Sunday, October 30, 2005

Soldier of fortune

By: Anish Trivedi
October 30, 2005
Just about 18 months ago, I was packing my bags. For Baghdad. The allied invasion was over. Iraq had been liberated from slavery under Saddam. And a new world order was sweeping the streets, and everything else, clean.

This was the new land of opportunity. While Halliburton may have been making hay, thanks to the largesse of the US Vice Presidential office, there was enough reconstruction activity to excite the rest of the business world.

Including me. I was going to buy two radio stations, one in Baghdad itself. The other in Kurd country. As a business, it made perfect sense. It was significantly cheaper than trying to buy one in Bombay.

And as a new market, it offered far more possibility than the taxi drivers in this town who appear to be the only audience that our radio stations aim for. So there I was, spreadsheet in hand, ready to bet that I could give Iraqi youth their first fling with international entertainment in years.

I didn’t. Largely because I couldn’t go. Not that there was a problem getting a visa. Back then, no one knew who needed to issue a visa. So as long as the US military command didn’t mind my coming, all was well.

The problem was in just getting there. Two flights a week from Amman. If that. Because air traffic control in Iraq didn’t know how safe the corridor coming in was. It seems there were still a few 100 surface-to-air-missiles in existence in the hands of rebels. So ‘planes flew high over Baghdad airport. Then dived down in a narrow flight path that brought them to the ground. Hopefully with their fuselage intact. And passengers alive.

At the time I sat in Dubai trying to make it across to Amman so I could then make it over to Iraq, the corridor closed. The occupying force had discovered that there were more missiles on the ground than they’d previously thought possible.

Which meant tempting fate while catching a flight. While I am willing to go to most lengths to further my business and the reach of radio around the world, I draw the line at having to put my head between my legs hoping my ass will still be attached to them when I reach the ground. I opted to stay in Dubai.

Cowards don’t die

Which probably means I lost my last opportunity in a long while to see Iraq. In the week I waited in Dubai, a few dozen soldiers, mostly American, lost their lives in rebel attacks. The hotel in which I would have stayed, and indeed on whose roof the radio station I was buying had its transmitters, had gaping holes in the walls.

Rockets fired into the building didn’t kill anyone that week. But they played havoc with room service. While I wouldn’t quite call myself a coward, I do draw the line at being blown up. Or shot. Or kidnapped. It’s hard to run a radio station if your tongue’s been ripped out. Along with the rest of your head.

Since then, the body count has risen considerably. In this last week, a sombre ceremony counts the 2,000th American soldier to be killed in Iraq since the war of liberation began.

And then there are Brits. And the soldiers of other nations. And the journalists. And the contractors. All of whom have fallen victim to an unseen army. One that doesn’t want them there.

It can’t just be the Saddam supporters. The former dictator is behind bars. In no position to be summoning troops from his jail cell. The rest of his regime is decimated. With the various public enemies the US has tried to catch or killed.

Or captured. Which doesn’t leave much more than the citizens of the country. Who for some strange reason don’t appear to be too happy with their new found freedom. So when they’re not mowing down their own people, they’re killing soldiers.

Two thousand and counting.

Not that it’s going to stop. In his wisdom, something only he believes he has, Mr Bush has reiterated his desire to keep his soldiers there. To keep fighting a losing battle. To keep talking of peace when the presence of those men and women just prolongs the war. You’d think the man would get it. But then, let’s face it. He’s not very bright.

I never did buy those radio stations. It’s bad enough being in a city where email and text messages and telephone calls heap criticism on your jocks. To be in one where a missile is the only missive you get when you offend someone doesn’t make much sense. Not to me.

So there you have Baghdad. A city without peace. Without hope. And without radio. But come to think of it, given what we hear here, that’s not a bad thing.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Stock Market News and Investment Information |

NEW YORK, Oct 28 (Reuters) - Halliburton Co. (HAL.N: Quote, Profile, Research) on Friday named a new chief financial officer for KBR, its engineering and construction subsidiary that it is considering spinning off in an initial public offering.

Cedric Burgher was with Halliburton from 2001 to 2004 before leaving to become CFO of Burger King Corp., the company said. He will be based in KBR's Houston office.

Halliburton said in September 2004 it would restructure KBR and possibly sell it or launch an IPO for the unit.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Prevailing Wages to Be Paid Again On Gulf Coast

Rule Was Waived for Post-Katrina Work

By Griff Witte
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 27, 2005; A01

The White House yesterday reversed course and reinstated a key wage protection for workers involved in Hurricane Katrina reconstruction, bowing to pressure from moderate House Republicans who argued that Gulf Coast residents were being left out of the recovery and that the region was becoming a magnet for illegal immigrants.

The Bush administration decided in the days after the hurricane to waive a provision of the Davis-Bacon Act that guarantees construction workers the prevailing local wage when they are paid with federal money. The administration said the waiver on hurricane-related work would save the government money and speed recovery efforts.

The decision immediately was criticized by Democrats and labor unions. It also exposed fault lines in the president's party. Conservatives strongly backed the waiver. But a group of moderate Republican members of Congress -- many from districts in industrial areas populated by blue-collar workers -- lobbied the White House and the congressional leadership for the prevailing-wage provision to be reinstated. In recent weeks, the lawmakers wrote to President Bush, met with Deputy White House Chief of Staff Karl Rove and Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman, and persuaded House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert to arrange a meeting with Andrew Card, the White House chief of staff.

Yesterday morning, leaders of that group were summoned to the White House, where Card told them that the administration had changed its mind. The prevailing-wage rule is to go back into effect Nov. 8, two months after the suspension. It will not apply retroactively.

"When the crisis of the moment is over, we should return to the regular order. Part of that order is Davis-Bacon," said Rep. Steven C. LaTourette (R-Ohio). He said the law is needed to ensure that skilled, local workers find jobs and to keep the area from being inundated with illegal immigrants willing to work for low wages.

The decision was a rare victory for organized labor during George W. Bush's presidency. It was a defeat for traditional Bush allies, including the construction industry and conservatives in Congress. Yesterday, both groups said the president's reversal would inflate the cost of reconstruction.

"It's the kind of thing that shows they're turning their backs on the things that Ronald Reagan and those who built this party care deeply about," said Rep. Tom Feeney (R-Fla.).

"Certain special interests and their allies in Congress are more concerned about reinstating this wasteful and outdated act than they are with fairly and expeditiously reconstructing the devastated areas," M. Kirk Pickerel, chief executive of Associated Builders and Contractors, said in a written statement.

White House spokesman Trent Duffy said yesterday that the waiver was always considered temporary and that it had outlived its usefulness.

Gulf Coast workers and businesses have complained that they are being left out of the recovery. While the federal government spends more than $60 billion on recovery, they say that out-of-state companies receive most of the contracts and that many of those firms pay workers less than the prevailing wage -- which is often the union wage.

For example, 75 unionized electricians said they lost their $22-an-hour jobs rebuilding the Belle Chasse Naval Air Station near New Orleans because a Halliburton Co. subcontractor found workers to do the job for less.

The company, Alabama-based BE&K, said yesterday that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement investigators found two undocumented workers on the company's payroll. The company said the two had provided false paperwork. Last week, Navy officials said they found 13 illegal immigrants working at Belle Chasse for another contractor, Texas-based BMS Catastrophe Inc.

New Orleans resident Sam Smith, 55, was among those who lost jobs. He expressed satisfaction yesterday with the reinstatement of the prevailing-wage rule, but blamed the administration for his dismissal at a time when he was trying to put his life, and his city, back together. "This is the way it should have been from the beginning," he said.

Rep. Frank LoBiondo (R-N.J.) said the reinstatement would help federal money flow to people like Smith, who lost his 9th Ward house in the storm. "People who live in the area will have the opportunity to do the rebuilding," LoBiondo said.

Many of the 37 House Republicans who pushed for the reinstatement are from swing states or Democratic-leaning states where labor unions are relatively strong. The congressmen said ending the exemption could save money because it reduces the potential for fraud. The waiver exempted some contractors from reporting wage data to the government.

Since Hurricane Katrina, the Bush administration has reversed several decisions made as it tried to get the recovery on track after a slow start.

For example, it rescinded a ruling that lifted the purchase limit on government credit cards from $15,000 to $250,000. Later, the acting director of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, R. David Paulison, said the agency would put out for bid four big housing contracts that it had awarded without competition.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company - U.S. settles some Halliburton disputes

Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle

The Army Corps of Engineers has settled payment disputes for six out of 10 task orders under its Restore Iraqi Oil contract with Houston-based Halliburton.

Those task orders primarily dealt with fuel that the company's subsidiary, KBR, provided as part of a project to restart Iraqi oil field production after the 2003 U.S. invasion of the country.

The 10 task orders covered jobs costing about $1.4 billion. Auditors concluded the military had been overcharged by about $108.4 million for fuel brought into Iraq from Kuwait under the orders.

In a conference call this week, Halliburton officials said the six task orders had been settled in their favor.

"We have resolved the majority of that, over $1 billion of the $1.4 billion" in contracts, Chief Financial Officer Christopher Gaut said during the call. "So that's largely behind us, and we're just negotiating the few remaining task orders that were separate and had some other activities with them."

A Corps of Engineers spokesman confirmed the settlements but said he didn't know the terms.

Halliburton booked $24 million in third-quarter earnings related primarily to the partial settlement of the fuel dispute.

The company's billings have been under scrutiny by the Pentagon and members of Congress in the past. Democrats claim the company has been able to run up excessive charges largely because of "deficient Defense Department oversight and an unquestioning reliance on Halliburton's assurances."

The company says those claims have been exaggerated.

Halliburton's Iraq-related work in the third quarter accounted for $1.2 billion in revenue and $44 million in income.

Friday, October 21, 2005

Sen.'s office: Halliburton subcontractor hired illegal workers

NEW ORLEANS A Halliburton subcontractor is denying that immigration agents are detaining a large number of illegal immigrants it hired to do Hurricane Katrina recovery work.

Senator Mary Landrieu's office said today that there may be more than 100 workers involved. They were detained yesterday by Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents. They had been setting up a tent city at a Navy base just outside New Orleans.

The Birmingham, Alabama-based subcontractor, B-E-and-K, was awarded the work by Halliburton, which won contracts after Katrina to repair several military bases in the Gulf Coast region.

A B-E-and-K spokeswoman says immigration officials descended on the work site, but she denies that any of its employees were detained.

She says that all the company's workers have valid work documents and that only about three of the 150 workers at the Navy base are green-card holders.

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

A Web of Truth

By Neely Tucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, October 19, 2005; C01

Bunny Greenhouse was once the perfect bureaucrat, an insider, the top procurement official at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Then the 61-year-old Greenhouse lost her $137,000-a-year post after questioning the plump contracts awarded to Halliburton in the run-up to the war in Iraq. It has made her easy to love for some, easy to loathe for others, but it has not made her easy to know.

In late August, she was demoted, her pay cut and her authority stripped. Her former bosses say it's because of a years-long bout of poor work habits; she and her lawyer say it's payback for her revelations about a politically connected company.

Now Bunnatine Hayes Greenhouse is becoming one of the most unusual things known in the upper echelons of government and industry -- a top-shelf bureaucrat who is telling all she knows. For honesty's sake, she says.

"It's not a process for the weak-hearted," says Jeffrey Wigand, the former tobacco company executive whose high-profile whistle-blowing inspired the film "The Insider."

Greenhouse, whose case has also become a media event, unloaded more of her burn-the-house-down allegations on PBS's "Now" last week because, let her tell you, Bunny Greenhouse didn't grow up on the black side of the segregated tracks in Rayville, La., to run from a fight -- even if that includes the vice president of the United States.

"[Expletive] yourself!" former Halliburton chief executiveand current veep Dick Cheney snapped at a senator last year in an exchange related to Greenhouse's allegations.

"If prison inmates don't like the warden who keeps them from breaking out," Greenhouse says of her stewardship of Corps contracting, "do you replace the warden because the inmates don't like him?"

Ah. Metaphors equating the Corps of Engineers with prison inmates. Expletives. Vice president. Throw in a subtext of race, gender and war profits. You see the problem here.

* * *

In the dazzling eye of memory, she can see the wiry object twisting there, perhaps in the lazy hours of a Sunday afternoon, when she pulled it out to admire it once again.

It was a bit of metal twisted in the shape of an eye, a gift from her big sister. It was kept, in a childhood pun, in a can: an Eye-Can . A reminder of can-do determination.

Lost in the middle of cotton country in the Louisiana delta at the mid-century, Bunnatine Hayes and her siblings clung to such self-confidence like a life raft. Their parents, Chris and Savannah Hayes, were uneducated and numbingly poor, stuck in a world run by richer, more powerful whites. They raised their children with a ferocious, almost frightening drive.

Bunny's older sister grew up to be one of the first black professors at Louisiana State University, holding a doctorate in linguistics and literature of Chaucer. An older brother got his doctorate and taught at Southern University in Baton Rouge. Her kid brother, Elvin -- Elvin Hayes -- grew up to score 27,000 points in the National Basketball Association, lead the Washington Bullets to their 1978 title and be named, at the end of the century, as one of the best 50 athletes to ever play the game.

"My father always taught me to be strong and have dignity, to not have to bow down or have anyone run over you," he once told a Dallas newspaper, summing up the family creed.

So it stands to reason that Bunny was not only valedictorian of her high school class, not only a magna cum laude graduate of Southern in three years (with a degree in math), but she also went on to get three master's degrees over the years -- in business management from the University of Central Texas, in engineering management from George Washington University and in national resources strategy from the National Defense University at the Industrial College of the Armed Forces.

She married an Army man, Al Greenhouse. She taught math and, during the lightning-rod year of local integration, came back to teach at her hometown high school. She was the first black teacher the white students had ever seen.

"At the time, I didn't quite know what to make of a black person who didn't have a hoe in their hand," remembers Miriam Lane Davey, a white student of Greenhouse's that year, 1968. "She had been somewhere else, she was cosmopolitan, she was sophisticated. It really changed my viewpoint. . . . Later on, when I saw Claire Huxtable [the wife on "The Cosby Show"], I thought she was just like Mrs. Greenhouse."

Greenhouse, like her famous kid brother, didn't have problems with self-confidence as an adult and, like her kid brother, didn't have a problem with letting others know that. When a reporter asks for her rsum, she hands over a 32-page document.

"The Hayeses were different ," she says now, proud. "They were raised different."

It's not clear who she means different from , but it is clear that she means they were exceptional, and Greenhouse would hew to little touches of refinement over the years. She is broad-shouldered, elegant, devoutly Christian. She often refers to herself in the third person. She enunciates "math" as mathematics ; "again" as agayn .

She followed Al in his career as an Army procurement official, and after 16 years as a teacher, entered government service. She started as a mere GS-5, near the bottom of the scale, specialized in the minutiae of contracting. She worked insane hours, attended endless job-improvement seminars, raised three children and climbed the government ladder, working at the Pentagon and for the Army.

In 1997, it all came together -- Lt. Gen. Joe Ballard hired her as one of the top civilians in the Corps of Engineers. Her position was the principal assistant responsible for contracting, or the PARC. She oversaw the management of billions of dollars. The job elevated her into the Senior Executive Service, the very top level of the federal government's 1.8-million-employee pyramid.

Ballard hired her, he has said, because she was "one of the most professional people I've ever met." As the first black director of the Corps, he also wanted her to break up the "good old boys' " network of informal contracting arrangements at the Corps, he said, to professionalize the agency.

Greenhouse was an instant success. She handled the budgets, conducted workshops, gave speeches, produced a newsletter, developed proposals for ways to save tens of millions of dollars, work records show.

"There wasn't another SES who could touch me sideways," she says.

Three years running, she was rated near or at the highest level possible in job reviews. Sample job review comments from those years: "Effective, enthusiastic, energetic, tenacious, selfless . . . ensured the epitome of fairness in Corps contracting . . . has ensured professionalism in the acquisition workforce second to none . . . made the tough decisions that reflect the highest degree of entrepreneurial and critical thought."

That should be the end of the story, shouldn't it? Isn't that the way these up-from-poverty things go?

* * *

In reality, there were fault lines developing in her job that would, during the Iraq war, blow up into national news.

Ballard once witnessed a senior Corps attorney yelling at Greenhouse in a staff meeting with such vitriol that Ballard had to clear the room to lecture the man about civility, he wrote in a 2003 affidavit. He wrote in the same document that he had been told that staff officers routinely made racist comments about Greenhouse and that they were greatly resistant to the idea of more minorities working there. After he retired in 2000, he was told that the senior attorney in question had told a director of human resources that the attorney had pledged to fire her, and he used a vulgarity in describing the woman who prided herself on being refined.

It's impossible to survey the full story of what happened in subsequent years, because most records have not been made public, and the Corps declines all comment on personnel issues. But it is clear, looking at documents requested from and made available by Greenhouse's lawyer, veteran whistle-blower attorney Michael Kohn, that her career hit an ugly wall shortly after Ballard left. Whether she failed at the larger aspects of her post or was undermined and removed under false pretenses is up for speculation.

Her new bosses said in an internal hearing that she was "hardheaded." She says she was told that "nobody likes you." She was assigned a deputy who, her superior later acknowledged, had problems dealing with "a female boss." The man eventually left after bitter confrontations with Greenhouse, but the episode led her to file a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission alleging race and gender discrimination (a complaint that has never been investigated, Kohn says).

Her annual job reviews went from the best possible to the worst possible. Review panels twice instructed Corps officials to upgrade them, after concluding they were unwarranted. Sample remarks: "Needs to work harder to gain the respect of subordinates in her office. . . . Interaction with headquarters staff and field commanders is poor. . . . Attempts at counseling have been unproductive."

Ballard reviewed those appraisals in retirement. He called them "absurd" in his affidavit. He wrote that the problem was that Greenhouse was insisting that the letter of the law be followed and that when she refused to back down, she was pushed aside. (He did not return five phone calls requesting comment for this article.)

Before the war in Iraq even started, Greenhouse and her superiors were quarreling almost daily.

With the war looming, the agency wanted to award a no-bid "emergency" contract to Kellogg, Brown and Root (a Halliburton subsidiary) that was originally scheduled to last for two years -- and up to five years -- to provide a range of services in Iraq.

A potential five-year emergency? Worth billions? On a no-bid contract?

Greenhouse thought that was absurd. There were other companies who could do the work, she said, and they should be allowed to bid on it. She wrote that the original "emergency" contract should be limited to one year, with no options after that. She says when she got the final contract back, it was unchanged. So she wrote her reservations on it in ink.

Her notations became public through a media outlet's Freedom of Information Act request to see government war contracts. Given Halliburton's political connections, the issue eventually blew up into international news last fall, just before the elections. Greenhouse and Kohn gave interviews to national media. The FBI opened an investigation -- still ongoing -- into alleged price-gouging, overbilling and awarding of sole-source contracts to a politically connected company. Many of those questions still linger, and by no means do they all stem from Greenhouse, but from a range of sources. Greenhouse herself made several allegations of wrongdoing, but one of the most sensational charges, initially seeming to back up her concerns, was a Pentagon audit that found that KBR apparently overbilled the government $61 million for fuel in Iraq.

The audit was quelled, however, when the Corps granted KBR a waiver from explaining the apparent discrepancy. The agency said KBR's pricing had been dictated by an Iraqi subcontractor.

As the chief contracting officer, Greenhouse was furious. She said her superiors made an end-run around her. They waited until she was out of the office, she said, then hurriedly approved the paperwork in a single day. She was never told about it until it hit the headlines.

Halliburton spokeswoman Melissa Norcross wrote in an e-mail response to several questions that Greenhouse's claims of overcharges "are misinformed" and that the company "undertook substantial efforts -- including two competitive procurement processes -- to ensure that it was paying the lowest possible price."

Norcross also noted that a Government Accountability Office report said the initial contract dealing with Iraq was "properly awarded."

The atmosphere in the office was getting worse than unpleasant -- the Corps was already trying to demote her -- but Greenhouse was just getting a full head of steam.

This past summer, when she prepared to testify before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee -- the only congressional body that has expressed interest in her charges (though the committee has no oversight power) -- Greenhouse's superiors told her it would not be in her "best interests" to do so.

She thought about that over the weekend. She thought about the lessons her parents imparted to her, a half-century ago, in another time, another place.

Then she testified: "I can unequivocally state that the abuse related to contracts awarded to KBR represents the most blatant and improper contract abuse I have witnessed during the course of my professional career."

It was stunning in its confrontational nature, its moral conviction, its assurance -- and, one might observe, in its full-blown career suicide.

The Corps kicked her out of her job weeks later.

In Greenhouse's dismissal letter, Lt. Gen. Carl A. Strock said her removal was "based on her performance and not in retaliation for any disclosures of alleged improprieties she may have made." She was moved to a lesser post in the civil works division. She says she was "totally" removed from contracting and was banished from the Senior Executive Service. She also says her yearly salary has been cut by $2,000.

"They stuck me in a little cubicle down the hall, took my building pass," she said. "It's all about humiliation."

Her dismissal made national news, played out in editorials and news stories as a whistle-blower done wrong.

"She was aware she was taking considerable risk," says Marty Linsky, author and professor at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, who taught Greenhouse in a leadership seminar a few years ago. "She cared a lot about the values she believed in and was prepared to take risks that a lot people would not have."

The merits of her allegations about contracting, about her treatment in the Corps, remain unclear.

A Corps spokesman declined to address the specifics. Instead, the Corps issued a written statement that says the agency followed the law in its dealings with Halliburton. As for Greenhouse's EEOC complaint, the statement said the agency "takes seriously" its employees' right of privacy, and thus could not comment.

Any further investigation appears to be minimal.

This, from another DPC hearing last month, after Greenhouse was demoted:

Sen. Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.): "Ms. Greenhouse, has the Inspector General's Office made any attempt to interview you?"

Greenhouse: "None whatsoever."

Dorgan: "None?"

Greenhouse: "None whatsoever."

Dorgan: "That's unbelievable to me."

* * *

It is 11:20 on a recent weeknight in Greenhouse's million-dollar home in Reston, a picture-perfect manse in a picture-perfect development.

In the formal dining room, elegant napkin holders, a shade between bone and gold, match placemats that match chair cushions that match picture frames that match just-so floor-length drapes. Moonlight floats across the manicured lawn outside.

It would be domestic perfection if not for the masses of white paper heaped on the dining room table, great reams of files held in place with black binder clips. Crumbs from a takeout chicken sandwich are on a plate. A couple of glasses of melted ice and Dr Pepper are leaving a ring on a stray document.

Greenhouse is still dressed in her office suit, going through files that she says will prove that she's right. The kids are grown and gone; Al is away on business most of the time. Cheryl, her daughter, says the family has tried to get her to find another job, but she has refused. She says her mom is very, very disappointed.

Alone in the house, Greenhouse sits at the table and considers the fight of her life, and perhaps if she's lost it, or whether she should elevate it to federal court.

"I learned very early that everything you did in life you did with every fiber of your being," she says, her voice a mix of pride and fury. "Why would I sit here now and let them tell me that I'm something I'm not? Why would I do that? I'm Bunny Greenhouse first, then I'm in a government position. I will not compromise who I am."

In that sentence, in the expansive, quiet house, you hear the echoes of her parents talking to her and her siblings in that sleepy, cotton-picking delta town, a place where the world told you that you were second-rate, second-class, an afterthought of humanity. You wonder how this is all going to end up, here in another place and another time; you wonder if the lessons of youth can always hold sway over the lessons of the world.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Cheap labor flows to Iraq -- Page 1 --

Halliburton unit is tapping pipeline of illicit workers for U.S. military jobs in war zone

First published: Sunday, October 16, 2005

American tax dollars and the wartime needs of the U.S. military are fueling an illicit pipeline of cheap foreign labor, mainly impoverished Asians who often deceived, exploited and put in harm's way in Iraq with little protection.

The United States has long condemned the practices that characterize this human trade as it operates elsewhere in the Middle East. Yet this very system is now part of the privatization of the American war effort and is central to the operations of Halliburton subsidiary KBR, the U.S. military's biggest private contractor in Iraq.

To document this system, the Chicago Tribune retraced the journey of 12 Nepalese men kidnapped last year from an unprotected convoy en route to an American military base in Iraq. The Tribune's reporting found that:

To maintain the flow of low-paid workers key to military support and reconstruction in Iraq, the U.S. military has allowed KBR to partner with subcontractors that hire laborers from Nepal and other countries that prohibit citizens from being deployed in Iraq. That means brokers recruiting such workers operate illicitly.

The U.S. military and KBR assume no responsibility for the recruitment, transportation or protection of foreign workers brought to the country. KBR leaves every aspect of hiring and deployment in the hands of its subcontractors. Those subcontractors often turn to job brokers dealing in menial laborers.

Working in tandem with counterparts in the Middle East, the brokers in South and Southeast Asia recruit workers from some of the world's most remote areas. They lure laborers to Iraq with false promises of lucrative, safe jobs in nations such as Jordan and Kuwait, even falsifying documents to complete the deception.

Even after foreign workers discover they have been lured under false pretenses, many say they have little choice but to continue into Iraq or stay longer than planned. They feel trapped because they must repay brokers' huge fees.

Some U.S. subcontractors in Iraq -- and the brokers feeding them -- employ practices condemned by the U.S. elsewhere, including fraud, coercion and seizure of workers' passports.

The State Department has long expressed concerns about the treatment of foreign workers in the same Middle Eastern nations the United States relies on to supply labor for bases in Iraq. In June, the department added four of these nations -- Kuwait, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates -- to the top tier of its human trafficking watch list for not undertaking "significant efforts to combat forced labor trafficking."

U.S. law calls for sanctions in such cases. But last month, citing Kuwait's and Saudi Arabia's efforts in the "global war on terror," President Bush waived the sanctions against them. This allowed more than $6 billion in combined military sales to go forward. One reason laborers from developing countries are sought for work in Iraq is the U.S. military fears that hiring Iraqis would allow insurgents to infiltrate its bases.

Halliburton would not say whether it includes such laborers in its public tallies of contractor casualties in Iraq. But figures compiled by Iraq Coalition Casualty Count, a private group, indicate that third-country nationals -- neither Iraqis nor citizens from U.S. coalition members -- account for more than 100 of the roughly 270 contractor fatalities in the country since the start of the war. Those numbers are based on the group's tracking of Defense Department releases and media accounts.

Halliburton declined to make KBR executives available for an interview, agreeing to respond only to written questions from the Tribune. In a written statement, Halliburton said it outlines the "legal and ethical behaviors that all employees and subcontractors are expected to follow in every aspect of their work."

The U.S. military has outsourced vital support operations in Iraq to KBR at an unprecedented scale, a deal that has cost U.S. taxpayers more than $12 billion. KBR, in turn, outsources much of that work to more than 200 subcontractors, many of them based in the Middle East.

The subcontractors employ an army of workers from developing countries to dish out food, wash clothes and clean latrines. About 35,000 of the 48,000 people working for those subcontractors are not Americans, KBR has said.

According to salary statements obtained by the Tribune, the pay for such workers can range from about $65 to $112 weekly -- a fortune to those scratching a living from the farm fields and brick factories of Nepal, where the per capita annual income is about $270.

The Nepalese government must grant permission before workers can legally go abroad or brokers can legally send them. It has refused to do so for Iraq, because of the dangers there.

Some Nepalese job brokers have been raided or shut down, but it is unclear how vigorously authorities have pursued those involved. The government, consistently ranked among the world's most corrupt, has little incentive to do so because the Nepalese economy is reliant on the estimated $1 billion sent home each year by citizens working overseas.

Many Nepalis willingly assume the risks of working in Iraq, although their knowledge of its dangers before leaving home is questionable. Only 16 of every 1,000 Nepalis even had a phone line when the war broke out in 2003.

Asked what it was doing to stop the flow of workers from these nations or to monitor its subcontractors, KBR said questions "regarding the recruitment practices of subcontractors should be directed to the subcontractor."

The U.S. Army, which oversees the contract, said much the same. "Questions involving alleged misconduct toward employees by subcontractor firms should be addressed to those firms, as these are not Army issues."

An estimated 10,000 Nepal citizens are now in Iraq despite policies restricting such work.

Editor's note: Read a local soldier's blog entry about "Third Country Nationals" in the Life During Wartime blog.