Monday, June 28, 2010

On Thwarted FOIA Requests

Come on universe, help me out here.

Recently, I found out that the mailing address for ePluribus Media changed. Unfortunately, no one alerted me and that change may have botched my outstanding FOIA requests. As a result, it looks like I now have to re-file everything. Literally, years of effort just washed down the drain.

One of the requests I was waiting on (already several years old) was an administrative appeal with the National Security Agency. The request sought two audio recordings of satellite phone calls made by Kirk von Ackermann shortly before he disappeared: the first, a call home to his family the day before he disappeared; the second, the satellite phone call to an Iraqi employee for assistance with a bad tire on the day.

The second significant FOIA request to re-file is for base access records showing exit and entrance on and off American bases in the Balad-Tikrit region in the fall of 2003. The base access records were an attempt to disprove my own theory that Kirk von Ackermann sought to fix his bad tire and visited another base after he left FOB Pacesetter. It was also an attempt to construct a timeline of the days just prior to the murder of Ryan Manelick and the disappearance of Kirk von Ackermann.

I'm hoping that the FOIA case numbers assigned to the original requests might expedite matters. But, it's government bureaucracy we're talking about here and I am not optimistic.

I believe one month from tomorrow is Kirk von Ackermann's birthday. While I never had the opportunity to meet him, I feel an enormous amount of responsiblity to continue to press forward with the FOIA requests no matter how futile those attempts may be.

So, in honor of Kirk von Ackermann, here's an early birthday wish: please find those still missing in Iraq and bring them home.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Recent DBA Ruling in Texas

The following case centers on the undefined term of 'accident' within the Defense Base Act. I've read it through several times. There are some very fine points of law that I haven't quite grasped yet.

United States District Court For The Southern District Of Texas Deprives Battlefield Contractors Of The Protections Of The Defense Base Act
By Sheppard Mullin, Defense Contractor Blog, June 14, 2010

A recent decision by the United States District Court for the Southern District of Texas may have caused grave damage to protections long available to overseas government contractors and their employees under the Defense Base Act (“DBA”), 42 U.S.C. § 1651 et seq.

In Fisher v. Halliburton, 2010 WL 1268097 (S.D. Tex., Mar. 25, 2010), the court ruled the deaths and injuries sustained by a group of civilian convoy drivers in Iraq during insurgent attacks were not “accidents” and, therefore, that they were outside the scope of the protections afforded by the DBA. Absent the DBA’s protections, the Defendant employers are now in the legal “line of fire” – for the hefty compensable tort and negligence damages being alleged. The court, through its own motion, submitted its decision for immediate interlocutory appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit. If upheld, the decision could mean an end to the substantial protection from tort liability that the seventy-year old act has afforded contractors deploying personnel to support combat operations.

If I understand correctly - and I most definitely am not a lawyer - at the heart of the suit is whether or not Halliburton was willfully negligent in the deaths of the truck drivers. If yes, it would allow a liability suit to go forward outside of the Defense Base Act.

I guess what I would want to know is: what legal obligation did Halliburton have for the safety of those workers? Because workers would probably want to know before they accept a job if the answer is 'none.'


In related news, the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), 'a body created in early 2008 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in military contracting services in Afghanistan and Iraq', held hearings in Washington DC. Members of the major security companies were invited to attend.

Hearings Reveal Lapses in Private Security in War Zones
By Pratap Chatterjee, Inter Press Service, June 21, 2010

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also came in for extended criticism when David Blackshaw, the division chief for overseas security, told the commission that his agency was not legally responsible for the actions of armed guards that accompanied their grantees. "The role of the USAID's SEC's International Security Programmes Division is limited to advice and counsel," Blackshaw told the commissioners.

The commissioners were incensed. Several of them pulled out copies of a USAID Office of Inspector General report on private contracting that was issued last month that stated a third of USAID private security contracts in Afghanistan have no standard security requirements.
Wow. It pretty much sounds like absolutely no one accepts responsibility for security. I find that creepy.

Update II: Good Lord. Talk about a conflict of interest. General Sanchez served as V Corps commander of coalition forces in Iraq from June 2003 to June 2004.

Side note: V Corps issued an identification badge to Kirk von Ackermann that later appeared in the Rolling Stone article, Death of a Contractor: Greed and Murder in Iraq's Lawless Desert by Daniel Halpern, March 8, 2007.

KBR Gives Uncle Sam the One Finger Salute
By David Isenberg, Huffington Post, July 3, 2010
In February it was reported that the U.S. Army [was] trying to stop [retired US Army Gen. Sanchez] from continuing to be an expert for KBR in a lawsuit against it over civilian truck driver deaths and injuries.

Sanchez is being paid $650 an hour and has reviewed documents and written a report that support's KBR's contention it should not be held legally responsible for the deaths of six civilian truck drivers and the injuries of others in a 2004 ambush in Iraq.

The suing drivers and family members contend that KBR should have stopped the convoys when it was warned that attacks would increase on April 9, 2004, the first anniversary of the day allies in the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq reached Baghdad.

KBR argues that the military approved sending the convoys out and several laws protect KBR from responsibility in a wartime situation. The Army contracts with KBR to provide transportation, food services and other logistical support. the Army's own AR 15-6 Report clearly admits, but for the Army's failures in its own processes and procedures on April 9, 2004, the attack, injuries, and deaths associated with the Fisher case would never even have occurred.
Why does the US Treasury feel like it's turned into just one big ATM machine.

Related Reading

Commission on Wartime Contracting
Michael J. Thibault
Christopher Shays
Clark Kent Ervin
Grant S. Green
Robert J. Henke
Katherine Schinasi
Charles Tiefer
Dov S. Zakheim

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Iraq Personnel Recovery Division June 2010

Americans Missing in Iraq as of June 2010

There are two versions of the same article with slight variations, the first at the second at

Liberator II continues effort to find missing
By Sgt. 1st Class Roger Dey, April 20, 2010

US operation aims to find missing
By Sgt. 1st Class Roger Dey, 103rd Public Affairs Detachment, April 21, 2010
Operation Liberator II, the latest undertaking in the U.S. military's ongoing effort to find and recover the 16 American and Coalition service members and civilians missing here, is underway.

"We never have, and we never will stop looking," said Navy Lt. Cmdr. K.C. Chhipwadia, the senior intelligence officer with United States Forces -- Iraq's Personnel Recovery Division.

This current operation began April 15, and continues the work started last summer during Operation Liberator, a two-month-long effort that improved the collection of actionable intelligence relating to missing personnel, said Lt. Col. Kevin Dennehy, director of the USF-I PRD. That operation laid the groundwork for the development of this phase of the search. [...]

Although USF-I is spearheading the operation, a wide spectrum of agencies are involved, Dennehy said, including U.S. Central Command and the U.S. Embassy's Office of Hostage Affairs; as well as the FBI, the Defense Intelligence Agency and the National Geospatial Agency.
I am confused. The article lists an Air Force pilot as the second American military service member missing in Iraq. Air Force Maj. Troy Lee Gilbert is reported to have disappeared after his F-16 crashed in November 2006. But, according to an article at the Air Force website, remains found at the crash site were positively identified with DNA testing back in December 2006. In addition, Gilbert's remains were buried in a ceremony at the Arlington National Cemetery, Grave 8520, Section 60. (See Troy L Gilbert at the Arlington website)

[Ed. note: from the comments section, insurgents took Major Gilbert's body before it could be recovered by American personnel.]

Back to the article:
According to Chhipwadia, 11 of the 16 individuals still missing in Iraq are American citizens, four are South Africans and one is British. Two of the Americans are members of the military who have been missing since 2006.
The number 16 is close to the 17 reported missing by the Defense Intelligence Agency in another article earlier this year. But the Iraq Personnel Recovery Division reports it is looking for only 11 Missing Americans of which 2 are military, 9 are civilian. That seems to correspond with:
Kirk von Ackermann (2003)
Timothy E. Bell (2004)
Aban Elias (2004)
Dean Sadek (2004)
Jeffrey Ake (2005)
Maj Troy Lee Gilbert (2006)
Sgt. Ahmed Qusai al-Taayie (2006)
Unknown (2008)
+3 additional persons
For now, I've added Gilbert to an updated list of Missing Americans above, but still retaining the previous 'unknown' persons on the chart. I just find it unsettling that there aren't cold hard numbers on how many Americans are missing in Iraq.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Searching for one white Nissan Patrol in Iraq

To recap: on October 9, 2003, Kirk von Ackermann's white Nissan Patrol suv was discovered abandoned on a remote road in the Jabal Hamrin mountains between Tikrit and Kirkuk just minutes after he was said to have called an employee for help with a flat tire. Where did the vehicle come from? Was he all alone on the road that day or were there other vehicles in close proximity? Did anyone from the Defense Intelligence Agency ever look through the satellite footage to track the journey of his vehicle from FOB Pacesetter to that remote road on a mountain pass?

U.S. military turns to TV for surveillance technology
By Julian E. Barnes, Los Angeles Times, June 7, 2010

The military once stored Predator video in much the same way it handled photos from a U-2 spy plane or a satellite: It chopped the video into short clips and filed it by date and location.

But new technologies developed by firms such as Harris Corp. and Lockheed Martin record the observations of analysts who monitor the video feeds, creating a database of terms and footage that can later be searched.

For instance, every time a white truck appears on video, an analyst will type "white truck." The observation automatically tags that portion of the video. Later, if someone wants to find all the white trucks that passed by a particular building, all they need to do is designate the area of interest and the time frame and search for "white truck."

The Air Force hopes that eventually, such emerging technology will automatically give people, places and vehicles more unique identifiers. Then, the database will be able to search for specific white trucks, such as one with a dented fender or any other unique mark.
Better late than never.