Blackwater Feed

How to Investigate Blackwater USA

The minute the Congress called my name
I'd say, "Now who do
Who do you think you're fooling?"

Paul Simon, "Loves Me Like a Rock" (1973)

"We're a private company, and there's a key word there -- private,"

—Erik Prince, Owner and CEO of Blackwater USA, testifying before The US House Oversight & Government Reform Committee, 10/2/07 when asked to share Blackwater's financials with Congress

That rumor you heard about me trying to kill at least one savage everytime I left the wire? TRUE.


Ben Thomas, aka Mookie Spicoli, formerly employed by Blackwater USA in Iraq, as he posted April 8, 2006 to the discussion board Get Off the X.

So at long last, Congress has started to investigate Blackwater USA in earnest. That's great, but way too late.

Hauling Erik Prince in to testify before Congress was a necessary first step but won't get anyone very far. Prince has made a fetish of his privacy, and with the State Department's collusion, there isn't much that our elected representatives can get Prince to say on a public forum. But Prince did say one big important thing: What Blackwater does when its contractors run amok is fire them.

So here's how Congress should go about investigating Blackwater: They should subpoena all personnel records that resulted in the firing of their security contractors, and all documents related to the firings, and they should subpoena the entire group of ex-Blackwater security contractors who were let go for cause.

That is, as it were, where the bodies are buried. I also suggest they start their list of ex-Blackwater subpoenas with Ben Thomas.

The continuing Blackwater saga: You don't need a weather man to know which way the wind blows

The National Review -- yes that National Review as in NRO online -- has just run an article by Mario Loyola which essentially explains why Blackwater and the other PMC should leave Iraq, and even uses the word "mercenaries" right there in its title: Mercenaries vs. Counterinsurgency: Blackwater could be a worse problem than you think.

The best way to protect your forces in a war is to the win and get them out. If, in the meantime, that requires that soldiers throw themselves at certain death on the beaches of Normandy — or on Haifa Street in Baghdad — then that is what they are expected to do.

And today in Iraq, that is exactly what they are doing. In countless situations, they fight against their survival instincts and lower their guard so the population feels safer. They refuse to return fire when fired upon if they cannot positively “ID” the shooter. They offer their lives so the insurgents don’t find a way to take advantage of their firepower. Their willingness to give their lives for the mission is what the military is all about — and it is what the counterinsurgency strategy presumes most vitally.

The problem with security contractors is pretty clear: Central Command isn’t even sure how many there are — according to one source in the Post article, there could be as many as 50,000. They are heavily armed, and use their best judgment of what is necessary for their own protection — not for winning the war. The COIN [counterinsurgency] strategy doesn’t apply to them. But because neither the insurgents nor the Iraqi people distinguish between contractors and soldiers, what you have in Iraq today is a situation in which perhaps 25-percent of the perceived coalition "force" is operating outside the chain of command, and in violation of the stated strategy.

That means that in the neighborhoods of Baghdad, our soldiers are exercising deadly restraint to win over the population, day after day, for months and weeks on end — and all of their work can unravel, all of their sacrifices thrown to the wind because of just one shooting incident carried out by private mercenaries. This is unacceptable — not least because the resulting effect is an increase in risks for our soldiers.


UDPATE 9/28/07: From The New York Times:

Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.

Iraq bans Blackwater? US State Dept turtle to operate without its shell?

Wow. Iraq has banned Blackwater, icon of the boom in military privatization, from operating anywhere in Iraq following a shootout involving some of its contractors in which civilians were killed.

I would have liked to think this was inevitable, but I am astonished. I'm told, however, that Blackwater doesn't need a license to operate in Iraq there since they work exclusively for the US State dept there. Wonder how this will play out.

One of the truisms of the private military industry is that everyone involved talks about the other guys being "cowboys" but describes themselves as professionals. The incident  that lead the Iraqi Interior Ministry to pull their license to operate in Iraq, as described by the AP, sounds like an Old West shootout.

The convoy carrying officials from the US state department came under attack at about 1230 local time on Sunday as it passed through Nisoor Square in the predominantly Sunni neighbourhood of Mansour.

The Blackwater security guards accompanying the convoy returned fire, killing eight people and wounding 13 others, Iraqi officials said.

Most of the dead and wounded were bystanders, the officials added. One of those killed was a policeman.

A spokesman for the US embassy in Baghdad later confirmed its security vehicles had been involved in the gunfight.

"They received small arms fire. One of the vehicles was disabled in the shooting and had to be towed from the scene," he said.

"The incident is being investigated by department of state diplomatic security service law enforcement officials in co-operation with the government of Iraq and multinational forces."

Blackwater has not yet commented on the incident.

Imagining how the US State Department would operate in Iraq without Blackwater is like imagining how a turtle would live without its shell.

Blackwater's website is only intermittently reachable this morning.

(Thanks, Rich. Also, thanks, RYP, for licensing info.)

See also Wired's write-up.

UPDATE: Apparently the work "inevitable" also came to P. W. Singer's mind. See Noah Shachtman's interesting piece Blackwater Ban "Inevitable." Looks to me like this is shaping up to be one of them there Historical Lessons.

Robert Young Pelton's Licensed to Kill: A Review

Ryp At long last, Robert Young Pelton's book, Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror, is out. (Back in December of 2005 when I pre-ordered it, I think it's scheduled pub date was something like April.) Despite its subject matter, the world of mercenaries and private military contractors, the book reads like a fascinating letter from a friend. It is thoughtful, funny, and humane in its exploration of a politically loaded topic.

Licensedtokill_1 In general, I expect that opinions on this book are going to gravitate around this issue of whether or not it's "biased," and in which direction. I'm not going to venture an opinion on that, since surely I am at least as "biased" as Pelton. What I will say is that Pelton treats his subjectmatter as ethically complex, which indeed it is. And he neither succumbs to over-identifying with the dudes he's hanging with, nor to simple repulsion at the whole enterprise.

The book opens with a Prologue detailing his meeting with Eric Prince, owner and founder of Blackwater, who articulates Blackwater’s ambitions, a corporately oriented optimism about the future of privatized military services. In the prologue, Pelton distinguishes between what in generally understood to be the distinction between mercenaries and security contractors:

Mercenaries fight, while security contractors protect,  . . . at least, that’s the dividing line that’s supposed to exist. (5)

Destabilizing this apparent distinction is a theme that continues throughout the book.

The book’s Introduction is just the sort of action scene editor’s like to have at the beginning of books: a round trip down the legendarily dangerous “Route Irish” to the Baghdad Airport with Blackwater’s Mamba Team:

. . . it’s 2:43 and we’ve just completed the most perilous eight-minute drive in the world. (13)

The main text of the book is in three sections:

1. Hired Guns, which discusses

  • the longest running CIA contractor, Billy Waugh,
  • contractors inside Pakistan involved in operations that aren't supposed to exist,
  • and the problematic use of American security contractors to guard foreign heads of state;

2. The New Breed, which focuses mostly on Blackwater; and

3. Of Rogues and Tycoons, which covers such characters as Jonathan Keith "Jack" Idema, Tim Spicer, executives of Blackwater, Richard Bethell (Lord Westbury), Simon Mann, and Niek Du Toit.

A fair amount of what is in this book has been touched on at one point or another in my blog.

Billywaugh_1 The Prologue and Introduction introduce companies, characters and topics, while also promising more thrilling action. But it is with Chapter 1, Kill them All, that we really get going. It is the chapter about Billy Waugh and what, through a certain lens, might be seen as the Good Old Days when the CIA and it’s contractors could just go out and kill people; how the backlash against the Vietnam War reined in the CIA; how this played itself out later; how Waugh could have killed Osama bin Laden and didn’t because he wasn’t allowed to; and how this legacy played itself out in post-9/11 Afghanistan with both the CIA and the emergence of companies like Blackwater. Fascinating stuff. In principle, I knew a fair amount of what was in the chapter from reading a pile of CIA memoirs a while back, but Pelton’s chapter has a deeply unsettling historical momentum about it that the memoirs lack.

Chapter 2, Edge of Empire, is a wry discussion of the geopolitical realities (or unrealities?) of the area surrounding the Afghanistan/Pakistan border where bin Laden is sometimes said to be hiding. He finds an American base inside Pakistan that is not supposed to exist, that the actual border seems to be almost unmarked, and much else involving security contractors and surreal layers of deniability cleaving the official story from reality. Last year, when I was helping with disaster relief mapping following the Pakistan earthquake, I heard many peculiar things about the Pakistani government’s attitude towards maps—for example, that the exact location of some of the towns affected by the earthquake was initially considered by the government to be classified information—and this chapter puts some of that insanity into context for me.

Karzaisecurity Chapter 3, The Praetorian Guard, is an interesting exploration of the role of American security contractors as protectors for foreign heads of state. The examples in this chapter are Hamid Karzai in Afghanistan and Jean-Bertrand Aristide in Haiti, but Pelton revisits this topic toward the end of the book in his discussion of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, and what would have been Severo Moto’s situation had the coup succeeded: not good at all.

In Chapter 4, Confirmed Kills, we get a sense of the new security contractor utopia. The chapter opens at the Dallas Convention Center during the American Society for Industrial Security convention.

Before 9/11, the industry had only a limited market for the services of the men who now flock to these conferences looking for IC opportunities. The war in Afghanistan opened the door to more widespread employment of independent security contractors, and then Iraq kicked that door off it's hinges, stomped on it,  burned it, and scattered the ashes. Iraq has been to the private security industry what the development of the first user-friendly Web browser was to the dot-com boom. (97)

Bremer The chapter concludes with an important discussion of the role of Paul Bremer in the creation of this utopia, a section entitled "On Rules and Resentment."

Bush had opened up the War on Terror by issuing a license to kill with his post-9/11 presidential finding authorizing targeted assassination, but it would be Bremer's Order 17 that would really unleash the security contractors in Iraq. (114)

And this is what the Billy Waugh chapter has set us up for—to understand the nature of this utopia: these guys who might only find marginal employment in the US, can make $600 a day to go to Iraq and do what Waugh, for many years, was not allowed to do. The leash is off and the dogs are out.

Chapter 5, Blackwater Bridge, discusses the Fallujah incident, in which four Blackwater contractors died in gruesome ways and their remains paraded through the streets and hung from a bridge, as a turning point for the public perception of "security contractors" in Iraq, and its complex aftermath.

Chapters 6, Under Siege, is perhaps my favorite in the book. It explores the complexities of two notable combat situations, An Najaf and Al Kut. In the former situation, it seems that security contractors (whom the US military observed but did not assist) were expected to abandon their position on the roof of the Najaf CPA compound. Instead they stayed to fight and videotaped themselves doing it. The videos subsequently circulated on the Internet.

While the rules of engagement allowed contractors to fire in defense of their lives, the formulations of those rules had not anticipated contractors being dropped into a situation where they would engage in hours of combat without outside support. The other outcome that became very clear was that ex-soldiers given a license to kill may choose not to cut and run as they are trained and paid to do, but eagerly and repeatedly fire into the crowds that surround them. (153-154)

Najaf_1 This section gives a much clearer picture of why the security contractors circulated videos of themselves shooting at Iraqis: they were allowed to shoot when the US military and coalition forces were held back. In the "turkey shoot" video, the shooter, whom Pelton identifies as "Mookie Spicoli" clearly enjoys what he is doing.

The Al Kut incident shows the flip-side of this. A group of security contractors alert Bremer to impending problems, who asks them not to exaggerate. The men are unsupported and under attack for days. Some are killed. When they finally come up with a plan to escape with their lives, an official of the CPA tries to prevent their escape. The CPA seemed determined to use them up and throw them away like so much Kleenex: truly appalling. Apparently, although the dogs are out, they are sometimes treated like dogs.

Chapter 7, The Dog Track and the Swamp, chronicles Pelton's visits to Blackwater training facilities, one of which is a dog track. This chapter contains one of the most entertaining sections of the book in which Pelton himself gets to teach in a training program called Mirror Image which simulates, "terrorist recruiting, training techniques, and operational tactics." His students are "Special Forces, Secret Service, marines, FBI agents, independent contractors, and other hand-picked attendees." (183)  Pelton, who has been to Chechnya, has his team play "Chechens." The section is hilarious. I wish they had video of this.

The targets will be expecting the attackers to approach via one of the roads that lead into the village, so the Chechens sneak in from behind the berm of a live firing range and attack from behind, something that freaks out the lead instructor, but gives the team the perfect element of surprise. (192)

Clearly, Pelton was having a good time.

In Chapter 8, we revisit the Blackwater's Team Mamba in Baghdad, first introduced in the book's Introduction. Pelton gives a detailed sense of their day-to-day existence and of the circumstances of their employment. The chapter contains another of the book's funniest sections: when outgoing Blackwater security contractors and the plane crew go through security at Baghdad International Air Port on their way out of Iraq to Jordan:

At the gate, an older American with a bad comb-over pats us all down in a needlessly touchy body search—particularly needless when a flight member admits to Mr. Comb-Over that he is wearing a loaded 9-mm Glock. He gets searched anyway, and then hilariously they put his gun through the X-ray machine before returning it. . . .

Once we're on the plane, the Blackwater crew breaks open a large aluminum box and hands out a loaded M4 weapon to each passenger. (223)

Part 3, Of Rogues and Tycoons, begins with another of the book's funniest sections: Pelton's chapter on Jack Idema, a man emblematic of just how far a wannabee can go in a failed state, in this case Afghanistan in the post-9/11 culture of fear and confusion. The voice of Billy Waugh returns:

We only had 80 guys involved in our [Afghanistan] operations and Idema wasn't one of them. (239)

The best part of the chapter concerns Idema's rewriting of Robin Moore's The Hunt for bin Laden prior to its publication. Pelton writes:

I am actually featured in The Hunt for bin Laden and can speak from my own experience . . . Though they never met or talked to Idema, and despite the fact that almost ten members had carefully detailed their actions to Moore at K2, the first chapter puts forth an account of the team's infill into Afghanistan that the men tell me has been entirely fabricated. (243)

The chapter concludes with a paragraph that begins:

That such a transparent criminal could so easily label himself a contractor to act out his own covert paramilitary fantasy is a warning about the growing ubiquity of independent contractors. (250)

Bookcover Chapter 10, The Very Model of a Modern Major Mercenary, concerns the rise of Tim Spicer, former President of Sandline, widely regarded as an example of upward-mobile failure (though Pelton does not say this), and Spicer's new company Aegis. The description of Pelton's interview with Spicer is a comedy of manners. What Pelton does not mention is that he was previously sued and settled out of court for his depiction of Spicer in a previous book. Our narrator, however, is the author of The World's Most Dangerous Places and so does not fear to tread into the office of someone who sued him.  (I myself once had my own run-in with Spicer's attorney, Richard Slowe.) What I found most interesting in the chapter was former Sandline accountant Michael Grunberg's account of what the take was for those running Executive Outcomes:

Even though they had difficulty extracting payments from the second operation, the men had generated extraordinary persona income. After the successes in Angola and Sierra Leone, EO had come to a natural end. According to Grunberg, "Eben [Barlow] took ten million and walked away. They all did very well. Simon [Mann] pocketed $60 million and Tony [Buckingham] banked $90 million." (263)

Simon Mann, one of the Executive Outcomes founders, is to have a starring role in Chapter 12, in which the Equatorial Guinea coup attempt is discussed. Apparently, he wanted more from life.

Chapter 11, The Lord and the Prince, is an examination of how the legacy of Executive Outcomes ans Sandline informs and shapes the ambitions of the principals of Blackwater and of HART Security. Of particular interest to me was the account of HART's contract with the government of Somalia in light of my adventure late last year writing about Top Cat Marine Security's signing of a contract with the Transitional Government of Somalia. Pelton remarks of the HART contract:

Other similar ventures by former soldiers have always fallen apart due to inherent corruption in local governments. (290)

coup5.jpgChapter 12, The Bight of Benin Company, is the chapter I ordered the book for in the first place, back in December. It concerns the Equatorial Guinea coup plot, which is what first interested me in the subject of military privatization. If not for my reading about and researching what was up with N4610, a former US military plane which ended up in Zimbabwe with a load of mercenaries in it, back in March of 2004, I would not be writing this now, nor would I have read this book.

In addition to providing a smooth, gripping narrative of events I learned about by obsessively reading news stories coming out of Africa two years ago, he covers some documents I had previous access to, most notably a document entitled "Assisted Regime Change." All by themselves, these documents, with their paranoia and layers of duplicity even among plotters, give us a blueprint for a future dystopia if "regime change" is privatized on a large scale. Here's a sample:

The "Bight of Benin Company" (BBC), written in the archaic British schoolboy style typical of Simon Mann, is a Machiavellian plan laced with paranoia and greed. The document lays out a plan to turn EG into something resembling the British East India Company. It details the coup backers' intent to claim the sole right to make agreements ad contracts wit the newly installed government . . . The BBC makes it abundantly clear that Moto is disposable and that his main backer, Eli Khalil, was not to be trusted. (318)

N4610 One document he doesn't talk much about, but I have been told the contents of, is the contract for the purchase of N4610 from Dodson. One idiocy of the coup plot was that N4610 was a tail number registered to the US Air National Guard. So to me one big question was always why didn't the plotters take the trouble to paint on a different tail number. The answer is, I think, in the contract. The contract specified a buy-back price for the plane; viewed that way, it was essentially a rental agreement with a damage deposit. In my opinion, they didn't paint over the tail number because the plotters had to give the plane back; Sandline declared itself defunct about a month after the plane was impounded.

coup3.jpgWhile previous chapters showed how security contractors could be treated like dogs by those who employed them, one of the features of the Equatorial Guinea coup plot narrative is "the divide between the backers and those in prison." Though I have little sympathy for Simon Mann, for whom a $60 million take from Executive Outcomes was not enough, the coup backers did far too little to help him  -- and those arrested with him -- once he got busted. Simon Man is currently fighting extradition from his jail cell in Zimbabwe to Equatorial Guinea, where he could expect a much longer jail sentence.

Pelton as it happens had once retained Nick du Toit, leader of the EQ-based portion of the plot, for security in a 2002 trip to Africa. He returns to Africa and interviews du Toit in jail.

What I learned from Niek is that in the debate between contractor and mercenary, it will always come down to the individual. When Niek du Toit was my security man, I knew him as an upstanding, loyal, dependable provider of security in what was at the time the world's most dangerous place. Now, four years later, he is a criminal behind bars for what appears to be the rest of his life. (333)

The book concludes with an Epilogue in which Pelton visits one of the Blackwater contractors he spent time with in Baghdad after the man's return the the US. The man was badly injured after Pelton's departure. The epilogue is a mediation on both the lack of accounting on the actual number of security contractor deaths, and on the contractors' own lack of accountability:

As of spring 2006, there has not been one single contractor charged for any crime that occurred in Iraq, though hundreds of soldiers have been court-martialed for offenses ranging from minor violations of military code to murder. (341)

He remarks also:

Working in violent areas and being given a license to kill can be frightening to some and an addictive adrenaline rush to others. It is impossible to predict how successfully the thousands of security contractors now working in Iraq will integrate back into normal civilian life after their wellspring of employment dries up.  (342)

Rypinshadowcompany Elsewhere, interviewed in  Nick Bicanic and Jason Bourque's documentary Shadow Company, Pelton is a bit more blunt. He says: "Some of these guys couldn't work in Walmart."

Corporatizing war is presented by the purveyors of private military services as a way of streamlining, of cutting out the red tape, of increasing efficiency, under controlled circumstances. But throughout the book, Pelton has shown just how fluid the line is between security contractor and mercenary, between defending a fixed asset and just plain combat, between security guard and criminal.

Combine this with the current nostalgia for the olden days when political assassination was an essential part of the toolbox of American foreign policy, and a move to reinstate that practice happening simultaneously with a massive swing toward privatization, and we find that our world is a strange place indeed.

An important theme of the book is the contrast between American and British attitudes toward privatized security:

It becomes clear to me during the meeting that there remains a very high wall between the HART's very English view of security, and of Blackwater's view of a brave new neocon world.  . . . While [Blackwater's Erik] Prince paints a flashy, high-tech, road-warrior-style military company that could solve any client's problem by an application of sheer brute force and advanced weaponry, [HART's] Richard [Bethell] and George [Simm] calmly promote the idea of low-key and culturally integrated solutions. (301)

This contrast corresponds roughly to the contrast between American and British imperialism, but an imperialism at least partly uncoupled from the traditional imperialist powers, namely governments; an imperialism increasingly removed from oversight by the British and American publics.

What we have here, in the end, is an important book on where the 21st century is taking us, exploring the dystopian potiential of military privatization, even for the very people engaged in it. If there is any possibility to avert the dystopia, it lies in transparency. And so this book is very much a step in the right direction.

Top Cat Has Security Personnel After All . . . or Do They?

Peter Casini of Top Cat Marine Security which signed a deal last week with the transitional government of Somalia to help them out with their pirate problem, has continually claimed he has competent security people to back him up, but had thus far refrained from naming them publicly. Mr. Casini's a little inarticulate, so I'll help him out.  All the quoted text is from a Top Cat brochure from last August. So who are these mystery men with the great reputations that got him the Somalia contract?

Here they are (html; pdf):

  • Bachelor Number 1:

    Rocco Procopio is a 20-year veteran of the U.S. Army's Special Forces and has more than 16 years concentrated counterterrorism experience with the Army's Special Forces Operational Detachment Delta. He assisted with writing government standards for conducting Criticality, Threat and Security Vulnerability Assessments with the Defense Threat Reduction Agency. He is recognized as an expert in the field of Critical Infrastructure Protection and has personally conducted more than 100 SVAs on and off shore during his tenure with the government. Procopio directs the international security efforts for a major U.S. oil company and is a member of the Overseas Security Advisory Council. He holds a master's degree in international relations.

  • Bachelor Number 2:

    Col. Bernard J. McCabe (Ret.) has 30 years experience in the U.S. Army. He served in the 82nd Airborne Division as an artilleryman, commanded the Howitzer Battery in the 2nd Squadron, 2nd Armored Cavalry Regiment. He served 19 years in the Special Forces Operational Detachment-Delta assuming command in June 1994. He relinquished command of 1st SFOD-D in June 1996 and ended his career at the Army Special Warfare Center in 1996. Since his retirement, McCabe has been a security consultant to three major U.S. petroleum corporations and has been retained as a security consultant by several aviation and maritime companies in the United States. He is currently manager of Global Security for the Marathon Oil Corporation. McCabe holds a master's degree from Harvard University at the Naval War College and has taught military history at Francis Marion University in Florence, S.C.

  • Bachelor Number 3: [See 12/31/05 post.]

    Master Chief Thomas J. Parnin has more than 20 years experience with the U.S. Navy. He completed Hull Maintenance Technician "A" school and then reported to Basic Underwater Demolition/Seal Class 114 graduating in 1981. He completed three six-month deployments to the Western Pacific with Underwater Demolition Team 11 and Seal Team Five. Parnin returned to the tactical mobility team where his primary duties included the operation and navigation of high performance open ocean assault boats, combat rubber raiding craft, riverine assault boats, tactical ground mobility vehicles and the conduct of the full spectrum of unconventional warfare operations. Since 2000, he has been serving as Tactical Mobility Advanced Training Department Head specializing in the selection and implementation of the latest technological developments in maritime and land based navigation systems including radar, GPS, electronic chart plotting and visual augmentation systems.

Bernie McCabe, Bachelor Number 2, is the head of Global Security for Marathon Oil and was formerly the US representative for Sandline. I've written a fair amount about Sandline over time, but I've also had correspondence with their attorney Richard Slowe who takes exception to my use of verbs, and I don't have time to take the trouble to watch my language, so here is it's Wikipedia entry:

Sandline International was a private security ('military') company based in London, established in the early 1990s. It was involved in conflicts in Papua New Guinea in 1997 (having a contract with the government under Julius Chan), in 1998 in Sierra Leone (having a contract with illegally ousted President Kabbah) causing the Sandline affair and in Liberia in 2003 (in a rebel attempt to evict the then-president Charles Taylor near the end of the civil war).

Sandline was managed by former British Army Lt Col Tim Spicer. Sandline billed itself as a "Private Military Company" (PMC) and offered military training, "operational support" (equipment and arms procurement and limited direct military activity), intelligence gathering, and public relations services to governments and corporations. While the mass media often referred to Sandline as a mercenary company, the company's founders disputed that characterization.

Tim Spicer recounted his experiences with Sandline in the book An Unorthodox Soldier.

As of April 16, 2004 Sandline International has officially ceased operations.

McCabe has also worked or works for Lifeguard, another security company that is heir to the Executive Outcomes reputation. I don't know whether to phrase that relationship in the past or the present tense. I'm really curious about when McCabe took the job as head of Global Security for Marathon Oil. Why didn't I notice him when looking into the N4610 farce? I certainly would have written about him then if I had.

And regarding Marathon Oil, there is this bit from last night's post on Mountain Runner, Marathon, PETRONAS, and PexCo Oil and Somalia:

Reporting from Oil and Gas Investor indicates Marathon Oil, of Texas, and possibly other firms have taken over the Conoco claims, or at least is moving in on them, and bumping yet another company to boot.

Oh, by the way, can anyone fill in the photo captions for these pictures of what I gather is the celebrator dinner following the signing of the contract for Top Cat's Somalia deal?


Who is the guy on the far right in the tie who looks like Robert Redford? Who are the women standing? Anyone know? HERE is a better view of the group shot. [UPDATE: I'm told that the Redford-look-alike is Maryann Johnson's husband who works for Fox News; I'm told that the brunette is Top Cat VP Maryann Johnson who also works for Fox. I'd really like a name for the husband, since Fox is so high on Top Cat and outraged about Somali piracy, and cut-and-run Democrats, for that matter.]

Now, I don't want to demonize Sandline. It is a particular kind of company in a particular kind of industry and its people behave in specific ways. And so I think I should tell you a little more about my Sandline adventure.

Michael Grunberg of Sandline tried to get me to change something I'd written about the company, and I didn't cooperate, and so he had Sandline's attorney's get in touch with me. And they threatened to sue and so I negotiated. We arrived at a mutually acceptable wording, and everyone went away happy.

I thought Grunberg was an extremely vain pedant until I found out later why he cared what some woman in Pleasantville said about him on her blog. A guy named Pasquale John DiPofi, who had been trying to claim money owed Executive Outcomes, was trying to blackmail Grunberg into backing down on Sandline collecting on millions of dollars. DiPofi was at the time a Vice President at the private military firm Northbridge. Judging from the newspaper accounts, DiPofi's tactics were straight out of The Godfather.

I thought, how interesting, the mafia is trying to muscle out f*ing Sandline! Amazing. So what did Grunberg do about DiPofi? Did he have him bumped off? Kneecapped? No. Grunberg called the cops and had DiPofi arrested. Just what I would have done.

Returning to the subject of Top Cat, in the comment section of my previous Top Cat Post, someone calling himself "Subject Matter Expert" wrote the following:

I have a feeling your report could stir up quite a commotion in the private military sector; therefore, unless you've worked for such private firms and as to not endanger yourself (or your family), do not make such accusations or reports on such a private sector company.

Now, this guy wrote in from his desk at work from a small company in the Homeland Security Industry. He might as well have left me a business card. I'm not sure what his area of expertise is, but it certainly isn't Internet Security. Several very heavy dudes from real private military firms wrote in to reassure me that people in their industry don't behave like that. And in fact I know that. And so I infer that someone from DiPofi's industry has penetrated the Homeland Security market.

Then there's that person who wrote to me under the alias "patricia kennedy" whose letter I quoted in my previous Top Cat post. I didn't quote the whole thing. "She" expressed concern for my family and also suggested that I might wish to consider moving out of Pleasantville. Also number of people formerly associated with Casini have written to me to support my efforts, and there is a continuing theme to these letters: that they can't come forward  to tell their stories in public because they are concerned for their personal safety and the wellbeing of their families.

So why is it that when I write about Blackwater going into New Orleans, I get some outraged and insulting letters as well as intelligent correspondence from people in Blackwater's employ. And when I write about a washed up boat company masquerading as a private military firm, I get this? Just what does Mr. Casini bring to the table that the highly qualified gentlemen listed above don't have for themselves?

Perhaps Top Cat is having a little trouble adjusting to the corporate culture of its new industry.
Or perhaps it doesn't have an industry.

The brochure is real enough. But it is awfully hard to understand why a man like McCabe would have anything to do with a man like Casini.

UPDATE: I'm becoming increasingly convinced that Top Cat is a fraud from top to bottom. I have emailed a copy of the seminar brochure to Richard Slowe. I have also emailed media relations at Marathon Oil.

UPDATE, December 6th: I heard back from Richard Slowe this morning. It appears that the "Bernie McCabe" associated with Casini and Top Cat may not be who he claims. I'm also told that this "McCabe" is very insistent that he not be photographed.

Previously, I had suggested that Jim Kouri, who called Top Cat "one of the world's foremost private security agencies offering clients law enforcement, counterterrorism and marine combat specialists" was either a shill or an idiot. Now I understand that there is a third possibility: that Koui paid good money for Top Cat's security seminars; that he is a satisfied customer, i. e. a mark. Jim, boy, you've been had.

(Nor does he have guys from the original Black Hawk Down ready to go into Somalia and restore order to its seas. I checked.)

A QUESTION FOR CARNIVAL: Does you cruise lines have any contracts with Top Cat Marine Security?

UPDATE 12/6: See my new post Top Cat Marine Security Ordered to Cease & Desist.

UPDATE 12/9: I have made further inquiries into the matter of McCabe's connection with Top Cat. Despite rumours which seemed to emanate from Top Cat's camp that McCabe was in some way centrally involved with some portions of Top Cat's operations, it seems that McCabe has had no involvement with the management or actual operation of Top Cat Marine Security.

I'm told that information about Top Cat's actual management team would be available via the Freedom of Information Act by obtaining the paperwork they would be required to file with the US Government before signing an agreement with the transitional governemnt of Somalia. But I am also under the impression, perhaps mistaken, that no paperwork was filed. Filing for copies of non-existant paperwork would not be especially illuminating.

Someone who isn't me and has some actual financial stake in all this might want to blow $129 on this report from "Manta - Your Business Intelligence Authority."

UPDATE 12/21/05: Jarry Parnin explains he was only briefly involved with Top Cat, but identifies their management team, including naming McCabe.

The War on Weather

MilitarydisasterBack on September 6th, the new War on Weather was a Tom Tomorrow political cartoon. [If that link doesn't work, try this one.]  But the Bush administration is running a little low on ideas, so they are turning to some unusual sources. For example, the other day Bush's speech writers cribbed from a Naomi Klein Op-Ed piece for Bush's weekly radio address. If you read the Klein piece, the policies described in this passage from Bush's speech sound like they are paraphrased from Klein:

. . . the vision of a revitalized New Orleans should come from the people of New Orleans, and the vision of a new Gulf Coast of Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama should come from the people of those states. We will do everything we can to guide the recovery effort, and help them realize their vision so that communities along the Gulf Coast are better and stronger than before the storm.

Surely, he doesn't mean what she meant about letting the people rebuild New Orleans, but it sure sounds good, doesn't it?

But when White House strategists dipped into the Tom Tomorrow brain trust, the failed to notice that the War on Weather was supposed to be a joke.

But not only that, this borrowing of ideas from the left (serious or not) seems to be getting the President in hot water with conservatives. It seems that what he is proposing violates the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878 which prohibits the military from acting as a police force within the United States borders. Congress made an exception to the Act to allow for the use of the military in the "war on drugs" (see why they called it that?). And since 9/11, the White House has been angling for a loosening of the acts restrictions (and that's why they called efforts to prevent terrorism "the war on terror").  This is from yesterday's CNN article:

Gene Healy, a senior editor at the conservative Cato Institute, said Bush risks undermining "a fundamental principle of American law" by tinkering with the Posse Comitatus Act.

Healy said the act does not hinder the military's ability to respond to a crisis.

"What it does is set a high bar for the use of federal troops in a policing role," he wrote in a commentary on the group's Web site. "That reflects America's traditional distrust of using standing armies to enforce order at home, a distrust that's well-justified."

Healy said soldiers are not trained as police officers, and putting them in a civilian law enforcement role "can result in serious collateral damage to American life and liberty."

House Majority Leader Tom DeLay, a Texas Republican, told The Associated Press he would not favor expanding the federal government's disaster response role.

"I don't want the federal government to take over disaster response, believe me," DeLay told the AP. "Why? Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy. Bureaucracy."

I have a hard time understanding what it is that the Republican party still stands for if it is quite this easy for the Bush administration to discuss circumventing governors entirely and sending in the marines in the event of an "emergency." How elastic a definition can "emergency" have? When did states rights pass so thoroughly from the agenda?


High Country Conservative remarks:

I wonder whatever become of the concept of Federalism, once a major component of the Republican agenda. It seems that more and more agencies and government actions are being put under federal control. This, of course, give much more power to Washington, and vastly decreases the rights of the states.

Is this a conscious abandonment of the principle of federalism? Or is this whole line of thought just desperate ass-covering by an administration in freefall, indicative only of the ferocity of attempts to deflect blame to the locals?

(Anyone notice the extent to which the act was violated during the response to Katrina? Wasn't the whole rhetoric about sending in the military primarily concerned with restoring law and order? Certainly, having the military go in to replace the Fish & Wildlife Service, who had been defacto first responders in some areas rescuing people from their roofs, was an improvement. But to what extent were military forces acting as rescue workers, and to what extent as policemen? To hear the conservative bloggers tell it, policing the place was their main reason for being there. But I was paying more attention to what Blackwater was up to than the regular military, so I'm not sure what the real story is on the Posse Comitatus Act and New Orleans.)

Don_quichotte_1Or is it some kind of power fantasy? The whole notion of domestic militarization on this scale is hard to take seriously as policy. The 9/11 timelines, as concern Donald Rumsfeld, do not suggest that he would have reacted a lot faster than the slow-poke in charge of Homeland Security if faced with the Katrina disaster. Nor do Rumsfeld's failures to meet US goals (capturing Bin Laden? flowering democracies) in Afghanistan and Iraq make for a promising disaster management resume. But it is an idea with tremendous virility!

Just imagine the grand War on Weather. Donald astride his horse, in full military splendor, tilting at hurricanes.

UPDATE 9/28: After perusing posts using the word "Federalism" on Technorati, I am amused to report that the wingnut spin-of-the-day is that Democrats and Liberals are to blame for Bush's proposed attack on states' rights because we made him feel bad by suggesting that he take blame.

MEANWHILE, Karl Rove, busy creating his own more palatable reality, warns against "complacency."

UPDATE 9/30: Jeb Bush, writing in the Washington Post,  comes out against federalizing (i. e.  militarizing) disaster response. Perhaps that is the end of that.

Sonic Weapons?

When reading Xeni Jardin's new post, Xeni on NPR, CNN: Sonic Weapons in Iraq -- and now, US cities, I had this terrible feeling of de ja vu. Hadn't I just read something very like that, say yesterday, but it was fiction?

In the July/August issue of Analog, Gregory Benford had a story called "The Pain Gun" about a future Middleeast conflict after a nucler war or two in which nonlethal weapons were used in preference to other types so as not to inflame the political situation back in the direction of nuclear war. The story concerns the use of a weapon that causes extreme pain but does no physical damage. I read the story yesterday.

Back in August, Defense Tech had a write-up on "sonic blasters" (aka "Long Range Acoustic Devices"), which apparently the NYPD had ready during the Republican convention and a new "improved" model was being tested by the LAPD.

This device far exceeds anything I'm aware of. Others are childrens' toys compared with this thing. The developer tells us that there are other configurations they believe will allow it to take even more energy. They estimated we were using 15,000 watts, but with a different type of magnet they believe we they can easily exceed 100,000 watts without overheating.

Further, by rearranging the orientation of the magnetic speakers, they can increase or decrease the width of the lobe, as well as decrease the size, weight and power. The device we tested is "full range;" that is, it provided clear sound from about 50 Hz to about 20,000 Hz. But if we were going to use it just for human voice or a siren, or some other specific frequency range, they can also "tune it" to provide maximum effectiveness for a specific frequency range and reduce the size and power, while increasing the range.

Back in March of last year, the Associated Press reported the use of the devices as weapons in Iraq. Earlier in September, Xeni Jardin documented the deployment of sonic blasters to New Orleans. OK, so there's no electricity and you want to get the word out to those hard-of-hearing old folks stuck in the flooded zone.  Is that what the sonic blasters were brought in for? This is from Xeni's article:

American Technology is donating four devices -- three MRADs (medium-range acoustic devices) and one LRAD (long-range acoustic device). The four devices will be shipped out Friday to a Marine military police unit that is deploying to the Gulf States area for disaster-relief efforts.

"We are donating the use of one of our most powerful prototypes, LTPMS-2, for use in Mississippi as soon as possible, because the governor of that state said that the biggest problem they have right now is the fact that they have no communications infrastructure to get information or instructions out to people," he said. "They can very easily put this on a truck and send sound out for a minimum of at least a mile in either direction."

And Blackwater's just there to help get the word out, too, right? Here's more from Xeni:

Vehicle-mounted devices were used by Israeli authorities to scatter groups earlier this year, when Palestinians and Jewish supporters gathered to protest Israel's West Bank separation barrier. Dubbed "The Scream" by the Israeli Army, the device sends out streams of noise in intervals of about 10 seconds. The specific sonic frequencies chosen affect the inner ear, creating dizziness and nausea in human targets.

Is it my imagination, or isn't the use of sonic blasters as weapons to deliberately inflict pain on crowds "torture" as defined in article 1 of the UN Convention Against Torture?

For the purposes of this Convention, torture means any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity.

When sonic blasters are used as weapons, their use is in violation of the UN Convention Against Torture. I think the US is a signatory.

Continue reading "Sonic Weapons?" »

If This Were Only Cleared Away: The Nation Takes on Fantasies of Future New Orleans, Plus a Few Other Thoughts Of My Own

Parenti_200x152From The Nation: New Orleans: Raze or Rebuild? by Christian Parenti:

Though the area is routinely designated a ghetto, the homes of the Ninth Ward are mostly beautiful, century-old capes and bungalows, some with ornate wooden detailing reminiscent of old homes in the San Francisco Bay Area. "They'll have to bulldoze it all," says a visiting New York City cop, surveying the damage from inside an NYPD van.

Is that option--the right's much-touted tabula rasa--inevitable? "They don't have to tear all these down," says Joe Peters, a Ninth Ward tier repairman. "Under that siding, that's all cypress frames and barge board." Peters seems to think that the more solid homes of the Ninth Ward can be saved. Increasingly the holdouts here see the mandatory evacuation order as part of a huge land grab.

I track down Mike Howell, a Nation reader I'd met several days before. "Yeah, this could be their dream come true," he says. "Get rid of all the poor African-Americans and turn the place into Disneyland." After camping on Howell's roof, my colleague and I leave him and his wife our extra water and gas and push on.  . . .

9thwardwp"The evacuation order is just trying to get out the criminal element," says the cop in the classic flat, nasal Yat accent common to the Irish- and Italian-Americans who make up much of the city's white population. He explains how the military is mapping the city for holdouts using helicopters with infrared, and how troops on the ground mark the suspect building with a system of Xs and checks, a code that indicates to the police how many people are inside. The cop finishes his drink, shakes a few hands and rolls off.

Facilitating the tabula rasa agenda is an increasingly militaristic attitude that borders on boyish fantasy and seems to pervade the numerous federal SWAT teams, out-of-town cops, private security forces, civilian volunteers and even journalists. There are exceptions: The young soldiers of the 82nd Airborne and First Cavalry seem much less caught up in it and are quite generous with their ice and MREs.

. . . two vehicle convoys from Blackwater USA--one of the biggest mercenary firms operating in Iraq--cruise the deserted city, their guns trained on rooftops ready for snipers, who have recently shot at a cell-tower repair crew. . . .

Meanwhile, in Baton Rouge, Bush-connected firms like the Shaw Group, Bechtel and Halliburton are lining up to get big portions of the $62 billion in federal money that will soon flood the storm region. The fact that some of these companies had been convicted of defrauding the federal government in the past, are under investigation again for corruption in Iraq and were once banned from federal contracting due to unethical practices has not stopped the process.

(Photo of Paretti from the Mother Jones web site. 9 Ward photo from the Washington Post.)

MEANWHILE, from the New York Times:

More than 1,000 displaced residents from St. Bernard Parish crowded the State Capitol to learn about the state of their devastated houses. No one has been permitted to re-enter the area to retrieve belongings or examine their houses. News of the meeting traveled by word of mouth and Web sites, and people lined up for blocks outside the Art Deco Capitol, where Gov. Huey P. Long was assassinated in 1935. Some drove from Houston.

Local officials did not try to hide the bad news.

"You will not recognize St. Bernard Parish," the parish president, Henry J. Rodriguez Jr., told hundreds of residents in the marble foyer of the Capitol. "All you will have left of St. Bernard Parish is your memories."

Now, I've looked at photos of St. Bernard (see for example this one; compare to this image for reference), and I'm not sure exactly what he means. His statement implies that the building are gone. But they're not. Most of them are still standing. Shouldn't it be up to the owners and residents whether to give up on properties in St. Bernard?

I should add that I have looked up lots and lots of specific NOLA area addresses on the Digital Globe (and occasionally NOAA) images, and I have not yet had  to write the "you house is smashed to bits" letter, though I did ask one person if he had a really big side yard (see image below), since the pre-Katrina satellite image was too blurry for comparison. Except in obvious cases, in which a house has been replaced by a debris field, it should be up to homeowners, in consultation with structural engineers and other such professionals, whether NOLA homes that are still standing need to be demolished, not handwaving politicans making sweeping generalizations. The vast majority of New Orleans are still standing and should not be razed without their owner's consent.


For further contemplation of Future New Orleans, see Joel Garreau writing in the Washington Post, whose piece entitled A Sad Truth: Cities Aren't Forever, is an odd combination of hard-headed realism, and politically-naive passing along of the current spin. His last paragraph reads:

I hope I'm wrong about the future of the city. But if the determination and resources to rebuild New Orleans to greater glory does not come from within, from where else will it come?

Let the people go back to their houses to make their own decisions, house by house. They want to do it, but grand plans are afoot that seem likely to preclude that process. In the end, Hurricane FEMA could do more damage to the city than Katrina if let to run its course.

UPDATE: I just this one below. The building that was inquired about looks at best very badly damaged. It is down the street from the Michoud NASA facility, also shown (aerial photos from


Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana"

[Note: A guy from Blackwater, writing in the comment section of my other Blackwater post, rightly points out that US citizens operating on US soil are, by definition, not mercenaries. In this, he is technically correct. What we call them, espcially those whose previous Blackwater deployment was outside the US, I leave up to you. -KC]

Transcript from a Democracy Now segment: Overkill: Feared Blackwater Mercenaries Deploy in New Orleans [mp3]:

. . . one of them was wearing a golden badge, that identified itself as being Louisiana law enforcement, and in fact, one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana, and what's interesting is that the federal government and the Department of Homeland Security have denied that they have hired any private security firms, saying that they have enough with government forces. Well, these Blackwater men that we spoke to said that they are actually on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and indeed with the governor of Louisiana. And they said that they're sleeping in camps organized by the Department of Homeland Security.

One of the Blackwater guys said that when he heard New Orleans, he asked, “What country is that in?” And he was bragging to me about how he drives around Iraq in what he called a State Department issued level five explosion-proof BMW. This, as U.S. soldiers don't even have proper armor on their Humvees and other vehicles. And so, we also overheard one of the Blackwater guys talking to, we presume, a colleague, complaining that he was only being paid $350 a day plus his per diem, and that other firms were paying much more. And we're seeing many of these Blackwater mercenaries and other private security agents roaming the streets of New Orleans.

Now this opens interesting semantic possibilities. Because once these guys are deputized, the Governor's office can claim that they aren't "mercenaries," but rather "deputies."

(Thanks to Terry K!)

Black Water

[UPDATE: See new post, Jeremy Scahill: "one of the Blackwater mercenaries told us that he had been deputized by the governor of Louisiana."]

I've spent days scrutinizing satellite photos of New Orleans, helping people check out their houses. Inevitably, if they or their neighbors had a swimming pool, the turquoise blue of the pool visible on the pre-Katrina image is black on Digital Globe's shots from August 31st 10 AM. Also, as I said in a previous post, I was pretty certain that certain corporate names, familiar from the mercenary industry in Iraq, were going to turn up in New Orleans. So this evening I got an email from Patrick Nielsen Hayden informing me that Blackwater's in New Orleans.  Bodyguards to the coalition, they have a certain cowboy reputation among the private "security" firms. The style of their website tends to be a little over-the-top macho in comparison to other private military firms, whose websites tend to mimic accounting firms, as though it was sercurities (in the plural) they were selling, rather than "security."

And, yes, those were Blackwater guys who died in Falluja, touching off the public revelation that at Paul Bremer's instigation, Iraq was awash in mercenaries who were pulling down salaries ten times what the American troops stationed there were making. Blackwater. From a novelistic standpoint, it is inevitable that they would turn up in the city in which there is so much water and on the satellite photos it looks like a black stain. And really, when you hire mercenaries, a certain amount of murkiness about accountability is part of what you are paying for. I lost track: were any of the private contractors implicated in the torture documented in the Taguba report ever actually charged with anything? What ever happened to John Israel and Steve Stephanowitz?

Sending Blackwater into New Orleans is the twenty-first century's sad answer to that quaint twentieth-century phrase "send in the marines." It is the public confession that too much of our infrastructure has been "privatized," by which we mean that services formerly provided by government employees accountable to the American people can now be purchased, often at much higher prices, from the private sector, opening up much larger opportunities for war (and now disaster) profiteering. This is not to say that there aren't talented, strong, idealistic young men working for companies like Blackwater. But rather the privatization of these areas of endeavor, in light of the Iraq experience, is part cynical exercise in looting of the public treasuries, and part liberating the government from the burdensome accountability that keeps public employees from behaving like action heroes do in the movies.

Put yourself in the shoes of those frightened, traumatized people holed up in their houses, determined to hang on because what's left of their houses is all they have left in the world. What would you do if one of these big burly Blackwater guys, with sunglasses and a sub-machine gun, showed up on your doorstep and instructed you to evacuate? As nearly as I can tell, New Orleans is awash in rumor. Suppose you had heard that they weren't really rescuing black people, but rather were rounding them up and putting them in concentration camps, something I wish were further from the truth [link via Xeni at boingboing]. What happens if the man from Blackwater reacts badly to your response?

And how much is Blackwater being paid to prance around with guns while firefighters who came for free are used as props for political photo ops?

(Via Attytood, thanks to Patrick Nielsen Hayden.)

A FURTHER THOUGHT: In August of 1955, Hurricane Connie passed through the Delaware Valley, followed shortly by the remnants of Hurricane Diane. This resulted in the Great Flood of 1955. As the late science fiction literary agent Virginia Kidd (at the time of the flood, Mrs. James Blish) told the story, the flood waters rose up to the window sills of the main floor of the house (to a depth of about 4 ft on one side of the house, and much deeper on the other side, as Arrowhead has a daylight basement). The waters stayed for two weeks. Meanwhile, Virginia and her family stayed at Judy Merrill's house, on much higher ground, 3 doors down from the Milford stoplight (for those who've been there). As I recall, Virginia said they spent the whole time playing cards, waiting for the waters to recede. Much of the contents of the house had to be discarded because the flooded houses all had septic systems and the septic systems had been destroyed. But the Blish family still had their house.

But not for long. The US government took most of the houses in the flood zone by eminent domain and tore many of them down. There was a plan for a vast flood management program involving making the whole area a lake. The plan was never enacted. When I worked for Virginia in the late 1980s, we were still sweeping the Delaware River mud out of the floor boards.

Virginia was allowed to rent the family house back from the government for the rest of her life, though if the Feds had ever decided to act on their plan, she would have been evicted. And the house it is where she founded and ran the Virginia Kidd Literary Agency. And when she died a few years ago, the agency was allowed to continue operating in the house, and there they are still.

Why is Blackwater in New Orleans to do work that many others have volunteered to do for free? Two words: Eminent Domain. Think about it.

What is Eminent Domain?
Eminent Domain is how the government takes your property for a public purpose, whether you chose to sell it to them or not, at a price they specify. In Kelo vs. New London, the supreme court vastly expanded the powers of government to take property in situations where it was arguably for a private, not a public, purpose. The American Bar Association outlines it thusly:

The exercise of eminent domain has a central role in urban redevelopment, smart growth, water quality improvements, wild land preservation and restoration, and a host of environmental and energy infrastructure projects.
The Fifth Amendment enjoins: "nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." This Quick Teleconference will examine the Supreme Court's recently decided 5th Amendment cases Kelo v. New London, No. 04-108 (June 23, 2005) and Lingle v. Chevron, 125 S. Ct. 2074 (May 23, 2005). In Kelo, the Court by a 5-4 majority upheld the City of New London, Connecticut's condemnation of 15 homes in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood for the sole purpose of furthering economic redevelopment around a planned pharmaceutical research facility. The QT will discuss the extent to which the decision allows governmental officials to condemn private property for the purpose of increasing tax revenues and promoting development.

In Lingle, the Court held in another 5-4 opinion that the 5th Amendment does not engender inquiry into whether the regulation "substantially advances" legitimate state interests, as it would with an issue under the Due Process Clause. Instead, how the amendment applies is a function of the extent and duration of the governmental action.

Translation: in situations like Katrina, Kelo vastly expands the opportunities for corporate looting.

ONE FINAL QUESTION: Under exactly whose authority is Blackwater exerting police powers?

See, for example, this passage from a NOLA account on BoingBoing:

We got yelled at some by police and official-types who wanted us out of areas where they were operating. Herding media isn't really their job, but they weren't rude about it (just brusque). The Blackwater employees, on the other hand, were phenomenally unpleasant. Jake has a lot more to add soon, I'm sure, but there's a serious question as to the authority of these mercenaries.

I imagine that FEMA might enjoy an arrangement with them rather like Paul Bremmer had Bagdad. Except that's impossible because of the extremely peculiar legal circumstances under which the Provisional Authority functioned. New Orleans is under Federal, State, and Local law.  There is a state of emergency, yes, but a subcontracted State of Martial Law is difficult to exaplin.

UPDATE 12/11: I just went looking to see why this post on Blackwater from three months ago  was getting so much traffic. It seems there has been an uptick on news coverage of Blackwater lately. One item that caught my eye was a November 29th piece from the Village Voice, Relief at the Point of a Gun:

Among other things, Blackwater's men with big guns can be found guarding the Jewish Community Center on lovely St. Charles Avenue in Uptown New Orleans, a FEMA recovery center in one of the most recovered neighborhoods in the city, where the gym is open for business and the Salvation Army is giving out hot meals. It is not an area where anyone normally shoots to kill.

"You're not taking a picture of me, are you?" asks a middle-aged man with a military tattoo, a Blackwater hat, and two pistols, who is immediately joined by an even beefier and younger colleague. When asked who they're working for, the older man says, "The federal government. We're providing security."

So, now that it's common knowledge that Blackwater has contracts with FEMA, what I want to know is why wouldn't people who took exception to what I'd written back in September admit the existence of the contract.  Come on, guys. That wasn't fair, now was it?

If you're going to show up to tell the liberal chick in Pleasantville that she Just Doesn't Know, you've got to be straight with me. Those are the rules of engagement here.

Morning Mercenary Roundup

In Chile, an accusation against Blackwater has been filed in criminal court:

Chilean lawmakers accuse US firm of illegally recruiting mercenaries

Two Chilean lawmakers on Thursday accused  US security firm Blackwater Security Consulting of illegally recruiting  mercenaries for security tasks in Iraq.

Leal and Alejandro Navarro said Blackwater's recruitment, which hires Chilean army  veterans, puts public order and national security at risk.

. . . Navarro, of the Socialist Party, said the accusation was filed in the 17th  criminal court of Santiago.

�"We are going to legislate to end with the mercenaries" and ban foreign  companies from recruiting mercenary soldiers in Chile, Navarro said. 

MEANWHILE in Equatorial Guinea:

'Mercenaries told investigators everything' (IOL):

Harare - A group of 15 alleged mercenaries detained in Equatorial Guinea had planned to wipe out the entire family of President Teodoro Obiang Nguema, his interior minister Manuel Nguema Mba said during a trip to Harare on Wednesday.

Mba, who is visiting Harare where another group of 70 alleged mercenaries linked to the supposed plot are being detained, said the South African accused of leading the group in Malabo, Nick du Toit, had told Equatorial Guinean investigators "everything".

"He (du Toit) told us everything that was planned. He said the objective was to kill the entire family of President Obiang Nguema and bring (opposition leader) Severo Moto from Spain," ZIANA news agency quoted Mba as saying.

AND finally, from New Zealand, an editorial on why the world needs mercenaries.

Some Thoughts on MPRI

The Center for Public Integrity (Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest) has a very interesting online project: Windfalls of War: US Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan.

They focus solely on companies doing business with the US government (i. e. they exclude government contracts in Iraq with the UK) and most of the hard information on contracts predates the current private "security" goldrush, so for example, Blackwater has no listing. But there's a lot of fun stuff here. Also excluded from the group's Freedom of Information Act requests was information about contracts with the Bremer regime:

While the Defense and State Departments have granted the lion's share of contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan directly from Washington, a few U.S. companies have made their deals directly with local governing authorities that have emerged with U.S. support or direction.

The companies do not appear on the lists of contracts the Center for Public Integrity obtained under the Freedom of Information Act; their direct dealings with the provisional authorities in Iraq and Afghanistan demonstrate the complexity of tracking the role of private companies in the post-war countries.

They have a good write up on the Alexandria, Virginia, military firm Military Professional Resources Inc. (MPRI), which covers, among other things, the reason why MPRI has the distinction of being the only private military firm to have been discussed in the Hague by a war crimes tribunal (Singer, p. 122-3):

In 1994 and 1995, MPRI was paid millions of dollars under a U.S. government-sanctioned contract to train the Croatian military. In August 1995, the previously inept Croatian army launched "Operation Storm," a U.S.-style military offensive designed to take back part of the country held throughout the war by rebel Serbs. Critics charged that MPRI provided training and tactical skills that enabled the Croatian military to perpetrate one of the largest episodes of ethnic cleansing in the breakup of former Yugoslavia. MPRI denied those charges. The offensive left hundreds dead and 150,000 homeless. Afterwards, the Croatian government expressed its gratitude to MPRI for its help in training its military. MPRI was later hired to train the new Bosnian army after the Dayton Peace Accords ended the war in former Yugoslavia.

MPRI is also the firm to whom the job of writing the US government manuals on how to utilize private military contractors was subcontracted: FM 100-10-2, Contracting Support on the Battle Field and FM-100-21: Contractors on the Battle Field (Singer pp 123-124). So, apparently, they got to write the rules on how the government will contract with them.

Googling on items like MPRI and Hague or Operation Storm yeild a daunting quantity of information; more than I feel able to cope with just now. But there seems to be a substantial contingent which believes that MPRI bears some significant responsibility civilian casualties of Operation Storm:

Was the US behind the single greatest act of ethnic cleansing in Yugoslavia?

"In early August 1995," writes researcher Gregory Elich, "the Croatian invasion of Serbian Krajina precipitated the worst refugee crisis of the Yugoslav civil war. Within days, more than two hundred thousand Serbs, virtually the entire population of Krajina, fled their homes, and 14,000 Serbian civilians lost their lives." ("The invasion of Serbian Krajina," NATO in the Balkans: Voices of Opposition, International Action Center, New York, 1998.)

This was Operation Storm, "the largest single act of ethnic cleansing of the Yugoslav civil war," according to Even Dyer, a journalist with CBC Radio. "And yet not one person has been arrested and brought before the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia" ("Croatian atrocities being forgotten: Cdn. Officers," CBC News, July 21, 2003.)

Now, the subject of who committed war crimes in a situation like that is extremely complex. (Its complexity is nicely discussed in The Fog of Justice from The New York Review of Books.) Nonetheless, the matter raises troubling issues for the implications of military subcontracting. One of MPRI's current contracts in Iraq is to train the new Iraqi Army.

In midst of this mass rush to defend our defence and military outsourcing policies, we need to stop and consider. Using private contractors to perform functions traditionally performed by our military has complex implications. Restricting privately hired men with guns to defensive assignments does not eliminate the perception or actuality that we've hired mercenaries. Nor does restricting contractors to "training" functions keep them from attracting the attention of war crimes tribunals. This deniability is a sham, and it's important that as a country we come to grips with this as quickly as possible.

The Problem of Civilian Commandos

"This is basically a new phenomenon: corporatized private military services doing the front-line work soldiers used to do," said Peter W. Singer, a national security fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington who has written a book on the industry, "Corporate Warriors" (Cornell University Press, 2003).

"And they're not out there screening passengers at the airports," Mr. Singer  said. "They're taking mortar  and sniper fire." (NYT, 4/2/04)

I think we can all agree that the civilian commandos killed the other day, and all the rest of those privately employed as soldiers, deserve the same consideration as any one else. That having been said, how can we go about getting it for them?

When killed, they are not reported as military casualties. That is one feature which makes them attractive to the coalition government. Secondly, if they go off the wires, the coalition government has deniability. (No one has yet rushed forward to claim responsibility for retaining the planeload of privately employed soldiers currently held in Zimbabwe.)

I'm getting a lot of people emoting in my direction about the deaths of the civilian commandos. But it was not I who sent them out, without backup, into a situation deemed too dangerous for US troops and used them up like so many paper plates. The problem for Bremer is not that they died, but that the desecration of their corpses happened on camera. This is a huge PR disaster for him, both because it raises the prices of this kind of outsourcing and because it engages our sympathies for the plight of expendable privately hired commandos.

Let's all get together and ask for more transparency in the process: How many privately employed soldiers are there? What companies are being retained and for what purpose? How many privately employed soldiers have been killed and wounded in Iraq? Were they employed by the US, by US companies? In what capacity? Have there been any problems with the quality of the service provided by these privately employed soldiers? What has been done about it? What safeguards exist? Have there been Iraqi civilian casualties resulting from the actions of these privately employed soldiers? Have there been any friendly fire incidents involving privately employed soldiers?  For the benefit of everyone involved, privately employed soldiers need to become less expendable and deniable.

And then there's the small matter of money. The New York Times sheds some light on the civilian commandos' level of compensation:

To meet the rising demand, the  companies  are offering yearly  salaries ranging from $100,000 to nearly $200,000 to entice senior military Special Operations forces to switch careers. Assignments are paying from a few hundred dollars to as much as $1,000 a day, military officials said.

What do US soldiers in Iraq make? Why are we paying these guys so much more when the money could be spent training and supporting our own troops?

In the same article, Representative Jan  Schakowsky had some very smart things to say:

Representative Jan  Schakowsky,  Democrat of  Illinois, has also argued that the United States'  growing use of private military companies  hides the financial, personal and political costs of military operations overseas, since the concerns  face little public scrutiny.

In particular, Ms. Schakowsky has objected to administration plans to increase the number of private military contractors in Colombia, where three American civilians working for a Northrup Grumman subsidiary have been held hostage by Marxist rebels for more than a year. The three were on a mission to search for cocaine laboratories and drug planes when they were captured.

"I continue to oppose the use of military contractors who are not subject to the same kind of scrutiny and accountability as U.S. soldiers," Ms. Schakowsky said  last week. "When things go wrong for these contractors, they and their families have been shamefully forgotten by their American employers."

BY THE WAY, it seems to me that I ought to discuss the composition process of my post Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball. Particularly among the trolls whose posts I've deleted, there seems to be the general assumption that the post is in response the deaths of the civilian commandos. It was not.

Rather, I had been working on the post for three days, accumulating links and quotes on the problem of mercenaries overrunning Iraq and was adding the last few links before publishing the post. I wanted an appropriate picture of mercenaries to link to and has having a hard time finding one, a much harder time than I would have expected. I guess they don't like having their pictures taken and they have guns, so photographers don't mess with them.  I was trying out all kinds of euphemisms for mercenary on Google Images, and finally got this picture of a burning car.

I noticed a few minutes later that the date associated with the picture was the 31st, that very day. I followed the link to the story, and that is when I found out about the deaths. My brief write-up and links were nearly the last things I did on that post. It was pure coincidence that it was timely.

I do not believe that private military firms are all bad nor that they can do only harm. Most of the world's removal of mines from former combat zones is contracted to private military companies. This is appropriate and all for the good.

But what's going on in Iraq is very large scale, anarchic, and probably largely untracked. (I don't think most of my questions above can be answered by Bremer because I think he doesn't know the answers.) And what's worse, the Bush Administration is doing this as a matter of conscious strategy because of an ideological commitment to outsourcing and because it is politically expedient even though the longterm result of this policy will be to seriously weaken American armed forces by robbing them of money and personnel while at the same time hatching new military actors with desires that will eventually run contrary to our national security.

The descriptions of how many private military companies operate strike me as awfully similar to the lengthy explanations of why al  Qaida is so insidious: the portability and discretion of their operations, etc. Also, Sandline, at least, was know to use an Enron-like maze of shell companies to hide the true nature of its dealings. Never mind that the high salaries paid by companies like Blackwater are luring the best and brightest from our military forces out of public service. It is very hard to distinguish this realm of free enterprise from organized crime.

What I think is it's most important point of that first post, one that the emoters seem not to get, is that this security blanket being spread over occupied Iraq has become the UK's largest export. That's how big this thing is. This is not really about the morals of four commandos, but about an immense economic shift, one that should make all of us uncomfortable because it is so little examined. Also, this is not really a left vs. right issue. This shift has been going on since about 1990 and administrations from both parties have participated. This is a shift that neither party has properly examined, and neither has coherent policy statements on. My fear is that the industry has grown so big so fast, that for economic reasons, we may already be too late for policy.

The Four "Civilian Contractors" Appear to Have Been Mercenaries

In yesterday's post, Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball, I added a bit at the end about the story that was just breaking, the death and mutilation of four "civilian contractors." In it, I insinuated that these civilians were in fact mercenaries. I felt I was being a bit mean-spirited making that speculation and hoped that I was wrong; but from the way the US military brass talked about them, it seemed the obvious conclusion.

In the comments, James MacLean points me toward the emerging details that these "civilians" were employees of Blackwater USA. Recall from yesterday that Blackwater was the outfit that recruited Pinochet-era Chilean commandos for their contract work in Iraq. Knight Ridder also reports:

Blackwater Security was formed last year and is part of an 8-year-old security training company. Last August, the Army awarded Blackwater a $21.3 million no-bid contract for security guards and two helicopters for U.S. Iraq civilian administrator L. Paul Bremer, according to the inspector general's report. The company also provides security for food shipments in the Fallujah area.

Here is the primary image from the Blackwater web site.

(I could not have done a better satirical graphic if I tried.)

First of all, L. Paul Bremer should resign; not because these guys got killed, but rather because he's filling Iraq with mercenaries. The fact that he needs to do that indicates that his is an extremely weak government on the brink of chaos. This growth industry cannot continue to grow without armed struggle and this course will never lead to a stable political situation in Iraq. And our mercenaries are not the only ones there. As the administration argued last August, Iraq is a magnet for "bad boys." Our mercenaries can shoot it out with their mercenaries until no one is left standing or until the owners of the private military companies feel they have enough yachts.

Secondly, the US media is being willfully obtuse about what those who dragged the charred bodies behind their cars wish to communicate. Very simply, they're saying Get your hired guns out of here! and Mercenaries: Keep Out.

I hope Blackwater's insurance premiums go through the roof.

OH, BY THE WAY: Here's a paragraph from an article I may have linked to a few weeks ago, concerning the mercenaries arrested in Zimbabwe:

The men arrested in Harare await their fate in the grim confines of the notorious Chikurubi Maximum Security Prison. Among them, according to Zimbabwe's CID Law and Order Division, are: Jacob Hermanus Carlse and Lourens Jacobus Horn. Both are believed to be involved in a South African firm that provides security services and training in Iraq; Sergeant Victor Dracula, an Angolan veteran who served with South Africa's notorious 32 Battalion counter-insurgency unit. Dracula has been awarded the Honoris Crux, South Africa's highest military honour; and Niel Steyl, the aircraft's pilot, Hendrik Hamman, the co-pilot, and Ken Payne, the flight engineer. Their attorney, Deon van Dyk, insists the men knew nothing about the plot.

Two question occur to me:
� Which firm "that provides security services and training in Iraq" are these guys connected to, and to whom does it provide security? Bremer? Brown & Root? Exxon? This is a serious question aimed at finding out whose payroll the mercenaries might be on.
. . . and
� Is Dracula the guy's real name? Or is it a pseudonym? There are a few obvious question that logically follow that I think I'll leave well enough alone (like, so, what happened when they presented Sargent Dracula with his cross?). I couldn't make this stuff up.

DEEPER INTO BLACKWATER: Mother Jones has a good piece:

The four Americans horrifically killed on Wednesday by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq, worked for Blackwater USA, one of a growing number of for-profit companies hired by the U.S. military to to do work traditionally performed by soldiers. In this article in the May 2003 issue of Mother Jones, Barry Yeoman detailed the Pentagon's increasing -- and increasingly perilous -- reliance on private military companies.

(Via Buttermilk & Molasses).

There's also a good Village Voice piece.

ON THE LIGHTER SIDE: I have inspired Cheryl Morgan to write a lovely, dead pan piece appropriate for today: The Great Dill Pickle Conspiracy. Enjoy.

TRACKBACKS: UnFairWitness, The Gamer's Nook, AND Pen-Elayne.

Iraq: The Secret Policeman's Other Ball

In principle, the use of mercenaries has been banned since 1989 by the International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, 4 December 1989, an additional protocol to the Geneva Convention. Nineteen countries have ratified the Convention: Azerbaijan, Barbados, Belarus, Cameroon, Cyprus, Georgia, Italy, Maldives, Mauritania, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Seychelles, Suriname, Togo, Turkmenistan, Ukraine, Uruguay, and Uzbekistan. An additional nine have signed but have yet to ratify the Convention: Angola, Congo, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Germany, Morocco, Nigeria, Poland, Romania, and Yugoslavia. The US and UK, each with a huge private military industry, are notable for their absence as signatories.

We should ask John Kerry to commit in favor of the US signing this convention.

I started this post -- concerning the role of private military companies and mercenaries in Iraq yesterday. But I was so shocked at what I was finding that I had to sleep on it before I could continue.

The Economist calls the phenomenon The Baghdad Boom:

British companies have been grousing about losing out to the Americans in Iraq. But in one area, British companies excel: security

The sight of a mob of Iraqi stone-throwers attacking the gates to the Basra palace where the coalition has its southern headquarters is no surprise. What's odd is the identity of the uniformed men holding them off. The single Briton prodding his six Fijians to stand their ground are not British army soldiers but employees of Global Risk Strategies, a London-based security company.

Private military companies ( PMC s)—mercenaries, in oldspeak—manning the occupation administration's front lines are now the third-largest contributor to the war effort after the United States and Britain. British ones are popular, largely because of the reputation of the Special Air Service (SAS) regiment whose ex-employees run and man many of the companies. They maintain they have twice as many men on the ground as their American counterparts. According to David Claridge, managing director of Janusian, a London-based security firm, Iraq has boosted British military companies' revenues from ��200m ($320m) before the war to over ��1 billion, making security by far Britain's most lucrative post-war export to Iraq.

The best pieces I found were a must-read story from The Independent, By Robert Fisk in Baghdad and Severin Carrell in London: Occupiers spend millions on private army of security men ( which also appeared  from The Star in South Africa as Security firms and mercenaries coining it in Iraq) and Britain's secret army in Iraq: thousands of armed security men who answer to nobody

An army of thousands of mercenaries has appeared in Iraq's major cities, many of them former British and American soldiers hired by the occupying Anglo-American authorities and by dozens of companies who fear for the lives of their employees.

Many of the armed Britons are former SAS soldiers and heavily armed South Africans are also working for the occupation. "My people know how to use weapons and they're all SAS," said the British leader of one security team in southern Baghdad. "But there are people running around with guns now who are just cowboys. We always conceal our weapons, but these guys think they're in a Hollywood film."

There are serious doubts even within the occupying power about America's choice to send Chilean mercenaries, many trained during General Pinochet's vicious dictatorship, to guard Baghdad airport. Many South Africans are in Iraq illegally - they are breaking new laws, passed by the government in Pretoria, to control South Africa's booming export of mercenaries. Many have been arrested on their return home because they are do not have the licence now required by private soldiers.

Casualties among the mercenaries are not included in the regular body count put out by the occupation authorities, which may account for the persistent suspicion among Iraqis that the US is underestimating its figures of military dead and wounded. Some British experts claim that private policing is now the UK's biggest export to Iraq - a growth fueled by the surge in bomb attacks on coalition forces, aid agencies and UN buildings since the official end of the war in May last year.

Many companies operate from villas in middle-class areas of Baghdad with no name on the door. Some security men claim they can earn more than ��80,000 a year; but short-term, high-risk mercenary work can bring much higher rewards. Security personnel working a seven-day contract in cities like Fallujah, can make $1,000 a day.

They also mention ArmorGroup:

Another British-owned company, ArmorGroup has an ��876,000 contract to supply 20 security guards for the Foreign Office. That figure will rise by 50 per cent in July. The firm also employs about 500 Gurkhas to guard executives with the US firms Bechtel and Kellogg Brown & Root.

Check out this nice bit from an Armor press release:

While Armor's products division is tied to law enforcement, its security division -- ArmorGroup Services -- is more closely allied with the world of espionage.

That's why it is useful to have former KGB members such as Mikhail Golovatov, former head of the Alpha Group -- the KGB's counter-mafia and counter-terrorism unit -- on the Armor payroll in Russia.


"I'm very happy with the progress Armor is making and what the company is doing with its business mix. That should show up in its numbers in the next nine months to a year," he said.

Armor executives, meanwhile, say recession or an economic downturn shouldn't hold the company back.  In fact, Latin America's economic doldrums are carving out new business possibilities for Armor, and in the near future it plans to open a Miami office to run its Latin American operations.

"Multinational companies always tend to have money to spend to protect their physical and personal assets," Spiller said. "Our business can only get better as people become more aware of the risks."

(Robert Fisk also did a brilliant write-up of the one-year anniversary of the start of the Iraq war; not to be missed!)

In The Herald in Scotland, Ian Bruce, Defence Correspondent reports that security/mercenary services are now the UK's most profitable export: SAS veterans among the bulldogs of war cashing in on boom

British mercenary firms have made an estimated ��800m from providing private armies for security duties in post-Saddam Iraq, and now qualify as the UK's most lucrative export earner from the country in the past year. Armed mercenaries being paid out of government or corporate funds outnumber the Army's 8800-strong garrison in the country by "at least a factor of two", according to concerned military sources. Senior sources also say there are more ex-SAS soldiers acting as advisers for "private military companies" than currently serving in the elite, 300-man regiment based near Hereford. Global security firms fill in as private armies
15,000 agents patrol violent streets of Iraq

Robert Collier, Chronicle Staff Writer
Sunday, March 28, 2004

A group of American construction executives was traveling in a  convoy down a palm-lined highway 30 miles north of Baghdad one January day  when gunfire and rocket-propelled grenades suddenly exploded everywhere.

Private security agents riding with the convoy fought off the attackers  in a hail of gunfire. Two of the agents died, as did an unknown number of  guerrillas.

The bloodshed was not publicly reported at the time, and the agents'  employer, the Steele Foundation of San Francisco, drew a cloak of discreet  silence over the incident to protect its clients' identity.

The shootout was just one more example of the behind-the-scenes role  played in Iraq by an estimated 15,000 private security agents from the United  States, Britain and countries as varied as Nepal, Chile, Ukraine, Israel,  South Africa and Fiji. They are employed by about 25 different firms that are  playing their part in Iraq's highly dangerous postwar environment by  performing tasks ranging from training the country's new police and army to  protecting government leaders to providing logistics for the U.S. military.

"The rate of growth in the security industry is phenomenal," said Deborah  Avant, a professor of political science and international affairs at George  Washington University in Washington, D.C. "If you had asked a year ago whether  there would be 15,000 private security in Iraq, everyone would have said  you're nuts. It has moved very quickly over the past decade, but Iraq has  escalated it dramatically."

The boom in Iraq is just the tip of the iceberg for the $100 billion-a- year industry, which experts say has been the fastest-growing sector of the  global economy during the past decade. From oil companies in the African  hinterland to heads of state in Haiti and Afghanistan to international aid  agencies in hotspots around the world, the difference between life and death  is decided by private guns for hire.

Meanwhile, Blackwater USA is hiring Chilean guys who trained under Pinochet to help us out in Iraq: US contractor recruits guards for Iraq in Chile

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals - the Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system," he said.

Chile was the only Latin American country where his firm had hired commandos for Iraq. He estimated that "about 95%" of his work came from government contracts and said his business was booming.

"We have grown 300% over each of the past three years and we are small compared to the big ones.

"We have a very small niche market, we work towards putting out the cream of the crop, the best."

The privatisation of security in Iraq is growing as the US seeks to reduce its commitment of troops.

Lisa Ashkenaz Croke wrting for the elaborates: Mercenaries Hired to Keep Order in Iraq

USA Blackwater isn't the only security firm hiring ex-military of disturbing origin.  Last month, The Forward's Marc Perelman reported that contractor Erinys International utilized "former henchman of South Africa's apartheid regime" to guard oil facilities and train new Iraqi police.

"Franois Strydom, who was killed in the January 28 bombing of a hotel in Baghdad, was a former member of the Koevoet, a notoriously brutal counterinsurgency arm of the South African military that operated in Namibia during the neighboring state's fight for independence in the 1980s. His colleague Deon Gouws, who was injured in the attack, is a former officer of the Vlakplaas, a secret police unit in South Africa," wrote Perelman.

Who would have thought that Iraq needed to import torturers!

From, (the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs) SOUTH AFRICA: Authorities target alleged mercenaries

Military analyst Henri Boshoff, of the Institute for Security Studies, told IRIN reports that up to 1,500 South Africans could be operating in Iraq were "speculation - 1,500 is a lot of people and I'm sure [South African] customs would have picked it up".

A discussion of the reaction of some governments is provided by Bill Berkowitz, writing for Alternet: Mercenaries 'R' Us

The recruitment of its citizens, however, isn't making either the Chilean or the South African governments happy. The Regulation of Foreign Military Assistance Act prohibits South African citizens from direct participation as a combatant in armed conflict for private gain. Michelle Bachelet, Chile's defense minister, has ordered an investigation into whether such recruitment is legal under Chilean laws. Bachelet also was troubled by stories that soldiers on active duty are leaving the company to sign up as mercenaries.

It is also only a matter of time before U.S. soldiers grow unhappy with the presence of mercenaries in their midst. The high salaries and shorter terms of employment offered to mercenaries will inevitably make a serious dent on the military's budget. As Blackwater's Jackson acknowledged in the Guardian, "If they are going to outsource tasks that were once held by active-duty military and are now using private contractors, those guys [on active duty] are looking and asking, 'Where is the money?'"

This last question seems to be very much in the minds of the new Iraqi security forces the U. S. trains, half of whom leave over issues of pay.

... and from the Washington Times: Use of private security firms in Iraq draws concerns

"This is a very touchy issue," said a high-level coalition military official who opposes expanded use of private soldiers in Iraq. "There's a lot of pressure to use these contractors. Some oppose it. Some support it."

Some soldiers said privately that the soldiers-for-hire walk around with their weapons in full view as if they belong to a coalition army. They worry that the private-sector soldiers might not be constrained by the same rules of engagement and that any rogues among them who kill or hurt Iraqis could bring reprisals on all foreign forces.

"What are the rules of engagement [for the PMCs]?" asked one coalition military official in Baghdad. "Are they civilians or are they military? I don't know who they are, and I don't want to go anywhere near them."

The Coalition Provisional Authority did not respond to several formal requests for information about private military activities in Iraq. The coalition military commander in Iraq, U.S. Lt. Gen. Ricardo Sanchez, responding to a question at a press conference several weeks ago, said he did not know of any plans to use contractors to perform security functions for the military.

On the ground, however, the private soldiers are occasionally finding themselves in firefights with Iraqis.

Richard Galustian of Pilgrims, a contractor that provides security for many Western media outlets, described one incident in which his firm's security officials opened fire on a group of suspected bandits along the road from Baghdad to the Jordanian border. "Certainly at least one or two people were hit," he said.

A former Special Forces member now in Baghdad said military contractors guarding ministries on behalf of coalition authorities have killed Iraqis who were trying to loot or attack the buildings.

"It's Iraq," he said. "You're accountable to nobody. But I guess ultimately you're accountable to the U.S. military for what happens."

MEANWHILE, Forbes, "The Capitalist Tool," in an article on the upcoming Baghdad Trade Fair, reports tepid interest in investing in Baghdad:

Although subcontracts are on offer in Iraq, few foreign companies have chosen to set up in the country as instability continues and facilities such as hotels come under attack.

A U.S. engineering executive doing business in the Gulf said his company has been offered subcontracts in Iraq but turned them down.

"Nobody is exactly rushing to go into Iraq," the executive said.

Who needs trade anyway when war for war's sake is making such a profit?

And what will we do for Bad Guys when they've all gotten jobs in Iraq? Will a Bad Guy just be a thug with out a job?

Seriously, the US and the UK are squandering two hundred years of emergent citizenship, patriotism, and respect for the nation-state for political expediency and the financial gain of their mercenary and oil industries. The mercenary situation is way out of control.

All this reminds me of the rhetoric last summer about how Iraq would be a "magnet" for terrorists. Here's Peter Bergen, CNN's analyst, towing the party line:

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Iraq is becoming a major "magnet" for al Qaeda terrorists, who now pose more of a threat than remnants of Saddam Hussein's Baath Party, two analysts said Tuesday after a truck bomb killed 17 at the U.N. headquarters in Baghdad.

"A half-dozen U.S. officials who investigate or analyze al Qaeda ... say that Iraq has become an important battleground for al Qaeda in the past several months," CNN terrorism analyst Peter Bergen said.

"The officials use words such as 'magnet' and 'super magnet' to describe the attraction that Iraq has for al Qaeda and other 'jihadists,' " said Bergen, author of "Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden."

James Rubin, a former U.S. deputy secretary of state, agreed that the terrorism milieu in Iraq has changed, pointing to increased attacks against civilian targets and fewer large-scale attacks against U.S. soldiers.

"It is my suspicion that the types of attacks in Iraq are either backed or funded by Islamic extremists."

They are coming from other countries and "see it as a rich place to conduct their bloody business," he said.

I'm having one of those experiences when I discover that the world as it actually is is very different from my conception of it. I want my worldview back.

And just in case military contractors feel they need another house or plane, the GOP is surveying its members about where we go from here (AP):

A voter survey tied to a Republican effort to raise money for House candidates mislabels Thailand and the Philippines as countries that "harbor and aid terrorists," say officials from both governments.

A question on the National Republican Congressional Committee's "Ask America 2004 Nationwide Policy Survey" asks: "Should America broaden the war on terrorism into other countries that harbor and aid terrorists such as Thailand, Syria, Somalia, the Philippines, etc.?"

Accompanying the NRCC survey, which also poses questions about health care, the economy and other issues, was a four-page letter signed by House Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., that seeks money to help "keep the Republican Party in control of the U.S. House."

Finally, I'm shaking my head over the story of the "4 American civilian contractors" killed today in Iraq. Here's the best paragraph from the Washington Post version:

[Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, the U.S. military's deputy director of operations] added that "the contractors stand side by side with the Iraqi security forces, side by side with the coalition forces. Every time they go out, they know they're taking risk; and they're willing to take that risk for many, many reasons, one of which, they understand that they're part of this process of bringing this country a future that they have not had for 35 years."

I don't dare hope that any reporter will be astute enough to ask directly if they worked for any of the myrid PMCs.

RIDDLE: When is a civilian contractor not a civilian? And when is a dead civilian contractor not a civilian casualty?

AND MEANWHILE: There ahve been coup attempts in Congo (link via African  Oil Politics) and Sudan (both links by subscription).

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