Should We Be Alarmed by the Wide Use of Mercenaries?

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Mr Gvosdev is a senior fellow for strategic studies at The Nixon Center in Washington and a writer for the History News Service.

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The recent carnage in Iraq has made public a dirty little secret: some of the personnel on duty there are not volunteer patriots dedicated to bringing liberty to Iraqis but paid professionals -- private military contractors, or, more plainly, mercenaries. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution estimates that private contractors now make up the second largest military contingent in Iraq, after the (official) U.S. military force.

Mercenaries are being hired by governments for a number of duties once thought to be the function of the military, from providing security for diplomats and heads of state (including Afghanistan's president, Hamid Karzai) to enforcing peace settlements and training fledgling militaries. More than 20,000 private contractors are operating in more than fifty countries from Albania to Zambia.

The use of private entities to carry out the governmental functions of waging war (and peace) is no longer an isolated phenomenon. This is why Congress should examine the recommendations made in a 2002 British government Green Paper for a "licensing regime" to distinguish between "reputable and disreputable" private sector military operators.

Mercenaries -- professional soldiers who fight for pay rather than out of ideological conviction -- have been the rule rather than the exception in the history of warfare. If war was the sport of kings, then mercenaries, immortalized in Biblical verse and Shakespearian drama, were the professional athletes of their day.

The British hired more than 30,000 German soldiers -- the famed Hessians, some of whom were defeated by George Washington in his Christmas Eve attack across the Delaware River. In fact, more than a third of the "British" forces in America were hired guns. Meanwhile, the United States turned to private merchants to operate naval vessels (privateers) under letters of marque. And America's first naval war hero, John Paul Jones, later found paid employment in the Imperial Russian navy.

Mercenaries fell out of favor because they tended to view war as a pragmatic, if risky, business enterprise. Neither heroes nor martyrs, their loyalty was to an employer, not to a cause or country. The rise of mass armies filled by low-paid conscripts indoctrinated by patriotism (beginning first with the levee en masse in France in 1793) eliminated the need for governments to hire professional soldiers.

For much of the twentieth century, mercenaries were hired either by aspiring dictators or by multinational corporations. Defense Systems Ltd., a British-based mercenary firm, has contracts with major oil companies such as Texaco and Chevron to protect their assets and infrastructure in volatile places like Angola or Nigeria.

But in a post-nation-state era, the mercenary is making a comeback. In a world no longer characterized by Great Wars, but rather by low-level insurgencies and nation-building, in a political environment when the death of a single soldier -- whether draftee or volunteer -- can create enormous pressure to terminate a mission, the mercenary is filling the manpower gap in a number of dangerous parts of the world.

Why use mercenaries? Expertise, for one. Leading firms advertise around the world for candidates who have at least five years of experience. In some countries, such as Chile, experienced police officers find that employment with a private military company brings double or triple the salary.

And no one weeps for mercenaries. When a handful of U.S. soldiers died in Somalia in 1993 during Operation Provide Comfort, the outrage among Americans helped to scupper the entire mission. By contrast, the continuing death toll among American private contractors aiding Colombia's war against narco-terrorists barely makes the headlines.

Mercenaries can be a force for good, as long as they remain on the job. When the South African firm Executive Outcomes was hired by the government of Sierra Leone in 1995, the outside contractors helped to defeat the notorious RUF guerrillas -- famous in the West for amputating the arms of their captives. Mercenaries trained the armed forces and created stable conditions for democratic elections to be held. All of this was done with a fraction of the numbers and the cost of an "official" UN peacekeeping force. But when their contract expired in 1997, the professionals left. Four months later, the democratic government in Sierra Leone was overthrown.

But mercenaries should not be mistaken for an armed version of the Peace Corps. They expect to be paid -- in some cases, by obtaining valuable natural resource concessions. And a private firm that today might be training police forces in a democratizing country might tomorrow be hired by a repressive regime to crack down on opposition political movements. Most firms operate with little governmental oversight and almost no accountability for the behavior of their personnel. This is especially true when their employees are operating in areas where the rule of law is weak or non-existent.

So what's to be done? John-Peter Pham, an international diplomat with extensive experience in coping with African civil conflicts, concludes, "Privatized peacekeeping may be the only feasible alternative to watching thousands die. Better to co-opt the phenomenon than to continue to piously denounce it while offering no real alternatives."

If governments are going to use mercenaries, they should deputize them so that they are held to the same rules as uniformed soldiers. It also means that governments that hire private forces must be prepared to hold them accountable in courts of law for their actions -- just as privateers had to appear in special "prize courts." Congress could take an important step by developing a code of conduct for private military contractors and encouraging other states to do the same.

King David and St. Ignatius Loyola (the founder of the Jesuit Order), former mercenaries both, would approve.


This piece was distributed for non-exclusive use by the History News Service, an informal syndicate of professional historians who seek to improve the public's understanding of current events by setting these events in their historical contexts. The article may be republished as long as both the author and the History News Service are clearly credited.


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Stevenlee L Uanna - 4/28/2004

Mr. Gvosdek makes some excellent points. And who will ultimately be held accountable for the actions of the "contractors" that are providing security in Iraq if they violate international laws? Laws the Bush administration has already made clear to the international community the U.S. will only obey if he wants to. And he will only call in the United Nations when it suits his needs. The U.S. taxpayer will probably be left with the bill. As if the current bill in Iraq is not big enough. How ironic because the main reason to use "contractors" in government service, as hired guns or to provide the maintenance for the buildings in Washington D.C. was to save money. The fact that many of these "expert" soldiers in Iraq are making $500.00 a day while many military families pinch pennies to make ends meet must be very hard on military morale.

Here at home private security firms provide the security for nuclear power plants and government weapons facilities, in violation of a law (THE PINKERTON LAW) created to stop the formation of private police and military agencies. Supposedly these private firms have been "vetted", the new term for a background check. But what criteria is used? Ambassador Paul Bremer's security is provided by private contractors. Is a group of his body guards doing the "vetting" for the others? It looks like the fox guarding the henhouse. And will private firms be employed by the Homeland Security Departmentand to enforce the Patriot Act, rounding up violators? It looks like we are going down a slippery slope that will be hard to reverse, especially with a demoralized Armed Forces that is the size of most third world armies.

Do we need these outside "experts"? Did the United States ever have an efficient security apparatus? Yes we did. What happened to it? One of the main architects of our nation's security system and died mysteriously and his former employer, the U.S. Department of State, where he was the CHIEF OF THE DIVISION OF PHYSICAL SECURITY is covering up the details of his death. A death that was called murder on national television.

This man's name was William Lewis Uanna and you can read about his amazing life and mysterious death on the web site http://www.securitysuperchief.com

With the dedication of the WW II Memorial just around the corner it is fitting that we examine his life, he was a true hero of WW II. In fact his service in the U.S. Army was critical to bringing about the surrender of Japan and the end of WW II. Yet most Americans have never heard about him, even though he has been portrayed in three movies: "ABOVE AND BEYOND" - "ENOLA GAY" - "HIROSHIMA". He has been hiding in plain sight. The problem is that he has been written out of the so called "OFFICIAL" history of WW II and the Cold War. General Leslie Groves, who is considered the driving force behind the Manhattan Project does not mention him in his book NOW IT CAN BE TOLD.

A brief summary of Mr. Uanna's background is:
Just prior to WW II he revamped the Army's Corps of Intelligence Police and got it ready for a WW II under it's new name, the COUNTER INTELLIGENCE CORPS, the CIC.

He was the main security officer on the Manhattan Project. At the time of the attack on Hiroshima he was the "Intelligence Officer to the Secretary of War" (Henry Stimson).

He led the scientific and intelligence mission to Japan after the war to study their Atomic project which a book called JAPAN'S SECRET WAR by Robert Wilcox says was within days of using an atomic bomb on U.S. forces when we struck Hiroshima. This is one of the best kept secrets of the Cold War. The plant making this bomb was in Korea and fell into the hands of the Russians.

At the direction of the Secretary of War he went to the newly formed Atomic Energy Commission and oversaw the transfer of the Manhattan Project into the AEC. It was here that he named and wrote the criteria for the "Q CLEARANCE".

Next at the Armed forces Special Weapons Project he oversaw the construction of the storage bases for our nuclear arsenal.

Next at the newly established CIA he wrote the briefing manual for the OFFICE OF POLICY COORDINATION. This was the covert action section of our government. It was located at this time (1949-50) in the National Security Council but was run jointly by the Departments of State and Defense. Soon it would be taken over by the CIA. A secret branch of the OPC was sneaking Nazi's into the U.S. behind the back of President Truman and the Congress at this time and the Joint Chiefs actually had a plan for using a 30,000 man secret army of former Nazi SS troops as mercenaries. A lesson can be learned from these dark deeds.

At the Department of Commerce as the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce Mr. Uanna Chaired the FACILITIES PROTECTION BOARD and wrote "one of the primary manuals on industrial security". This was during the Korean War. Throughout his career Mr. Uanna would write statutes, manuals, give lecture courses and establish intelligence and security schools. He had degrees in Engineering, Education and Law. His responsibilities involved CIVIL DEFENSE, a word seldom heard now amid colored warning levers and duct tape.

And finally his last employer, the U.S. Department of State. He was brought on board temporarily for 90 days and wrote the EVALUATORS HANDBOOK to be used with Executive Order 10450 to screen State Department emplopyees in answer to Senator Joseph McCarthy's charges of Communist subversion in the Army and the State Department. Retained full time to run the newly formed Division of Physical Security he revamped the whole structure. He established the MARINE GUARD TRAINING SCHOOL, wrote aMARINE GUARD MANUAL and a PROTECTION OF DIGNITARIES MANUAL- (Mr. Bremer, what manual do your guards use?) He had responsibility for all State Department personnel and buildings worldwide, he personally guarded all visiting heads of state and in http://www.securitysuperchief.com you will see a picture of him "bodyguarding" Secretary of State John Foster Dulles. He ran the security liaison between the Departments of State and Defense. He was a State Department representative on a little known group called the INTERDEPARTMENTAL COMMITTEE ON INTERNAL SECURITY (ISIS). He was a member of the SPECIAL GROUP which was also called the SPECIAL COMMITTEE in the NSC where covert action is planned and carried out.

Mr. Uanna, or "Bud" as he was known was a Stevenson Democrat. The movie ENOLA GAY describes him "...as good as they come". And this is reflected in all the background investigations done on him for employment in the sensitive positions he had.

Mr. Uanna was my father. He was exiled away from Washington in November of 1958 to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Here on December 22, 1961 he died of a "heart attack" on the grounds of the American Embassy there. My mother and I were with my father in Addis when he died and we never believed it was a heart attack. Our suspicions were made public when the movie ENOLA GAY said that my father was a member of the CIA, was murdered in Africa and all records relating to his death have disappeared. The source of this information to VIACOM was the pilot of the B-29 bomber Enola Gay, Paul Tibbets. Paul Tibbets confirmed this to me. But Paul Tibbets has been strangely silent over the years. My father was directly responsible for Paul Tibbets safety on Tinian Island, the forward base of the 509th Composite Group which was our atomic strike force. In fact my father bore the responsiblility for the security of the whole 509th.

Shortly before he left Washington in 1958 Sheffield Edwards the Security Director of the CIA wrote the State Department praising my father and wishing him a good tour in Addis. Shortly after this Mr. Edwards would enlist the Mafia to kill Fidel Castro. Along with Mr. Edwards letter came one from General Edward Lansdale of the Office of Special Operations in the Department of Defense, surprised at my father's sudden departure he also wished him well. Mr. Lansdale's career in counter intelligence and insurgency is too long to detail here (I detail it in the web site) but Mr. Lansdale is a key suspect of many private researchers who believe there was a conspiracy to assassinate President Kennedy. In my site you will see two handwritten letters that I contend Lansdale wrote that could be the key to solving the Kennedy assassination. But it will take the cooperation of a man who claims he wrote one of the letters. This letter involes Robert Kenndey, anti Castro Cubans, David Ferrie, Aracha Smith and a convoluted scenario that has kept investigators going in circles for decades.

At http://www.fas.org/irp/offdocs/nsam-jfk/index you can view the National Security Action Memorandums (NSAM's) that President Kennedy issued to bring the National Security structure into line with his wishes. Keep in mind most of these were issued after the failed BAY OF PIGS invasion and JFK had decided to fire CIA Director Allen Dulles and his two Deputies Cabell and Bissell and take covert action away from them. NSAM 55, 56 and 57 lets the Joint Chiefs know they are expected to speak up and be pro active. NSAM 72 shows how serious JFK was about CIVIL DEFENSE (all those yellow and black Civil Defense signs on your buildings were put there by JFK) And if you venture into the basement, check out the dates on the supplies, 1962 I'll bet. NSAM 233? is about his wishes to start the removal of troops from Southvietnam. NSAM 136 states that two committee's were established under the NSC in 1949- the Interdepartmental Intelligence Conferenc(IIC) it was chaired by J. Edgar Hoover. And the Interdepartmental Committee on Internal Security (ISIS). These groups will be studied it said. NSAM 161 stated that these two groups would now be under the authority of Robert Kennedy. The IIC handled intelligence, the ISIS handled everything else, which was probably counter intelligence and military and paramilitary actions to be used in conjunction with Civil Defense if we were invaded or subversives were operating within our borders. What happened to the IIC and ISIS?

President Kennedy tried to take control of the rogue elements in our intelligence community. He was determined not to have an unnecessary war but he was committed to the security of the United States. Allen Dulles, Cabell, and Bissell would leave their posts, forced out by JFK right around the time my father died. But Allen Dulles would later turn up on the Warren Commission which claimed Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin and close all other avenues, locking away some information so long that if you are 50 years old now you probably will not live long enough to see it.

I believe it was FBI Director Muller, in his testimony at the 9/11 Hearings who said he thought it would take five years to get the intelligence community squared away. I contend much of the work has already been done but is being suppressed. Executive Order 10450 is probably still in effect, but to enforce it and look into the backgrounds of government officials, like Henry Kissinger and his Associates in Kissinger and Associates, or Dick Cheney and his Enron buddies would be too much to ask. Let the Supreme Court say they are A-OK. Like Chief Justice Warren did on the Warren Report.

THEN: At the time of my father's death in 1961 MERCENARIES were operating in the Belgian Congo. U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold was arriving in the Congo to mediate the crisis and in an event that is still shrouded in mystery his plane crashed killing him.
NOW: A few weeks ago a group of mercenaries were arrested in Africa charged with a plot to overthrow a government there. A company some of these mercenaries work for has contracts providing security in Iraq. Late last year the U.N. left Iraq after their compound was bombed and a large number of their personnel were killed, a man who was slated to be the next Secretary General was among the dead.

This can go on and on. When the WW II Memorial is dedicated, look over toward Arlingtron National Cemetery, my father's grave is over there. But from the information I have I doubt that his body is in the grave. Just like the location of JFK's brain (lost from the National Archives) or the truth about what happened on 9/11 or where Bin Laden is or WMD's...
That's why I think this will take a Truth Commission like they had in South Africa, with amnesty, to get to the bottom of this. Or we can wait five years and keep trusting.

Thank you, Steven Uanna


Oscar Chamberlain - 4/26/2004

A 1914 poem by A.E. Houseman

"Epitaph for an Army of Mercenaries"

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky. suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.


Oscar Chamberlain - 4/26/2004

A 1914 poem by A.E. Houseman

"Epitaph for an Army of Mercenaries"

These, in the day when heaven was falling,
The hour when earth's foundations fled,
Followed their mercenary calling
And took their wages and are dead.

Their shoulders held the sky. suspended;
They stood, and earth's foundations stay;
What God abandoned, these defended,
And saved the sum of things for pay.