A lawsuit lifts the curtain on Sen. Brian Boquist's military deals—and how mercenaries may be benefiting.
" State Sen. Brian Boquist (R-Dallas) may be the most adventurous lawmaker in Salem.
He's described his best-known business, International Charter Inc. of Oregon, as a humanitarian organization, ferrying relief supplies in war-torn countries from Liberia to Pakistan.
But journalistic accounts of ICI missions in West Africa in the late 1990s describe a paramilitary force of well-armed Russian and American veterans who serve as military proxies in areas deemed too dangerous for uniformed soldiers.
A federal lawsuit has raised new questions about how Boquist—a 53-year-old U.S. Army veteran—makes and spends his money.
In the complaint, first reported by wweek.com, a longtime Boquist business partner alleged Boquist and his wife, Peggy, misappropriated "thousands of dollars" from ICI Wyoming and funneled the money to candidates and causes in Oregon.
Campaign finance records show Boquist and his wife have donated more than $64,000 to candidates since 2008, either personally or through an ammunition company he owns.
Boquist declined to answer questions about the lawsuit; the plaintiff, Danny O'Brien, moved to withdraw the lawsuit Feb. 3, the day WW broke the story. In an email to WW, Boquist said he hadn't seen the complaint and that federal rules limited what he could say.
Boquist was first elected to the Oregon House in 2004, after twice running unsuccessfully against then-U.S. Rep. Darlene Hooley (D-Ore.).
Apart from farming, ranching and timber interests in Oregon, Boquist has served as the U.S. agent of a Russian aviation firm that supplied ICI with helicopters and crews, and owns several ICI offshoots in Oregon, Alaska and Wyoming.
ICI Wyoming runs a military-training complex outside Cheyenne, where it conducts live tactical exercises featuring rocket-propelled grenades, mortars and simulated truck bombs. The customer is a U.S. Marine Corps expeditionary force based at Camp Lejeune, N.C.
Training is a sideline—and sometimes a cover—for many private military companies. In War Dog, a 2006 book on mercenaries by British journalist Al J. Venter, ICI's O'Brien is pictured posing with villagers in Northern Pakistan on a U.S. State Department contract. O'Brien is quoted bragging of his Russian pilots' "big balls" running "unauthorized cross-border missions."
The book describes ICI as "Africa's own Air America," a reference to the Central Intelligence Agency's notorious covert supply network in Southeast Asia during the Vietnam War. (Boquist's résumé boasts a stint at Evergreen International Airlines before he founded ICI in 1993. Evergreen—a company with CIA ties, as documented by The Oregonian—purchased some of the Air America fleet.)
ICI Wyoming works as a subcontractor to Defense Training Systems, which is the trade name of ILSC Holdings LC, a subsidiary of Katmai Government Services. Katmai is itself wholly owned by Ouzinkie Native Corporation, which is headquartered in Ouzinkie, Alaska, population 200, on an island in the Kodiak archipelago.
Through ILSC, Boquist's company benefits from a lucrative loophole in U.S. contracting rules. Congress created special benefits for Alaska native corporations in a 1971 law, making them eligible for no-bid, sole-source government contracts.
A 2010 series in The Washington Post exposed how most of the $29 billion in contracts awarded to Alaska native corporations over the past decade benefited not impoverished tribal shareholders but well-connected white insiders.
Federal records show that ILSC, which hired Boquist's company, has received $156 million in Defense Department contracts since 2000.
In an email to WW, Katmai CEO Dave Stephens stressed the company's compliance with federal rules restricting lobbying and political donations by defense contractors.
Stephens says Katmai has "no knowledge of the alleged use of ICI funds by Mr. Boquist."
The lawsuit against Boquist valued ICI's subcontracts at $2 million a year, and claims ICI Wyoming paid "income and dividends" to shareholders in 2010 in excess of $1 million.
They sold their souls, for a bowl of stew.
" You are the peg upon which your family's honor hangs."
David Rath and Evergreen " operational mess"
even though Evergreen was widely seen as a financial and operational mess: late last year, the credit agency Standard & Poor’s put Evergreen on its “CreditWatch” list and less than half of its fleet of 22 owned and 42 leased aircraft were flying before the acquisition. No matter, Erickson CEO Udo Rieder said the combined companies would produce an estimated $430 million in annual revenue; 43 percent of that is projected to come from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and a big share of that from operations in Afghanistan. Rieder’s case sold well on Wall Street, where Erickson’s $400 million note offering to finance the deal and other things received an enthusiastic response"
In Afghanistan, soldiers still pull the trigger. Civilian contractors do almost everything else. While the U.S. and its allies may be preparing for a troop draw-down there next year, for the contractors flying an assortment of 50 helicopters in country, things have never been busier or better.
This eclectic fleet, everything from well worn Russian Mi-8s to almost brand-new Sikorsky S-92s, hauls troops, support personnel, supplies, ammunition and the mail from seven main bases to the forward operating bases and areas in some of the most difficult conditions imaginable. Pilots fly nine to ten hours a day, six days a week, in mostly un-air-conditioned, older helicopters such as the 50-year-old Sikorsky S-61, in an environment where the ubiquitous fine dust clogs engines and other moving parts, in mountainous terrain with highly changeable weather and extreme temperatures–from below freezing with horizontal snow to 120 degrees F. Occasionally, they get shot at. Once in a while they crash. Rarely, they die.
The helicopters are generally kept out in the open and that is where the maintenance is done no matter the weather. The helicopters fly hard, from 100 to 270 hours a month. The avionics–for the most part are VFR basic: upgraded radios and GPS. The pilots, crew and staff live on the same bases as the troops and eat the same food, housed in everything from furnished barracks to bare-bones tents and no indoor plumbing. They rotate in for 28- to 60-day shifts, then 28 to 30 days’ leave. Some have flown there before–in uniform, often with multiple tours of duty, but for significantly less pay.
The individual pay and contractor company revenues are lucrative, substantially above the civil rate in the U.S., reflecting operational costs and risks. Last year six civil helicopter companies–AAR Airlift, Canadian Helicopters, Columbia Helicopters, Construction Helicopters, Evergreen Helicopters and Vertical De Aviacion–received $417.9 million for their work in Afghanistan. This year that amount is expected to grow to $783.2 million, according to the Pentagon. A combination of new construction projects and the draw-down are keeping the rotors spinning. The new facilities are being custom built for forces anticipated to remain after next year, and they are likely to require civilian airlift support for years, if not decades, to come.
For a select group of helicopter operators, Afghanistan is the big casino.
“There is still going to be some residual force and it is still going to need the sort of logistics support we provide,” said Randy Martinez, CEO of AAR Airlift, the dominant service provider in country, with 24 helicopters (two Sikorsky S-92s, 20 S-61s and two Bell 214s). The other companies provide the balance of civil helicopters in country with one Boeing 234 Chinook, four Boeing Vertol BV-107s, seven Bell 212s, two Bell 214s, 10 Mi-8/17s and two S-61s. They arrive in country in the belly of chartered Antonovs.
Erickson Air Crane pointed to Evergreen’s work in Afghanistan as part of the rationale for its $250 million purchase of that company on May 2, even though Evergreen was widely seen as a financial and operational mess: late last year, the credit agency Standard & Poor’s put Evergreen on its “CreditWatch” list and less than half of its fleet of 22 owned and 42 leased aircraft were flying before the acquisition. No matter, Erickson CEO Udo Rieder said the combined companies would produce an estimated $430 million in annual revenue; 43 percent of that is projected to come from the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD), and a big share of that from operations in Afghanistan. Rieder’s case sold well on Wall Street, where Erickson’s $400 million note offering to finance the deal and other things received an enthusiastic response.
AAR is due to collect $305 million for its helicopter work in Afghanistan this year. The company also operates 15 turboprops in country: Dash-8s, Casa C-212s and Metroliners. AAR Airlift has doubled in size over the last three years, largely because of its work in Afghanistan.
Columbia Helicopters began operating in Afghanistan in 2011 and currently flies from three bases with a fleet of five tandem-rotor aircraft–one Boeing 234 Chinook and four BV-107 Vertols, flying an average of 200 hours per month. One of its helicopters logged 270 hours in April. This year the Pentagon projects the company will receive $97 million for its work in Afghanistan.
Qualifying to fly DoD missions is not easy, according to AAR’s Martinez. “To fly DoD passengers you must be CARB [civilian aircraft review board] certified, and that is a fairly rigorous process and a high barrier to entry.” FAA Part 121 or 135 certification is required for initial consideration, and then the DoD applies additional standards and requirements. “It takes quite a bit of time to get their blessing,” said Martinez, a retired U.S. Air Force veteran and former Part 121 airline executive. After the blessing, the U.S. Transportation Command monitors contractor performance daily through an in-country staff at Bagram Air Force Base and nine field officers.
Nor is the job for the average pilot. Minimum rotary-wing experience is 3,000 hours; most pilots AAR hires have around 8,000, Martinez said. While many are veterans with in-theater experience, some are not. Columbia’s pilots come mainly from the civilian world and largely have been working for the company for many years before their deployment to Afghanistan, said Steve Bandy, the company’s vice president for operations.
However, all pilot hires must be able to hold a Secret security clearance. Every morning pilots and their crews get an intelligence briefing from “the customer,” meaning the Army or the Marines. The brief covers where you will be flying and what surprises could be waiting for you there.
A spokesman for the U.S Transportation Command told that contractors “are allowed to fly only into specific areas where there has been no recent enemy threat to aircraft.”
Armed with the briefing information, AAR pilots then fill out a company “threat assessment” that covers the route of flight, the weather, the load and everything else. That assessment is then scored on a scale; beyond a certain score, AAR headquarters must approve the mission. Additionally, any crewmember can opt out. “Anyone who is flying that day, pilots or mechanics, can say they are not comfortable with flying and we will not question that,” Martinez said. “It is a war environment.”
The danger for contractors in Afghanistan is real and large. Since 2001 through last year, 3,302 contractors were killed and 91,121 were injured there; that compares to 3,305 U.S. and coalition forces deaths and 18,188 U.S. troops wounded or injured over the same period, according to the Defense Department. Improvised explosive devices (IEDs), the infamous folk-art road bombs, continue to be the main culprits, but the occasional crazy firing his AK-47 into the air can also create problems.
The helicopters are equipped with ballistic armor and do occasionally get hit, mainly with small-arms fire, Martinez said. Flights are day VFR only per AAR’s contract with the DoD. All helicopters are equipped with Blue Sky satellite trackers that are monitored in real time at AAR’s 24/7 operations center in Melbourne, Fla., and by the operations coordinators in country. If anything goes awry, a site-specific, joint-service emergency response plan is activated within a minute or two. “It is very quick,” said Jayson Wilson, AAR Airlift’s vice president of operations. AAR lost a Bell 214 and its crew in Afghanistan last year.
The operations center in Melbourne also tracks all maintenance, logistics, operational readiness, statistics and scheduling in real time on a series of five large video displays and is typically manned by a staff of 28. Back in Afghanistan, AAR’s total headcount runs around 300, including 200 pilots.
Making It Work in a Challenging Environment
The weather, the mountains and the dust present the biggest problems, according to Scott Tripp, AAR’s flight standards manager, who has been flying for the company in Afghanistan since 2010, mainly in the S-92. Before that he was a U.S. Army aviator in country. He viewed joining AAR as a way to continue serving his country. “The weather patterns come on you quickly. In the southern part of the country it heats up fast. In August and September you can see temperatures of 110 degrees F or 115 degrees F by the middle of the day. If you are in the Eastern portion of the country in the summer, every day you will have thunderstorms from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. On the Western side, you are going to have clouds that stagnate in the mountains and close that area off. Flying in the mountains in summer, you have to deal with the loss of aircraft performance. We’re operating with heavily loaded aircraft all the time and you really need to be on your toes.”
This is when experience counts. “Ninety percent of the veterans who have flown in Afghanistan have done so for more than one tour,” said AAR’s Wilson. Seventy-five percent of all AAR’s helicopter pilots in Afghanistan were there before in uniform. “They understand the geography and the weather patterns,” he said.
Hustle also matters, according to Columbia’s Bandy. “The reason our guys operate at such a high tempo is because they care about the effort and the customer that they are serving.” Columbia’s crews, mechanics and support personnel, generally numbering 50 people in country at any given time, work 14-hour duty days on a 28-days-on, 28-days-off schedule.
AAR’s S-92s have a full weather package; on the S-61s, some have weather radar, some do not. All of the company’s helicopters receive regular weather updates from their operations controllers. The S-61s are equipped with Carson Helicopter composite blades for extra performance. Many of AAR’s S-61s were formerly owned by Carson before it exited the Part 135 charter business.
Inside the cockpits, it’s hot. Tripp says a three-man flight crew–two pilots and the mechanic–can easily drain three 12-packs of 32-ounce bottled water in the course of a shift. Bathroom breaks? Not a problem. You sweat it out before it reaches the kidneys.
And then there’s the dust. Not sand. It’s much finer and a much bigger problem. “It gets into everything, particularly in the summer,” said Tripp. Engines have to be pulled off and shipped out for maintenance generally 70 percent below the standard TBO interval. “It clogs the cooling holes, the turbine blades and the wheels. We’re not having issues with mechanical reliability; it is just that the performance numbers get to the point where we have to pull the engine off the aircraft and send it back to the manufacturer for a professional cleaning,” Tripp said. All of AAR’s helicopter engines in Afghanistan are on an engine maintenance program.
The company has had limited success with regular engine washing, but that adds only about 200 to 300 hours of engine life.
Columbia dedicates 30 minutes of maintenance per flight hour, but hits helicopters with multi-man crews during night maintenance to speed things along. Most all maintenance work is done outdoors, but the company does have one maintenance hangar available at a forward operating base where two Vertols are based. Columbia maintains a healthy parts inventory in Afghanistan, holds the type certificates for all of the helicopters it flies there and is supported by the company’s maintenance shops back in the U.S. “That allows us to fly those hours,” said Bandy.
AAR’s two S-92s are the ride of choice, said Tripp, not just because they have cockpit air conditioning and advanced avionics, but because they are so versatile. AAR uses them for all-cargo, all-passenger, combi and sling-load missions, often on the same day. “We’ve gone through our own schedule of growing pains to get that helicopter up, operating and reliable in that environment. But now it’s the Ferrari of our fleet. We have had really good success with sling loads at altitudes up to 7,000 feet plus. That is bang for the buck. That helicopter really does a lot.”
CEO Martinez is particularly proud of AAR’s maintenance staff in country. AAR’s contract requires 80 percent operational readiness, but the company says it routinely posts 91 to 92 percent. “This is one of the harshest environments in the world and we don’t have hangars to operate out of. A couple of locations we operate out of are above 6,000 feet; one is above 7,000, but our people [perform] minor miracles every day to keep, in many cases, pretty old aircraft operational. You can imagine the challenges of the supply chain and the logistics base; [we are] almost 8,000 miles from the U.S., seven locations in a Third World country that has almost no infrastructure or transportation. It is a logistics nightmare, but we seem to figure it out.”
Between tours, pilots train at FlightSafety simulators and soon at the CAE S-61 simulator in Stavanger, Norway, where they will “get a little tune up,” including instrument recurrency, on their way back in country, according to AAR’s Wilson. All AAR pilots are required to hold an instrument rating.
Wilson also notes that the pilot attrition rate is falling, a helpful metric considering the high cost of training, transportation and compensation. “Our goal is to get our pilots to the three-year point. I have three customers: the pilots, the FAA and the [DoD] commercial [aircraft] review board. If we are doing what is right with those groups, we will retain the first and get the approvals of the others. The pilot training costs in these aircraft are staggering, and you want to retain that investment. The best way to do that is to improve the employee’s quality of life. If you get a guy going from his second year into his third, you’ve done a really good job. A lot of our managers in country are four- to five-year employees. Granted, our attrition is higher than the industry standard. They’re in Afghanistan.”
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- - MONEY. MONEY. MONEY. MERCENARY HIRED FOR MONEY.
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Former colonel at Redstone Arsenal pleaded guilty today to federal charges stemming from inflated contract payments for work on Russian-made helicopters bound for Afghanistan to be used by Afghan forces.
Now-retired Army Col. Norbert Vergez pleaded guilty today to two counts of false statements and one count of conflict of interest, in federal court in Tuscaloosa. No sentencing date has been set, the U.S. Attorney's Office in Birmingham said today.
U.S. Attorney Joyce White Vance said Vergez "placed his own financial ambitions and personal loyalties above his duties as a member of the armed forces.
"In doing so, he betrayed the U.S. Army values of honesty, integrity and selfless service, which are hallmarks of military service," Vance said. "This prosecution highlights our commitment to hold responsible those who, by word and deed, corrupt the government contracting process."
The case involves Vergez's work as project manager from about January 2010 to November 2012 of the Army's Non Standard Rotary Wing Aircraft (NSRWA) at Redstone, according to federal court records.
The NSRWA office was responsible for buying, fielding and sustaining the non-standard aircraft, for the Defense Department and allied countries "in support of overseas operations."
Vergez admitted in his plea agreement that on two occasions he made or caused his office to make false representations to the Department of Defense Inspector General's Office, regarding claims that his office had no direct contact with a contractor on a subcontract with Northrop Grumman. But prosecutors said Vergez knew that he and his direct subordinates at NSRWA had significant direct contacts with contractor Avia Baltika Aviation Ltd. (AVB) related to its subcontract.
Lithuania-based AVB was a subcontractor for the U.S. government and its work included the overhaul of the Russian-made Mi-17 helicopter. In January 2012 the Department of Defense Inspector General's office began auditing a Mi-17 contract where AVB was a subcontractor.
The plea agreement also has Vergez admitting he directed another employee to backdate and sign a document supporting the $3.67 million subcontractor payment to AVB.
According to the plea agreement, the conflict of interest charge relates to Vergez admitting he took official acts as a government official to assist a helicopter manufacturing company in negotiating a "foreign military sale," government said. He also admitted adjusting a contract so that the company received payment faster than originally agreed, at a time when Vergez was negotiating future employment with that company, the U.S. Attorney's Office said."
" Retired general James E. Cartwright resigns from Raytheon board after pleading guilty in leak case Waltham defense contractor Raytheon Co. said Tuesday that retired general "Hoss" James E. Cartwright was resigning from its board after he pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI in connection with a leak of classified information. Raytheon (NYSE: RTN) said in a regulatory filing that Cartwright — a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general — was resigning for "personal reasons." He served on the board since 2012. According to the Washington Post, the leak to two reporters was about a covert U.S.-Israeli cyberattack on Iran’s nuclear program. Those stories revealed information about the malicious computer software program known as "Stuxnet," aimed at crippling Iran's nuclear capabilities, Reuters reported."
Retired General James E. Cartwright, 67, of Gainesville, Virginia, pleaded guilty to making false statements in connection with the unauthorized disclosure of classified information. The guilty plea was entered in the District of Columbia.
The announcement was made by Acting Assistant Attorney General for National Security Mary B. McCord, U.S. Attorney Rod J. Rosenstein for the District of Maryland and Assistant Director in Charge Paul M. Abbate of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.
“General Cartwright violated the trust that was placed in him by willfully providing information that could endanger national security to individuals not authorized to receive it and then lying to the FBI about his actions,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord. “With this plea, he will be held accountable.”
“People who gain access to classified information after promising not to disclose it must be held accountable when they willfully violate that promise,” said U.S. Attorney Rosenstein. “We conducted a thorough and independent investigation included collecting tens of thousands of documents through subpoenas, search warrants and document requests, and interviewing scores of current and former government employees. The evidence showed that General Cartwright disclosed classified information without authorization to two reporters and lied to federal investigators. As a result, he stands convicted of a federal felony offense and faces a potential prison sentence.”
“Today, General Cartwright admitted to making false statements to the FBI concerning multiple unauthorized disclosures of classified information that he made to reporters,” said Assistant Director in Charge Abbate. “This was a careful, rigorous, and thorough multi-year investigation by special agents who, together with federal prosecutors, conducted numerous interviews, to including Cartwright. The FBI will continue to take all necessary and appropriate steps to thoroughly investigate individuals, no matter their position, who undermine the integrity of our justice system by lying to federal investigators.”
According to his plea agreement, Cartwright is a retired U.S. Marine Corps four-star general who served as the Vice Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff from Aug. 31, 2007, to Aug. 3, 2011, and as Commander of the U.S. Strategic Command from 2004 to 2007. During that time, Cartwright held a top secret security clearance with access to sensitive compartmented information (SCI).
Cartwright signed more than 36 non-disclosure agreements related to Department of Defense programs. The forms explain that the recipient is obligated by law and regulation not to disclose classified information without authorization. The forms also contain warnings that any breach of the agreement may violate federal criminal law. In addition, Cartwright received annual training about handling classified information.
On Sept. 1, 2011, Cartwright retired from the U.S. Marine Corps. Upon his retirement, Cartwright maintained his top secret clearance. The clearance enabled him to engage in consulting and private employment, including sitting on a special committee of the board of directors of a defense contractor, which oversaw the company’s classified U.S. government contracts.
At the time of his retirement, Cartwright again signed a “Classified Information Non-Disclosure Agreement,” which included warnings “that unauthorized disclosure…by me could cause damage or irreparable injury to the United States or could be used to advantage by a foreign nation.”
Between January and June 2012, Cartwright disclosed classified information to two reporters without authorization. Some of the information disclosed to the reporters was classified at the top secret level. Each reporter included the classified information in published articles. In addition, the classified information that Cartwright communicated to one reporter was included in a book.
FBI agents interviewed Cartwright on Nov. 2, 2012. During the interview, Cartwright gave false information to the interviewing agents, including falsely stating that he did not provide or confirm classified information to the first reporter and was not the source of any of the quotes and statements in that reporter’s book. In addition, Cartwright falsely stated that he had never discussed a particular country with the second reporter, when in fact, Cartwright had confirmed classified information about that country in an email to the reporter.
Cartwright faces a maximum sentence of five years in prison for making false statements to federal investigators. The maximum statutory sentence is prescribed by Congress and is provided here for informational purposes. The sentencing of the defendant will be determined by the court. U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon has scheduled sentencing for January 17, 2017.
Acting Assistant Attorney General McCord and U.S. Attorney Rosenstein commended the FBI for its work in the investigation and thanked Assistant U.S. Attorneys Leo J. Wise and Deborah A. Johnston of the District of Maryland, Trial Attorney Elizabeth Cannon of the National Security Division’s Counterintelligence and Export Control Section and National Security Chief Harvey Eisenberg of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, who are handling the prosecution. "
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and and and ...
Don't want to be like him.
Shangra La No More. Never reaching happiness. Ego & Hubris.
Justice 4 Dave.
The assignment marks a shift for the CIA in the country, where it had primarily been focused on defeating Al Qaeda and helping the Afghan intelligence service.
Former agency officials assert that the military, with its vast resources and manpower, is better suited to conducting large-scale counterinsurgencies.
Afghan Army soldiers during a re-supply mission near Dasht-e Langar, Afghanistan on Nov. 11, 2013.