War profiteers have always made money off the back of the American taxpayer but never before have they been so brazen as to set their sights on the warrior. Until now.
Since the American Revolution, the military has contracted out work that can’t easily be done internally. The Marine Corps doesn't build grenade launchers. The Army doesn't build tanks. The Navy doesn't build ships and the Air Force doesn't build planes. It makes sense, logistically and fiscally, to contract some functions out to civilian companies who do it better and faster. However, the war on terror is being conducted in a time of eroding or at least ambiguous national loyalty.
Our enemy, the terrorists and those who harbor them, don’t identify with any one particular nation. They have an ideology which trumps their birthplace and religious values. So too is true for corporations who are using war to increase their bottom line. Those corporations are no longer underpinned by American patriotism. Their success lives and dies with one thing; revenue. Unlike the war profiteers of the past who were willing to skewer the faceless, nameless federal government, the profiteers of today are willing to reach into the pockets of our military families directly.
Most of the profiteering has come in three main categories. There are the privately run armies employed by companies who will reinvent themselves or even evaporate when the war is over, leaving the rest of us to grapple with how to care for the damage done to warriors for hire. There are the companies who have made a fortune in infrastructure contracts, many of whom have been accused of over runs, over charges, corruption and just plain mismanagement. Finally, as former Congressman Ron Paul signed the warning bells as early as 2003, there is billions being handed out in humanitarian aid.
Abuses in security, infrastructure, and humanitarian aid have been widely reported and will, apparently, be litigated for years to come. However, little light has been shone on companies that are either maliciously targeting military families or that are double dipping by taking money from the federal government for a purpose and then charging military families for said service.
The Department of Justice recently put the smack down on several banks for targeting military families for foreclosure. High-level bank memos openly discussed military families as good targets because they are “obedient.” Unfortunately, no one went to prison but the practice was brought to public attention. What happens, however, when the rip-off is low dollar enough to fly under the radar screen?
Sniperhill, a privately held Internet service provider, was awarded the contract to provide connectivity in Afghanistan. It provides internet access to federal agencies including the Department of Defense, NATO, private contractors, and our warriors individually. Sniperhill did not exist before the war. It was founded in 2004 and began serving Iraq in 2007. According to PR News Wirer, Sniperhill was the first American ISP to bring fiber optic internet services to U.S. forces in Iraq. In 2010, Sniperhill was awarded a long-term contract to provide subscription internet services on U.S./NATO bases throughout Afghanistan. Even the Sniperhill website brags about this lucrative partnership. In short, the American taxpayers have invested at least $2.24 billion in communication infrastructure which now allows companies like Sniperhill to facilitate communication between the battlefield and home base.
Sniperhill, obviously named to appeal to the military, even uses a military-esque tag-line. “Click. Move. Communicate” is clearly a knock-off of the Army motto “Shoot. Move. Communicate.”
In Afghanistan, Sniperhill partners with Roshan, a privately held telecommunications company in Afghanistan. Roshan is overseen by His Highest Prince Shah Karim Al Husseini, the 49th Imam of Nizari Ismailis. Roshan’s tagline is Nazdik Shodan (Bringing You Closer). They claim their “priority as a proud Afghan company is to satisfy one of the most basic human needs — the need to reach out and speak to one another.”
Sniperhill charges warriors $90 to $250 per month so they move "Shoot. Move. Communicate." For that monthly fee, Sniperhill pledges enough bandwidth to Skype with family back home. However, several websites including one for pissed off warriors testifies to the fact that Sniperhill isn't living up to their pledge.
With an average cost of $38 per month for internet access in the U.S., war profiteers are raiding military family budgets three to eight fold even after the American taxpayer already chipped in billions worth of infrastructure. Sniperhill owners, Jerry Hartless and Wallace Davis are both military trained in communications and used a federally backed loan to grow their business.
Sniperhill's business plan isn't like the more traditional start up plans:
1. Unlike most entrepreneurs who pay for their education, Sniperhill owners were trained at taxpayer expense
2. Unlike most entrepreneurs who have to put up collateral for a loan, Sniperhill got a business loan backed by taxpayers
3. Unlike most entrepreneurs who have to outlay capital expenses for start-up, Sniperhill used billions in taxpayer capital
5. Unlike other entrepreneurs who are governed by the International Trade Administration. Sniperhill does business with people who are not necessarily alley's using taxpayer dollars
6. Unlike other entrepreneurs who are governed by monopoly laws, truth in advertising and consumer protection, Sniperhill is allowed to charge warriors 3 to 8 times more for services already paid for by the taxpayers
Only through the prism of war profiteering could this business model sound remotely ethical.