Protection for “Haves” in Bush’s Ownership Society

The corporate, rightist aim to privatize all aspects of society now includes a private military services industry that does what has long been considered the province of publicly funded traditional military forces. The growth of this industry in recent years has been meteoric.

According to the Global Facilitation Network for Security Sector Reform, private military companies (PMCs) “typically provide military combat services … as well as military training and intelligence”, while private security companies (PSCs) “provide actual security for commercial interests and/or government interests, close protection of VIPs, risk assessment and risk analyses.” Authors add, however, that “with the diversification of these companies and the massive contracts that they now command, there is huge overlap in the work they do, and it is not uncommon to find major PMCs and PSCs offering the same service.”

Although contracting companies avoid the word “mercenary”, the label fits, because military talent is recruited by them from around the world. In 2004, Gary Jackson, president of Blackwater, one of dozens of private security organizations in Iraq, candidly told the Guardian “We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals.” Indeed they do, having recruited, among others, soldiers from Chile, some of whom served during the regime of dictator Augusto Pinochet when 3,000 citizens were assassinated.

What portends trouble is that a private military serves whoever pays, government or private interest, foreign or domestic. With 1% of American households now owning 40% of household wealth and earning half of all capital income (according to Business Week, 2004), and with the nation’s wealth continuing this mad upward dash into the hands of a tiny minority of billionaire “haves”, a situation is emerging in which such a wealthy tier will be needing more than simply gated communities. In The Lessons of History, historians Will and Ariel Durant wrote “We conclude that the concentration of wealth is natural and inevitable, and is periodically alleviated by violent or peaceable partial redistribution.” The growing armies of the private security industry make “peaceable” partial redistribution ever less likely.

The northern Michigan town of Pellston recently gained attention as the site of a 700-acre “national response center” for a private security company, Sovereign Deed. In October, retired Marine brigadier general Richard Mills, Sovereign Deed’s “executive VP for strategic development” and a former deputy director of operations for the US European Command, said that the federal government has insufficient funds to protect all U.S. citizens in case of major catastrophe or terrorism, but that his company will offer protection for an initial fee of $50,000 followed by $15,000 per annum. One wonders, though, who would benefit from a service with such a stellar price tag. Also, who in contemporary America would decide what kinds of citizen demonstrations or expressed opinions would or would not constitute terrorist activity? Many Americans remember very well the COINTELPRO program directed toward U.S. citizens in the 1960s by their FBI.

Modern private militias are larger than the old body guard image by orders of magnitude and qualify as true armies. In an interview with Petoskey News, Mills described the scope of Sovereign Deed’s physical essentials as including a hangar for a fleet that would contain helicopters and aircraft similar to C-130s. Also of concern is Sovereign Deed’s claim of advance information on intelligence regarding security threats, particularly since the government has admitted that 70 percent of its intelligence budget is going to private contractors. Michigan citizens may be particularly leery of Sovereign Deed due to their familiarity with Eric Prince, founder of Blackwater, which security company is reportedly planning to add fighter jets to its arsenal. Prince, from a prominent Republican family in Michigan, is a financial backer of right wing political causes. Blackwater is most emphatically not politically neutral.

The rush to privatize America, aided by massive tax cuts that drive the nation into deep debt, is advancing with virtually no coverage by a corporate-owned media dedicated to privatization. In recent days, the national debt passed nine trillion dollars, up from 5.6 trillion when Bush took office. As Princeton economist Paul Krugman wrote in 2003, the current Administration “want[s] to do away with the social and economic system we have, and the fiscal crisis they are concocting may give them the excuse they need.”

As the private military industry continues its remarkable growth, there has come a particularly ominous presidential executive order on July 17, 2007 “blocking property of certain persons who threaten stabilization efforts in Iraq”. Such a broad brush would certainly include anti-war protesters. And who, having witnessed recent judgments from Bush’s Department of Justice, would doubt that the understanding of “certain persons” could be easily enlarged to ensnare anyone who opposes the Administration in any of its other spheres of interest? “Blocking property” is cutting off access to one’s bank accounts, an effective way to neutralize adversaries by sending them suddenly into survival mode.

Regarding private armies, the country had a chance to see a small segment in action when, in the wake of Katrina, some 150 assault weapon-bearing Blackwater mercenaries, having been hired by the Department of Homeland Security at $950/soldier/day, deputized by Louisiana and given authority to make arrests and to use lethal force, were suddenly seen on the streets of New Orleans. While there, the company, the predations of which in Iraq have recently become an international scandal, began to contract out to property owners. Jamie Wilson, writing for the Guardian, was blunt: “Hundreds of mercenaries have descended on New Orleans to guard the property of the city’s millionaires from looters.”

Because a function of private militias is “crowd control”, there is raised the uncomfortable question of who, exactly, will make up the crowds to be controlled in the growing two-tiered “ownership society” in which major decisions are being made by a super wealthy, secretive elite. In any event, this October, New York Times columnist Frank Rich reported that of the 180,000 private contractors operating in Iraq, 48,000 are believed to be security personnel. Writing for the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), Christopher Kinsley declared in 2005 “There is every reason to believe the market for military services will expand.”

Bill Willers is an emeritus professor of biology, University of Wisconsin at Oshkosh. He is founder of the Superior Wilderness Action Network and editor of Learning to Listen to the Land, and Unmanaged Landscapes, both from Island Press. He can be contacted at Read other articles by Bill.

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  1. AJ Nasreddin said on November 12th, 2007 at 9:20am #

    Sounds like “Private Security” is the sector everyone should try to get into!