Analysis: Private armies - I

By SAM VAKNIN, UPI Senior Business Correspondent

SKOPJE, Macedonia, July 17 (UPI) -- Dutch Radio, based on reports leaked by a Dutch military analysis firm, had accused the United States government of aiding and abetting terrorists in Macedonia.

Not for the first time, the Americans were rumored to have hired the services of MPRI -- Military Professional Resources Inc. -- to train and assist the rebels of the NLA, the Albanian National Liberation Army, which skirmished for months with the Macedonian police and military throughout last year.


MPRI is a leading private military company whose presence was espied in other Balkan trouble spots, such as Croatia, Kosovo and Bosnia. The absurdity is that MPRI has been training the Macedonian army -- to little avail it would seem -- since 1998 under a "Stability and Deterrence Program."

Croatian former Foreign Minister Tonino Picula described to MPRI's role thus: "We started at the beginning of the 1990s lacking all kind of assistance. We faced a war of aggression. We needed all kinds of friends to enhance our capability to keep a schedule. I know that it (MPRI) did a significant job in Croatia as a part of U.S. assistance to Croatia during the 1990s."


Other governments -- notably Colombia's and Nigeria's -- were less sanguine about the utility of MPRI's services. Colombian officials complained "the MPRI's contributions were of little practical use," while according to the Center for Democracy and Development, the vociferous objections of the Nigerian military led to the dismissal by the president of senior army officers, among them General Malu, the Nigerian chief of staff.

The end of the Cold War spelled the termination of many an illustrious career in the military and the secret services -- as well as the destabilization and disintegration of many states. The Big Powers are either much reduced (Russia), militarily over-stretched (Europe), their armies ill-prepared for rapid deployment and low intensity warfare (everyone) or lost interest in many erstwhile "hot spots" (United States). Besieged by overwhelming civil strife, rebellions and invasions, many countries, political parties, politicians, corporations, and businessmen seek refuge and protection.

More than 5 million soldiers were let go all over the world between 1987-1994, according to Henry Sanchez of Rutgers University. Professional soldiers, suddenly unemployed in a hostile civilian environment, resorted to mercenariship. A few became rogue freelancers. The role of the Frenchman Bob Denard in the takeover of the Comoros Islands is now mythical. So is the failed coup in Seychelles in 1981, perpetrated by Colonel "Mad" Mike Hoare, a British ex-paratrooper.


Private armies for hire proliferated in the 1990s. Executive Outcomes acted in Sierra Leone, Congo and Angola, Sandline International in Sierra Leone and Papua New Guinea, DynCorp in Colombia, Haiti, Kosovo, and Bosnia and, of course, MPRI in Bosnia, Croatia, Kosovo, and, lately, Macedonia. Aviation Development Corp. flies surveillance planes for the CIA. Its involvement was revealed when, in Peru, it misidentified a civilian light plane as carrying narcotics. It was shot down by the Peruvian air force.

But these are only the tip of a growing iceberg. A quick survey of company Web sites, annual reports and news clippings reveals Vinnell Corp. was established in the United States during the Great Depression and currently is owned by TRW. It has coached militaries, operated facilities and provided logistical support in more than 50 countries, starting in Saudi Arabia in 1975 where it won a controversial $77 million contract to train oilfield guards.

BDM International, Betac, Logicon and SAIC are competitors, but Kroll of New York and Saladin Security of London do mainly intelligence gathering. Brown and Root of Houston, Texas, provides logistical support to peacekeeping operations, for example in Kosovo.

Pacific Architects and Engineering furnishes logistical support and private security to armies the world over, mainly to the ECOMOG West African multilateral peacekeeping force. Control Risks Group offers corporate security, research and intelligence solutions. It specializes in hostage situations and boasts having advised in more than 1,200 kidnappings and extortion cases in 80 countries.


Armor Holdings was founded in 1969 as "American Body Armor and Equipment" and incorporated in 1996. It is a private security company. Its London-based subsidiary, Defense Systems Ltd., guards industrial and other sensitive sites, such as embassies and the headquarters of international organizations, mainly the U.N.'s.

Armor itself manufactures police and other "non-lethal" equipment. It is a leading maker of armored passenger vehicles and the prime contractor to the U.S. military for the supply of armoring and blast protection for high mobility multi-purpose wheeled vehicles.

Gray Security is another private security company with clients in both Africa and among Latin American immigrants in Florida.

Some private military companies are ethnically pure. Succumbing to market realities, the legendary Gurkhas now offer their services through Gurkha International. The oil-rich region of Cabinda is air-patrolled by AirScan -- Airborne Surveillance and Security Services.

Big money is involved. The Los Angeles Times quoted, in its April 14 issue, Equitable Services, a security industry analyst. In 1997, it predicted the international security market would mushroom from $56 billion in 1990 to $220 billion in 2010. This was long before the boost given to the sector by Sept. 11.

"The top five executives at Science Applications International Corp. of San Diego made between $825,000 and $1.8 million in salaries in 2001, and each held more than $1.5 million worth of stock options," the Times reported.


Control Risks Group's turnover last year exceeded $50 million. Armor Holding's 1999 revenues exceeded $150 million. Prior to its controversial demise, Executive Outcomes of South Africa was said by Corporate Watch, The Weekly Mail, the British non government organization, The Corner House, and Toward Freedom Magazine to have earned between $55 and $80 million in its last 4 years -- excluding the $1.8 million per month contract it has signed with Sierra Leone, most of which went unpaid. There were unsubstantiated allegations of securing a share of the diamond trade in the ravaged country as well.

Sandline's contract with Papua New Guinea amounted to $36 million for the first three months with just under $1 million for any consecutive month -- or a total of about $45 million the first year. The country's new government at first refused to honor the commitments of its predecessor -- hurling at it vague corruption charges, but then compromised with Sandline and agreed to dole out $13 million.

Nor are these small ensembles. MPRI, now in its 14th year, employs more than 800 people, most former high level U.S. military personnel. It draws on a database of 12,500 freelancers, former defense, law enforcement and other professionals from which the company can identify every skill produced in the armed forces and public safety sectors. Many of its clients work under the government's Foreign Military Sales program and abide by the General Services Administration tariffs.


Control Risks Group, founded in 1975 as a subsidiary of the Hogg Robinson insurance group, claims to have had "more than 5,300 clients, including 86 of the Fortune 100 companies, in more than 130 countries. Eighty-three percent of the firms comprising the FTSE 100 use one or more of CRG's services. It has 400 employees in 16 offices around the world and recently acquired Network Holdings Ltd., the U.K.'s largest private forensic laboratory.

The Armor Holdings Products Division is made up of nine operating companies in eight geographic locations. It offers its branded security products through a network of more than 500 distributors and agents internationally. ArmorGroup employs 5,500 people in 38 countries.

Modern private military companies, such as Sandline, are veritable -- though miniature -- armies, replete with staff military ranks, uniforms, doctrine, training syllabi, cohesion, unit spirit and discipline.

Smaller, ad hoc outfits from Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, France, the United Kingdom, Israel, Croatia, South Africa, the United States and other nations scour the Earth for emerging conflicts. Such units often are infiltrated by criminals on the run, terrorists in disguise, sadistic psychopaths and intelligence officers.

These "dogs of war" are known for their disloyalty and lack of discipline. Many have committed acts of banditry, rapes, and an array of atrocities in the mutilated host countries. Still, these are marginal groups and in the minority of private military companies -- the last resort -- often hired by undesirables and failed states.


Part 2 of this analysis will appear Thursday

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