In this series, Clearance Jobs will take a look at booming “spy cities” across the country and around the world—cities that have seen massive growth as hubs for intelligence agencies and activities.
There was a scene on the Simpsons years ago in which Homer decides to skip out on work and tour the local beer brewery instead. His brain is very proud of his scheme, and he thinks of those around him: Heh heh heh—they don’t suspect a thing. Well, off to the plant! But he then says aloud, “Then to the Duff Brewery!”
Uh-oh, he thinks in panic. Did I say that or just think it?
“I’ve got to think of a lie fast!” he says aloud.
I thought of that scene when news broke that the White House had accidentally revealed the name of the CIA station chief in Kabul. When you’re talking about Afghanistan, that is basically the only high level official whose name you are not allowed to divulge. How hard is it to remember one verboten name? And then like the battle between Homer’s brain and his mouth, the White House made it worse.
Here is what happened. President Obama visited Bagram Airfield on Memorial Day and, while there, attended a briefing with military officials. A print pool reporter asked for a list of those in attendance, which is a routine request, and a White House official carelessly forwarded a list with “CHIEF OF STATION” printed next to a name. The reporter copied and pasted the list and set it back to the White House, which then distributed it to the wider press.
When the same reporter later noticed that “CHIEF OF STATION” was listed and identified on the roster, he checked with the White House. “This is a problem,” said a White House official, and a new list was distributed without the name and with the note: “this is the correct list of participants.”
If you’re keeping count, that’s three giant mistakes. 1. Afghanistan is a war zone and information about that country was forwarded by the White House to a member of the press without a scrub for sensitive information. 2. The White House distributed the list again—this time to the entire press corps. 3. A subsequent list was then pushed out that all but highlighted the one name you didn’t want highlighted in the first place!
Kabul, Afghanistan – Spy City
So if you had any doubt that Kabul, Afghanistan is a spy city, the White House is here to clear things up. Not that it should be a surprise—when U.S. Army Special Forces first infiltrated Afghanistan on October 19, 2001, paramilitaries from the CIA were already there waiting. One of those CIA officers—Johnny “Mike” Spann”—would become the first American killed in action in the war. Today the U.S. government, alongside defense contractors, are running intelligence operations of every kind in the country, from human intelligence missions to signals intelligence analysis. As we’ve discussed previously, where there are contractors, there are jobs.
And the jobs in Kabul are serious business. Consider Cambridge International Systems, which is looking for an intelligence analyst. In their listing: “3+ years experience working with counter-narcotics, corruption, and links to the insurgency is REQUIRED.” The uppercase is theirs, and it’s written that way for a reason. The job entails disrupting narco-terrorist organizations. Meanwhile Raytheon has such jobs in Kabul as IT specialist and training a military intelligence battalion for the Afghan National Army. If you read the report from the special inspector general for reconstruction in Afghanistan, you know that the country’s prison system is problematic at best. As a monitoring and evaluations advisor for FedSys, you can help fix it. Keep in mind, though, the descriptor of one job listing from contractor Silverback7: “100% OCONUS (Hostile).”
WHAT BEING AN OCONUS CONTRACTOR IS LIKE
What’s it like for a contractor living in Kabul? According to one (jaded) writer who works there, “it is here that the wild, wild West has come back to life, where ‘cowboys and Indians’ fight to excise a toll of blood from one another, and with enough saloons, reckless partying, and live-for-today justified debauchery to fill endless Louis L’Amour books.” Writes one journalist who spent five years there: “Daily life in Kabul involved hailing taxis around town to interview the ministers, generals, diplomats, businessmen and warlords who were trying to steer, or even just make sense of, what was happening in the country. Evenings were spent in restaurants, houses and gardens with friends, contacts and colleagues.” He describes his neighborhood as “home to an unlikely mix of deep-rooted Afghan families and transient expats. Aid workers, journalists and the drifters who wash up in foreign conflicts live next door to Afghan families who have resided in the same houses for decades. Such a mixture may sound like a powder keg of antagonism but, by and large, the two coexist peacefully, if with a certain reserve.”
Still, the city is dangerous and contractors are killed there. It is, after all, a combat zone. If for no other reason, then, the work is essential. These are the kinds of jobs that protect lives.
So what are the advantages of working in the combat zone? The big one is pay, bolstered by tax breaks. Under the Foreign Earned Income Exclusion, your first $97,600 (this number adjusts annually for inflation) is tax-free, provided that you are physically away from the United States for 330 days. The combat zone extension is another tax advantage for contractors working overseas. In short, you might be eligible for an extension on your taxes that lasts 180-days from the day you leave the combat zone. ClearanceJobs describes the ins-and-outs of tax law for contractors here.
Although the U.S. is drawing down in Afghanistan, support and intelligence personnel will be there for years to come. The president’s latest vow is a U.S. military presence of 9,800 until 2016. It’s inconceivable that SOF won’t be there pulling triggers there indefinitely. But if you have any doubt about the presence of U.S. spies, as we learned this weekend, all you have to do is ask the White House.