Mercenaries vs. Pirates

PiratesFor several years the waters off the coast of Somalia has been infested with pirates. The lack of government and civil services combined with high rates of poverty and unemployment has made the Horn of Africa an incubator for piracy. Operating primarily in the Gulf of Aden and in the Indian Ocean, pirates hijack merchant vessels and take the crew hostage and then exchange them for ransom from the ships corporate owners. The United States Navy and other partner nations have been the primary force combating piracy, but more and more companies are looking towards private security firms for protection.

Shipping companies have been hiring mercenaries to be station onboard their ships as armed guards. However, to avoid the cost and complications of having to check their weapons through customs at each port, mercenary firms are establishing floating armories. Now, an entrepreneur from England wants to take it a step further. As Danger Room reported, Anthony Sharp is created Typhon, a company that seeks to be the Blackwater of the sea. Sharp seeks to create a fleet of mercenary ships for hire. The operation will be staffed with ex-Royal Marines and sailors.

Eventually, Sharp wants to have a fleet of ten ships, but as of right now he is refitting a 130-foot cargo ship. Each ship will theoretically carry a crew of 60, and of that 40 will be the private security force made up of British ex-military personnel. Merchant ships will have the option of being escorted by a convoy for $5,000 to $10,000 a day or being virtually watched for $1,000 a day.

Coalition forces have been combating piracy in the region for several years, and appear to be making strides. P-3 Orion surveillance aircraft stationed in Djibouti provides reconnaissance support over pirate infested waters from the air. The flights provide real-time intelligence to assets on the water, and attempt to identify possible pirate ships and direct vessels on how to change course to avoid them.

Sharp’s mercenaries may be too late to the party. According to reporting by Stars and Stripes, piracy in the Gulf of Aden may be on the decline. Since 2009 piracy attacks have dropped 27%. During that year there were 406 piracy attacks. In 2012 there were 297, and of those 75 were tied to Somalia pirates who captured 250 hostages. During that time the US Navy has been actively training navies including those of Tanzania, Kenya, and Djibouti.

Photo: Coalition ships track a pirate vessel from European External Action Service (EEAS).

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Profits Only Consequences for Defense Contractors

Operation Iraqi FreedomThe wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have come at a great cost to the American people. Thousands of men and women have died in uniform in the war zones, and billions of dollars have been spent on the wars. The wars have caused the deaths of thousands of civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan, and they have arguably had a destabilizing effect on the Middle East. It seems that the only ones benefitting from the wars have been defense contractors. Over the last decade the United States has outsourced much of the wars. Defense contractors have built bases, shipped supplies, cooked food, cleaned uniforms, and provided security. Many of the functions that used to be performed by the military have been outsourced to corporations such as Halliburton. However, we don’t always get what we paid for.

According to a report from the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, an independent, bipartisan commission that studied government contracting in the both wars, a “conservative” estimate of $177 billion was spent on contracts and that $12 billion was lost to fraud without counting the billions more lost to contract waste. Then the Commission released another report that found that fraud waste and abuse costs $31 billion to $60 billion. To put it another way: $12 million every day for the past 10 years.

Despite the well documented fraud and waste by contractors, and despite contractors committing crimes that include murdering civilians, there has been little in the way of repercussions for defense contractors. According to the Project On Government Oversight (POGO) federal contractor misconduct database, companies such as Lockheed Martin and General Electric have had dozens of instances of misconduct. While the fines for misconduct have been in the millions, the contracts that these companies continue to procure are worth billions.

The latest example of defense contractor misconduct comes from a firm hired to win the hearts and minds of the Afghanistan people. Leonie Industries was embroiled in scandal after the firmed hired by the Pentagon to lead their propaganda efforts in Afghanistan, turned their efforts on journalists working for USA Today. After being suspended from receiving further government contracts, the suspension was lifted without explanation. Despite the fact that the company is still under investigation for mistreating employees in Afghanistan, and after the firm had to be forced to pay $4 million in back taxes.

Perhaps some of the most egregious cases of fraud or misconduct have come from the mercenaries the are hired by the Department of Defense or the State Department that are referred to as private security contractors. Academi, the private security contractor formerly known as Blackwater, was involved in everything from weapons smuggling Afghanistan to killing civilians in Iraq. ArmorGroup North America security personnel were found to be drinking on the job and caused security lapses at the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan.

Now, another chapter in the continuing fraud and waste by defense contractors in America’s war zones has come to light. According to a recent investigative report by POGO, security personnel working for Aegis Defense Services at the embassy in Kabul reported inadequate weapons training and an overextended guard forces. The personnel reportedly submitted a petition with a “vote of no confidence” in their leadership and supervisors. They accused their superiors of “tactical incompetence” and “a dangerous lack of understanding of the operational environment.”

The guards reported that they are undermanned, and that they were forced to work 14 to 15 hours days for six or seven days a week. They also reported that they were rarely if ever given the opportunity to train with their weapons at the firing range. They also claim that their superiors lived in comfort at the embassy while the guards had to live several miles away in desolate barracks and had to eat unhygienically prepared food. They also allege that a senior supervisor posted details about the embassy on social media that violated operational security protocols.

Now, the guards who organized the petition, which Aegis characterized as a “mutiny,” are suing the private security company. The lawsuit accuses Aegis of breach of contract and unjust enrichment, and four plaintiffs named in the lawsuit are described as a former senior guard, a dog handler, and two former emergency medical technicians. The plaintiffs are likely the two guards who were fired after organizing the petition, they claim was “retaliation,” and two other personnel who were also critical of the company.

Photo: A contractor from Aegis Defense Services watches the perimeter of a school construction site in Mashroo, Iraq during a visit by civilian representatives from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Babil Resident Office.  (U.S. Navy photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class James Wagner)

Police State on Campus

SecuritasThe recent school shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut has led some to call for armed security guards in public schools across the nation. Wayne LaPierre, vice president of the National Rifle Association, said during a press conference that Congress should “act immediately to appropriate whatever is necessary to put armed police officers in every single school in this nation.” Vice President Joe Biden has led discussions that have included the so-called school safety initiative, which according to the Washington Post “would make federal dollars available to schools that want to hire police officers and install surveillance equipment.” That has in part been the collective response to the tragic events in Connecticut. Create a police state on campus.

There is evidence that having armed security guards on public school campuses does more harm than good. According to one report when schools ramp up police presence and other security measures in response to a shooting or other violent act, such as in Colorado, “it resulted in more students getting arrested for minor misbehaviors, more students being pushed out of school, and a declining sense of safety in schools.” Another report found that in Los Angeles new data shows that police from the city’s biggest school district are “continuing to ticket thousands of young students, especially minorities, at disproportionate rates that critics charge are putting them on a track for dropping out.”

Uprising Radio reports that across the nation several schools have increased armed security on campus. In Houston and Los Angeles campuses have been visited by state troopers and police officers. In Maricopa County, Arizona, County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has enlisted 500 volunteers to patrol 59 schools without consulting students or school officials beforehand. An investigation by CBS revealed that among the 500 volunteers several had convictions of drug possession, sex crimes against children, and impersonating an officer, in addition to other offenses.

This new found focus on creating a police state on campus means big business from private security companies and defense contractors. In Butler, Pennsylvania the defense contractor Ibis Tek is marketing everything from bullet proof glass windows that stop bullets from a AK-47 semiautomatic rifle to Kevlar pad shaped to fit inside a child‘s backpack which the company claims will stop a .357-caliber bullet. Ibis Tek has received over $246 million worth in government contracts since 2003, and $207,713,839 in contracts from the Department of Defense.

Then there is Pinkerton Government Services, a private security guard and detective agency which is a subsidiary of one of the nation’s largest private security firms Securitas. After LaPierre proposed putting a security guard on every campus, he place former Congressman Asa Hutchinson in charge of developing the plan. As reported by Mother Jones, Hutchinson sits on the board of directors of Pinkerton and if their plan was put into place, Securitas, a firm Hutchinson once lobbied for in Washington, would be in the position to profit greatly. Police states don’t come cheap.

Private Security Pirates

110325-N-BZ392-066What most Americans know about piracy near the Horn of Africa (HOA) is that Navy SEAL snipers shoot and killed Somali pirates from the deck of a US ship and rescued the merchant ship captain that was being held hostage. Most Americans do not know that according to International Maritime Bureau there were 278 piracy attacks worldwide, and that 71 of those attacks occurred near Somalia.

The ramped piracy in the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden, and the Indian Ocean has been a boon to the private security industry. In order to protect themselves from pirates and high insurance premiums, merchant shipping companies have been hiring mercenaries to protect their cargo. To avoid the cost and complication of transferring arms through customs, mercenaries are now establishing floating armories:

About 20 ships stocked with assault rifles and other small arms as well as ammunition, body armour and night vision goggles are scattered around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aden and the Indian Ocean, the EU naval force has confirmed.

The legal status of these armouries is unclear, and industry experts are concerned that the absence of regulation leaves the armouries vulnerable to attack from the pirates they are intended to guard against.

The presence of armed guards on board ships has helped dramatically reduce hijacks by Somali pirates, but raised problems of the legality of the arms used. Carrying weapons into a country can be considered arms smuggling, using weapons without licence, breaching an arms embargo (especially in Somalia) and other offences. Some countries that permit ships to enter port with armed guards may not allow them to leave with their weapons.

Before floating armouries were introduced, security companies either went through the costly and complicated process of using a handful of officially approved onshore armouries or got round the problem altogether by buying guns illegally in Yemen and dumping them at sea when going in to dock at a port. Now they are able to drop weapons off at the armoury and collect them again when heading back out to sea.

By using armouries private security companies are able to avoid the bureaucracy of local ports, save on port costs and not waste time deviating to ports to collect guards.

Read more here.

Photo: Sailors assigned to the visit, board, search and seizure team (VBSS) aboard the guided-missile cruiser USS Leyte Gulf (CG 55) prepare for an operation on the Philippine-flagged merchant vessel Falcon Trader II which sent out a distress call reporting it had been boarded by pirates. (Photo by by Mass Communication Specialist 3rd Class Robert Guerra)

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Blackwater Becomes New Landlord in Afghanistan for US Special Forces

In Kabul, Afghanistan, a new compound will house hundreds of US Special Operations forces. The facility known as Camp Integrity is run by the company Academi which was formerly known as Blackwater. The company which received heavy criticism for its role in an Iraqi massacre continues to get millions in no bid contracts. Michael O’Brien, author of “America’s Failure in Iraq,” gives us his take on the role of military contractors.