Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy PSC Thanksgiving

As we pause to mark Thanksgiving, let's remember not only to thank our Creator for all our blessings, but also to thank all the private security contractors for risking their lives to keep us safe.

Let's recall, too, that it was a private security contractor who made the first Thanksgiving possible. Captain Myles Standish, a retired British military officer, was the PSC who protected the Pilgrims on their trip to establish the Plymouth colony in the New World.

Standish was not a Puritan or religious refugee, but a private security contractor. Christopher Jones, the skipper co-owner of the Mayflower, as well as his crew, were also contractors. Under government charter, the privately capitalized Plymouth Company leased the Mayflower and contracted the services of the crew to take the Pilgrims to America.

Standish's job was to run security for the Pilgrims, to lead reconnaissance missions, build a fortress, train the civilian men of the colony and organize them into a militia, and defend the colony against potential attack - not only from any hostile Indians, but from other European powers, including the Dutch, French and Spanish. The Mayflower's cargo included firearms, edged weapons, body armor and artillery.

For about 60 years, the British colonies that became Massachusetts were protected by privately funded militias. The US Army National Guard traces its roots to these militias.

Last year, Serviam magazine ran some interesting articles about the history of PSCs in America, including one about Myles Standish and the first Thanksgiving. The bloggers at Blackwaterfacts.com borrowed Standish's name to honor his work that led to the first permanent English settlement in America and laid the groundwork for our country.

Happy Thanksgiving to all!

Monday, November 24, 2008

US has Thrown DoD Contractors 'Under the Bus,' IPOA says

The United States government has thrown its contractors in Iraq "under the bus" by caving into Iraqi demands that they be subject to the country's dysfunctional and corrupt judicial system.

That's what the main trade association of security contractors, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), is saying about the new arrangement.

The main companies involved - Blackwater, Fluor Corp., KBR and DynCorp, wouldn't tell Bloomberg News what they think of the arrangement.

But IPOA President Doug Brooks says flat-out: "This agreement throws DoD contractors under the bus." And State Department contractors as well, one presumes.

Iraq's judicial and corrections systems are "way below" global standards, says Brooks.

According to Bloomberg, "The Defense Department and State Department briefed their private contractors today on a provision of the so-called status- of-forces accord that eliminates contractors' immunity from prosecution under Iraqi law. While the agreement applies to U.S. military operations, the State Department told its contractors today that Iraq will make them subject to the same rules.

"The provision is part of an agreement that would govern U.S. military operations in Iraq after a United Nations Security Council resolution expires on Dec. 31. About 28,000 of the 163,500 people employed as Pentagon contractors in Iraq are U.S. citizens," and about 1,000 or so reportedly work for Blackwater as personal security detail professionals.

The deal is likely to increase financial and political costs for the incoming Obama administration. "This is going to create costs for contractors because every contractor will need additional insurance coverage'' to protect against the risk of prosecutions, a Virginia lawyer who has represented US private security contractors in Iraq tells Bloomberg. "There's an increased likelihood of civil litigation costs for companies in the U.S. every time an investigation is opened in Iraq.'"

The Pentagon doesn't seem worried. "I would imagine that no matter what the legal protections are for contractors" serving in Iraq, Iraq "will remain a profitable enough business that you will see a number of contractors willing to do this," a Pentagon spokesman says.

That means that DoD will have to build untold millions of dollars a year into its contractor budgeting to cover the costs of defense against prosecution, and the huge costs of litigation and any payouts awarded by courts.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

UN Allows Arming of Private Civilian Ships

International law continues to allow for privately owned civilian ships to travel the seas armed. This is not a new development. Even the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea preserves that right.

Not that private companies must put themselves at the mercy of the United Nations, but still, it's significant that armed self-defense is still OK with the UN.

So private merchant vessels at risk of piracy aren't navigating undefended because of any international ban. Industry practice is to "avoid" traveling armed, according to a Washington Post op-ed, simply because that's been the policy of most companies. Satus quo.

Given the ineffectiveness of the world's navies in stopping piracy, and the over-stretched US Navy that advocates private sector initiatives, it looks like Blackwater is on the cutting edge again.

Friday, November 21, 2008

US Contractors Soon Subject to Iraqi 'Justice'

Has the US sold out the private companies who make it possible for American civilian government operations in Iraq? It sure looks that way. But all the facts aren't out yet, and private security companies are taking a wait-and-see approach.

The US and Iraqi governments reportedly have reached an agreement that would protect uniformed American military personnel from Iraqi prosecution except for serious crimes committed while not on duty, an arrangement similar to what the US has done in other countries.

But the State Department appears to have shot itself in the foot, at best, by not ensuring the same protections for the private contractors who do the job the military can't or won't do. Private security providers like Blackwater won't be shielded from Iraq's corrupt and dysfunctional "justice" system, according to news reports.

If the reports are true, it's going to be even harder for Blackwater to defend American diplomats in Iraq - because in some of the most highly publicized incidents since early 2004, Blackwater guards fell under attack from Iraqi military and police personnel. Uniformed Iraqi personnel lured four Blackwater guards into a deadly ambush in Fallujah in March 2004. Iraqi police reportedly shot at Blackwater security guards as they defended a US diplomat in September 2007, resulting in the deaths of 17 people at Nisoor Square.

The State Department isn't even saying whether or not the arrangement is ex post facto; it's unclear whether the US will allow Iraq to try contractors for actions allegedly committed prior to when the pact becomes official. The arrangement is to become effective on January 1, 2009.

"It has not yet been publicly resolved how and where the Blackwater guards will be tried and senior officials said they did not know whether the new pact would apply retroactively," the International Herald Tribune reports.

"US officials have said that under the deal, US military personnel would retain immunity from Iraqi law except in cases of serious crimes committed off base.
"But the pact explicitly says US Defense Department contractors will lose immunity, said the senior US officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity. They said contractors for the State Department and other agencies are expected to be treated the same way."

Thursday, November 20, 2008

66 Companies Contact Blackwater as US Navy Says Private Sector Must Fight Pirates

At least 66 shipping and merchant companies have contacted Blackwater for help in protecting vessels from Islamist pirates off the coast of Somalia.

The US Navy says it's overburdened, and that private companies must ensure their own security. "The coalition does not have enough resources to provide 24-hour protection for the vast number of merchant vessels in the region," says the US Fifth Fleet Commander, Vice Admiral Bill Gortney. "The shipping companies must take measures to defend their vessels and their crews."

Blackwater spokesman Anne Tyrell says that the company will offer seaborne and helicopter escort services but will not place private security guards aboard the tankers, freighters, and other ships. The firm's 180-foot helicopter carrier, McArthur (pictured), is reported to be in the area.

"Shipowners are irked by the suggestion they should be protecting themselves," the Toronto Globe and Mail reports. '[What] we are talking about is the fundamental obligation of nations to provide safe passage for world trade,' said Peter Hinchliffe, marine director for the London-based International Chamber of Shipping."

Waxman to Leave Committee Whose Powers He Abused

Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Calif.) has upset the House seniority system to chair the Energy and Commerce Committee, a move that will require him to step down as chairman of the investigative committee whose powers he abused while helping his trial lawyer friends harass Blackwater.

Longtime loyal Waxman staffer Philip Schiliro (pictured at right) is moving up Pennsylvania Avenue, where President-Elect Barack Obama has named him chief of White House congressional relations. Schiliro is leaving as the ultra-partisan staff director of the Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, from which he ran the anti-Blackwater hearings in partnership with trial lawyers as they sued the company.

Within two weeks of trial lawyer Daniel Callahan writing to Waxman requesting partisan attacks on Blackwater, Schiliro told the Washington Post that he planned to focus the committee investigations on Iraq, contracting, and the response to Hurricane Katrina - coincidentally the exact issues that had generated controversy for Blackwater. The Post noted at the time that when run by the Republicans under the chairmanship of Rep. Tom Davis (R-Va.), the Committee had a "relatively bipartisan tone." Schiliro turned it into an ultra-partisan attack machine.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Correcting Sloppy Journalism

Blackwater issued a statement today to correct news reports that contain what the company says are misleading and even false allegations of improper or illegal export of weapons to Iraq.

By any journalistic standard, the reporting is sloppy. Culprits include: Press-TV of Iran; the normally reliable Warren Strobel of McClatchy Newspapers; the ever-defensive, cross-armed Brian Ross (pictured) and Jason Ryan of ABC News; a mixed bag of writers at the Associated Press, and Zachary Roth of TPM Muckraker.

The reports "cite only anonymous government sources, anonymous former employees, and former employees who fired by Blackwater for stealing weapons from the company," according to a Blackwater press release.

"While the company cannot comment on all of the inaccuracies because of its ongoing cooperation with investigators, there are some key factual errors to which it would like to respond," Blackwater says. "The following points address some of the more egregious errors contained in recent reporting:
  • Blackwater has never shipped an automatic weapon to Iraq. A recent report that Blackwater has "shipped hundreds of automatic weapons to Iraq without the necessary permits" and "some of the weapons are believed to have ended up on the country's black market" is false. Blackwater has never shipped so much as one automatic weapon to Iraq.

  • Blackwater held approved export licenses to ship more than the 798 total guns it shipped to Iraq. A recent media report claiming that '... the State Department found that Blackwater shipped 900 weapons to Iraq without the paperwork required by arms export control regulations,' could not be true because the total number of firearms Blackwater has shipped to Iraq is less than 900. Blackwater obtained export licenses in excess of the number of weapons actually sent to Iraq - and the U.S. government authorized the export of each of these weapons. The investigations referenced by the media do not allege that the company failed to obtain licenses or failed to ensure the government was aware of its actions; rather, the investigations concern Blackwater's not properly annotating the licenses, not timely submitting required reports, and not retaining required records.

  • While Blackwater does not ship them, the limited number of automatic weapons that are in Blackwater's custody in Iraq were all exported by the U.S. government or by the manufacturer under U.S. government license. They are all fully accounted for, regularly inventoried, and required to be turned in to the U.S. government at the end of the associated contracts.

  • Blackwater has never hidden anything inside a bag of dog food - not a gun, not a radio, nor anything else. A recent news story cited 'former employees' who claim that Blackwater hid weapons 'in large sacks of dog food.' This sensational claim is false. The company has, however, packed shipping pallets with valuable and pilferable items, including weapons, interior to [surrounded by] bags of dog food or other low-theft items. This common practice is done to prevent corrupt foreign customs agents and shipping workers from stealing the valuables. U.S. export statutes require licensing of controlled materials but do not dictate their placement within packaging.

  • Blackwater follows all rules governing the type of firearms that can be carried by contractors in Iraq, to include contractual provisions, those outlined by the U.S. government, and those outlined by Iraq's Ministry of Interior. A recent report claiming that the company illegally shipped 'assault weapons' that it is prohibited from using in Iraq is blatantly false. All firearms shipped to Iraq by Blackwater were given proper U.S. government licenses. The firearms owned by Blackwater in Iraq are limited to handguns and civilian-variant carbines. It does not own or possess any 'M-4 assault weapons' in Iraq. All firearms used for diplomatic protection are government-issued.

  • A story highlighting that an inspector 'discovered an unlicensed two-way radio hidden in a dog food sack' is both sensationalistic and false because the radio in question did not require a license and was never hidden inside a dog food sack. Blackwater applied for a license for the radio prior to shipment and obtained a written determination issued by the Commerce department that the radio did not require any license. Although the valuable and pilferable radio was packaged among other items - including dog food - in a 13-pallet shipment, it was not 'hidden in a dog food sack.' The commercial waybill and shipping invoice for the shipment both clearly reflected that the radio was in the shipment. We acknowledge that we have made numerous mistakes in complex and demanding area of export compliance over the years. However, the majority of those violations have been failures of paperwork and timeliness while supporting the United States and its allies, not nefarious smuggling or aid to enemies. This is in no way meant to diminish the seriousness of U.S. export control laws, but rather to clearly state: Blackwater has not committed any of the sensational violations that have been reported recently."

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Founded to Save Lives

Touring Blackwater's sprawling headquarters in North Carolina, Washington Times columnist John McCaslin captures the paradox between the company's image and the reality of its existence. He quotes from a Blackwater official:

"'Blackwater is defined in the press, and by extension the public, by two events that resulted in the loss of human life. The first, Fallujah, resulted in the loss of four Blackwater lives. The second, on 16 September 2007, resulted in the loss of 17 Iraqi lives.

"'The irony here is that it is a company that was founded and exists to save lives. Everything done is in the interest of safety: training troops to defend themselves; building armored personnel carriers to keep troops alive in battle; building airships for surveillance to detect the bad guys; teaching cops how to effectively and safely rescue a hostage; helping people in executive-protection roles avoid an ambush in a vehicle; building an aviation division capable of performing rescue missions in war zones and natural disasters. The list goes on.
"'My point is that the press quantifies the loss of life, but fails to account for the sparing of life because of Blackwater. In Katrina alone, 128 people were pulled to safety before a contract was ever awarded. In more than 20,000 diplomatic missions, no one protected by Blackwater has ever even been seriously injured.'"

(Pictured: Three American missionaries joyfully celebrate their Blackwater rescue from Islamist extremists in Kenya.)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Posturing Bureaucrats Might Undermine Obama

Is there something to it, or is it just a case of bureaucrats posturing before an incoming new presidential administration? If it's bureaucratic posturing, it might inadvertently undermine President-Elect Barack Obama, whose aides say they won't rule out relying on Blackwater. After seeing Blackwater up-close in Afghanistan, Obama said he thinks the company is getting a "bad rap."

GovernmentExecutive.com is reporting that "the State Department's Directorate of Defense Trade Controls, which is responsible for export controls on some arms, is moving to hit [Blackwater] with what could be millions of dollars in fines," allegedly for shipping weapons to U.S. government-sanctioned police training facilities in Iraq and Jordan.

Apparently the paperwork wasn't in order. "Sources said the foul-up may have been unintentional but left the company unable to properly account for the weapons."

The State Department isn't talking for the record, though the company "has partly acknowledged" inquiries, according to the report.

"Ongoing reviews by the departments of Justice, State and Commerce have highlighted the need for a significant and systems-wide initiative," Blackwater General Counsel Andrew Howell said in an Oct. 9 statement. Citing problems with "export compliance," the firm that day announced a new export compliance committee and vice president of export compliance job.

Spokeswoman Anne Tyrell said Blackwater has "not been informed of an intent to impose a fine," but noted the Directorate of Defense Trade Controls' "resolution of export matters with other significant defense contractors" usually results in fines. "The potential fine depends on the regulatory scheme at issue and the facts of the case," she said.

The company set up an export control panel last month.

Officials would be wise not to read too deeply into many Democrats' longstanding criticisms of the company. Senators John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Jim Webb (D-Va.) say they're OK with Blackwater competing for federal contracts, as long as there's sufficient oversight and accountability. President-Elect Barack Obama has similarly tempered his criticism. Even so, a top Obama aide said earlier this year that the senator would not rule out continuing to retain Blackwater's services. And last July, when he saw Blackwater security professionals up-close during his trip to Afghanistan, Obama admitted that the company was getting unfairly treated.

"Blackwater is getting a bad rap," Obama said. (The photo, on Obama's website, shows the presidential candidate with troops and security during the July trip to Afghanistan.)

Crippling Blackwater with unreasonable fines just might end up hamstringing the new president at a time when he will need everything the company can offer.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Army Opts for Traditional JLTV Suppliers

The US Army has opted to go with traditional suppliers and not buy the Raytheon-Blackwater Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV).

The decision has prompted the company to lay off manufacturing workers and shutter its truck-building division. "We have stopped building all trucks," says spokesman Anne Tyrrell.

Blackwater's business model had promised a very flexible production process for the military.

"Blackwater is situated to do rapid prototyping and low rate production," according to a review of the JLTV in Tactical-Life.com. "The manufacturing facility is co-located with both an on-road and off-road test track. Their explosive and ballistic test ranges are a few hundred yards from manufacturing facilities. Locating their production facility in the middle of a 'tactical laboratory,' shortens the feedback cycle during the test and evaluation phase. Blackwater can build a prototype in the morning, and test it 10 times in the afternoon.

"The Raytheon/Blackwater vehicle has undergone extensive performance testing. The Raytheon/Blackwater JLTV has all the protection of Blackwater’s MRAP II vehicle, but features superior mobility than a Humvee. In designing their vehicle, Blackwater collaborated with a NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series racing team, a champion Rock Racing Team and a Monster Truck Team. The challenge is finding a way to get championship performance out of commercially-available components. Blackwater and Raytheon have succeeded in doing that by tapping the experience of seasoned, experienced racing professionals. As the only truck manufacturing company who actually has its own people in the field, Blackwater has a unique insight into the tactical requirements."

Sunday, November 2, 2008

How the Global Stability Industry Fits Together

Here's an interesting take on the "global stability industry" - the sector of government agencies, private companies, non-profit charities and non-governmental organizations that is increasingly coming together to solve world problems.

It's published in the current issue of Serviam, a magazine for and about those working in "global stability operations."

In an "industry overview," the magazine lists its portrayal of the global stability industry. The list is impressive, and no doubt some groups won't necessarily agree that they should be on it. Even so, it's an interesting cross-section of companies and groups: economic, engineering, government consulting, computers, information services, public health and development, education, logisitics, infrastructure management, and military and law enforcement, and security operations.

Everybody is in here, from Blackwater and other security and logistics companies, to Project Hope and Save the Children. I'm sure not every group listed will agree that it's part of the sector, but the listing is the best illustration yet of the broad spectrum of how private security companies are crucial to building peace and promoting development in at-risk or war-torn countries.