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.
Falls Church, Va. -- 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
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
- 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
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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