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A Fallen Hero vs. the Mullahs

Can the legacy of a West Point graduate derail Iran’s nuclear ambitions?

by
John Lasker

Bio

May 19, 2011 - 12:00 am
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In 2003, Lt. Col. Dominic “Rocky” Baragona was only days away from returning home to Ohio when he was killed in Iraq. The 42-year-old West Point alum was a passenger in a Humvee when a Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport tractor-trailer, working as a U.S. defense contractor, jackknifed and swerved into the Humvee, killing Baragona in the pileup. There is a question as to whether Baragona was wearing a seat belt, but an Army investigation concluded that the KGL driver was at fault.

Pam Baragona is the sister of Rocky Baragona, and her family has honored him by investigating Kuwait & Gulf Link Transport (KGL) to the hilt — “walking the halls of Congress for seven years” to seek accountability. What they recently uncovered was that KGL, fattened beyond imagination by U.S. taxpayers, was working with a militant regime that is hardcore anti-American.

The Baragonas’ self-driven investigation brought them to the U.S. Department of the Treasury on February 3, where they pleaded for a federal investigation after discovering that KGL once had a joint venture with an Iranian government-run shipping company. They asked the Treasury: How did the U.S. government not know that KGL was working with an Iranian company previously charged with violating U.S. and UN sanctions meant to block Iran’s alleged production of nuclear weapons? What’s more, shouldn’t KGL be investigated to the maximum to see what else may be going on in a region called the “Wild West” of U.S. defense contracting?

“We’re not standing on our own soapbox — our soapbox says ‘USA’ on it,” said Pam Baragona. “KGL was doing major business with Iran and we’re giving them billions?”

At the onset of the 2003 Iraq invasion, KGL was a mid-level logistics operation with seven subsidiaries. During the insurgency, KGL grew into a juggernaut by delivering supplies for Coalition troops and removing their trash, winning hundred-million dollar contracts from the Department of Defense (DOD) and subcontracts from Kellogg, Brown & Root, helping to increase its number of subsidiaries to over 30 by 2010. KGL was awarded a four-year $157 million Defense Logistics Agency contract in February.

Another thriving KGL venture is an investment project with Hyde Park Global, a hedge fund company based in Atlanta. KGL has also convinced governments in the Persian Gulf, such as the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Iran, to privatize their government-run ports, which Baragona believes will further disable the Department of Defense — and anyone else for that matter — from policing KGL.

In 2010, as they investigated KGL’s drive to privatize ports, the Baragonas soon discovered that one of KGL’s subsidiaries, Combined Shipping Company, had a joint venture with Valfajr Shipping of Iran — 51 percent KGL, 49 percent Valfajr.

Valfajr is an Iranian government-owned subsidiary of the Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Lines, or IRISL, Iran’s largest shipping line. In 2008, the Treasury had classified both as Specially Designated Nationals (sanctioned company), which blocks their assets and prohibits U.S. citizens from dealing with them.

“IRISL’s actions are part of a broader pattern of deception and fabrication that Iran uses to advance its nuclear and missile programs,” stated the Treasury in a press release.

After finding KGL and IRISL to be shipping cargo bound for Iran, Baragona alerted her Congressional allies, such as Representative Brad Sherman (D-Ca.), who took her complaint to Secretary of Defense Robert Gates. KGL soon announced it was ending business with Valfajr, but told this reporter it wasn’t because of pressure from the Baragonas.

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