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Shadow Force


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"David Isenberg has been a tireless chronicler of the birth, growth and rise of the private military phenomena. Shadow Force is a new addition to the "must have" list of books on the privatization of violence."-Robert Young Pelton, author of Licensed to Kill

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Operator,     

Stand-by for your SITREP from The Combat Operator, the ezine for operators and security contractors. 

It was quite a week last week on a number of subjects of interest.  The big news in the industry was of course the Iraqi Ministry of Interiors refusal to grant Blackwater a license to operate.  That was followed by the State Departments apparent intention not to renew Blackwater's WPPS task order. 

This turn of events will leave a lasting change on the industry on a number of levels and I have included an Editorial I wrote on TCO a few days ago on the subject. 
 
Editorial:  Blackwater pouts, threatens to abandon their post
Blackwater
By Jake Allen--(TCO) So Blackwater will not have their license renewed by the Iraqi Ministry of the Interior.  And to kick them while they are down the moral cowards at the U.S. State Department (DoS) are now indicating that they will not renew Blackwater's task order for the global WPPS (Worldwide Personal Protective Services) contract which ends in May of this year.  So instead of losing simply one AO, albeit the largest, Blackwater are now faced with loosing their most lucrative client altogether.   
 
Blackwater's reaction to these foregone conclusions was predictable.  Did they get out in front of this story by offering even a shadow of contrition and evidence of the lessons they had learned. Did they shuffle their management or illustrate any improvements to their operational leadership, governance or oversight? No.  In fact, have they ever fessed-up to even the possibly, possibility mind you, that their unprecedented and explosive growth in mission-scope and thus manpower might have, just might have, been the source of some problems? Uhh...No.  Have they ever acknowledged that some, just some, no matter how small a percentage of their work force, might have committed mistakes?  Note:  I did not say crimes I said mistakes.  The answer is: No, no and double-no.  As far as anyone at Blackwater is concerned the entire organization from Erik Prince down to the lowest FNG are completely and utterly devoid of any wrongdoing.  It's all a witch-hunt fuelled by the left wing media with their liberal pacifist agenda. 
 
If that seems a little hard to believe that's because it is.  Instead of owning up to and dealing with an 'acceptable' level of corporate mistakes and then offering to be part of the solution Blackwater decided a long time ago to be unapologetic, obstinate, opaque, obstructive and arrogant.  True to form, and like a spoiled child, last week they offered to leave Iraq on 72-hours notice.  It was not an offer as much as it is a thinly veiled threat designed to punish the DoS and in the process hold hostage the U.S.'s foreign policy capabilities in the region.    The DoS deserves to be held hostage since it was they who allowed one PSC to have a disproportionate amount of the WPPS contract.  Had they more equitably divided the work among 4 to 5 companies the loss of one would not be as catastrophic. 
 
Honestly, the level of hubris on display here by Prince is on par with Jeffrey Skilling of Enron infamy who, down to the last minute, insisted Enron made no mistakes and the whole scandal was simply the media out to get them because they were so smart, innovative and successful. 
 
OK.  Before I go any further on this little diatribe I feel obligated to make a few declarations. 
 
  1. I am a passionate proponent for not only a strong private security sector I am one of only a handful of people who openly advocate for private militaries and their use on the offensive to resolve conflicts in places which are witnessing widespread human suffering due to insecurity.  I am no left-wing pacifist.
  2. I am not against Blackwater as a company, an institution or as a concept.  In fact I ardently support exactly what they should be standing for and doing.  I just don't support what they actually are doing or how they have done it.
  3. I am deeply disappointed by what Blackwater has done to our industry at large and for the repercussions all operators will have to deal with as a result of their performance.   You can bet the first poor expat operator who faces an Iraqi court will have to bear the brunt of an entire countries hatred for contractors.  Not to mention the increase in stringent regulations which are surely around the corner.  More badges, more personal disclosure of information to the Iraqi authorities, more forfeiture of rights, the list goes on.
  4. I am simply pointing out that all organizations, in every instance, ultimately take on the beliefs and the image of their leaders.   If you don't believe me pick a history book and read about the likes of Winston Churchill, Adolf Hitler, Julies Caesar, Lee Iacocca, Jack Welch, Ken Lay, etc, etc, etc...  Whether good or bad it starts and ends at the top.
  5. I always approach issues like this from the instruction I received as young officer in the Marine Corps.  USMC doctrine teaches that  "A leader is responsible for everything his troops do or fail to do."  Full stop.  No excuses.  It won't be the enemy's fault, the media's fault, a private's fault or a senior NCO's fault.  If it goes bad, as the leader and the officer you own it.  Either you were not smart enough or present enough as a leader to see the problem developing or you were too weak as a leader to fix when it did develop.  If disaster struck it was because you either failed to provide the foresight or the oversight.  Don't look left and don't look right.  Look strait into the mirror.   I apply that unapologetically high standard to myself and I apply it to Blackwater's leadership at all levels from the President of the company down to the Team Leaders and the Vehicle Commanders have failed.
 
This is probably a good time to make it clear that Blackwater's ranks are filled, filled I tell you with hundreds of good, honest, solid, hard working operators who are also technically and tactically at the top of their game.  And when many of these operators turn up over at outfits like Triple Canopy or Dyncorp those organizations will benefit from their contribution.  However, there is a certain minority of Blackwater staff and contractors who should be screened for poor personal and professional judgement and decision-making.  Those should not be offered the chance to cross-deck to another firm. 
 
David Isenberg wrote a great piece this weekend that illustrated the work that Aegis Defence, a British PSC has done in Iraq.  That got me thinking...on the surface one could look at Aegis and Blackwater as twins separated-at-birth.  Although Blackwater had been around for some years before the Iraq war both companies literally exploded in growth as a result of the war.  Both benefited from political connections at very high levels in their respective UK and U.S. governments.  Both secured massive prime contracts to support the Iraq reconstruction effort.  Yet one has quietly gone about its business practically unmolested by the global media and the other one seems to have back-to-back-to-back scandals.  It's not an accident it turned out this way.
 
Again this comes down to leadership at all levels but particularly from the top management as it is from there all others take their cues.  To compare Aegis founder Tim Spicer to Blackwater's Erik Prince is no comparison at all.  The former was a career military officer and veteran of numerous conflicts and operations.  His long and distinguished career culminated in battalion level command which gave him a clear understanding of the full-range of disciplines required to lead and manage a large force of a thousand or more men.  His diverse military background gave him no distinct military specialty other than that of basic infantry tactics which in large part comes down to leading men understanding the importance of the interrelationship between disciplines such as intelligence, logistics, administration, tactics and joint/combined operations. 
 
The sheer length and breadth of Spicer's career and life experience afforded him the opportunity to receive not only a formal military education in command and staff functions but he also was exposed to a range of pragmatic leadership styles and developed a wide network of very capable people of diverse skills who could easily be called upon to fill the ranks of Aegis when rapid expansion was required.  Perhaps most importantly, his Sandline experience would have taught him the rules of the game when it comes to the media.  It is perhaps this hard-learned lesson above all that have stood Aegis in good stead relative to other PSC operating in Iraq at a comparable level.    
 
On the other hand you have Prince, a vaunted Navy SEAL.  An elite even among SOCOM specialists.  Their famous 'better than the rest' mentality can be seen and felt throughout the Blackwater organization even to this day.  Somewhere along the way Prince's possession of a Trident, as impressive as that accomplishment is, was viewed as synonymous with the qualifications necessary to run a large corporation.  The facts of the case prove otherwise. 
 
In many ways Prince is the classic 'start up' CEO who wasn't smart enough, or likely too proud or arrogant, to get out of his own way.  Over a decade ago he had a good idea and the financial backing of a wealthy family.  It was a recipe for success not unlike many Silicon Valley start-ups.  The only difference is that by the 3rd or 4th year of operations in Silicon Valley the venture capitalists will almost invariably remove or push aside the 'genius founder' in exchange for a seasoned CEO with experience running a rapidly expanding global organization.  In the end, Prince's primary failure will be that of hubris which drove him to believe that his ability to complete the physically and mentally daunting SEAL program made him able to tackle any and all challenges.  The challenges of running a complex and dynamic multinational corporation in a discipline way proved too much.  As many from an elite background are want to do he hired from within the close network of former SEALs for key operational and leadership roles.  This meant that he was ensured a commonality of mindset, language, loyalty and servitude but unfortunately these tactically sound operators did not possess the business strategic competencies they needed.  All of them probably knew the best way to get the client off the X in an ambush but none of them seemed capable or willing to build the corporate governance and oversight necessary to ensure disciplined operations far from the command post.  Instead they continued to run the firm's Iraq operations like a free-wheeling start-up company where accountability for personal behaviour was at best an afterthought. 
 
The jury is still out as to whether the super-elite SF background or the infantryman generalist's career path is superior when it comes to making the transition to civilian corporate leadership.  For my money, I'll take the experienced and seasoned generalist over the young up-start specialist every time. 
 
In summary, let me just reiterate that I am not angry about what Blackwater has done to itself.   The bigger they are the harder they fall and this downfall was predictable even 3 years ago.  It simply was not sustainable.   As a corporate story it's one that has been told thousands of times.  Young company bites off too much, grows too fast, tarnishes its brand and then struggles if ever to regain its momentum. 
 
What is most troubling about Blackwater is simply the shear missed opportunity that the private security and military industry had and subsequently lost when these guys fumbled the ball.  It could have been so different.  After decades of debate, it could have been our time, a time where the biggest and most widely known PMC was given enough scope to be a positive force for change on the world stage in plain view of everyone, in defiance of the critics.  It would have validated, once and for all that private militaries are a viable option or at least a worthy and reliable complimentary component to a wider military and security strategy.  That PMCs have not only the tactical skills and military assets defeat enemies in the field but the discipline, accountability and transparency to beat political enemies in the media.  We had a chance to cast off the knuckle-dragging stereotype.  But in the end the biggest and the one with the most potential, Blackwater, fulfilled the left wing media's prophecy by becoming exactly that stereotype.  The mantle must now pass to another firm who through disciplined and productive effort can illustrate to the world that the private military concept can be a force for good.

 
Combat Operator RadioThis week on Combat Operator Radio I was joined by Eeben Barlow, legendary South African soldier, founder of Executive Outcomes, book author and modern day blogger

This was an excellent conversation and I greatly appreciate Eeben taking some time so spend with us on COR by dialing in from his home in South Africa.  We had a wide ranging discussion on topics ranging from failures of the UN in Africa, to modern day PMCs and the role of and challenges working with the media.  We also got a little preview of Eeben's forthcoming book on military strategy which he is targeted for publication later this year. 

If your not already following Eeben's Military and Security blog I encourage you to do so.  He was and remains a true pioneer in the private security and military sphere and his views are always written from a position of expertise that takes decades to build. 

So much of what we read these days about PMCs is written by academics, authors, pundits and reporters who lack either military credentials or first hand experience in the private military sphere.  No so with Eeben, his credentials are bona fide and his personal experience trumps nearly all others on this subject.  It was a real pleasure to speak with him.  You can listen to the interview here.  You can also subscribe to the program at iTunes.
 
Announcements
AnnouncementsThe Job Board continues to feature opportunities for operators with a variety of skill-sets.  If your company is hiring or even if you are running a training event/course you should post the details on the Jobs Board as this is one of the most visited pages at TCO and its sure to get noticed. 

I recently got a chance to meet and speak with David Isenberg.  I've admired his perspective for a long time.  David has, for over a decade, been a prolific writer on the subject of military contracting.  He pens a regularly occurring weekly column at UPI titled Dogs of War and he is also the author of the recently released book titled Shadow Force, Private Security Contractors in Iraq.  I am hopeful we can get him onto Combat Operator Radio soon.  In the mean time I encourage you to read his columns and buy the book.  He is one of only a handful of authors who are objectively reporting on the industry. 

Did you know you can read back issues of the SITREP?  Just visit the SITREP page on the TCO site and there you can read a number of the archived weekly editions. 
 
That concludes this transmission of THE SITREP.  As always we welcome your feedback, constructive or otherwise.  So, leave us a quick comment out at TCOto let us know how we are doing and what we can do to improve our service.   
 
One last request, as always, please click here to forward this email to other industry professionals.  Growing the TCO community will benefit us all as we can increase our knowledge base and networking capabilities.

"Remember upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all." -Alexander the Great-
Stay safe,

Jake Allen
Editor
The Combat Operator
 
End of Transmission...
The Combat Operator