. 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann, 37, was driving alone in northern Iraq when he pulled off the road with a flat tire and phoned the Kirkuk office of his employer--Ultra Services, based in Winters, Calif.--for help. A colleague arrived and found the car but not Von Ackermann. There were no bloodstains or bullet holes in the vehicle. And Von Ackermann didn't seem to be the victim of bandits because his computer, satellite phone and a briefcase containing $40,000 in cash were left in the car.

Two months later, north of Baghdad, gunmen in an SUV shot and killed Ryan Manelick, 31, another Ultra Services employee, and an Iraqi traveling with him by car. Manelick's father claims that his son had e-mailed him saying he suspected that colleagues at Ultra Services--whose website says it has done $14 million worth of business with the Pentagon--were involved in fraudulent activities with U.S. Army contracting officers. The Army's Criminal Investigation Command has confirmed that Manelick met with its investigators in Iraq but won't say what was discussed. TIME, however, has obtained an e-mail written by an Army investigator, who says Manelick visited her days before he died and said he was "fearful for his life." The e-mail doesn't say why.

The following from Agence France-Presse was fairly typical of wire reports recapping the Time and Chronicle articles.

US Army launches fraud probe in Iraq contractors' killing, disappearance: report by Andrew Hay, AFP, February 13, 2005
The US Army is investigating the killing in Iraq of a contractor who, according to his father, suspected that colleagues in his US-based company were involved in fraudulent activities with US Army contracting officers.

The murder of Ryan Manelick, 31, came two months after another Ultra Services employee, Kirk von Ackermann, 37, disappeared while driving alone in northern Iraq in 2003, Time magazine said.


Thursday, February 17, 2005

Ryan Manelick

The sudden death of Kirk von Ackermann's colleague, Ryan Manelick, received little press coverage outside of local media in the Lancaster, Pennyslvania area. On December 14, 2003, world attention was focused on the previous day’s discovery of Saddam Hussein in a hole in the ground.

In the history of Iraq, a dark and painful era is over. A hopeful day has arrived. All Iraqis can now come together and reject violence and build a new Iraq. – President Bush
Note: Over one year since the capture of Saddam Hussein, the violence has not abated. According to the U.S. inspector-general, since April 2003, 232 contractor employees have died in Iraq. (as of February 1, 2005) Ryan Manelick was one of those 232 contractor employees.

The first and longest article lists Ultra Services/Irex Corp. as Ryan Manelick's employer. It is the only known reference to Irex Corp. to date.

Family mourns CV grad killed in Iraq ambush by Cindy Stauffer Lancaster New Era, December 18, 2003
Ryan Manelick wanted to do something for his country.

So when the 1991 Conestoga Valley High School graduate got a job offer from a company that obtained supplies for the military in Baghdad, he took it.

"He thought that was what he was supposed to do with his life," his mother, Christine Welk of New Holland, said today.

On Sunday, Manelick, 31, was killed when the car in which he was riding was riddled with gunfire in a drive-by shooting outside a military base in Baghdad.

WLMI News Briefs, 11:00 AM, December 30, 2003
A Warren County native, 31-year old Ryan Manelick, has been killed in an ambush in downtown Baghdad. Manelick, who attended the Russell School before moving to the Lancaster area, was a civilian intelligence specialist.

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."

Into Thin Air

On October 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann disappeared in Iraq.

Colin Freeman, a reporter writing from Iraq, first covered the story. It was published in the UK Telegraph on November 9 and in the San Francisco Chronicle on November 11, one month after the incident.

Ackermann's disappearance could easily be explained away as the collateral damage of working in a war zone, but $40,000 in cash, a satellite phone, and his lap top computer were left behind in his car. Odd circumstances in a country where looting and highway piracy have become common place.

No insurgent group claimed responsibility. There was no high profile demand for ransom. No release of a taped appeal to the President of the United States for his freedom. No gruesome video of a beheading posted on a website. No discovery of a body.

Kirk Von Ackermann simply vanished into thin air.

Mystery surrounds US businessman missing in Iraq's 'Sunni triangle'
by Colin Freeman, Telegraph, November 9, 2003

Bay Area civilian vanishes in Iraq by Colin Freeman, San Francisco Chronicle, November 11, 2003

An American businessman working for the United States Army in Iraq has mysteriously disappeared while driving his car along an isolated road in the country's "Sunni Triangle".

Fears are growing that Kirk von Akermann, 37, a contractor, may have been abducted and murdered after his car was found abandoned between the towns of Tikrit and Kirkuk.

His satellite mobile telephone, laptop, and a briefcase containing about $40,000 (£24,000) were found inside his vehicle, suggesting that he had not been the victim of a robbery. There was no sign of a struggle at the scene.
Since his disappearance on October 9, the US army - assisted by Iraqi police - has conducted an "aggressive" investigation but has yet to find out anything of note.


Frequently Asked Questions

This section was first added to the Missing Man on April 26, 2005. It has been back dated so as to be just above the Inroduction. It will occasionally be updated.

Did you know Kirk von Ackermann or Ryan Manelick?


To the best of my knowledge, I never met Kirk von Ackermann nor Ryan Manelick.

Why are you writing about these two men if you never knew them?

Please read the Introduction to the Missing Man for background as to how this blog came about.

Who are you?

I'm a blogger, Susie Dow. I am also a volunteer researcher with the citizen journalism group, ePluribus Media. The Missing Man is a personal project. It is not a production of ePluribus Media. Statements on the Missing Man do not represent the views or policies of ePluribus Media.

Can I contribute an essay or an interview to the Missing Man?

If someone wishes to write a personal essay or to be interviewed, their contribution is very much welcome. The comments section also allows for anyone to post their thoughts should they wish to share them publicly without emailing me.

Emails sent to me will not be posted without the author's permission.

I'd like to write an essay, now what?

Email me at the address posted in the right hand side bar.

I've found some inaccurate information on your blog, will you correct it?

Email me corrections and I will include an editor's note on the relevant post. Please indicate if you wish to be identified.

Can I send you photos of Ryan Manelick or Kirk von Ackermann for posting on the Missing Man?

I would very much like to include photos of Ryan Manelick and Kirk von Ackermann on the Missing Man. However, copyright is an issue. I can only accept photos for posting if: 1) you hold the copyright (generally speaking, this means you were the photographer or are a familly member) and 2) you can grant permission to the Missing Man for posting on this site.

The few photos that are posted here are intended as "fair use" under Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107.


Shortly after the start of the war in Iraq, a friend and I began to track news reports of awards for reconstruction contracts. While our efforts were admittedly primitive, we slogged along digesting numerous articles on contracts and contractors, subsequently posting the information at the weblog, Blogiston Post.

In November 2003, a column appeared in the London Telegraph, written by Colin Freeman, about a man who had vanished in Iraq. The article reported that the man, Kirk von Ackermann, was an employee of one such contractor, Ultra Services of Istanbul, Turkey. (At the time, our first post on the story was a short blurb from the website of NBC San Diego.)

Two months later, his colleague, Ryan Manelick, was gunned down in Iraq.

There are a total of 4 posts on Kirk Von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick at Blogiston Post. Much to our surprise, various search engines looking for "kirk+von+ackermann" or "ryan+manelick" continued to direct traffic to these posts on a weekly basis.

The Employer of a Missing Man November 12, 2003

Kirk von Ackermann January 1, 2004

Question June 1, 2004

Into Thin Air January 25, 2005 (printed above)
I am not a journalist nor am I qualified to investigate what happened. What I can do is post relevant articles as they appear in the press.

The Missing Man is a mini-library of on-line articles about Kirk von Ackermann and Ryan Manelick.