According to The New York Times, the United Arab Emirates, a close U.S. ally, hired a company reportedly associated with Erik Prince, the controversial founder of Blackwater Inc, to train a military force. Reflex Responses, or R2, has brought hundreds of foreign troops from Columbia and South Africa to the desert to train. We explore the tricky legal and ethical issues around possible U.S. involvement and mercenary armies.


  • Mark Mazzetti Reporter with The New York Times
  • Kateri Carmola Professor of Political Philosophy at Middlebury College and author of the book "Private Security Contractors in the Age of New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics".
  • Marc Genest Professor of Strategy and Policy and Co-director, Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the U.S. Naval War College


  • 13:06:51

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. We call them mercenaries or soldiers of fortune, hired guns who arrive under the cover of darkness. It sounds like the plot of a B movie, but it's not, according to The New York Times.

  • 13:07:23

    MR. KOJO NNAMDIThe United Arab Emirates is building an army with the help of fighters from other countries. The Times also reports that Blackwater founder Erik Prince is involved. Whether Prince has made a deal with an Arab prince or not, the issues surrounding military muscle for hire are complex and joining us in studio to discuss them is Mark Mazzetti. He is a correspondent for The New York Times where he's covered national security from the newspaper's Washington bureau since 2006. Mark, thank you so much for joining us.

  • 13:07:51

    MR. MARK MAZZETTIThank you for having me.

  • 13:07:53

    NNAMDIJoining us from the studios of Middlebury College in Vermont is Kateri Carmola, professor of political philosophy at Middlebury College and author of the book, "Private Security Contractors in the Age of New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics." Kateri Carmola, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:11

    PROF. KATERI CARMOLAThanks for having me.

  • 13:08:12

    NNAMDIAnd joining us from the studios of the U.S. Naval War College in Newport, Rhode Island is Marc Genest. He is a professor of strategy and policy and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the U.S. Naval War College, thank you for joining us.

  • 13:08:29

    PROF. MARC GENESTIt's a pleasure.

  • 13:08:31

    NNAMDIThank you. Mark Mazzetti, you've been covering national security issues for The New York Times since 2006. What brought you to this story?

  • 13:08:39

    MAZZETTIWell, I had been studying private contractors and private military corporations for some time now and me and my co-author, Emily Hager who also has a number of sources in this world, started hearing about a venture in the UAE that began officially last year. And we did a little bit more digging to try to find out exactly what was planned and what was going on out there in the desert.

  • 13:09:08

    MAZZETTIAnd the sort of usual reporting, we talked to sources who then put us on to other sources and we came across a number of documents that ended up in the story that ran in mid-May.

  • 13:09:21

    NNAMDIAnd to what extent were you convinced that at the center of this was the founder or playing a prominent role in this, was the founder of Blackwater, Erik Prince?

  • 13:09:33

    MAZZETTIAbsolutely convinced. Half a dozen to a dozen people have talked about Mr. Prince's intimate involvement at the beginning of this project throughout. Prince, who moved to Abu Dhabi last year officially, has a close relationship with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, who is sort of the de facto ruler of the UAE. And it's our understanding that through a number of conversations the two had, the crown prince expressed a concern about the security of his country externally and internally. And that Erik Prince and he discussed the idea of a foreign battalion, in some ways, modeled after the French Foreign Legion, but a foreign battalion of mercenaries to help defend the country. And then subsequent to that, a company was created known as Reflex Responses or R2.

  • 13:10:33

    NNAMDIWell we heard from Erik Prince's representative this morning. He claimed your May 14th article is shoddy reporting. He challenged the allegation that Reflex Responses is in any way Erik Prince's company. He went on to say that you didn't contact Reflex Responses to ask about Prince's involvement. We tried to contact Reflex Responses last week and we have not heard back from them.

  • 13:10:57

    NNAMDIWe invited Erik Prince to be on the show and we were told that Mr. Prince has no interest in talking to the media. However Mr. Prince's representative goes on to say that you have not yet contacted Mr. Prince's representative in response to his providing two letters that purport to show that R2 is not owned by Erik Prince. What say you?

  • 13:11:18

    MAZZETTIWell I'll take the last one first. We have contacted over the weekend not only the president of the company, but also their lawyer who is on the letters. We were not contacted. We were not given the letters directly. We got them in another way so we will be talking to them soon. In terms of what we did before the story ran, I did contact Mark Corallo. He's the best person I know to reach Erik Prince and run these things by him. And so we -- I laid out our story in its details.

  • 13:11:52

    MAZZETTIAnd the company itself, up to I believe a week ago, was very difficult to find any contact information for. But we now have the contact information and we are talking to them but we are 100 percent sure about what we've reported.

  • 13:12:10

    NNAMDIAnd finally there's this. The representative went on to say that he knows the sources for this story and that they are competitors of Reflex Responses. What say you?

  • 13:12:21

    MAZZETTIWe don't talk about our sources or characterize them in any way.

  • 13:12:25

    NNAMDIMarc Genest, what's the difference today between a mercenary and a private security contractor?

  • 13:12:33

    GENESTWell the private military contractors have a wider berth and a wide array of responsibilities. They do everything from feed the troops to help with transportation, to provide security for the Department of Defense and the Department of State employees. So they, we think of them as mercenaries. We think of them as soldiers carrying guns, private soldiers, but indeed the predominant role of many private military corporations is to provide day to day services from food services to basic security.

  • 13:13:06

    GENESTSo the idea that they're privateers is somewhat misleading because they have been asked to take on so many additional responsibilities over the years.

  • 13:13:16

    NNAMDIMark Mazzetti, you report that a contract for over $500 million was signed between Reflex Responses and the Emirati government well before unrest swept through the Middle East this spring. What did the UAE contract Reflex Responses to do?

  • 13:13:33

    MAZZETTIWell, the contract itself, the document itself, which we have and we posted online, is a fairly vague document besides the amount of money, which is staggering, which is $529 million over five years. It's our understanding -- and we have hundreds of pages of corporate documents that talk about what the plans really are. It is to put down internal unrest inside the UAE.

  • 13:13:56

    MAZZETTIFor instance, there's often times unrest inside the sprawling labor camps inside of the UAE. And there was concern that they needed a sort of special operations type battalion that could do that kind of work. Also there's concern about terrorism in the UAE. It's in a rough neighborhood and it is certainly a big terrorism target. And thirdly, there was the external national threats that the UAE is worried about, particularly Iran. Iran is right across the Persian Gulf from the UAE.

  • 13:14:28

    MAZZETTIThe Emirati officials have been known to be very concerned about not only Iran's nuclear program but any kind of Iranian attacks into the country so this battalion in part is seen as one deterrent to an Iranian attack.

  • 13:14:41

    NNAMDIThe UAE wanted this group operational pretty quickly. Any idea why?

  • 13:14:46

    MAZZETTIWell, I think, in part, it was, here's a lot of money, you know, build me an army and you have about a year to do it. And they, you know, certainly have the money to spend, but people who are military veterans and people who train troops will say that to get this sort of capability, it does take quite a long time. It takes years and years, especially if you're training soldiers who do not have -- or starting from a sort of lower baseline. And so it is -- by many accounts, it was a very ambitious goal to have a battalion up and running within a year.

  • 13:15:28

    MAZZETTIBut as we reported in our first story, one of the ways they met the terms of the contract was they brought in a group of South African troops, a sort of small platoon of troops who were more capable than some of the Latin American troops that had been trained up to that point. And in that way, they had a small group ready to go at any moment.

  • 13:15:45

    NNAMDIIn that case, let me switch to you now Kateri Carmola, the troops that were brought to the UAE came from Columbia and South Africa. What do we know about the background of these forces?

  • 13:15:57

    CARMOLAWell, first of all, Blackwater has used Columbians before so there's a long history or a more recent history of Columbians and other South Americans being used by Blackwater and its affiliates. And South Africans are part of the top forces that are used for private security companies. South African, U.K. and U.S. are really seen as the top graduates in a way to this kind of force structure and so it's very common for these troops to be used for training and also for security provision.

  • 13:16:30

    NNAMDIIf you'd like to join the conversation, call us at 800-433-8850. How do you see the role of private security forces in modern wars? Or if you've worked with or for a private security contractor, what was that experience like for you? Call us at 800-433-8850 or you can go to our website,, ask a question or make a comment there or you can send us a tweet at kojoshow. We're talking with Mark Mazzetti. He's a correspondent for The New York Times. He's covered national security for the newspaper's Washington bureau since 2006.

  • 13:17:05

    NNAMDIKateri Carmola is a professor of political philosophy at Middlebury College and author of the book, "Private Security Contractors in the Age of New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics." And Marc Genest is a professor of strategy and policy and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the U.S. Naval War College. Mark Mazzetti, the laws of the United States require American citizens to get permission from the State Department to train foreign troops. What are the legal implications for any Americans that might be involved in this?

  • 13:17:36

    MAZZETTIWell, it's a murky area. As you said, the Pentagon and the State Department require that troops getting trained by Americans overseas get licenses for doing the training. It's a way to control the transfer of technologies, American technologies overseas, just like they control the technologies of, you know F-14s or tanks.

  • 13:18:03

    MAZZETTIBut it is unclear whether, you know, you have to be involved in the actual training or just an owner or an officer in a company to be an American in order to get the license. You get differences of opinion about just whether Reflex Responses would require State Department approval to do the type of training. It would depend on how many Americans are doing it and at what level. We're told that one of the early -- that Mr. Prince at the very beginning wanted to keep Americans from doing this in part to sort of avoid these problems with the State Department.

  • 13:18:37

    MAZZETTIIf you have Western Europeans or South Africans doing the training, you don't have to worry about State Department approval. However, over time, more Americans were brought into the venture, which ran into some of these dicey problems, which Blackwater has had problems with in the past. They've had to pay several million dollars in fines for not getting licenses.

  • 13:18:58

    NNAMDIMarc Genest, can you tell us about the law as it relates to Americans who participate in these so-called irregular warfare situations?

  • 13:19:06

    GENESTWell, I'm not an attorney, but what I can say is that the law is incredibly murky and we haven't really looked at the repercussions of this. I know there's some movement among the EU to try to formulate some rules and regulations and there's some process in the United Nations to do the same. And this is going to be extraordinarily important in the future because these groups are proliferating to fill a void.

  • 13:19:34

    GENESTAs defense department budgets decline all over the world and in Europe and the United States in particular, you're still going to have security needs and that's why the movement towards privatization of security needs has been so dramatic over the last 10, 15 years. And that's just going to get more and more significant as we, as the Europeans and the United States deal with their budget problems.

  • 13:19:55

    GENESTThese problems aren't going to go away. They're actually going to become more intensified and that's why we need some kind of universal law or code of conduct that can help police this situation.

  • 13:20:05

    NNAMDIKateri Carmola, same question to you.

  • 13:20:07

    CARMOLAYeah, I think, both previous commentators have stressed the murkiness of it all. And I just want to add to that by saying, essentially, the laws are always going to play catch-up to these situations. And when you have people like Erik Prince who can go to countries where the U.S. has a very complex relationship, an ally, certainly, but a complex relationship because of its position in-between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

  • 13:20:31

    CARMOLAAnd there are models for training troops within a country. They can stay ahead of ITAR, the International or the Traffic and Arms Regulation laws. They can stay ahead of those. They can stay ahead of the corporate laws that go after them. And Mark Genest, is right, that we need an international universal licensing regime that can track the players in this as well as the services that they're operating -- are operating.

  • 13:20:56

    NNAMDISpeaking of players and services, how likely is it, Mark Mazzetti, that the U.S. government is, at least, tacitly involved in this? The UAE, as you mentioned, is concerned about Iran. We know the U.S. is very concerned about Iran.

  • 13:21:13

    MAZZETTII think that the U.S. government is -- certainly knows about this. Certainly, knew about it before we reported it. And, I think, that while there may be some disagreement, I think, for the most part, they probably don't have a big problem with this. They, as you said, U.S. is very close to the UAE and they see UAE defenses as critical. So a way -- anyways that the UAE could bulk up defense -- its defense, they might be in favor of.

  • 13:21:42

    MAZZETTIAt the same time, you do hear concerns about, you know, just who you're hiring to provide for your defense. And if you're hiring hundreds of Columbian troops in the middle of -- and putting them in the middle of the Middle East, which is an extremely volatile region. And, you know, Columbian, Christian or Catholic troops doing work and putting down rebellions in Muslim countries.

  • 13:22:07

    MAZZETTIThere's a whole lot of potential for trouble there.

  • 13:22:10

    NNAMDIAs we said to you, we heard from a representative of Erik Prince, early this morning, who emphasized, he says, quoting here, that "Erik Prince, is a private citizen now, living in the United Arab Emirates. He's known to be consulting on energy and agricultural security among other types of security. But the last I read about Blackwater founder, Erik Prince, he was going off to be a teacher. What, as far as you know, changed?

  • 13:22:34

    MAZZETTIThat is what he told a reporter in a Vanity Fair piece, that he was doing the Indiana Jones route, which was, be an international man of mystery and then be a teacher. And I don't know whether he ever actually took that seriously. He is a compelling figure in that he does have -- everyone who talks to him knows him well, say that he has -- he's filled with ideas. And he always wants to be at the center of things.

  • 13:23:06

    MAZZETTIAnd he wants to be a player in many ways. He has ambitions in his new -- not his new country, he's still an American citizen but in his country of residence to build big things there. And to be a player there. And, so I don't see teaching in his future.

  • 13:23:27

    NNAMDIWell, Kateri Carmola, you're a teacher...

  • 13:23:29

    CARMOLAYeah, I'm laughing.

  • 13:23:30

    NNAMDI...what is your understanding about why Erik Prince didn't join...

  • 13:23:32

    CARMOLASo is Marc Genest.

  • 13:23:32 in that profession? Exactly.

  • 13:23:34

    CARMOLAYeah, both of us are probably laughing because clearly we don't want to do big things by being teachers. But the thing about Erik Prince, I mean, he gets a lot of attention. He garners a lot of attention and I think the industry as a whole is glad to have him be the focus of attention. So that the industry can grow and morph and change and offer its services a little bit outside of the spotlight.

  • 13:23:56

    CARMOLAAnd so, his relationship with the wider industry that Marc Genest was pointing out, that, which is very large and very multi faceted, is a complex one but my sense is, people are glad for him to play his Indiana Jones character so that they can get on with the business as usual.

  • 13:24:13

    NNAMDIMarc Genest, care to comment?

  • 13:24:15

    GENESTWell, I think that's a great point. Look, 55 percent of all DOD workforce in Iraq and Afghanistan are represented by PMC's -- employees. So the reality of the situation is, we have gone a long way toward privatizing foreign n policy, in particularly security policy. And when you look at where we're going in the future, it's going to be more oriented toward what we call, foreign internal defense.

  • 13:24:36

    GENESTWhich is essentially, training troops. And that's where organizations like Xe and Blackwater and all the others, play a key role. Because they're the ones who are getting the large contracts from allies of the United States to train their troops up. Now, you can look at this in a negative fashion saying that, it's very dangerous to privatize foreign policy goals. But on the other hand, what you're doing is, in the best case, you're professionalizing troops across the world.

  • 13:25:06

    GENESTShowing -- training them in rules of engagement, bring troops here who are already professional military men and women and showing them how to become professional soldiers. So there's a lot of good that private military companies do. It's not just serving food and providing security, it's also training professional military forces. And that can only be good for our allies.

  • 13:25:30

    NNAMDIYou mentioned...

  • 13:25:30

    CARMOLAOne case -- sorry, if I could just add one case here that I'm sure Marc Genest knows about, is the company Vinnell, now it's called Vinnell Arabia, located in Saudi Arabia. And works -- it's been there since 1973 and it trains as a contract to train the Saudi national guard to stand in-between the Saudi royal family and the Saudi Arabian defense forces themselves. So we've had long standing private company that draws on ex-military members to train and help and monitor an internal force in the Saudi Arabian government.

  • 13:26:03


  • 13:26:04

    CARMOLAThat's a good model for this UA.

  • 13:26:04

    NNAMDIMarc Genest mentioned Xe. You should know that is spelled X-E and it's what Blackwater has evolved into, is now a Xe. Marc Mazzetti, you were going to say.

  • 13:26:12

    MAZZETTIYes. I mean, I think that there's a very good point about the cases of very professional private military corporations and contracts that do a lot of the foreign internal defense. I think what was interesting about this project that we reported on, was, from talking to a number of people, how little some of those key questions were asked about rules of engagement, about, well, okay, what if they, you know, instead of just training for a mission, what if the mission goes badly?

  • 13:26:39

    MAZZETTIWhat if civilians are killed? What can you do and what can't you do? By the accounts of people who were in the company throughout, they said that these questions really were never addressed. And, as I said before, when you're putting -- inserting this foreign force into the middle of, maybe, the world's most volatile region, these are some of the things that are important.

  • 13:27:02

    NNAMDIGot to take a short break. When we come back, we will continue this conversation on private security or private military contractors. Our lines are all busy so if you'd like to join the conversation, go to our website, ask a question or make a comment there. Or send us a tweet at kojoshow, I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:29:05

    NNAMDIWelcome back to our conversation on private security or private military contractors. We're talking with Mark Mazzetti. He is a reporter for the New York Times where he's covered national security from the newspapers Washington Bureau since 2006. Joining us from the studios of Middlebury College in Vermont is Kateri Carmola. She's a professor of political philosophy at Middlebury College and author the book, "Private Security Contractors and the Age of New Wars.: Risk, Law and Ethics."

  • 13:29:31

    NNAMDIAnd Marc Genest is a professor of strategy and policy and co-director at the center for irregular warfare and armed groups at the U.S. Naval War College. Directly onto the telephones. Here is Jim in Annapolis, Md. Jim, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:29:49

    JIMYes, thank you very much. I have two questions. First question had to deal with the -- there was some speculation a couple years ago when the contractors were ambushed in Fallujah, that the -- I was listening on CSPAN and there was speculation that these individuals were whistle blowers. And actually they were set up being short on their -- put short on their security patrol.

  • 13:30:15

    JIMIs there any truth or rumors to that, facts of that? And the second thing has to deal with, my understanding also, the private business people during Hurricane Katrina hired certain security contractors down in New Orleans and they got into some sort of confrontation with the New Orleans police, not knowing who they were or what they were supposed to do when they saw these heavily armed people down there. Could you comment on that, please?

  • 13:30:44

    NNAMDIMarc Mazzetti, do you know about either of those?

  • 13:30:46

    MAZZETTIThe Fallujah story, I've never heard of, that they were whistle blowers and that's a pretty serious allegation that they were -- they were given short security because of that. So I don't believe that to be true. The Hurricane Katrina role of Blackwater is true. They did send a number of Blackwater guards to New Orleans, post-Katrina, and I don't know about the -- any incidents with the New Orleans police, our other guests may.

  • 13:31:17

    NNAMDIYou know anything about that, Kateri Carmola?

  • 13:31:20

    CARMOLAI do know there was tension between the local police forces and the Blackwater contractors. Partly because they were much more heavily armed than the local police forces could be and partly because there's just tension between contractors and regular police and military.

  • 13:31:33

    NNAMDIMarc Genest?

  • 13:31:34

    GENESTWell, I do know that Blackwater actually uses a lot of their airlift capabilities to help with bringing in goods and services to the area as well as security.

  • 13:31:43

    NNAMDIAnd, Mark Mazzetti, you and your colleagues at the New York Times reported about the United Arab Emirates deal from former employees of Reflex Responses or R2. It seems like a lot of people involved, have already jumped ship, why?

  • 13:31:58

    MAZZETTIThere's been a lot of turnover at the company, over the last year. Different management and people from all levels that, sort of, the training level up to the top. And so it's been a rocky first year for the company. And in terms of why, we've heard all sorts of stories. But many people say, they thought there was a lack of professionalism within the company. Some thought that, they were staked with all this money and no one really had a clear idea of what to do.

  • 13:32:31

    MAZZETTISome reported some tensions with the Emirate government, in that they were asking for too much. And so people have left for different reasons. But most of the country -- we have heard that it was not -- it was the last, particularly, 10 months were -- did not go so well for the company.

  • 13:32:54

    NNAMDIOnto Hal, in Fairfax, VA. Hal, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:33:00

    HALYes, thank you for taking my call. As I listen to this conversation, a great deal of it reminds me of the old school of the Americas. It's under a different name now, it used to be located down in Fort Benning, GA. That trained just so many of the Latin American despots that you had back in the 1980s and early '90s. And I'm just thinking of the amount of blow back that arose from that over many years.

  • 13:33:25

    HALIt cost us just all kinds of problems. In that, I'm thinking that, instead of militarizing our foreign policy or privatizing or whatever you choose to call it, should we not invest more in possibly our foreign services to solve many of these problems in the Middle East or at least make some attempt to solve them from the standpoint of the Shi'a, the Sunni Shi'a divide, so on and so forth.

  • 13:33:54

    HALIt just seems like we're -- we always seem to take the military option first instead of attempting to remove some of these despots and move down a new path. And also, a good book concerning this...

  • 13:34:12

    NNAMDIWell, allow me to have Kateri Carmola, who herself has written a good book, to talk about this, Kateri.

  • 13:34:18

    CARMOLAThanks. I'm glad that he brought up the school of the Americas because when Marc Genest was talking earlier about training internal defenses, I thought immediately of the school of the Americas which has a bad rap and that might be a reason why we're trying to privatize this. And I agree entirely with what Hal is saying. As a -- and it also goes back to the idea that, Erik Prince says he wants to become a teacher but he's not training teachers. He's training soldiers in a way.

  • 13:34:45

    NNAMDIMarc Genest...

  • 13:34:45

    GENESTCan I jump --yeah. The -- first of all, the school of the Americas had an unfair reputation because they were trying to actually professionalize soldiers from all over Central American and South America. And then the fact that they couldn't control what they did after they graduated from school, you can't really blame the school of Americas for that. It's like saying that, any student I've ever had commits a bad act is my fault.

  • 13:35:10

    GENESTSo that's one. And the second aspect is, this -- the reason why the school of Americas gets such a bad reputation is precisely the reason why we're privatizing because it's too politically volatile of an issue. So that, if you're going to be training soldiers around the world, and these soldiers are not going to abide by your training, then you're going to get the United States or Western European governments who will get blamed for their behavior.

  • 13:35:35

    GENESTSo by privatizing, you're actually creating a barrier between the country that's supporting the privatization and the professionalization of military all over the world and what would happen as a result of their misbehavior, or of potential misbehavior. So it's a politically astute thing for the United States to do and that's why you're going to have an increase in privatization rather than going back to the traditional route where you have department of state and department of defense directly training people.

  • 13:36:04

    NNAMDIHal, thank...

  • 13:36:04

    CARMOLABut if I can just ask Marc Genest one thing?

  • 13:36:06


  • 13:36:06

    CARMOLAI mean, one thing that happened in Egypt when the uprising was going on there, is we really stressed that the U.S. military and the Egyptian military had cross-trained for quite a long time and our military does do a lot of cross-training and have all sorts of relationships with our allies. And so this is going to go on at the same time as your -- as this continued partnering with allied militaries or are you saying that that partnering is going to drop off and we're going to have an increase in privatization?

  • 13:36:33

    GENESTNo. In the upper echelons, for example, we have troops from all over the world, officers from all over the world...

  • 13:36:38


  • 13:36:38

    GENEST...come to the Naval War College. So the connections that we have are with high level officers. And the lower level, because it's so expensive to train troops, is probably going to be more and more privatized, though I do know that the United States Army is now trying to create a group that specializes in foreign internal defense so that we can use more of that.

  • 13:37:03

    GENESTBut again, the rising demand in the world for security necessitates that one country, even a great super power like the United States, can't provide all of these services. And that's why the private sector is taking a larger and larger role.

  • 13:37:17

    NNAMDIHal, thank you very much for your call. Mark Mazzetti, you report that one condition of this contract, speaking of image, is that R2 won't hire Muslims. Is the United Arab Emirates concerned that their existing military could -- wouldn't be effective if, say, Iran invades?

  • 13:37:37

    MAZZETTIAnd there was a few reasons. I think, the UAE, in particularly the crown prince who is also the head of the military, does not believe his military is as capable of fighting UA's enemies. And so, that was a concern. It was, bring me foreign troops because they're better. The other is that there was concern about higher raising a Muslim army that would be used to be put down on rest or launch special operations missions.

  • 13:38:10

    MAZZETTIIt would be a culturally problematic if they had to kill other Muslims. And that the -- it was an easier solution to hire non-Muslims for this foreign force.

  • 13:38:21

    NNAMDIWe got a comment posted on our website, Marc Genest that, "The people needed to equip and provide for a military force, either must come from within or outside. The end of the draft created many unintended consequences, this is a vivid one." What do you say, Marc Genest?

  • 13:38:38

    GENESTI'm not quite sure. If they're talking about the fact that our troops, the number of troops that we have, have shrunk over the last decade or two since -- or 20, 30 years since the Vietnam war, then I would agree. But our ability to sustain very large numbers is just beyond our budgetary capacity right now. So what the government is doing is literally taking a realistic response or making a realistic response to the budgetary realities that confront us right now.

  • 13:39:07

    NNAMDIWe're talking about private security contractors and inviting your calls at 800-433-8850. How do you think these groups should be regulated, 800-433-8850? Here is Greg in Northwest Washington, D.C. Greg, your turn.

  • 13:39:23

    GREGGreat, thank you very much, Kojo. Hugely interesting topic. Where's the peace dividend fall into this? And I've got real ethical questions about, you know, all this privatization of things. You're not fighting for God and country, now you're doing security instead of calling it fighting or defending. And you're doing for paychecks. I mean, where does this start, where does this end?

  • 13:39:45

    GREGThis is not an astute direction that should have all this unheralded growth. This is where -- and I'm a capitalist. This is where capitalists goes a bit awry. I'd appreciate any comment.

  • 13:39:55


  • 13:39:56

    CARMOLAThat's a wonderful comment. You get good comments on this show. The problem is, that there's a shift from the God and country model that he was just talking about to exactly what Marc Genest was just saying, a professional model. And it does have to do with the end of a draft, and so you have less nationalism, and more professionalism. A certain kind of professionalized military, which means that you can have professional training across all sorts of countries, and you can link up under a different model.

  • 13:40:23

    CARMOLALess the military soldiering model, and more the idea that these are professionals who have perhaps a professional code of ethics. That might be way some of them jumped ship, in the case that Mark Mazzetti was just talking about how there's been changes this last year. But it is a different shift in the way in which we're imagining security and be extension warfare.

  • 13:40:43

    NNAMDIGreg, thank you so much for your call. Mark Mazzetti, security contractors are sometimes referred to as profiteers. There's no doubt that there's a lot of money at stake. How big is the private security business?

  • 13:40:56

    MAZZETTIWell, two of the guests maybe could put a number on it better than I could, but it's certainly an -- is expanding industry, it is -- as they've said, all of the strains inside just take the U.S. for example, that our own military experiences means they have to outsource so much of what the basic functions of the military does. And so that is a lot -- there's a lot of room for making a profit.

  • 13:41:23

    MAZZETTIAnd if you then look at other countries -- for instance, just take the UAE. I mean, the UAE is awash with money, and in many ways it is a country if you go there, everything is outsourced in the UAE. Every -- all the labor, everything is done by foreigners. And so this is a way -- an extension of it, you're -- you have the money to spend and so you're buying a military. So it is -- there are opportunities in this country and there's opportunities overseas.

  • 13:41:52

    NNAMDICare to put a number on anything, Kateri?

  • 13:41:55

    CARMOLAYeah. It's -- again, it depends on what you're defining as the private security industry, but usually the number that's batted around is something like $100 billion worldwide. And Blackwater itself sees about 1 billion in business per year. I -- oh, let me just add one last thing. I urge everyone to look at Mark Mazzetti's article and the contract, because although the contract itself is very vague, and the rules of engagement and so forth are very vague, the specific amount of money goes right down to -- I think it end with 13 cents, or 20 cents in the UAE denomination. It goes right down to the cents, how much money they're gonna get.

  • 13:42:31

    NNAMDIGotta take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue this conversation on private security or private military contractors. You can still call us, 800-433-8850, but if the lines are busy, you can go to our website, You can go there anyway. Send us an email to, or a tweet @kojoshow. If you've worked for or with a private security contractor, what was that experience like for you? I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

  • 13:44:41

    NNAMDIBack to our conversation on private security contractors. We're talking with Marc Genest. He's a professor and strategy and policy and co-director of the Center on Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the U.S. Naval War College. Mark Mazzetti is a correspondent for the New York Times. He's covered national security from the newspaper's Washington bureau since 2006. And Kateri Carmola is a professor of political philosophy at Middlebury College, author of the book "Private Security Contractors in the Age of New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics."

  • 13:45:12

    NNAMDIKateri, I mentioned earlier that Blackwater has evolved into Xe, spelled X-E, Services and is trying to revamp its image. Apart from the new name, what is it trying to reboot?

  • 13:45:26

    CARMOLAWhat is it -- you mean, what services...

  • 13:45:28


  • 13:45:28 it trying to offer, or how is it trying to get away from its negative image?

  • 13:45:31


  • 13:45:32

    CARMOLAIt has a unique place in the industry because of its connections to its CIA work, its State Department work, and the kinds of services that it tends to offer. It really is at the tip of the spear as Peter Singer would say in terms of the kinds of services that it offers as close to combat as you can get, or as close to a lot of black operations as you can get.

  • 13:45:55

    CARMOLAAnd so in trying to revamp it, it interesting enough it just hired retired Admiral Bobby Inman, who was the former director of the CIA as well as the defense intelligence agency, and the national security agency. So in -- it's a convoluted way to revamp your image when you're hiring someone from within those kinds of government agencies.

  • 13:46:17

    NNAMDIAnd of course, Erik Price is no longer involved in Xe Services, but Xe isn't the only security contractor. Have others -- how have others managed to stay out of the spotlight?

  • 13:46:30

    CARMOLAYou're still talking to me?

  • 13:46:30

    NNAMDIYes, I am.

  • 13:46:31

    CARMOLAThey've stayed out of the spotlight partly because the spotlight's been so dominated by Xe, and other companies like DynCorp or Triple Canopy or Vanil (sp?) the one I was mentioning earlier, can work off of that. Their scandals that are -- tend to be smaller. They tend to cover them better. They tend to react to them better, but there are scandals attached, especially with companies like Armor Group or DynCorp or Triple Canopy, smaller scandals.

  • 13:47:00

    NNAMDIWhat is your understanding, Marc Genest, of how the rules of engagement differ for private contract soldiers compared to those of the military?

  • 13:47:09

    GENESTWell, theoretically, they don't. In fact, that's one of the things that Erik Prince always argued, that he was bound by U.S. rules of engagement, and did everything he could to have his troops maintain those rules. And again, if you compare it to, you know, do American troops always abide by all rules of engagement, we train them to do it, we work with them abide by the rules of engagement, but they're human beings, and human beings make mistakes. So you want to hold the companies the same criteria as you do professional soldiers.

  • 13:47:39

    GENESTBut on the other hand, again, we're getting into that murky international law aspect, and even domestic law, is how can we hold these private military companies accountable for the actions of their employees? And I think one of the repercussions of this as you see that Prince leaves the United States essentially because he doesn't want to be held responsible for every employee of his company. And that's why he left, because he felt it was more astute for him to practice his craft elsewhere where they're not held as accountable.

  • 13:48:10

    NNAMDIAnd Mark Mazzetti, to what extent are -- Americans who find themselves in one of these forces, to what extent could they find themselves in violation of American laws?

  • 13:48:21

    MAZZETTIWell, this goes back to this murky area of the law. But there's an irony here that the ground level people on this operation, if we're taking the UAE operation, the sort of grunts who were doing the training may be actually in more legal jeopardy than anyone high up who's an American in the company. Because they're actually doing the training, they could, in essence, if there are operations with this battalion, be part of the operation and then you really are potentially running afoul of American law.

  • 13:48:51

    MAZZETTISo that is -- I know that was a concern for some in the company that this was not fully thought through. And if I'm an American, and I'm out there training this battalion and no one hire up is thinking about what American laws I may violate, you know, would I lose my citizenship? Would I no longer be able to come back to the United States? Am I in essence committing treason by fighting for a foreign government? These are all really thorny issues.

  • 13:49:21

    NNAMDII heard Erik Prince's name...

  • 13:49:21

    GENESTCould I jump in for...

  • 13:49:22

    NNAMDI...I heard Erik Prince's name again so I just better mention this again. His representative told us this morning that he's a private citizen now living in the United Arab Emirates, known to be consulting on energy and agricultural security among other types of security, but has no ownership role in the company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2. Please jump in Marc Genest.

  • 13:49:43

    GENESTWell, I think the last point was really superb in that there's the law of unintended consequences, where if we make it too difficult for Americans to participate in private military companies, you're literally outsourcing it to either European or third-world companies that are going to take over, and they're probably gonna have lower standards than American companies.

  • 13:50:05

    GENESTSo we have to find this happy medium here where we're allowing Americans to continue to, you know, own and operate private military companies, while at the same time, because you want to uphold the standards as much as possible. So we have to watch out. If we overregulate this industry and don't allow Americans to participate in this kind of private military company organization, than we may actually be reducing global standards.

  • 13:50:33

    NNAMDIHere's David in San Francisco, Ca. Hi, David. You're on the air. Go ahead, please.

  • 13:50:38

    DAVIDBoy, I'm just shocked by that last answer that your guest gave. I'm a historian, and the issue of privateers, Blackbeard the pirate and many of the others, were essentially helping to protect the assets of the super wealthy scoundrels of centuries past. So in other words, they stole massive amounts of assets, they transferred them overseas, then they created private armies, and had the private armies protect their assets while they were essentially in hiding. And so it took decades for...

  • 13:51:17

    NNAMDIYou think we're seeing a reproduction of that today?

  • 13:51:19

    DAVIDOh, absolutely. And it makes sense. When you look at the subprime looting, you look at the Nazis and the Confederates and the whole variety of scoundrels that have plagued the Earth for the last few decades, you know, what happened to the Nazi gold? Why did that never get captured, you know...

  • 13:51:38

    NNAMDIOkay. I think whether or not the details of that correspond with the details of what we're seeing today is something we can't go into now. But I'd simply like to hear Kateri Carmola comment on the notion that what's going on here with these so-called private security contractors is that they are simply protecting our vested economic interests.

  • 13:52:01

    CARMOLAWell, the U.S. military does the same thing so I don't want to downplay the notion that there is something nefarious going on. On the other hand, I think that what we're talking about is a different model of doing a lot of the same things. And so in that way I do back up Marc Genest's previous comment. If you just -- and I just wanted to go back to the idea that if you look at the military, the responsibility that a commander has for those operating underneath him is relatively high.

  • 13:52:29

    CARMOLAIn a contract, you can just get rid of -- if someone behaves badly down on the -- lower on the chain of command, you can just release them from the contract and your liability -- how liability is assessed is very, very different than from within the military.

  • 13:52:45


  • 13:52:45

    GENESTAnd if I could say one thing about...

  • 13:52:46

    NNAMDIPlease go ahead, Marc Genest.

  • 13:52:47

    GENEST...privateer. John Paul Jones was a privateer. The U.S. -- I mean, United States wouldn't be a country without the use of privateers. So we have a longstanding history of privatizing our military and it's nothing -- something that's brand new. This has been going on since the outside of the Republic.

  • 13:53:06

    NNAMDIThank you very much for your call, David. We got this email from Peter in France. "I'm terribly concerned that we spend hundreds of thousands training special ops military forces, only to see them go out the door to work for private contractors for a lot more money doing stuff we used to have done by our military." And an email we got from Michael said, "I thought one definition of a government is that it has a monopoly on the use of deadly force. If the U.S. government gives away this monopoly to private contractors, does that weaken it as a government?" Marc Genest?

  • 13:53:39

    GENESTIt can. And again, it's balance. The idea of privatizing too much of foreign policy and of security undermines our ability to control it, and to be held accountable for it. And that is the biggest risk we take in increasing outsources of security firms. And that's why I would really support more U.N. resolutions, and a greater international law -- a role for international law here to help regulate these groups.

  • 13:54:08

    GENESTBut the sad part is this is happening. You're not gonna be able to prevent it. You’re not gonna be able to prevent the proliferation of private military companies because there's so much profit to be made, and because of the constraints of military budgets worldwide. So the best thing that we can do is try to regulate the market as well as we can.

  • 13:54:27

    NNAMDIMark Mazzetti, the notion that we can't stop it, if indeed there was a private Army being built in not just the United Emirates but say, oh, in Iran or in Syria. Would it, if it were in serious conflict with U.S. foreign policy, what -- what can our government do about that?

  • 13:54:44

    MAZZETTIWell, as we've seen, there are mercenaries being used around the world. They have been obviously for decades and for centuries. Very recently, we see Moammar Gadhafi using mercenaries in Libya. This would be against American foreign policy so that would be the counterpoint to what is happening in the UAE, and I think that both the other guests are right. This is not going away. It is a trend that's going to continue.

  • 13:55:10

    MAZZETTINot only is there a lot of money in it, but there are capabilities that exist outside of a country that a country might want to import. So we are going to see more and more of this. I mean, the UAE is kind of an interesting case because you have a small country, the population is small of the actual Emirates, and they are fabulously wealthy, and -- each and every one of them. And they think well, why should I fight, many of them.

  • 13:55:39

    MAZZETTIAnd so they -- the government is then faced with this dilemma, well, how do we defend ourselves?

  • 13:55:44

    NNAMDIKateri, lots of professionals have to be licensed to prove that they meet the qualifications their job requires and won't do any harm. How do you think licensing would help this industry?

  • 13:55:54

    CARMOLAThat's actually the idea that I think has to be promoted. Both what Marc Genest was talking about, some kind of international law that applies to them, but also just licensing for individual contractors, just like you would license individual doctors or individual lawyers. We have professionals all around the world that have to have licenses to do what they do, and there's plenty of international doctors working in the UAE that have to show their credentials in order to operate there.

  • 13:56:19

    CARMOLASo that kind action I think would help professionalize the individuals who are engaged in this and could help monitor the companies that then do proliferate.

  • 13:56:28

    NNAMDIHere is Kristie in Alexandria, Va. Kristie, your turn.

  • 13:56:34

    KRISTIEHi. I just wanted to, as a citizen and a voter, express my strong objections to privatizing security, including licensing and any steps to legitimize it. I think if you look at history when so much of your energy and resources as a nation going to paying for war makers that institutionalize war as a mindset. What are these guys gonna do when they come home?

  • 13:56:57

    KRISTIEWe always have -- already have post-traumatic stress issues with soldiers that come home. And also, the issue of training private -- having private corporations, trained soldiers in other countries, that one grants plausible deniability to our government for things that happened in that, and also remove any -- removes the weight and the clout that our government would have to make sure that those soldiers are used appropriately.

  • 13:57:26

    NNAMDIOkay. We're running out of time, Kristie. So let me have Marc Genest respond in 30 seconds or less. She feels the U.S. government is losing control, Marc Genest.

  • 13:57:35

    GENESTWell, if she wants to increase her taxes by about 15 to 20 percent to have a much larger defense capacity for the United States, then we can resolve the issue. But the reality of it is, this is going to happen. Look, all of her concerns are very, you know, very true, and I'm very concerned with that as well. The question you have is do you deny reality, or do you try to deal with the reality of the 21st century and the proliferation of these groups in a constructive manner? And I think that's the only realistic alternative to look for more licensing.

  • 13:58:05

    NNAMDIMarc Genest is a professor of strategy and policy and co-director of the Irregular Warfare and Armed Groups at the U.S. Naval War College. Mark Mazzetti is a correspondent for the New York Times. He's covered national security from the newspaper's Washington bureau since 2006. And Kateri Carmola is a professor of political philosophy at Middlebury College, author of the book "Private Security Contractors in the Age of New Wars: Risk, Law & Ethics." I'm Kojo Nnamdi.

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