Note: In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, journalist Jeremy Scahill investigated the role of private security companies like Blackwater USA, infamous for their work in Iraq, that deployed on the streets of New Orleans. His reports were broadcast on the national radio and TV show Democracy Now! and on hundreds of sites across the internet. In response to Scahill's recent cover story in The Nation magazine "Blackwater Down," the President and CEO of DynCorp, one of the largest private security companies in the world, wrote a letter to the editor of The Nation. Dyncorp CEO Stephen J. Cannon's letter is reprinted below, followed by Scahill's response.
In "Blackwater Down" [Oct. 10] Jeremy Scahill wrote that "mercenaries from companies like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group, Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out to guard private businesses and homes, as well as government projects and institutions."
For the record, employees of DynCorp International did not "fan out" in New Orleans or any other area affected by Hurricane Katrina. DynCorp International (DI) did not send anyone to the area to provide security services until we had made specific arrangements with clients and knew exactly what our responsibilities would be.
In the immediate aftermath of Katrina, Tenet Health Organization Group engaged DI to help protect its facilities, patients and employees. In the course of our work with Tenet, we have evacuated scores of employees and dozens of animals who had taken refuge in at least two of its hospitals, escorted company officials while they assessed damages, and even transported Tenet officials to a local bank to arrange payroll for their employees.
The people who are performing this security work are all fully certified police officers--either retired or on leave from their jobs--who were deputized by and work under the supervision of the St. Bernard Parish Sheriff's Department. They are not mercenaries, as Scahill disparagingly described them.
Security is only one of many service areas in which DynCorp International works. In the area affected by Katrina and Rita, DI helicopters are providing transportation, DI aviation technicians at several military bases are servicing aircraft that have been deployed for the relief effort, Marine Spill Response Corporation ships with DI crews are repairing oil platforms and cleaning spills, and DI logistics experts are installing temporary housing and office facilities for local officials and relief in St. Bernard Parish.
Stephen J. Cannon
President and CEO, DynCorp International
To hear Stephen Cannon tell it, DynCorp has been reincarnated as the Red Cross. He objects to the term "mercenary." The primary quality of a mercenary is that his main motivation is money. That is why DynCorp forces, paid much more than regular US military forces, are in Afghanistan, Iraq, Haiti, Africa, the Balkans--it is profitable. DynCorp itself is a mercenary, making a killing for its services. In the past two years alone, the company's revenues have doubled to more than $1.9 billion. Not bad for not being mercenaries.
As a journalist, I'm afraid I have to judge DynCorp not on the spin of its CEO but on its record. Here are just a few of the reasons for serious concern about DynCorp forces operating on US soil:
- DynCorp employees in Bosnia, where the company plays a major policing role, have engaged in organized sex-slave trading with girls as young as 12, and DynCorp's Bosnia site supervisor was filmed raping a woman. A subsequent lawsuit, filed by a company whistleblower, alleged that "employees and supervisors from DynCorp were engaging in perverse, illegal and inhumane behavior [and] were purchasing illegal weapons, women, forged passports and [participating in] other immoral acts." The whisteblower, with whom DynCorp eventually settled, "witnessed coworkers and supervisors literally buying and selling women for their own personal enjoyment, and employees would brag about the various ages and talents of the individual slaves they had purchased." The company's initial response was to fire the whistleblowers. The employees involved in the sex ring were transferred out of the country. Some were eventually fired, although none were ever criminally prosecuted. One of the whistleblowers told Congress, "DynCorp is the worst diplomat our country could ever want overseas.''
- In Afghanistan, where DynCorp guards President Hamid Karzai, the company has a reputation for brutality and recklessness, including serious complaints from internationals of intimidation. It has even been rebuked by the State Department for its "aggressive behavior" in interactions with European diplomats, NATO forces and journalists. A BBC correspondent also witnessed one of the guards slapping an Afghan government minister.
- In Haiti earlier this year DynCorp bodyguards on the detail of interim president Boniface Alexandre beat at least two journalists trying to cover a presidential event. DynCorp has had a checkered past in Haiti, where it "trained" the national police force after the original coup against President Aristide, bringing several feared Tonton Macoutes leaders back into prominence.
- The company is facing a major lawsuit filed by 10,000 Ecuadoreans forced to live (and die) with the impact of DynCorp's toxic crop spraying, which it does in several Latin American countries, including Colombia, as part of Plan Colombia. Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat, charges that "DynCorp's employees have a history of behaving like cowboys." A leading Colombian newsweekly called them "lawless Rambos."
As DynCorp swallows up more lucrative government contracts by the week, some in Congress are raising questions. "Is it [the] policy of the US government to reward companies that traffic in women and little girls?" Representative Cynthia McKinney asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld in March.
Using private military contractors like DynCorp in places like Afghanistan and Iraq allows the government greater secrecy and less transparency and accountability. The real question is: Why are these particular firms needed in the United States for what should be relief and reconstruction operations? The answer is that they are not, but their road to the lucrative contracts is paved with political connections and the offer to their employers of plausible deniability. Unfortunately, if recent history is any indicator, the damage from this cronyism could extend well beyond the taxpayers' pockets to the safety and security of the people of New Orleans and other cities unfortunate enough to encounter these private security forces.
Take the words of Brig. Gen. Karl Horst, deputy commander of the Third Infantry Division in charge of security in Baghdad. In September he said this of DynCorp and other security firms in Iraq: "These guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff. There's no authority over them, so you can't come down on them hard when they escalate force.... They shoot people, and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place."
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