November 24, 2008

Shocked But Silent?

Posted: 02:01 PM ET


This is a story that makes me stop and wonder if there’s someone out there who knows more.



Since we started reporting on electrocutions occurring on U.S. bases in Baghdad, we’ve heard from people all over the country.

 Some people e-mailed us to express their anger and sadness at the senselessness of 18 servicemen being electrocuted.  Pentagon officials tell CNN those deaths are mostly attributed to faulty wiring and the improper grounding of electrical devices.

But we’ve also received e-mails from members of the military, and even from contractors who have performed electrical work in Iraq and Afghanistan.  Those are the e-mails that particularly interest for me.  My producer and I have contacted many of these people.  They seem to either have information about KBR (the Houston-based contractor in charge of maintenance, logistics and services for most U.S. bases in Iraq and Afghanistan), or they know about other incidents involving electrical shocks on U.S. bases.

As a reporter, I would love for them to share their story.  But most of the people we talk to say although they would like to help expose the problems, they cannot say more.  Many of the current military members say they fear getting in trouble for speaking up.

Why do these people feel the need to uphold some sort of unspoken code of silence?  Why not speak up and tell the world what you know, especially if it could prevent another death?  I wonder what would happen if more of our troops started talking – I guarantee people would listen.  I know I would.

Filed under: Abbie Boudreau

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Paul   November 25th, 2008 1:46 am ET

in the usa, the national electrical code (NEC) requires the use of protective devices (GFCIs) that prevent electrocution. GFCIs are cheap, easy to install and would likely have prevented those electrocution deaths in Iraq. why were GFCIs not being used in Iraq?

JDF   November 25th, 2008 2:27 am ET

Be realistic. First of all, KBR contracts are iron-tight and call for immediate retaliation, errr, response, if a contractor speaks with the press. Second, as soon as a "whistle blower" risks his career, the press chews him/her up, gets their column of news print and the ethical employee is fired and has little chance of being employed.

THAT is the story that needs to be continually pounded into the American conscience. Speak up and risk losing your job, your home, your family, your health insurance....That's the secondary tragedy to events that KBR has caused to occur.

Ms Sparky   November 25th, 2008 12:32 pm ET

People need to keep talking because they are starting to be heard. It is happening. At first the reported offenses were so heinous the media, the politicians, the public found it hard to believe they were true. The claims were chalked up to disgruntled employees. KBR's stable of attorneys ready to be set free at the first hint of negative press. Now people come forth everyday. The media is listening. Positive changes are taking place such as hiring licensed electricians and Task Force Safe inspections.

DO NOT let KBR or DoD intimidate you into silence. Talk.

Ms Sparky

mike   November 25th, 2008 1:14 pm ET

KBR ( Kelly, Brown & Root ) is a general contractor that is notorious for its shoddy work... they are a virulently anti-union company & have been cited many times in the USA for work that was sub-standard... our current VEEP " Slick Dick " has ties to Haliburton which is an ally of KBR. sweethheart contracts breed complacency... what codes are being adhered to in the middle east??? shame on our leaders for sweeping this aberation under the rug... where has the "free" ( HA! HA! ) press been?

sharon kitchen   November 25th, 2008 1:41 pm ET

just a few reasons why folks may not wish to talk......

Psyllicon   November 25th, 2008 1:56 pm ET

@Paul -

More appropriately, Paul: The NFPA/NEC require grounding and bonding of services and plumbing.. If the services and plumbing were correctly bonded and grounded, it would entirely eliminate the issue as there would be no alternative path for current.

What this issue clearly exposes is that the safety and security of our troops is apparently no more a concern to the Pentagon and this Administration than being honest. Our troops are jeopardized by the haphazard, unprofessional and obviously negligent work being accomplished to support them in securing those countries for the protection of the greater American public.

IMHO: The use of these facilities should be eliminated entirely until each and every one is individually certified to meet a safety standard (less restrictive than we are used to in the States, obviously) which is then transferred as a responsibility for maintenance as well.

Why is it that the KBR contractors are allowed to transfer use and ownership of facilities that might jeopardize the lives of such highly trained professional men and women?

Patrick   November 25th, 2008 4:46 pm ET

Why don't the other people speak up? My goodness lady, do you not realize what the press does to people that "speak up" or blow the whistle? I spent five years of my life in Iraq and the MIddle East and have seen things that journalists dream of every night. However, I have a family that I'm obligated to provide for, and having my life and name turned to dirt by the press and the subsequent lawsuits doesn't sound like a great idea.

On top of that, let's face it, the "press" is probably the least trustworthy facet of our society. You and your peers don't exactly have the best reputation, and there's no way I would allow myself to become a pawn in your agenda...

David   November 25th, 2008 5:47 pm ET

Hey, it's KBR. Fully integrated with Halliburton. V.P. Chaney. Any further questions? Our tax dollars at work. I'm so sick of these thieves, I could vomit. The average American will not wake up until it is too late.

Paul   November 26th, 2008 9:47 am ET


i think although poor/absent bonding/grounding may be causing shocks, a GFCI would have mitigated the problem. even properly done bonding/grounding can deteriorate, a GFCI triggers on the difference between current in the hot and neutral wires, thus it trips for current leakage to ground regardless of the presence/absence/condition of bonding//grounding. i think a GFCI would have saved lives, regardless of the bonding/grounding. as i recall, a GFCI is required by the NFPA/NEC for outlets in bathrooms and outdoors.


Ms Sparky   November 26th, 2008 3:38 pm ET

Paul-Ryan Maseth was electrocuted in his shower from an improperly grounded malfunctioning water pump. The water was actually energized. Chris Everett was killed while using a pressure washer that was fed from a generator that was improperly grounded.

Energized plumbing systems are not uncommon. I have photos of 180VAC being read from a water stream in a sink to ground.

Ms Sparky   November 26th, 2008 4:52 pm ET

I just wanted to clarify...

"Energized plumbing systems are not uncommon. I have photos of 180VAC being read from a water stream in a sink to ground."

In Iraq and Afghanistan. Not the U.S.

kathy   November 30th, 2008 10:51 am ET

It is the American way.

Army CPT   November 30th, 2008 11:31 am ET

Here is probably the biggest issue that is not being touched on. Most of the wiring is not done by KBR that is in question. Many of the bases were stood up by service members and in an attempt to restore some quality of life, they wired buildings themselves and not to any good standard so they could power their computers, air conditioners, and refrigerators.
Now, as KBR and other contractors are available to do the work, Soldiers don't want these people in their living spaces. Then with the establishment of many smaller outposts throughout cities, the security situation is not one that allows contractors to come in, so Soldiers and Marines wire facilities themselves, or use the existing Iraqi infrastructure which is of very low quality. Remember, every moment of you life is at risk, so many Soldiers want to live in some form of "comfort" which sometimes requires they do they best they can and in many cases that is not very good.

willie b.   November 30th, 2008 2:57 pm ET

Well, I spent some time in the sunni triangle and I remember a section of the living quarters in Mamoudiyah burning down because of the electricity being poorly wired.
It seems to me that there are not enough technicians helping with the electrical connections on the bases. There are small units of around 15 soldiers who do go to some of the bases such as FOB Roe, and do electrical work-they are too far and few between.
The solution is to increase the small technical units that service the bases instead of contracting it out all the time-it does save money and the bitchy american public loves that. We cry about the dead servicemen and our mission in Iraq and yet if the price is too high then we cry again and say send our troops home-the real blame is to be found in the american public in not requesting that the kid gloves be taken off.
I would suspect that our noble reporter who reported on the story is one of those who say we shouldn't be in iraq in the first place and would try and cut off funding for the war effort thus helping to fry some poor soldier in the shower-what comes around, comes around.

Willie b

Get real   November 30th, 2008 5:38 pm ET

So, no mention of the military's responsibility? KBR may have done the work, but the military is ultimately responsible. Surely a military officer is in charge of overall facilities & safety over there? By the way I seem to recall some news stories a couple years ago about military bases HERE IN THE US that had fallen into disrepair with unsanitary and unsafe conditions (mostly Army and USMC). A culture of "macho" perhaps?

John Mann   November 30th, 2008 5:40 pm ET

One more instance of KBR being outrageously overpaid for substandard performance. I can't wait for 1/20/09.

zbz55   November 30th, 2008 5:53 pm ET

Leave the military alone!

Lisa   November 30th, 2008 6:10 pm ET

It is truly ironic to see a member of the media decry the "silence" of others. For years you have failed the American public in your complicity with the Bush administration in the constraints it has placed on your coverage of Iraq and Afghanistan. Where is the media push-back? Where's the outrage?

Dire   November 30th, 2008 6:57 pm ET

I for one would love to provide information to my peers when problems exist so they are dealt with and fixed. And I'm sure your heart is in the right place when you say you would help the cause Ms. Boudreau. For the most part, people consider the media like a pack of rabid sharks. A sharks primary goal is to clean up the ocean but all too often they cant help themselves and when they smell blood they 'eat' their own in a feeding frenzy. And that is exactly what the media does to the average Joe/Jane who simply wants to Right A Wrong....they feed on them. Everyone knows that once the media gets its pound of flesh that Mr. & Ms Average Joe/Jane are left in a heap on the curb. People are better off getting the next media hungry shark; a lawyer.

Mike Johnson   November 30th, 2008 7:20 pm ET

What do you expect from a country that can't even build a decent car? Luckily Obama won, now the greedy, moronic chicken hawks are no longer in control, take up bingo, ya geezers.

the greedia   November 30th, 2008 7:22 pm ET

The media unfairly eats people alive. I would not speak to a member of the press if my life depended on it. The media is not the friend or champion to the people, only the vulture waiting to pick at your bones. The media may have more respect if they ever chose to portray anything positive going on in the world, especially the honorable things that our US military are doing on a regular basis. If my husband was not deployed and all I did was watch CNN, I would not even know that there was a war going on. The media look for any and every opportunity to smear our soldiers, so do not pretend that your encouragement of people to come forward in this electrocution issue is for the benefit of our soldiers who you care nothing about.

mark   November 30th, 2008 7:25 pm ET

As someone who served in the military for five years I can tell you why they simply cannot speak out. People serving in the U.S military are bound by not only U.S law, they are also sworn to obey the UCMJ(Uniform Code of Military Justice). And while service men and women have many rights under both of these sets of laws, free speech is not one of them. They are frankly told, "We are here to preserve democracy, not pratice it". If they defy that decree they're not working at some "nine to five" they can just quit when they want to. Even if they don't get punished they will likely be repremanded...and can be assured to receive poor evaluations which will hinder or even make impossible any type of promotion if they were thinking about one.

Just like a cop working for the LAPD.

TM   November 30th, 2008 7:27 pm ET

"On top of that, let’s face it, the “press” is probably the least trustworthy facet of our society. You and your peers don’t exactly have the best reputation, and there’s no way I would allow myself to become a pawn in your agenda…"

A fair assessment.

Back to you, Ms. Boudreau...

Robert J. Havecker   November 30th, 2008 7:36 pm ET

I don't know why it is such a sirprise that people are afraid to speak up when what they have to say will place them in conflict with mour government. In the past eight years we have all witnessed this country becoming more and more of a fascist dictatorship with the Washington elite controlling this country. When the executive branch of our government takes viscious action against people who disagree with them (such as exposing a spouse who is a government agent), this government is to be feared by one and all. The President constantly breaks the law and tells the country it is his right to do so using his executive privilege. What a disgrace. We have lost our freedom of speach thanks to the Bush family.

Mr Smith   November 30th, 2008 7:38 pm ET

It's easy to say to speak up than done. You're a reporter and you have your resources (CNN, ...) to speak up. Others don't have that luxury and NO ONE will defend them if they get revenges from whoever involved.

keith   November 30th, 2008 8:26 pm ET

American manufacturer and servicer with this poor quality -Hmmmm.

chels   November 30th, 2008 9:02 pm ET

I hope someone has the courage to speak up....

MD   November 30th, 2008 9:18 pm ET

Mark and Patrick –
are you trying to convince us or yourselves?

Joe schmoe   November 30th, 2008 9:46 pm ET

It is one thing to improperly wire a building due to poor standards etc, but no one here has even mentioned inspections! there is no permits, no inspections, no process that has to be gone through for occupancy or commisioning of a structure!

this all could have been avoided if someone AKA an inspector, has to sign his name to a document that verifies that everything is up to par.

but there is no such process in place to gaurantee anything..

i complained once that the mobile "wheel mounted" generators had no grounds.. the boss said that the neutrals were bonded to the grounds so its ok. which was true.. inside the unit.. but they had no external grounds that actually ran to the earth!

Greg   November 30th, 2008 9:47 pm ET

As a former service member my experience with the question of speaking up is that doing so would be a guaranteed "career-killer". Once you do something like this there is no protection for you, no matter what the military PR people say, and the word gets out about you. It affects your promotions, your relationships with your supervisors and coworkers, and your ability to get stationed elsewhere as your reputation as a "troublemaker" spreads. The military is not like a regular job that you can leave if it gets difficult so once all of this starts happening you can't leave and have to live with the consequences of what you brought on yourself. It's not realistic to expect most people to do this. I wish this were not so but there it is.

Army CPT   November 30th, 2008 10:43 pm ET

To "Get Real"
Just a note, I'm not talking bases, I'm talking Iraqi homes and buildings that have been cleared and used as temporary outposts by US Soldiers. The Soldiers will then "improve" those structures to try to be more comfortable and they normally do not think of the consequences these "upgrades" can have. Unacceptable wiring is just that, unacceptable, but as a Leader of Soldiers, it is hard to manage every aspect of life. Typically my time is spent checking combat equipment, security, leading patrols, and planning missions so we can can come home one day.
As for military bases in the states, no macho stuff here, what needs to be fixed should be fixed. Now days contractors own everything, from the barracks, to the motor pools, so all we really have control of as a military are our vehicles and training. Bring anything else up to your congressman because we contract out everything else so we can inflate our military numbers and focus on more combat Soldiers.

Andy   November 30th, 2008 11:04 pm ET

Is the military using the local voltages or trying to convert them down to our standard 110/120VAC? I know in my wifes native Thailand the ey use the 220VAC and just outside the window at their house is a bunch of power wires just waiting for one of the kids to try to play with. I thought whew this would be a good picture for the local power company.

Paul in Baghdad   December 1st, 2008 5:38 am ET

To all of you in the US,, Aparently you have grown bored with the political circus at home and are now trying to place blame on everyone else (As usual). How about foccussing on fixing America? Quit Crying "Whoa is Me" and step up and do something about our own country, while those of us who are over here SUPPORTING the military do our jobs.

To the American Media~ thank god you are here to point out the negative and forget the possitive. No matter what is going on in the world~ you are always reliable to blow smoke at the American public in order to sell your stories. How many sub-standard building projects are there in the US? How many of our own people are living in poverty? Do you care? I highly doubt it, becasue it just doesnt catch the attention level our sorry excuse for media in America is looking for.

Yes, there are Sub-standards acts over here, just like everywhere else. I am sure if you took a day and walked through CNN world headquarted in Atlanta, that anyone who can write and e-mail could do a story on the "Hazardous Conditions" that our "Beloved Press" have to endure while smearing everyone else

AD   December 1st, 2008 6:05 am ET

Considering what Greg said– If it's true, it is positively vile that speaking up for truth and safety has the result of being a "career killer". Let the whistleblowers be heard and protected. We must have the facts, whatever they may be.

Grace A Sigunga   December 1st, 2008 7:08 am ET

@ Willie B, I have a distinct feeling you and I experienced the same incident at Mahmudiyah, when the chicken coop burned down due to faulty wiring. We had not even been in Iraq for a month when that happened. It never occured to me then until after the fire about the how serious the faulty wiring was,an obvious danger to everyone on the fob. KBR was rushing to move ppl into this wooden building from tents, and I remembered them cutting shortcuts that were very obvious even to the untrained electrician(like me). Soldiers were overworked that the last thing we cared about was fixing our own electricity,something that Army Cpt posted on here. I lost everything I had except my weapon and gear only because I was out on a mission just to return and find all my possesions going up in flames. There was a similar fire in the same Triangle at Yusufiyah. It's a wonder no one was killed in these fires or electrocuted.

Brian   December 7th, 2008 4:43 am ET

I bid on a contract to provide electrical workers at Camp Ramadi back last Summer.
My price was based on furnishing licensed American electricians, paying them what they would earn here in Colorado PLUS a premium for working outside the Green Zone in Iraq.

I lost to an Iraqi company that bid less than $9 per hour.

What kind of electrical work are they gonna get for $9 per hour ?
The USMC didn't even require that the electricians speak English.

Airman   January 29th, 2009 11:50 pm ET

I was in Iraq for four months and was responsible for dealing with contracting issues regarding latrine trailers. I had SEVERAL calls for problems with these trailers and personnel being shocked in their living trailers. Our own "Airmen" had to fix these problems in some cases, because the contractor would take several days to fix the trailer or refused to fix the trailer at all.

It wasn't limited to shocking incidents... broken doors, water heaters that didn't work, wires that melted because they couldn't take the load, holes in the floor that would fit your leg. The main problem we faced was the "Iraqi First" program mandated we had to purchase these facilities/trailers from companies with offices in Iraq. I tried to procure trailers from a company that provided latrines to the civilians on our base (far superior to the latrines we used), however, the company did not have offices in Iraq. Request denied.

Just back from Mosul   February 6th, 2009 11:25 pm ET

I just returned with my unit from Iraq last month. Nothing has changed in regards to the electrical problems with KBR in Iraq.

I lost count of the times I received mild to moderate electric shocks while on FOB Diamondback and FOB Marez. I witnessed improper grounding of CHUs and of work facilities, untrained or otherwise unqualified electricians working on projects, and a scam run by KBR fire safety and KBR electrical contractors.

I mean KBR did not even have the sense to ground our CHUs properly and the static buildup was so bad that I got St. Elmo's fire in my CHU.

Any reporter from CNN wishing to contact my may do so through my supplied e-mail address. This matter needs to be addressed again.

FREEDOM   November 19th, 2009 4:52 pm ET


Wall Hooks    October 17th, 2010 2:41 pm ET

air conditioners are really needed specially if you have people with respiratory problems*`,

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