Under Fire, Security Firms Form An Alliance
A week ago, four Blackwater commandos -- all former members of U.S. Special Forces working on a contract to protect a private food company in Iraq -- were killed and mutilated in Fallujah. U.S. government and industry sources believe a member of the Iraqi police helped set up the ambush of the two unarmored cars the men were using.
The U.S. military does not have enough specially trained troops or Iraqi police officers to guard its civilian employees, said defense and CPA officials. As a result, the U.S. government has turned increasingly to private firms. Blackwater even provides personal security to U.S. administrator L. Paul Bremer.
The Bremer detail, said Peter W. Singer, a private military expert at the Brookings Institution, illustrates the extent to which the military is breaking new ground, even amending its long-held doctrine that the "U.S. military does not turn over mission-critical functions to private contractors," Singer said. "And you don't put contractors in positions where they need to carry weapons. . . . A private armed contractor now has the job of keeping Paul Bremer alive -- it can't get much more mission-critical than that."
Some Defense Department officials are concerned that private commandos are not subject to adequate oversight. There is no government vetting of contract workers who carry weapons. "The CPA has let all kinds of contracts to all kinds of people," said one senior Defense Department official who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the subject. "It's blindsided us."
The CPA's program management office has sought bids for a project to coordinate security among the 10 largest prime contractors and their subcontractors working on U.S.-backed reconstruction projects worth $18.4 billion. But the bids are still under review. In the meantime, the office is "trying to get at least some level of intelligence sanitized from the military that could be given to contractors," said Capt. Bruce A. Cole, spokesman for the program management office in Baghdad. That has not happened yet.
The firms, stunned by the casualties they suffered this week and by the lack of a military response, have begun banding together to share their own operations-center telephone numbers and tips on threats, as well as to organize ways to rescue one another in a crisis.
"There is absolutely a growing cooperation along unofficial lines," Edmunds said. "We try to give each other warnings about things we hear are about to happen."
"Each private firm amounts to an individual battalion," said one U.S. government official familiar with the developments. "Now they are all coming together to build the largest security organization in the world."
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