By Greg Guma
08 July , 2004 by
United Press International
use of mercenaries was once a dirty, little secret most governments
were loath to acknowledge. But today they're called private military
contractors and perform almost every function essential to military
operations. The Financial Times has labeled this trend the "creeping
privatization of the business of war."
During the first
Gulf War, about two percent of U.S. military personnel were private
workers. As of 2003, it had reached 10 percent. The Pentagon employs
more than 700,000 private contractors, and at least $33 billion of the
$416 billion in military spending overwhelmingly approved by the Senate
last week will go to PMCs.
In Iraq, these companies
supply more trainers and security forces than all remaining members
of the "coalition of the willing" except the United States.
Approximately 15,000 civilian security guards are stationed there, at
least 6,000 of them armed. Some contractors maintain sophisticated weapons
systems that used to be handled by the army. More than $20 billion --
almost a third of the Army's budget for Iraq and Afghanistan -- goes
One advantage of
using private forces is to keep down the casualty count. Although non-military
casualties aren't included in official Pentagon reports, Peters Singer,
author of "Corporate Warriors," estimates that at least 30
contractors have been killed in Iraq and about 180 have been wounded.
But giving contractors
prominent roles does pose risks. For example, Caci International and
the Titan Corporation have been implicated in charges of torture, humiliation
and rape leveled at the U.S. military in Iraq.
How did we get here?
In 1969, the U.S.
Army had about 1.5 million active duty soldiers. By 1992, the figure
had been cut by half. Over the last decade, however, the United States
has mobilized to intervene in several significant conflicts, and as
a result, a corporate "foreign legion" has filled the gap
between policy imperatives and what a downsized, over-stretched military
The push to privatize
gained significant traction during the first Bush administration. After
the Gulf War, the Pentagon, then headed by Defense Secretary Dick Cheney,
awarded a Halliburton subsidiary nearly $9 million to study how PMCs
could support soldiers in combat zones. The company has since won at
least $2.5 billion to construct and run military bases, some in secret
locations, as part of the Army's Logistics Civil Augmentation Program.
Although the number
of active duty U.S. troops has recently climbed to 1.4 million, Defense
Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's desire to make forces lighter and more agile
has helped to accelerate the trend.
Use of high-technology
equipment also feeds the process. Private companies have capabilities
that the military needs, but doesn't possess. Contractors maintain the
B-2 stealth bomber and F-117 stealth fighter and operate some of the
newer weapons systems, such as the Global Hawk and Predator unmanned
drones. Military systems like the Army's Guardrail surveillance aircraft
are designed to be operated and maintained by private companies.
DynCorp, the largest
PMC in Iraq, has Department of Defense contracts worth more than $2
billion to provide "post-conflict police training" around
the world. Over the last decade, it has dispatched trainers to Haiti,
Bosnia-Herzegovina, Kosovo, Liberia, East Timor, Afghanistan and now
The company has
also handled aviation services for drug-eradication programs in Latin
America as part of Plan Colombia; updated information systems for the
State and Justice departments, Department of Defense, FBI, Internal
Revenue Service, Security and Exchange Commission and Drug Enforcement
Agency; and maintained or managed U.S. border posts, weapons-testing
ranges, Air Force bases and the president's fleet of planes and helicopters.
All this government
work made it an attractive acquisition target for Computer Sciences
Corp., a software company that branched into federal contracts. One
of its key clients became the National Security Agency. Acquiring DynCorp
cost $950 million, but meant that a leading information technology firm
was joining forces with one of the largest PMCs, making it a major force
in the military-intelligence-industrial complex.
It was a timely
move. In April 2003, just a month after the deal with completed, DynCorp
won a 5-year, $500 million contract to build a private police force
in post-Saddam Iraq, with some of the funding diverted from an anti-drug
program for Afghanistan.
With 92,000 employees
worldwide, CSC works with virtually every major U.S. agency. Through
its State and Defense Department contracts, it implements foreign policy
by proxy. Its "private security personnel" are effectively
immune from criminal sanctions.
Through its Information
Technology work with the NSA, it upgrades and maintains the world's
most expansive and highly secure surveillance and communication systems.
It also manages Air Force bases and information warfare planning, Army
weapons systems, naval security, most of NASA's air fleet, and Department
of Homeland Security border-crossing technology.
In Britain, the
debate over military privatization has been public and sensitive, since
the activities of one U.K. company, Sandline, in Sierra Leone and Papua
New Guinea embarrassed the government in the late 1990s. But no country
has clear policies to regulate PMCs, and the limited oversight that
does exist rarely works.
In the United States,
hey have mostly escaped notice, except when U.S. contract workers in
conflict zones are kidnapped or killed.
It's a troubling
situation. PMCs have become an adjunct foreign policy apparatus that
is largely invisible, rarely mentioned by the press, and not currently
subject to congressional oversight. The Freedom of Information Act doesn't
apply, and any background on how they operate is private, proprietary
In some cases, the
use of private contractors is a way to get around congressional scrutiny.
But it also represents something deeper: the gradual outsourcing of
U.S. defense and national security.
Greg Guma is the
editor of Toward Freedom, a Vermont-based world affairs magazine and
author of "Uneasy Empire: Repression, Globalization, and What We
Can Do." An investigative feature on CSC and DynCorp is available
2001-2004 United Press International