"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 KillList Price: $49.95
Our Price: $40.80 & eligible for FREE Super Saver Shipping on orders over $25.
Editorial: Blackwater pouts, threatens to abandon their post
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
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
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.
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.
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
- 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.
- 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
- 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
- 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
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
|This 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.
The 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.
upon the conduct of each depends the fate of all." -Alexander the Great-
The Combat Operator
End of Transmission...