The Mercenary Revolution: Flush with Profits from the Iraq War, Military Contractors See a World of Business Opportunities.
The Mercenary Revolution: Flush with Profits from the Iraq War, Military Contractors See a World of Business Opportunities.
If you think the
With almost no congressional oversight and even less public awareness, the Bush administration has more than doubled the size of the
There are now almost 200,000 private "contractors" deployed in
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
"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
The billions of dollars being doled out to these companies,
Precise data on the extent of
While much has been made of the Bush administration's "failure" to build international consensus for the invasion of
'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
In all, the
How much money is being spent just on mercenaries remains largely classified. Congressional sources estimate the
The single largest
At present, an American or a British Special Forces veteran working for a private security company in
"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 insurgent-controlled territory.
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
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
"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
'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
"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
"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
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
"These private contractors are really an arm of the administration and its policies," argues Kucinich, who has called for a withdrawal of all
That raises the crucial question: what exactly are they doing in
'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
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
"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. invasion.
"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."
"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 at all."
NEW WORLD DISORDER
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 guerrilla."
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 themes.
"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
THE SPY WHO BILLED ME
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
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
"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
Brooks, the private military industry lobbyist, says people should not become "overly obsessed with
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?"