A new Pentagon contractor is beset with what a government report described as “extensive foreign exposure” in “high risk areas.” The national security implications are worrisome.
The report from the Government Accountability Office, released just a few weeks ago, dismissed several challenges competing companies filed in opposition to the contract. Even so, the report offered up several red flags that suggest hostile foreign agents could gain insight into the movements of U.S. military personnel.
The contract, which is reportedly worth about $20 billion, went to HomeSafe Alliance, a joint venture of KBR and Tier One Relocation. KBR is a Houston-based science, technology, and engineering outfit, while Tier One Relocation is headquartered in Weirton, West Virginia, and focuses on household relocations for U.S. military personnel domestically and internationally. It’s that part about relocations that deserves more scrutiny.
Apparently, the Pentagon is looking to centralize the process for moving military families. This effort prompted the U.S. Transportation Command to shift moving services performed by the government into the hands of a private contractor. But the major findings of a “risk assessment” into HomeSafe performed by an outside firm known as Exiger, which are detailed in the GAO report, are worth highlighting.
HomeSafe’s “ultimate beneficial owners (KBR and Sun Capital) have extensive foreign exposure, with locations in high-risk jurisdictions like China, Russia, Azerbaijan, and Kazakhstan,” the risk assessment said. “Sun Capital’s foreign exposure arises largely through its investments, including two portfolio companies in China, one in Hong Kong, and one in Russia.” The GAO report further explained that Sun Capital’s investment partners include the Russian government and Russian state-owned companies.
The Exiger assessment also made the disturbing observation that “Sun Capital’s foreign investments expose that company and its personnel to foreign influence risks.” Exiger also warned Air Force officials that a “determined foreign intelligence activity could elicit valuable operational information from tracing the movements of U.S. military and special forces personnel around the U.S. or the world,” according to the GAO report.
How did the U.S. Transportation Command respond? Apparently, the agency concluded that the risks associated with HomeSafe’s foreign connections are not as dire as what Exiger presented.
Certainly, the companies working to derail the contract to HomeSafe have their own interests in mind. After taking in all the relevant information, the U.S. Transportation Command found “there to be no nexus between Sun Capital Partners’ fund” and “any possible foreign-based influence.” That’s reassuring at least on the surface, and the Pentagon has its reasons for determining that HomeSafe is a meritorious choice.
But comments made by American Roll-On Roll-Off Carrier, one of the competing companies based in Parsippany, New Jersey, ought to give some pause. The New Jersey outfit argued that HomeSafe’s parent companies are susceptible to espionage from Russia and China because they operate in “high-risk jurisdictions.”
The competing company is also quoted in the GAO report making the point that hostile powers could gain “advance notice of the military and special forces deployments.” The counterargument from Defense Department officials seems to be that the contract in question does not involve classified information or any sensitive movement of troops or special forces. Instead, the contract only involves the “movement of couches, TVs, and dishes to established, publicly-known U.S. military bases worldwide,” according to the GAO report.
As mundane as that sounds, foreign adversaries could conceivably deduce sensitive information from the movements of military families and the relocation of troops. One question the report did not address is what steps the Pentagon contractor is taking to ensure it’s not vulnerable to undue foreign influence. But presumably the Pentagon is satisfied.
Kevin Mooney (@KevinMooneyDC) is a contributor to the Washington Examiner's Beltway Confidential blog. He is an investigative reporter in Washington, D.C., who writes for several national publications.