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Networking in the Danger Zone? 691

Posted by Cliff
from the would-you-take-the-risk? dept.
Croaker-bg asks: "I currently am an Information Security/ Network Engineer for a large government contract firm and have recently seen several solicitations come across email regarding gigs in the Middle East and surrounding regions, including both Iraq and Afghanistan. Understanding that the pay might be good for being willing to face the hazards, I continue to have my curiosity perked by these short-term jaunts. Lately however, the news of fellow contractors being abducted has put a new spin on the hazards of working abroad in these areas. Has anyone survived such a trip and lived to tell the tale with a fat wallet? If so, would you consider doing it again or is it just to dangerous?"
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Networking in the Danger Zone?

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  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:26PM (#9469413)
    you cant spend money when your dead.
    • hmmm... (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:25PM (#9469847)
      "Where's outsourcing when you need it???"
    • by nihaopaul (782885) on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:08PM (#9470172) Homepage
      its not all about the money but of the experiance, somtimes its good to get out of a country you were born and raised, think of it as a cultural experiance, as long as your smart and keep safe (like not going to american bars) then you'll do fine, but you do have to look into what you'll be provided in terms of safety/housing/security/contingency. if the company is putting together a good package then it could be worth it. i don't live in a dangerous place but i would go just for a change of life. but don't go thinking it'll all be 'sweet' n stuff cause you will be put under stress/difficault positions. i live in china, not the most chalenging of places but if i didn't move here from the uk i'd probably not have ever left the uk! it'll be an experiance! and don't believe everything you see on CNN! their in the business to make money, and violance sells! (so does sex, human hardships and google) try it, if you are uncomfortable you can always come back! remmeber to read that contact good 'n' stuff!
  • by britneys 9th husband (741556) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:28PM (#9469421) Homepage Journal
    Seriously. Mods - hear me out before hitting "troll." Stand on the street and sell weed. You would make a lot of money. Yes, it's true that if things go badly you end up in jail. But if things go badly in Iraq, you end up dead. Death is permanent. With jail, you get out after a year or two, and you have a chance to put your life back together.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      (Score:-1, Interesting)

      You are the King of the Trolls!

    • Death by terrorists is, literally, nothing, after a few possible days of torture and a few years of good job, followed by practically worldwide sympathy. Jail is a few years of you rotting, preceded by a few years of an illegal job below your knowledge, followed by a criminal record.

      I would prefer the void of death to the destroyed life of jail. Frankly, I wonder why this guy facing the death penalty is fighting to the Supreme Court for life in prison; isn't death preferable?
      • by mandolin (7248) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:38PM (#9469954)
        I would prefer the void of death to the destroyed life of jail

        I apologize in advance, but it's fairly obvious you haven't thought this through.

        A friend of mine got off parole awhile back for selling weed; he now has a life, a steady girlfriend and a house. For a more popular example, google "Tim.Allen drugs" (even though I think he's a schmuck).

        Jail is just a stumbling block. Death, OTOH, is permanent.

        Of course, I suppose you could get unlucky/stupid and die in jail, negating my point.

  • Not worth it (Score:4, Insightful)

    by blaberski (215844) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:28PM (#9469424)
    I wouldn't go. When you are in the military at least you have a gun and can shoot back. As a contractor, your kind of on your own.
    • Re:Not worth it (Score:3, Interesting)

      by KrispyKringle (672903)
      As a contractor, you also aren't required to go to the front lines and shoot people (although to be fair, there seems to be multiple uses of the word contracter; the one being this use, the other being people such as the CIA civilian ``contractor'' being charged for beating an Iraqi civilian to death).

      • Re:Not worth it (Score:4, Insightful)

        by DAldredge (2353) <SlashdotEmail@GMail.Com> on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:32PM (#9469455) Journal
        Please point out where the front lines are in the Iraq War.
        • Re:Not worth it (Score:5, Insightful)

          by unitron (5733) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:39PM (#9469511) Homepage Journal
          For Paul Johnson the front lines stretched across the border into Saudia Arabia. Look for them to keep spreading.
        • Re:Not worth it (Score:5, Informative)

          by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:44PM (#9469562)
          Easy. The al-Anbar province, and what you in America know as the "Sunni Triangle". This is an area where you're likely to be kidnapped based on the color of your skin, and the dress you wear. (There's also a danger of kidnapping just because you look rich--nothing political, just for money.) Generally, the Turkomen and Kurdish areas are safe, as are places controlled by Falah al-Naqib. (Perhaps you recognize the name--he's the Interior minister.)

          Was your question about the "front lines" serious, or some sort of display of ignorance?
          • Re:Not worth it (Score:5, Interesting)

            by Twirlip of the Mists (615030) <twirlipofthemists@yahoo.com> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @01:04AM (#9470943)
            This is an area where you're likely to be kidnapped based on...

            Bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.

            There's no place in Iraq where you're likely to be kidnapped. There are places where the possibility is higher than others, but nowhere is it likely.

            Of course, if you're the one snatched, tortured, and beheaded, I guess it really doesn't matter what the odds were.

            And as for the crap about the "front lines." Wake up, you moron! (Whichever moron posted the remark, I mean.) There are no more front lines. Iraq is incredibly peaceful and incredibly secure when you consider what it's been through recently. Hell, there are many places in the United States that are less safe, in terms of per capita violent crime, than most of Iraq. I'd feel safer wandering the streets of Basra or Baghdad or Mosul at night than I would walking to or from the Metro stop in southeast D.C.
      • by PaulBu (473180) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:41PM (#9469533) Homepage
        the other guy was an Afghan POW, not Iraqi civilian.

        To contribute to the grandparent's discussion, as far as I know you are kind of supposed to know how to deal with a gun if you are a civilian contractor down there, or at least carry it. (Got the story from a lady working for one of the aerospace companies who was visiting Iraq briefly, and she told that you are given a gun to hold and at least pretend that you know how to use it).

        As to the actual 'Ask /." question -- I think that the editors are either in very-long-latency mode or entirely detached from the rest of the world. The poor guy was killed today!

        To answer the question, I guess that my wife would not let me go there...

        Paul B.
        • by KrispyKringle (672903) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:45PM (#9469571)
          You're right that he was an Afghan and not an Iraqi, but according to ABC [go.com], ``Abdul Wali went to a U.S. base in Afghanistan on his own accord and surrendered to authorities. They suspected him of participating in rocket attacks against the base and he wanted to clear things up.''

          Whether or not he was truly a civilian, of course, remains to be seen. But given that he voluntarily surrendered in order to ``clear things up''? I give him the benefit of the doubt. At least enough to refrain from beating him to death.

      • Re:Not worth it (Score:4, Insightful)

        by NitsujTPU (19263) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:23PM (#9469834)
        Dude, civilian contractors get hazardous duty pay for going places like that. They go straight up to the front lines just like a soldier would in many cases. It is, to be blunt, dangerous work, and you should expect to be spied on and be prepared to be shot at.

        More directly to the original story. There are easier ways to make a lot of money than that. You life, for the entirety of your stay in the middle east, is likely to suck. Get 2 jobs and you'll be happier, and get to survive.
    • Re:Not worth it (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Asmodean451 (71567) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:07PM (#9469727) Homepage
      Not true. An acquaintance of mine is a contractor there and he blogs it on his LJ. 1. He always carries a gun. 2. His company provides mercs for extra protection.

      Its not for everyone, by far, I wouldn't do it either, but if you want to, its not a total death warrant. The aforementioned acquaintance has been there for a year now, with his gf who is also doing contractor work.
    • Re:Not worth it (Score:5, Informative)

      by natebow (789544) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:30PM (#9469884)
      It's not all that bad, its a lot of territory, the media focuses on the glaring horror stories. I 've been on 2 tours as a contractor in direct support of ground forces, and have been just about everywhere in the theater, Iraq and Afghanistan. My first tour was during the initial ground war, and I travelled with the troops all the way to Tikrit, 2nd tour I was based out of kuwait and travelled as required, to Falluga, Baghdad, and Afghanistan. I would definately recommend the Kuwait tour. Good network and I was able to do most work over the net.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:28PM (#9469429)
    I'd go. How do I sign up? Monster doesn't really carry that kind of stuff, and some basic Google searches didn't turn up much. Do I email Halliburton or something?
    • As a gov't contractor (fully cleared, TS/SCI, polys, ect.), I can get these offers. Most of the companies that have this kind of stuff are the big gov't contractors such as Lockheed Martin, CSC, Halliburton, Titan, General Dynamics, Northrup Grumman (sp), and on and on. Try their websites, you may find something there.
    • by DrunkenTerror (561616) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:10PM (#9470182) Homepage Journal
      Here's one place you can look, the FEDZ official job site, USAJOBS [opm.gov] (OPM = US Office of Personnel Management). You can input a resume, search for jobs, &/or set up search agents. One program relating to this topic is SOFIA [opm.gov] (Support Our Friends in Iraq and Afghanistan.)
  • Are you joking? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by SinaSa (709393) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:29PM (#9469431) Homepage
    You have to ask yourself the (deliberatley skewed left by me) question "Is the lure of money so great on me that I would leave my country to work somewhere where they are kidnapping people exactly like me?

    This isn't an opportunity. You aren't "helping shape a newborn government" or whatever. Even if you're Christian, Iraq is the oldest place on earth. If you need the money, do it. Otherwise, don't.
    • Re:Are you joking? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by KrispyKringle (672903) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:33PM (#9469464)
      Some (not I) would say you're doing your part to help rebuild. I find it much more likely you're doing your part to help line a government contractor's wallet (the likes of Halliburton).
      • Re:Are you joking? (Score:3, Insightful)

        by thrillseeker (518224)
        I find it much more likely you're doing your part to help line a government contractor's wallet (the likes of Halliburton).

        Yeah, how dare the people that work for the likes of Halliburton expect to actually get paid for risking their lives to try to establish a decent way of life for Iraqis - they should be willing to give up their lives and do it for free, nay, why even paying to be there, just like I'm sure you with all your insight into world affairs certainly are ... oh wait ...

        • Re:Are you joking? (Score:4, Insightful)

          by demachina (71715) on Friday June 18, 2004 @11:20PM (#9470545)
          Stop either being naive or thinking everyone who reads your post is. Halliburton is in Iraq to make money, money, money, nothing more, nothing less. They could care less about rebuilding Iraq unless its in their contract that they have to. Their KBR subsidiary follows the Army around like a poodle where ever they go trying to rake in as much money as possible off all its wars and police actions. And its a lot of money, thanks to Dick Cheney in particular who, as Secretary of Defense, reorganized and downsized the Army so they are now totally dependent on KBR to drive to do things like their trucks and cook. Brown and Root was war profiteering in Vietnam 40 years ago.

          I suppose its possible some Halliburton employees are idealists who are there to rebuild Iraq for the Iraqis....gag....sorry....thats so ridiculous I can't even say it with a straight face. They are there for the money too.
          • by The Tyro (247333) on Saturday June 19, 2004 @11:13AM (#9472646)
            I was forward-deployed during the early phase of the Afghanistan war, and the KBR guys were great.

            In case you were unaware, these contractors keep guys on the ground in those countries; some of them have been there for 20 years or more. These are local people who live there, speak the language, and are employed/paid by these companies to maintain caches of equipment, buildings, etc... these companies don't just fly in a bunch of pale-faces, rake in the cash, and fly out.

            They subcontract with a lot of local people to cook food, do construction, and all manner of services for the military, and they do a fair job of it. They maintain a lot of relationships... It's probably a little unfair to simply characterize them as profiteering gluttons (and no, I don't work for them, never have, and don't plan to).

            Contractors provide a lot of services, and while they certainly do it for a profit, that's no different from 99% of people in a capitalist system. Doing things out of the goodness of your heart is very noble, but money's a powerful motivator, and people going out into a war zone to do a job (particularly if they're providing expertise that the Iraqis need) should get a fair wage... I'd say they're earning it.
            • All I'd say to this is I'm sure a lot of them are nice people I'm just not sure I'd agree this is the way to fight a war. In particular, if you are fighting an insurgency using locals to cook for your army and do all your construction isn't a particularly good idea. A few well placed infiltraters and your Army is screwed.

              Using contractors to interrogate prisoners is an even better example of how deeply flawed it is for an Army to be at the mercy of profiteers for critical services. You can't make them a
        • Re:Are you joking? (Score:5, Informative)

          by httpoet (231453) <{ude.tv} {ta} {setsea}> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:17AM (#9470800)

          Yes, because as we all know, Halliburton is in Iraq to establish a better way of life for Iraqis, not because of the huge no-bid contracts [commondreams.org] that were coordinated by ex-CEO and now Vice Predident Dick Cheney. [yahoo.com]

          Pardon me if I fail to see the humanitarian intentions of an oil company with close - possibly criminal - ties to the administration.

  • by Wig (778245)
    Your life is worth infintely more than any amount of money. People who do this must be crazy. Do you really want to be beheaded because you want a new Mercedes?
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:42PM (#9469537)
      Yes, the Middle East is a dangerous place right now. (Particularly for Westerners.) However, people do have a tendency of exaggerating the danger because of the context.

      For example: just a few years ago, seven people were gunned down [cnn.com] at a computer engineering firm in Massachusetts. But if I were offered a job in Massachusetts, I doubt that questions of personal safety would even enter my mind.

      Of course I'm not saying the Middle East is safer than Massachusetts (though if it keeps you from eating at McDonald's too often, it may well be)! But don't let high profile shock stories bias your judgement too much.
      • by $kr1p7_k177y (208396) on Friday June 18, 2004 @11:33PM (#9470617)
        The "Middle East" Isn't a dangerous place, although parts of it are. Two years ago, I did humanitarian work in Palestine, and the Palestinians, were so utterly thankful for my presence that I suspect some of them would have taken a bullet for me. On top of that, many of them assumed I was Jewish, but were grateful no less.

        The Israelis on the OTOH, were far less hospitable.

        Attempting to lump the middle east into one bucket is shortsighted and narrow minded. It is a place politically and ethnically diverse as Europe.
    • by really? (199452) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:14PM (#9469764)
      You've spent no time in the area, have you? I personally don't think you have.

      Yes, it's more dangerous than a lot of the places in the US/Europe/etc, but, nowhere near as bad as the media tries to make it out.

      Last time I was in the area, during the HIGHT of the previous "war", I found one, yes ONE, person who got in my face for being "American". I politely explained to him that I was not, and even if I were I was there as a traveler not as a representant of my government. He refused let it be and soon enough the other people around told him, in Arabic, to shut up and leave us alone - I was there with a friend.
      Eventually he tried to "get physical" and I chucked him off the ferry (Yes in the water. No the capitan was not amused; but, when the locals explained the situation he had a hard time refraining from laughing.).
      The rest of locals were VERY apologetic for this a-hole's behaviour and congratulated me on having the guts to stand up to him.
      Or, maybe I am just a lucky bastard?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:29PM (#9469434)
    Might be of use to you on your trip.
  • by trybywrench (584843) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:29PM (#9469436)
    but every time I start giving it some real thought someone else gets abducted and murdered. I don't know what the pay rate is, i'm more interested in just the experience but i dunno if i'm confotable with the risks.

    ..maybe northern Iraq with the Kurds, from what i understand things are pretty stable there.
  • Ask this guy (Score:5, Informative)

    by eagl (86459) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:29PM (#9469437) Journal
    Ask this guy: http://www.savagenet.com/expat/viewforum.php?f=1
  • *in song* (Score:4, Funny)

    by xsupergr0verx (758121) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:30PM (#9469447)
    Tellllnet into the danger zone!

    Tom Cruise would be so proud of me.
  • Use Common Sense! (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Space_Soldier (628825)
    While I have never been there, nor do I have a job in networking, or one at all, all I can say is that you should never travel or work alone. Find a way to get some protection. Get a gun, and some self-defence classes before you go. I have been in Middle East. I have lived in Israel for a few years and got an Israeli citizenship.
  • You're not alone (Score:5, Informative)

    by Solidsnot (169219) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:32PM (#9469454)
    Many of us in the military, especially the one's seperating from the military, are getting these same offers. Its definitely tempting to some of these guys but all of them passed on it. Who wants to go do their same job that they were doing in the military and not have at least some sort of self protection, ie. M16, M9 pistol, squad of Marines behind you......
  • Hats Off (Score:2, Interesting)

    by BoldAC (735721)

    Big props go to you guys who are not letting the terrorists scare you away. You are indeed pioneers! It's like the ole west over there with money to be made in the face of great danger.

    If you can look at those pictures on drudge and still bring yourself to go... you deserve the big dollars for your brass balls.

    Those people are living in a phucked up world right now... they need honest people over there to help them... and to let them know that the basic American is not the military that they fear.

    AC
  • by Anonymous Coward
    1u servers can be useful as weapons in the event of an attempted abduction.

    Steps to avoid abduction.

    1.) Yank server out of cabinet
    2.) Lift server over head
    3.) Strike assailent with server.
    4.) Repeat as necessary
  • I did... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by houstonbofh (602064) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:35PM (#9469478)
    I had the chance to work in Johannesburg. At the time it was "the most dangerous city in the world outside of a war zone." I was there for 4 months, and it was one of the best experiences of my life. While there, my co-worker was on a contract on New York. This was around 9-11... He saw the towers fall in person. You can die anyplace. Be careful, take precautions, be aware, and you have a better chance. Do the math... How many people have been killed in New York in the last 6 months? The risks may be higher in the mid-east, but how much higher? Especially with you watching everything around you?
    • Re:I did... (Score:5, Informative)

      by konfoo (677366) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:08PM (#9469731)
      Sorry bud, Johannesburg does not count as a dangerous working environment. Its the same like working in LA - the burbs are much removed from the ghetto.

      I say this having been born in south africa, living in Johannesburg, working in malaysia, and living now in LA.
      • Re:I did... (Score:3, Interesting)

        by mav[LAG] (31387)
        You'll appreciate this story then. A mate of mine was a journalist in Lebanon covering some pretty bad stuff in the early 90s. While he was in the basement with some of his colleagues sheltering from the latest rocket attack on their hotel he mentioned that his next assignment was to Johannesburg. As one the others said: "Johannesburg! Are you crazy?"

        Joburg (where I live now) is like any big city in the US or Europe (and I've been to a few): good areas, dodgy areas and absolute no-go areas. Even Lagos can
    • Re:I did... (Score:4, Interesting)

      by Fnkmaster (89084) on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:22PM (#9470265)
      Agreed with the others, the comparison between Johannesburg and Baghdad just doesn't hold water. My good friend is in Iraq right now, working for the CPA, about to start working for the US Embassy. One of the guys in his office (Ministry of Interior, CPA), a 22 year old kid, was hit 4 or 5 times and almost killed a week or two ago when his SUV was shot up as he returned to the Green Zone. Several others have had "near misses", and they have incoming artillery or rockets to the palace compound every day or two. When they leave the GZ, they wear full body armor and tote assault rifles. Several people to an SUV, rifles hanging out the windows, safeties flicked off when a suspicious car gets too close.


      I've been in some crappy neighborhoods, had friends mugged or beaten up, here in New York, when I lived in Ft. Lauderdale, and so on. These places can be dangerous, and I've heard Johannesburg, Mexico City and the lot can be much worse. And actually, aside from 9-11, I haven't known anybody who's died by an act of random violence in New York, and I don't even know anybody that's been robbed or mugged since Giuliani was elected mayor. In any case, there's dangerous, then there's just fucking crazy.

  • by malus (6786) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:36PM (#9469485) Journal
    NO NO No and more no.

    You are not a target for some whack-job and their Whoopie-knife. Keep your head right where it belongs, atop your shoulders.

    Greed, quite literally, KILLS these days.
  • by LostCluster (625375) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:36PM (#9469486)
    I thought the whole point of having an Army Corps Of Engineers was so that when technical skills were needed in a war zone, the Army would be able to provide them.
    • I thought the whole point of having an Army Corps Of Engineers was so that when technical skills were needed in a war zone, the Army would be able to provide them.

      The problem with that arrangement is that if there are profits to be made from the teat of the US taxpayer (or local oil money), the Corps of Engineers cannot provide them.

    • I thought the whole point of having an Army Corps Of Engineers was so that when technical skills were needed in a war zone, the Army would be able to provide them.

      The CoE does mostly CIVIL engineering. Dams, flood control, and miscelaneous hydrology are their main contribution to infrastructure creation. They're mainly a construction corps. Anything requiring esoteric technical knowledge is generally contracted out to private companies that specialize in those sorts of things.

      • Maybe it's time... (Score:3, Insightful)

        by TamMan2000 (578899)
        ... for the CoE to develop some more capabilities. If you think hydrology and infrastructure are easy, you don't know much about them. The problems also gets exponetially harder when you are expected to be able to work in environments ranging from dessert to jungle.

        If the CoE can handle civil, it can learn most IT tasks.
  • pics (Score:5, Informative)

    by Phrack (9361) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:36PM (#9469488)
    see this gallery of a contractor's 1year stint in afghanistan.

    http://www.darchiver.com/gallery/Vince

    well, some personal pics in there as well. skip those.
  • Hazard Pay (Score:5, Informative)

    by Geminus (602334) * on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:36PM (#9469489)
    I know of several former coworkers who are there right now. You can chech out two of their websites here [ilovemyhazardpay.com] and here [uberforce.com]. I have been approached by these companies as well, and my expedited passport ($188.00) should be here next week. $120K/yr is too enticing for me to pass this up. Additionally, if you're doing IT work and are worried about danger, pick Kuwait as it is the safest environment. I'm married with two kids, and this certainly seems like a good option for mom to finally have a house. Keep in mind that the captured contractors mostly put themselves in danger by being in open public areas... IT guys are very well protected, probably because they are required to have an active secret clearance.
  • Blood Money (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sakusha (441986) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:37PM (#9469493)
    Please consider the moral issues that derive from making money off a war and its reconstruction. Do you want to be part of the military-industrial complex, to join the likes of Haliburton or Kellog, Brown & Root? Do you want to be a war profiteer?
    • Re:Blood Money (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Danathar (267989)
      Who's "moral issues" are we talking about? His or YOURS!
    • Re:Blood Money (Score:5, Insightful)

      by martinde (137088) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:29PM (#9469875) Homepage
      Is it moral to not rebuild the infrastructure of societies in need of rebuilding? Is it somehow more moral to bomb the crap out of them and leave them in squalor than it would be to bomb the crap out of them and then help rebuild? (Given that we have already bombed the crap out of them, you can't say we shouldn't.)

      I think the immorality of the companies you list would be in falsely charging US taxpayers for things that they did not do, not the simple fact that they are rebuilding Iraq for a price. If they were doing it at a fair rate there would be no moral issue at all in my mind.

      Establishing a fair rate is an interesting problem on days like today when a contractor's head gets cut off for no apparent reason. What sort of hourly rate do you need to put yourself in that position? Perhaps we should be civil enough to rebuild Iraq for free, but if noone qualified signs up for that job, is it immoral to do it at an hourly rate? An interesting question...
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:37PM (#9469494)
    I'd recommend you listen to the 06/06/2004 episode of This American Life which devotes an entire hour to stories of civilian contractors and mercs in Iraq. I believe it would answer your questions and you should be able to download it for free from http://www.thislife.org/
  • by Stalke (20083) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:37PM (#9469496)
    First let me state that I personally have no first hand experience in a situation like this, except that when I was a kid growing up my father was a similar contractor and, since this was the seventies, my family was dragged along as well. That never happens anymore. But I was in Iraq in 1979 before the Iran-Iraq war and remember leaving just before the war broke out. Right now my father is in a similar situation about a job in Indonesia where the company is currently facing people leaving (ironically I was born at that same jobsite).

    Okay. It depends upon the security arrangements. First of all working in a second or third world country is very cool. There's nothing like the culture shock while at the same time being an expert compared to most people around you. Second, there is a big difference between having to work outside a secure compound and working inside the compound. If your inside the compound, changes are you'll spend most of your time there is a pretty secure environment and the only time you'll leave is to go on vacation to Dubai or someplace like that and have a significantly better chance at meeting some rich heiress that if you worked in the states.

    One the other hand, if you're working outside a secure compound (like for example as a civil or petrolium engineer), make sure your paid well. While you'll still be pretty secure, you never know what'll happen. That being said, when they say that contractors are being targetting, they really are talking about security contractors who are ex navy seal types.
  • Go to the Balkans (Score:5, Informative)

    by karniv0re (746499) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:38PM (#9469503) Journal
    I recently got back from Kosovo (though I was there with the Army, not a contractor unfortunately). It's safe enough to hang out in town during the days, and the pay is still pretty good. It was rumored that some Brown & Root employees were making $80k for sitting in a watch tower. I'm sure IT guys would bank better than that.

    As far as the Middle East, I think you could remain pretty safe if you just kept to yourself and didn't do too much playing around outside of the base.

    On a related note, I would like to see a comparison of the daily murder rate in Iraq compared to the daily murder rate for an inner-city such as, oh, let's say Detroit. Granted, beheading is a bit worse than a drive-by, but it's not like it's an every-day thing.
  • by WIAKywbfatw (307557) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:39PM (#9469512) Journal
    It's your life. If you feel comfortable about being in a situation where your chances of losing your life increase dramatically, and if you think that you're being adequately compensated for the risks that you're taking, then go ahead and take the assignment.

    But if possibly becoming a target, or even being the unfortunate victim of a friendly fire incident, makes your stomach churn then don't do it.

    These are warzones that you're talking about. Don't step into one because someone else says that they'd do it, step into one because you know that you're comfortable doing it. You only have one life, so don't lead it according to how someone else would lead their's.

    Bottom line: is the job worth potentially dying for? Only you can answer that for yourself.
  • by pancake_lover (310091) on Friday June 18, 2004 @08:52PM (#9469620)
    This American Life (on NPR) ran a pretty good documentary on this subject a few weeks back. It's available in Realaudio format on the web. It's an hour long though. The archive page is Here [thislife.org]. Or go to the audio directly [thislife.org].
  • by YrWrstNtmr (564987) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:01PM (#9469683)
    I have a friend (USAF retired ) in Saudi now, as a contractor associated with aircraft, and he's bailing.

    Money fades. Bullet holes don't.
  • by Aardpig (622459) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:19PM (#9469803)

    ...but if you get abducted and beheaded, don't expect me to shed a tear. I have little sympathy for the carpet-baggers currently over around Iraq's moribund corpse.

  • by RhettLivingston (544140) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:23PM (#9469840)

    About a year ago, I purchased a grey market tractor from a man who makes his living off of international trade. He has spent much time on foreign soils wheeling and dealing heavy equipment. He has a physique like a green beret, was raised on a farm, and yet has a law degree with a specialty in international law. I recognized him as an expert in international affairs. Someone in the trenches, not the ivory towers. And I started asking him about his experiences.

    Amongst the more interesting things he stated was that given the current world situation, even before the whole deal with Iraq started, he had decided to stay home for a while. He might consider a trip to Canada, but would not go to Mexico without a few of his ex-Ranger body guards and would under no circumstance venture to South America. He said that worldwide, it had become an accepted business to capture Americans and ransom them back or use them for political means. The authorities in the countries were of no help and usually on the bankroll themselves.

    This was not your average everyday traveller, but a seasoned veteran with heavy duty protection.

    After that discussion and listening to his accounts of how common this problem actually was, especially of friends and acquaintances he knew in the biz who had actually encountered troubles, I'm surprised that there hasn't been far more trouble in Iraq. In truth, it sounds as if the heavy protection being supplied to the contractors there is making them safer than if they were in South America. The only difference is that both the news media and the captors involved in the Iraq situation are motivated to amplify this microcosm of the overall story while they seem motivated to suppress the story of the true worldwide situation.

    So, enjoy your trip to Iraq. But be very careful of Columbia, Peru, Brazil, Indonesia, etc.

    • This is complete FUD (Score:4, Informative)

      by stripmarkup (629598) on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:32PM (#9470316) Homepage
      I am in South America right now, more precisely in Argentina. There is a thriving expat community here, last night I attended a late dinner at a restaurant with a bunch of Americans. This city (Buenos Aires) is as safe as any US city if not safer. I know dozens of Americans here and never heard of anyone having any problems besides a few being victims of petty theft, just like in any other big city.

      Obviously this person does not know what he's talking about. The world outside the US is not as frightening as some people want to make it sound. Warzones, of course, are a different matter.
      • by mooman (9434) * on Saturday June 19, 2004 @12:00AM (#9470717) Homepage
        Argentina and Chile are pretty benign. It's a little nastier in the Central american area, Colombia probably being the worst, with Guatemala and Nicaragua behind.

        When I was younger (77-82) I lived in Panama, then Colombia. Panama had the Canal Zone back then and that was completely safe. Bogota on the other hand was not. Within one month of living there, our house was burglarized (while we were out for lunch) and had thousands of dollars of jewelry, cameras, and electronics taken. Oh, and a loaded 9mm.

        After that the embassy posted a 24hr armed guard on my doorstep. For every day of the next two years I had some guy in a uniform with a .38 revolver sitting outside my front door and walking me across the street to the schoolbus. The general next door to us had *two* guards with machine guns.

        About 6 months later (and a few hundred miles away) we had our van broken into and more stuff taken including *another* pistol.

        Most of the vehicles that the Embassy used or loaned out there had bullet-proof inserts behind the windows. Most of the moderate to high ranked Colombian officials had similar vehicles as well.

        I'd still like to go back and visit again someday, but would feel rather leery staying more than say a week or so. Iraq may be worse for more personal attacks, but Central America is still pretty high risk in several of the countries. But there are many that are probably fairly safe.. I just haven't kept track of which lately. For the latest, you should check out the travel warnings [state.gov] put out by the US Department of State...

  • Consider carefully (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Elvis Maximus (193433) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:37PM (#9469949) Homepage
    I am not a computer professional; I do international development work and so I travel a fair bit. I was in Afghanistan and Pakistan last summer and Iraq last November and December.

    I found Afghanistan pretty likeable, but it would be a hard place to live for an extended period. Outside of Kabul it gets very primitive very quickly. Additionally, the security situation outside of Kabul is very much worse than it is inside.

    I found Iraqis (and most people, really) to be pretty nice, hospitable people, but the situation there is just all kinds of bad. The security situation is part of it, and this keeps you indoors and in very close quarters a lot of the time, and this gets old quick. And regardless of how you feel about the current administration or the war, being an American in Iraq is a mighty uncomfortable thing to be in 2004.

    I presume the people paying big money for these services are military or military contractors. In both Afghanistan and Iraq, these guys live in shipping containers, often in the middle of nowhere. In the Green Zone, shipping containers are stacked everywhere and people are shoved into any space that will fit them. Many people --civilian contractors -- share their bunks in shifts.

    If you are really considering this just for the money, I would think very carefully about what you are doing. How much is money really worth? Because especially in Iraq, you will be exposing yourself to physical danger and psychic stress that is considerable.

    And if you are going for a travel experience, I can support that, but I would suggest that in a military environment you are unlikely to get much of a cultural experience. There are other, better ways to do this.

    If you really believe in what you would be doing (as I did), then go, but do keep an open mind and remain observant and inquisitive; regardless of your position now, you will find things are quite different from how you thought they were.
    • by demachina (71715) on Friday June 18, 2004 @11:04PM (#9470477)
      Guess it depends on who you are or maybe exactly where you are. There are apparently hearings coming up on Halliburton's fraud, waste and abuse in Iraq. Here are some examples [signonsandiego.com] the Republican's are trying to suppress.

      Apparently Halliburton's financial staff in Kuwait are staying in the five star Kempinski Julai'a Hotel and Resort. The tab is $10,000 a night. A 100 people apparently ran up a one million dollar bill in 3 months. The Army tried to move them to tents but they refused.

      Some other examples apparently from ex employees and whistleblowers:

      "Abandoned $85,000 trucks because of flat tires and minor problems."

      "Paid $100 to have a 15-pound bag of laundry cleaned as part of a million-dollar laundry contract in peaceful Kuwait. The price for cleaning the same amount of laundry in war-torn Iraq was $28."

      "Spent $1.50 a can to buy 37,200 cans of soda in Kuwait, about 24 times higher than the contract price."

      I like the truck story the best. If true it appears the Iraqi insurgents can decimate the U.S. supply lines by throwing sharpened jacks in the road in front of Halliburton's convoys. Once the trucks are abandoned they are most probably looted, stolen or burned.

      War profiteering is always ugly and if you go in to one of these war zones as a contractor that is basically what you are.

      The problem with war profiteers is that when you have companies like Halliburton and its subsidary Kellog Brown and Root(KBR) who make a fortune off wars they have strong motivations to encourage and promote wars. KBR has been profiting off war since at least Vietnam when it was Brown and Root. I see another post that indicates they are doing the same thing in the Balkans.

      It really disturbing when you have a Secretary of Defense, Dick Cheney, who rewrites all the Pentagon's rules and moves half the jobs formerly done by soldiers, like driving trucks and cooking, to contractors so KBR can an even better profit since the Army is now totally dependent on them. Cheney, as his reward gets a cushy job as Halliburton/KBR's CEO where he cashes in on his generosity as Secretary of Defense. He then returns to government as VP where he was the #1 cheerleader for a war waged under false pretenses where his old company is raking in billions in sole source contracts. Cheney denies he arranged the contracts. Well he didn't have to. KBR always gets all the Army's war zone logistics contracts and have for a long time.

      Another disturbing example is Blackwater. Blackwater consists mostly of ex green berets, rangers, seals and delta force. Uncle Sam spends a fortune to train them. At the first opportunity they get out and join Blackwater where they make 6 figure salaries. They are mercenaries, plain and simple. The mercenary army is the single largest army in Iraq, after the U.S. and larger than the British contingent. The four mercenaries killed in Fallujah that started the month long war there were from Blackwater (Blackwater being the term for SEALS attacking from the water at night).

      War profiteering really and truly stinks. It helps propel nations in to wars, for bad reasons, that get a lot of people killed.

    • I am not a computer professional...
      i'm sorry, are you lost?
  • by mysterious_mark (577643) on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:41PM (#9469987)
    I served in the Persian Gulf during my active duty years in the Navy. I am now retired fortunatley. These days however, there is no way I would go back to that region for any reason or any amount of money. There is widespread hatred of Americans in the region, and anyone western is a target. The situation was bad when I was there, and now it is so much worse, I can't even imagine. Having made it through my Gulf tour without incident, I consider myself lucky, but having got back here safely, I'll never ever go back, not for any reason, or any amount of money. Believe me whatever the're paying you it isn't worth it. Its not really fun in that part of the world, so a best case scenario in you won't have much fun, the worse is you could end up shipped backed in a plastic bag. I'd say do no go, what would it be like for you're family if you were killed over there just for a job? There are other jobs, no job is worth dying for. Obviously the political situation in the middle east is only deteriorating, stay home, don't be a statistic, don't risk putting yourself family through what could happen. You saw the news today, I'd think that would speak for itself. Mark
  • by cmholm (69081) <cmholm AT mauiholm DOT org> on Friday June 18, 2004 @09:54PM (#9470085) Homepage Journal
    Here's what I'm hearing from widely scattered classmates from the former American School Of Isfahan, Iran:

    Afghanistan: The Kabul/Bagram area are relatively safe. Occasional bombings and shootings sound worse in the media than is perceived locally. Locals don't see you as a target. Resist the temptation to see the rest of the country, and you'll be fine. Heroin use among foreign rear echelon motherfuckers is 'way up... do avoid that.

    Kuwait: basically safe, but events in Iraq and SA will continue increase tensions. Do as you would in most poor nations (which Kuwait is not) and try not to stand out. Do a year or two and call it a day.

    Bahrain: more of a disconnect between rulers and ruled than Kuwait. Looks good compared to SA, Iraq, Afghan.

    Qatar & UAE: Looks good. Act conservatively, as has been the case in the Gulf all along. If SA goes down the shitter, there will be spill over, but at least you'll have plenty of warning.

    Saudi: things are going to get worse before they get better. Do not take your family, as you'll be forced to live in a foreign compound. If at all posible, live in well off but Arab-heavy apartment complexes or developments. Make a habit of varying your routine outside of the office. Have in mind an alternate exit from said office.

    Iraq: If you're lucky enough to work AND live strictly within the occupation authority's green zone in downtown Baghdad, knock yourself out. Keep in mind that that zone will be shrinking considerably over the next 12 months into a still huge US Embassy, so make sure you don't get stuck outside with a housing allowance and a pat on the back. For the less risk adverse, 24x7 at one of the bigger military bases is a consideration. Next down the list is Metro Basra as long as the Badr (as opposed to Sadr) militia and it's political front stay happy. Ditto with the Kurdish areas, which aren't much worse than eastern Turkey. Pass on Mosul, Kirkuk, and the whole rest of the country. If you're going to be driving anywhere, for God's sake opt for small, cheap sedans. Big sedans are begging to be car jacked, and SUVs broadcast "USA" like a HUMMV.

    Iran: I throw this in for contrast. If a US citizen/resident alien, your biggest problem will be explaining yourself to Uncle Sam. Consult with an attorney to make darn sure you aren't in conflict with US economic restrictions on trade with Iran before you go. Don't hit on local women, bad mouth Islam or the government, or take pictures of any thing that even resembles a government or military installation. In fact, this is more of a normal overseas posting, so it's not nearly as lucrative. There are some up to date tourist guide books on the country, and good poop from the British and Australian Embassy web sites.

    • by cancerward (103910) on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:47PM (#9470385) Journal
      Iran: I throw this in for contrast. If a US citizen/resident alien, your biggest problem will be explaining yourself to Uncle Sam. Consult with an attorney to make darn sure you aren't in conflict with US economic restrictions on trade with Iran before you go. Don't hit on local women, bad mouth Islam or the government, or take pictures of any thing that even resembles a government or military installation. In fact, this is more of a normal overseas posting, so it's not nearly as lucrative. There are some up to date tourist guide books on the country, and good poop from the British and Australian Embassy web sites.

      I'm an Australian who lived in Iran from March 2002 to October 2003. I don't think I was ever in any physical danger - I don't see why it would rate hazard pay now. I mean, people, we're talking about the third biggest country on orkut, [orkut.com] where women post pictures of themselves without hijab and everyone lists their drinking frequency. Many Westerners have strange misimpressions about the place, and the Western media typically emphasise only aspects that stand out, not everyday life. Because of this, I have to come to believe and tell others that the only way to understand Iran is to visit personally.

  • by LucidVisions (182165) on Friday June 18, 2004 @10:07PM (#9470162)
    I lived in Bagh-town for 3 months this year on Camp Victory. It was awesome. But make no mistake, it is dangerous: I was attacked at least once a day by rocket fire, mortar fire, or gunfire. Everyday is a day on the edge. However, in exchange for the risk, you come back with a WAD of cash (I made $4000/m just for being a go-fer), a sense of survival (nothing really shakes my tree anymore.. except slamming doors and unexpected sounds.. what I meant was people don't scare me anymore), and a wonderful sense of culture. The arabs are WONDERFUL people. Very unselfish and friendly (except the ones that one to kill us). I made many friends, and now have a good understanding of arabic. If you want to talk to me, reply to this message. I would be happy to discuss it with you. -Dust
    • how did you score that job? call me crasy but i'd love to work in iraq. i find the idea of helping build things from the ground up exciting and once in a live time chance. my primary experience is in linux/bsd admin/ network admin. but given that i can handle anything IT and i'm not afraid to do it tough.
      • Though my IT abilities were used (and were SUBSTANSIALLY better than what I was hired for), my primary task was go-fer. 1. Get up at 6am EVERY day (no days off maggot!) 2. Pick up Iraqis at gate 3. Have Iraqis searched by bitter 1st Armored men 4. Escort Iraqis into base 5. Babysit Iraqis all day. Make sure they don't do anything stupid like.. try to pace off a distance, take a triangulation, take azimuth readings.. etc.. make sure they aren't trying to kill you basically. (BTW Working with them is like her
  • Money for Nothing (Score:3, Interesting)

    by tacocat (527354) <tallison1.twmi@rr@com> on Saturday June 19, 2004 @05:44AM (#9471566)

    I think that most of the people who do these kind of "offshore ventures" are not doing it just for the money. There are a lot of other valuable things you can receive from a job besides money.

    Statistically speaking, I think you have a better chance of getting killed in America through one of our favorites (heart disease, automobile, gunshot) then you do getting beheaded in the Middle East. However, if you are killed in the Middle East you will probably enable your loved ones a brighter future through public sympathy donations and potential gigs on television.

    But the people who do this kind of work are doing it because they are trying to make a difference in the world and they believe that they are on the side of GOOD.

    If you do this, do it not because of your wallet, but because of your conscience. Think who you might become as the result of this experience.

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