Scott Darden worked for Transoceanic Development, a logistics company that held contracts with Unicef and the Red Cross to coordinate humanitarian aid in Yemen. The New York Times is reporting that the company also had a secret contract with the Pentagon to supply special operations forces in the country.
Why this is so bad. Governments and non-state actors in conflicts often claim legitimate humanitarian entities are covers for spies. They do so as a tactic of war, to ensure suffering of civilians in hopes enemies will capitulate, or even as part of ethnic cleansing. Unfortunately, more and more of these accusations have turned out to be true in recent years.
The CIA ran a cover polio vaccine program in Pakistan as part of their operation to locate and kill or capture Osama bin Laden in 2011. A doctor working with the CIA ran the operation under the guise of Save the Children, and the organization said the use of their name has had devastating consequences.
Conspiracy theories have sprung beyond fears that the U.S. is using polio vaccination drives to gather intelligence. Islamists claim the vaccines are secretly causing infertility. Pakistan is one of only three countries in the world that has not eradicated polio.
Darden was kidnapped in Yemen and likely confirmed the secret arrangement with the U.S. military to his captors. The sultan of Oman helped secure his release.
Unicef and the Red Cross did not know about Transoceanic's secret contract and Darden's work for U.S. special forces, but they will likely be tainted by association, which is bad news for all humanitarian agencies.
Yemen is already closed to journalists. Saudi Arabia and the ruling government in Yemen have cut off commercial flights to the country and are restricting UN chartered flights. Some humanitarians are already being kept out and the revelations of the U.S. military use of aid workers could make it worse.
(Source: New York Times)