Bringing Intel to Contracting

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Intelligence collection isn’t just for battle planning. It also has demonstrated its value in contracting with information on vendors, insider threats, and fraud, waste and abuse.

by Russell Parman

During my past seven years of working as an intelligence specialist supporting U.S. Army Contracting Command (ACC), I have witnessed a gap in understanding between what intelligence is and what it can be in support of logistics. Many senior leaders have spent their careers with limited exposure to intelligence capabilities, most often limited to the support provided by their battalion or brigade S-2 cells in theater. Experience with intelligence combat capabilities often results in surprise when a leader sees what intelligence professionals have been doing for years at higher-level commands.

For example, intelligence has proven its value in contractor vetting.

In 2007 the Army faced a significant threat to its contracting operations. An August 2007 Army Times article reported that there had been dozens of instances of contracting officers, both military and civilian, being found guilty of accepting bribes. That October, the Gansler Commission released its report, “Urgent Reform Required: Army Expeditionary Contracting,” which led to the creation of the U.S. Army Contracting Command (ACC) in 2008. ACC’s mission was to oversee the vast majority of Army contracting operations. In theory, this oversight would reduce the risk of compromise of key U.S. technologies, improve the safety of our Soldiers who were responsible for providing contracting support throughout the world, and eliminate fraud, waste and abuse.

I began work in ACC G-2 (Intelligence and Security Directorate) in September 2010 as the senior intelligence specialist. While we were standing up the organization, our support to the command was limited initially to providing current intelligence, which included but was not limited to intelligence summaries, weekly threat briefings to key leaders, and black book (classified intelligence documents on current events) briefings to senior leaders of pertinent world events that affected our operations.

After a couple of years, we began to see opportunities to expand our support to include the vetting of foreign vendors, with the goal of reducing the risk of exposure of our deployed contracting specialists to nefarious actors. To do this effectively, we had to improve our knowledge of the contracting process and of how our adversaries were able to exploit weaknesses in our system.

THREATS AND RISK REDUCTION

There are two major ways our logistical lines are at risk through the contracting process. First, forward operating bases are often in locations where resources are limited, and contracting officers often lack the ability to effectively vet local businesses to ensure that they are not also working for our adversaries. A 2016 Fox News report found that nefarious actors in Afghanistan over the past several years, including warlords, gangsters and terrorists, have been able to access some of the $114 billion spent repairing the infrastructure in that country. Often these individuals are able to gain access to key facilities and provide intelligence to our adversaries.

Exacerbating the risk of this insider threat, there has been a lack of credible intelligence on the local human terrain (local population factors that can impact the mission). Linguistic limitations among U.S. personnel have forced the Army to rely on local vendors to provide interpreters.

Secondly, the contracting process has been fraught with theft and corruption. A 2015 report to Congress made by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction found about $279.5 million in questionable costs associated with contracting in Afghanistan. The report found that these questionable costs in some instances provoked criminal investigations that yielded guilty pleas and fines. As a result of the investigations, members of the U.S. military and government contractors pleaded guilty to corruption charges. The charges included theft, bribery, money laundering and conspiracy to defraud the U.S. government.

BUILDING A BODY OF REPORTING

Most intelligence-supporting contractor vetting will come from human intelligence (HUMINT) sources, especially in countries where the U.S. Embassy is the only footprint. HUMINT collectors in these countries require guidance from intelligence consumers, which often comes from the intelligence analysts who evaluate intelligence information reports.

The best way to focus intelligence collection efforts is to provide an intelligence collection requirement. I authored ACC’s first requirement in order to improve coordination between my analysis and intelligence collectors worldwide. The requirement focused on threats to contracting with an emphasis on terrorism, criminal enterprises and intelligence collection threats. The intent was to increase the body of reporting in order to improve contractor vetting.

The biggest role of intelligence is to provide an understanding of the battlefield that prepares our forces for conflict. Often our contracting officers are going into challenging situations without a full picture of the threats. Using the methodology shown in Figure 1, intelligence can better serve deploying contracting officers in countries where there has not been a significant American presence.

After establishing the intelligence collection requirement, I set up search profiles on the intelligence research platform Multi Media Messenger, using key terms that would find all reporting related to contracting, most often in the form of intelligence reports. The reports were provided by local intelligence assets, most often working at U.S. embassies, who had a good understanding of the local dynamics in areas with a limited intelligence footprint.

Often contingency operations require the United States to go into new areas where local knowledge is limited. By creating an intelligence collection requirement, we provided a road map for human intelligence collectors to task local assets and provide a foundation for reporting on which businesses to avoid and those that would provide reliable, quality services. As a result, our body of reporting increased as we opened direct lines of communication with those who could do the research on the ground. The resulting reporting helped in producing dozens of country reports on vendors, both reputable ones and those who could present threats.

Using an unclassified search engine, intelligence analysts conducted searches for the names and addresses of reputable vendors. The search engine would populate data sets that include company name, services provided, key personalities, identification numbers and addresses. The searches also provided details on which companies had a multinational presence as well as a history of services rendered to the U.S. government.

With this information we created data sets that included thousands of vendors worldwide who could provide services and had been vetted against HUMINT reporting. Using this process, we were able to provide direct support to our personnel deploying to West Africa in support of the Ebola outbreak in 2014. This support came in the form of a list of vendors we found and were able to vet against existing intelligence reporting for potential threats. Additional data was produced for dozens of countries, with tens of thousands of vendors found and vetted, and dozens of instances of potential risk.

Once I had a finished product for a specific country, I would use the Human Online Tasking Resource, an online repository of intelligence reporting, to author evaluations for intelligence collectors to ensure that they received the necessary feedback. As a result, HUMINT collectors better understood the need for this type of intelligence and now had an incentive to continue collecting information on local vendors. It is often stated that “the squeaky wheel gets the grease,” and HUMINT collectors are more likely to try to feed intelligence to those who provide them with critical feedback. In this instance, intelligence report evaluations are a necessary and valuable tool for intelligence analysts. Additionally, the analyst has the opportunity to directly task the human intelligence collector through source-directed requirements. Every analyst answers to a customer, and those requirements provide a direct means for the intelligence consumer to ask follow-on questions.

CONCLUSION

Intelligence has tremendous utility for contracting if decision-makers in charge of resources make use of existing methodologies. The intelligence reporting system is already in place and shows how analysts can use available resources in the intelligence cycle to provide good information that did not previously exist.

Intelligence analysts must use all available tools to provide the best available information to those in need of their intelligence. The use of intelligence can greatly enhance logistics and address the current threat environment, which includes insider threats, intelligence collection, terrorism, fraud, waste and abuse.

For example, the Multi Media Messenger platform and the Human Online Tasking Resource, used jointly, allowed me to build an intelligence program from scratch. The program provided a necessary service to our consumers at ACC, allowing for risk management and mitigation and facilitating intelligence preparation by finding reputable contractors in countries where limited data on vendors exist.

Unfortunately, this program was discontinued in 2016 because of personnel cuts. Before being discontinued, dozens of countries had vendor lists produced for each combatant command that were vetted against existing intelligence reporting. Should the program be resumed, additional areas of growth would include analysis of risks in foreign military sales from foreign intelligence, exploitation of U.S. military hardware by foreign actors after sale to partner nations, and the use of contracted logistical support to gain access to U.S. facilities.

For more information, contact the author at russell.d.parman.civ@mail.mil.

RUSSELL PARMAN is a foreign intelligence officer at the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Command and a 17-year civilian member of the intelligence community (Marine Corps Intelligence Activity, Army Contracting Command G-2, and Aviation Missile Command G-2) and National Guard captain (presently serving as an Officer Candidate School platoon trainer). He has authored previous academic articles, including “The Social Roots of Terrorism” in the 2006 edition of the World of Transformations, and “Terrorism in a Unipolar World” in the 2005 McNair Research Journal. He has an M.A. in international relations and comparative politics from Vanderbilt University and a B.S. in political science from Middle Tennessee State University.

Related Links:

Gansler Commission report: https://apps.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a515519.pdf


This article is published in the Summer 2019 issue of Army AL&T magazine.

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