Blackwater Security Consulting — whose four employees were viciously killed and their corpses mutilated by a mob in Fallujah, Iraq — is one of a growing number of private security contractors that are hiring veterans for jobs previously assigned to the military.
Those jobs include the protection of personnel working for private companies and non-government organizations in Iraq.
“They provide very focused security for detailing out how a protectee’s day occurs — from the beginning of the morning until they tuck that person back into bed at night,” said CNN national security analyst Ken Robinson, “whether that be an NGO trying to conduct operations trying to provide food or water or support to the population.”
The four men killed Wednesday were providing security for a convoy delivering U.S. government food.
Blackwater also provides security for Paul Bremer, the U.S. civil administrator in Iraq.
“These are typically former special operations community personnel who are highly trained in the use of deadly force, also in surveillance detection and also in risk avoidance,” Robinson said. (Army veterans among civilians killed)
Blackwater, headed by former U.S. Navy SEALs, was founded in part to take advantage of business opportunities created by the downsizing of the U.S. military.
The company is based at a 6,000 acre site in rural North Carolina, a campus the company calls “the most comprehensive private tactical training facility in the United States.” (Full story)
Private security firms are now the third largest international contributor of forces to the war effort in Iraq — after the U.S. and British troops.
“I have heard estimates of up to 4,000 private sector security personnel working in Iraq,” said Crispin Hawes of the Eurasia Group, a research and consulting firm.
“Almost inevitably, these people are more exposed than those who tend to be protected,” said Hawes, who returned from Iraq last week.
Iraq is not the first place that private security contractors have died while protecting U.S. government or civilian officials.
Last October in Gaza, three Dyncorp employees providing security for U.S. embassy officials were killed when a bomb exploded beneath a vehicle in their convoy. Dyncorp provides security for the United States in many Middle East countries, according to a Bush administration official.
And last May, suicide bombers attacked a compound in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, which housed employees of Vinnell Corp., a Fairfax, Virginia-based defense contractor that trains Saudi Arabia’s national guard.
Contractors a favorite target
Experts say that as coalition forces have turned over security patrols to the Iraqi police, the attacks that used to target the military are now directed at civilian contractors and their private security forces.
“There are something like 150 attacks per day of one kind or another and most of them are intercepted,” said Rick Bardon of the Center for Strategic & International Studies. “So there’s been some success in reducing the impact of these attacks, but that’s a lot of action that we’re involved in all over the country.”
Top U.S. officials in Baghdad Thursday decried the killings of four U.S. security contractors in Fallujah, vowed to hunt down the perpetrators and promised to pacify the restive anti-U.S. hotbed. (Full story)
Attacks against private contractors, who provide everything from security to catering to engineering to consulting in Iraq, are on the rise, with an estimated 60 civilians of various nationalities losing their lives.
“When I first came here my car was shot at quite a few times. That’s when I realized that you were going to have to be pretty quick on your feet,” said plant operator Tom Brudenell-Bruce.
The grisly images from the Fallujah attack are disturbing for civilian contractors, but for some they are simply a reminder.
“It gives me the incentive to want to do things better, to bring more reality to everything that’s being done,” said George Singarella of Kroll-Crucible Security.
U.S. administrator for Iraq L. Paul Bremer, left, flanked with a bodyguard arrives to attend a meeting in Mosul, Iraq.
There is another incentive for civilians to head into a war zone.
“It pays quite well. There’s a lot of contracts that pay anywhere from $350 a day to $1,500 a day,” said Chris Boyd of Kroll-Crucible Security.
Military analysts say the private security arrangement allows regular military troops to concentrate on fighting. But they are concerned that the lucrative pay offered by private contractors — often more than $100,000 a year — is depleting the ranks of the special forces.
There are other contractors who support the U.S. military in Iraq.
Hallibruton, the largest civilian contractor, has a Web site which currently lists more than 450 openings in Iraq. When the company threw a job fair last week in Houston, Texas, hundreds of applicants showed up.
“You know, there’s not that many jobs,” said driver Bobby Johnson.
Kellog Brown & and Root, Halliburton’s engineering and construction subsidiary, has lost seven employees in Iraq.
“My philosophy on life is that if your time is up, it’s up,” said Brudenell-Bruce.
Sources told CNN that the Pentagon is urging contracting companies not to speak to the media about the dangers in Iraq, claiming that it makes things more dangerous for their workers who are willing to take the risk.
And on the Blackwater Web site was a somber statement that said the events in Fallujah demonstrate “the extraordinary conditions under which we voluntarily work to bring freedom and democracy to the Iraqi people.”
“While we feel sadness for our fallen colleagues, we also feel pride and satisfaction that we are making a difference for the people of Iraq,” the Blackwater statement read.