Black Contracts

We know about the hundreds of millions of dollars in defense contracts that former congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham, using his position on the House Appropriations defense subcommittee, helped steer to individuals who had given him bribes. We also have reported about allegations that he used his position on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence to help some of the same individuals who had offered him bribes to secure intelligence-community contracts. And it's perhaps not surprising that the chair of the House Intelligence committee, Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), has said he intends to launch a full-fledged investigation into any possible corruption of the committee.

CIA contracts are not public, and there's an added veil of secrecy and opaqueness to the “black” contracting world. Cunningham bragged about his ability to help influence the procuring of contracts from this secretive Congressional source in a letter to San Diego contractors, saying he was in a position to influence the awarding of “black” contracts after he was assigned to the House Intelligence committee in 2001. An individual who has been identified in press reports as Co-conspirator One in the Cunningham indictment, San Diego-based defense contractor Brent Wilkes, who has not yet been charged, has more than a dozen companies in his corporate empire. Efforts by journalists to sort out which companies might have received CIA contracts have gotten nowhere -- until now.

On December 8, the Prospect received an anonymous tip about CIA contracts: The name of a Wilkes-affiliated company that allegedly had received some of them. The company is called Archer Logistics, which is, according to its website, a US-based “open source acquisition group … uniquely positioned to execute rapid acquisition requests, provide immediate delivery channels and augment post-sales support. ...Archer Logistics has also developed a unique delivery structure that can provide turnaround times of 24 hours in cases of extreme need.” (Its name is similar to a Senate-registered, Wilkes-affiliate company Archer Defense, “a defense logistics and technology company,” but not, apparently, the same company.) According to its website, incorporation documents in the Commonwealth of Virginia and public-online address books, Archer Logistics is located in the same Chantilly, Virginia address that houses the Virginia offices of ADCS, Inc. Neither Archer Logistics nor the ADCS Chantilly office answered the phone, and neither has responded to numerous messages.

When asked about whether Archer Logistics was receiving CIA contracts, a spokesman for the CIA told the Prospect on December 9 that “as a rule, the CIA does not publicly discuss who may or may not have a contractual relationship with the Agency.” Previously, the CIA had indicated that other Wilkes-affiliated companies – ADCS, Pure Aqua Technologies, Perfect Wave Technologies, Group W Transport – did not have contracts with the Agency.

Incorporation documents from the state of Virginia show that the president of Archer Logistics is Joel G. Combs, an individual who, according to lobbying registration documents filed with the Senate, is a registered lobbyist for Wilkes' lobbying arm, Group W Advisors. Combs is a former director of business development for another Wilkes-owned company, ADCS, Inc., which stands for Automated Document Conversion Systems. ADCS Inc. has received tens of millions of dollars in Pentagon contracts over the past decade, including a $9.7 million contract to digitize paper documents from the Panama Canal. Efforts to reach Combs at his Group W Advisors' telephone number, email, and at Archer Logistics were unsuccessful. Sources familiar with the company tell the Prospect, and California birth records indicate, that Combs is a relative of Brent Wilkes.

According to the Group W Advisors company website, "Mr. Combs provides advice to clients and works towards securing federal and state appropriations for those clients. Appropriations include areas such as: Information Technology, U.S. Army, U.S. Navy, U.S. Air Force, U.S. Department of Defense, Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Intelligence, Transportation and NASA. … Mr. Combs has played an integral part in establishing ADCS and Group W Advisor's presence in both San Diego and Washington D.C and has executed public relations strategies and community outreach programs on behalf of these companies, and their government relations clients."

According to the Center for Responsive Politics, an organization that tracks political donations, Combs himself has, like Wilkes, given a sizeable amount of money over the years to politicians. (In 2004, he gave more than $12,000 to Cunningham, Representative Duncan Hunter, George W. Bush, ADCS's PAC, and the PAC of Representative John Doolittle, of the House Appropriations committee. A San Diego Reader article from 2000 estimates that Combs had given $25,000 to various politicians by the year 2000.)

What does it all mean? This investigation sheds light on another of the rabbit holes through which Wilkes may have improperly received US government contracts. Yet the issue also speaks to the layers of companies and multiple channels by which Wilkes penetrated deep into the secret contracting world of the US government –- and the many avenues by which he did so -– not only through the help of Cunningham. Yet questions remain: what is the status of the four individuals described as co-conspirators in the Cunningham indictment? Are any of them cooperating with the investigation? Is Wilkes cooperating? (In an interview a couple of weeks ago, his lawyer Michael Lipman wouldn't comment on whether Wilkes was cooperating or not.) If so, to whom else might Wilkes lead investigators? Many signs indicate that Cunningham may not be the big fish in this case at all.

Stay tuned.

Laura Rozen is a senior correspondent for The American Prospect.

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