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News Link • Contractors, Government & Military

Hearings Reveal Lapses in Private Security in War Zone

• Pratap Chatterjee
WASHINGTON, Jun 21, 2010 (IPS) - Jerry Torres, CEO of Torres Advanced Enterprise Solutions, has a motto: "For Torres, failure is not an option." A former member of the Green Berets, one of the elite U.S. Army Special Forces, he was awarded "Executive of the Year" at the seventh annual "Greater Washington Government Contractor Awards" in November 2009.

On Monday, Torres, whose company provides translators and armed security guards in Iraq, was invited to testify before the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC), a body created in early 2008 to investigate waste, fraud and abuse in military contracting services in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Torres was asked to testify about his failure to obtain the required clearances for "several hundred" Sierra Leonian armed security guards that he had dispatched to protect Forward Operating Base Shield, a U.S. military base in Baghdad, in January 2010.

Torres didn't show up.

An empty chair at the witness table was placed ready for him together with a placard with his name on it next to those for representatives of three other companies working in Iraq - the London-based Aegis, and DynCorp and Triple Canopy, both Virginia-based companies.

USAID ducks legal responsibility

The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) also came in for extended criticism when David Blackshaw, the division chief for overseas security, told the commission that his agency was not legally responsible for the actions of armed guards that accompanied their grantees. "The role of the USAID's SEC's International Security Programmes Division is limited to advice and counsel," Blackshaw told the commissioners.

The commissioners were incensed. Several of them pulled out copies of a USAID Office of Inspector General report on private contracting that was issued last month that stated a third of USAID private security contracts in Afghanistan have no standard security requirements.

Commissioner Christopher Shays, a former Republican member of Congress from Connecticut, alleged that USAID was trying to "wash their hands" of any responsibility.

"God forbid something would happen with a violent accident in Afghanistan that would affect our national policy in Afghanistan and you would try that ridiculous line of argument," said Commissioner Robert Henke, a former Assistant Secretary for Management in the Department of Veterans Affairs, said. "It won't work."

"This commission was going to ask him, under oath, why his firm agreed in January to assume private security responsibilities at FOB Shield with several hundred guards that had not been properly vetted and approved," said Michael Thibault, one of the co-chairs of the commission and a former deputy director of the Defence Contract Audit Agency.

"This commission was also going to ask Mr. Torres why he personally flew to Iraq, to FOB Shield, and strongly suggested that Torres AES be allowed to post the unapproved guards, guards that would protect American troops, and then to 'catch-up the approval process'."

Instead, a lawyer informed the commission staff that Torres was "nervous about appearing".

The failure of a contractor to appear for an oversight hearing into lapses was just one example that the use of some 18,800 armed "private security contractors" in Iraq and another 23,700 in Afghanistan to protect convoys, diplomatic and other personnel, and military bases and other facilities in Afghanistan and Iraq was not working.

Blackwater's new Afghan contract

Perhaps the most famous private military contractor in Afghanistan and Iraq - North Carolina-based Blackwater - was not invited to sit at the witness table either, despite the fact that the company had been the subject of several investigations into misconduct.

7 Comments in Response to

Comment by Die Daily
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War is so destructive and inefficient, it is naturally shunned by the free market.

Comment by Opie Saffag
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So how can the free market help solve our problem here? Or is it not able to?

Comment by Die Daily
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Of course, what else? Absolutely they are pawns. So is a skilled worker voluntarily doing the bidding of a friendly, high-paying employer. It's perfectly OK (and often desirable) to be a pawn, if you are not being forced to do so. For instance, in a crisis, if I notice that somebody seems to know how to deal with it better than anyone else, I step and say "tell me what to do" or "how can I help". Likewise, I expect my employees to either voluntarily act as my pawns (in return for a portion of my treasure) or else immediately get off my land, hopefully with no hard feelings. When I work for others I strive to give them satisfaction in the same way. If the work becomes onerous in anyway I get off their land pronto. Works great.

Comment by Dana Davidson
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What you say makes a lot of sense, particularly in terms of motivation. Deserting from a private militia is a matter of deciding to abandon a job where the risks outweigh the benefits and letting down your employer. Deserting from the army is abandoning a job you swore to your country you would do and means abandoning any hope of returning home to your family and property.

Do you really think of our soldier as willing pawns though?


Unwind the spin in the liberal media at:

Comment by Die Daily
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I agree that the free market finds the best solution, typically. The free market is so honest with itself that it seeks the best solution without any prejudice...success vs. failure being the only real valid feedback. In the military case, the free market has determined that destroying things en masse is best done with gummints leading willing pawns, unlike building and producing things, which is best accomplished by private individuals leading willing pawns.

The problem is simplest in the military case. Mercenaries are in it for the money, and this motivation is not really compatible with dying and standing fast. Gummint armies pay so little, you can rest assured their fighters tend to be otherwise motivated, and generally will up and die on command on ideological and prestige-based grounds. Another way of looking at it is mob vs. battalion. Ten thousand 300lb truly gifted warriors acting as individuals will be cut down almost effortlessly by five hundred scrawny dudes coordinated by one very smart leader. Sad but true. Flank, enfilade, compress, and roll them up. Easy as pie. Or, defensively, look at the Alamo. Same diff. None of this applies to asymmetric "warfare", of course. I'm talking actual force-on-force warfare. The free market has spoken. It said "if our force is going to cream their force, we need a good general or we're f---ed". Just another reason not to let things degenerate to the point of war if possible, and to fight in an asymmetric (guerrilla) pattern if it's about freedom. Libertarianism, for this simple reason, is UTTERLY incompatible with any pro-war stance. If you are pro-war and you are not an idiot then you will want to have a general around in order just to survive...which is by definition anathema to libertarianism. Many enlightened cultures have therefore used war chiefs on a STRICTLY temporal basis, just in order to survive. Such is the free market, where survival is the highest, if not the only, true law.

Comment by Opie Saffag
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@Die Daily

But surely the free market has come up with a better solution than government sponsored arms. Shouldn't the contractors be free to offer their services if needed?

A decent essay unraveling th spin behind the controversy between independent businesses dealing in security and state-sponsored armies can be found at:

Comment by Die Daily
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Which is why professional armies laugh at mercenary forces. This is an ancient pattern.

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