Good Morning, Afghani-Stan!

Stan Knee will be one of thousands of former U.S. police officers now working abroad in lucrative postings, typically as private employees of international conglomerates under contract to the U.S. government

This month's abrupt departure of Chief Stan Knee from his post at the helm of the Austin Police Department is not entirely a surprise. Whenever there was a personnel or political dust-up at APD, Knee's imminent resignation was a recurrent blue rumor, among cops for whom gossip is second in popularity only to overtime. But Knee's specific destination – to an international police training program in embattled Afghanistan – was indeed unexpected. Perhaps it shouldn't have been. Thousands of former U.S. police officers are now working abroad, in lucrative although often dangerous postings, generally as private employees of international conglomerates under contract to the U.S. government.

So it is with Knee, who has assumed the title of "Executive to the Minister of Interior, Advisor/Mentor," in Afghanistan, under a contract issued by the State Department to Irving-based DynCorp International. "My role will be to work with the executive staff of the Minister of the Interior," Knee told me a few days after his May 16 announcement, "to help shape the national police agency and the border patrol police." U.S. and other foreign administrators have trained an estimated 50,000 Afghans in basic police work in recent years. Knee said his work, as part of a DynCorp team based in Kabul, will help develop police programs beyond basic law enforcement. "The program is really multinational, with various European countries assisting the United States in training the law enforcement," he continued. "I think that one of the things I'll be asked to do is to take it to the next level. They have lots of police officers now, so how do we develop a customs service; how do we investigate crimes; how do we analyze evidence of criminal activity? So that while there's always a lot of focus on terrorism ... there is also routine police duties that they have to perform."

Knee said he has been interested in international policing for several years, kept in touch with other officers who have joined such programs (recently, Assistant Chief Rudy Landeros left APD to take a position as Senior Police Advisor for the United Nations Integrated Office for Sierra Leone*), and was at a conference in D.C. when conversations with State Department administrators led to discussions with DynCorp about new executive positions in Afghanistan. DynCorp already has thousands of former officers working in Iraq, and since 2003 several hundred in Afghanistan. According to DynCorp's Web site, "The potential value of [the latest State Department contract, issued last September] is $117,236,158 for the first year and $85,275,734 and $87,487,630, respectively, for two option years." (The company is advertising one-year positions for U.S. officers at $118,000 "plus free room and board"; since Knee is arriving as an executive and from a chief's position, he'll make much more.)

Knee considers himself part of an international policing movement following naturally in the wake of military action. "The concept of building professional police departments in emerging democracies is really, I think, an honorable thing to do," he said, "and it's a realization of the role police play in maintaining order so that government can function." The goal is to establish indigenous, community policing: "So how do you make good police-community relations in a country that has seen decades of war?"

Knee says he's aware that DynCorp has had some high-profile international problems over the years, including allegations of brutality and corruption. The company is being sued by Ecuadorian farmers over its coca-spraying program along the Colombian border. In the most notorious incident, in the late 1990s DynCorp police trainers in Bosnia engaged in sex-trafficking of women and girls, and the company retaliated against whistleblowers who reported the crimes. In Afghanistan in 2004, the U.S. State Department had to rebuke the company for the "aggressive behavior" of its guards, after complaints by Afghanis as well as European diplomats.

Knee says he's been assured, in meetings with DynCorp administrators, that those days are gone. "I've had several long talks with DynCorp, and I think that DynCorp is a fine organization, and I think that they've learned a great deal over those incidences," Knee said. "I think that in their orientation and their training before deployment, there's considerable time spent talking with United States police officers about the fact that they are to maintain the same level of integrity that they had here in the United States. And it's clear that if you don't, they'll sever the contract."

While the Afghanistan situation is not nearly as volatile as Iraq, a 2004 car bomb attack on DynCorp headquarters in Kabul killed several company personnel. Recent weeks have been marked by renewed insurgency and the apparent revival of Taliban forces, as the U.S. prepares to reduce its military commitment, to be replaced by NATO troops. President Hamid Karzai announced last week a decision to arm more local tribesmen as "community police," raising the potential of more bloodshed. According to a recently published report, "Afghanistan Inc.," by Afghani-American journalist Fariba Nawa for CorpWatch, "The security situation in Afghanistan continues to deteriorate, directly threatening ongoing reconstruction. … Further, deliberate use of warlords and militias in reconstruction efforts has only lent them more credibility and power, further undermining and fueling a Taliban-led insurgency that continues to gain power."

Knee says he expects his daily attire in Afghanistan will be "business casual," but he's also been issued a sleeping bag for potential nights of roughing it in the countryside. He says other former U.S. officers in-country have assured him via e-mail that "Afghanistan is a large country, and while you might have some activity in part of the country, they say it's a country that is relatively safe, and that you have to be cautious, but it is not a place where you sleep in a bunker and wake up at the sound of a branch breaking. It's not like that. But you do have to be cautious and understand where you're going and what's going on around you." More info about DynCorp's international policing programs is available at www.dyn-intl.com. Fariba Nawa's full report, "Afghanistan Inc.," is available at www.corpwatch.org.


*Oops! The article originally reported, in error, that Rudy Landeros was working for DynCorp in Sierra Leone; Landeros is employed by the United Nations.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS STORY

Stan Knee, Austin Police Department, Afghanistan, DynCorp International, Kabul, Rudy Landeros, Hamid Karzai, Fariba Nawa, CorpWatch

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