Talking about PMCs (Updated)

Update at the bottom

On the PMC list, a Yahoo Group on the private military industry, there’s been a fun (a word I use loosely) discussion the accountability of the private military, specifically security, industry that’s particularly timely considering this incident this weekend. The bulk of the arguments centered on the industry not policing itself. This was my response to re-focus the conversation and identify the right target. After they started talking about the Blackwater Christmas Eve shooting of the Iraqi VP’s bodyguard, and some claimed the ability of the BW contractor to leave Iraq and to date avoid prosecution was a problem w/ the company itself, I decided to jump in. Here’s my response which I hope elicits more discussion here:

I don’t really want to step into the fun you all are having, but let’s keep the facts straight. I’m not talking about who killed who, but who permits the action. Remember our Constitution was written by “recovering” insurgents who knew full well the damage that could be caused by a military not kept in check. This concern, as you all know but I’ll repeat anyway, manifested itself in a system to make sure the President didn’t politicize the military and didn’t impose the military onto the people or onto the foreign policy of the United States without Congressional oversight. The oversight began with appropriations and approvals of officers (and by mutual agreement the executive branch and legislative branch allowed legislative oversight to expand into the investigation of military activities). The Founders rightly anticipated an abuse of authority. Power corrupts blah blah blah. The pmc’s themselves are filling a need. Is it right to blame the agent when the rules *still aren’t laid out* four years into Iraq and six years into Afghanistan? We can bitch and moan about the PMCs, but, as Allie points out elsewhere, what about the Federal Acquisitions Regulations? What about contractual oversight? We can bitch slap the companies, it doesn’t hurt them and more importantly, it’s not the right whore to slap. Where’s Congress in its Constitutionally mandated role of budgetary oversight and historically agreed upon role of investigation as well as Congress’s role in establishing form and function of the military? The UCMJ mod is a joke and utterly meaningless and that’s the best they could come up with? 

This isn’t BW, Aegis, or any other corporate provider’s “fault”. If there is such a problem, and there is, who the hell is hiring them? Who’s issuing and renewing contracts without accountability clauses, without oversight and monitoring, and without effective and real integration into the ground commanders missions? Do base commanders know yet how many contractors are on their base? Is that the fault of the company or the process that’s dictated in a hierarchical organization? In the Custer Battles case, who I still argue should have been charged with treason and not theft of US money, why was a general wasting his time arguing with CB over particulars of the contract? Is that the best use of his time? Why was CB not  terminated immediately? There’s a principal in this principal-agent thing, focus on that…

Update: Thanks Sharon for the highlight. In the latest dust-up, significant issues are being revisited, if rhetorically. Remember Blackwater’s major contract is to provide diplomatic security to Department of State personnel.  By this association, they are intimately connected to our diplomacy, both track I (traditional) and track II (public), in the city, province, state, region, and planet (see previous comments on PSCs with NGOs here). However, as we continue to use private forces as extensions of our own security apparatus we, the royal we as in the United States Government, continues to hold PSCs at arms length without fully adopting them as agents of the US in either an operational sense or a political sense.

The fanciful statement by the Iraqi Minister of the Interior that he’s revoking the company’s “permit” to work in Iraq is meaningless and buys into the grammar of PSCs that we purposefully established: it’s not us doing bad things, it’s them, the private contractors. There isn’t a real permit system that the larger firms, especially those under DOS contracts, in place.

The Minister should, but can’t, attack the US Government for allowing such a rules of engagement, but he can’t either because the ROE was followed in this case or because of other political constraints. Either way, it’s more posturing and blustering by the Iraqi to the detriment of not Blackwater, but of the United States mission in Iraq.

Blackwater and other security companies must be fully integrated into the US mission in Iraq and can no longer be outsiders providing what is effectively, more the mission point of view, incidental operators.

General Petraeus before the surge started referenced the number of contractors in Iraq supporting the mission as resources to be tapped. This simple reference was huge and indicative of their perceived marginal role when in fact they are central to the mission. Before, operational discussion did not overtly bring in private resources but yet today, they are still on the outside not being defended by the USG if what they did was right and not being punished or sanctioned by the USG is what they did was wrong. This absence is in contrast to defending and sanctioning, as appropriate, the actions of our uniformed military…

In the inbox there’s a step in the right direction (H/T David Isenberg courtesy his WepsTrade list):

Defense Daily

August 14, 2007 Tuesday

House Appropriations Bill Targets Private Security Contractors
Jen DiMascio
Vol. 235 No. 31
Prompted by reports of a lack of accountability among private security contractors in Iraq, the House version of the FY ’08 Defense Appropriations Bill recommends that Defense Secretary Robert Gates put in place minimum standards for contractors and hold them accountable for failing to meet them.

The bill would attempt to correct a problem laid out by the Special Inspector General For Iraq Reconstruction in testimony to the House Appropriations defense subcommittee in May. According to the SIGIR testimony, security contractor Aegis Defence Services Ltd. could not document that its armed employees were qualified or that Iraqis the company employed had been cleared for posing an internal security threat.

UPDATE: In the original post I almost added a bit about how companies transform over time in an environment of no regulation, now it’s clear I should have. I agree w/ your point that companies need to be good, but Custer Battles like firms (and individuals) will emerge w/ greater frequency in an unregulated environment, shoving aside good behavior. Speaking directly to Sharon’s point that…

Companies that would like to stay in business need to think about more than what’s legal by the letter of the law. If these are private businesses in it for the long haul, then they need to stop acting like children pointing fingers at someone else, and start acting like corporate grown-ups aware that they operate in a world filled with mean-old congressmen, a public that hasn’t read the UCMJ, and an Iraqi government that, shockingly, needs to win popular support.

I agree entirely, and in large part that’s why we have the oversight of Congress as well as many, many regulations and contractual opportunities that have been used over the last, well, couple of centuries. But these have been tossed aside and firms know the need to self-police to protect their name, their contract, and their business is less important than protecting personal relationships that permitted the contract in the first place (if they care about that at all).

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