Global Policy Forum

PMSCs: Risks and Misconduct


The modern State, according to Max Weber’s much-quoted definition, “is a human community that (successfully) claims the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force within a given territory.” The rise of the modern private security firm questions this monopoly, and potentially threatens the foundations of the modern nation-state. Indeed, states have been outsourcing the capacity to provide security to their citizens and to wage war, a key element of their sovereignty.

In countries where PMSCs are operating, security is increasingly becoming a private rather than a public good. Private security may improve the safety of certain individuals, but it is damaging to any broadly conceived notion of protection for society as a whole. This is a phenomenon unfolding in so-called “failed states” such as Somalia, but also in gated communities all over the world. A major concern that has been raised is how PMSCs potentially undermine state institutions.

In situations of armed conflict, the return to public order can only be achieved if the state’s legitimacy is restored and its ability to maintain order and protect its population is well established. This seems unlikely when security provision remains in the hands of private actors. In Afghanistan, for instance, coalition forces have been paying off strongmen with private militias to preserve stability, which inherently undermines the notion of the state building project that they are purportedly advancing. While parts of Afghanistan are less volatile because of these security arrangements, there is a price for this stability. An unintended consequence of using private security firms has been the creation of parallel structures of government, blurring the lines between public and private interests and further eroding the economic and political power of the fledgling Afghan government.

Lastly, PMSCs lead to a lack of democratic accountability. Due to their very nature, private security firms undermine democratic institutions. The use of PMSCs has been integral to the US global “War on Terror.” Many of the clandestine operations that these firms execute are unpopular with the US public tired of a constant state of global war. But these firms continue to operate with little oversight and no accountability to the US public.

The main argument for the use of privatized security firms is that they are cheaper, more reliable, and more efficient than standard militaries. These assumptions stem from an ideology that perceives the free market as superior to the public sector in terms of service provision. The latter is often portrayed as being slow, inefficient, and corrupt. In order to provide security in a more cost-effective manner, advocates of privatization argue that it should be outsourced to the public for-profit sector.

In fact there is no hard data proving that privatized security is cheaper. Evidence suggests that PMSCs which receive closed bid contracts are more expensive than the military providing the same services in house. Furthermore, the assessment of the gains of privatization is too narrowly drawn and fails to include the industry’s hidden costs. Private security firms make a private profit out of war, and shift the cost of negative externalities to the public. Because these costs are often non-economic, they are not factored into the final price tag of private security services.

Shadow armies are inherently and necessarily opaque in their design, and are therefore a useful tool to carry out illegal operations abroad. Multiple reports of extrajudicial killings by security contractors have come out of Afghanistan and Iraq. Questions have been raised about PMSCs operating in countries with which the US is not officially at war, such as Pakistan. Private military and security companies have used excessive force in numerous conflict situations, a fact most evidently illustrated by the Blackwater massacre in Nisour Square in September 2007.

Additionally, private security providers have skirted around labor law, notably by paying staff from developing countries lower salaries than their counterparts from developed ones, and by denying their employees health care.


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Canada Spent $10 Million for Security at Afghan Dam Project (March 13, 2013)

The Canadian International Development Agency is being scrutinized for its involvement with a controversial Afghan private security firm. According to this report, a major Canadian-led infrastructure project in Afghanistan was contracted to a construction firm which in turn spent $10 million on a security contract with Watan Risk Management. The security firm has allegedly been involved in corrupt practices and some of its guards were involved in an armed stand-off with Canadian observers.  This case illustrates the prevailing lack of transparency in the realm of private security contracts and infrastructure development in conflict zones. While western governments often lament corruption as an obstacle to progress in Afghanistan, they must address the possibility that their practices are exacerbating this problem. (Toronto Star)

Software that Tracks People on Social Media Created by Defence Firm (February 10, 2013)

Raytheon, a major private security firm, is developing surveillance technology that synthesizes data from various social media sites in order to develop an extensive profile of individuals based on their online activities. Though it has not been sold to any clients, the involvement of a security firm – as opposed to a market research company – is raising concerns that Raytheon could be in a position to profit from government surveillance. The program can provide personal details, geographic locations, and even predict the future activities of targets. Consequently, the technology has raised privacy concerns, with some suggesting that websites like Twitter could become a “Google for spies.” Aside from the general privacy concerns, Raytheon’s software has raised the specter of a combination of government surveillance and the private pursuit of profit. (Guardian)

I Want You to Know I Know Who You Are (January 3, 2013)

Political activists have long been subjected to surveillance by government authorities, but in recent years private companies have also monitored activists campaigning for social justice and environmental causes. Greenpeace, for example, was infamously targeted by McDonalds because of its environmental justice campaigns, and some are concerned that the practice of corporate surveillance may be eroding privacy and human rights. One particularly troubling aspect of this story is the interaction between state authorities, corporations targeted by activist campaigns, and separate firms specializing in surveillance and private-sector security. (London Review of Books)

Defense Contractor Awards Abu Ghraib Torture Victims Meager $5 Million Settlement (January 9, 2013)

Engility Holdings Inc., a US military contractor, has paid $5.28 million for its role in the abuse of prisoners at the infamous Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq. The money will be distributed amongst 72 prisoners who suffered mistreatment, marking a rare instance of reparation for the victims of private security contractors’ misconduct. Critics, however, have questioned the appropriateness of the sum, which pales in comparison to monetary settlements negotiated with US victims of similar mistreatment. While some are hopeful that this settlement sets a precedent that will ensure greater accountability amongst private military contractors, the settlement’s relatively small size and the industry’s continued resistance against legal liability for their behavior in conflict zones is cause for continued concern. (RT)


The Many PMC Faces of NATO (November 28, 2012)

Western powers have increasingly turned to private military and security companies over the last two decades. Yet, no consensus exists as to appropriate use and how oversight should be organized.  The UK government has been particularly inclined to favor the private market, making the state especially dependent on private firms for both its domestic and foreign security. PMSCs are also central for the US government, which lacks political, functional, and social control over these firms. By contrast, countries such as Germany or Norway have avoided extreme privatization of security and only contract with PMSCs for non-strategic and non-coercive services while maintaining much greater political control.  So if and when oversight and regulatory systems are set up, they should recognize this diversity and include the opinion of restrictive governments as well as the main – uncritical - clients. (Huffington Post)

Are Private Military Companies Exempted From Geneva Conventions? (November 23, 2012)

This article sheds light on the legal consequences of the increasing presence of private military and security companies on battlefields and their direct participation in hostilities. There is no legal vacuum surrounding the increasing presence of PMSCs on battlefields: states are responsible for the conduct of PMSCs which therefore become subject to international humanitarian law. The major concern is in fact “the status, rights, and obligations of PMC employees” in the respective domestic legal frameworks of these countries: PMSCs “often enjoy immunity in the countries where they operate, and their prosecution in their home countries is still not as well-regulated as prosecution involving members of regular armed forces.” (Diplomatic Courrier)

G4S Loses Contract. Handing Prisons to Any Commercial Contractor is a Grave Mistake (November 8, 2012)

While media outlets generally focus on the international dimension of PMSCs involved in Iraq or Somalia, one should bear in mind that Western countries increasingly employ such private firms domestically. Yet, major risks emerge when states try to combine security functions that used to be exclusively public with a profit-oriented business strategy. In the UK, the privatization of the prison system has created intense controversy. After being directly involved in the London Olympics security fiasco, the Private Security Company G4S has lost its major contract to administer the prison of Lincolnshire, United Kingdom. Ultimately, the privatization of prisons represents a threat to democracy itself as “commercial confidentiality shields the process from public view and democratic accountability.” (Open Democracy)

Contracting the Commanders: Transition And The Political Economy Of Afghanistan’s Private Security Industry (October 2012)

In a recent report, Matthieu Aikins argues that what he describes as the “political economy of the international presence” in Afghanistan is central to forecast the future stability of post-occupation politics in the country. US-funded PMSCs have been a central element of such presence. Not only were they implied in cases of violations of humanitarian law, but they also “exacerbated tensions with Kabul and [now] threaten to contribute to the growing political fragmentation and instability.” Furthermore, tens of thousands of Afghans have been hired by PMSCs and will now constitute a considerable unemployed force: this will certainly represent a great challenge for the newly created Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) to demobilize and reintegrate them. (NYU Center On International Cooperation)

As Iraq, Afghan Wars End, Private Security Firms Adapt (October 21, 2012)

The United States and its allies will be gone from Afghanistan and Iraq by 2014, countries they occupied by relying on 260,000 private military and security contractors. Peter Apps explains that “as the conflicts that helped create the modern industry wind down, firms are having to adapt to survive.” The Pentagon will seemingly seek to shift its strategic focus from the Middle East to the Asia-Pacific region, which will provide “fewer openings for traditional private military contractors.” Therefore, PMSCs will probably broaden their scope of activities in order to provide diverse intelligence and logistic services rather than simply provide support for military operations. This will pose new problems of accountability and oversight in the near future. (Chicago Tribune)

Predator Military Contractors: Privatizing the Drones (October 18, 2012)

The use of unmanned aerial systems has dramatically increased over the last decade, and especially under the Obama administration. While the use of lethal unmanned drones itself raises great concerns about the future of warfare, a recent report has shown that drone operations are becoming heavily dependent on the use of private contractors. PMSCs are hired for tasks related to logistics and maintenance, vehicle and sensor operation, weapons systems maintenance, and video and imagery analysis. This is especially important as, in addition to direct strikes, drones are used to feed data to troops for special operations missions and gather information for intelligence. Ultimately, this raises questions about the worrying future of the private sector’s involvement in government’s military strategies. (Huffington Post)

After Benghazi Attack, Private Security Hovers as an Issue  (October 12, 2012)

During the last decade, the US has increased security measures for its diplomats abroad, often contracting private security companies. Yet, the post-Qaddhafi Libyan government banned “Blackwater-staged” private armed contractors from operating in the country. This contributed to an unclear security strategy in Libya, which may have led to the death of Ambassador Stevens in Benghazi. However, more robust private security remains a dangerous alternative. In fact PMSCs’ aggressive measures in Iraq and Afghanistan led to a “growing regional resentment against heavily armed American private security contractors” in the Middle East. Not to mention that diplomats themselves increasingly complain about such “ever-tighter protections that they say make it more difficult to do their jobs.” (New York Times)

Contractors in War Zones: Not Exactly "Contracting" (October 9, 2012)

As US troops will soon be out of Iraq and Afghanistan, foreign military presence will remain part of the reality of these two countries through private military and security companies.  As of today, “there are more contractors than U.S. troops in Afghanistan”. In fact, the Pentagon employs approximately 137,000 private contractors in 20 countries around the world. In this article, David Isenberg presents “how dependent on them the Pentagon has become”. Not only are those mercenaries less accountable and prone to misconduct than regular military forces, but they will perpetuate conflict dynamics outside of the view of Western publics and democratic control. (Time)

Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy (October 4, 2012)

In the past years, Western governments have increasingly relied on private military contractors in Somalia. The shadowy establishment of the counter-piracy Puntland Maritime Police Force in Somalia is another example of the risks involved in contracting PMSCs. In a recent UN experts’ report, the Dubai-funded PMSC Sterling Corporate Services has been accused of violating Somalia’s arms embargo as well as committing human rights abuses. As the US-based PMSC Bancroft Global Development is taking over the mission, many doubts remain about the potential for misconduct. But one thing is certain: now that Sterling’s mandate is over, the PMSC “is leaving behind an unpaid but well-armed security force in Puntland,” which will further destabilize the region’s security. (New York Times)

South Africa-Linked Military Firm Loses Anti-Piracy Contract (September 29, 2012)

The South African PMSC Sterling Corporate Services, which the semi-autonomous Somali region of Puntland contracted to train a paramilitary maritime force to fight pirates in the Horn of Africa, has been sharply criticized by the UN for its systematic violations of UN arms embargoes and potential implication in cases of human rights violations. It is likely that Bancroft Global Development, a US-based PMSC already working for the UN’s AMISOM in Somalia, will get the contract. Yet, this transition has been the result of a “behind closed door deal to avoid sanctions”. (Independent Online)

Protest is Coming to the London Olympics (May 21, 2012)

This Nation article describes the International Olympics Committee (IOC) as the 1% of the 1%, and refers to the 2012 Olympics as a corporate cornucopia. In the London Olympics, the UK plans to mobilize thousands of troops and private security forces, install surveillance cameras, and fund surveillance drones. These efforts prioritize the interests of corporate sponsors, including McDonalds, British Petroleum, and Dow Chemical.  On July 28, 2012, Londoners plan to gather and protest against the corporate atmosphere surrounding the upcoming Olympic games. (The Nation)

“Drones, Missiles, and Gunships, Oh My!” Welcome to the 2012 London Olympics (May 14, 2012)

There will be as many as 48,000 security forces in London during the 2012 Summer Olympics. These forces will be armed with surface-to-air missiles, sonic weapons, surveillance drones, attack dogs, an eleven-mile electric fence, facial-recognition CCTV systems, and other high-tech security apparatuses. It is the UK’s biggest mobilization of military forces since World War II. The author of this article argues that the whole ordeal is not as much about athletes competing within a community of nations, as it is a “neoliberal Trojan Horse” aimed to attract investments at the expense of basic civil liberties. (The Nation)

Question Marks over EU Contract for Libya Security Firm (May 8, 2012)

The EU has awarded G4S 10 million Euros to provide bodyguards for its Tripoli and Benghazi delegations, even though G4S is not legally allowed to work there. Neither the National Transition Council (NTC) nor the Libyan government permits G4S to operate in Libya. G4S also provides materials and services to Israeli prisons that hold Palestinian “administrative detainees” for the Israeli government in occupied territory, which leads to further controversy, making G4S and, by association, EU delegates potential targets for hostility in Libya. (EU Observer)

Guantanamo Bay Contractor on Shortlist to Run UK Police Services (May 3, 2012)

Kellogg Brown & Root (KBR), a US private contractor that helped build Guantanamo Bay prisons, is bidding for a 1.5 billion pound contract to run policing services in Surrey and the West Midlands in the UK. There has been little public awareness about this contract, and critics are worried about the lack of public consultation in the matter. A KBR spokesperson claimed that KBR would bring “operational efficiencies” to “back office” police tasks. But critics who have analyzed the potential contract argue that the contract privatizes some core elements of policing, which distances police from the public citizens they are supposed to serve.  (Guardian)

Security Firms Look to Cash in on RNC (April 29, 2012)

Private security companies are selling their services to downtown businesses in preparation for the 2012 Republican National Convention in Tampa, Florida. The city expects 50,000 visitors, and police expect 15,000 protestors. Guards will be armed, and are meant to protect businesses against protestors if “mayhem” ensues. Private military companies working in the area argue that protests can be like hurricanes, and both require insurance for those exposed. But fueling a private security machine that advertises fear is not the best way to deal with protestors. (Tampa Bay Times)

Locking Down an American Workforce (April 19, 2012)

Cash-starved state governments are laying off public workers and selling off public assets, including correctional facilities (with prisoners inside) while private security companies, like Corrections Corporations of America (CCA) and G4S are profiting immensely from them. CCA and G4S privatize public prisons, then lease inmate labor at subminimum wages to Fortune 500 corporations like Chevron, Bank of America, AT&T, and IBM. This TomDispatch article argues that US penal institutions have acted as “auxiliary arms” of industry, providing subsidies, tax incentives, and facilities for corporations to exploit right-less workers. (TomDispatch)

Pakistan in the Wake of Bin Laden: Private Security Companies Constitute a “State within a State” (April 13, 2012)

This article examines the role of private security companies in Pakistan, a nuclear-armed nation trying to secure its regional position against India and Afghanistan. It has become dependent on US money, and has transformed into a quasi-police state backed by private military companies. Since 9/11, elite private military companies, like G4S, have gotten rich from political instability in Pakistan, even though the Pakistani constitution prohibits private armies. Threats of death have deterred journalists in Pakistan from reporting on this troubling collusion. (Crikey)

Mobilising Outrage: Campaigning with Asylum Seekers against Security Industry Giant, G4S (April 12, 2012)

G4S is a private military and security company (PMSC) that employs senior politicians and diplomats to lobby for contracts with the UK government. The UK outsources 1 billion dollars a year to G4S for work in the public sphere, such as guarding prisons, escorting refugees, and general policing. G4S’ most recent partnership with the UK Border Agency to manage asylum-seeker housing has been met with public outrage. Demonstrations and marches in Sheffield drew attention to G4S’ abuses, including charges of corporate manslaughter. Why is the UK spending taxpayer money to fund PMSCs with questionable human rights records? (openDemocracy)

Britain as a Private Security State: First They Came for the Asylum Seeker…(March 9, 2012)

This article on openDemocracy criticizes the United Kingdom’s increasing use of privatized security. The business is worth £3.97 billion annually, and it has become a powerful lobby for privatizing state functions across Europe. In addition to expanding private prisons, UK has contracted private security companies to expand private police functions and take over asylum-seeker housing. But research shows that private prisons, detention centers, and asylum market services are not cheaper than public ones. Activists have also raised concerns about the state’s racist policy towards immigrants and asylum seekers, a problem that private guards will only exacerbate. (openDemocracy)

Stratfor and Geopolitical Instruments of our Demise (March 6, 2012)

This al Jazeera article describes Stratfor as an amateur intelligence firm, made up of low to mid-level intelligence analysts who were not good enough for the CIA. But Stratfor was invaluable for the US government to continue its overextended military actions abroad. Stratfor’s “intelligence” reinforced US government fears of terrorist threats, and acted as an “echo chamber” to recycle ideas and justify continued military intervention. The US government invested taxpayer dollars in private military contracts based on Stratfor’s recommendations, which put the US further in debt while making private military companies rich. (al Jazeera)

G4S Turns a Profit in “Asylym Markets”: Who’s Speaking Out and Whose Lips are Sealed? (February 28, 2012)

Local activists in South Yorkshire petitioned their city council against G4S takeover of asylum-seeker housing. G4S is a private security company, and it is the world’s second-largest private sector employer, behind Walmart. In 2010, there were 773 complaints and 48 claims of assault against G4S related to its work in housing and immigration. The UK Border Agency, which has had a difficult time sorting out “illegal immigrants” from asylum seekers, contracted G4S to manage asylum housing in northeast United Kingdom.  Asylum seekers who were familiar with G4S prison security guards compared the privatization of humanitarian housing to the creation of more detention facilities. (OpenDemocracy)

The Arrival of the Warrior Corporation (February 23, 2012)

Endless war has taken its toll on US soldiers. Rates of suicide, crime, drug abuse, desertion, and sexual violence have increased on US military bases. To address the problem, the US has corporatized its war machine. Private military and security contractors are hired to replace citizen armies with low morale. Drones are greeted as if they were the sleekest iPhones on the market. Corporate participation sidelines the US public from engagement in military affairs, while the US continues to overextend its influence, and all of this for a few alleged insurgents, scattered around the globe. (TomDispatch

Enter China's Security Firms (February 21, 2012)

The United States and other western countries have attracted attention in recent years for their increasing reliance on private security firms. The demand for private security has brought about an expansion in the private security industry, most notably in western countries. However, as Chinese firms become more economically involved in unstable regions, a private security industry is emerging in China. While some contend that this is necessary to protect Chinese citizens abroad, concerns are being raised about the implications this industry may have for China’s non-interventionist approach to foreign affairs. As China becomes more economically involved with the global south, some worry that the potentially dangerous operations of private security firms may cause it to become militarily involved as well. (Diplomat)

“The Super Bowl of Disasters”: Profiting from Crisis in Post-Earthquake Haiti (February 16, 2012)

Corporate investors are treating post-earthquake Haiti like a Monopoly game, played with US taxpayer dollars. The International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), whose members are primarily PMSCs, hosted a “Haiti Summit” in Florida for corporations to discuss post-earthquake contracting opportunities. Contractors include some of the same companies that profited from war in Iraq and Afghanistan, such as CH2M Hill and KBR Global Service. While the US government funds much of these investments (thanks to corporate lobbyists), there is little transparency to where the money goes once it enters corporate pockets.  Haitians must suffer the long-term outcomes of what unaccountable foreign corporations build, destroy, or steal in their neighborhoods. (The WIP)

Should the State Department Outsource Drone Operations to Private Contractors? (January 30, 2012)

The US Department of State posted an online prospectus asking for private military companies to expand the nation’s drone services in “high-threat” areas. Unmanned drones crash quite often, causing damage and injury in the crash site. Private military companies do not have diplomatic agreements like nations do, and if their unmanned drones are discovered, accountability may become muddled. Micah Zenko, a conflict prevention expert at the Council on Foreign Relations, says, “Drone programs, when they exist, tend to find more missions.” The same point can be made for the existence of US’ relationships with PMSCs. (PBS)

US Drones Patrolling Its Skies Provoke Outrage in Iraq (January 29, 2012)

In September, 2011, the US State Department placed an online prospectus calling for private military companies to operate surveillance drones in “high conflict” areas, such as Pakistan, Afghanistan, Yemen, and Iraq. Iraqi officials, however, argue that drone operations disrespect Iraqi sovereignty. Not surprisingly, some Iraqi citizens do not differentiate between surveillance drones and weapon drones, which have destroyed villages in Pakistan and Afghanistan under the pretext of pursuing terrorists. Privatization of surveillance drones to “protect” US diplomats in Iraq would hamper Iraq’s state-building efforts. (NY Times)

Unsilent Witness (January 29, 2012)

Kathryn Bolkovac was hired by DynCorps, a private military company, for contract work in Bosnia with the UN. There, she exposed a sex trafficking scandal involving her colleagues and the sexual abuse of teenage Bosnian girls. Bolkavac discovered that her colleagues not only slept with the girls but were also on the traffickers’ payrolls. They informed trafickers for when UN raids would occur and for the whereabouts of escaped girls. DynCorps fired Bolkavac for pressing the issue while the sex offenders went unprosecuted. Her story was made into a movie, The Whistleblower (2011). In Balkovac’s interview with The Sunday Telegraph, she shares her experience and encourages further prosecution of the perpetrators. (Telegraph)

Confessions of a Recovering Weapons Addict (January 24, 2012)

In 2010, the US sold weapons to 62 countries from Afghanistan to Yemen. In 2011, the Obama administration planned to sell nearly $11 billion in weapons to Iraq. Few senators opposed the deal because many private weapons-makers provide jobs in their districts, as well as donations to their campaigns. William Astore, a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel, refers to the US as “Weapons ‘R’ US”. He writes, “We sell weapons the way teenage punks sell fireworks to younger kids: for profit and with little regard for how they might be used.” The US and its military-industrial complex are making morally questionable corporations like Lockheed Martin, KBR, and General Dynamics rich. (Guernica)

Gun? Check. Radio? Check. Lawyer? Check! (January 20, 2012)

The Defense Base Act is a US law that covers private contractors who are injured on military bases overseas. Lawyers also cite the Defense Base Act to protect private military firms from lawsuits by their workers. Lawsuits range from sexual harassment to liability for willful misconduct. For example, when the families of seven dead drivers sued KBR for sending the drivers into an Iraqi battle zone knowing that they would be injured, lawyers protected KBR under the Defense Base Act. In this article, David Isenberg examines the lucrative partnership between lawyers and private military companies. (Huffington Post)

Flexing Musicle, Baghdad Detains US Contractors (January 15, 2012)

Iraqi authorities have detained US security contractors with expired documents. Despite the US military’s withdrawal last December, close to 5,000 security contractors still work for the American Embassy in Baghdad. American officials say that private contractors are necessary for “development” in postwar Iraq. But Iraq has been weary of private contractors since the 2007 shooting in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, when Blackwater personnel killed 17 Iraqi civilians. For Iraqi’s, contractors remain a powerful symbol of US Influence. Iraqi authorities have been working to ensure that contractors comply with Iraqi procedures rather than US rules. The act aims to strengthen Iraqi sovereignty. (NY Times)

Manchin Proposes More Cuts to Private Military Contractors (January 14, 2012)

Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia argues that private military contractors are taking away resources from the US army.  Since 2001, over half of the US military budget was spent on contractors, a military budget larger than the next 15 most expensive military budgets combined.  Each contractor makes around three times as much as a US soldier. Manchin believes that investing in the National Guard, for example, would be a more effective way to use US tax dollars than hiring contractors to do the same work.  But the problem remains: shifting spending from the private to the public sector does nothing to address the US’ hyper-inflated military budget. (Charleston Gazette)


Do Private Military Contractors Have Impunity to Torture? (December 21, 2011)

A number of human rights organizations are raising their voices of concern over contractor impunity. Contractors from the US based private military companies L-3 Services and CACI International, which allegedly were involved in war crimes and act of torture in Abu Ghraib and other detention centers, have never been charged with any crimes. The failure to prosecute any of the involved contractors, gives them a status of “law of war” immunity, and a flexibility to commit war crimes, rape and torture. Human rights lawyers are now heading back to court in an attempt so ensure a path to justice for the Iraqi victims. (Common Dreams)

Contractors to the Congo (December 1, 2011)

The US State Department has awarded a contract to the contentious private military and security company Dyncorp International to train the military in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For decades, private military contractors have been active in African countries, and their involvement has included everything from bringing down governments and fighting rebels to natural resource extraction and illegal involvement in arms trade. Private firms acting on behalf of the US government are also surrounded by controversy due to lack of regulation and accountability. (ISN)

US Hiring Mercenary Air Force for Iraq Rescues (November 14, 2011)

As the US military prepares to pull out of Iraq, the US State Department has begun to look for more private security contractors to “protect diplomats stationed in Iraq”. While the US military is officially scheduled to leave Iraq by December 31st, (spell it out) private military security companies allow the US to continue to wage war while giving the impression that they are scaling down the size of their military. These private contractors, hired for “rescue operations,” will join thousands of other “hidden” contractors left on the ground after the US military officially leaves. (Common Dreams)

Declaring War on the Military Contractors' Invasion of Washington (September 13, 2011)

Private military and security companies (PMSC’s) employed by Washington are negatively impacting the US economy. The war industry, which lobbies for ever-increasing military spending, warns that cuts in funding will sacrifice jobs. Yet this article argues that the use of PMSC’s, by the government, is actually harming job creation. The authors calculate that up to 11,700 jobs are lost for every $1billion spent on PMSC contracts. (Guardian)

Private Security Companies Used in International Waters (August 26, 2011)

Ship owners are increasingly using private military and security companies (PMSC’s) on merchant ships in response to growing levels of pirate violence off the coast of Somalia. The use of these companies to protect ships falls into an international “legal grey area” making regulation and monitoring of their actions difficult. Some commentators have suggested the PMSC’s resort to violence too readily, rather than pursuing the non-violent international guidelines to prevent pirate attacks. The German government is now relying on a vote next month at the International Maritime Organization to clarify the legal standing of the use of PMSCs in international waters. (Spiegel Online)

US Funded Contractors in Fight against Somalia’s Al-Shabaab (August 10, 2011)

The US is notoriously loath to send troops to Somalia following the disastrous Black Hawk Down operation in 1993. Instead it has been quietly ramping up its use of private military and security companies in the region. The New York Times reports on the involvement of US company Bancroft in training African Union troops in the fight against the Somali militant group, Al-Shabaab. Whilst the private company does not directly contract with the US – as its funding comes from Burundi and Uganda – the US reimburses both Governments for the costs. This throws into light the increasing involvement of the US government in private security in Africa. (New York Times)

Australia’s Use of Private Security Firms in Iraq (August 10, 2011)

The use of private military and security companies in place of national forces is becoming increasingly visible. Australia - in line with its withdrawal from Iraq - has now removed 33 soldiers from guarding the Iraqi embassy and replaced them with private security company Unity Resources Group (URG). URG, based in Dubai, won the $9 million contract from the Australian Government, despite controversy surrounding its involvement in the shooting of an Australian citizen in Iraq in 2006. (ABC News Australia)

$230,000 For a Guard Dog: Why the Wealthy Are Afraid Of Violence From Below (July 29, 2011)

The use of Private Military and Security Companies in failed states and conflict regions (such as Somalia, Iraq and Afghanistan) has been widely reported. But the use of private security personnel in order to protect private wealth is also increasing in the US. Personnel have been used to protect second homes and yachts, for example. The author of this article contends that inequality is a recipe for insecurity, creating incentives for the wealthy to purchase private security services. Data from the US Department of Commerce and Internal Revenue Service indicate that income inequality has been increasing in the US since the 1970s, whereas it had been declining during the mid 20th century. In 2006, the US had one of the highest levels of income inequality. (AlterNet)

US Blocks Oversight of Its Mercenary Army in Iraq (July 22, 2011)

The US State department is looking to deploy more than 5,100 private military security personnel in Iraq from January 2012. The private personnel will supposedly act as an armed “security” force for 12,000 US State department staff members. This article describes them as “a mercenary army the size of a heavy combat brigade.”  The US State department is not disclosing details, however, and is obstructing requests for information made by the independent government watchdog (the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction (SIGIR)). The US State department has hired private security for its diplomats in war zones for more than a decade. Poor control of them caused one of the biggest debacles of the Iraq war. (Wired)

Security Firm Offers Apology in Bid to Free Britons Held in Eritrea (June 9, 2011)

The UK private military security firm, Protection Vessels International (PVI), has issued an unreserved apology to the Eritrean government for one of their ships (equipped with weapon systems including sniper rifles) making an unscheduled stop near the Eritrean coast last year. The incident outlines the growing and difficult relationship between nation states and private corporate entities that are increasingly engaged in militarized work. A PVI spokesperson said that they had not intended to engage in a hostile confrontation with Eritrea. The ship was intercepted and the four men aboard are currently being held. The men are at the center of a growing rift between Eritrea and Britain. The article also considers the need for regulating private military security contractors. (Independent)

Duty of Care: Beyond the Case of Mr Ward, Cooked to Death by Gigantic Outsourcer G4S (June 8, 2011)

This article describes the horrendous conditions under which a man (Mr Ward) died in Australia while being transported more than 220 miles by private security guards. The guards were employed by a company (GSL) which is part of G4S, a large outsourcing company with a £7.4 billion annual turnover. The Western Australia State Coroner found, in June 2009, that the State, the company and the workers had all contributed to Mr Ward's death. The article also uncovers the fallacy that outsourcing aids competition between service providers which brings the cost of public services down. (Open Democracy)

Occupying Iraq, State Department-Style (June 7, 2011)

In October 2011, full responsibility for the US’ presence in Iraq will be transferred from the US military to the Department of State. The US embassy in Iraq is the largest embassy in the world but the Department of State has requested that its budget for 2012 almost triple in size (to $6.3billion) and expects to double its presence to 17,000 personnel. This number includes mercenaries and support roles, with only a few hundred traditional diplomats. Thus, Iraq will continue to be run by a heavily militarized US State Department -- unless Congress refuses to pay for it. This is unlikely to be received well in a changing and increasingly politicized Middle East. (Tom Dispatch)


Top Secret America: National Security Inc. (July 20, 2010)

This article is the second in a three part series entitled “Top Secret America”. The series of articles focus on the expansion of secret intelligence departments within the US government and the outsourcing of services.  The authors of the article estimate that out of 854,000 people with top-secret clearances, 265,000 are private contractors. They state that there is now a dependency on private contractors which calls into question whether the federal workforce includes too many people obligated to shareholders rather than the public interest -- and whether the government is still in control of its most sensitive activities. (Washington Post)

Top Secret America: A Hidden World, Growing Beyond Control (July 19, 2010)

This article was written following a two-year investigation by The Washington Post on the US security and intelligence agency. The investigation found that some 1,271 government organizations and 1,931 private companies work on programs related to counterterrorism, homeland security and intelligence in about 10,000 locations across the United States. Much of the work is hidden from public view and thus lacks thorough oversight and many security and intelligence agencies do the same work, creating redundancy and waste. After a decade of unprecedented spending and growth, the US security and intelligence system has grown so massive that its effectiveness is impossible to determine. (Washington Post)

Private Contractors and Covert Wars in Latin America (June 14, 2010)

The US State and Defense Departments have spent billions of dollars to date on private contractors hired to perform tasks like spraying drug crops, assisting the military and providing intelligence in connection with the "war on drugs" in Latin America. Last month, US Senator Claire McCaskill demanded an accurate account of this spending. While her request was largely grounded in a desire for greater financial oversight, it brings to light the issue of oversight of the controversial private contractor industry. The UN Working Group on the Use of Mercenaries has been pushing for an international convention to "close the legal gap for private military and security contractors" and create a mechanism for accountability. (Upsidedownworld)

US is still using Private Spy Ring, Despite Doubts (May 15, 2010)

Despite concerns about the legality of using private contractors to "collect information," US military officials have continued to rely on a "secret network of private spies," who have produced hundreds of reports from Afghanistan and Pakistan.  These "reports" are submitted daily to top commanders and have become an "important source of intelligence." The role of private contractors in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan has raised questions about whether the US has outsourced some of its most secretive and important operations to a private army which is largely unaccountable. (New York Times)

Pentagon Faces Battle in Effort to Reverse Military Contracting (May 10, 2010)

Pentagon Chief Robert Gates has acknowledged that the financial costs of the US military expansion since September 11, 2001 are "no longer sustainable" and that a cutback of $15 billion on "wasteful military spending on contractors" is necessary. Members of Congress have supported stringent new controls on "wasteful spending" through legislative provisions such as the Weapons Systems Acquisition Reform Act. Military contractors are currently lobbying US Congress to maintain their lucrative deals with the Pentagon. (Inter Press Service)

Panel Examines Contractor Drawdown in Iraq (March 29, 2010)

A congressional committee questioned military leaders and KBR, one of the Pentagon's biggest defense companies with contracts totaling $38 billion, about how they plan to reduce the number of private contractor employees in Iraq to no more than 75,000 by August 2010. A recent Pentagon Inspector General report found that KBR contractors were billing the US government for "12 hours of truck maintenance work, but in reality only working an average of 1.3 hours". Congress wants assurance that contractors "don't have unnecessary staff hanging around without work, but still drawing pay." (Boston Globe)

As Afghanistan Contracting Surges, Who's Following the Money? (March 4, 2010)

The US has allocated $51 billion in the previous eight years to "rebuild" and "stabilize" Afghanistan. However, the contracting process is susceptible to serious duplication of effort, abuse and fraud. With an estimated 56,000 more contractors expected in Afghanistan by the end of 2010, it is likely that the waste and corruption will continue to grow.  The major US government departments are predictably failing in their oversight and federal auditors cannot accurately determine if reconstruction money is being used appropriately. (Huffington Post)

Army Awards Lucrative Iraq Contract to KBR (March 3, 2010)

The US administration has awarded KBR Inc. an Iraq-based defense contract potentially worth $2.8 billion. KBR stated "The award demonstrates that the government recognizes KBR's ability and expertise in delivering high quality service in challenging contingency environments." However, KBR is the same company that recently was responsible for the deaths of two soldiers in Iraq through incompetence. Further, David Graff from the Pentagon, stated that KBR had "continuing quality deficiencies" and was "not sufficiently in touch with the urgency or realities of what was actually occurring on the ground." (Common Dreams)

Haiti: Private Contractors 'Like Vultures Coming to Grab the Loot' (February 19, 2010)

The International Peace Operations Association, an umbrella organization for private military and logistic corporations, is co-hosting a "Haiti Summit" in March to bring together "leading officials" with contractors and investors for "private consultations." The potential privatization of the rebuilding of Haiti is cause for concern as corporations traditionally benefit themselves at the expense of citizens and private military contractors are not subject to any external accountability such as the United Nations or The Hague. (IPS)


How Many Private Contractors are There in Afghanistan? Military Gives Us a Number (December 2, 2009)

US President Barack Obama failed to make any mention to US contractors in Afghanistan during his escalation speech. His silence, replicated by much of the US media, conceals the true extent of US presence in Afghanistan. The size of the contracting force - which already poses great problems of accountability and transparency - has been given at 104, 100 and will grow further in the near future. (TPMMuckracker)

US Court Dismisses Iraqi Contractor Torture Case (September 11, 2009)

A federal appeals court has dismissed a lawsuit against two US defense contractors accused of torturing Iraqis at the Abu Ghraib prison. This ruling upholds the 1992 US Supreme Court decision that private military and security companies have immunity because they are government contractors. (Reuters)

Sometimes It’s Not Your War, But You Sacrifice Anyway (August 17, 2009)

In an attempt to “outsource” the Iraq and Afghanistan war, the US is increasingly hiring the cheapest labor possible. This Washington Post article reports that two-thirds of the 200,000 civilians working in the war zones are foreigners, often coming from many poor countries. Under the Defense Base Act, all civilians workers employed abroad are required to purchase insurance to cover injuries arising from work or war, whether they are US or Foreign citizens. However, foreign civilian workers are rarely informed of this right and their care, or lack thereof, has been relegated to the large scale insurance firms that have a consistent record of denying claims from US contractors, let alone foreign contractors. (ProPublica)

Injured War Zone Contractors Fight to Get Care from AIG and Other Insurers (April 16, 2009)

1,400 Civilian workers have died and 31,000 have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan. These workers are the hidden causalities of the war, the “invisible, discard able military.” These civilian workers rarely get adequate care if they are injured (if any).  Insurance companies, like AIG, have collected more than $1.5 billion in premiums paid by US taxpayers and earned more than $600 million in profits for insuring civilian workers. However,  they have rejected almost half the claims filed by contractors, forcing these injured workers to wage costly and lengthy court battles for basic medical care and benefits. (LA Times and ProPublica)


We Can't Spy… If We Can't Buy!: The Privatization of Intelligence and the Limits of Outsourcing ‘Inherently Governmental Functions (2008)

In this report, Simon Chesterman sheds light on the increasing use of PMSCs for US intelligence services after 9/11. The proportion of the US intelligence budget spent on private contractors could actually reach up to 70 per cent. Activities outsourced to the private sector now encompass electronic surveillance, rendition, interrogation, and strategic analysis. This is problematic for ensuring effective accountability and oversight of these firms, considering the necessary secrecy of such activities. Ultimately, Chesterman concludes that “the engagement of private actors in the collectionof intelligence (…) frequently encompasses a far wider range of conduct that would normally be unlawful, with express or implied immunity from legal process, in an environment designed to avoid scrutiny.” (The European Journal of International Law)

State Department: Drop Blackwater in Iraq (December 17, 2008)

A report by the US State Department's Inspector General may recommend that Blackwater should lose its license in Iraq after the trial of six Blackwater officials for the killing of 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. US investigators say Blackwater guards were involved in 70 shooting incidents involving civilians before the 2007 shooting. (Huffington Post)

A Whitewash for Blackwater? (December 9, 2008)

Eugene Robinson argues the US Justice Department should investigate Blackwater executives for their part in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The Justice Department should consider whether the security firm provided adequate training for its guards and whether Blackwater promotes a culture of violence. (Washington Post)

Blackwater Operatives Indicted for Slaughter of Iraqi Civilians (December 9, 2008)

The US Justice Department is charging five Blackwater operatives with manslaughter for the killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September 2007. The employees will be prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Act of 2000 and charged under provisions in an anti drug law, despite the fact that no drugs were involved. The Blackwater company will be exempt from any of the charges. (Alternet)

Military Contractor in Iraq Holds Foreign Workers in Warehouses (December 2, 2008)

Employees of the Kuwaiti firm Najlaa International, who are subcontracted by the US firm KBR, are protesting against their ill treatment. Najlaa keeps around 1000 of its workers in cramped windowless warehouses for months at a time without pay. (Huffington Post)

Blackwater Busted? Six Guards May Be Charged in Iraq Massacre (November 15, 2008)

Six Blackwater operatives face indictments from the US Justice Department for the killing of seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdads Nisour Square on September 16, 2007. The US Defense Department will also investigate the private security firm for illegally smuggling 900 automatic weapons into Iraq. US Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky says Blackwater operates recklessly with immunity and must be banned from operating in Iraq. (Alternet)

One Fifth of Iraq Funding Paid to Contractors (August 14, 2008)

A report by the US Congressional Budget Office (CBO) forecasts that private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan will cost US taxpayers more than US$100 million dollars by the end of 2008. The CBO report revealed that about 20 percent of funding for operations in Iraq has gone to contractors. At least 190,000 contractors operate in Iraq, creating a ratio of about one contractor per US soldier. According to Inter Press Service, the report scrutinizes groups such as Blackwater, who shot seven Iraqi civilians last year with no legal ramifications. (Inter Press Service)

Iraq Case Sheds Light on Secret Contractors (July 17, 2008)

US contractor MVM Inc. is responsible for the personal security of US intelligence agencies in Iraq. A former MVM employee accused the firm of covering up a 2004 incident in which MVM employees opened fired on Iraqi civilians. The Iraqi parliament remains adamant that contractors like MVM and Blackwater must be held accountable for crimes committed against Iraqi citizens. (Democratic Underground)

Dogs of War: Cost-Effective: Myth or Fact? (April 25, 2008)

This United Press International article questions whether it is actually more cost-effective to use private military contractors rather than regular military forces. The article finds that in theory, hiring private contractors seems cost-effective; however, in reality, the lack of competition between firms, the cost of training soldiers to become private contractors, and the amount of time it takes to haggle over contracts, costs much more in the long term. (UPI)


The Top 100 Private Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan (November 20, 2007)

The Center for Public Integrity says US contracts with private security companies and construction firms has increased by 50 percent annually from US$11 billion in 2004 to US$25 billion in 2006. According to the Center, the recipients of contracts worth up to US$20 billion have only been identified by the US Defense and State Departments as foreign contractors. Commentators suggest this signals the lack of accountability and oversight of government contracts. Number one on the list, construction firm, KBR won over US$16 billion in contracts from 2004 and 2006, nine times greater than that awarded to number two, private security firm, DynCorp International. (Matador 94)

State Department Suspends Iraq Audit of DynCorp (October 23, 2007)

An audit of a US$1.2 billion contract with DynCorp International for the training of Iraqi police reveals that the State Department failed to oversee the contract and as a result its records and invoices do not account for most payments. The Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction suggests the US State Department suffers from serious contract management issues and is vulnerable to waste and fraud. Despite these problems, DynCorp is the rumored replacement of Blackwater USA as the security service for diplomats in Iraq. (Common Dreams)

America's Own Unlawful Combatants? (October 15, 2007)

In the aftermath of the September 2007 Blackwater shootings, lawyers for the US State, Justice and Defense departments debate whether private security contractors fall under the same broad definition of "unlawful combatants" which the Bush administration uses to justify detentions in Guantanamo Bay. Legal commentators criticize the Bush administration for failing to clarify the legal status of contractors before putting them into military roles. (Los Angeles Times)

Guards Kill Two Women in Iraq (October 10, 2007)

Guards working for an Australian run private security company, Unity Resources Group, are accused of shooting and killing two women in Baghdad who were driving behind the company's convoy. The shooting comes less than a month after the deaths of numerous Iraqi civilians by the US security firm, Blackwater. In both cases, the Iraqi government argues that the contractors should be subject "to justice, law and accountability." (Guardian)

It All Makes Sense Now, Blackwater and the ICC (October 1, 2007)

In this article, the author speculates whether the US opposition to the International Criminal Court (ICC) was part of a long term plan to provide immunity to contractors working for or on behalf of the US in Iraq. The Hague Invasion Act was passed by the US Congress in 2002, prior to the invasion of Iraq, and prohibits US courts from extraditing any person to the ICC. The author cites numerous atrocities committed by private security contractors working in Iraq including Blackwater USA, to demonstrate how these firms operate without any accountability to the ICC. (Tonic Blotter)

Iraq to End Contractor 'Immunity' (September 25, 2007)

The Iraqi interior ministry drafts legislation responding to the shooting of 11 Iraqis by employees of the private security firm Blackwater. Commentators suggest the legislation includes provisions which will remove the immunity granted to contractors under the Coalition Provisional Authority laws. Under the draft, contractors will be monitored by Iraq's interior ministry, they will be required to adhere to set guidelines and they will be subject to Iraqi law. The draft legislation signals the intention of the Iraq government to control contractors, who many Iraqis believe are "private armies acting with impunity on their soil." (BBC News)

Security Firm Faces Criminal Charges in Iraq (September 23, 2007)

The Iraqi interior ministry is investigating a total of seven incidents involving the actions of private security firm Blackwater USA. Both the Iraqi and US governments are investigating the shooting of numerous Iraqi civilians in the Nisour area of Baghdad. The other six episodes being investigated involve the deaths of 10 Iraqis and 15 wounded in incidents during 2007. Iraqi officials say they will consider all seven incidents to determine the practical and legal consequences for Blackwater and other security firms operating in Iraq. (New York Times)

US Pays Millions In Cost Overruns For Security in Iraq (August 12, 2007)

The US military is spending large sums outsourcing military and intelligence work to private security contractors. Contracts signed between the US Defense Department and two private security companies, Aegis Defence Services and Erinys Iraq, have cost the US Army US$548 million in the last three years, US$200 million in excess of the budget. The size of these and other contracts contrasts with minimal spending on humanitarian relief for millions of displaced Iraqis. (Democracy Underground)

US Is Fighting a Contractor War (June 21, 2007)

The outsourcing of services that the US Army would normally undertake has considerably hiked up the cost of the war in Iraq. Billions of dollars in contracts have gone to underperforming private firms driven by "profits and personal safety considerations." As contractors seek to gain from the devastation in Iraq and at the expense of civilian wellbeing, the privatization of the Iraq conflict continues to grow exponentially and with little accountability. (Democratic Underground)

Making a Killing: America's Private Army and the Business of War (March 25, 2007)

The US is privatizing the Iraq War and private military contractors constitute the second largest forces in the country. According to the Government Accountability Project, 48,000 of these contractors work as mercenaries, approximately six times the number of British troops in Iraq. Yet, they operate with no legal constraints as they have immunity under Iraqi law and, further, neither US nor international law applies to them. The private soldiers serve US political interests as their deaths are not included in the death toll. (Indybay)


Transferring Cost of War to Latin America is Morally, Politically Wrong (January 29, 2005)

The US has begun recruiting contractors for Latin American countries to carry out security tasks in its war zones in an effort to minimize US causalities and prevent domestic opposition to the US’s many military interventions abroad. Though the US argues that economically this arrangement benefits both the US and the Latin American contractors, it is morally and politically unacceptable to pay foreigners to “take risks for us” in order to avoid paying the “political cost” of waging otherwise unpopular wars.


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