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Private Security Contractors

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Private security contractors (PSC's) are being utilized around the globe for military related purposes. One such contractor is Blackwater USA. Blackwater USA is the self proclaimed, "most comprehensive professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world" ( In short, they provide training and solutions aimed at supporting security, peace, freedom, and democracy anywhere on the planet ( Recently, Blackwater has been involved in projects related to Iraq and in New Orleans. So what is wrong with companies like Blackwater and Bechtel (British based contractor)? Why doesn't the United States government use them more often? They seem to be confident in their reliability and more importantly, their goals are very reasonable. The fact is, there are a number of aspects that must be considered when determining whether or not it would be beneficial to use these contractors. These topics include reliability (keep in mind Blackwater is not the only company being referred to), cost, past relations, personnel, and reasons for using private contractors in the first place rather than our government military and law enforcement agencies. The use of private security contractors, although a liability more than an asset, poses a number of issues in regards to future military endeavors.

It is estimated that about 15,000 to 20,000 troops are currently deployed in Iraq working under private security contractors. Many of these men have former combat training and experience with branches of the military such as the Navy Seals. In general, the PSC's tend to take on high risk tasks such as protecting convoys or high ranking government and military officials. These roles were once fulfilled by traditional military units. The reasoning for this transition from military to PSC's is that the government employed troops (such as the marines) can take on positions that are more important. However, the high risk jobs taken on by the PSC's do not come at a cheap price. It is not uncommon for an employee of these companies to make up to $100,000 a year or even $1,000 for a single days work. The argument proposed to justify the payment of these high wages is that in the long run, the government saves money because they do not have to provide benefits or pension plans for these troops. If many of these men are former military employees are they not receiving these pension plans anyways? And more importantly, those plans are made for a reason. When it comes down to it, these men are at high risk. If they die while working in the field for a PSC, will their families receive the insurance they deserve? For some of the larger contractors such as Blackwater USA or Dynocorp, the answer may be yes. However, there are hundreds of contractors out there that are working in high risk environments, many of which are not even based in the United States (such as Bechtel). I am positive that they are not all organized and structured like the larger organizations we here about in the news from time to time. We are paying tax dollars for a military. We are sending thousands of troops overseas to fight terror and secure the world from weapons of mass destruction. Why not utilize these assets to the fullest?

The reliability and effectiveness of such private security contractors have been brought into question many times. PSCs have contracts from the government valued at billions of dollars, but are American tax dollars being wasted? In an infamous example of failure on the part of a PSC, Halliburton - the giant energy firm once headed by current Vice President Dick Cheney and which has a contract valued over $13 billion - has been accused of several misconducts. Halliburton is accused of overcharging for gasoline and charging for services not rendered, among other accusations, to the amount of some $1.8 billion. Furthermore, the question of whether PSC employees are capable of providing military services remains. Although many PSCs employ former military personnel, there have been instances of PSC employees engaging in improper conduct. In March 2005 over a dozen contractors from Zapata Engineering were detained by U.S. Marines who alleged that the contractors had shot at them. In October 2005 a video posted on the Internet showed several employees of Aegis Defense Services shooting Iraqi civilians. Had these forms of misconduct been committed by members of the military, there would have been severe consequences; these incidents have resulted in complaints and subjective investigations by PSCs.

Aside from these concrete issues, there is a fundamental issue of ethics and morals in the use of PSCs. The use of force has traditionally been a right reserved to the state - only the state could use deadly force legitimately without the fear of repercussions. Enter PSCs into the picture, and suddenly private organizations are practically conducting war, being paid by governments to, in essence, kill. This creates numerous ethical issues, not merely in the fact that governments no longer have a monopoly on legitimate killings. PSCs allow governments to use private means to accomplish public ends, to circumvent public oversight and engage in actions that would normally not have the approval of the public (the use of PSCs is not included in the War Powers Resolution, which places a restriction on the President's ability to conduct war). Furthermore, what exactly would PSC employees be categorized as? They are surely not civilians, for they carry military weapons and are engaging in warfare, but they are not soldiers, for they are in the private sector. Should something happen to them, namely kidnapping or captivity, as in the case of a 2003 plane crash in Colombia involving California Microwave Systems, does the military take actions or the PSC? So far neither has - and the three American captives from California Microwave Systems, now part of Northrop Grumman Corporation, marked their third year of captivity in mid-February.

Despite these problems, the military continues to be supplemented by the utilization of these PSC's .The government based military has long been the answer to all appropriate relations dealing with war, terrorism or the like. However, with relatively recent changes, PSC's have come into play, effectively replacing many of the jobs the military used to control. There are several reasons why the switch has been made in recent years from using solely military soldiers to now heavily relying on these PSC's. One of the more apparent reasons is recruitment issues within our own military. Since the military relies heavily on volunteer enlistment, the PSC's help alleviate some of the pressures to produce manpower. Since, in theory, these PSC's are only used



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