THE BLOG

Why Can't Contractors Talk About What They Do?

06/23/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

You often hear private military contractors described as secretive. Indeed, if you search online for Jeremy Scahill, the perennial Nation magazine PMC critic, who couldn't say anything good about a private security contractor even if he was being rescued by one, and secretive you get over 50,000 hits

Now it is true that many PMC companies usually try to release as little information as possible. Much of the time I have argued that their reasons for not doing so are flimsy and it is in their own long-term interest, in terms of improving their own image and credibility, to release more.

That said, it is only fair to acknowledge that they have some legitimate reasons for not doing so. Sometimes, releasing the details of their contract bids would, in fact, release business details that truly are "business proprietary" (a term that is often used as the all purpose excuse. Try filing a FOIA request and you will see what I mean). But, if you are going to have an industry with companies competing against each other, then releasing the details of what your daily labor rates is not a smart thing to do.

Then there are times when, say, a private security contractor is wounded or killed in the field. A company may actually want to release information, say, to a reporter calling from the local paper in the town where the contractor permanently resides, but can't do so because the State or Defense Department is conducting their own investigation and does not want the company saying anything until after they complete their work.

In fact, for better or worse, public dissemination of information is usually forbidden by the contract. For example, here is the text of the paragraph that appears in every State Department contract. It's a different section number on each contract, but it doesn't change. It is carried verbatim in the foreign service agreements that DynCorp employees sign before they go to work overseas.

This is not to single out DynCorp. Any other company working on the State Department's Worldwide Personal Protective Services Contract would also have the same language.

H-020 SAFEGUARDING OF INFORMATION

The Contractor and its employees shall exercise the utmost discretion in regard to all matters relating to their duties and functions. They shall not communicate to any person any information known to them by reason of their performance of services under this contract which has not been made public, except in the necessary performance of their duties or upon written authorization of the Contracting Officer. All documents and records (including photographs) generated during the performance of work under this contract shall be for the sole use of and become the exclusive property of the U.S. Government. Furthermore, no article, book, pamphlet, recording, broadcast, speech, television appearance, film or photograph concerning any aspect of work performed under this contract shall be published or disseminated through any media without the prior written authorization of the Contracting Officer. These obligations do not cease upon the expiration or termination of this contract. The Contractor shall include the substance of this provision in all contracts of employment and in all subcontracts hereunder.