Thursday, September 16, 2010

Private Armies

Blackwater's Black Ops by Jeremy Scahill in The Nation.

There was always a dark side to the US government contracting out its military and intel operations to private companies. And that was that in the process we were creating private armies.

Its one thing for a nation to spend money on its own armed forces. I think that the US way overspends, and has been hurting its economy by doing so. But, at least when the nation spends money on its own armed forces, those forces stay under control of the nation. At least in the theory they teach in civics books, that military is answerable to civilian authorities. Which in turn is supposedly elected in free and fair democratic elections. The basic democratic ideal of a free nation is that the people control the military.

But when such money is "Outsourced" to private firms like Blackwater (who's pr people have renamed as "Xe", apparently trying to hide under an obscure name), the people end up having no control over the armed force that's created with their money.

Here's how it works. The US pays out our tax money to purchase Blackwater's services. Blackwater then uses this money to recruit people and buy equipment. Blackwater uses this money to train its people. Then, hopefully they go do the task, like protecting State Dept personnel, that they were contracted to do.

Except, when the contract's up, those trained people and equipment don't go away. Now there's a private army in existence. And since the US has been contracting out 'intel' ops to Blackwater, now there's essentially a private CIA in existence. All paid for by the hard earned tax dollars of working Americans.

Over the past several years, entities closely linked to the private security firm Blackwater have provided intelligence, training and security services to US and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations, including Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and banking giants Deutsche Bank and Barclays, according to documents obtained by The Nation. Blackwater's work for corporations and government agencies was contracted using two companies owned by Blackwater's owner and founder, Erik Prince: Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center (TRC). Prince is listed as the chairman of both companies in internal company documents, which show how the web of companies functions as a highly coordinated operation. Officials from Total Intelligence, TRC and Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe Services) did not respond to numerous requests for comment for this article.

One of the most incendiary details in the documents is that Blackwater, through Total Intelligence, sought to become the "intel arm" of Monsanto, offering to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm.

So, now when local citizens around the world try to exercise their rights as free people to organize against a chemical and biotech corporation's assaults on their society, they are now facing this private CIA and this private army that was paid by US tax dollars.

Gee thanks.

And, while the Democrats will try to use their usual spin of blaming this all on Bush and the Republicans, not a single thing has changed when Obama and the Democrats got to power. If anything, its gotten worse as Obama wants his dog-and-pony show fake withdrawal from Iraq. And he's getting it by dumping more and more of the violent dirty work on 'contractors'. While troop numbers decrease in Iraq, contractor numbers stay even or keep climbing.

The bad news about mercenaries is that they don't just disappear when the contract's up. What we've done is create armies of mercenary soldiers and spies who will now be turned loose on anyone who dares to challenge anyone with the millions of dollars needed to pay their fees. And, it won't be the local activists who have the millions of dollars.

After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives, including to Prince and Prado at their Blackwater e-mail addresses. Black wrote that Wilson "understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name.... Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for." Black added that Total Intelligence "would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto." Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater "could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally." Black wrote that initial payments to Total Intelligence would be paid out of Monsanto's "generous protection budget" but would eventually become a line item in the company's annual budget. He estimated the potential payments to Total Intelligence at between $100,000 and $500,000. According to documents, Monsanto paid Total Intelligence $127,000 in 2008 and $105,000 in 2009.

Interesting. They aren't as expensive as I thought.

This is one thing any activist has to realize. These sorts of expenditures are a tiny blip in a budget like Monsanto's. Or, that would be a tiny blip in say a political campaign that has hundreds of millions or tens of millions to spend. Not much we can do about it, except be aware that its very cheap for someone to pay to infiltrate our groups.

The key somehow is to build such groups such that they can't be disrupted by such infiltration. Somehow, we got to know that we can be spied on. We've got to to know that people can come in and disrupt us. But we've still got to be able to carry on and be effective despite that.

Its not impossible. It helps not to be reliant on 'leaders', as leaders can always be bought or diverted. Its vital to have a group of committed grassroots activists who believe in what they are doing. Then they have to keep that focus despite any attempts to disrupt the group, or to turn members of the group on each other. Its not easy. But it can be done.

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