On August 15, 2021, the Taliban entered Kabul after overtaking the entire country of Afghanistan. Thus, the war ended as it had begun with the Taliban in power again.
During the chaos in Kabul upon the Americans’ departure, one guy saw a business opportunity. His name was Erik Dean Prince, and he generously offered to help charter a plane to evacuate Afghans from Kabul for $6,500 per person. But this was not the first time Eric Prince used the Afghanistan war to get rich. This enterprise was one of the last of many instances where this guy profited off this war. But before I proceed, let’s talk about the term government contractor. In the USA, people love the free market. So instead of having the clumsy old federal government taking care of all things in a war, the federal government hires many private companies to do this for them. These companies make American weapons, feed the US soldiers, build the US bases, fuel the US tanks, and mostly fight the American wars. The USA utilizes private armies called security companies that are soldiers for hire. This type of enterprise allows the US government to post a job and find some paid buffoons willing to take some lives and die in the name of geopolitical stupidity and greed.
Let’s assume that the American army needs to feed its soldiers in Afghanistan. In theory, many private companies come together and all bid on how much it would cost to procure the food. And whatever company gives the best price is chosen to go and provide the logistics for the food. This bidding is supposed to help the government get the best prices. However, in war times, many of these bidding processes go out of the window because we are in wartime. So it is like an emergency. So instead, you get a lot of situations where there is no bidding on contracts. Thus, when the government needed something done in Afghanistan quickly, the contractor who was able to respond immediately to the army’s inquiry, the only thing the contractor had to do to win the contract was to name his price. As a client of the US government is a guarantee to have the funds to pay you and will always pay you. And that process allowed people to take advantage of a system to let billions of unaccounted US dollars be poured into private companies. This approach contributed to what a Secretary of Defense called a “culture of endless money inside the pentagon.
Let’s examine some of the people who got millions of wealth.
Erik Dean Prince. He is an ex-navy seal who inherited some money and decided to start his own private security company called “Blackwater.” A private security company means soldiers for hire.
Erik Dean Prince trained military and police forces. He describes his mission for Blackwater as trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx does for the postal service. That is, privatize, make more efficient, eliminate red tape, etc. He got his first contract in 2000. It was a minor contract of $204,000 to help train the Navy for terrorist attacks. Then 9/11 happened in 2001, a tragedy for the US people but an incredible business opportunity for Erik Dean Prince and his FedEx army. The US government was desperate to mobilize its troops for this new warfare. So they turn to Blackwater for help. The US hired Blackwater to protect their CIA compounds or escort VIP diplomats. But what were these Blackwater men? Troops or military? They were fancy security guards that the American government hired. They gave them security clearances and sent them to warzones to operate like soldiers under the jurisdiction of a private company. Overall, they are considered security guards, not mercenaries or anything else. By 2007, the government had given Blackwater over a billion USD in federal contracts. Of course, as you can imagine, giving guns and security clearances to a private army might lead to some thorny abuses of power. In fact, in 2007, the guards of Blackwater were in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they opened fire on unarmed civilians. In a crowded public square, after a car bomb had exploded a mile away. They killed 17 Iraqis and injured 20 more.
After this incident, Blackwater lost all its contracts. It became a massive scandal. However, Erik Dean Prince sold Blackwater and came out on top. The security guards who opened fire on the innocent Iraqi civilians were tried and convicted, but then they were entirely pardoned by Donald Trump. Do we have any faith in humanity and justice?
Stephen Orenstein. He set up a company called Supreme Group, which was chosen in 2005 to feed US troops in Afghanistan. Since he got the contract, Supreme Foods’ business has increased 50-fold. Specifically, the Defense Department paid the Supreme Group $5,5 billion over six years to deliver food to the US troops. And it became 90% of his business to provide food to US troops in Afghanistan. Stephen Orenstein realized he could charge absurd amounts of money for the meals he provided to the armed forces. And he knew that no one would notice because they were throwing money at this war. The government contracts kept coming, no matter how expensive his meals were. Orenstein not only was charging insane prices for meals, but also he started to create fake subcontracting companies and started to win more contracts that were for nothing. At the same time, the Pentagon would pay him tons of USD for doing no work. And what did Orenstein do? He just pocketed the cash and got super rich from this. But eventually, he took it way too far, and he got caught. Currently, we are reading that there is a Senate hearing from 2013 called “contracting to feed US troops in Afghanistan.”How did the US Defense Department end up in a multi-billion dollar billing dispute?
The Pentagon paid nearly a hundred million USD in transportation costs, which one congressperson said is an astounding amount of money. And to put it in perspective, this amount of money would pay for nearly a hundred thousand children to have access to a head start program (an early education program in the US). But instead, this taxpayer money went into Orenstein’s pocket. So what does it look like when someone gets punished for this? The Pentagon employees who donated all of this money without first verifying its destination were asked about what transpired at the Senate hearings, and they gave the following explanation. “The contract management efforts we applied to this did not keep pace with the changes we saw in our requirements.” Let me translate that for you. What they were saying, they did not pay attention because of the war. According to court documents, Orenstein eventually did have to pay $389 million. But let’s be honest, he got a little slap on the wrist. Yet, the guy got very rich because of the Afghan war.
David Packouz (a massage therapist) and Efraim Diveroli. They have been nicknamed the “war dogs.” The best thing was an article by Rolling Stone magazine titled “The stone dealers: How two American kids became big-time weapons traders.” These guys were ages 25 and 21 when they started an ammunition company. They bid on the Pentagon and won $300 million worth of tax-payer money in contracts. And they supplied the Afghan National Army with guns and ammunition. These guys got super rich off of this. And soon, they were living a fancy life. However, what they were doing, in reality, was buying ammunition from China, and then they were selling it to the US government, which is like a big NO in arms trading. They eventually got caught, pleaded guilty, and one was sentenced to jail for four years. So this is a rare case of these two guys who got rich, caught, and punished, which did not happen in the case of Erik Dean Prince. When you are 24 years old, you don’t have much money and influence, so you can’t wriggle your way out of responsibility. This story shows how easy it was to get into this culture of unlimited funds within the Pentagon.
Fahim Hashimy. He is one of the several Afghan nationals who got super rich. In the early days of the Afghan war, there was a huge need for local fixers and translators. The people who got in early helping out the US forces got savvy to how the US was operating. And quickly realized that they could provide a bunch more local services and make a ton of money. So Fahim started a business that became a Media Group with TV stations, a construction company, and even an airline. His company started racking in government contracts, $200 million per year. Many Afghans got super rich, riding on the coattails of all this money being poured into their country.
US politicians from Congress and the Senate are not like arms dealers, but they can still get rich from war. Because if you are a member of Congress, you can buy stocks in defense companies like Lockheed Martin, and many of them do. At least 47 members of Congress and their spouses held between $267 million worth of stocks in top defense companies. Of the 30 house members with stock and military contracts, 20 were Republicans, and 16 were Democrats. Specifically, Kevin Hern was the winner in 2022 of who’s getting rich off war. A Republican from Oklahoma who owns over a million USD in stock from defense contractors. $800,000 alone in Honeywell, an aerospace contractor that Congress seems to love and notice how well their stock has done. Especially since 2009, when President Obama sent many new troops to Afghanistan. This lawn maker has to approve when we go to war, and he stands to gain if we do. But wait, the conflict of interest gets worse when you look at somebody like senator Gary Peters. A democratic senator from Michigan is a member of the Arms Services Committee, which is the Committee that authorizes the Pentagon’s budget. Here is his financial disclosure. He invested in a lot of things, including Raytheon Technology Corporation. A significant arms contractor for wartime things. This guy gave money to the Pentagon to do war things with private contractors, and he invested in the private contractors. In July 2022, this guy’s Committee voted to increase defense spending by $24 billion, more than President Biden even proposed. So, in straightforward terms, this guy is voting to put more money in his pocket. This is how the American system and its industrial complex work.
Here is another financial disclosure of Diana Harshbarger, a senator, who is a Committee member that deals with cyber security and protection. She holds stock in six defense companies, with most of her money invested in IT contractors specialized in cyber security. At the same time, being on the cyber security committee, she uses her vote to give money to the things she is invested in.
This small list of names is not exhaustive of everyone who got rich. So many people who abuse the system will never know their names and will never hear about them because they did not get caught. In the end, the Pentagon spent $14 trillion between 30% and 50% of that went to private companies. Military contractors and companies give huge payouts and compensation to the top leaders. That is like $5 trillion worth of taxpayer money that will fatten these corporations’ pockets.
We know these extreme amounts of money did little for America and the American people. Twenty years later, America is falling back to where it started. But it did make the people, as mentioned above, filthy rich. This is how American democracy works.
Georgios Ardavanis 28/12/2022