Ex-Army cap­tain leads small com­pany in big war

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security - BY WILLIAM EHART

Paul Co­foni comes across as a soft-spo­ken, cere­bral chief ex­ec­u­tive — not ex­actly what one would ex­pect from a point man in the war on ter­ror.

“We’ve al­ways lived in danger­ous times,” said Mr. Co­foni, whose job as a young Army cap­tain in Ger­many in the early 1970s was to launch nu­cle­ar­armed Nike-Her­cules mis­siles at Soviet bombers in the event of World War III.

“We al­ways will live in danger­ous times,” he said, re­call­ing how he lived with his fam­ily near the di­vid­ing line be­tween East and West dur­ing the Cold War.

CACI In­ter­na­tional Inc., the Arlington, Va. com­pany he leads, has grown along with the dan­gers.

What was for decades a small, low-pro­file de­fense con­trac­tor has evolved into a larger, more di­verse com­pany with brand­name recog­ni­tion since Sept. 11, 2001.

CACI pro­vides ev­ery­thing from civil­ian data­bases to cy­ber­war­fare coun­ter­mea­sures to train­ing for Army re­cruits go­ing into bat­tle for the first time.

That growth, overseen by Mr. Co­foni’s long-time pre­de­ces­sor, Jack Lon­don, now ex­ec­u­tive chair­man, re­quires a tran­si­tion from small, niche in­no­va­tor to a larger com­pany of­fer­ing a broader suite of prod­ucts and ser­vices to gov­ern­ment, mil­i­tary and in­tel­li­gence clients.

Mr. Co­foni, CACI’s chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer since 2007, now must man­age that growth. He ap­proaches the job as a team­builder rather than a table­pounder, based in part on lessons learned un­der two very dif­fer­ent coaches dur­ing his high school foot­ball days.

His man­age­ment-speak sounds a lot like foot­ball-speak.

“Mostly when I’ve seen or­ga­ni­za­tions get in trou­ble is when things go through cracks,” he told The Wash­ing­ton Times in a re­cent in­ter­view.

“And things go through the cracks when peo­ple don’t care about each other. They see their lane and they think they’re be­ing eval­u­ated on their lane but they don’t worry about the seam be­tween their lane and the next per­son’s lane,” he said.

“Cost of op­er­a­tion is higher along the seams and so if you work the seams and make the seams seam­less, things don’t fall through the cracks and you’re op­er­at­ing at a high level of ef­fi­ciency,” he said.

“That is my style. I didn’t get it all at once, I got it mostly from scar tis­sue,” he said. “Bark­ing tends to set up fear lev­els in peo­ple and shuts them down as op­posed to let­ting them [. . . ] come to the ob­vi­ous con­clu­sions, just mak­ing sure they have the right data.

“I’m not a ta­ble-pounder. There was a day when I was a ta­ble-pounder, but I got tired and I got wise and gave it up. My style of man­age­ment is more of an in- clu­sive, team-build­ing style,” he said.

But don’t let the light touch fool you.

“My fire burns in­side more than it burns out­side. I’m one of the most com­pet­i­tive peo­ple you could ex­pect to meet any­where,” Mr. Co­foni said.

Few have seen as much of CACI’s growth as Jody Brown, a long­time aide to Mr. Lon­don. “It was like a garage startup,” she said of the com­pany’s found­ing in 1962 as Cal­i­for­nia Anal­y­sis Cen­ter Inc.

Herb Karr and Harry Markowitz, a fu­ture No­bel laure- ate in eco­nomics, started the com­pany in Santa Mon­ica, Calif., with a new pro­gram­ming lan­guage for sim­u­la­tion soft­ware which Mr. Markowitz had de­vel­oped at Rand Corp.

Such soft­ware to­day is used for flight-sim­u­la­tion train­ing, de­sign and, yes, com­puter games.

CACI started with a data­base for gov­ern­ment agen­cies — it still man­ages the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s data­base of ev­i­dence — but through ac­qui­si­tions and in­ter­nal growth the con­trac­tor also an­a­lyzes in­tel­li­gence for U.S. spy agen­cies and even sends for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops into bat­tle zones. Th­ese spe­cial ops per­son­nel are there to train in­ex­pe­ri­enced re­cruits, not to fight their bat­tles, Mr. Co­foni said.

CACI’s rev­enue more than dou­bled from $485 mil­lion in fis­cal 2000 to $1.15 bil­lion in 2004, and more than dou­bled again to $2.73 bil­lion in fis­cal 2008, which ended June 30. CACI has ac­quired more than two dozen com­pa­nies since 1992.

The Sept. 11 at­tacks were “a piv­otal point for us,” said Ms. Brown. “We made ac­qui­si­tions and built our core strengths in in­tel­li­gence work. The more we ac­quired the more we could ac­quire, then we at­tracted very sig- nif­i­cant high-level tal­ent that was com­ing out of the [in­tel­li­gence] agen­cies that fur­ther bol­stered our cre­den­tials and our ca­pa­bil­i­ties.”

A heart at­tack vic­tim at 41, Mr. Co­foni won plau­dits 20 years later for serv­ing as chair­man of last month’s sixth an­nual Heart Walk, spon­sored by the Amer­i­can Heart As­so­ci­a­tion’s Greater Wash­ing­ton Re­gion.

The walk ex­ceeded its an­nual fundrais­ing goal of $125,000 by $30,000, he said, and spon­sors added $500,000 more dur­ing the walk it­self. The AHA ap­proached him about lead­ing the event in Au­gust 2008 — shortly af­ter he re­turned to work from dou­ble by­pass surgery.

Th­ese days, he leads heart walks for CACI em­ploy­ees. CACI has been cer­ti­fied by the AHA as a “Fit and Friendly Com­pany,” which rec­og­nizes a com­pany for ev­ery­thing from en­cour­ag­ing em­ploy­ees to lead healthy lifestyles to pro­vid­ing healthy choices in its vend­ing ma­chines.

Mr. Co­foni was re­cently elected vice chair­man of the Pro­fes­sional Ser­vices Coun­cil, the largest in­dus­try group of gov­ern­ment con­trac­tors, said Stan Soloway, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the

CACI started with a data­base for gov­ern­ment agen­cies — it still man­ages the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s data­base of ev­i­dence — but through ac­qui­si­tions and in­ter­nal growth the con­trac­tor also an­a­lyzes in­tel­li­gence for U.S. spy agen­cies and even sends for­mer spe­cial op­er­a­tions troops into bat­tle zones. Th­ese spe­cial ops per­son­nel are there to train in­ex­pe­ri­enced re­cruits, not to fight their bat­tles, Mr. Co­foni said.


“It’s a sig­nif­i­cant lead­er­ship role, and it shows the re­spect he holds among mem­bers,” Mr. Soloway said.

“He’s thought­ful, he’s even­keeled. When I’ve gone in for ad­vice or coun­sel, it’s been thought­ful and in­sight­ful. He’s not flashy, but he’s very ef­fec­tive. He’s a down-to-earth guy who re­ally worked his way up,” he said.

Mr. Co­foni’s thoughts th­ese days lead him to con­cern about the safety of the home front.

The na­tion’s phys­i­cal in­fra­struc­ture, con­sumer sup­ply chain and com­puter net­works are all vul­ner­a­ble, and could be ter­ror­ists’ next an­gle of at­tack, he said.

“One case of a tam­pered swine flu vac­cine could al­ter the whole course of med­i­cal preven­tion in a flu sea­son,” he said, as mil­lions of Amer­i­cans would de­cline safe vaccines be­cause some sup­plies were tainted.

He noted that much of the na­tion’s in­fra­struc­ture — in­clud­ing nu­clear power plants — is con­trolled by com­put­ers.

And un­like ri­val na­tions, which would be vul­ner­a­ble to coun­ter­at­tack, ter­ror­ists are not gov­erned by the Cold War no­tion of “mu­tual as­sured de­struc­tion,” Mr. Co­foni said.

Cy­ber­war­fare also is a cheap way to try to harm the United States.

“The cost to launch a cy­ber­at­tack is a small frac­tion of the cost to launch a ki­netic [bul­lets and bombs] at­tack,” he said.

Be­fore Mr. Co­foni’s ten­ure, CACI was forced to scram­ble when two em­ploy­ees — along with four other civil­ians — were linked in an Army re­port to the abuse of pris­on­ers in the no­to­ri­ous Abu Ghraib prison in Bagh­dad.

The men were not pros­e­cuted. CACI was later sued, but the law­suit was dis­missed by the U.S. Court of Ap­peals for the District of Columbia Cir­cuit.

CACI vig­or­ously de­nies the al­le­ga­tions.

“To this day, there is no ev­i­dence we are aware of that any CACI em­ployee par­tic­i­pated in the type of be­hav­ior seen in the hor­ri­fy­ing pho­tos that ac­com­pa­nied the first re­ports of abuse, and no CACI em­ployee ap­pears in any of those pic­tures,” the com­pany says in a state­ment on its Web Site.

The com­pany has ceased pro­vid­ing in­ter­ro­ga­tion ser­vices and the im­pli­cated em­ploy­ees left CACI in 2004, the state­ment says.

Mr. Co­foni also said CACI is not a mys­te­ri­ous com­pany, dis­tanc­ing the com­pany from other de­fense con­trac­tors such as the con­tro­ver­sial Black­wa­ter, whose civil­ian em­ploy­ees trade fire with the en­emy in Iraq and Afghanistan.

“We’re not spies, we’re not sol­diers of for­tune, we’re just pa­tri­ots,” he said.

“This strug­gle is a strug­gle for us, our chil­dren and our grand­chil­dren and maybe be­yond as well, so I don’t think Amer­ica has come com­pletely to grips with that,” Mr. Co­foni said.

Mus­lim rad­i­cals don’t share the West­ern world’s con­cep­tion of war as “fi­nite,” he said.

“The prob­lem is if Amer­ica could leave [the Mid­dle East] for 10 years, the sit­u­a­tion could have the po­ten­tial to nor­mal­ize. But as long as en­ergy re­sources in that part of the world are im­por­tant to us, for our na­tional se­cu­rity and our econ­omy, it’s not pos­si­ble for us to va­cate those ar­eas or our in­ter­ests or our in­volve­ment in that part of the world,” Mr. Co­foni said.

“So that sets it up to be a longterm strug­gle.”


Paul Co­foni, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of CACI In­ter­na­tional Inc. since 2007, de­scribes his man­age­ment style as team-build­ing, not ta­ble-pound­ing. The Arlington, Va. de­fense con­tract­ing firm has evolved into a more di­verse com­pany with brand-name recog­ni­tion since Sept. 11, 2001.

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