Senate report: Funds funneled to private contractors in drug war go untracked

Washington Bureau

As the United States has ramped up efforts to counter drug cartel violence in Latin America, government agencies have relied heavily on a handful of private contractors whose actions are poorly tracked, according to a Senate report released Wednesday.

Private companies have played a major role in the U.S. government’s efforts to train Latin American law enforcement agencies and increase intelligence-collection efforts against drug cartels.

But it has been difficult to see where the money is going. The Department of Defense described its own system for tracking counternarcotics contracts as “error prone.” The State Department doesn’t have a centralized system for such tracking, according to the report.

“We are wasting tax dollars and throwing money at a problem without even knowing what we are getting in return,” Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), chair of the Senate subcommittee that authored the report, said in a statement Wednesday.


In total, the U.S. government paid contractors more than $3 billion for work in the war on drugs in Latin America between 2005 and 2009. Counternarcotics contract spending increased 32% over the five-year period, from $482 million in 2005 to $635 million in 2009.

Information from fiscal year 2010 was not made available to the committee.

The majority of the U.S. counternarcotics contracts were awarded to five companies: DynCorp, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon, ITT and ARINC. DynCorp, based in Falls Church, Va., received more money in contracts than the next four companies combined during the years under review.

The single largest category of contracts awarded by the Department of Defense during this period was for “intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance” in Latin America, according to the report.

Vanda Felbab-Brown, who studies U.S. drug policy at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said the U.S. reliance on contractors in the drug war is deeply problematic, “but unless we are able to resource our government properly, that is the only way we can do it.”

Last week, a group of high-profile world leaders called the global war on drugs a costly failure.