Contractors and Cash Under Congressional Investigation

Feb 6, 2007 1:03pm

Stacks of cash, some filling entire transport crates, are pictured alongside grinning contractors in Iraq. The images have been made public today in a report for a congressional oversight committee, chaired by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., which is investigating financial improprieties in the Iraq war. But military contractors sitting alongside millions of dollars in the war-torn Middle Eastern country are nothing new. In fact, they may as well be postcards they were so often sent home in e-mails by Iraq-based contractors. I should know, as the accompanying photo shows me with $3 million and a submachine gun, crouching inside my bedroom inside Baghdad’s Green Zone in the summer of 2005. I hoped it would amuse my friends back home in the U.K., but many of my American colleagues posed alongside the money too. I was a summer intern for Washington, D.C.-based contractor Lincoln Group between the end of my undergraduate course at Oxford University and a master’s degree in journalism at New York University. Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage. The Lincoln Group was paid tens of millions of dollars for covertly planting stories — written by American soldiers — in Iraqi newspapers, and the stacks of cash were necessary to pay off newspaper editors, television executives and security guards around Baghdad. I had no training with guns and only spent two dangerous months in the Iraqi capital before I left the company and wrote about my experiences for an American magazine. Cash is king in Iraq. The banking system is decrepit and unreliable, and dollars are the only hard currency with any enduring value. These types of images no doubt infuriate many who see them. While American taxpayers see grinning contractors who are well paid by badly regulated contracts, Iraqi citizens see foreigners living in luxurious compounds while they struggle without regular electricity. The Lincoln Group’s senior executives have repeatedly denied the veracity of my story since its original publication in "Harper’s Magazine," but they have also declined to offer specific corrections. "Lincoln Group’s commitment to client confidentiality has constrained its ability to correct errors in coverage of the firm," wrote Suzanne McKoy, the company’s director of human resources, in an e-mail to Harper’s editors.

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