In a Glass Darkly, Part 1 – Security Culture, Public-Private Partnerships and Corruption

Yes, I strongly recommend seeing the show!

by Helen Gerhardt

As we prepare to elect a new Mayor here in Pittsburgh, as we consider the aspirations of potential new Chief Executives to address the evident mismanagement of accounts, staffing, supervision, and secondary employment in our Police Bureau, as we consider hiring a new Chief of Police, it may be useful to consider the mercenary boondoggles and abuses of force that have been enabled by our last two Presidents at the behest of powerful and wealthy corporate Networks that deploy force for profit rather than the public good. The local and national patterns darkly reflect each other.  
Back in 2008, presidential candidate Barack Obama inspired thousands of dedicated volunteers by promising to redirect spending from Iraq and Afghanistan back into investment in our own country’s needs and to bring accountability and transparency back to the Executive Office. 
But even as the national sequester now takes hold and bites deep into the most crucial infrastructure and social investments, even as our Pennsylvania state legislators argue over where/if we will find the revenue to fund our own health care, transportation, education, a recent audit showed that, at least right up through 2012, many billions of our tax payer dollars have continued to pour into Iraq and Afghanistan, a large proportion of such projects left unfinished or botched beyond any hope of functionality:
Broken China-town after Shock and Awe


Between 2003 and 2012, the U.S. spent an average of $15 million a day on Iraq reconstruction, running up a tab of more than $60 billion. At least $8 billion has been lost to contract abuse and mismanagement, according to a final audit released this month by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR).

The audits show that the same contractors have continued to be rewarded with lucrative military contracts even after ten long years of repeatedly reported failures to meet the most basic standards for financial accountability or performance objectives. Enablement of such waste has been most evidently bipartisan.

Perhaps Bowen’s most depressing conclusion is that the U.S. government is no better prepared for reconstruction work in other countries than it was in 2002. No single government office has responsibility for such operations, he notes, and no tracking system has been established to help oversee related contracting…

What was not spotlighted in this and most mainstream news stories was that the Obama Adminstration’s Pentagon has also continued to pour our tax dollars into the pockets of rebranded mercenaries  with long histories of both incompetence and brutality in Iraq and Afghanistan, including Blackwater, the very contractor that the Obama Campaign highlighted in 2008 as one of the most egregious examples of irresponsible contractors that they would bring to account. 

Over the past few months, developing news accounts have raised concerns that shadowy private-public partnerships may all too often determine how force is deployed throughout our own city.  It seems that many of our police officers are living double lives just as they work double shifts, public servants of all our diverse communities by day, paramilitary gunslingers for hire by whoever can pay by night.
The waste of our crucially needed tax dollars on lawsuits against moonlighting police who abuse their power in City uniform have long been shameful sideshows in Pittsburgh, creating scandals that often raise high ire by the most damaged communities and individuals but little effective change. Now, the intervention of the FBI to reveal the corruption of police Chief Nate Harper seems to have finally impelled a closer examination of the interlocking network of systems and vested interests that cannot be reformed by simply hiring a replacement to fill any one person’s shoes. 
Part 2 of this series will further explore the tensions generated by endemic conflicts of private and public interests and the consequent damages to enforcement of the most basic standards of accountability and the protection of our fundamental civil rights and liberties.

14 thoughts on “In a Glass Darkly, Part 1 – Security Culture, Public-Private Partnerships and Corruption

  1. Bram Reichbaum

    My first take-away is that waste and abuse of power in the safety and security sectors, when permitted to take hold, is PERNICIOUS. It sticks around.

    My second is a lot depends on how a person defines security, and she or she defines her security interests. It's my conviction that humankind is intent on sacrificing rights against abuse so long as our protectors are “doing the job” providing security.

    Third and fourth are given that it is a hard job, and the people doing it are our brothers and sisters, many tend to want to overlook inefficiency, waste, and even fraud as well, so long as the job is getting done. Further still, I bet many are content to let the accumulated military wisdom of — I guess 10,000 years — dictate how that exactly that security is best sought.

    Just an instinct, but I'm guessing only 3 and 4 are ripe for addressing. In our neighborhoods. Globally, 4 just brings you back swiftly around to 2, but I have a hunch there is 'Burgh acknowledgment in favor of addressing policing methods. Even the Bureau's Pgh Initiative Against Crime was a hopeful response to that.

  2. Vannevar

    Generally government is given a monopoly on the use of force and police powers (which include some presumption of objectivity and justice).

    In the federal examples (I almost said external examples, but I'm not sure that's valid) the business complements the government role, adding to government staffing and enjoying the legal protection of operating with government blessing.

    In the local/domestic examples, the government personnel (the police) supplement the business role and convey the benefits of government to the business.

    In the local arrangement, business isn't buying just a rent-a-guard; they're buying and co-opting local government for $200/day. What a tremendous deal. If we're going to do that, we should at least price it right.

    The value of the rent-a-FOP isn't in the human being, it's in the trappings of our government that the body brings with them; the benefit of that hiring should accrue to the value-generators, the taxpayers that create the police department.

    Certainly, if Jo Doakes was a mall cop instead of a Pittsburgh police officer, the local business would be much less interested in hiring her and would pay a lower price.

    At one time, the Pittsburgh Police may have existed “to protect and serve” – how quaint. Now, a Pittsburgh police shield is an entry ticket to lucrative external employment, a necessary inconvenience to the real paying gig. That shift in priorities explains more about recent years than anything else.

    And the other great tragedy must be identified: there are many good people on the force that want to protect and serve, who see their once-legit organization hijacked by the scroungers, scammers, and skimmers.

  3. Mark Rauterkus

    Helen, my google fingers were slow. You'd be wrong about all of them thar other between the lines meanings N @. I asked an honest question as I have not seen many other by-line posts on Bram's blog before.

    That is it.

    Seen, yes. Ask, no, until above.

    And, in these blog spaces we have had many fake personalities, from Admirals to girls to the countless name less.

    Greetings, real person.

    Now I can begin to better put a citizen with the voice in those words on line.

  4. Helen Gerhardt


    You write:

    It's my conviction that humankind is intent on sacrificing rights against abuse so long as our protectors are “doing the job” providing security.

    Benjamin Franklin put a common reply to such assertions most harshly: They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.

    I don't know about “deserve.” I like Franklin's other quote from the Poor Richard's Alamanack far more:

    “Sell not virtue to purchase wealth, nor Liberty to purchase power.”

    But I do think the logical consequences of trading human rights and civil liberties for perceived security can be seen in the general pattern of resulting erosions of democracies into People abusive, exploitive tyrannies and empires.

    And both logically and practically, this argument is flawed, since the institutional waste, fraud, extraction, and heinous abuse, humiliation and murder of men, women and children by mercenaries, as consistently protected by our Executive and Judicial branches in Iraq and Afghanistan, has invited deep desires for revenge of former ardent supporters on a Power now perceived as Tyrant and mask for corporate Power in many countries around the world. I'll address that evidence more fully in future posts of the series.

    In short, we spend far more on wrecking the lives of innocent civilians and their societies overseas than securing our ports, nuclear power plants, water sources, and other vulnerable points of attack in our Homeland, or on diplomacy and negotiation which far more effectively addresses the motives for violence .

  5. Helen Gerhardt


    You write:

    And the other great tragedy must be identified: there are many good people on the force that want to protect and serve, who see their once-legit organization hijacked by the scroungers, scammers, and skimmers.

    Amen to that, Vannevar – it's true of both soldiers and police. I've run out of time, so can't reply fully now to either you or to Bram, but will also be addressing many of the local and global issues you both raise in my next post.

    Happy Easter, everybody!

  6. Bram Reichbaum

    Van writes: “If we're going to do that, we should at least price it right.” For real! You're telling me those duds and the actual authority they imply are worth just $3 and change and hour? But I guess that's really a side-issue.

  7. Helen Gerhardt


    Thanks for the explanation and apologies for too-quick readiness to misinterpret.

    But it sure doesn't seem remotely like Bram's style to hide behind any other persona or moniker.

  8. Shawn Carter


    Georgie Patton would be proud of your title!

    “Through the travail of ages,
    midst the pomp and toils of war,
    have I fought and strove and perished, countless times among the stars. As if through a glass and darkly, the age old strife I see,
    when I fought in many guises and many names, but always me.”


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