Commentary

Micromanaging Security Contractors

One of the most common criticisms about private security contractors is that there are insufficient rules governing their actions.

But the truth is, there is and always has been a way to ensure that contractors act the way the client, as in the U.S. government or other private sector firms, wants. And that is to simply write it into the contract.

And now, we have documentary evidence that this is what the U.S. government has been doing. Recently, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request, I obtained a section of the Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract that the State Department issued for protection of its personnel and facilities. This is the contract that is split between Blackwater, Triple Canopy and DynCorp.

According to a Congressional Budget Office report issued last month, nearly 3,000 security contractors work directly for the State Department in Iraq.

The document, which is just the specifications section of the contract, details what Blackwater is required to do. And, even though numerous pages of the 187-page document were blank, it details numerous requirements.

How quickly should Blackwater and the State Department be able to contact each other? The contract requires the department’s Diplomatic Security office to “be able to communicate on a reliable, and prompt (sometimes in a matter of minutes) basis with a Contractor management point of contact.”

How well trained are the contractors? The contractor is required to “establish and implement a personal protection security training capability.” The program must be approved by DS, and the government reserves the right to inspect it.

The contract even details workplace issues. For example, guards doing static security, as in guarding facilities, must work for not more than 12 consecutive hours in a 24-hour period, except under emergency conditions as authorized by the contracting officer, and the individual guard work week should not exceed 72 hours. All guards get a 15-minute break once every four hours.

The contractor is required to provide all necessary logistical support. This includes, among other things, clothing, weapons, vaults and ammunition storage facilities meeting DS standards, cell phones, hand-held radios (similar to Motorola model XTS3000, which retails for about $2,000), vehicles, load-bearing vests, utility belts, pepper spray and morale needs.

That last point helps explain why contractors, unlike military personnel, can have their own bars, although a guard must not drink for at least eight hours prior to assuming duty.

Given that contractors are often shot at while transporting their clients, the contract requires the contractor to employ a “factory-certified vehicle mechanic” to maintain the Protective Services detail vehicles.

What requirements must an American citizen meet to be a security contractor? To start, be at least 21 years old, have a valid driver’s license and passport, an unblemished personal and, if appropriate, military record. He must be in good physical condition and submit evidence of having passed a physical fitness test prior to and within 30 days of deployment. He must be proficient in defensive driving techniques and be familiar with first aid procedures. He also must meet minimum firearms proficiency, including familiarity with every weapon used on a detail, and have fired every weapon at an acceptable level of proficiency.

In order to get a security clearance, a contractor must fill in and submit at least nine different forms, ranging from fingerprint cards to credit bureau reports. The screening process also includes, but is not limited to, past work history going back 10 years, police record checks and psychological screening.

What about weapons? According to the contract, Blackwater must ensure that guards’ weapons are properly maintained, including:

  • all weapons shall be cleaned weekly at a designated location.
  • all cleaning supplies shall be provided.
  • weekly cleaning logs shall be maintained, listing each weapon by make, model, serial number and the date on which it was cleaned.

The contractor is also required to employ armorers on site to perform this maintenance. And he must attend a DS class before being assigned to the post. He also must be factory-certified for each weapon furnished to the Protective Services details.

The contract even specifies the requirements for the Odor Recognition Proficiency Test that an explosives-detecting dog must meet, including being able to recognize 10 different explosives.

At times the requirements in the contract seem a bit surreal. It states that “guards will be polite and courteous in performance of their duties. They will not use abusive language.” Considering the working conditions, that seems a bit much to expect.

The contractor is also supposed to ensure that no weapons are misused, mishandled or fired negligently. However, the contract does not specify how the contractor is supposed to ensure that.

More importantly, when can a contractor use his weapon? The contract is quite clear. It states:

a. Deadly Force will only be used after all non-violent efforts are exhausted to stop a life-threatening disturbance at any post manned by the guards.

b. Deadly Force will only be used to protect the life of the guard or person on the post from lethal bodily harm by another individual or individuals. The oral threat of bodily harm is insufficient justification for the use of Deadly Force.

c. Abusive and/or obscene language directed at the guard or another individual is insufficient justification for the use of Deadly Force.

d. Any person attempting to use lethal force on a guard, or lethally assaulting the guard or another individual, or in any way causing the death of another individual, constitutes sufficient justification for the use of Deadly Force.

e. The use of Deadly Force represents the last resort by a guard for the restoration of order.

Are there consequences if a contractor screws up? The contract says that if a contractor is discharged or returned to the United States, or a third country in the case of foreign nationals, because of dissatisfaction with the assignment or for unsatisfactory performance, the contractor shall be assigned negative incentive.

U.S. Navy veteran David Isenberg is a military affairs analyst. He is an adjunct scholar with the Cato Institute and the author of a forthcoming book, Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq.