Archive for the ‘Private Security Firms’ Category

The Really Bad Dogs of War by Srdja Trifkovic

October 12, 2007

The Really Bad Dogs of War by Srdja Trifkovic

Dandelion Salad

by Srdja Trifkovic
Global Research, October 11, 2007
chroniclesmagazine.org

Focusing on Blackwater while neglecting MPRI is like investigating Ivan Demjanjuk for years on end, but allowing Adolf Eichmann to live peacefully in Buenos Aires.

Up to 17 Iraqis were killed on September 16 by mercenaries working for the security company Blackwater USA, in what Iraqi and some U.S. officials say was unprovoked murder. Earlier this week two Armenian Christian women were killed by Unity Resources Group hired guns. A devastating report by the House Oversight Committee accused Blackwater of acting like murderous cowboys, but the firm still operates with impunity—unaccountable under either U.S. or Iraqi law. Yet while exposing the misdeeds of “security contractors” is necessary and long overdue, it is curious that the media have neglected the work of a far more sinister mercenary outfit, one that has caused thousand-fold more death and suffering over the years.

Since time immemorial kings and governments have hired militarily skilled men and groups to do their fighting and provide security services. In the two decades since the Iran-Contra scandal, however, a few major “international security firms” and “private military contractors” have come into being to satisfy a particular requirement of the U.S. government: to provide military training, logistics, arms, equipment and advice to foreign clients whenever it is desirable for Washington to be able to plausibly deny direct American involvement. The most important among them has been MPRI. The firm has claimed “more generals per square foot than in the Pentagon,” including Gen. Carl E. Vuono, the former Army chief of staff; Gen. Crosbie E. Saint, the former commander of the US Army in Europe; and Gen. Ron Griffith, the former Army vice chief of staff. There are also dozens of retired top-ranked generals and thousands of former military personnel, including elite special forces, on the firm’s books.

MPRI is to Blackwater what a general is to a sergeant. It is less interested in the heat of combat than—in its own words—in “training, equipping, force design and management, professional development, concepts and doctrine, organizational and operational requirements, simulation and wargaming operations, humanitarian assistance, quick reaction military contractual support, and democracy transition assistance programs.”

When the 1991 UN arms embargo prevented the Clinton Administration from helping Croats and Bosnian Muslims directly, MPRI was engaged to do all that the U.S. government preferred not to do openly. In 1994 it referred MPRI to Croatia’s visiting defense minister Gojko Susak, who duly contracted the company to train and equip its forces. According to U.S. Army War College Quarterly, with the explicit consent of the U.S. State and Defense Departments the firm undertook to modernize and retrain the Croatian army, including the general staff. In the summer of 1995, thanks to such assistance, the formerly inept Croatian army mounted Operation Storm,

using typical American combined-arms tactics, including integrated air, artillery, and infantry movements, as well as maneuver warfare targeted against Serbian command, control, and communication systems. French and British officials accused MPRI of helping to plan the Croatian invasion, an allegation denied by the company. Correctly or not, MPRI received credit for a major success.

This “major success” was the bloodiest episode of ethnic cleansing in Europe since World War II. The operation drove a quarter-million Serb civilians from their homes, with MPRI-trained Croat soldiers summarily executing the stragglers and indiscriminately shelling refugees. All along, according to the former head of Croatian counterintelligence, Markica Redic, “the Pentagon had complete supervision during the Storm action.” Miro Tudjman, son of the late president and former head of Croatia’s foreign intelligence, says that during Operation Storm all Croatian electronic intelligence “went online in real time to the National Security Agency in Washington.” Several Croat officers—including MPRI graduates—have been brought to trial for war crimes since that time, but no MPRI employee has ever been charged.

“These new mercenaries work for the Defense and State Department and Congress looks the other way,” the late Colonel David Hackworth, a highly decorated Vietnam veteran, commented on MPRI’s role in the Balkan wars. “The American taxpayer is paying for our own mercenary army, which violates what our founding fathers said.”

MPRI was also granted a major contract to train and equip the Bosnian Muslim forces. It was financed by a number of Islamic countries. Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Brunei, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia deposited money in the United States Treasury, which MPRI drew against. The Bosnian Muslims received over $100 million in surplus military equipment from the US government “Equip and Train Program,” but MPRI contractors did everything else, from planning long-term strategy to conducting war games and training locals in the use of American weaponry. According to Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, “It was a brilliant move in that the U.S. government got someone else to pay for what we wanted from a policy standpoint.”

The next MPRI assignment was to train and equip a shadowy guerrilla group accused by the State Department of being a terrorist organization. The military men knew that the Drug Enforcement Administration suspected the guerrillas of smuggling high-grade Afghan heroin into North America and Western Europe, and police agencies across Europe had been alerted to the links among the rebels and the various mafias:

Was this the setting for a Tom Clancy novel? Or was it a flashback to one of the numerous secret meetings attended by the likes of Richard Secord and Oliver North during the Iran-contra scandal of the 1980s? Actually, it was neither. It was a real life and present-day strategy session at MPRI (formerly known as Military Professional Resources, Inc.). Its client: the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

MPRI was subsequently caught off-guard when Bosnia’s Muslim army arranged for millions of dollars worth of arms to be secretly transferred from Bosnian caches to KLA guerrillas in Kosovo and Serbian Muslims in the province of Sandzak. As a result of the arms transfers, the State Department temporarily suspended MPRI’s “train and equip” program—but not for long: soon thereafter the KLA itself became itself a valued client. Col. Hackworth was the first prominent commentator to reveal that MPRI was using former U.S. military personnel to train KLA forces at secret bases inside Albania. Some of the military leadership of the KLA—including Kosovo’s current “prime minister” Agim Ceku, a war criminal par excellence—included veterans of MPRI-planned Operations Storm.

The fruits of MPRI’s work became apparent in the aftermath of NATO bombing. Just like in the Krajina, hundreds of thousands of Serbs were ethnically cleansed, thousands were murdered, their homes looted or burned, their cemeteries vandalized, their churches dynamited.

And finally, in 2001, MPRI enjoyed the rare feat of working for both sides both sides of a Balkan conflict. It was contracted by the government of Macedonia—as part of a U.S. military aid package—“to deter armed aggression and defend Macedonian territory.” It was also helping the local KLA offshoot known as the NLA carry out armed aggression against Macedonian territory. In late June of that year, the Macedonian army undertook a major assault against KLA positions in the village of Aracinovo near Skopje. In a NATO sponsored operation—supposedly to help the Macedonian Army—U.S. troops were sent in to “evacuate” and “disarm” the terrorists. The soldiers “saved” 500 terrorists together with their weaponry, took them to another village, gave them their U.S.-made weapons back, and set them free. But sources in the U.S. Army in Kosovo revealed that the mysterious “evacuation” had the real objective of rescuing and concealing the identity of 17 Americans, MPRI instructors, who were among the withdrawing rebels.

Compared to MPRI, Blackwater are thuggish amateurs; but don’t expect any House Oversight Committee reports or New York Times exposés.


Global Research Articles by Srdja Trifkovic

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Op-Ed Columnist

September 28, 2007

September 28, 2007

Op-Ed Columnist

Hired Gun Fetish

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

And, yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They’re heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they’re private employees who don’t answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don’t seem to be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly.

We may never know what really happened in a crowded Baghdad square two weeks ago. Employees of Blackwater USA claim that they were attacked by gunmen. Iraqi police and witnesses say that the contractors began firing randomly at a car that didn’t get out of their way.

What we do know is that more than 20 civilians were killed, including the couple and child in the car. And the Iraqi version of events is entirely consistent with many other documented incidents involving security contractors.

For example, Mr. Singer reminds us that in 2005 “armed contractors from the Zapata firm were detained by U.S. forces, who claimed they saw the private soldiers indiscriminately firing not only at Iraqi civilians, but also U.S. Marines.” The contractors were not charged. In 2006, employees of Aegis, another security firm, posted a “trophy video” on the Internet that showed them shooting civilians, and employees of Triple Canopy, yet another contractor, were fired after alleging that a supervisor engaged in “joy-ride shooting” of Iraqi civilians.

Yet even among the contractors, Blackwater has the worst reputation. On Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater employee reportedly shot and killed a guard of the Iraqi vice president. (The employee was flown out of the country, and has not been charged.) In May 2007, Blackwater employees reportedly shot an employee of Iraq’s Interior Ministry, leading to an armed standoff between the firm and Iraqi police.

Iraqis aren’t the only victims of this behavior. Of the nearly 4,000 American service members who have died in Iraq, scores if not hundreds would surely still be alive if it weren’t for the hatred such incidents engender.

Which raises the question, why are Blackwater and other mercenary outfits still playing such a big role in Iraq?

Don’t tell me that they are irreplaceable. The Iraq war has now gone on for four and a half years — longer than American participation in World War II. There has been plenty of time for the Bush administration to find a way to do without mercenaries, if it wanted to.

And the danger out-of-control military contractors pose to American forces has been obvious at least since March 2004, when four armed Blackwater employees blundered into Fallujah in the middle of a delicate military operation, getting themselves killed and precipitating a crisis that probably ended any chance of an acceptable outcome in Iraq.

Yet Blackwater is still there. In fact, last year the State Department gave Blackwater the lead role in diplomatic security in Iraq.

Mr. Singer argues that reliance on private military contractors has let the administration avoid making hard political choices, such as admitting that it didn’t send enough troops in the first place. Contractors, he writes, “offered the potential backstop of additional forces, but with no one having to lose any political capital.” That’s undoubtedly part of the story.

But it’s also worth noting that the Bush administration has tried to privatize every aspect of the U.S. government it can, using taxpayers’ money to give lucrative contracts to its friends — people like Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, who has strong Republican connections. You might think that national security would take precedence over the fetish for privatization — but remember, President Bush tried to keep airport security in private hands, even after 9/11.

So the privatization of war — no matter how badly it works — is just part of the pattern.

George W. Bush’s Thug Nation by Robert Parry

September 24, 2007

George W. Bush’s Thug Nation by Robert Parry

by Robert Parry
Global Research, September 23, 2007
consortiumnews.com

It’s said that over time Presidents – especially two-termers – imbue the nation with their personalities and priorities, for good or ill. If that’s true, it could help explain the small-minded mean-spiritedness that seems to be pervading the behavior of the United States these days, both at home and abroad.

On a global level, the world reads about trigger-happy Blackwater “security contractors” mowing down civilians in Baghdad, the U.S. military killing unarmed people under loose “rules of engagement” in both Afghanistan and Iraq, and the CIA “rendering” suspected Islamists to secret prisons or to third-country dungeons where torture is practiced.

Inside the United States, too, a police-state mentality is taking hold. After more than six years of having dissent against President George W. Bush equated with disloyalty, police from Capitol Hill to college campuses are treating vocal disagreement as grounds for violently “taking down” citizens, while bouncers at campaign rallies hustle away prospective hecklers and police preemptively detain protesters or stick them in faraway “free-speech zones.”

On Sept. 17 at a University of Florida public forum with Sen. John Kerry, D-Massachusetts, journalism student Andrew Meyer asked an animated question about Kerry’s hasty concession after Election 2004.

Meyer then was accosted by several campus police officers who dragged him away and wrestled him to the ground. Despite pleading with police “don’t tase me, bro,” Meyer was “tasered” with powerful electric shocks as he screamed in pain. [Watch the YouTube video by clicking here.]

Overseas, it now appears that Bush has authorized “rules of engagement” that have transformed U.S. Special Forces into “death squads,” much like those that roamed Latin America in the 1970s and 1980s identifying “subversives” and murdering them.

According to evidence emerging from a military court hearing at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, U.S. Special Forces are empowered to kill individuals who have been designated “enemy combatants,” even if they are unarmed and present no visible threat.

The hearing involves two Special Forces soldiers who took part in the cold-blooded execution of an Afghani who was suspected of leading an insurgent group. Though the Afghani, identified as Nawab Buntangyar, responded to questions and offered no resistance when encountered on Oct. 13, 2006, he was shot dead by Master Sgt. Troy Anderson on orders from his superior officer, Capt. Dave Staffel.

Classified Mission

As described at the hearing, Staffel and Anderson were leading a team of Afghan soldiers when an informant told them where a suspected insurgent leader was hiding. The U.S.-led contingent found a man believed to be Nawab Buntangyar walking outside his compound near the village of Hasan Kheyl.

While the Americans kept their distance out of fear the suspect might be wearing a suicide vest, the man was questioned about his name and the Americans checked his description against a list from the Combined Joint Special Operations Task Force Afghanistan, known as “the kill-or-capture list.”

Concluding that the man was insurgent leader Nawab Buntangyar, Staffel gave the order to shoot, and Anderson – from a distance of about 100 yards away – fired a bullet through the man’s head, killing him instantly.

The soldiers viewed the killing as “a textbook example of a classified mission completed in accordance with the American rules of engagement,” the International Herald Tribune reported. “The men said such rules allowed them to kill Buntangyar, whom the American military had designated a terrorist cell leader, once they positively identified him.”

Staffel’s civilian lawyer Mark Waple said the Army’s Criminal Investigation Command concluded in April that the shooting was “justifiable homicide,” but a two-star general in Afghanistan instigated a murder charge against the two men. That case, however, has floundered over accusations that the charge was improperly filed. [IHT, Sept. 17, 2007]

The major news media has given the case only minor coverage focusing mostly on the legal sparring. The New York Times’ inside-the-paper, below-the-fold headline on Sept. 19 was “Green Beret Hearing Focuses on How Charges Came About.”

However, the greater significance of the case is its confirmation that the U.S. chain of command, presumably up to President Bush, has approved standing orders that allow the U.S. military to assassinate suspected militants on sight.

In effect, these orders have reestablished what was known during the Vietnam War as Operation Phoenix, a program that assassinated Vietcong cadre, including suspected communist political allies.

Through a Pentagon training program known as “Project X,” the lessons of Operation Phoenix from the 1960s were passed on to Third World armies in Latin America and elsewhere, allegedly giving a green light to some of the “dirty wars” that swept the region in the following decades. [For details, see Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Blackwater Killings

Besides the periodic controversies over U.S. military killings of unarmed Iraqis and Afghanis, the Bush administration also is facing a challenge from the Iraqi government of Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki over the U.S. Embassy’s reliance on Blackwater security contractors despite their reputation as crude and murderous bullies.

On Sept. 16, Blackwater gunmen accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy apparently sensed an ambush and opened fire, spraying a busy Baghdad square with bullets. Eyewitness accounts, including from an Iraqi police officer, indicated that the Blackwater team apparently overreacted to a car moving into the square and killed at least 11 people.

“Blackwater has no respect for the Iraqi people,” an Iraqi Interior Ministry official told the Washington Post. “They consider Iraqis like animals, although actually I think they may have more respect for animals. We have seen what they do in the streets. When they’re not shooting, they’re throwing water bottles at people and calling them names. If you are terrifying a child or an elderly woman, or you are killing an innocent civilian who is riding in his car, isn’t that terrorism?” [Washington Post, Sept. 20, 2007]

The highhandedness of the Blackwater mercenaries on the streets of Baghdad or the contempt for traditional rules of war in the hills of Afghanistan also resonate back to the marble chambers and well-appointed salons of Washington, where swaggering tough-guyism reigns from the Oval Office to the TV talk shows to Georgetown dinner parties.

Inside the Beltway, it seems there’s little political mileage in standing up for traditional American values, such as the rule of law or even the Founders’ historic concept of inalienable rights for all mankind.

On Sept. 19, Senate Republicans blocked an up-or-down vote on a bill seeking to restore habeas corpus rights against arbitrary imprisonment for people whom Bush unilaterally has designated “unlawful enemy combatants.”

Bush’s supporters portrayed those who favored habeas corpus restoration as impractical coddlers of America’s enemies.

“This is purely a matter of congressional policy and national policy on how we want to conduct warfare now and in the future,” said Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama. “Are we going to do it in a way that allows those we capture to sue us?”

The Republicans also prevented a direct vote on a plan to grant longer home leaves to U.S. troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Those two factors – obedience to Bush’s claim of unlimited power as he wages his “war on terror” and refusal to relieve some of the pressure on American troops facing repeated deployments to the front lines – are almost certain to keep making matters worse.

The mix of tired and desperate soldiers operating in an environment in which every person on the street is viewed as a potential suicide bomber is a formula for continued abuses, endless slaughter and deepening hatreds.

Back home, Americans who ask too many annoying questions or don’t demonstrate the right attitude toward government leaders can expect to encounter the hostility of an incipient police state, a thug nation that reflects the pugnacious arrogance and the contempt for dissent that is the stock and trade of the nation’s current two-term President.

[For more on how Bush rules, see our new book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush.]

Robert Parry broke many of the Iran-Contra stories in the 1980s for the Associated Press and Newsweek. His latest book, Neck Deep: The Disastrous Presidency of George W. Bush, was written with two of his sons, Sam and Nat, and can be ordered at neckdeepbook.com. His two previous books, Secrecy & Privilege: The Rise of the Bush Dynasty from Watergate to Iraq and Lost History: Contras, Cocaine, the Press & ‘Project Truth’ are also available there. Or go to Amazon.com

Robert Parry is a frequent contributor to Global Research. Global Research Articles by Robert Parry

 


www.globalresearch.ca contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available to our readers under the provisions of “fair use” in an effort to advance a better understanding of political, economic and social issues. The material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving it for research and educational purposes. If you wish to use copyrighted material for purposes other than “fair use” you must request permission from the copyright owner.

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© Copyright Robert Parry, consortiumnews.com, 2007
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Iraq makes U-turn on Blackwater

September 24, 2007

The Iraqi interior ministry has implicated
Blackwater in seven fatal shootings [AFP]
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The killings have outraged many Iraqis, who resent the presence of armed Western security contractors, considering them as mercenary forces that abuse Iraqis in their own country. But Blackwater personnel are already back on the streets of Baghdad.

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The US embassy resumed sending convoys out with Blackwater guards on Friday – just a few days after the Iraqi government ordered the company’s operations frozen.

 

The Iraqi government, which concluded that Blackwater employees fired without provocation into civilian cars last week, now says the company will be allowed to keep operating for the sake of security.

 

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Tahseen al-Sheikhly, an Iraqi government spokesman, said: “If we drive out or expel the company immediately there will be a security vacuum that will demand pulling some troops that work in the field who protect these institutions and that will create a security imbalance.”

 

This, despite Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, saying Blackwater’s alleged misconduct is a challenge to his country’s sovereignty.

 

Attending the UN’s special meeting on Iraq, al-Maliki said: “When there is a private company that has committed seven reported crimes already, that is something that we cannot turn a blind eye to.”

 

Joint investigation

 

Baghdad and Washington announced they would take a broad look at the private security firms operating in Iraq.

 

Rear Admiral Mark Fox, a US military spokesman, said: “That is an opportunity for the government of Iraq and the US government to jointly review and assess how private contractors, in terms of the security mission, are conducting their business.”

 

But senior Iraqi officials had officially complained to the US command for months about the way Blackwater was operating without regulation or oversight.

 

They said Blackwater refused to obtain an operating licence, submit to weapons inspections or answer questions about previous incidents.

 

Hussein Kamal, the deputy interior minister, said: “We tried several times to contact the US government through administrative and diplomatic channels to complain about the repeated involvement by Blackwater guards in several incidents that led to the killing of many Iraqis, but there were no concrete results. Our complaints went nowhere.”

 

Iraqi officials say the government may try to file criminal charges or sue Blackwater in a US court.

 

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First

September 20, 2007

September 19, 2007

Iraqi Report Says Blackwater Guards Fired First

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — A preliminary Iraqi report on a shooting involving an American diplomatic motorcade said Tuesday that Blackwater security guards were not ambushed, as the company reported, but instead fired at a car when it did not heed a policeman’s call to stop, killing a couple and their infant.

The report, by the Ministry of Interior, was presented to the Iraqi cabinet and, though unverified, seemed to contradict an account offered by Blackwater USA that the guards were responding to gunfire by militants. The report said Blackwater helicopters had also fired. The Ministry of Defense said 20 Iraqis had been killed, a far higher number than had been reported before.

In a sign of the seriousness of the standoff, the American Embassy here suspended diplomatic missions outside the Green Zone and throughout Iraq on Tuesday.

“There was not shooting against the convoy,” said Ali al-Dabbagh, the Iraqi government’s spokesman. “There was no fire from anyone in the square.”

A State Department spokesman, Edgar Vasquez, said he had not heard of the report and repeated that the department was conducting an investigation supported by the American military. A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not respond to an e-mail request for comment.

“Let these folks do the investigation and get all the facts,” Mr. Vasquez said, “and if department procedures were not followed, after the facts have been gathered we would decide what action to take.”

The shooting, which took place on Sunday, has angered Iraqi officials and touched off a harsh debate about private security companies, which operate outside Iraqi law, a privilege extended to them by Americans officials while Iraq’s government was still under American administration. Blackwater, which guards all top American officials here, had its work suspended, and Iraqi officials agreed to rewrite the rules to make the companies accountable.

“We do understand that the security companies are subject to high levels of threat and they do a good job at protection, but this does not entitle them to immunity from Iraqi laws,” Mr. Dabbagh said. “This is what the Iraqi government would like to review.”

He said the Iraqi and American governments had set up a joint committee to investigate the deaths.

American Embassy officials had said Monday that the Blackwater guards had been responding to a car bomb, but Mr. Dabbagh said the bomb was so far away that it could not possibly have been a reason for the convoy to begin shooting.

Instead, he said, the convoy had initiated the shooting when a car did not heed a police officer and moved into an intersection.

“The traffic policeman was trying to open the road for them,” he said. “It was a crowded square. But one small car did not stop. It was moving very slowly. They shot against the couple and their child. They started shooting randomly.”

In video shot shortly after the episode, the child appeared to have burned to the mother’s body after the car caught fire, according to an official who saw it.

In interviews on Tuesday, six Iraqis who had been in the area at the time of the shooting, including a man who was wounded and an Iraqi Army soldier who helped rescue people, offered roughly similar versions.

The Iraqi soldier, who said he was standing at a checkpoint on the edge of the square, said he thought the convoy believed the small car was a suicide bomber and opened fire. According to the wounded man, recuperating in Yarmouk Hospital, the car with the family was driving on the wrong side of the road.

The convoy began throwing nonlethal sound bombs, several witnesses said, to keep people in the area away. That drew fire from Iraqi Army soldiers manning watchtowers that are part of an Iraqi Army base on the square. Iraqi police officers, witnesses said, also appeared to be shooting.

The Iraqi soldier, who did not give his name but said he was from a company of Iraqi commandos, said he saw another soldier trying to motion to the convoy to move on, but he was shot as well.

Sean McCormack, the spokesman for the State Department, said in a briefing that contractors “are subject to Department of State rules of engagement.”

“These are defensive in nature,” he said. When contractors and employees are attacked, he added, they “will respond with graduated use of force, proportionate to the kind of fire and attack that they’re coming under.”

The Iraqis’ accounts have not been verified, but the anger in their telling served to reinforce the feeling among Iraqis here that private security companies care little for Iraqi lives. In a war where perceptions are paramount, the effect is poisonous.

“They are more powerful than the government,” the Iraqi soldier said. “No one can try them. Where is the government in this?”

For Safaa Rabee, an engineer in Newcastle, England, whose 75-year-old father was shot dead while driving home from grocery shopping on Aug. 13 in Hilla in southern Iraq, the immunity was particularly galling. Mr. Rabee said his father had pulled over and waited as a convoy of sport utility vehicles zoomed past, lights and sirens flashing, a familiar routine for Iraqis, but when he pulled back out, guards in the last car of the convoy opened fire.

Mr. Rabee and his brother discussed it with the Hilla police chief, who said the convoy was an American diplomatic one from Najaf, another southern city, and also with a sympathetic American colonel, who offered small financial compensation.

The police chief said the security guards in the convoy were Blackwater, Mr. Rabee said, though he does not know for sure if that was the case.

“I said to him that I’ll follow the killer anywhere in the world, even in American law,” Mr. Rabee said by telephone from England. “He said: ‘I understand you are angry but you can’t do anything. They’re under our protection.’ I said, ‘Do you think that’s fair?’ ” For the family, Mr. Rabee said, the killing felt no different from that of Mr. Rabee’s brother, the owner of a fish farm, who was executed by militants just south of Baghdad in 2005. The family pursued the case against his father’s killers in court, but the case was closed.

In the clubby atmosphere of private security firms in Iraq, senior members of rival companies are often reluctant to criticize Blackwater.

But among the rank and file of security contractors, Blackwater guards are regularly ridiculed as cowboys who are relentlessly and pointlessly aggressive, carry excessive weaponry and do not appear to have top-of-the-line training.

Passing Blackwater convoys sometimes intimidates even Westerners, who fear coming under attack if they make a wrong move.

The Iraqi government said it had revoked Blackwater’s license. But it appeared that the company had not possessed one in many months, according to a security official in Baghdad, but had begun work on getting one in spring of 2007.

The Iraqi government has changed hands several times, throwing up new hurdles for companies to register, and by the fall of 2006, when the process changed again, many simply stopped trying, the official said. Currently, about 25 companies are formally licensed, the official said. Blackwater is not among them.

One private security official said Blackwater had been at odds with the Ministry of Interior over licensing, and drew more ill will when a guard killed a ministry bodyguard some time ago.

Khalid al-Ansary, Sahar Nageeb and Kareem Hilmi contributed reporting.

US vows Blackwater killings probe

September 18, 2007

Blackwater is responsible for US embassy security and protects diplomats and officials [AFP]
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Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, telephoned Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, to express regret at the loss of life and promised that the results of an internal investigation into Sunday’s incident would be shared with Baghdad.

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“She has expressed her personal apologies and the apologies of the government of the United States. She confirmed that the United States will take immediate actions to prevent such actions from happening again,” al-Maliki’s office said.

 

‘Working together’

 

Tom Casey, the deputy state department spokesman, said: “She told the prime minister that we were investigating this incident and wanted to gain a full understanding of what happened.”

 

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Rice and al-Maliki “agreed on the importance of working closely together in the time ahead on a transparent investigation,” Casey added.

 

Yassin Majid, an adviser to the prime minister, said the two also agreed to hold any wrongdoers accountable.

 

Al-Maliki had condemned Sunday’s shooting and vowed to punish the perpetrators and their employers.

 

“We will work to punish and halt the work of the security company which conducted this criminal act,” state television quoted him as saying.

 

The 15-minute call came after Iraq’s interior ministry said it had revoked Blackwater’s licence.

 

The firm is responsible for US embassy security and the expulsion may severely curtail US operations in Iraq by stripping diplomats and other officials of protection.

 

The two other private security firms employed by the US state department to protect its personnel in Iraq are Dyncorp and Triple Canopy.

 

Blackwater said it had not been formally notified of any expulsion. The US state department also said Washington had not been informed of the licence cancellation.

 

Convoy attack

 

Conflicting accounts were reported of the incident in which, according to the US embassy in Baghdad, a diplomatic convoy was attacked, and security guards opened fire in response.

 

‘Profitable patriotism’

Estimated 30,000 private security “contractors” in Iraq often referred to as shadow armies and mercenaries

US figures say in the first gulf war, ratio of private contractors to troops one to 60, now about one to three

Little known about who security firms are accountable to

Accused of being overly aggressive and above the law

Blackwater has secured more than $500m in federal contracts since 2000 – two thirds of those contracts known as “no bids”

Landed first big contract in Iraq in 2003, protecting Paul Bremer, the-then US top administrator in Iraq, for 11 months for $21m

Employs 1,500 security personnel in Iraq, specialising in transporting so-called high-value targets

US military destroyed Falluja in 2004, weeks after four Blackwater employees were killed there

Has also stirred up controversy in Potrero, a small US town along the California-Mexico border where it wants to build a huge training camp

Iraq’s interior ministry said eight civilians were killed and 13 wounded when Blackwater contractors opened fire on civilians in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour in western Baghdad after mortar rounds landed near their convoy.

 

General Abdul Kareem Khaleh, an interior ministry spokesman, said Blackwater guards “opened fire randomly at citizens”.

 

“We have withdrawn its licence” and will “deliver those who committed this act to the court”, he added.

 

Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, said late on Monday: “Blackwater’s independent contractors acted lawfully and appropriately in response to a hostile attack in Baghdad on Sunday.”

 

The state department could not say which Iraqi laws Blackwater or its employees might be subject to, the chain of command its employees answer to.

 

The US embassy said it was seeking clarification on the legal status of security contractors and whether Blackwater employees could be prosecuted in Iraq.

 

Khaleh said the security guards “do not have immunity, as immunity is granted only to the multi-national forces … [They] are subject to the obligations of the Iraqi penal law”.

 

The moves by the Bush administration appear unlikely to forestall a congressional inquiry into not just Sunday’s events but the government’s increasing reliance on the use of contractors in Iraq.

 

“The controversy over Blackwater is an unfortunate demonstration of the perils of excessive reliance on private security contractors,” Henry Waxman, the Democratic chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said.

 

He said his committee would hold hearings to determine “what has happened and the extent of the damage to US security interests”.

 

Blackwater and other security firms in trouble in Iraq

September 18, 2007

Blackwater provides security to US diplomats
and “assets” in Iraq [AFP]
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Ali al-Dabbagh, a government spokesman, announced the decision “to review the operations of foreign and local security companies in Iraq”.

 

He said: “This came after the flagrant assault conducted by members of the American security company Blackwater against Iraqi citizens.”

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“Iraq is still under foreign occupation and Iraqis continue to die in great numbers”

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The Blackwater controversy provided the backdrop to more violence across the country

 

Four car bombs in Baghdad on Tuesday killed 17 people and wounded 50 more, according to police.

 

The deadliest car bomb attack killed eight people and wounded 22 near a market in the Ur neighbourhood, not far from the Shia-dominated district of Sadr City, police said.

 

Three other car bombs killed a total of nine people and wounded 28.

 

Blackwater case

 

Commenting on the Iraqi government’s announcement that it will review the status of all private security companies, Riad Kahwaji, director of the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military analysis, told Al Jazeera: “Only the party that brought them [the private security firms] into Iraq can take them out of Iraq – and that is the US.”

 

In Video
Blackwater: An in-depth look
Town split over training centre

He said that under their contracts “neither Blackwater nor the other [private security] companies are obliged to obtain a licence from Iraq”.

 

Kahwaji said: “The chances are they are going to stay. Because a lot of the foreign companies and contractors that are rebuilding Iraq rely totally on these Western, or US-based, security companies.

 

“They don’t have any confidence in the Iraqi police and the Iraqi security services.”

 

Iraq’s interior ministry said 11 people were killed when Blackwater contractors opened fire at random after mortar rounds landed near a US convoy.

 

Regret over death

 

Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, telephoned Nuri al-Maliki, Iraq’s prime minister, on Monday to express regret over the death of innocent civilians, which the state department said occurred during the attack on the convoy.

 

Blackwater said its guards had reacted “lawfully and appropriately” to a hostile attack.

 

It also said on Monday that it had received no official notice from Iraq’s interior ministry.

 

US officials in Baghdad have yet to clarify the legal status of foreign security contractors in Iraq, including whether they could be liable for prosecution by Iraqi authorities.

 

****

 

September 18, 2007 (NYT)

Iraq to Review All Security Contractors

BAGHDAD, Sept. 18 — The Iraqi government said today that it would review the status of all foreign and local security companies working in Iraq after a shooting that left eight Iraqis dead.

Blackwater USA, an American contractor that provides security to some of the top American officials in Iraq, was banned from working in the country by the Ministry of Interior after the shooting on Sunday, which involved an American diplomatic convoy.

A spokesman for the Iraqi government, Ali al-Dabbagh, said that the cabinet met today and supported the decision to cancel Blackwater’s license and begin an immediate investigation. The ministry has said that it would prosecute the participants in the shooting, but a law issued by the American occupation authority prior to the return of sovereignty to Iraq in 2004 grants American contractors, along with American military personnel, immunity from Iraqi prosecution.

Mr. Dabbagh said the investigation should “compel the company to respect the Iraqi laws, citizens’ dignity and the results and consequences the investigation would come up with.”The statement by the Iraqi government today seemed to blame Blackwater employees directly for the deaths, calling it a “vicious assault which was carried out by the employees of the American security company” against Iraqi citizens.

But American officials have stopped short of saying whether the Blackwater guards in the diplomatic motorcade had caused any of the deaths.

In a statement today, the anti-American Shiite cleric, Moktada al-Sadr, called for an investigation and said that the government should annul “this company’s and all other intelligence and criminal companies’ contracts.”

Details of the shooting Sunday are still unclear. Bombs were going off in the area at the time, and shots were fired at the convoy, American officials said.

“There was a firefight,” said Sean McCormack, the principal State Department spokesman. “We believe some innocent life was lost. Nobody wants to see that. But I can’t tell you who was responsible for that.”

In separate violence today, a series of car bombs around Baghdad killed at least eight people. In the largest attack, a car bomb exploded close to the Health Ministry, near the central morgue, killing five civilians and injuring 20 others, the Ministry of Interior said. Another car bomb, which exploded in the Ur district near a popular market, killed one civilian.

The deaths on Sunday that were linked to Blackwater have struck a nerve with Iraqis, who say that private security companies are often quick to shoot and are rarely held responsible for their actions.

A security expert based in Baghdad said Monday night that the law granting contractors immunity, Order No. 17, had never been overturned. Like others, he spoke on the condition of anonymity because the matter remains under official inquiry.

Senior officials, including Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki, expressed outrage on Monday.

“This is a big crime that we can’t stay silent in front of,” said Jawad al-Bolani, the interior minister, in remarks on Al Arabiya television. “Anyone who wants to have good relations with Iraq has to respect Iraqis. We apply the law and are committed to it.”

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice called Mr. Maliki on Monday afternoon to express her regret “over the death of innocent civilians that occurred during the attack on an embassy convoy,” said Tom Casey, another State Department spokesman.

Mr. Maliki’s office said Ms. Rice had pledged to “take immediate steps to show the United States’ willingness to prevent such actions.”

Because Blackwater guards are so central to the American operation here, having provided protection for numerous American diplomats, it is still not clear whether the United States would agree to end a relationship with a trusted protector so quickly. Ambassador Ryan C. Crocker praised private security companies in a speech on Sept. 11, referring to Blackwater by name.

“This incident will be the true test of diplomacy between the State Department and the government of Iraq,” said one American official in Baghdad.

Blackwater has defended its actions, saying it had come under attack from armed militants.

“The ‘civilians’ reportedly fired upon by Blackwater professionals were in fact armed enemies, and Blackwater personnel returned defensive fire,” said Anne Tyrrell, a company spokeswoman, in an e-mail message. “Blackwater professionals heroically defended American lives in a war zone.”

The American official said he believed that the contract had been pulled, although Ms. Tyrrell said that there had been no official action by the Ministry of Interior “regarding plans to revoke licensing.” Mr. McCormack said the State Department had not been informed about any cancellation.

It was not clear what legal mechanism the Iraqi government was using to block the company. All security contractors must obtain licenses for their weapons. Companies must also register with the Ministry of Trade and the Ministry of Interior.

One of the most terrifying images of the war for Americans involved four of Blackwater’s contractors in Falluja who were killed in 2004, and their bodies hung from a bridge. Reports of the number of Blackwater employees in Iraq ranged from at least 1,000 to 1,500, but the numbers were impossible to confirm.

At the end of the cold war, Congress and the Pentagon were eager to take advantage of a new, less threatening landscape and drastically scaled back the standing Army, leading to the outsourcing of many jobs formally done by people in uniform.

The Bush administration expanded the outsourcing strategy after the invasion of Iraq, with companies like Blackwater and its two main competitors, Triple Canopy and DynCorp, supplying guards and training at many levels of the war. About 126,000 people working for contractors serve alongside American troops, including about 30,000 security contractors.

A Blackwater employee was responsible for the shooting death of a bodyguard for one of Iraq’s vice presidents, Adel Abdul Mahdi, on Christmas Eve last year, according to a report in The Wall Street Journal in May. The Blackwater guard had been drinking heavily in the Green Zone, according to the report, and tried to enter an area where Iraqi officials live. The employee was fired, but left Iraq without being prosecuted, the report said.

In the shooting on Sunday, initial reports from the American Embassy said a convoy of State Department vehicles came under fire in Nisour Square, a commercial area in western Baghdad that is clogged with construction, traffic and concrete blocks. One vehicle became “disabled” in the shooting, officials said. The officials did not say whether any of the convoy’s security guards had fired back.

But two bombs exploded around the time of the convoy’s passage. Iraqis who were there said Monday that guards in the American motorcade, which had apparently been stuck in traffic, began shooting in response. That appeared to be confirmed by the embassy’s information officer, Johann Schmonsees.

“The car bomb was in proximity to the place where State Department personnel were meeting, and that was the reason why Blackwater responded to the incident,” he said on a conference call for reporters in Baghdad on Monday afternoon.

Mirenbe Nantongo, an embassy spokeswoman, said directly, “Our people were reacting to a car bombing.”

But typical for Iraq, confusion prevailed over who was firing at whom. Iraqis who had been at the scene said they saw helicopters, though American officials did not speak of air power. Ms. Tyrrell said helicopters came but did not shoot.

“There were several groups on the scene,” said a senior American administration official. “Bad guys. Us. Iraqi police. We don’t know if other parties were there, too. So we have to do forensics.”

A grocery shop owner, Abu Muhammad, reported seeing two helicopters firing down into the area, around the time of the bombing. “I was hearing the shooting continuing every now and then, for about 15 minutes,” he said, adding that the gunfire sounded low and fast, different from the sound of an AK-47 firing.

He said he saw a charred car with a man and a woman inside. A man whom he knew had been shot to death. Video images of the scene after the fighting subsided showed charred cars and bodies, though it was not clear what had caused the damage.

An official at Yarmouk Hospital, where the dead and wounded were taken, said 12 dead Iraqis had been taken in from three different incidents. Thirty-seven more Iraqis were wounded.

It was still unclear on Monday night whether the company had been ordered to leave. Mr. Schmonsees said earlier, “No one has been expelled from the country yet.”

Reporting was contributed by James Glanz, Ali Fahim, Mudhafer al-Husaini, Ahmad Fadam and Khalid al-Ansary from Baghdad, Thom Shanker from Washington, and Alain Delaquérière from New York.

Security Contractors: Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army In Iraq

August 9, 2007

MotherJones.com / News / Feature

Security Contractors: Riding Shotgun With Our Shadow Army In Iraq
They’ve given me a machine gun and 180 rounds of ammo, and told me not to pee for six hours.

Nir Rosen
April 24 , 2007

Evening in Erbil, Kurdistan, what passes for an oasis of peace in Iraq. It’s March 2006, and I’m waiting for a ride down to Baghdad along one of the world’s most dangerous roads, a six-hour drive through the Sunni Triangle. A few years ago, I would have taken a taxi, but now the insurgents run roadblocks looking for targets—soldiers, contractors, journalists. I can’t rely on the Iraqi police, who are as likely to turn me over to insurgents for money as to be insurgents themselves. And then there are the improvised explosive devices, hidden in rubbish, wreckage, dead goats. I had a close encounter in 2003, when I rode with a convoy of trucks ferrying mail and supplies through the Sunni Triangle to U.S. Army bases. An ied detonated a second too early, exploding just in front of us rather than beneath us. We drove through the cloud of shrapnel, dust, and smoke before I had a chance to get scared. This time, though, I have a long trip south to consider all the possible dangers.

The only way to avoid being seized by one of the many militias that terrorize Iraq is to travel with your own militia, and so the documentary film director I am working for has paid $7,000 to a private security company to take us to Baghdad. Our convoy of four armored Ford F-350 pickup trucks, each containing four or five men apiece, is commanded by two American security contractors whose call signs are Steeler and Pirate (for security reasons, several contractors in this piece asked that I not identify them or their companies). Steeler is a taut guy from Pennsylvania; a former Army Ranger, he served in Iraq with the National Guard and then returned for a salary several times higher. He will take the lead vehicle, eyeing the road for potential threats, a task suited to his taciturn nature. Pirate is the convoy commander. A burly, bearded former Green Beret, he has worked as a private security contractor in Haiti and Africa. I ride in his truck, its window bearing evidence of a recent attack near western Baghdad’s Spaghetti Junction, where heavy-caliber machine-gun fire spiderwebbed the bulletproof glass. On the bed at the back of each truck, reinforced “up-armored” housings hold rear gunners and their belt-fed Russian machine guns. Our gunners are all Kurds. The insurgents are mostly Arabs, and the company Pirate and Steeler work for believes Kurds are less likely to be infiltrated, plus Kurds have a long tradition of guerrilla fighting against heavy odds.

As the sun sets on the dusty compound, I watch the men clean their weapons and piece them back together. They check the engines one last time, top off gas and oil, confirm they have enough water and candy bars. Steeler and Pirate test their transponders, hooked up to a satellite network called Tapestry that tracks private security vehicles in Iraq. Ever since the deadly confusion that occurred in 2004 when Blackwater U.S.A. private security agents were ambushed, killed, and hung from a bridge in Fallujah, the U.S. government requires private security vehicles to carry transponders, and contractors comply in part because it lowers their insurance rates. Drivers who are attacked hit a panic button, and Tapestry transmits an sos to every military ops center in Iraq, the security company’s ops center, and the Reconstruction Operations Center (roc) that coordinates the private/military response. Inside Baghdad’s Green Zone, in a room not unlike nasa‘s mission control, roc staff monitor screens 24 hours a day as panic alarms ring throughout the country. Run by a mix of military officers and contractors, roc falls under the control of the Iraq Project and Contracting Office, which is an office of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. It is part of the elaborate contractor exoskeleton that has superimposed itself on Iraq, a parallel invasion.

There are more than 125,000 U.S.-funded contractors in Iraq, doing everything from maintaining supply lines to building hospitals to performing clerical work to guarding U.S. officials; this equates to about two-thirds the number of U.S. military personnel in Iraq, and does not include all subcontractors. Some contractors have only a few employees in country, while the largest—kbr, which is being spun off from Halliburton—has 50,000 workers there. The surge reflects the administration’s privatization philosophy, former Halliburton ceo Dick Cheney’s influence—and just how thinly stretched the military now is in Iraq. All those nonmilitary personnel need guarding, and as of November, at least 177 private security companies employed 48,000 people in Iraq. The State Department reports that security costs account for 16 to 22 percent of reconstruction projects—a considerable part of the overruns plaguing such contracts; so far $4 billion in U.S. tax dollars has been spent on private security contractors. Despite these efforts, more than 800 contractors of all nationalities have been killed and 3,300 injured; 119 American contractors (95 of them kbr employees) have been awarded the Defense of Freedom medal, described as “the civilian equivalent of the military’s Purple Heart.”

These numbers don’t seem academic when Steeler and Pirate hand me a small MP-5 submachine gun. Should we come under attack, they figure, the more armed men the better. I have fired only M-16s and AK-47s, so they give me a crash course and several magazines full of ammunition. Pirate and Steeler sling on their Kalashnikovs—which rest next to the bags of grenades that hang from their sides—and call ahead to their HQ, where call sign Ilwaco mans the company’s Tapestry interface like a nervous parent. We’re good to go.

Although it is spring, a chill blows into the trucks, carrying with it the smell of dust. We will rely on darkness and speed to survive, making no stops and driving without headlights as fast as possible the 220 miles to Baghdad. What if nature calls, I ask. “Tie a knot,” they tell me.

The U.S. military has assigned Iraq’s roads American names, creating a hidden cartography that soldiers and contractors navigate, but one that might as well be in invisible ink if you’re an Iraqi. We head south on Route Santa Fe. Due to curfews, only the police are out, manning checkpoints and roadblocks. Our F-350s slow to wind through the barriers, briefly shining our headlights on shivering Iraqi police. Steeler and Pirate maintain constant contact with Ilwaco—describing our location, checkpoints encountered and traversed—as we continue on Route Clemson southwest toward Tikrit and then take Route Tampa south to Baghdad. South of Balad the road is blocked by American soldiers and Iraqi police searching for ieds. We cross into the northbound lane and continue south, passing Ad Dujayl, a town famous because Saddam Hussein massacred its inhabitants. As we drive through the village of Mushahidah, the road is totally blocked by American military vehicles; soldiers have discovered an ied.

Our convoy circles into a defensive position, our client vehicle in the center. The road is unlit, both sides lined with tall reeds partially blocking the village’s homes beyond. When it becomes clear we might be here for a while, we all step out to relieve ourselves, peering uneasily into the darkness. “One of ours was martyred here,” a Kurd tells me, explaining that a few months earlier a convoy was attacked by Sunni insurgents. “They’re all Wahhabis,” he says with disgust.

For three hours we wait, the Kurds fanning out and scanning the shadows. Finally the American soldiers signal that the road is clear. Our convoy rumbles down to Baghdad, where we take Route Senators to the film company’s compound, surrounded by tall concrete barriers and an army of security guards.

Foreigners in Iraq’s capital inhabit a world of compounds and armed convoys, moving from one fortress to another as if island-hopping in shark-infested waters. In their operations rooms, security companies and even newspaper bureaus have maps outlining the city and its routes, and noting attacks and their locations, bodies found, sniper activity, ieds, and small-arms fire. Standard operating procedure requires all convoys—whether they’re transporting military supplies or documentary filmmakers—to give roc a 24-hour notice, and to conduct advance work to reconnoiter the routes. A security contractor working for the bbc told me that he planned reporting trips like military operations, three days in advance, sending in teams of Iraqis to map out the area before escorting the journalists to do their reporting. Security contractors take other precautions: changing cars and alternating routes, switching from “high-profile” vehicles (like F-350s) to “low-profile” vehicles (old sedans), hoping they won’t get stuck in traffic or encounter a “vehicle-borne ied“—a suicide car bomber. Because the reality is that if they come under attack, troops might not be available, or willing, to bail them out. Families of some contractors who’ve been killed charge that their loved ones have been inadequately equipped by the corporations that hire them, and abandoned under fire by the military they are there to assist.

We’re never going to war without the private security industry again in a non-draft environment,” says former Marine colonel Jack Holly. As director of logistics of the embassy’s Project and Contracting Office, Holly, who’s an Army Corps of Engineers civilian employee, monitors all the private supply convoys bringing goods and equipment to Iraqi ministries. He tracks about 15 convoys a day. In 2003, 1 in 11 were attacked. Now 1 in 4 are, he says. In all, he’s lost 129 men to insurgents.

Holly views the difference between working for the military and for a private security company in simple terms: “In the military you work for apple pie, mother, and the American flag. In a psc you work for apple pie, mother, the American flag, and the shareholders.” In theory at least, private security contractors can operate at a lower cost than the military, and as civilians, they are less likely to be attacked by guerrillas—though in Iraq, neither theory has held true. Amid pressure to reduce the U.S. presence in Iraq, Holly reckons private security contractors will pick up where the military leaves off. “People want a shrinking military presence, but the needs and mission don’t shrink,” he says.

In Holly’s office, large flat screens displayed the supply trucks’ movements. With so many armed men speeding, in the dark, through a war zone, a constant concern for Holly is “blue on white” incidents—U.S. troops accidentally firing on contractors—as well as “white on white,” or contractors accidentally firing on each other.

Many of the convoys Holly monitors deliver goods and equipment to and from a giant supply depot in western Baghdad, where the insurgency is strong. The depot is a vast, fortified camp with sentry towers, housing complexes, trailers, and sand berms surrounding a gun range. Some $10 billion in goods bought with U.S. taxpayer funds have passed through it, and most of the contractors I meet have either guarded it, or taken goods to or from it.

For a few years, JB supervised a detachment of Kurds guarding the depot. JB had served 10 years with the Navy seals before joining the private sector. Prior to coming to Iraq in 2003, he’d protected the Saudi ambassador to the United Nations as well as U.S. diplomats in Kosovo and Africa. His résumé notes he has “trained and managed 410 peshmerga guards…in security search procedures for vehicles and personnel entering and exiting a secure, high profile logistics compound. Focus includes both Improvised Explosive Devices, insurgency, and merchandise control” as well as “Counter-insurgency techniques, reaction drills, tactical fire and maneuver, and defensive driving techniques.”

Someone with JB’s skill set can make hundreds of thousands a year in Iraq; indeed, the Special Forces have been forced to offer bonuses up to $150,000 to get such men to reenlist. The Geneva Conventions expressly ban the use of mercenaries—soldiers of fortune who fight for personal gain—so companies such as kbr are careful to distinguish their security forces from combat troops for hire, like the infamous South African company Executive Outcomes. But the distinction can be blurry at best. In a bar in Amman, Jordan, a popular way station en route to Iraq, I met a former British marine named Ross. “I make 10 times as much as I did in the military,” said Ross, who worked for Diligence, a company founded by former cia and fbi chief William Webster and 40 percent owned by a wealthy Kuwaiti politician. Diligence’s cochair is Joe Allbaugh, President Bush’s 2000 campaign manager; in 2004 Diligence formed a joint venture with the now-defunct New Bridge Strategies, a firm founded by Allbaugh and gop strategist Ed Rogers to advise companies on doing business in reconstruction Iraq. Such entrepreneurial spirit had trickled down to Ross and his friends, who’d each invested tens of thousands of dollars in the Iraqi dinar, certain that the oil-rich country would eventually stabilize and the currency’s value would shoot up.

For some, a job as a security contractor offers escape from political changes at home. Between 2,000 and 4,000 former South African soldiers and policemen work in Iraq. One South African contractor quipped, not too inaccurately, that “Afrikaans is the third-most-spoken language in Iraq.” Bertus is typical of this crowd. A thickly muscled ex-cop with 18 years of experience, he served in South Africa’s notorious Koevoet battalion, which fought a proxy war against the Marxist government of Angola. He’s now employed by Reed, a company established in 2003 by the former South African military attache in Washington, D.C. Many of Bertus’ Afrikaner cohorts had been discharged after “the changes” in South Africa, he says, and few had been able to find work. Bertus had been a cattle farmer, but working in Iraq is far more profitable, well worth defying the South African government, which recently passed a law prohibiting its citizens from working in Iraq, or as mercenaries anywhere. Fearing arrest, most of the South Africans I met in Iraq didn’t expect to return home; they’d earn enough to bring their families abroad. “We weren’t given no futures,” one says, explaining that he left the South African army after being told, “You, as a white major, have no future in this regime.”

The South Africans are popular with U.S. companies, and even the U.S. government, which uses them as bodyguards for high-ranking officials. “If losses are taken, it’s not soldiers killed,” Bertus says, explaining the appeal of using contractors, “and if civilians are killed in the crossfire, then they can’t blame it on the Army”—though he claims that is less likely to happen when the contractors are former cops like himself. “If you are a soldier it’s straightforward: Wipe out everything in front of you. Police must use discretion, and policemen are better drivers.” I met him while he was temporarily posted in comparatively peaceful Kurdistan, and he was getting bored. “I miss the action,” he said. “I miss Baghdad, the sweat on my hands.”

Quite a few South African bodyguards work for DynCorp, a Falls Church, Virginia-based company that has drug interdiction contracts in Colombia and Afghanistan and works in Iraq to protect U.S. officials and train Iraqi police. (DynCorp has had its share of scandals, including, during one excursion, providing cnn‘s Tucker Carlson an AK-47 and commandeering an Iraqi gas station. In February, federal auditors cited DynCorp for wasting millions on projects, including building an unapproved, Olympic-sized swimming pool at the behest of Iraqi police officials.) DynCorp has taken over the Baghdad Hotel on Saadun Street, which comes under regular attack despite the concrete blast walls that ring it. Iraqis protect the perimeter while inside the bodyguards are Americans, South Africans, and, chatting in Portuguese, former Angolans who’d fought alongside the South Africans and been granted citizenship by the apartheid government but who no longer feel welcome in South Africa either.

Among the DynCorp contractors the South Africans have protected are the 500 American police officers brought in to train, mentor, and advise the Iraqi police. “Risk is the single biggest challenge here,” explains Chief Mike Heidingsfield, who runs the training program. I met him in November 2005; in the four months prior to my visit, two U.S. police officers and three members of their security details had been killed. Heidingsfield shows would-be American recruits a PowerPoint with pictures of devastation and death, so they will have no illusions about what to expect. Most who take the job, he acknowledges, come from low-paid police forces in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida.

Traditional police-training missions include the introduction of democratic principles, notes Heidingsfield. “But the insurgency is so strong, the police became a counterinsurgency force. The challenge is to not end up with a paramilitary unit that doesn’t respect democratic principles.” He admits the task is very difficult. Under Saddam, he says, the police were “a system to shake down the local population for bribes. We had to change the cultural attitude of what police duty is.”

Heidingsfield’s boss, lawyer and former cop Patrick Mahaney, served in Kosovo on a similar training mission. There Mahaney had executive authority, meaning he could arrest people. But in Iraq, and in a similar program in Afghanistan, he and his men are just advisers. Mahaney brought 22 years of policing experience with him, preceded by military service. He’s studying Spanish, hoping to be a part of the DynCorp mission he is sure will soon head to post-Castro Cuba. “I can’t wait,” he says.

Not all private security companies are foreign-owned. The psc employing Pirate and Steeler is owned by a Kurdish peshmerga (literally, “facing death”) commander. Most of his employees are also Iraqi Kurds, but he also employs a dozen former Lebanese militiamen, 10 Americans, and 1 Canadian.

On one trip to Iraq, two of those Americans, Wade and Tom, both thirtysomething former Washington state National Guardsmen who’ve done tours of duty in Iraq, offer to pick me up from the Baghdad airport. Wade’s a Captain America type; he trains every night in the makeshift, rusty gym he and Tom have set up outside their house in the Green Zone. Tom has brown hair, a slight belly, and always wears a smirk. A weapons-repair expert and a plumber in civilian life, he can fix anything.

As is standard when landing in Baghdad, my plane had taken a sudden, steep plunge at 10,000 feet to avoid any surface-to-air missiles. More dangerous than the landing is Route Irish, the five-mile road from the airport to the Green Zone. Route Irish is lined with reeds and bushes providing excellent cover for attackers. Some weeks feature daily suicide-car explosions, and traffic often stands for hours at a time, thanks to firefights, car bombs, protests, American roadblocks, and general chaos. Iraqi police and soldiers, many trained by DynCorp and other contractors in “force protection” tactics, blaze through such jams in pickup trucks, aiming their weapons menacingly at anyone who comes too close, firing into the air, and sometimes at cars that linger in their path too long.

Wade drove a dusty, old, black Mercedes, followed by a “chase car” with a crew of Kurds whose job was to provide extra firepower. We started hearing gunfire as soon as the car left the airport; any car that came too close was waved off by the gun-brandishing Kurds. Very few Westerners drive themselves in Baghdad, and as we sat in traffic, stunned Iraqis glanced at Wade again and again.

As it turned out, the Kurdish psc Wade and Tom work for had been contracted to guard the same giant supply depot that JB once protected. There, Pirate and a lanky, tattooed ex-Louisiana cop took new Kurdish hires to the depot’s gun range and, much to the chagrin of the former peshmerga fighters, gave them basic weapons training, teaching proper posture and breathing, painstakingly demonstrating how to squeeze the butt into the shoulder and place a cheek against the weapon. The lesson then progressed to reloading magazines quickly and with one hand, and then to shooting while moving as a team. These skills are essential for the Kurds, who face insurgents and highway robbers who stage complex ambushes—a roadside bomb followed by grenade attacks and machine-gun fire to take out the lead and rear vehicles and pin down an entire convoy.

The new hires are led by a handsome young Kurd named Soran who joined the peshmerga at 13, occasionally fighting alongside U.S. Special Forces. Soran’s American boss only gives his call sign, Buddha. He is the ultimate commander of what he describes as a light battalion of 425 peshmerga and three Western supervisors. Grizzled and cigar smoking, Buddha spent 20 years in the U.S. Army, retiring as a captain from the elite counterterror Delta Force. He’d subsequently engaged in private operations on behalf of the U.S. government for two decades, including Oliver North’s Iran-Contra operations; later, he headed the private security detail of Haitian president Jean-Bertrand Aristide. During the coup that forced Aristide from power, he claims, he was called to the U.S. Embassy and told that if he continued to protect Aristide, his Army pension would be revoked. Buddha still has a home in Haiti, and a Haitian wife. Of the Kurds he trained, he jokes: “They have to understand what the bump on the end of the barrel is for.” The Kurds make an average of $300 to $500 a month. On average, American security contractors make between $9,000 and $12,000 a month. Wade, for example, earns $13,000 a month; his National Guard officer’s pay had been $5,000 a month.

The supply depot typically receives 30 to 40 rounds of mortar fire a week, but that’s recently tapered off, Buddha explains. He adds that the range of the mortars is 1,300 meters, which “happens to be the range of my sniper rifle,” and smiles as he tells me he’d “successfully engaged” insurgents attacking the compound. He’s been known to don the traditional dishdasha that locals wear, and the shemagh, or head scarf, to conduct reconnaissance.

Buddha is not optimistic about the war his Army friends are fighting. “I’ve never seen a war of occupation that worked,” he says. “This is an unconventional war being fought by a conventional army.” And like other contractors, he says the war depends on the likes of him: “Without us, they could crunch numbers and lie to the public all day, but they wouldn’t be able to do it.” Long after the American military withdraws, security contractors will remain: “The Iraqi government will have to come to the private security industry because the Iraqi government will face the same problems the U.S. government faces.”

Since the invasion, various events have called into question the use of private security contractors: the Blackwater incident, Titan Corp.’s involvement in the Abu Ghraib scandal, each new report of cost overruns or of a particularly unsavory Serbian, South African, or Chilean found to be taking extrajudicial measures. But the truth is more complicated: Because there’s also the fact that we decided to invade, and to do so with an inadequate force, and to cover our asses by deploying a shadow force. One for which there will never be flag-draped coffins, or a monument on the Mall. In World War II and Vietnam, the cooks, the truck drivers, the ditch diggers, and, yes, the bodyguards, were all military personnel. Now, with little regard for the consequences, we outsource such dirty work to those who will, for whatever reason, decide the rewards are worth the risk.

A few days after I left, Wade, who has a master’s degree in geology but came to Iraq to support his wife and two children, emailed me with an update. Tom had been hit by an ied while driving the same armored black Mercedes I’d ridden around in. “The armor did its job,” Wade reported. Tom had emerged unscathed, if shaken. Wade would tell such stories to his wife, even though they worried her sick. (Security contractors reportedly have astronomical divorce rates.) At the end of Wade’s last trip stateside, his then seven-year-old son accompanied him to the airport. “He cried for five minutes,” Wade said. “I almost changed my mind about going.”

A few months later, after three years in Iraq, he did. “My absence was beginning to severely affect my son and my teenage daughter, and my marriage was suffering pretty significantly. It wasn’t worth it anymore, no matter how much money I could make. My wife and I had some pretty rough times in the months after I returned, but we’re doing very well. Life is great. I have never looked back.”

A very private war by Jeremy Scahill (Blackwater)

August 2, 2007

A very private war by Jeremy Scahill (Blackwater)


There are 48,000 ’security contractors’ in Iraq, working for private companies growing rich on the back of US policy. But can it be a good thing to have so many mercenaries operating without any democratic control?

Jeremy Scahill reports
ICH
08/01/07 “
The Guardian

It was described as a “powder keg” moment. In late May, just across the Tigris river from Baghdad’s fortified Green Zone, a heavily armed convoy of American forces was driving down a street near the Iraqi Interior Ministry. They were transporting US officials in what is known widely among the occupation forces as the “red zone” – essentially, any area of Iraq that does not fall inside the US-built “emerald city” in the capital. The American guards were on the look-out for any threat lurking on the roads. Not far from their convoy, an Iraqi driver was pulling out of a petrol station. When the Americans encountered the Iraqi driver, they determined him to be a potential suicide car bomber. In Iraq it has become common for such convoys to fire off rounds from a machine gun at approaching Iraqi vehicles, much to the outrage of Iraqi civilians and officials. The Americans say this particular Iraqi vehicle was getting too close to their convoy and that they tried to warn it to back off. They say they fired a warning shot at the car’s radiator before firing directly into the windshield of the car, killing the driver. Some Iraqi witnesses said the shooting was unprovoked. In the ensuing chaos, the Americans reportedly refused to give their names or details of the incident to Iraqi officials, sparking a tense standoff between the Americans and Iraqi forces, both of which were armed with assault rifles. It could have become even more bloody before a US military convoy arrived on the scene.

A senior US adviser to the Iraqi Interior Ministry’s intelligence division told the Washington Post that the incident threatened to “undermine a lot of the cordial relationships that have been built up over the past four years. There’s a lot of angry people up here right now.”

While there is ongoing outrage between Iraqis and the military over such deadly incidents, this one came with a different, but increasingly common, twist: The Americans involved in the shooting were neither US military nor civilians. They were operatives working for a secretive mercenary firm based in the wilderness of North Carolina. Its name is Blackwater USA.

It was hardly the company’s first taste of action in Iraq, where it has operated almost since the first days of the occupation. Its convoys have been ambushed, its helicopters brought down, its men burned and dragged through the streets of Falluja, giving the Bush administration a justification for laying siege to the city. In all, the company has lost about 30 men in Iraq. It has also engaged in firefights with the Shia Mahdi Army, and succeeded by all means necessary in keeping alive every US ambassador to serve in post-invasion Iraq, along with more than 90 visiting US congressional delegations.

Just one day before the May shooting, in almost the exact same neighbourhood, Blackwater operatives found themselves in another gun battle, lasting an hour, that drew in both US military and Iraqi forces, in which at least four Iraqis are said to have died. The shoot-out was reportedly spurred by a well-coordinated ambush of Blackwater’s convoy. US sources said the guards “did their job”, keeping the officials alive.

In another incident that has caused major tensions between Baghdad and Washington, an off-duty Blackwater operative is alleged to have shot and killed an Iraqi bodyguard of the Shia vice-president Adil Abdul-Mahdi last Christmas Eve inside the Green Zone. Blackwater officials confirm that after the incident they whisked the contractor safely out of Iraq, which they say Washington ordered them to do. Iraqi officials labelled the killing a “murder”. The company says it fired the contractor but he has yet to be publicly charged with any crime.

Iraqi officials have consistently complained about the conduct of Blackwater and other contractors – and the legal barriers to their attempts to investigate or prosecute alleged wrongdoing. Four years into the occupation, there is absolutely no effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and their operations. They have not been subjected to military justice, and only two cases have ever reached US civilian courts, under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which covers some contractors working abroad. (One man was charged with stabbing a fellow contractor, in a case that has yet to go to trial, while the other was sentenced to three years for possession of child-pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison.) No matter what their acts in Iraq, contractors cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts, thanks to US-imposed edicts dating back to Paul Bremer’s post-invasion Coalition Provisional Authority.

The internet is alive with videos of contractors seemingly using Iraqi vehicles for target practice, much to the embarrassment of the firms involved. Yet, despite these incidents, and although 64 US soldiers have been court-martialled on murder-related charges, not a single armed contractor has been prosecuted for any crime, let alone a crime against an Iraqi. US contractors in Iraq reportedly have a motto: “What happens here today, stays here today.”

At home in America, Blackwater is facing at least two wrongful-death lawsuits, one stemming from the mob killings of four of its men in Falluja in March 2004, the other for a Blackwater plane crash in Afghanistan in November 2004, in which a number of US soldiers were killed. In both cases, families of the deceased charge that Blackwater’s negligence led to the deaths. (Blackwater has argued that it cannot be sued and should enjoy the same immunity as the US military.) The company is also facing a mounting Congressional investigation into its activities. Despite all of this, US State Department officials heap nothing but words of praise on Blackwater for doing the job and doing it well.

There are now 630 companies working in Iraq on contract for the US government, with personnel from more than 100 countries offering services ranging from cooking and driving to the protection of high-ranking army officers. Their 180,000 employees now outnumber America’s 160,000 official troops. The precise number of mercenaries is unclear, but last year, a US government report identified 48,000 employees of private military/security firms.

Blackwater is far from being the biggest mercenary firm operating in Iraq, nor is it the most profitable. But it has the closest proximity to the throne in Washington and to radical rightwing causes, leading some critics to label it a “Republican guard”. Blackwater offers the services of some of the most elite forces in the world and is tasked with some of the occupation’s most “mission-critical” activities, namely keeping alive the most hated men in Baghdad – a fact it has deftly used as a marketing tool. Since the Iraq invasion began four years ago, Blackwater has emerged out of its compound near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina as the trendsetter of the mercenary industry, leading the way toward a legitimisation of one of the world’s dirtiest professions. And it owes its meteoric rise to the policies of the Bush administration.

Since the launch of the “war on terror”, the administration has funnelled billions of dollars in public funds to US war corporations such as Blackwater USA, DynCorp and Triple Canopy. These companies have used the money to build up private armies that rival or outgun many of the world’s national militaries.

A decade ago, Blackwater barely existed; and yet its “diplomatic security” contracts since mid-2004, with the State Department alone, total more than $750m (£370m). It protects the US ambassador and other senior officials in Iraq as well as visiting Congressional delegations; it trains Afghan security forces, and was deployed in the oil-rich Caspian Sea region, setting up a “command and control” centre just miles from the Iranian border. The company was also hired to protect emergency operations and facilities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where it raked in $240,000 (£120,000) a day from the American taxpayer, billing $950 (£470) a day per Blackwater contractor.

Yet this is still just a fraction of the company’s business. It also runs an impressive domestic law-enforcement and military training system inside the US. While some of its competitors may have more forces deployed in more countries around the globe, none have organised their troops and facilities more like an actual military.

At present, Blackwater has forces deployed in nine countries and boasts a database of 21,000 additional troops at the ready, a fleet of more than 20 aircraft, including helicopter gun-ships, and the world’s largest private military facility – a 7,000-acre compound in North Carolina. It recently opened a new facility in Illinois (Blackwater North) and is fighting local opposition to a third planned domestic facility near San Diego (Blackwater West) by the Mexican border. It is also manufacturing an armoured vehicle (nicknamed the Grizzly) and surveillance blimps.

The man behind this empire is 38-year-old Erik Prince, a secretive, conservative Christian who once served with the US Navy’s special forces and has made major campaign contributions to President Bush and his allies. Among Blackwater’s senior executives are J Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA; Robert Richer, former deputy director of operations at the CIA; Joseph Schmitz, former Pentagon inspector general; and an impressive array of other retired military and intelligence officials. Company executives recently announced the creation of a new private intelligence company, Total Intelligence, to be headed by Black and Richer. Blackwater executives boast that some of their work for the government is so sensitive that the company cannot tell one federal agency what it is doing for another.

In many ways, Blackwater’s rapid ascent to prominence within the US war machine symbolises what could be called Bush’s mercenary revolution. Much has been made of the administration’s “failure” to build international consensus for the invasion of Iraq, but perhaps that was never the intention. Almost from the beginning, the White House substituted international diplomacy with lucrative war contracts. When US tanks rolled into Iraq in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of “private contractors” ever deployed in a war.

While precise data on the extent of American spending on mercenary services is nearly impossible to obtain, Congressional sources say that the US has spent at least $6bn (£3bn) in Iraq, while Britain has spent some £200m. Like America, Britain has used private security from firms like ArmorGroup to guard Foreign Office and International Development officials in Iraq. Other British firms are used to protect private companies and media, but UK firms do their biggest business with Washington. The single largest US contract for private security in Iraq has for years been held by the British firm Aegis, headed by Tim Spicer, the retired British lieutenant-colonel who was implicated in the Arms to Africa scandal of the late 1990s, when weapons were shipped to a Sierra Leone militia leader during a weapons embargo. Aegis’s Iraq contract – essentially coordinating the private military firms in Iraq – was valued at approximately $300m (£1147m) and drew protests from US competitors and lawmakers.

At present, a US or British special forces veteran working for a private security company in Iraq can make $650 (£320) a day, after the company takes its cut. At times the rate has reached $1,000 (£490) a day – pay that dwarfs that of active-duty troops. “We got [tens of thousands of] contractors over there, some of them making more than the secretary of defense,” John Murtha, chairman of the House defense appropriations subcommittee, recently said. “How in the hell do you justify that?”

In part, these contractors do mundane jobs that traditionally have been performed by soldiers, from driving trucks to doing laundry. These services are provided through companies such as Halliburton, KBR and Fluor and through their vast labyrinth of subcontractors. But increasingly, private personnel are engaged in armed combat and “security” operations. They interrogate prisoners, gather intelligence, operate rendition flights, protect senior occupation officials – including some commanding US generals – and in some cases have taken command of US and international troops in battle. In an admission that speaks volumes about the extent of the privatisation, General David Petraeus, who is implementing Bush’s troop surge, said earlier this year that he has, at times, not been guarded in Iraq by the US military but “secured by contract security”. At least three US commanding generals are currently being guarded in Iraq by hired guns.

“To have half of your army be contractors, I don’t know that there’s a precedent for that,” says Congressman Dennis Kucinich, a member of the House oversight and government reform committee, which has been investigating war contractors. “There’s no democratic control and there’s no intention to have democratic control here.”

The implications, still unacknowledged by many US lawmakers and world leaders four years into this revolution, are devastating. “One of the key tenets of managing international crises in the aftermath of the cold war was established in the first Gulf war,” says a veteran US diplomat, Joe Wilson, who served as the last US ambassador to Iraq before the 1991 Gulf war. “It was that management of these crises would be a coalition of like-minded nation states under the auspices of a United Nations Security Council resolution which gave the exercise the benefit of international law.” This time, “there is no underlying international legitimacy that sustains us throughout this action that we’ve taken.”

Moreover, this revolution means the US no longer needs to rely on its own citizens and those of its nation-state allies to staff its wars, nor does it need to implement a draft, which would have made the Iraq war politically untenable. Just as importantly, perhaps, it reduces the figure of “official” casualties. In Iraq alone, more than 900 US contractors have been killed, with another 13,000 wounded. The majority of these are not American citizens and these numbers are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are increasingly disturbed by their losses.

In Iraq, many contractors are run by Americans or Britons and have elite forces staffed by well-trained veterans of powerful militaries for use in sensitive actions or operations. But lower down, the ranks are filled by Iraqis and third-country nationals. Hundreds of Chilean mercenaries, for example, have been deployed by US companies such as Blackwater and Triple Canopy, despite the fact that Chile opposed the invasion and continues to oppose the occupation of Iraq. Some of the Chileans are alleged to be seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era.

Some 118,000 of the estimated 180,000 contractors in Iraq are Iraqis. The mercenary industry points to this as encouraging: we are giving Iraqis jobs, albeit occupying their own country in the service of a private corporation hired by a hostile invading power. As Doug Brooks, the head of the Orwellian-named mercenary trade group, the International Peace Operations Association, argued early in the occupation, “Museums do not need to be guarded by Abrams tanks when an Iraqi security guard working for a contractor can do the same job for less than one-50th of what it costs to maintain an American soldier. Hiring local guards gives Iraqis a stake in a successful future for their country. They use their pay to support their families and stimulate the economy. Perhaps most significantly, every guard means one less potential guerrilla.”

In many ways, however, it is the exact model used by multinational corporations that depend on poorly paid workers in developing countries to staff their highly profitable operations. This keeps prices down in the industrialised world and consumers numb to the reality of how the product ends up in their shopping basket.

“We have now seen the emergence of the hollow army,” says Naomi Klein, whose forthcoming book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explores these themes. “Much as with so-called hollow corporations such as Nike, billions are spent on military technology and design in rich countries while the manual labour and sweat work of invasion and occupation is increasingly outsourced to contractors who compete with each other to fill the work order for the lowest price. Just as this model breeds rampant abuse in the manufacturing sector – with the big-name brands always able to plead ignorance about the actions of their suppliers – so it does in the military, though with stakes that are immeasurably higher.”

In the case of Iraq, what is particularly frightening is that the US and UK governments could give the public the false impression that the occupation was being scaled down, while in reality it was simply being privatised. Indeed, shortly after Tony Blair announced that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers from Basra, reports emerged that the British government was considering sending in private security companies to “fill the gap left behind”.

Outsourcing is increasingly extending to extremely sensitive sectors, including intelligence. The investigative blogger RJ Hillhouse, whose site TheSpyWhoBilledMe.com regularly breaks news on the clandestine world of private contractors and US intelligence, recently established that Washington spends $42bn (£21bn) annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $18bn in 2000. Currently, that spending represents 70% of the US intelligence budget.

But the mercenary forces are also diversifying geographically: in Latin America, the massive US firm DynCorp is operating in Colombia, Bolivia and other countries as part of the “war on drugs” – US defence contractors are receiving nearly half the $630m in US military aid for Colombia; in Africa, mercenaries are deploying in Somalia, Congo and Sudan and increasingly have their sights set on tapping into the hefty UN peacekeeping budget; inside the US, private security staff now outnumber official law enforcement. Heavily armed mercenaries were deployed in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while there are proposals to privatise the US border patrol. Brooks, the private military industry lobbyist, says people should not become “overly obsessed with Iraq”, saying his association’s member companies “have more personnel working in UN and African Union peace operations than all but a handful of countries”.

Most worryingly of all, perhaps, powers that were once the exclusive realm of national governments are now in the hands of private companies whose prime loyalty is to their shareholders. CIA-type services, special operations, covert actions and small-scale military and paramilitary forces are now on the world market in a way not seen in modern history.

While the private military/security industry rejects the characterisation of their forces as mercenaries, Blackwater executives have turned the grey area in which they operate into a brand asset. The company has been quietly marketing its services to foreign governments and corporations through an off-shore affiliate, Greystone Ltd, registered in Barbados.

In early 2005, Blackwater held an extravagant, invitation-only Greystone “inauguration” at the swanky Ritz-Carlton hotel in Washington, DC. The guest list for the seven-hour event included weapons manufacturers, oil companies and diplomats from the likes of Uzbekistan, Yemen, the Philippines, Romania, Indonesia, Tunisia, Algeria, Hungary, Poland, Croatia, Kenya, Angola and Jordan. Several of those countries’ defence or military attaches attended. “It is more difficult than ever for your country to successfully protect its interests against diverse and complicated threats in today’s grey world,” Greystone’s promotional pamphlet told attendees. “Greystone is an international security services company that offers your country or organisation a complete solution to your most pressing security needs.”

Greystone said its forces were prepared for “ready deployment in support of national security objectives as well as private interests”. Among the “services” offered were mobile security teams, which could be employed for personal security operations, surveillance and countersurveillance. Applicants for jobs with Greystone were asked to check off their qualifications in weapons: AK-47 rifle, Glock 19, M-16 series rifle, M-4 carbine rifle, machine gun, mortar and shoulder-fired weapons. Among the skills sought were: Sniper, Marksman, Door Gunner, Explosive Ordnance, Counter Assault Team.

While Blackwater has become one of the most powerful and influential private actors in international conflict since the launch of the war on terror, in many ways it is like a small, high-end boutique surrounded by megastores such as DynCorp, ArmourGroup and Erynis, operating in a $100bn industry. In fact, experts say, there are now more private military companies operating internationally than there are member nations at the UN.

“I think it’s extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource its monopoly on the use of force … in support of its foreign policy or national security objectives,” says Wilson. The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies, he says, “makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body politic and an interest group that is, in fact, armed. And the question will arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?”

Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a Democrat and a leading member of the House select committee on intelligence, echoes those fears. “The one thing the people think of as being in the purview of the government is the use of military power. Suddenly you’ve got a for-profit corporation going around the world that is more powerful than states”.

At war with the Pentagon

How Rumsfeld paved the way for Blackwater

The world was a very different place on September 10 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld stepped on to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver one of his first major addresses as defense secretary under President George W Bush. For most Americans, there was no such thing as al-Qaida, and Saddam Hussein was still the president of Iraq. Rumsfeld had served in the post once before – under President Gerald Ford, from 1975 to 1977 – and he returned to the job in 2001 with ambitious visions. That September day, in the first year of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld addressed the Pentagon officials in charge of overseeing the high-stakes business of defence contracting – managing the Halliburtons, DynCorps and Bechtels. The secretary stood before a gaggle of former corporate executives from Enron, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics and Aerospace Corporation whom he had tapped as his top deputies at the department of defense, and he issued a declaration of war.

“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America,” Rumsfeld thundered. “This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defence of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.”

Pausing briefly for dramatic effect, Rumsfeld – himself a veteran cold warrior – told his new staff, “Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary. The adversary’s much closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.”

Rumsfeld called for a wholesale shift in the running of the Pentagon, supplanting the old department of defense bureaucracy with a new model, one based on the private sector. The problem, Rumsfeld said, was that unlike businesses, “governments can’t die, so we need to find other incentives for bureaucracy to adapt and improve.” The stakes, he declared, were dire – “a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s.”

That day, Rumsfeld announced a major initiative to streamline the use of the private sector in the waging of America’s wars and predicted his initiative would meet fierce resistance. “Some might ask, ‘How in the world could the secretary of defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people?’” Rumsfeld told his audience. “To them I reply, I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

The next morning, the Pentagon would literally be attacked as American Airlines Flight 77 – a Boeing 757 – smashed into its western wall. Rumsfeld would famously assist rescue workers in pulling bodies from the rubble. But it didn’t take long for him to seize the almost unthinkable opportunity presented by 9/11 to put his personal war on the fast track.

· An extract from Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (published by Serpent’s Tail, price £12.99). © 2007 Jeremy Scahill. To order a copy for £11.99 with free UK p&p go to guardian.co.uk/bookshop or call 0870 836 0875.