The Spy Who Billed Me is a particularly interesting blog about outsourcing the “war on terror.” I very much appreciate Dr. Hillhouse’s well informed and balanced viewpoint, as well as her dry sense of humor. One thing that has grown up under Bush, Cheney, and their pal Rumsfeld, are private mercenary companies, and private CIAs. She calls it: the “post 9/11 period of the Golden Trench Coat when the private intelligence industry really came into being. ” The information and discussion you will find on this blog you will find nowhere else. As one friend said when I sent the link: “ this is the sort of thing that used to be available through very obscure and expensive newsletters, where the children couldn’t see it; making this public changes everything.”
The Bush Cheney administration has driven many of the top people out of the CIA. And many have wound up in private security companies. Right now these private corporations are mostly based in the US. But there are some signs of them moving offshore:
There are a lot of reasons to go offshore, taxes, liability and oversight . . . there’s the dimension of avoiding their services falling under ITAR (the US laws governing the export of military services) which would complicate and delay sales and very likely preclude some business all together. . . offshore entities would be free to conduct the kind of activities that Special Forces and spies do: destabilize governments, sabotage facilities, identify and train insurgents, etc. (emphasis mine)
Total Intel represents some of the best and brightest the CIA has produced and Blackwater commands a formidable group of tier-one Special Forces operators. Simply put, together these companies rival and possibly surpass the capabilities of intelligence services of most nations–and I’m not talking Third World. Such capacity for covert operations has never before been in private hands–and for rent.
These companies are run by people who identify themselves as intensely patriotic Americans. That is relatively easy when you are employed by the Pentagon or the CIA. In theory, both organizations are established to support US interests, as government institutions. But when your services are for sale, you are working for your employer. And a corporate employer may have very different interests from the interests of the United States, or the interests of the government or citizens of whatever country where such a company may be working. And what happens when the corporate leadership evolves over time? Will the loyalties evolve?
The potential services are demonstrated in a theoretical scenario she provides for Exxon in Venezuela that has implications for the citizens and governments of African countries, particularly with the current focus on the oil in the Gulf of Guinea.
Well within the reach are services such as:
- de-stabilization of governments hostile to a firm’s business;
- identification, training and support of an armed insurgency, including separatist movements claiming sovereignty over a mineral-rich region; and
- planning and execution of sabotage of a competitor’s foreign facilities.
In no way am I saying that Total Intel, Greystone and Blackwater are offering these services, but rather I am exploring the potential synergy of the CIA’s former top case officers and Special Activities Division operators combined with the best in Special Forces. They’ve done this type of work for their former US government employers, so why not for their corporate ones?
Let’s take a hypothetical scenario and examine the potential a little closer. When I think about good uses for such brains and brawn, oil and Venezuela come to mind. In late 2005 the Venezuelan government gave Exxon an ultimatum that it had to form a joint venture with the national oil company (it eventually did.) The state petroleum company has been very uncooperative, to put it mildly, and has caused the shut down of Exxon fields. Let’s just say it’s not a comfortable place for Exxon to do business.
If I were sitting in the Houston boardroom of a company that has seen governments come and go, I know what I’d be thinking: get rid of Chavez or at least make his life hell. And with over $100 million profits daily, I’d have the cash to buy the expertise that I needed. And that expertise that is now on the open market.
I’d hire spies to identify potential insurgency groups to support and to create the needed cutouts to conceal my involvement.
. . .
Once my spies have identified insurgent group(s) and potential leaders, I’d work with a private military organization that could:
assist in training indigenous resources in developing a capability to conduct defensive and offensive small group operations, including firearm training requirements. Off-the-shelf standard field operations packages consist of 30 days of training to support raid, reconnaissance, and small unit tactics.
I wouldn’t stop at an insurgency. I’d also use the spies for various psyops against the leadership and hire an espionage firm to identify potential targets within the military leadership and Chavez inner circles that could be compromised and used to seed suspicions and distrust among the inner circle. If my spies got lucky, they might even make Chavez believe a coup was imminent and his paranoia could spark a leadership purge. Then there’s always economic sabotage, inciting union unrest..the possibilities go on and on.
Would a Fortune 500 company do something like this?
We saw a few weeks ago that Chiquita was willing to give millions to terrorist organizations to further their business interests.
Oil companies have not been good or benign corporate citizens in African countries to date. With these kinds of services on the market are they likely to become more responsible and public spirited? These kinds of services allow a corporation to have its own active and intrusive foreign policy, one that is responsible to the citizens of no country.
2/2008 – You can read my article on mercenaries in Africa over at the African Loft: The Rising Mercenary Industry and AFRICOM.