The Muscogee Nation, part of the Creek Indian tribe, which fought with Confederate troops against the U.S. military during the Civil War, is now guarding Americans stationed at U.S. bases in Herat and Helmand, Afghanistan, under a $7 million Pentagon contract. The Muscogee Nation Business Enterprise (MBNE) is a 100-person firm that has in the past used its status as a tribal-owned company to win government business, some of which it then subcontracted to a larger security company, but it says that its employees are fulfilling this contract, providing security in a war zone.
Neither MBNE nor the Pentagon would provide specifics about the deal, citing security concerns. But, according to the contract announcement, made August 9, MBNE is "to provide life support services to the Department of Defense Task Force for Business and Stability Operations in Afghanistan. These services will include basic necessities, complex security, and personnel security details for safe travel in the immediate region around the Herat and Helmand facilities."
The task force is a U.S. military organization charged with building up Afghan industries, particularly mining, agribusiness, and IT in order to "help Afghanistan achieve economic sovereignty," according to a Pentagon website.
Given its small size, at first glance the notion that MBNE is protecting U.S. efforts in Afghanistan -- a business dominated by large private security firms -- seems implausible. Experts contacted about the contract initially speculated that MBNE might be a so-called pass-through firm.
Pass-through companies are often tiny but politically well-connected Native American-owned businesses that bid for government deals reserved for small, tribal-owned businesses. These firms, usually consisting of a handful of people, then subcontract much or most of the actual work out to a large organization. A small tribal-owned company gets some government business, and the big contractors get a slice of the action.
And, indeed, MNBE used to subcontract at least some of its government-security business in Afghanistan to the Maryland-based Ronco, a private security firm "wholly owned" by G4S, previously known as Wackenhut. G4S, which claims to be largest private security firm in the world, ran security at the London Olympics and guards a range of U.S. government facilities -- from national park sites to sensitive nuclear research facilities, such as the Nevada Test Site.
What's more, MNBE, which is based in Okmulgee, Okla., explicitly describes itself as a small, tribal-owned business that specializes in helping larger companies win federal contracts by partnering with them to take advantage of federal laws designed to funnel government contracts to Native American-owned companies.
"MNBE has developed business skills necessary to compete and perform in the market place and have [sic] developed a network of potential teaming partners for various customer requirements," reads its website. "Not only are you getting a company with a proven track record but regulations allowing the customer flexibility and efficiency in meeting their particular requirements. Tribal owned 8(a) firms, such as, MNBE are eligible to receive sole source direct award 8(a) contracts regardless of dollar size, while all other 8(a) firms may not receive sole source contracts in excess of $3 million for services and $5 million for manufacturing."