- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 13, 2003

Nine employees of a Fairfax defense contractor were among the 29 killed Monday in a terrorist attack at a military training facility in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.

Fifteen other workers remained hospitalized, including two in serious condition.

The employees worked for Vinnell Corp., a subsidiary of Los Angeles-based Northrop Grumman Corp., one of the largest U.S. defense contractors. Seven of the Vinnell workers killed were American, two were from the Philippines. The company did not release their names or whether they were natives of the Washington area.

“We are deeply saddened by this senseless attack and mourn the loss of our colleagues,” said Northrop Vice President Donald Winter. “We continue to work closely with the government to secure the safety of all of company employees and their dependents in Saudi Arabia.”

The workers were in Riyadh to provide training to the Saudi Arabian National Guard. It is not the first time Vinnell workers were targeted in an attack. In November of 1995 a car-bomb blast damaged the Riyadh headquarters for a U.S. Army training program in which Vinnell was involved. Five Americans were killed, but none were Vinnell workers.

Vinnell, which operates as part of Northrop’s Reston-based Mission Systems division, trains foreign military services and operates Job Corps centers in the United States under contract with the Department of Labor. The U.S. Army awarded Vinnell it’s current contract in Saudi Arabia, which is worth about $800 million.

Vinnell was founded in 1931 with a mission to pave roads in Los Angeles. It gained notoriety by managing military assignments during World War II, and in 1975 the company won a $77 million contract to train Saudi Arabian military units to defend oil fields. It was the first time civilians were allowed to train foreign forces. The U.S. Senate held hearings on the contract, but the work went forward.

Until 1997, Vinnell was a subsidiary of BDM International, which was controlled by the Carlyle Group, a Washington investment firm led by several former Pentagon and White House officials. BDM’s president, Philip Odeen, led a task force formed by the Pentagon to modernize the military. He is now a director with Northrop Grumman.

The issue of private companies providing military training remains contentious. Opponents say it undermines the ability of the United States to control the actions of foreign troops. But that has not deterred military contractors.

Earlier this year, Computer Sciences Corp. acquired Dyncorp, a Falls Church-based defense company with a military training arm, and in June of 2003 L-3 Communications Holdings Inc. bought Military Professionals Resources Inc. of Alexandria.

Companies may face increased insurance costs after Monday’s attacks, said Deborah Avant, professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University.

“Companies will be evaluating the bad press versus the amount of money these units bring in,” she said.

But, she added, “I don’t think there’s going to be a public relations debacle because [Northrop] has Vinnell working for it.”

Northrop Grumman employs about 800 people in Riyadh, about 300 of whom are U.S. citizens. Company spokesman Randy Belote said it was too early to comment on whether the company would evacuate the rest of its employees from Saudi Arabia. Boeing Co. said yesterday that it is pulling its 11 employees out of Saudi Arabia until further notice.

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