Monday, October 29, 2007

PHYSICIAN, HEAL THYSELF!

Physician, heal thyself. It’s a praise often used to talk about the idea that doctors don’t make the best patients because they’re more used to giving medical advice than taking it and often ignore symptoms and lead hectic lifestyles. I’ve also read that physiatrists and psychologists often have troubled personal lives because what makes them so good at providing advice to their patients causes them to treat their children and spouses like patients which often is resented.

All this makes me wonder if somebody like me who works in the International security industry has the ability to provide advice to the industry as a whole or if I’m incapable of really seeing the industry for what it is? You’ll have to answer this question for me because I think I can provide an unbiased assessment but maybe I’m too jaded to even realize that I’m biased.

To understand today’s Private Security Company’s you have to take a hard look at the evolution that got us to where we are. Most of the industries old guard began as Risk Management firms specializing in the provision of kidnap and ransom services, helping the insurance industry analyse risk in potentially high risk locations in Africa, the Middle and South America, providing training services to local guard forces, doing security survey’s and general risk management consulting and finally providing security managers who could provide their clients with day to day security advice.

Who worked in the Industry, well it was a mixture of ex-military officers doing the survey’s and developing corporate crisis management plans while the ex-soldiers were doing the on the ground training or advising work in the deserts and jungles where the oil wells and mines could be found.

For the most part these old guard companies were British.

There was a brief attempt to evolve towards something totally different in the early 90’s with the advent of the Private Military Company. This idea, although interesting never really gained any traction within the private or public sector. The original idea was that if you deployed a well trained, disciplined and well-equipped force quickly you could prevent the Rwanda’s of the world while the UN was still chatting away about what to do. In exchange the government that hired said PMC would pay them vast amounts of money or resources in return for providing them with a stable country. Now looking at this purely from a moral perspective the idea that a small group of armed men could quickly stop some of the most horrific wars in Africa and then leave the country in the hands of its legitimate government without all the hubbub of the UN and different factions of country’s deciding if such an intervention was good for it’s national agenda while countless people were being starved or butchered seems on the face of it a rather good idea. Often though such good ideas become perverted and it would be impossible for that same illustrious International body (UN) to come together and create the rules by which a PMC could operate. There would always be the possibility of a PMC being lured by money or diamonds into fighting for a not so legitimate government.

As quickly as they came they were gone and the industry went back to its core although US entrepreneurs had begun to take notice of Control Risks Group and Armor Group and said we can do that too. The timing coincided with major Western governments scaling back its collective military’s yet deploying them heavily in the Balkans. The Americans were soon outsourcing everything but combat forces to civilian company’s, as were the Canadians and less so the British. Whether it was catering for your deployed forces or logistics delivery at home, the alternative delivery years were beginning so it was only a logical follow on that static guarding of facilities and small but specialized training would follow and how quickly they did.

The first major move towards legitimate private military training came when the US government agreed to fund, train and equip the Bosnian Army but when President Clinton turned to the military they didn’t have the people to spare while his state department was also saying hey lets not publicly take sides and further isolate the Russians who are historical friends with the Serbs so they found MPRI who hired all those recently released and downsized US Army personnel who would just love to paid to do what they do best but without all the regular army restrictions. The beginning of the oversight and governance challenge quickly became apparent as some members of the training team were accused of several felony level crimes but were never prosecuted due to the confusion over what laws if any applied in war torn Bosnia.

By the beginning of the millennium, the US Military was outsourcing all catering (KBR), logistical and static guarding of its facilities in the Balkans (yes under the Clinton administration KBR was making money) and after the bombing of the USS Cole the US Navy needed to quickly train its sailors and officers to better protect their ships when they were in foreign ports but with all the cut backs to the Navy, they were barely manning all the ships so to put aside so many personnel to conduct some major long term training was not going to happen so they decided to outsource it like so many other functions. Into the breech stepped Blackwater USA. A tiny training outfit but one perfectly suited to respond to the US Navy’s needs as it was run and staffed by former Navy SEALS who already had the background and skills so desperately needed.

With DynCorp training police in Haiti and Bosnia on behalf of the Clinton administrations Department of State we witnessed the birth of the first two major non-British private security company’s.

After the invasion of Afghanistan several more PSC’s emerged and began to operate private security details (PSD’s) protecting government officials and those in the private sector looking to be first at the trough for reconstruction contracts. It was a PSC that provided protection to all those UN field workers that registered Afghanistan’s population to vote and it was a PSC that protected the polling stations and the workers there during the vote and well as protecting all the Non-Governmental Agency workers who came to help or to monitor elections. In fact without this blossoming industry much of what did go right in Afghanistan would not have occurred with the speed at which it did because the Military and State Department that President Bush inherited 9 months earlier had been gutted and completely outsourced in every way possible to save money during the tough 90’s. The projected surpluses that President Clinton spoke so much about were gathered by outsourcing so many government and military functions that President Bush had absolutely no choice in Afghanistan but to continue down the same path of outsourcing and it wasn’t to long before we had felony type crimes being commitment and once again the laws were dodgy at best on the issue.

In fall of 2005 a drunken member of USPI working as an armed guard on a USAID funded reconstruction contract shot and killed an interpreter. The guard, a US citizen later tried to claim that the unarmed interpreter threatened him. The result he was flown out of Afghanistan two days later without the permission of the Afghan government who wanted to arrest him. Later when I was asked what I would do if one of my guys did the same thing (by the reconstruction company’s Group VP) I responded the same thing, I’d rather have the guy tried in the US than here, his response was you better get him out, we won’t let our company’s name be associated with a murder trial in Afghanistan.

In Nov of 2005, a member of the DynCorp Police training team ran over and killed a child outside of the gates of the compound I was living in. The driver never stopped but it was obvious to everybody who was driving the white suburban, as at the time DynCorp was the only company using the vehicles with modified front bumpers. They had removed the original factory installed bumper and replaced it with a solid black steel plate. At the time a documentary film crew was in my compound working on their film for the Sky News so when they heard about the hit and run they went and filmed the aftermath and then filmed the company refusing to comment on the incident.

In February of 2006 DynCorp was replaced by Blackwater USA as the sole provider of PSD service to the US Embassy and USAID staff in Afghanistan while DynCorp continued with the police-training program.

In the year I spent in Kabul I only had two weapons pointed at me. The first was a DynCorp PSD team member who wasn’t happy that I had closed up behind him waiting to get through the North Checkpoint into the Embassy. Since the rear of my vehicle was sticking out into the busiest traffic circle in Kabul and the team didn’t have a protectee on board I didn’t feel the need to keep a distance from him, nor did the RSO when it was reported to him but this was the mindset, here I was a fellow western armed guard working at the same Embassy he was working at and he was willing to point a weapon at me and scream in English to back up into a busy traffic circle.

The other incident occurred during the visit of President Bush when a very newly arrived member of Blackwater obviously nervous over the big visit while being new to the post pointed his rifle at me and asked me to halt, although I was in an area open to security forces, had my badge showing and was uniformed. He apologized after I yelled who I was to him but it was an obvious case of inexperience. He looked like a young kid so he was probably no more than 25 or so.

In Iraq the problem was the same just magnified in size and scope. During my time there I was provided with PSD services from Armor Group who took a completely different approach. They were firm but polite and while they used aggressive driving and blocking techniques they were never threatening nor did they ever wave their weapons about at people. The day I arrived they’d lost 2 Brit’s killed by an IED attack yet they went about their business as if nothing had happened, no extra animosity towards the locals just the normal drills.

Over the years I’ve watched as the industry followed two very distinct paths, the first path was the British one, a more reserved low profile path of hiring older more mature family men who had served for 12 years or more and were there to just do a job that needed doing and to do it well.

The other path was the American path this was perpetuated by DynCorp and Blackwater but also endorsed by Triple Canopy too. We had a generic name for all of these guys we called them collectively Dynawarriors. They were the guys with the mirrored wrap around sunglasses that had more gear hanging off their bodies than necessary and always seemed to pointing a weapon at somebody. They believed in overt security, posturing to as if to say look at how powerful we are so you better not attack us. The US Company’s tended to hire younger, aggressive guys who were single and looking for some trigger time. Young Rangers and Marines were especially loved as they were fit, keen and always followed orders.

I’m not one to throw stones as my house is definitely made of glass and I’ve made more mistakes than the average guy but the most recent incidents in Iraq were inevitable. The lack of oversight by an understaffed and overstretched Department of State safe allowed a group of young men to have free rein out there coupled with a lack of accountability beyond getting fired.

I can’t remember how many men I fired during my time in Kabul but it was a lot and in every case except one I didn’t have to be told by the RSO to do so. As for DynCorp the RSO told me in Nov 2005 after I’d fired 2 of my personnel for getting into a drunken fight at a club in Kabul that he was lucky that our company took a proactive approach while he’d had to pull the Embassy badges (our weapons permits) from 6 DynCorp guys who’d done the same thing weeks earlier because their management wouldn’t fire anybody unless forced. Why you ask, I can only speculate but when we fired somebody the cost of his replacement’s flight and pay during the mandatory 14 day training period had to be borne by the company so that might have something to do with it?

As I said in the beginning maybe I’m biased because I’ve always worked for British private security company’s, but I also worked in Washington DC for a year so I think I have a good insight into both view points. Maybe I’m biased because it was US Company’s whose men pointed weapons at me in Kabul?

Or maybe its time more people from within the industry spoke up and said enough is enough. We need standards of conduct, we need clear and defined laws so that our personnel not only know what is expected of them but how they will be treated should they break the laws they fall under.

The International Peace Operations Association has been trying to lay down a code of conduct but has received no government support and therefore cannot apply any real penalties or meaningful sanctions to its members. Doug Brooks (President of IPOA) is a fine man trying to do good work but if the industry cannot police itself the US government must step in and work to regulate this industry like all others to ensure there is a clear code of conduct and all applicable laws are laid out within the request for proposal (RFP) notices that they put out so Private Security Company’s can decide if they want to bid on these contracts with full knowledge in hand.

Having both the government and the industry step up and demand better of each other will go a long way to preventing unnecessary incidents from happening. They can’t stop them because no matter how good your plans and procedures are they’re in the hands of humans who sometimes make mistakes but what comes after those mistakes is also just as important and by having good laws, rules and procedures in place you can at the very least properly investigate and if necessary hold people or company’s accountable. Until these steps are taken we will continue to be lumped all together as Dynawarriors.

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