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April 2, 2004


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General vows to hunt killers, retake Fallujah
April 2, 2004


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Iraqi mob mutilates 4 American civilians
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Desecration of four Americans
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By Kirsten Scharnberg and Mike Dorning. Kirsten Scharnberg reported from North Carolina and Mike Dorning from Baghdad. Vincent J. Schodolski in Baghdad and Andrew Zajac in Chicago contributed.
Tribune correspondents
Published April 2, 2004

MOYOCK, N.C. -- Off a quiet back road here, on 6,000 acres of swampy, wooded land, Blackwater Security Consulting trains its employees to wield machine guns, survive the most adverse conditions and battle guerrilla insurgents.

Then the company dispatches these highly trained civilian commandos to war zones such as Afghanistan and Iraq to work as independent contractors for the U.S. government, paying them up to $2,000 a day, according to a former executive. As long as nothing goes wrong, their presence there goes largely unnoticed to the outside world.

SS - Education Today
But the killings and mutilation of four Blackwater security consultants Wednesday in Fallujah, Iraq, has cast an unwelcome spotlight on the large, expensive and shadowy presence of private security companies in that country.

It is unclear exactly how many private security employees are in Iraq. Estimates range from 15,000 to 25,000, and speculation about the number of firms ranges from 25 to about 40.

"If anybody tells you a [fixed] number, they're probably full of baloney," said Deborah Avant, associate professor of political science and international affairs at The George Washington University, who studies the trend toward the privatization of military tasks.

But it is clear that companies like Blackwater are at the forefront of the thriving business of going to places that most people--even the U.S. military--would rather not go.

The companies, mostly based in Britain or the United States, have taken on such tasks as protecting coalition contractors and defending oil fields and key buildings, often using former military personnel from the U.S. and other countries. Blackwater handles security for Paul Bremer, the top American administrator in Baghdad.

About a dozen firms have received U.S. government contracts to train Iraqi police, protect airports and other installations, and for specialized tasks such as armored-car services and the disposal of unexploded ordnance.

Two dozen or more firms also sell their services to construction companies and others hired by the U.S. government for rebuilding tasks and to entrepreneurs looking to get in early on the ground floor of a resuscitating economy.

Blackwater said the convoy ambushed in Fallujah was working on security arrangements for another client, Charlotte--based Compass ESS.

A Compass spokeswoman said none of the company's own employees were injured in the attack. She declined to say what the company's business was in the area, although its Web site notes that Compass ESS provides food services to the U.S. military.

U.S. lists 22 firms in Iraq

A U.S. government Web site on doing business in Iraq lists 22 security firms--from Britain, the U.S., Iraq, India, Hong Kong, South Africa and Australia--offering various kinds of services, including payroll deliveries, cash sorting, prison management, risk assessment, bodyguards and "heavily armored, high-profile convoy escort." The list doesn't include Blackwater.

David Claridge, managing director of London-based Janusian Security Risk Management, estimates the industry will bill about $1.8 billion to clients for protection services in Iraq during the next year. Blackwater has been awarded more than $35 million by the U.S. over the past couple of years for security contracts.

Clients can expect to pay up to $10,000 a day for top-of-the-line service that would include four armed guards and two armored vehicles, Claridge said. Some employees can make as much as $500 to $2,000 a day, depending on training and job.

Just last month, Blackwater recruited 60 former commandos and other service members from Chile's military and flew them to the company's training camp in North Carolina in preparation for jobs in Iraq, according to British and Chilean newspapers.

"We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals," Blackwater President Gary Jackson told The Guardian, a British newspaper.

The companies' presence in Iraq is expected to linger. At the end of June, when sovereignty is scheduled to be returned to Iraqis, the U.S. plans to give a private security company responsibility for protecting the Green Zone, the 4-square-mile area in central Baghdad where coalition officials live and work.

"I think private security is going to be the stopgap. It's really cheaper for the U.S. government to have private security than to keep rotating forces in and out," said Tim Meyer, president of Meyer & Associates, a Texas-based security contractor active in Iraq.

Private firms also may be more politically palatable because they have a lower media profile, Meyer said, adding that "if something happens, private companies are a little less scrutinized than if something happens with the military."

Still, there are limits to what some of the companies will do.

Jonathan Garratt, group managing director of Erinys International, a British security company that guards oil fields in Iraq and provides protection for Army Corps of Engineers and coalition officials, said he generally would insist clients avoid Fallujah, where the Blackwater convoy was ambushed.

"It's very dangerous. As a generalization, Fallujah is out of bounds on our map," Garratt said. "We would only go through there in armored vehicles and a significant security force to defeat all threats."

According to interviews, many of the firms began work shortly after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. They were founded by former military personnel who suspected there would be a demand for the services of those who know their way around a battlefield.

"The idea was to create a security consulting company that could work for entities like the Department of State and the Department of Defense to deal with the situations that were going to arise in a post- 9/11 world," said Jamie Smith, a former Navy SEAL who was vice president of Blackwater Securities before he launched a competing firm, SCG International Risk.

Smith, who said he was speaking Thursday by satellite phone from an area he wouldn't reveal, said he had more than 50 contractors deployed in "two different combat theaters." All are heavily armed with M-4 rifles and Glock pistols and wear heavy body armor, he said.

"You'll find that a lot of these guys are between the ages of 30 and 45, former special ops soldiers," he said.

They structure their organization very much like the military--giving employees "ranks" based on experience and training. They own military equipment such as Kiowa Warrior helicopters and train their pilots to fly them in Iraqi skies, Smith said. They deploy for months on end, train at military installations and work daily with U.S. commanders in any given war zone, he said.

"These are not mercenaries," said Nigel Churton, chief executive officer of Control Risks Group, a London-based worldwide private security company, speaking of his employees. He said those working for Control Risks Group, although all former members of special military and police units, were involved exclusively with defensive security-related work, not the kind of offensive operations carried out by paramilitary groups working for private companies.

No wish to use weapons

"I think the key points one has to start from [is] we're not now military," he said. "We cannot pretend that we have the ability to respond like a military force can." Control Risks Group has about 500 people involved in security work in Iraq, with about 300 in the country at any given time.

"Sure they are carrying concealed weapons, but we hope never to use them," Churton said.

All such security companies offer their clients an array of services designed to make it possible for them to carry out their work in hostile environments.

"There is a lot we can do," said Harry Legg-Burke, head of new business for London-based Olive Security, with about 280 people on security duty in Iraq. He said those services ranged from providing armed security men, to devising risk assessment plans, to practical advice on what kind of communication equipment was best for the circumstances in which their clients would be working.

Two Olive Security employees, a Briton and a Canadian, were killed earlier this week in the northern Iraqi city of Mosul when their convoy with British power station engineers was ambushed.

Despite the extreme danger, "as far as I know, not a single company has pulled out," said Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Virginia-based non-profit that advocates the use of private firms for peacekeeping and nation-building.

Nearly all security personnel are ex-military, so "they're going in with their eyes wide open," Brooks said. "The pay's not bad, and a lot of people believe in the mission."

Copyright © 2004, Chicago Tribune



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