Contractors take on expanded role in drug war

Late last month, the Pentagon tapped five major defense contractors to provide wide-ranging support in global counter-narcotics operations. The contract, worth up to $15 billion over the next five years, illustrates the extent to which the Defense Department is relying on contractors to perform critical missions while combat forces are stretched thin by operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In response to specific task orders issued under the indefinite delivery indefinite quantity contract, companies will develop and deploy new surveillance technologies, train and equip foreign security forces and provide key administrative, logistical and operational support to Defense and other agencies such as the Drug Enforcement Administration.

According to the work statement provided to bidders, the vast majority of the drive will be conducted overseas.

"The contractor shall provide security and related services in support of [counter-narcoterrorism and] related missions to include, but not limited to, intelligence, medical, logistics, canine services, surveillance, counter-surveillance, aerial over-watch, security advisory, etc. The services may be incidental to other activities (i.e., training programs, construction, etc.) or the primary purpose of the [task order]," the statement said.

Three task orders included in the request for proposals issued last December give some sense of the contract's scope:

  • The first task order requires the contractor to develop and install high-resolution shortwave infrared cameras and all necessary appurtenances on two types of aircraft.
  • A second requires the contractor to provide intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance support in Trans-Saharan Africa by identifying the best platform and sensor suite; designing, building, operating and maintaining a base of operations; and providing various analytical reports.
  • A third "sample" task order requires the contractor to develop a program to train border police in Afghanistan to guard crossings, prevent the flow of contraband, and search people and vehicles.
All contractor personnel must have security clearances for handling classified information, and some must possess clearances for special access programs, including those at the Top Secret/sensitive compartmented information level.

Awardees include Raytheon Technical Services Co., Lockheed Martin Co., Northrop Grumman Corp., Arinc Inc., and Blackwater USA. The contract was let by the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command on Aug. 24 on behalf of the Pentagon's Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office.

The mission of the counter-narcoterrorism office is to "develop and deploy technology that aids disrupting, deterring and denying the flow of drugs, people, information, money and weapons related to illegal drug trafficking and narcoterrorism," according to a 2003 Pentagon memo that expanded the charter. The office was formerly known as the DoD Counterdrug Technology Development Program Office.

While contractors have long supported federal counternarcotics programs, the scope of requirements in the contract issued last month is new. In late February 2006, Space and Missile Defense Command issued a "sources sought" document seeking information from industry about the support that contractors could provide for the counter-drug mission.

Two months later, at an industry briefing in April, Defense officials estimated that the value of the contract would be $500 million to $750 million per year over five years, according to briefing documents. Clearly, the Pentagon's requirements expanded between that briefing and last December, when Defense issued its request for proposals.

As the work statement in the request noted: "Due to the rapid adaptability of the counter-narcoterrorist threat, special federal government spending authorities are available to the [deputy assistant secretary of Defense for counter-narcoterrorism]."

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