[News] The Mercenary Revolution
news at freedomarchives.org
Tue Aug 14 09:14:07 EDT 2007
August 13, 2007
Flush with Profits from the Iraq War, Military Contractors See a World of
The Mercenary Revolution
By JEREMY SCAHILL
If you think the U.S. has only 160,000 troops in Iraq, think again.
With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the
Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the U.S. occupation
through the use of private war companies.
There are now almost 200,000 private "contractors" deployed in Iraq by
Washington. This means that U.S. military forces in Iraq are now outsized
by a coalition of billing corporations whose actions go largely
unmonitored and whose crimes are virtually unpunished.
In essence, the Bush administration has created a shadow army that can be
used to wage wars unpopular with the American public but extremely
profitable for a few unaccountable private companies.
Since the launch of the "global war on terror," the administration has
systematically funneled billions of dollars in public money to
corporations like Blackwater USA , DynCorp, Triple Canopy, Erinys and
ArmorGroup. They have in turn used their lucrative government pay-outs to
build up the infrastructure and reach of private armies so powerful that
they rival or outgun some nation's militaries.
"I think it's extraordinarily dangerous when a nation begins to outsource
its monopoly on the use of force and the use of violence in support of its
foreign policy or national security objectives," says veteran U.S.
Diplomat Joe Wilson, who served as the last U.S. ambassador to Iraq before
the 1991 Gulf War.
The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies, Wilson argues,
"makes of them a very powerful interest group within the American body
politic and an interest group that is in fact armed. And the question will
arise at some time: to whom do they owe their loyalty?"
Precise data on the extent of U.S. spending on mercenary services is
nearly impossible to
obtain - by both journalists and elected officials-but some in Congress
estimate that up to 40 cents of every tax dollar spent on the war goes to
corporate war contractors. At present, the United States spends about $2
billion a week on its Iraq operations.
While much has been made of the Bush administration's "failure" to build
international consensus for the invasion of Iraq, perhaps that was never
the intention. When U.S. tanks rolled into Iraq in March 2003, they
brought with them the largest army of "private contractors" ever deployed
in a war. The White House substituted international diplomacy with
lucrative war contracts and a coalition of willing nations who provided
token forces with a coalition of billing corporations that supplied the
brigades of contractors.
'THERE'S NO DEMOCRATIC CONTROL'
During the 1991 Gulf War, the ratio of troops to private contractors was
about 60 to 1. Today, it is the contractors who outnumber U.S. forces in
Iraq. As of July 2007, there were more than 630 war contracting companies
working in Iraq for the United States. Composed of some 180,000 individual
personnel drawn from more than 100 countries, the army of contractors
surpasses the official U.S. military presence of 160,000 troops.
In all, the United States may have as many as 400,000 personnel occupying
Iraq, not including allied nations' militaries. The statistics on
contractors do not account for all armed contractors. Last year, a U.S.
government report estimated there were 48,000 people working for more than
170 private military companies in Iraq. "It masks the true level of
American involvement," says Ambassador Wilson.
How much money is being spent just on mercenaries remains largely
classified. Congressional sources estimate the United States has spent at
least $6 billion in Iraq, while Britain has spent some $400 million. At
the same time, companies chosen by the White House for rebuilding projects
in Iraq have spent huge sums in reconstruction funds - possibly billions
on more mercenaries to guard their personnel and projects.
The single largest U.S. contract for private security in Iraq was a $293
million payment to the British firm Aegis Defence Services, headed by
retired British Lt. Col. Tim Spicer, who has been dogged by accusations
that he is a mercenary because of his private involvement in African
conflicts. The Texas-based DynCorp International has been another big
winner, with more than $1 billion in contracts to provide personnel to
train Iraqi police forces, while Blackwater USA has won $750 million in
State Department contracts alone for "diplomatic security."
At present, an American or a British Special Forces veteran working for a
private security company in Iraq can make $650 a day. At times the rate
has reached $1,000 a day; the pay dwarfs many times over that of active
duty troops operating in the war zone wearing a U.S. or U.K. flag on their
shoulder instead of a corporate logo.
"We got [tens of thousands of] contractors over there, some of them making
more than the Secretary of Defense," House Defense Appropriations
Subcommittee Chairman John Murtha (D-Penn.) recently remarked. "How in the
hell do you justify that?" In part, these contractors do mundane jobs that
traditionally have been performed by soldiers. Some require no military
training, but involve deadly occupations, such as driving trucks through
Others are more innocuous, like cooking food or doing laundry on a base,
but still court grave risk because of regular mortar and rocket attacks.
These services are provided through companies like KBR and Fluor and
through their vast labyrinth of subcontractors. But many other private
personnel are also engaged in armed combat and "security" operations. They
interrogate prisoners, gather intelligence, operate rendition flights,
protect senior occupation officials and, in at least one case, have
commanded U.S. and international troops in battle.
In a revealing admission, Gen. David Petraeus, who is overseeing Bush's
troop "surge," said earlier this year that he has, at times, been guarded
in Iraq by "contract security." At least three U.S. commanding generals,
not including Petraeus, are currently being guarded in Iraq by hired guns.
"To have half of your army be contractors, I don't know that there's a
precedent for that," says Rep. Dennis Kucinich (D-Ohio), a member of the
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been
investigating war contractors.
"Maybe the precedent was the British and the Hessians in the American
Revolution. Maybe that's the last time and needless to say, they lost. But
I'm thinking that there's no democratic control and there's no intention
to have democratic control here."
The implications are devastating. Joseph Wilson says, "In the absence of
international consensus, the current Bush administration relied on a
coalition of what I call the co-opted, the corrupted and the coerced:
those who benefited financially from their involvement, those who
benefited politically from their involvement and those few who determined
that their relationship with the United States was more important than
their relationship with anybody else. And that's a real problem because
there is no underlying international legitimacy that sustains us
throughout this action that we've taken."
Moreover, this revolution means the United States no longer needs to rely
on its own citizens to fight its wars, nor does it need to implement a
draft, which would have made the Iraq war politically untenable.
'AN ARM OF THE BUSH ADMINISTRATION'
During his confirmation hearings in the Senate this past January, Petraeus
praised the role of private forces, claiming they compensate for an
overstretched military. Petraeus told the senators that combined with
Bush's official troop surge, the "tens of thousands of contract security
forces give me the reason to believe that we can accomplish the mission."
Taken together with Petraeus's recent assertion that the surge would run
into mid-2009, this means a widening role for mercenaries and other
private forces in Iraq is clearly on the table for the foreseeable future.
"The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say
'mercenaries' makes wars easier to begin and to fight - it just takes
money and not the citizenry," says Michael Ratner, president of the Center
for Constitutional Rights, whose organization has sued private contractors
for alleged human rights violations in Iraq.
"To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is
resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement,
foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist
wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on
retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need
Privatized forces are also politically expedient for many governments.
Their casualties go uncounted, their actions largely unmonitored and their
crimes unpunished. Indeed, four years into the occupation, there is no
effective system of oversight or accountability governing contractors and
their operations, nor is there any effective law - military or civilian
being applied to their activities. They have not been subjected to
military courts martial (despite a recent congressional attempt to place
them under the Uniform Code of Military Justice), nor have they been
prosecuted in U.S. civilian courts. And no matter what their acts in Iraq,
they cannot be prosecuted in Iraqi courts because in 2004 the U.S.
occupying authority granted them complete immunity.
"These private contractors are really an arm of the administration and its
policies," argues Kucinich, who has called for a withdrawal of all U.S.
contractors from Iraq. "They charge whatever they want with impunity.
There's no accountability as to how many people they have, as to what
their activities are."
That raises the crucial question: what exactly are they doing in Iraq in
the name of the U.S. and U.K. governments? Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), a
leading member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, which is
responsible for reviewing sensitive national security issues, explained
the difficulty of monitoring private military companies on the U.S.
payroll: "If I want to see a contract, I have to go up to a secret room
and look at it, can't take any notes, can't take any notes out with me,
you know - essentially, I don't have access to those contracts and even if
I did, I couldn't tell anybody about it."
'A MARKETPLACE FOR WARFARE'
On the Internet, numerous videos have spread virally, showing what appear
to be foreign mercenaries using Iraqis as target practice, much to the
embarrassment of the firms involved. Despite these incidents and the tens
of thousands of contractors passing through Iraq, only two individuals
have been ever indicted for crimes there. One was charged with stabbing a
fellow contractor, while the other pled guilty to possessing
child-pornography images on his computer at Abu Ghraib prison.
Dozens of American soldiers have been court-martialed - 64 on
murder-related charges alone - but not a single armed contractor has been
prosecuted for a crime against an Iraqi. In some cases, where contractors
were alleged to have been involved in crimes or deadly incidents, their
companies whisked them out of Iraq to safety.
U.S. contractors in Iraq reportedly have their own motto: "What happens
here today, stays here today." International diplomats say Iraq has
demonstrated a new U.S. model for waging war; one which poses a creeping
threat to global order.
"To outsource security-related, military related issues to non-government,
non-military forces is a source of great concern and it caught many
governments unprepared," says Hans von Sponeck, a 32-year veteran U.N.
diplomat, who served as head of the U.N. Iraq mission before the U.S.
In Iraq, the United States has used its private sector allies to build up
armies of mercenaries many lured from impoverished countries with the
promise of greater salaries than their home militaries can pay. That the
home governments of some of these private warriors are opposed to the war
itself is of little consequence.
"Have gun, will fight for paycheck" has become a globalized law.
"The most worrying aspect is that these forces are outside parliamentary
control. They come from all over and they are answerable to no one except
a very narrow group of people and they come from countries whose
governments may not even know in detail that they have actually been
contracted as a private army into a war zone," says von Sponeck.
"If you have now a marketplace for warfare, it is a commercial issue
rather than a political issue involving a debate in the countries.
You are also marginalizing governmental control over whether or not this
should take place, should happen and, if so, in what size and shape. It's
a very worrying new aspect of international relations. I think it becomes
more and more uncontrollable by the countries of supply."
In Iraq, for example, hundreds of Chilean mercenaries have been deployed
by U.S. companies like Blackwater and Triple Canopy, despite the fact that
Chile, as a rotating member of the U.N. Security Council, opposed the
invasion and continues to oppose the occupation of Iraq. Some of the
Chileans are alleged to have been seasoned veterans of the Pinochet era.
"There is nothing new, of course, about the relationship between politics
and the economy, but there is something deeply perverse about the
privatization of the Iraq War and the utilization of mercenaries," says
Chilean sociologist Tito Tricot, a former political prisoner who was
tortured under Pinochet's regime.
"This externalization of services or outsourcing attempts to lower costs -
third world mercenaries are paid less than their counterparts from the
developed world - and maximize benefits. In other words, let others fight
the war for the Americans. In either case, the Iraqi people do not matter
NEW WORLD DISORDER
The Iraq war has ushered in a new system. Wealthy nations can recruit the
world's poor, from countries that have no direct stake in the conflict,
and use them as cannon fodder to conquer weaker nations. This allows the
conquering power to hold down domestic casualties - the single-greatest
impediment to waging wars like the one in Iraq. Indeed, in Iraq, more than
1,000 contractors working for the U.S. occupation have been killed with
another 13,000 wounded. Most are not American citizens, and these numbers
are not counted in the official death toll at a time when Americans are
increasingly disturbed by casualties.
In Iraq, many companies are run by Americans or Britons and have
well-trained forces drawn from elite military units for use in sensitive
actions or operations. But down the ranks, these forces are filled by
Iraqis and third-country nationals. Indeed, some 118,000 of the estimated
180,000 contractors are Iraqis, and many mercenaries are reportedly
ill-paid, poorly equipped and barely trained Iraqi nationals.
The mercenary industry points to this as a positive: we are giving Iraqis
jobs, albeit occupying their own country in the service of a private
corporation hired by a hostile invading power.
Doug Brooks, the head of the Orwellian named mercenary trade group, the
International Peace Operations Association, argued from early on in the
occupation, "Museums do not need to be guarded by Abrams tanks when an
Iraqi security guard working for a contractor can do the same job for less
than one-fiftieth of what it costs to maintain an American soldier. Hiring
local guards gives Iraqis a stake in a successful future for their
country. They use their pay to support their families and stimulate the
economy. Perhaps most significantly, every guard means one less potential
In many ways, it is the same corporate model of relying on cheap labor in
destitute nations to staff their uber-profitable operations. The giant
multinationals also argue they are helping the economy by hiring locals,
even if it's at starvation wages.
"Donald Rumsfeld's masterstroke, and his most enduring legacy, was to
bring the corporate branding revolution of the 1990s into the heart of the
most powerful military in the world," says Naomi Klein, whose upcoming
book, The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, explores these
"We have now seen the emergence of the hollow army. Much as with so-called
hollow corporations like Nike, billions are spent on military technology
and design in rich countries while the manual labor and sweat work of
invasion and occupation is increasingly outsourced to contractors who
compete with each other to fill the work order for the lowest price. Just
as this model breeds rampant abuse in the manufacturing sector - with the
big-name brands always able to plead ignorance about the actions of their
suppliers-so it does in the military, though with stakes that are
immeasurably higher." In the case of Iraq, the U.S. and U.K. governments
could give the public perception of a withdrawal of forces and just
privatize the occupation. Indeed, shortly after former British Prime
Minister Tony Blair announced that he wanted to withdraw 1,600 soldiers
from Basra, reports emerged that the British government was considering
sending in private security companies to "fill the gap left behind."
THE SPY WHO BILLED ME
While Iraq currently dominates the headlines, private war and intelligence
companies are expanding their already sizable footprint. The U.S.
government in particular is now in the midst of the most radical
privatization agenda in its history. According to a recent report in
Vanity Fair, the government pays contractors as much as the combined taxes
paid by everyone in the United States with incomes under $100,000, meaning
"more than 90 percent of all taxpayers might as well remit everything they
owe directly to [contractors] rather than to the [government]."
Some of this outsourcing is happening in sensitive sectors, including the
intelligence community. "This is the magnet now. Everything is being
attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise
and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community," says
former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman. "My major
concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The
entire industry is essentially out of control. It's outrageous."
RJ Hillhouse, a blogger who investigates the clandestine world of private
contractors and U.S. intelligence, recently obtained documents from the
Office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that
Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence
contractors, up from $17.54 billion in 2000. Currently that spending
represents 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget going to private
Perhaps it is no surprise then that the current head of the DNI is Mike
McConnell, the former chair of the board of the Intelligence and National
Security Alliance, the private intelligence industry's lobbying arm.
Hillhouse also revealed that one of the most sensitive U.S. intelligence
documents, the Presidential Daily Briefing, is prepared in part by private
companies, despite having the official seal of the U.S. intelligence
"Let's say a company is frustrated with a government that's hampering its
business or business of one of its clients. Introducing and spinning
intelligence on that government's suspected collaboration with terrorists
would quickly get the White House's attention and could be used to shape
national policy," Hillhouse argues.
Empowered by their new found prominence, mercenary forces are increasing
their presence on other battlefields: in Latin America, DynCorp
International is operating in Colombia, Bolivia and other countries under
the guise of the "war on drugs" - U.S. defense contractors are receiving
nearly half the $630 million in U.S. military aid for Colombia; in Africa,
mercenaries are deploying in Somalia, Congo and Sudan and increasingly
have their sights set on tapping into the hefty U.N. peacekeeping budget
(this has been true since at least the early 1990s and probably much
earlier). Heavily armed mercenaries were deployed to New Orleans in the
aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, while proposals are being considered to
privatize the U.S. border patrol.
Brooks, the private military industry lobbyist, says people should not
become "overly obsessed with Iraq," saying his association's "member
companies have more personnel working in U.N. and African Union peace
operations than all but a handful of countries." Von Sponeck says he
believes the use of such companies in warfare should be barred and has
harsh words for the institution for which he spent his career working:
"The United Nations, including the U.N. Secretary General, should react to
this and instead of reacting, they are mute, they are silent."
This unprecedented funding of such enterprises, primarily by the U.S. and
U.K. governments, means that powers once the exclusive realm of nations
are now in the hands of private companies with loyalty only to profits,
CEOs and, in the case of public companies, shareholders. And, of course,
their client, whoever that may be. CIA-type services, special operations,
covert actions and small-scale military and paramilitary forces are now on
the world market in a way not seen in modern history. This could allow
corporations or nations with cash to spend but no real military power to
hire squadrons of heavily armed and well-trained commandos.
"It raises very important issues about state and about the very power of
state. The one thing the people think of as being in the purview of the
government - wholly run and owned by - is the use of military power," says
Rep. Jan Schakowsky. "Suddenly you've got a for-profit corporation going
around the world that is more powerful than states, can effect regime
possibly where they may want to go, that seems to have all the support
that it needs from this administration that is also pretty adventurous
around the world and operating under the cover of darkness.
"It raises questions about democracies, about states, about who influences
policy around the globe, about relationships among some countries. Maybe
it's their goal to render state coalitions like NATO irrelevant in the
future, that they'll be the ones and open to the highest bidder. Who
really does determine war and peace around the world?"
Jeremy Scahill is author of The New York Times-bestseller "Blackwater: The
Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.". He is a Puffin
Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute. This article appears in
the current issue of The Indypendent newspaper. He can be reached at
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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