By Bruce Alexander
This article was originally written by Bruce Alexander on October 11, 2007, the article is entitled Security Contractors; A Necessary Evil. It’s an interesting read particularly the sections regarding the scope of the Diplomatic Security Service (DS) mission worldwide. Read the article yourself but the gist of the article is that, things being the way they are, security contractors are a necessary evil. An interesting way to put, but in my opinion, wrong.
It’s clear that DS is stretched thin around the world. Resources, both personnel and budget are not limitless. There’s no ready supply of DS agents available to fill the role of security contractors even if the financial means existed to replace private security contractors. All of those arguments are very valid but where I take issue is the “better the devil you know” response as justification for keeping private security contractors.
The fact that private security contractors have been used extensively by DS in other places ignores the fact that the other countries where private security contractors support DS are not war zones involving the protection of U.S. diplomats. Success in Liberia with private security contractors does not translate to success everywhere else.
The Rules of Engagement, the scope of the protective mission, and the operational oversight by DS, are much different in every other country where private security contractors are performing personal security duties than in Iraq. As we have seen with virtually every aspect of the war in Iraq, the cookie cutter model simply does not apply.
Secondly, the implications as a result of misconduct by private security contractors is much more serious in Iraq than anywhere else. Unfortunately DS agents throughout the world will be left feeling like the guy responsible for cleaning up after the elephant act at the circus as a result of private security contractor misconduct.
DS agents will be on the firing line when it comes to responding to violent acts around the world inspired by the perceived targeting of unarmed Iraqi civilians by U.S. Embassy security forces. Ironically, DS agents work very hard to foster good relationships with their foreign counterparts and in foreign nations. It would be a shame if DS were perceived to be in the same category as those private security contractors who are engaging in misconduct.
I also have to take issue with the characterization that the U.S. military doesn’t have the “specialized training” required to protect diplomats. Excuse me? The U.S. military has the resources, skill, expertise and infrastructure to conduct all aspects of training required to perform such duties. In the U.S. Army for example, the Military Police Corps has trained for more than 20 years in tactical security skills that could easily be adapted to protecting U.S. diplomats.
Every function now performed by private security contractors could be performed by members of the Marine Security Guard (MSG) with minimal train up time. Let’s not kid ourselves, where do you think these private security contractors got their skills? I dare say that there are relatively few former DS agents, Secret Service, U.S. Marshals etc… among the private security contractors.
It’s only after someone is brought on with a private security contractor that they attend the requisite Personal Security Detail (PSD) training. When you start looking at the background of some of these private security contractors, relatively few of them had PSD backgrounds to begin with.
The stakes are so high in Iraq that the normal status quo is not the way to go. The U.S., and especially U.S. diplomats, deserve a stable protective force, that is trained, accountable, responsible and with an equity in success of the U.S. mission beyond a business contract.
We can not expect the Iraqis, nor any other country in the Middle East, to develop any value for human life, when we permit the individuals responsible for protecting our most visible and active symbol of what the U.S. represents, our diplomats, to operate without impunity. We do not tolerate that of our soldiers serving anywhere in the world. Why should we permit that from private security contractors?
This article was originally published in 2007 when everything was at its worst. Contractors had no accountability and were roided up to the eye balls. However they were also being attacked all the time either by VBIED or cheap shots from apartments. They had to be aggressive because of the times.
However this is not true today. Now contractors are drug tested way beyond military standard. They go through twice as much training and are under a heavy watchful eye every time they go to work. Contractors are having privileges taken away. Most of the time they can only bring a pistol with them. If a contractor shoots an Iraqi who was shooting at the principle, the Iraqi government can now imprison that person. With 1 second to react, his actions will be scrutinized under the microscope for weeks by people who never stepped foot in a war zone. It is a very stressful environment.
Drinking is no longer allowed as well. For 4-6 months at a time they have no where to relieve tension other than the gym. All the while they are taking out diplomats who are returning from venues soaked in alcohol fumes. But professional composure is kept at all times.
Jay and J.S. are ignorant and have done zero research on the PSD aspect that DoD provides. They have 2 PSTC schools that not only provide training and certification to CID, NCIS, AFOSI, but to also MP’s and SF’s. The problem DoD has is trying to produce certified Service Members to meet its needs.
There will never be a PFC ever filling the PSO position to a “diplomat”,DoD doesn’t protect diplomats FYI, who actually rates as a High-Risk Personnel. Of course you run into every officer who thinks they need a protective detail and they get joe shmo to make the officer feel better.
Come on guys, DoD does use a little common sense, so should you.
As an American and (I would like to believe) a professional, I take issue with being painted with the same brush as the morons who give us a bad name. That’s like saying all police officers are bad because a couple of them were involved in criminal actions. I was talking with a Brit team leader just yesterday on this subject. We both agreed there was good and bad on both the US and Brit side of PSD, both of us had seen it first hand in Baghdad. Before I came here I had plenty of experience in the corporate and family protection areas around the world, I’ve been to a number of schools and I know my job. I didn’t come to “slot an arab”, I came over here to keep others safe and make some good money. I have tried to pass on my knowledge of “why” we do certain things in our job so that guys who are new have a better understanding, unfortunately that is one of the things that the PSD courses will not teach you. Our track record speaks for itself, and at no time do I know of anyone in the last 6 years who has gone full auto, or done anything else that didn’t “need” to be done. We maintain a good local relationship and have not had a single principal get so much as a scratch. Bob, you are correct that training is the answer, but it’s not up to us what the training is, usually some desk jockey decides that. You are also correct in saying restrict the idiots from coming here, MUCH easier said than done. You are also correct that whatever you have done in the military previously does not make you a good PSD operator, believe me I have seen more than one SF type here that was a complete douchebag.
But, just being a Brit does NOT make you the experts of PSD, being a PROFESSIONAL of any nationality does. I could mention a couple names on the British Circuit that have done serious damage to our profession, but that would accomplish nothing. I could mention the Aegis video as well, or the Armor Group incident. Then I could say all Brits are full-auto happy, flash-bang throwing drunks who eat potato chips out of others guys butt cracks. But I seriously doubt that is the case, actually, I KNOW that it is NOT. I have worked with several Brits who I consider excellent operators and close friends. I know first hand that the US based EP courses teach the proper way of doing things. PSD courses do not. My PSD course was 3 times longer than my original EP course, guess where I learned more. Sure, the PSD course taught shooting, driving and formations, but they didn’t even touch on the things that tell you WHY you do certain things. That needs to be changed. What we need to do is to weed out those who have no business in this business and share knowledge. Not bash each other.
Now, as to the original question. I would say 100% necessary. The government and military do not have nearly enough qualified people on hand to fill the positions. Could they get those people? Yes. But in my opinion the time and money spent to train up a new batch of soldiers, CID agents, etc would be very costly and time consuming. Then what happens when you dump them off in Iraq or A-stan? Do they know the locals? Maybe. Do they know all the venues? Doubtful. Right now we have a large pool of contractors who know the job, some have been here for quite a long time and are very good at what they do. The problem is that this is a numbers game, it’s all about billable bodies to the companies and it’s hard to get rid of the guys who can’t or won’t do the job correctly. And, I would have to assume that British companies are having many of the same issues that US companies are, billable bodies. The other problem, our government, it moves and makes changes like old people screw, it just barely moves. The other problem, politicians, need I say more on them? Sorry for the rant, that touched a nerve, however I do agree with your overall points but you can find a moron from any country giving EP/PSD a bad name.
PMC work is mostly about the money.
I worked as a DOD and DOS contractor in Iraq from 2004-2006. In retrospect, I did this job for the money. At first, I tried to tell myself that it was to help the war effort, for my country, etc., but it was not true. On a scale, of 1 – 10, with 10 helping the cause, in my opinion, the use of private military contractors rated a 3 or 3.5. We did some good, but mostly hampered or cancelled out any civic action or goodwill fostered by the regular U.S. forces, primarily through our interaction and treatment of Iraqis while on the road. There were few professional security men in the ranks of contractors. Leadership positions were mostly gained by default; e.g. whoever drank the most beer and played the most Nintendo with the boss was thus hand-picked by him as his replacement after he was canned or quit. When true danger occasionally manifested itself, half of the contractors would hold back or disappear, which was a sobering realization for those who stood fast. For those who broke, it was an instinctive reaction, but historically a normal one, for those who fight for pay can’t enjoy their money if they are killed. If things have changed since ’06, however, then that is good. Some aspects of the business probably cannot be changed, though, primarily because of the unsavory aspect of dollars. When looking back from the future, I think we’ll realize we should have used soldiers or Marines for this duty. They have an ethical ethos, empathy for suffering people and serve not just for money. They would have done a better job.
J.S. said it perfectly. Having a brand new PFC protecting people in Iraq sounds great until we start losing Diplomats left and right(remember, this is unheard of in WPPS). Soldiers do a job and do it well, however, that job is NOT PSD and it takes experience and then retraining in a different mindset to accomplish that mission effectively. The fact of the matter is the environments that contractors are used are places where it takes two decision making processes at once. Protect the client and not sustain a drawn out fight(if at all possible) but if things go bad to worse have the ability and cool effective thinking under fire to be as destructive as necessary to make it back home. Some people make poor decisions but that doesn’t mean that all contractors are just a bunch of monkeys with guns who don’t think before they shoot. A good deal of them are career soldiers and police officers, the same people who keep you safe every day. Iraq and Afghanistan are NOT a South Beach night club or a stadium full of fans. And by the way, most contractors live with the daily knowledge now that even if they do have to fire their weapon in a justified shoot that saved the lives of the principles or their friends we will more than likely lose our jobs as a reward.
To all soldiers, agents, EP professionals and dirty nasty contractors stay safe and keep doing what you do well.
There are many points that I would agree with, however, and there always is one is that conduct of the “individual” is an open book. I do not wish to sound racist or anti anyone here but as a Brit, formerly schooled in Close Protection within the Military Police and finaly reching the Rank of Chief Instructor for Close Protection I feel that the Brit mentality on whats right and wrong, when to react and to what level are all factors. The phrase “Minimum Force to effect your purpose” springs to mind and then only when it is required. The conduct “all bad I might add” which appeared on You Tube and other mediums where indiscriminate fire which amounted to murder did a dis-service to all contractors of all nationalities as this was worldly publicised as being the Modus Operandi for contractors and were above the law. It also brought more un-wanted attention from the insurgents against all contractors and any previous good will built up with civilians was lost in an instant. Al Jazeera used it, and so did many other press agencies in teh Arab World and many contractors died because of it.
As for necessary evil, yes we are. The military cannot cope to the extent that they could afford man power and resources to protecting civil contractors on reconstruction projects, no PSD’s means no reconstruction, no reconstruction after the war(s) means we lost the war, we may have won the battle but not the aftermath. So whats the solution, well.. and here I become anti american, restrict the home boys, red necks and gung ho arses that never fired a shot in uniform but feel the need “to slot a rag head” as a contractor. Selective use of force where and when necessary and not slotting an A rab..! when the urge takes you. Sorry for the rant but we Brits use the method of a one shot kill, not a full mag on full auto taking out half the population.!
Training is the answer, just beacuse you were a good infantryman or a marine does not make you a good PSD operator. Attitude and self control should be examined by trainers during training and screening of gun nuts is essential, fire discipline should be “controlled and deliberate aggression commensurate to the task” and lastly accurate and not indiscriminate fire where all are accountable under “International Law”. We have to be seen to be acting responsible to the task, the local people and the government of the land, if not, more contractors will be targeted just because we are contractors and not because of the mission. I apologise for the rant but irresponsible contractors have caused many deaths of their colleagues.
Who would you rather have as your Personal Protection Officer to protect you, a PFC from the Military Police who just rotated in to fill the void left by a previous unit, or a 35 year old former Senior NCO who has been doing the same job for 4 years, knowing every aspect of the job and every route and every drill you can possibly incorporate…not to mention the likelihood of actually encountering one (or more) hostile events over the course of those years in that war zone. Most Diplomats and DoS guys will take the latter, by a very very wide margin. Also, when the conflict is over, you can toss contractors to the wayside, while DS Agents and Military get paid thousands in benefits, medical, retirement, etc etc and stay on your roles for YEARS to come. Contractors are a way of life, and a necessary GOOD.
Harlan, I wanted to give a big thanks to you and your staff for the fantastic articles that you guys disseminate. Your blog is truly a refreshing source of information.
Solid article Bruce, I look forward to your next one
As a DS Agent, I agree with your review of this article. One of the major problems encountered with private security contractors, mainly those assigned to the WPPS, was the lack of DS oversight, which many blame for incidents such as Nissor Square. Today, all WPPS operations have at least 1 DS Agent in charge for accountability reasons. So, while there are still contractors doing the job, DS is doing what it can in the contraints of manpower to provide more accountability in WPPS PRS operations.
The Department of Defense, specifically the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division Command, has had the sole responsibility for protective operations for Department of Defense high risk personnel for decades and are more than capable of providing protective services for diplomats. However, given the number personnel requiring protection in Iraq & Afghanistan, there are not enough CID, NCIS, AFOSI Agents to support the missions. Yes, more people from the military could be trained, but the pool of qualified personnel is limited. As a result, we have to look elsewhere.