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Blackwater Isn't the Only Security Contractor With Something to Hide

A Denver court case reveals dirty trade secrets from the business of war in Iraq.

After twenty years of highly decorated service in the U.S. Army Special Forces, David Boone thought he knew the rules of engagement. But that was before he found himself back in the shit — Baghdad's Green Zone, to be precise — and working for the private sector. In the emerging world of outsourced warfare, the rules aren't always well defined. They can be, like money, endlessly fungible.

Almost three years ago, Boone, a Westminster resident, was fired by MVM, a private firm that holds lucrative contracts in Iraq and elsewhere to provide security services for American government officials. The ostensible reason for the termination was that he "did not fit in" with the rest of his six-man detail providing escorts in Baghdad under a Department of Defense contract. But a lawsuit Boone filed claims that he was dumped because he refused to go along with an "after-action" report that lied about a 2004 firefight with insurgent snipers — an account designed to cover up the fact that a member of the team had fired indiscriminately into a residential building.

Filed in Adams County, Boone's lawsuit was soon moved to Denver's federal court at the request of Virginia-based MVM, which has denied Boone's allegations. After two years of legal maneuvers, a trial date still hasn't been set. Some of the documents in the suit have been sealed, and even the identity of the specific government agency that is MVM's client under the contract is considered classified. But public records in the case raise disturbing questions about the conduct of private security companies in Iraq and the lack of oversight by the government agencies that employ them.

Similar questions have been raging on Capitol Hill since September 16, when employees of Blackwater USA, another private security force, were involved in a shooting in a Baghdad square that left at least eight Iraqi civilians dead. (Some accounts place the death toll at 28 or more.) A recent congressional report found that Blackwater's 861 employees in Iraq have been involved in at least 195 shooting incidents since 2005 — typically firing first from moving vehicles and not stopping to assess the damage. The company, headed by ex-Navy SEAL and wealthy Republican contributor Erik Prince, is now the subject of several federal investigations.

MVM's operations in Iraq are not on the same scale as Blackwater's billion-dollar contract, but the company is still a significant player among the 180 security firms doing business in what has become the most privatized war in American history. Founded by former Secret Service agents in the early 1980s, MVM reported more than $200 million in revenue last year; in 2004, the company sold off its corporate security division and now concentrates entirely on government contracts, which range from guarding American embassies and running detention centers for illegal immigrants to providing transport for VIPs in Baghdad.

Boone first went to work for MVM in the war zone in the spring of 2004. The job paid up to $860 a day plus expenses — roughly $75,000 for a ninety-day deployment. His team, the Scorpion PSD (protective services detail), was assigned to escort "high-level personnel and visitors" from the Baghdad airport to the American embassy and other locations in the international zone. His lawsuit claims he resigned after his first ninety-day rotation over concerns about the conduct of less-experienced team members, but agreed to return that fall, after two team members were removed and he was promised a guaranteed three rotations.

On November 20, 2004, the Scorpion team delivered clients to the airport and was returning to the Green Zone in a two-vehicle convoy. A car bomber pulled a U-turn on a six-lane freeway overpass and detonated in front of the team's armored Ford Excursions. According to MVM's after-action report, the team was then fired upon from buildings adjacent to the overpass: "Periodically gunmen were seen, and engaged, as they moved on the rooftops and in the windows and balconies." A U.S. Army unit that came to the aid of the convoy also came under fire from a sniper, who was then "neutralized" by one of the MVM team, the report states.

But Boone's written account of the incident maintains that there was no enemy fire on the convoy. The tail gunner in his vehicle began firing five- to seven-round bursts into an "upscale" residential building south of the highway despite the lack of incoming fire, he says, triggering additional .50-caliber bursts and rounds of grenades directed at the building from the Army unit that soon arrived on the scene.

"While I continued trying to identify the threat [the MVM gunner] was engaging, the Army element called out, 'Someone tell that guy to stop shooting,'" Boone wrote. "I relayed the Army's cease-fire order."

None of the Scorpion members were seriously injured in the incident. Boone's complaint alleges that team members later bragged to government clients of having faced twenty or more shooters during the firefight and killing three.

Boone claims he took his objections to his superiors, along with concerns about other alleged violations of company standards of conduct. He reported a suspected affair between a team member and a married female soldier, as well as illegal weapons, including AK-47s and hand grenades, that he alleges had been purchased and stored by MVM employees. His lawsuit contends that the company's decision to terminate him, two days before he was supposed to return to Baghdad from Colorado for another ninety-day rotation, was in retaliation for his whistleblowing efforts.

MVM's lawyers have responded that Boone was not an employee but an independent contractor, and that his termination was a matter of expedience rather than retaliation. In the alleged firefight, Boone "failed to engage the enemy," they contend. Boone attorney Thomas Stocker's response: "It is simply incredulous to believe that a twenty-year Special Forces veteran, highly trained in anti-terrorism skills, would not engage the enemy — if there were any enemy to engage."

The company has sought to have the case moved from Denver's federal court, arguing that it belongs in an Iraqi courtroom. But in addition to breach of contract, Boone is also claiming that he was fired for exercising "his legal rights as an American citizen to object to illegal and wrongful behavior" — and that, U.S. District Judge Phillip Figa ruled, is an appropriate matter to be decided under Colorado employment law.

"Iraq has no interest in the outcome of an employment dispute between a Colorado citizen and a California corporation with its principal place of business in Virginia," Figa wrote. "[Boone] has alleged MVM fired him for performing an allegedly important public obligation and required him to forsake a public duty in order to remain employed."

An attorney for MVM declined to comment on the case. Stocker, Boone's attorney, declined to discuss specifics of the lawsuit but said his client's claims are no different than those of whistleblowers in other professions. "If you believe there's been wrongdoing and report that to your company and get fired for it, that's retaliation," he says.

Boone has since returned to security work in Iraq with another company. His offer to settle the case for $975,000 was rejected by MVM. A settlement hearing is scheduled for early next year.

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