Multinational Monitor

MAR 1999
VOL 20 No. 3


Unsafe In Any Seed: U.S.Obstructionism Defeats Adoption of An International Biotechnology Safety Agreement
by Kristin Dawkins

The Nuclear Boys Return to Ukraine: The European Scheme to "Compensate" for the Chernobyl Shutdown
by Tony Wesolowski

Corporate Soldiers: The U.S. Government Privatizes the Use of Force
by Daniel Burton-Rose and Wayne Madsen

Domesticating Markets: A Social Justice Perspective on the Debate Over a New Global Financial Architecture
by Walden Bello


Toxic Deception
an interview with Dan Fagin


Behind the Lines

Corporate Schoolyard Bullies

The Front
Election Rigging in Japan - Greenlining, Whitewashing? - Exxon: Mean and Stupid

The Lawrence Summers Memorial Award

Names In the News


Corporate Soldiers: The U.S. Government Privatizes the Use of Force

by Daniel Burton-Rose and Wayne Madsen

After having privatized in whole or in part nearly all other government functions, the U.S. government is now outsourcing the use of force.

The latest stage in the privatization of military functions is the contracting out of training of Third World armies. The U.S. military establishment is relying not just on rag-tag groups of mercenaries, or front groups that do the bidding of the CIA or other intelligence agencies, but on genuinely independent corporations.

The Department of State has turned to Arlington, Virginia-based Military Professional Resources, Inc. (MPRI), a self-described "corporation of former military professionals ... ranging from commanders to tank gunners" to carry out its African Crisis Responsive Initiative (ACRI). At State Department prodding, seven nations, spanning the African continent, have already signed up for the program.

The ostensible purpose of ACRI is to create an indigenous peacekeeping force in Africa. Military forces from nearly all of the seven nations currently participating -- Benin, Ghana, Malawi, Mali, Senegal, Uganda and, most recently, the Ivory Coast -- have already received some training from the Fort Bragg, North Carolina-based 3rd Special Forces.

In March 1999, Ghana received the first "follow-on training" of ACRI, with U.S. Special Forces overseeing the MPRI-conducted event. Senegal is to follow soon after.

Why use a private corporation to conduct military trainings? Government officials say privatization can save taxpayers money. In the case of ACRI, the State Department says MPRI and LOGICON, a huge Arlington-based electronics company, can do the advanced training cheaper, and more effectively, than the Army.

But whatever the cost savings, the privatization of military and quasi-military functions raises huge questions of accountability and the misuse of force that are sure to loom large as MPRI and other military service companies like South Africa's Executive Outcomes and the U.S. Dyncorp grow.

Privitized Peacekeeping

Some of the potential dangers even in a privatized peacekeeping training operation are foreseeable in the still-in-its-infancy ACRI program and in MPRI's former operations.

The State Department is quick to emphasize that the ACRI program does not transfer lethal equipment, but quality training by definition builds a residual lethal force -- soldiers -- and can alter regional balances of power. MPRI, whose motto is "The Greatest Corporate Military Expertise in the World," has provided clear illustration of the value of good teachers. Within months of receiving expert tutelage from MPRI, Croatia launched a series of intense, well-planned and successful offensives against ethnic Serbs. Military experts noted that the Croatian military machine was vastly improved in a just a few short months, an up-grade that likely contributed to its decision to go on the offensive.

Before MPRI entered the picture, ACRI had already begun compiling a similar record. Uganda and Senegal, each of which received Special Forces trainers as part of ACRI's initial deployment in July 1996, have become deeply involved in wars with bordering nations. ACRI equipment has been found on Ugandan soldiers fighting against Kabila in the Congo. Human rights groups, such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, have also linked ACRI-trained battalions to murders, rapes and beatings committed against Ugandan civilians in areas of the country contested by rebels. Senegal is supporting Guinea-Bissau rebels, against authoritarian General Asumane Mane.

The quandaries posed by ACRI and MPRI are just the tip of the iceberg, for MPRI is at the top of the military training field. The U.S. government sees the firm's much-vaunted roots in the highest levels of the Pentagon as something like a stamp of purity. "Committed to ethical business practices," is written prominently on the firm's promotional pamphlet. MPRI has been very careful to avoid connections to the violence it has facilitated.

More hard-boiled mercenaries express disdain for the distance MPRI keeps from the guts and gristle of battle. "MPRI is so desperate to avoid being called mercs that they just scratch the surface," says Tom Marks, a contributing writer to the quintessential mercenary magazine, Soldier of Fortune. "They're a glorified transportation corps, as opposed to being a military outfit. They're almost like the FedEx of government service."

Some government officials' descriptions of MPRI almost make the firm seem like a high-quality job-placement agency. Phil Egger of the State Department's African Affairs bureau says MPRI quickly and effectively recruits in response to State Department requests for trainers, utilizing both a large database of retired military and web-advertising. As the United States trained most of the people MPRI hires, they are ideally suited to fulfill U.S. missions. "Most of the people they've hired for us are retired colonels," says Egger. "All have African experience -- some at embassies."

Courting the Private War Makers

The foil to MPRI has been Executive Outcomes (EO), a Pretoria-based firm founded in 1989 [see "Guarding the Multinationals," Multinational Monitor, March 1998]. EO's specialty was mobilizing highly trained veterans of South Africa's counterinsurgency wars to reverse the odds in deadly engagements elsewhere on the continent. Its public relations strategy was to portray the company as a convenient shot-in-the-arm for besieged democracies; in reality, the firm's activities largely consisted of propping up governments amenable to the continued outbound flow of Africa's rich mineral wealth. Heritage-Branch, the oil and mining combine of British investor Tony Buckingham, had an intentionally obscured interlocking directorate with EO. Heritage-Branch has mining interests in countries such as Angola and Sierra Leone, two countries in which EO has spent violent time.

On January 1, 1999, Executive Outcomes disbanded. Nico Palm, EO's owner, put a clean face on the demise of the firm: "African countries are busy working out solutions in Africa," reads her press statement. "Let's give them a chance." Another EO statement cites "the consolidation of law and order across the African continent" as a reason for the company's purported obsolescence.

But given the mind-numbing quantity of blood being spilled across the continent, these explanations ring hollow.

Almost all serious commentators agree EO is simply breaking itself into less identifiable parts, and will continue its dark work, using other countries as bases. At a December 1998 seminar in Johannesburg on the privatization of security services in Africa, Princeton University Professor Jeff Herbst described EO as a "virtual firm" set to "mutate" into a less visible, but still potent, organization. With weapons easily procured, EO can reconfigure itself in response to each contract it obtains, so long as it maintains a rolodex of ready-and-willing mercenaries.

Herbst's contention appears well grounded. At least two organizations developed by EO are still alive: Saracen, in Uganda (part-owned by President Museveni's half-brother, defense minister Salim Saleh) and Lifeguard Security, in Sierra Leone. For Herbst, the solution to EO's war-making is to "co-opt" the firm and turn it into a "legitimate" organization -- like MPRI. Herbst's thesis is that such a desirable transformation can be achieved without any government regulation, but simply by governments, the United Nations and non-governmental organizations like the International Red Cross providing business to "clean" companies like MPRI. This financial incentive, he argues, will be enough to spur a transformation of EO and its progeny.

The Peacekeeping / War-Making Blur

There is clearly a growing market for corporate logistics and quasi-peacekeeping services. The largest firms filling this market niche are the Reston, Virginia-based DynCorp and the Alexandria, Virginia-based Betac. They both construct physical and electronic infrastructures and, in most cases, offer personnel to fill them.

DynCorp, with 17,500-plus employees, over 550 operating facilities around the world and annual revenues of more than $1.3 billion, is particularly massive. One of the Pentagon's largest contractors, DynCorp's services are also integrated into the Drug Enforcement Agency, Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Federal Communications Commission, Internal Revenue Service and Treasury Department.

The company is already well established in the peacekeeping market. It provided support services for famine aid in Somalia in 1992, and has been supporting UN peacekeepers in Angola since December 1997. As with MPRI or EO, DynCorp's on-the-ground personnel have been prepared by their government for dangerous situations: "Our leadership is typically retired military," says Frank Henderson, director of international logistics support at DynCorp. Most of the workers are locals.

DynCorp also recently landed a contract with the State Department to provide the U.S. contingent of cease-fire verifiers in Kosovo. That contract was suspended with the commencement of the NATO bombing of the Balkans.

Having workers so close to the action has proved costly to DynCorp in human terms. Five workers have been killed so far in Angola -- four in two separate C-130 aircraft crashes, and one in an ambush. DynCorp sees the deaths as an ugly near-inevitability of working in or near a war zone. "Just like women and children get killed, contractors get killed," Henderson explains. He adds of the DynCorp workers in Angola: "They are clearly non-combatants."

One country in which it is not clear that DynCorp employees are non-combatants is Colombia. Officially, the employees are engaged in providing pilot training and technical support for the Colombian National Police's illicit-plant eradication effort in southern Colombia. But several reports, including from the Dallas Morning News' Ted Robberson in August 1998, suggest DynCorp personnel -- many veterans of U.S. wars, overt and covert -- are actively involved in counterinsurgency in the south, which is controlled by the Colombian insurgents FARC.

The State Department and DynCorp stonewall inquiries on the subject. When asked about the program, Henderson responds, "You're getting into an area I wouldn't want to see in print." DynCorp personnel at the San Jose del Guaviare military base in southern Colombia told Robberson they were under strict orders not to speak with the press. The Buenos Aires daily Clarin reported that DynCorp employed 20 to 30 Vietnam vets in Colombia. Like the EO men in African, the DynCorp men have a reputation for being rude and arrogant. They "refuse to subordinate themselves to Colombian officials," wrote El Espectador.

Andy Messing, Jr., a 17-year Special Forces veteran who heads a small right-wing think shop in Fairfax, Virginia called the National Defense Council Foundation, finds the scenario of DynCorp being involved in counterinsurgency work in Colombia plausible. "If they're not involved in counterinsurgency work already, they will be, from what my understanding is," says Messing.

Messing, who has close ties with the Colombian National Police and was instrumental in getting the police additional military aide last fall, is opposed to DynCorp's role in Colombia. "You can't control them as well as you can American military," he says, adding, "when they wind up getting whacked, it only adds to the confusion."

But Messing also asserts: "They're way too expensive." That U.S. Special Forces could do the job cheaper points to political, not financial, advantages to contracting.

Avoiding Accountability

For the United States, the crucial benefit of privatized military services is lessened scrutiny of its foreign activities, and a level of disassociation from activities it deems unpleasant necessities. With the U.S. populace particularly averse to having nationals fight and die in foreign quagmires, the idea of outsourcing peacekeeping activities is especially attractive to the U.S. military establishment. The State Department and the Department of Defense both gain because the capture or murder of contractors carries almost no political fall-out. Look for MPRI, DynCorp and friends to do well in future years.

Daniel Burton-Rose is the editor of Win: a Newsletter on Activism at the Extremes and the co-editor of The Celling of America: An Inside Look at the U.S. Prison Industry (Common Courage Press, 1998). Wayne Madsen, a former naval officer, is the author of Covert Actions In Africa, 1993-1999 (Edward Mellen Press, 1999).


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