Privatizing Combat, the New
from the 11-part series
Making a Killing
The Business of War
The Center for Public Integrity
In 1998, unbeknownst to most Americans,
the United States had a military presence in a remote African
war that drew little attention from the media. Unlike other U.S.
interventions in Somalia, Bosnia, Haiti and Kosovo, there was
no hand-wringing over whether a deployment was justified by U.S.
national interests, whether troops would be spread too thin, whether
American men and women should be put in harm's way in a fight
that had little to do with Main Street America, or whether the
level of barbarity justified, on its own merits, the deployment
of U.S. troops on humanitarian grounds.
The conflict in Sierra Leone, in which
the rebels of the Revolutionary United Front displayed a ghastly
predilection for amputating the limbs and noses of their victims,
could certainly compete with the horrors of "ethnic cleansing"
in Bosnia and Kosovo and the man-made famine engineered by warlords
in Somalia. In November 1998, the RUF was in the middle of an
orgy of looting, murder and decapitation, an operation codenamed
"No Living Thing."
There was international intervention aimed
at stopping the bloodshed. Sierra Leone's demoralized and under-equipped
national army was bolstered by Nigerian troops flying the
colors of the West African peacekeeping force, ECOMOG and
a handful of South African mercenaries in helicopter gunships
who made constant forays into the battle zones to attack the RUF.
In Freetown, the country's capital, two large transport helicopters
circled in the air, backing up the Nigerian troops.
Painted on their fuselages were American
flags. This small U.S. contribution to defending Sierra Leone
was not conducted by an elite unit of the Army, Navy or Marines,
but by a private, Oregon-based company, International Charter
Incorporated of Oregon (ICI), managed in part by former U.S. Special
Forces operatives. ICI is one of several companies contracted
by the State Department to go into danger zones that are too risky
or unsavory to commit conventional U.S. forces. It also has been
active in conflicts in Haiti and Liberia.
ICI's role in Sierra Leone was to back
up the Nigerian troops, providing transport and medical evacuation
services. The hot combat, as one former ICI employee explained
to the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists,
was left to the South African mercenaries. But ICI personnel inevitably
and often were shot at and forced to return fire, according to
team members interviewed by ICIJ, a right these sources claimed
was explicitly extended to ICI in a letter from then-U.S. ambassador
to Sierra Leone, Joseph Melrose.
The State Department did not respond to
requests for comment by telephone or through the Freedom of Information
Act on whether such a letter was issued. ICI refused to respond
to a number of questions put to the company on several occasions.
The United States had little real interest
in Sierra Leone itself. U.S. involvement was driven by the fear
that the instability and anarchy caused by the RUF and its sponsor,
Liberian President Charles Taylor, would prove a danger to Washington's
ally Nigeria, an oil-rich nation that is the fifth largest supplier
of crude to the United States. For ICI, the mission to Freetown
was business, but it also advanced U.S. foreign policy.
ICI's deployment is part of a global trend
of military outsourcing and foreign policy by proxy that has become
far more common since the end of the Cold War. With
the collapse of the Soviet Union, the nature of international
conflict shifted from U.S.-Soviet competition in client states
to regional and ethnic conflicts requiring peacekeeping or other
engagement. At the same time, the end of Cold War resulted in
reduced superpower defense budgets, forcing even high-ranking
military officers to sell their talents in the public sector.
This collision of supply and demand resulted in a new age of military
and security services on the world market.
In fact, a nearly two-year investigation
by ICIJ identified at least 90 private military companies, or
PMCs (as some of these new millennium mercenaries prefer to be
known), that have operated in 110 countries worldwide. Most of
these companies defined as providing services normally carried
out by a national military force, including military training,
intelligence, logistics, combat and security in conflict zones
are headquartered in the United States, Britain and South
Africa, though the vast bulk of their services are performed in
conflict-ridden countries in Africa, South America and Asia. Eleven
of the companies identified by ICIJ are no longer active, and
the operational status of 18 others could not be determined.
"Mercenaries" are officially
outlawed under Article 47 of the Geneva Convention, which defines
them as persons recruited for armed conflict by or in a country
other than their own and motivated solely by personal gain. However,
few modern PMCs fit that definition and, indeed, spokesmen for
such companies insist they rarely engage in combat and provide
military skills only to legitimate, internationally recognized
governments. The ICIJ investigation found that a wide range of
companies from large corporations that offer military training,
security, landmine clearance and military base construction to
start-up entrepreneurs offering combat services and tactical training
are in what has become the complex and multibillion-dollar
business of war.
Since 1994, the U.S. Defense Department
has entered into 3,061 contracts with 12 of the 24 U.S.-based
PMCs identified by ICIJ, a review of government documents showed.
Pentagon records valued those contracts was more than $300 billion.
More than 2,700 of those contracts were held by just two companies:
Kellogg Brown & Root and Booz Allen Hamilton. Because of the
limited information the Pentagon provides and the breadth of services
offered by some of the larger companies, it was impossible to
determine what percentage of these contracts was for training,
security or logistical services.
Traditionally, the U.S. government provided
military training to foreign governments directly. That changed
in 1975, when Virginia-based military construction company Vinnell
Corp. won a $77 million contract to train the Saudi Arabian National
Guard to protect oil fields. The Saudi deal is considered the
first time a U.S. civilian company obtained an independent contract
to provide a foreign government with military services, a development
initially greeted by significant media skepticism and vitriolic
debate. Since then, the contract has been renewed with far less
attention. Copies of 1991, 1995 and 2000 contracts, obtained by
U.S. News & World Report and reviewed by ICIJ, show a total
estimated value of nearly $500 million, and include training in
counter-intelligence, "chemical defense" and other areas
of operational security. Vinnell refused to comment on the contracts.
From 1995 to 2000, subsidiaries of Vinnell's parent company BDM
reportedly obtained more than $150 million in contracts to provide
logistical support and other services to the Saudi air force.
The U.S. Defense Department has increasingly
turned to outside vendors for logistical support, one of the most
heavily out-sourced sectors for the armed forces in both peacekeeping
and wartime. In Bosnia, for example, the ratio of contractors
to American soldiers has ranged from one in 10 to nearly one-to-one,
according to various defense analysts. The trend gained momentum
after the 1991 Gulf War, in which troops were heavily supported
by a panoply of private contractors. A 1995 report of the Defense
Science Board, a standing committee that advises the Pentagon
on technological, scientific, and other issues, suggested that
the Pentagon could save up to $6 billion annually by 2002 if it
contracted out all of its support functions to private vendors,
except those that deal directly with war fighting. The trend has
persisted, as evidenced by a 2002 state-of-the-military review
in which Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld emphasized the success
of the department's outsourcing of non-core responsibilities,
stating that he would "pursue additional opportunities to
outsource and privatize."
The strong links between the U.S. government
and many of the private military companies that contract with
them has presented questions regarding the revolving door between
government and the private sector.
In 1992, the Pentagon, then headed by
Defense Secretary Dick Cheney, paid Brown & Root Services
$3.9 million to produce a classified report detailing how private
companies could help provide logistics for American troops in
potential war zones. Later in 1992, the Pentagon gave Brown &
Root an additional $5 million to update the report. Brown &
Root (now called Kellogg Brown & Root, or KBR) is a subsidiary
of Halliburton Corporation, which Cheney, the U.S. vice president,
headed as CEO from 1995 to 1999. Brown & Root was also awarded
contracts in 1995 and 1997 to provide logistical support in the
Balkans, where the U.S. military has been enforcing the 1995 Dayton
Peace accord that ended the war in former Yugoslavia. Those contracts
mushroomed to $2.2 billion worth of payments over five years,
according to the General Accounting Office, the investigative
arm of Congress.
Brown & Root is hardly the only PMC
that raises questions about the revolving door. Frank Carlucci,
who served as defense secretary in the waning years of the Reagan
administration, was chairman of BDM when it acquired Vinnell;
he is still chairman of the Carlyle Group, a merchant banking
firm that owns BDM and counts a plethora of former government
officials, including former President George H.W. Bush, his secretary
of state, James Baker, and his director of the Office of Management
and Budget, Richard Darman, as consultants, advisors, and executives.
During Carlucci's tenure at BDM, the company greatly expanded
the number of contracts it had with the U.S. government; by 1994,
the company had revenue of $774 million, up from the $295 million
the company grossed in 1991, the first full year that the Carlyle
Group owned the company.
Wall Street has noticed the booming business
of both foreign and domestic PMCs. Security companies with publicly
traded stocks reportedly increased in value at twice the rate
of the Dow Jones industrial average in the go-go 1990s. Revenue
from the global international security market was projected to
rise from $55.6 billion in 1990 to $202 billion in 2010, an estimate
that has risen sharply since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks
on the United States. The stock of guard providers Wackenhut Corp.
rose 26 percent between Sept. 10 and 17, while that of Armor Holdings
Inc., which provides a wealth of products and services for the
military and law enforcement, traded at 31 times its 2002 projected
value. Fortune magazine named Armor Holdings, a Florida-based
conglomerate, one of "America's 100 Fastest Growing Companies"
in 1999. The company specializes in security products and services
with myriad subsidiaries involved in everything from bulletproof
vests and fingerprinting powder to computer security systems and
landmine reduction services.
Like the defense industry generally, the
trend among PMCs has been toward mergers, acquisitions, and consolidation.
In August 2001, Armor Holdings acquired O'Gara-Hess & Eisenhardt
Armoring Company, the world's largest armored transport provider,
boosting its 2001 earnings to $292 million. L-3 Communications,
which has nearly $2 billion in annual revenue, was formed in April
1997 with the purchase of business units that were spun off after
Loral Corporation and Lockheed Martin merged in 1996. L-3 Communications
bought Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), which
consults for and trains armed forces around the world, in July
As the industry continues its rapid growth,
foreign governments are trying to figure out how - or if - to
regulate it, thereby deterring PMCs from becoming vehicles for
clandestine foreign policy, arms trafficking, or simply waste
and mismanagement. The United States and South Africa are the
only countries that exercise some regulatory oversight of domestic
PMCs; other governments have acknowledged the need for the services
PMCs offer, but have yet to develop a structure to oversee them.
In early 2002, the British government's
Foreign and Commonwealth Office released a report titled "Private
Military Companies: Options for Regulation." The report argued
that PMCs could actually aid in low-intensity conflicts and proposed
regulating them as soon as possible rather than leaving them to
operate unchecked. The British press, however, had a field day
with the notion that "mercenaries" would take the place
of blue-helmeted U.N. soldiers, and a public outcry ensued. The
report also pointed to the United States as the only place in
the world where PMCs have become "major military corporations,"
effectively licensed for over two decades "without apparently
giving rise to major problems."
A 'national resource'
MPRI headquartered in an office
suite that looks more like a Fortune 500 company than a military
command center is located in northern Virginia, home to
the Pentagon and the galaxy of defense-related companies that
orbit it. Portraits of MPRI's founders and CEOs in uniforms decorated
with the stars and bars denoting the highest ranks of the U.S.
military line the office walls. President
Carl Vuono served as army chief of staff from 1987 to 1991 and
oversaw the U.S. invasion of Panama and the Gulf War; Harry E.
"Ed" Soyster was the former head of the Defense Intelligence
Agency; and Crosbie Saint was the former commander of U.S. Army
MPRI was founded in 1988 as a military
training consultancy by three generals who found themselves retired
years earlier than they expected. "The concept was that there's
a national resource in retired military people," Soyster
told ICIJ. By providing training privately, MPRI's founders saw
themselves as freeing scarce infantrymen for combat. The company
grew to become profitable in a couple of years and, in May 2002,
MPRI reported annual sales of $95 million. According to MPRI's
Internet site, the company employs 700 people and has more than
12,000 former servicemen from the military, law enforcement and
other fields available on a contract basis. The company's first
customer was the Defense Department, which hired MPRI to staff
a colonel's training course, and its business still consists largely
of defense contracts for training and support services.
According to Soyster, as the Cold War
ramped down, the company saw another potential market in former
Warsaw Pact states trying to move toward NATO aid and membership.
After seceding from Yugoslavia, Croatia approached MPRI to restructure
its military. "They literally came to us and said, 'we know
what we want but we don't know how to do it because we're a bunch
of Communists,'" Soyster said.
The MPRI contract with Croatia, signed
in September 1994, was one of the first training contracts between
a modern PMC and a foreign government, Soyster boasted. It turned
out to be a mixed blessing for the company. The United States
had wanted to restrain Serb-led Yugoslavia without a messy U.S.
military commitment and saw a reinvigorated Croat military as
essential to that goal. MPRI officials said at the time that the
company's contract was simply to teach the Croatians Western military
principles and that tactical training was not included in the
plan. In August 1995, less than a year after MPRI moved in, the
Croatian army launched a lightning offensive that recaptured Serb-held
enclaves of Croatia a battlefield success the Croats had
been unable to achieve in the previous four years. The Croat offensive
led to further military action by the neighboring Bosnians against
Serb-held positions that ultimately resulted in peace talks ending
the Yugoslav war. But the military push forced more than 150,000
ethnic Serbs from their homes and left an "ethnically cleansed"
A 1996 report by a U.S. congressional
subcommittee found that the Clinton administration had encouraged
Croatia to allow arms from Iran and other countries to transit
its territory in violation of a U.N. arms embargo in order to
bolster beleaguered Bosnian forces. Congressional investigators
looked into MPRI's role in the region, but their final report,
much of which remains classified, said there was no evidence to
back up European accusations that the U.S. government directly
contributed military intelligence and weapons to the Bosnian army.
Soyster denies that MPRI acted under the
tacit direction of the U.S. government in the Croatian deal. "We
went over and taught democracy transition because that is what
(the Croatians) wanted. They didn't ask us to do anything else,
and we wouldn't have risked the reputation of this company to
give that," he said. MPRI's operations became controversial
again in 1999, when the State Department temporarily suspended
its contract to equip and train the Bosnian army, a program outlined
in the 1995 Dayton Peace accord. News reports attributed the suspension
to concerns that weapons from the program were being diverted
to Muslim guerrillas in the neighboring Serbian provinces of Kosovo
Far away from the corporate office of
MPRI, dozens of small companies across the United States are quietly
offering downscaled versions of military training, according to
ICIJ's investigation. Even smaller outfits are going global, establishing
offices and training centers in multiple countries or boasting
of the ability to send mobile training teams anywhere in the world.
The Nevada-based Sayeret Group says it has tactical teams that
can deploy to anywhere in the world in support of security, protection
and direct action operations. Pistris Inc., a Massachusetts-based
maritime security company which maintains its own fleet of vessels,
also claims it can provide fully equipped, mobile protection teams
to provide waterborne security of oil fields, ports and vessels
throughout the world. Trojan Securities
International, a company established by former British military
and American law enforcement, maintains training centers in Arkansas,
where the company is based, as well in Ecuador to accommodate
the company's work in Latin America.
In addition, a number of British companies
have moved to expand operations and set up shop in the United
States. London-based TASK International, which cites its niche
market as the training of military and police forces, recently
established an office in Miami a move, the company's director
of operations explained, to handle contracts the company holds
in the Caribbean. The company is currently training the Jamaican
police and in the past has trained the presidential guard in Nigeria,
the royal police in Malaysia and the special forces of the United
Though these groups may seem marginal,
several have received new, multimillion-dollar contracts from
the U.S. government since Sept. 11. Blackwater Lodge of North
Carolina, Surgical Shooting Inc. of California and Automation
Precision Training of Virginia were awarded contracts worth more
than $60 million by the U.S. Navy in September 2002 for military
Many of these companies also train foreign
clientele, both abroad and at their U.S. facilities. Ground Zero
U.S.A., based in Marion, Alabama, lists an international training
schedule for 2002 that includes programs in England, Scotland,
Ireland, Mexico, Canada and Norway, and Sayeret can provide a
mobile training team to travel to any location in the world at
the client's request, according to Sayeret Group President Duke
Piper. Piper told ICIJ that the company
takes special care to vet clientele and works closely with an
investigative firm that runs background checks on all prospective
clients. Though he declined to divulge what foreign clients the
company has trained since its founding in 1991, Piper said Sayeret
had recently worked with Philippine law enforcement personnel.
While Piper believes self-regulation within
the industry is necessary, he admits that little oversight currently
exists for those who choose to bypass the licensing system. "There
are no regulations or laws saying you have to do X, Y, Z. It's
more of an integrity or ethical issue that comes into play,"
Piper said, adding that "some people do choose to operate
behind the scenes or under the table."
Though the U.S. system for licensing PMCs
was constructed to prevent exactly those kinds of operations,
oversight of the process and of the contracts themselves
is far from comprehensive. Defense services, including training,
are considered military products under U.S. law, and their overseas
sales are regulated just like American-made guns or tanks. The
International Traffic in Arms Regulations Law (ITAR) requires
PMCs to obtain approval from the State Department before selling
their services to a foreign government. State's Office of Defense
Trade Controls reviews contract proposals to ensure they do not
violate sanctions or other U.S. policy.
However, PMCs can also sell their services
abroad through the Defense Department's Foreign Military Sales
(FMS) program, which does not require any licensing by State.
Under FMS, the Pentagon pays the contractor for services offered
to a foreign government, which in turn reimburses the Pentagon.
Vinnell's contract to train the Saudi Arabian National Guard and
MPRI's contracts to train the Macedonian and Bulgarian militaries
came under the FMS program. Steve Schooner, a government contract
expert and law professor at George Washington University, said
companies will often seek FMS support in order to avoid the lengthy
ITAR licensing process and gain the backing and stability of the
The politics inherent in the licensing
process subject it to lobbying from companies and government entities,
alike. Through corporate consolidation, some PMCs also have gained
considerable resources to work the licensing process. For example, MPRI now has the power of L-3 Communications'
substantial legal department behind it. And sometimes, one department
of the government will lobby another on behalf of a PMC. An April
2001 Pentagon memo, obtained by ICIJ, noted that MPRI "may
need our help or moral support in getting the license from State,"
necessary for the company's proposed contract to train military
forces in oil-rich Equatorial Guinea, which the Pentagon memo
referred to as the "Kuwait of the Gulf of Guinea."
Soyster acknowledged that MPRI's applications
for overseas export licenses include descriptions of how the company's
presence in a given country would benefit U.S. interests. Charles
Snyder, the deputy secretary of state for African affairs, said
that in reviewing licenses, such as MPRI's proposal for Equatorial
Guinea, his staff considers the contract's value to U.S. policy
in the region. "We can see some merit in using an outside
contractor, because then we're not using U.S. uniforms and bodies,"
he said. "A country like Equatorial Guinea is going to get
[training] from somewhere, so we'd rather have U.S. contractors
on the ground. That way at least we'd have feedback from professional
trainers as to whether this is having any impact or not."
Under ITAR, Congress must be notified
of all defense services contracts worth more than $50 million,
though in practice, the State Department generally submits all
potentially contentious applications to Congress, said Douglas
Johnson, spokesman for the department's Office of Defense Trade
The public, however, has little if any
chance for a glimpse into the reach of PMCs. The Arms Export Control
Act which ITAR amended still stipulates that the names
of countries and types of defense articles involved in each contract
"shall not be withheld from public disclosure unless the
President determines that the release of such information would
be contrary to the national interest." According to Johnson,
State Department lawyers have interpreted the clause to mean that
all information outside of a list of countries and defense articles
should be withheld. Therefore, the only information available
to the public about contracts between a private U.S. military
company and a foreign government is which country the contract
was performed in and what services were exported and then
only through the Freedom of Information Act. (In May 2002, the
Justice Department issued new guidelines allowing companies to
challenge the release of information about them to the public
under the Freedom of Information Act, further hindering public
After contracts are approved, oversight
is weak. The General Services Administration maintains a list
of companies barred from doing business with the government, but
no single government-wide agency monitors the performance of companies
that do get contracts. Schooner, the federal contracts expert,
said that while government agencies began using performance evaluations
of outside contractors six years ago, implementation is "spotty
The Defense Department tasks several different
agencies with oversight, depending on the type of contract. In
the Balkans, for example, agencies responsible for contracts include
the Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Army Europe, Defense Contract
Management Agency, Defense Contract Audit Agency and Army Task
Force Commanders. A May 2002 GAO report that looked at extra costs
incurred in 2001 by the Defense Department's overseas contingency
operations found that no one in the Defense Department knew the
number of contractors in the Balkans, what they were contracted
to do or the government's obligations to them.
Oversight is further weakened, according
to Schooner, by the increased use of "cost-type" contracts,
in which the government pays the contractor a base amount, along
with additional fees for services that are often initiated by
the contractor and later approved by the government.
A September 2000 GAO report found that
effective oversight of Brown & Root's contract in the Balkans
was impaired by the government's confusion about its authority
over the contract and insufficient training of Army auditors,
among other things. The report also found that although the Army
had a process in place to review Brown & Root's requests for
"new work" or additional services which comprised
more than 90 percent of the fees paid under the contract
the requests were approved but not routinely reviewed. Between
1996 and 2000, the GAO estimated that Brown & Root collected
more than $2.1 billion in additional costs, which nearly doubled
the amount agreed to in the original contract. Brown & Root
called the GAO criticisms "subjective opinion."
In February 2002, Brown & Root paid
$2 million to settle a lawsuit filed by the U.S. government that
claimed the company inflated prices for maintenance and repair
work at the Fort Ord military installation in Monterey, California.
Brown & Root denied any wrongdoing and said it settled the
suit only to avoid further litigation. In a review of nearly a
dozen private military company contracts, ICIJ found that the
contractors frequently were tasked with creating their own performance
evaluations. In its multiyear contract to provide simulation exercises
for U.S. troops in Europe, Logicon, an information technology
company owned by defense giant Northrop Grumman, was required
to prepare a "Quality Control Plan" laying out evaluation
processes. DynCorp's contract to provide security guard services
for U.S. Army installations in Qatar required the company to create
a quality control program that, while mandating regular meetings
with the government, contained "processes for corrective
actions without dependence on government direction."
The contract also licensed DynCorp employees
to use deadly force and gave them access to classified information.
'Winners and losers'
Despite scandals and poor reviews, the
contracts keep piling up.
Amid the government lawsuit against Brown
& Root and the critical GAO report the Army awarded
the company a 10-year contract in December 2001 to provide base-support
work overseas under its Logistics Civil Augmentation Program,
or LOGCAP, the value of which could run into the billions of dollars.
Some of MPRI's overseas ventures have
produced unsatisfied customers. In Colombia, the company was contracted
in 2000 to help restructure the Colombian military as part of
Washington's war on drugs. But Colombian defense officials called
the training useless and said MPRI advisors had "reinvented
the wheel," noting that no one on the company's staff in
Colombia spoke Spanish. Reportedly under pressure from Colombia,
the Pentagon did not renew the one-year contract. Pentagon officials
publicly backed the company's performance, and Soyster told the
St. Petersburg Times that MPRI had fulfilled the requirements
of its $4.3 million contract.
In Macedonia, where MPRI has been operating
since 1998 as military advisors for the Macedonian armed forces,
the army chief of staff lambasted the company's reforms in a July
2002 interview with a local newspaper as "catastrophic mistakes"
that created military units only on paper.
In Nigeria, where MPRI was tasked to overhaul
the Nigerian military, Army Chief of Staff Gen. Victor Leo Malu
questioned MPRI's proposal to cut almost a third of the armed
forces as well as the motives behind the company's request for
sensitive documents and information.
Soyster attributes much of the dissatisfaction
to those who might find themselves on the outside of MPRI's suggested
reforms. "There are winners and losers if you make changes,
and (Malu) could have been a loser," he said of the Nigerian
general, who was later replaced as army chief of staff.
DynCorp, another recipient of sizable
contracts, was caught in a scandal in 2000 when two employees
deployed on the company's $15 million annual contract for logistical
support in Bosnia and Kosovo alleged that several of their colleagues
had colluded in the black-market trade of women and children.
DynCorp later said the company did not tolerate such behavior
and fired those accused of the offenses. According to media reports,
DynCorp also fired the employees who made the allegations for
unrelated charges, including allegedly tampering with time cards.
Both sued the company for wrongful dismissal, and an employment
tribunal in Britain, where one suit was filed, ruled in August
2002 that the dismissal was unfounded and retaliation for the
disclosures. A DynCorp spokeswoman said the company planned to
appeal. The other suit was settled out of court soon after.
Defense contracts are among the government's
most expensive and numerous, and the companies that win them among
the country's largest companies that legislators don't want
to alienate. A review of lobby documents from 1995 to 2001, obtained
by ICIJ, shows that PMCs take a strong hand in their futures through
lobbying. Wackenhut, Brown & Root, Booz Allen Hamilton, Betac
Corp., Armor Holdings, Logicon and Cubic Corp. have all employed
lobbyists to advocate for their interests on Capitol Hill. Most
lobby on Defense Department appropriations and national defense
authorization bills, the major spending legislation for the Pentagon.
In addition, Betac lobbied on intelligence authorization bills,
Logicon on outsourcing of government programs and Armor Holdings
on "foreign relations for export of products."
These companies are often the only ones
capable of providing the large-scale and complex services and
products the military needs. A factor is the change in the nature
of warfare: in the United States, fewer individuals are doing
the actual fighting, while massive support systems are required
to maintain the world's most modern forces. The requirements of
high-technology warfare have dramatically increased the need for
specialized expertise, which often must be drawn from the private
sector. In Afghanistan, for example, contractors from Northrop
Grumman were hired by the Air Force to man Global Hawk, the newest
and most advanced surveillance plane, because they designed the
unmanned drone and had the expertise to run the system. As a result,
the line between frontline activities and logistical support is
"There's a view that if companies
do bad things, that's just too bad because the nation's defense
is more important than anything else and there are some firms
we can't not do business with," Schooner said, citing high-tech
weapons manufacturers as an example. "There's a long-running
tradition that the government tends to debar small and unimportant
contractors because it can, and tends not to debar large important
companies because it can't we need them."
But small contractors also play a role.
ICI of Oregon, with a permanent staff of just five employees (they
contract additional employees as needed), reported annual sales
for 2001 of $8.8 million. The company was incorporated in 1994
by Brian Boquist, a Special Forces lieutenant colonel in the Army
Reserve who is making his second run for a seat in the U.S. Congress.
Boquist is also a former executive of a subsidiary of Evergreen
International Aviation, a private air freight company based in
Oregon that has reportedly taken on sensitive missions for the
ICI has aided extremely risky peacekeeping
operations in Liberia, Sierra Leone and Haiti, and evacuated peacekeepers,
aid workers and diplomats from combat zones. In one instance,
an ICI helicopter was dispatched from Freetown to a remote village
in Sierra Leone to collect a senior Nigerian officer. But in the
30 minutes it took the ICI crew to reach the village, rebels had
attacked and the helicopter came under anti-aircraft fire. "I
said, someone is here, and they've got some heat, but where is
my army?" a member of that ICI team said in an interview.
"I could see we didn't own the village anymore, and I'm about
to be shot out of the sky. We drove [flew] up the road, looking
for the guy we needed to get out. Then I saw 300 of our guys [Nigerians]
running down the road in complete disarray, with their leaders
in front." The helicopter landed but was mobbed by the desperately
fleeing soldiers and had to take off again, with men hanging from
the helicopter's doors and landing skids as it flew out under
ICI brings an unorthodox approach to the
conflicts of the third world. For a start, its pilots fly in Russian
helicopters and use Russian crew. One former ICI employee described
the Russian Mi-8 helicopters as "damn ugly, but they're tough
as woodpecker lips they fly and they keep flying."
ICI whose Web site boasts that the
company was the "1998 U.S. Dept. of State Small Business
Contractor of the Year" also has been supporting a
U.S. military training program in Nigeria. In addition, the ICI
Foundation, a charitable organization founded by Boquist, developed
a medical training program under U.S.-government auspices in southern
Sudan, where Washington has pumped in at least $13 million in
recent years in support of the rebel opposition. (DynCorp is another
key contractor in southern Sudan.)
That a small company like ICI has been
involved in so many operations is indicative of the changing nature
of war. The lean military of the new millennium cannot be everywhere
at once, so contractors fill in the gaps. That need grew exponentially
when the Bush administration responded to the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks with its war on terrorism.
The increasing scope of the war has led
to a bonanza for PMCs. For example, ArmorGroup, the services arm
of Armor Holdings, was hired by the British government to provide
security for British embassies around the world after a diplomat
was killed in a bombing believed related to the al Qaeda network.
Kellogg Brown & Root has built camps in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba,
for U.S. detainees and is providing logistical support for U.S.
military bases in Uzbekistan. MPRI says it is supporting homeland
security in the United States and hopes to be hired to train the
newly constituted Afghan army.
Many worry, however, that the inadequate
oversight system now in place will never be able to keep up with
the sheer volume and geographical spread of the hundreds of Pentagon
contracts being issued. The May 2002 GAO report predicted that
weak oversight would remain a problem. "With the involvement
of contractors in the efforts to combat terrorism, the potential
exists for a similar condition (as in the Balkans) in Afghanistan
and the surrounding area." At the request of the Senate Armed
Services Committee, the agency has begun a review of the oversight
of defense contractors in deployment missions worldwide. That
report is due out in mid-2003.