WikiLeaks, Prison Labor Data Show U.S. Job Realities

By Andrew Kreig / Project Director's Blog

A new WikiLeaks-enabled story about the European-defense contractor EADS underscores why authorities get furious when their secrets are revealed. Reuters reported March 8, “A litany of back-stabbing at Europe's top aerospace group is exposed in leaked U.S. cables, which show American diplomats avidly collecting details on the cracks in U.S. plane-maker Boeing's main rival.” Our Justice Integrity Project has long taken a keen interest in Europe-controlled EADS after learning that the decade-long dispute over a $35 billion Air Force Tanker contract was one of the reasons that the Bush Justice Department framed former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman on corruption charges, as we recounted Feb. 25 here at Connecticut Watchdog. The Reuters story, even if has no mention of Alabama, does nothing to undermine the notion of corporate/political skullduggery at the highest levels. In a sense, it's generally congruent with several pointed opinion columns by scholars of solid conservative and national security credentials claiming the nation's problems have an important moral dimension. Listed below is a sample from just one day. Two of the authors – one a scholar and former Reagan official, and the other a longtime CIA analyst turned best-selling author – say our country is on unsustainable course.

To be sure, many Americans are now focusing primarily on economic survival because of the drastic cutbacks of well-paid jobs in our economy. Occasional modest increases in overall job growth cannot hide the economic debacle, especially when the job growth is primarily low-paid jobs and doesn't even count the vast numbers who have given up looking for work. Therefore, the most compelling news of the day may involve how U.S. taxpayer dollars are creating high-tech jobs. The Air Tanker contract, referenced above. is clearly the biggest prize.  But the biggest surprise, at least to me, is the revelation that our nation is steering so much high-tech work to prisoners in the for-profit prison industry. Here’s the story and a few excerpts from a Wired Magazine article, “Prisoners Help Build Patriot Missiles.”

This spring, the United Arab Emirates is expected to close a deal for $7 billion dollars’ worth of American arms. Nearly half of the cash will be spent on Patriot missiles, which cost as much as $5.9 million apiece. But what makes those eye-popping sums even more shocking is that some of the workers manufacturing parts for those Patriot missiles are prisoners, earning as little as 23 cents an hour.

The work is done by Unicor, previously known as Federal Prison Industries. It’s a government-owned corporation, established during the Depression, that employs about 20,000 inmates in 70 prisons to make everything from clothing to office furniture to solar panels to military electronics. Patriot assemblers Raytheon and Lockheed Martin aren’t the only defense contractors relying on prison help….

Government agencies — with the exception of the Defense Department and the CIA — are required to buy goods from Unicor, according to a Congressional Research Service report. And no wonder: the labor costs are bordering on zero. “Inmates earn from $0.23 per hour up to a maximum of $1.15 per hour, depending on their proficiency and educational level, among other things,” the report notes.  Last year, Unicor grossed $772 million, according to its most recent financial report. Traditionally, inmate salaries make up about five percent of that total.

There’s a lot to consider there, of course. But it certainly suggests why private sector job-seekers might have difficulty competing for those positions. Regarding the U.S. Department of State cables on EADS that WikiLeaks released, the Reuters headline was, “EADS execs briefed U.S. on internal feud.” This and the neutral-reporting style smoothed over what appear to have been strategic and political battles of epic proportions, as excerpted here:

The cables, obtained by the WikiLeaks website and made available to Reuters by a third party, shed new light on political cross-currents that have rarely been stilled in EADS. Their disclosure comes as the group enters another sensitive phase in its history, triggered by a recent decision by German shareholder Daimler to reduce its 22.5 percent stake.

The proposed sale has raised questions over how EADS is governed and the future of a shareholder pact designed to limit the influence of the French state. EADS was forged from a merger of French, German and Spanish aerospace assets in 2000, but the pact means power is shared equally between France and Germany. Britain originally had a direct 20 percent stake in Airbus through BAE Systems.

When BAE sold this back to EADS, the cable shows the British defense company would not be missed by its erstwhile partners: "Good riddance" was the response of one German EADS executive.

There was a time when these titanic corporate struggles were purely for the business pages. But as the commentators below imply anyone who cares about their economic future – or their country’s – had better be paying a lot more attention to the power of the nearly all-powerful defense-security sector to affect our lives.

Contact the author Andrew Kreig or comment

 

 

Below are selected articles on legal reform and political, security and media factors. The articles contain a sample of news. See the full article by visiting the Project home page's section on News Reports, and clicking the link.

 

Wired, Prisoners Help Build Patriot Missiles, Noah Shachtman, March 8, 2011. This spring, the United Arab Emirates is expected to close a deal for $7 billion dollars’ worth of American arms. Nearly half of the cash will be spent on Patriot missiles, which cost as much as $5.9 million apiece. But what makes those eye-popping sums even more shocking is that some of the workers manufacturing parts for those Patriot missiles are prisoners, earning as little as 23 cents an hour.

Reuters, WikiLeaks: EADS execs briefed U.S. on internal feud, Tim Hepher, March 8, 2011. A litany of back-stabbing at Europe's top aerospace group is exposed in leaked U.S. cables, which show American diplomats avidly collecting details on the cracks in U.S. plane maker Boeing's main rival.
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Huffington Post, A Reagan Republican Makes A Case Against The War -- And His Own Party, Dan Froomkin, March 8, 2011. When Paul Craig Roberts watches the U.S. reaction to what's been happening in the Middle East, he is haunted by America's own recent history in the region.  "Here we are, we're all concerned about humanitarian concerns in Libya, after we've wrecked two countries ourselves?" Roberts asked in a telephone interview. Roberts, 70, is one of the original Reagan Republicans.

Daily Censored / Daily Bell, Bestselling Chief Economist goes public: US a criminal oligarchy, Carl Herman, March 8, 2011. Seventy weeks on the NY Times bestselling-list was the outcome of Chief Economist John Perkins book, Confessions of an Economic Hitman.

Salon / Unclaimed Territory, Obama’s New Executive Order on Gitmo, Glenn Greenwald, March 8, 2011. Indefinite detention and military commissions are continuing because Obama worked from the start for that goal -- not because Congress forced him to do so. As has happened over and over, while progressives and civil libertarians are furious about the new Order, former Bush officials and right-wing Warriors are ecstatic.

Harper’s No Comment, Inhumanity at Quantico, Scott Horton, March 7, 2011. Bradley Manning, an American soldier under suspicion of having leaked classified and sensitive information to WikiLeaks, has been in prison since May, 2010. His conditions of confinement are increasingly strange and defy comparison with standards applied to the incarceration even of violent and self-destructive service personnel—and by all accounts Manning is neither; he is a model prisoner. Manning’s special regime raises concerns that abusive techniques adopted by the Bush Administration for use on alleged terrorists are being applied to a U.S. citizen and soldier….

Under established rules of international humanitarian law, the detention practices that a state adopts for its own soldiers are acceptable standards for use by a foreign power detaining that state’s soldiers in wartime. So by creating a “special regime” for Bradley Manning, the Department of Defense is also authorizing all the bizarre practices to which he is being subject to be applied to American soldiers, sailors, and airmen taken prisoner in future conflicts. This casual disregard for the rights of American service personnel could have terrible ramifications in the future.

OpEd News, Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck Respond To Report That Parent Company Hires Actors for Call-ins, Gustav Wynn and Rob Kall, March 8, 2011. On Sunday, the article, Limbaugh/Hannity Parent Company Admits Hiring Actors to Call Radio Shows, generated an explosive response on Twitter, in the blogosphere and subsequently from Limbaugh, Hannity and Beck on their radio shows. Hannity attacked the messenger, Limbaugh attacked his bosses, Beck attacked "currency manipulator" George Soros and the blogosphere went abuzz as the public considered whether Limbaugh, Hannity or Beck might have used their parent company's dial-a-fraud radio call-in service.