Miller Center

American Forum - Mercenaries or Patriots: Privatizing American Security

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The Miller Center is a nonpartisan institute that seeks to provide critical insights for the nation’s governance challenges.

Ann Hagedorn, Erik Prince
April 15, 2015
11:00AM - 12:30PM (EDT)

Ann Hagedorn
Ann Hagedorn

Erik Prince
Erik Prince

Television Broadcast: May 3, 2015

ANN HAGEDORN, author of The Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security, and ERIK PRINCE, founder of the famously controversial Blackwater private-security company, discuss and debate whether the U.S. has made a mistake in its growing reliance on private para-military operators. Prince is the author of the new book, Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Hagedorn is a former reporter at the Wall Street Journal and instructor at Northwestern University and Columbia University. Her book examines private military and security companies that have profited from the trend, and profiles members of Congress who see dangers in the practice but have been unable to limit it.  Photo Credit for Ann Hagedorn, Jeanie Wulfkuhiefor; for Erik Prince, Bingo Rimér

Transcript

Douglas Blackmon:  Welcome back to the Miller Center’s American Forum.  In our continuing special series, Aftermath of the Endless War, reckoning with the profound effects on America, its people, and our national security of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower departed the White House with a famous farewell warning to the American people to “guard against the … influence…of a rising “military–industrial complex.”  When President Eisenhower said that in 1961, he was talking mostly about the makers of guns and bombs—not privately financed armies.  But in fact America has a long history with mercenary military forces. Even before the concept of the United States had taken hold, Americans in British uniform battled alongside hired Iroquois fighters against the French and their native allies. A key moment of the American Revolution came when George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776 and took by surprise 900 drunken and distracted German fighters unclear on exactly why they had been hired by the English King to help suppress what looked to be a hopeless American insurgency against the greatest military power in the world.  Americans in 1776 were offended by Britain’s use of soldiers-for-hire.  But in recent years, the United States has become enormously dependent on contemporary versions of such fighting forces. Without a draft, America’s all-volunteer army has been unable to meet the demands of the war on terror and turned to the assistance of private armies, an ancient answer to the difficulty of modern warfare in a society unwilling to shoulder the massive shared sacrifices that war has historically demanded of every nation. Hundreds of thousands of private contractors have provided support or direct military and security services to protect diplomats, embassies, and other critical American targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands remain in those countries today. Oftentimes, the number of contractors has matched or exceeded U.S. military personnel in those areas. The initial toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan was substantially credited to the work of private forces contracted by the CIA. In 2010, the Washington Post reported that 265,000 contractors had high-level security clearances, making up almost one-third of the entire U.S. intelligence workforce. Our guests today hold sharply different views on the effectiveness, impact on our national security, and perhaps morality of this new dimension of American military practice. Joining us are Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and founding CEO of Blackwater, once the best-known and most controversial private military contractor. He is also the author of Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.Also joining us is Ann Hagedorn, an award-winning journalist and author. Her most recent book, Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security, is a sharp critique of the increasing privatization of US security.  Thank you both for joining us.

00:18:57;00              Blackmon: This is a big topic, a complicated topic.  It’s also one that’s been in the news recently and let’s just start right there – Black- your former firm Blackwater’s been in the news. Four Blackwater employees, Erik, were sentenced recently to long prison terms in connection with a very controversial episode from 2007 in which Blackwater contractors ended up in a firefight, at the end of which there were 14 Iraqi civilians, 17 by some other accounts, who were killed.

00:19:24:01              Erik Prince: It was actually 11.

00:19:24:23              Blackmon:  Eleven. The – why those numbers can move around is a mystery to me. But – but – but recently, the- four of those former employees were sentenced to long prison terms, one to life in prison, the other three to 30 year prison terms and another contractor pleaded guilty and testified in the trial of- of those others. In the past and in your book, you’ve – you’ve for the most part I think taken the position that to defend what had happened that day. And those – and all of those gentlemen who were recently sentenced maintain their innocence and are appealing their sentences and we should say that. But at this stage of the game, what’s your – where do you stand on what happened and the outcome of those court cases?

00:20:06;17              Prince: Look, any innocent loss of life is a tragedy. But making – but forcing people to make snap judgments in a war zone a few minutes after a large car bomb had gone off requires clear decision-making. And, you know, we’d asked for cameras, we’d asked for cameras in writing, to prevent this very kind of thing, the same kind of thing that you see in police shooting controversies, of a dashboard cam to record so there’s that  third party witness. We’d asked for those, the State Department denied them and now these U.S. military veterans who served the military well, who were there doing a job again under the operation control of the state department, are held to a standard not necessarily by a jury of their peers. You know, it’s hard to have a jury of your peers 7,000 miles away, seven years later, not having to make those kinds of decisions in battle. That being said, and even the charges of – they sentenced them for 30 years based on a – on a firearms charge really designed to go after cocaine traffickers who are using machine guns, not necessarily a government agent under the operation control of the state department, issued a weapon by by the government. So that case was thrown out once already. The government got a conviction this time. The guys have a very strong case for an appeal and I will leave it at that.

                                  Blackmon:  Ann, you write about the same incident in your book and you refi – you refer to it as “privatized mayhem.” Your take on the – on that episode is very critical in your book and you quote extensively from the contractor who testified at the – at the trial on his description of the – of of saying that, in fact, the civilians had not been warned sufficiently, I think would be a fair way to describe it. And that there was indiscriminate shooting, so we really had radical – radically different recollections and understanding – understandings of that event. But what’s your take on it and what’s your – what’s your response to the way that that criminal proceeding where it now stands?

00:22:34:13              Hagedorn: I think we have to get beyond the debate. The debate will continue in court through the appeal, but what is the legacy?  What is the lesson learned and there are many, of course. But um but the main one is that this approach to what happened in terms of the privatization is so symbolized by what happened at Nusoor Square. Nusoor Square was the traffic circle where it had occurred. Because the – the – the reaction of these men who were working for the contractors, who were working for the State Department, and their job was diplomatic security and they were entering into a civilian situation. The guns and initial response was extre – was was violent to a situation that could have been taken – could have been handled in a very different way. And I think what we have to realize is that this strategy for counterinsurgency does not really win the hearts and minds of the population. And so you have to see what the recruitment power was for for the extremist groups and the enemies that were fighting – [interrupted by Blackmon]

00:25:01:01              Blackmon: You mean that that issue became a rallying call interrupted by Hagedorn]

00:25:24:01              Hagedorn: … became a huge rallying call.

                                 Blackmon:  At the time that the incident occurred in 2007, that was – that was at a moment when folks in America really had the feeling that things were just going to hell in a hand-basket in Iraq. Uh and we really couldn’t tell where things were going. It seemed to be very chaotic and in some respects, here have been some people who said private contractors actually ended up being scapegoated to some degree. And it was easier to condemn a group of private “Rambos” as people wanted to think of them rather than facing up to perhaps what would have been a broader debacle of American foreign policy, in terms of the whole situation.

00:28:21:27              Hagedorn:  Well I think that the industry itself and the many companies that were involved I think what is really missed in the story is that there is more to it than Blackwater.  Blackwater was a huge company and still is in a different, a new incarnation but there were many more companies beyond Blackwater and with Blackwater, working with Blackwater in many different functions.  You know some logistic support and armed security for logistic support to air transport interrogations, intelligence and analysis, you know a vast array of services and. . .

00;29:01:09              Blackmon:  But what about the idea. Let me stop you.  What about the idea of have contractors gotten more than their fair share of criticism and scorn? 

00:29:12:12              Hagedorn:  Yes, on a certain level I think that’s true. I think that, but largely on a scale of the equivalent to the numbers of private contractors that there are and our dependence on it I don’t think so because I think that you have to, and it’s our job as journalists, it’s our job citizens of a democracy to be very aware of who is defending us and securing us. 

00:29:38:24              Blackmon:  Let’s hear from Erik on this now.

00:29:39:28              Prince:  You know, in the Vietnam War when you had a draft the anti-war left went after the troops.  This time it was very easy to go after contractors and they created, there is some legitimate controversies and a lot of them overinflated and conflated.  The fact is the United States military is very large, very capable and very expensive.  And we have magnificent conventional capabilities going from Kuwait to Baghdad maneuver warfare taking down the Iraqi army. But when you turn that huge conventional capability now you have to do stability operations and counterinsurgency operations it creates gaps.  Because the army can’t retask that air defense missile man to be a body guard, or a trainer, or a logistics person.  And military finds it cheaper, simpler and more effective to find an Indian or a Pakistani or Bangladeshi that can cook or wash the dishes or do that kind of logistic support functions.  So there’s a wider range of contracted supplied services because nature hates a vacuum.  And if there’s a command given by the commanders on the armed forces ground, someone can step forward and provide those services.  And I disagree with your opening argument about the founding colonists having distain for contractors because you know across the street from the White House you have Lafayette Park.  Lafayette, Rochambeau and Steuben, and Kosciuszko, contractors, mercenaries if you will, came and built the Continental Army.  Nine out of ten ships taken during the American Revolution by privateers.  You would say that’s a privately contracted vessel.

00:31:13:01              Blackmon:  Yea sure, I made reference to the fact and it’s a good point and I think I specifically said and I was referring to the Hessians that they didn’t like.  But the colonists most certainly did.  And they were Native American fighters before the Revolution and during the Revolution, the French. 

00:31:27:25              Prince:  And even the founder of this university, Thomas Jefferson, had a real problem with piracy.  The Barbary Pirates.  He turned to a former army officer, eight marines and 90 contracted mercenaries.  That’s where the Marine’s hymn comes from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.  They marched from Alexandria, took down a garrison and ended up releasing 340 American sailors that had been hostages. 

00:31:49:14              Blackmon:  So there’s a whole history there.

00:31:50:27              Prince:  But it’s old, it’s presence, it’s old as warfare itself and it’s going to be part of warfare in the future.  So I agree there are things we should find on common ground to make it better, more effective because the U.S. military is the most expensive in the world. For 150 years we had a War Department and then we shifted to a Defense Department after World War II and we focused on deterrence.  Now deterrence doesn’t really matter against a death cult like ISIS.  And so you have to find a way to adapt to not a third generation war, ok, maneuver warfare, but a long dwell insurgency.  So you have to focus on being nimble and not having it cost so much.  You can afford to stay there for a long time to sort those things out.

00:32:31:18              Blackmon:  Ann, what were you going to say?

00:32:33:06              Hagedorn:  We’ve always had private contractors in the U.S. government.  But what’s happening now is that the scope has never been wider, worldwide and in the United States our dependency has never been greater and the growth of the industry has, you know, beyond Blackwater has exceeded the level of accountability.  There are efforts for accountability, toward accountability that is the international code of conduct.  Now there are standards that are trying to be imposed on the armed sector of this business but at the same time the growth and the expansion and the intensity of the dependence of various agencies.  It’s not just the Department of Defense, it’s the State Department, Homeland Security, the CIA on and on.  And so there can be a use, I’ve always, I always try to be fair about this and be open minded to see what potential these companies have for our defense and security but how can you utilize them fully without full accountability and transparency.  And those are just words “accountability” and “transparency” but when you look at the details especially the subcontractors.  I think that’s a perfect example because it’s not just the U.S. decides to contract with Blackwater or DynCorp, or Triple Canopy or any of the other companies but often there are layers of subcontractors.  So we have representatives from many countries in South America and Africa, third world nationals.

00:35:21:00              Blackmon:  So what you’re getting at. . .

00:35:24:08              Hagedorn:  And the accountability on these different levels is very difficult to achieve and what I’m saying is that before we go into any second contractors war or before we go into another contingency operation which we are a dependent on private military and security companies we have got to complete the job that has begun but to complete of sufficient accountability.  And there are people who believe that that’s not possible.  When you have an industry that is based on making money from conflict. . .

00:35:58:25              Blackmon:  Let’s have some interaction, ok?  Let’s try to break that down because what you are talking about is a central issue of that, I mean, and it cuts both ways I think, and Erik tell us what you think about this that on the one hand the fact that for instance in Afghanistan that the U.S. was not prepared in September of 2001 to undertake the kind of operation that then was a huge success in Afghanistan and did topple the Taliban.  And so the CIA overwhelmingly was reliant on private contractors who were able to move faster in their own way and had the capacity to do was a huge success story.  The flexibility of private contractors was a big part of that.  At the same time, and we’ve seen in other situations even the one we were just talking about, the question is are private contractors operating with more discretion at times than they can handle?  Do things get out of hand because they’re not operating under the kind of command and control structure, the same kind of command and control structure as the military.  I think that’s the concern of a lot of people.   There are also a lot of other examples.  Benghazi.  What’s your take on that?

00:37:07:27              Prince:  Let me just clarify.  You know people make Blackwater out to be this enormous company.  At its height we never represented more than one tenth of one percent of the defense budget.  So. . .

00:37:18:18              Blackmon:  That’s a big budget.  So that one tenth of one percent is still a pretty big dollar ah. . .

00:37:24:11              Prince:  It’s a tiny number.

00:37:25:24              Blackmon:  The point I’m trying to make thought that I getting at.  When we throw around these big numbers like 250 thousand contractors, that’s not 250 thousand fighting individuals there’s a huge number of cooks and support people who are contractors but a much smaller number of soldiers who are part of that picture.

00:37:43:22              Prince:  Look, the U.S. military, the U.S. government is a particularly lousy buyer of services or goods for that matter.  They don’t buy anything really very cost effectively.  And I agree that the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about has become realized.  When you look at the return on dollars for every dollar that Lockheed or Boeing Northrup spends for ridiculously overpriced programs, I agree.  The taxpayer is not getting good value.  When it comes to buying contractors, contractor support focusing on firm fixed contracts versus cost plus.  Look, if you build a house, right?  You don’t say to the builder tell me what it’s going to be when you’re done.  No, you lock in the price and you build the house.  And it is possible to do more of that through firm-fixed price.  Ninety-seven percent of our contracts, Blackwater's old contracts, were firm-fixed price.  Doing it exactly that way because we knew our business and we knew how to operate it.  Cost-plus gives that incentive to run the meter up as high as you can for the vendor to back charge.... to back charge the tax payer.  So going forward, having more focus on really capable people, in the purchasing ranks, to do that.  You know in the military, not necessarily the, you know, the best and brightest career-wise might go into the infantry, or into the combat arms, there hasn't been as much focus on contracting.  There needs to be more because that’s the military is going to depend on those kind of services going forward.  They need to make vendors step up their game.  

00:39:14;01              Blackmon: And that's on the financial, the efficiency end of it.  What about on more of the command and control question?  You know, are the contractors the ones who are fighting figures not providing support services?  Is there a sufficient mechanism in place at this point that- to. . .

00:39:29;18              Prince: Sure.  Well, look.  We, Blackwater never had fighting figures out there.  We had bodyguards.  

00:39:33;19              Blackmon: Okay.

00:39:43;03              Prince: They might've been armed, but they were not there to fight.  Look, there is significant dysfunction between DOD or CIA or State Department as to how well they're coordinating.  But that goes all the way back to Washington and their dysfunction between those agencies.  So, contractors are not gonna solve that. We just get caught between the plate tectonics of Washington and, and sometimes get made the scapegoat.  

00:39:59;03              Blackmon: Ann you started to refer to that a minute ago.  And really succinctly.  What’s the, what would you say in terms of whether there's a sufficient rules of engagement that can in fact be maintained for private military contractors? I think the suggestion of your book is that there's not sufficient control over and that contractors end up having more discretion than they can handle.  Is that a fair...?

00:40:38;09              Hagedorn:  Well that was certainly true in Iraq, and has been partially true in Afghanistan.  It’s part of what Erik said; it's the nature of the game.  I mean, it's really tha- things- it's combat, you have armed security guards in a war zone.  There's a potential for things to happen.  But there are ways to prevent that.  There are ways to try very hard and harder to prevent that.  

00:41:09;17              Blackmon: And are those things happening?

00: 41:10;18             Hagedorn: And part of that is vetting, training, and also like I said getting control of the subcontractor and of the business.  But there is an effort, there is an international effort, I think I mentioned it before, that’s been in the works since about 2006.  And it's a group of a very large group working on international code of conduct, includes industry representatives, and there are standards.  Now they're at the point of, I think there are 700 companies that signed on to the International Code of Conduct.  And now they're at the point of enforcement, which is the crucial point.  Can you actually enforce standards in this industry? It’s an international industry, it recruits internationally, it performs on all continents, and so uh, this is quite a task. But one thing. . .

00:42:06;28              Blackmon: Is that a legit process?

00:42:09;11              Prince: But look, standards, vetting, screening, all that, much of that was in place already.  Look, Blackwater was performing to an eleven hundred page contract with very detailed standards for psychological evaluations, criminal background check, hundreds of hours of training, prior military experience, all the rest.  It ultimately comes down to judgement.  If you're putting people in a difficult situation, can they make that judgement right every time? And I, you know, I just remind people in October of 2013, there was an incident on Capitol Hill, or outside the White House, where a woman got into a traffic altercation outside of a federal building, federal law enforcement officers open fired on her.  She drove to another venue, they open fired on her again.  They finally gunned her down near the Supreme Court.  What'd they find in the car? No guns, no bombs, no weapons.  A black female dental assistant and her infant child in the back, gunned down with hundreds of rounds fired outside federal buildings.  There had been no car bombs that day, there was no combat in D.C. that day, but those federal officers open fired on and killed an innocent woman.  No human cry.  I can't even imagine the noise would've been made if contractors did that.  So again, people in difficult situation have to make a split second judgement.  And it’s easy to second guess that seven years later, it's tough when you're, when you're sitting there with a thousand pound car bomb rolling at you.

 00:40:10;11             Blackmon: At the same time, though, let’s do not overlook that the fairly substantive role that these military contractors have played in these operations over time.  I mean I think you make the case not just that it’s an efficient way to have bodyguards, but that this is a very effective way, a very effective element, of an evolving military strategy on the part of the United States.  And that the military contractors have been efficient and successful for the most part.  That these are aberrations where, that we've heard the most about.  

00:44:41;03                Prince: As I’ve said in the past, we employ people. We employed thousands of people. Sometimes people make mistakes. I make mistakes.  But we also use turbine engines and a turbine engine only has two or three moving parts and yet turbine engines break, so again, we’re striving for perfection but we’re far short of it.

00:45:00;00                Blackmon: Yeah but I’m trying to get you to toot your horn a little bit here. Um the uh the subtitle of your book is the unsung heroes of the war on terror so who are those unsung heroes? Tell us that story.

00:45:11;20                Prince: The people we had, and people want to call the guys working for us for the State Department or overseas, mercenaries. Technically they don’t even meet that definition. We recruited U.S. military veterans. Same ones that are lauded on Veteran’s Day here, who already volunteered to serve America once and they volunteered to go back again. And we didn’t, they couldn’t we, we couldn’t make them stay in the war zone, they volunteered to do it every day so we had to provide them a competitive wage, good living conditions, um and a reasonable hope of coming home, okay? Because we couldn’t press-gang, we couldn’t stop-loss them. They volunteered to do that job, to fill that gap again. And they wanted to go home when they were done. Because they’re not there for fighting, they’re there for a job. They’re there to put their kid through college, to buy a house, and to have a decent retirement.

00:46:27;07                Blackmon: But the narrative you describe at the beginning of the book is a very powerful story of Bremer getting in danger and there being an attack on his life and Blackwater operatives pulling off a very successful operation. You talk about another incident with the Polish ambassador to Iraq in 2007 so there are these. . .

00:46:53;06                Prince: One of my proudest moments is I spoke at the National War College in Washington and um, you know I got out of the Navy as a Lieutenant and um there was three hundred colonels there and they all popped to attention and I spoke to them about what we did and how we do it and then a guy came up to me afterwards and he had been a colonel in Baghdad, a brigade commander and he said, so you know he would have had  three or four thousand people under his command, and he said, um, on the top of the dashboard of their Humvees were the Blackwater call signs and frequencies cause his men knew that if they got in trouble and they called the Blackwater guys, they would come. No nonsense, no excuses, they would come and help. And then we did that repeatedly and that was not even, that was certainly well beyond the contracted language. But we also believe the good Samaritan rule is in effect. So again, you have people who are willing to go and volunteer to do this, uh, to give color on the whole idea of mercenaries or contractors, General Westmoreland who was the Chief of Staff of the Army in Vietnam was debating Milton Friedman before Congress when U.S. switched from a draft to an all-volunteer army, and Westmoreland said I don’t want to lead an army of mercenaries. That’s how he described the current all-volunteer force. People getting paid a market wage to do a job in a difficult place and Friedman’s answer was, well sir if you don’t want to lead an army of mercenaries I don’t want to be served by a mercenary accountant, a mercenary lawyer, or a mercenary butcher. And that was the last they talked about it because look, if you’re either being paid a wage for the job you do or you’re a slave right? I mean you could say someone being forced to join the military, it’s involuntary, so we can have an all-volunteer force augmented by private contractors or you’re going to have to go back to conscription. Particularly in an era where you have um all kinds of global threats. America can say we’re opting out of that and we’re just going to let it fester or you have to be engaged but you have to be engaged in a way that is lean, cost effective, and sustainable because the current headcount cost for the U.S. Army soldier in Afghanistan this year is two point two million dollars a year.

00:48:56;08                Blackmon: Per person. Per head.

00:48:56;2                  Prince: Per person. Not for a contractor, for a green suit wearing soldier.

00:49:02;02                Blackmon: And what’s a contractor cost?

00:49:04;16                Prince: Far less than that. I mean out typical retail billing for a contractor was eleven hundred dollars a day so you annualize that out, that’s four hundred grand. So it’s a fraction of the cost.

00:49:16;29                Blackmon: So Anne, what’s your take on all of that? Is that the case for contractors?

00:49:21;04                Hagedorn: I would love to hear from Erik what he thinks about the the relationship between privatizing, increased dependency on private companies on the private sector, what Eisenhower did warn about and but it was the weapons makers he was warning about and now we’re talking about probably seventy percent of it being service oriented um and armed and unarmed services but the uh but the question is doesn’t this weaken the link uh between the people uh uh uh of a democracy and and national policy?  Doesn’t this contribute to indifference in younger generations and therefore uh that to me that’s another definition of national insecurity. The greater the indifference for the future then the more insecure we should feel.

00:51:28;21                Prince: I think we’re past the point of indifference. When you think that less than less than one half of one percent of the population serves in the military, so you know, forty years ago everyone had served or most males had. Um it’s much less uh, the American people can’t relate to a soldier as much. Um but going forward, you know, the ability to volunteer, to serve, to assist, I’m not a wholesale outsourcing of the U.S. Army or U.S. armed forces or those things. There’s a core function that should be done by government employees, active duty service people, but many of the supporting functions can be and should be competitively bid and it will really drive your cost down. See I’m of the opinion that the defense budget is way too large. Spend more than the next seventeen countries combined, United States taxpayers do. Um the way to do, the way to make that cheaper is by competitive bidding for all those other kind of support services. The U.S. Military keeps trying to, I call it mow the lawn with a Porsche. You can do that, but it’s just really expensive.  And when you have supersonic jets designed for state-on-state combat trying to kill two guys in a Toyota pickup truck that are ISIS, it’s not a very effective use of resources. So there’s all kinds of ways in between there to shave down the cost, the expenditure, and to make the net force much more effective.

 00:53:00;00             Blackmon:  So it sounds like you, you agree in a lot of respects with the idea, the sort of basic notion, that it’s not a good thing necessarily that, that so few Americans end up actually directly participating in something like this, that there’s the distance that has set in between the people who fight for our country and the, and the rest of the citizens. You, you-

00:53:19;20              Prince: Sure, but that ship sailed four years ago.

00:53:21;18              Blackmon: But that’s sailed, yeah. It’s too late to go back on that. I think that’s an, uh, an important area, I’m not sure everyone accepts that that’s the case.

00:53:29;00              Prince: You could almost make the case that more contractor participation would have more people exposed to the national security efforts of America than you did, cause you’re not going to go back to the draft.

00:53:37;08              Blackmon: Historically, getting the boys home, now the boys and the gals home has been one of the reasons that wars have been brought to an end, and that sense of that we’ve all got some skin in this game and we don’t want it to last any longer than necessary. I think a lot of people fear that all the privatization efforts actually creates a financial incentive to, to keep these conflicts going for certain parties, but it sounds like that, that’s… you certainly don’t see it that way.

00:54:03;02              Prince: Well that’s where oversight and appropriations discipline comes from, and having good government active oversight of those people, leading from the front, not from Washington, leading from the front. Empower the decision maker that’s there in the field of battle, um and don’t… You know, we have more admirals than we have ships, so the amount of overhead that exists in the U.S. military is bloated beyond belief.

00:55:03;01              Hagedorn:  What we’re missing here I think, um, is the concept of allegiance to nation and that sort of passionate commitment, and I’m sure Erik you’re going to, you believe that the people who worked for you had a passionate commitment. But when you say “waiting for them to come home,” come from where? You know, um, you know, when you have twenty percent of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are US nationals, coming home from where and where is the passionate allegiance to nation? And you say “Yes, okay, it has been depleting for a long time” and that indifference has been growing, but that doesn’t mean that we can just let it go and let it continue to grow. And, and, and add to it or fuel it, you know. We have to identify what the, uh, what the issue are in terms of a democracy, in terms of, of the uh, representation, our representation, our image.

00:57:03:15              Blackmon interjects: But so is that an argument for the draft? Is that what you’re saying? You’re agreeing with Erik, that we need to bring back the draft to try to restore that?

00:57:08;24              Prince: I’m not advocating that we bring back the draft?

00:57:10;02              Blackmon: Yeah but you’re saying that we’d have to. But are you saying that’s the direction we’ have to go?

00:57:11;25              Prince: That’s a societal question, alright? How any “elite” students from this “elite” university are joining the military? Okay?

00:57:19;08              Blackmon: Not many. But some.

00:57:21;05              Prince: Exactly. But how many are even qualified? Seventy percent of all the people military age, military age, are even qualified to serve because they’re overweight, out of shape, too many drugs, uh, criminal records, or tattoos, although the tattoo issue I understand was just removed I believe in the last few weeks. Only seventy percent, seventy percent are not even qualified to join if they wanted to, okay? So that speaks to a much bigger issue of contractors, draft or not. That’s a societal problem. But the fact is, you still-

00:57:53:02              Blackmon: We’re not going to do a show on obesity [laughter].

00:57:54;28              Prince: No, exactly, but you have a lot of people, you have, you have barbarians out there [Hagedorn: No tattoos!], you have barbarians there who want to destroy Western civilization  and our way of life, and who is going to [Hagedorn: Okay] prevent that from happening? Active duty forces, of course, supported by contractors.

00:58:16;25              Blackmon: Americans may ultimately have some cost objections to Pakistanis being the people who are operating the cafeterias in a military complex in Iraq, but they don’t have a real . . .

00:58:37;04              Prince: But its far cheaper than sending a guy from America.

00:58:39;02              Blackmon: Well exactly. What I’m saying though is I don’t think that’s really the issue that Americans are deeply concerned about. What they are more concerned about is the question of, of who’s carrying guns, and the patriotism question you asked, which is a powerful one,, does someone who presumably, the idea is, a military contractor is there for money not for loyalty, and I think you were expressing a worry about that.

00:59:20;20              Blackmon:  But my point is that military contractors have actually demonstrated something, uh, a much higher level of, of patriotism and a willingness to fight to the very end than looks like regular soldiers. So is there really an issue there?

00:59:50;02              Hagedorn: [Begins to talk unintelligibly]

00:59:51;20              Prince: The issues are accountability, reliability, cost. Okay? Accountability,  that is a government function, clear definition. Reliability, that’s a matter of who you hire. Do you hire people that will stand and do the job done, regardless of whether it’s the airplane arriving on time, getting the meal cooked on time, or when the mortars start falling and the enemy starts shooting at you, do you stay or do you run away? And cost, that’s a simple apples to apples comparison that you can measure. And I, when I go back to how the military measures things, the problem of the military is they view all their personnel as a free good. And I give an example. We, my old company, we used to do vertical replenishment, which is when you embark our helicopter aboard a military supply ship, and we take over the mission of flying supplies from that ship to other ships. We showed up to do that job with two helicopters and eight people, replacing the Navy who was doing it with two helicopters and 35 people. And for every 35 they had deployed, they had another 75 to 100 back in the States waiting to deploy or just back. So it’s very simple to go on an apples to apples basis, we were cheaper. The problem is the that admiral says “I need 35 men to do that job,” he views them as a free good. Right? And when you have a free good you tend to use a lot more of it. The Navy or the military as a whole has completely lost track of what anything costs. Whether it’s how it- what it costs to fly an airplane to do a close air support mission. I mean, for heaven’s sakes, flying missions over Iraq, flying bombers from the United States to do that, is to me, fiscal insanity.

01:01:19;02              Blackmon: Yeah, Al Gore’s $50 hammer. But back to the, back to the patriotism sort of question that you were trying to raise a minute ago, is that really an issue?

01:01:26;03              Hagedorn:  If, if the, if the citizens and the youth of America don’t understand the impact of war, then how can they uh, be involved in the uh, the decision making as we’re supposed to be and the voice of the people if they don’t have the information actually given to them through a certain level of transparency? And this industry has not, uh, and the government has not been open about the use of uh, of, of Blackwater in certain situations.  I’m sure it was an issue of national security but in many situations it was not and uh, in terms of the covert nature of it. . .

01:03:12;25              Prince: Sure.

01:02:00:00              Hagedorn:  We need to be more transparent about it and just one other point about the cost when you’re looking at the cost of official issues for one thing the cost it’s a business, it’s a business you know.  Your company and you want to cut the cost and you cut the cost in terms of the subcontracting.  And you have examples of not just subcontracting in Benghazi but there are many examples of problems that sort of bring to light this issue of allegiance to nation. 

01:03:52:05              Blackmon: What’s an example of that?  Give us one. Give us an example of that?

01:03:53:10              Hagedorn:  Well there was one in October of 2009 when some Afghanistan subcontracted Afghanistan guard at a U.S. combat outpost, it was attacked and they fled and in some congressional reports it shows that they were found sort of huddled in their barracks.  Now this concept in Afghanistan.  There’s another example of subcontractors being part of the Taliban.  You know.  So how do you.  . .

01:04:25:22              Blackmon:  Let’s pause for a second and let Erik answer.

01:04:27:10              Prince:  And many of the employee diplomatic security agents at Benghazi were found in closets hiding.  Those were government employees, so I’m not saying all contractors are great and government people are bad.  You employ people and it’s about who selects the right people to do that job.  And you spool up and have a temporary capability when you need it and the cost and the legacy tale for the contractors goes away for the taxpayer.  If you need a car for the weekend in some other town you rent one.  You don’t buy a car and sit on it for a year.  And the same way if you need 500 or 1,000 bodyguards or cooks or whatever you spool it up, you use it and then it goes away.  You don’t have to employ and then cover the insurance and retirement benefits for the next 25 years for more government employees.  So it’s, you say that there not transparency or accountability.  Look, there’s some functions that the U.S. government does that are classified and that’s where you entrust your elected officials on the oversight committees to provide that kind of oversight for what they are doing.

                                   Blackmon:  And it’s also worth noting that in Benghazi there were also local militia who were had been subcontracted to man the guard posts at the perimeter and they disappeared when events began as well.   Would that suggest then what you were saying that we really should have a, that if you’re not going to contract those kinds of services out then you’re talking about a pretty gigantically larger American military force that’s capable of doing all of those kinds of functions down to a pretty low level.

01:06:05:26              Prince:  And we already have the most expensive one in the world. 

01:06:09:06              Hagedorn:  Ok, but the cost cutting that can occur in the private sector when you are privatizing public functions like this or public jobs or inherently governmental jobs in defense and security the cost cutting in order for a company to make money will go to the labor issue.  It will go to the label level the care of the contractors.  I mean in 2011 there was a congressional investigation about exploitation of contractors.  That there were retched living conditions.

01:06:59:00              Prince:  And that’s where good buying decisions by the U.S. government, good contract officers prevent those things from happening and weed out the companies that do. 

01:07:50:07              Blackmon:  Some of what you’re saying is pointing out a perhaps insufficient degree of respect for military contractors and the sacrifices that the bad things that have happened to them.  But there has been some talk about that military contractors particularly now that we have such a heavy reliance on those figures that they should receive purple hearts if they are injured in a combat situation.  Or that the American society should extend to them some of the kinds of lifetime benefits that a soldier receives if they are injured.   

01:08:36:23              Prince:  It’s interesting you bring that up.  You mentioned we rescued the Polish ambassador.  Our people that were involved in that rescue were actually awarded the equivalent of a silver star and a bronze star by the Polish government.  Which is the first time Americans have been recognized since World War II by the Poles.  We as a company gave out, it’s actually on the back cover of the book, my book, a Blackwater Defensive Liberty medal to each of our guys who did something exemplary in action.  So as a company we recognized them but never anything from the government. 

01:09:07:08                   Blackmon:  But should there be something broader than that and what does that do to the balance in terms of the equation has generally been that an ex-military person goes to work for a military contractor and is paid a higher salary.  This is at least the simple description of things.  Is likely to make more money personally but forgoes some of the baked in lifetime benefits

01:09:32:06              Prince:  He forgoes for job security because he might get paid higher for that 90 day or 180 day contract but when it goes away there’s no other job for him.  He’s looking for a job.  I don’t think you have to do medals.  I don’t think the guys do it for medals.  They do it because they are professionals and they know how to do that skill set.  I mean look, if you spent 20 years in a Seal team in a Special Forces unit you develop a very critical set of skills.  Some of those skills apply to a normal commercial life, some of them might apply in a way that can be very well reutilized by the U.S. government in a temporary basis.  So why not?

01:10:04:16              Blackmon:  There’s also been a lot discussion lately, we’ve had some on this program about post-traumatic stress syndrome, suicide in the military, some of the traumatic effects of service in these theaters the focus on that has been active duty military people.  One would assume there’s a version of that among private contractors as well.  Do you get anxious over whether they are these private contractors whose 180 day contract has expired and they are out in the work force?  Are they getting the kind of support or care that they ought to be getting?  And should we be worried about that?

01:10:39:11              Prince:  As a company I think we set the standard for how we took care of our people. We had a company chaplain, chaplain of the Marine Corps.  We had on staff psychologists who had interviews before, during, and after the deployments but we ran our deployments differently.  We didn’t send them for 15 months like the Army does.  We’d send a guy for 60 or 90 days and they’d be back out.  And they would go back and see their family, kiss their kids, go on vacation and get back to normal life.  Putting someone in a hot zone shot at every day for 15 months.  So I think if you look at the incidents if you look at the statistics of PTSD of those kinds of problems among contractors is significantly lower.  And they are also volunteering to go every day. 

01:11:37:03              Hagedorn:  Well I think that it loops back to the issue of transparency and this is an industry beyond Blackwater and that it should be approached as something if we are embracing this and depending on these companies then we have to bring the contractors into the fold and it has to be transparent, it has to be part of the system.  I mean there are people I’ve talked to who want regulatory commission for private military and security contractors and I can see Erik smirking more government more government but the uh there needs to be a um greater with the increasing dependence and the scope of this way beyond Blackwater at this point, internationally way beyond Backwater then there has to be an approach that is not based in the era of Blackwater.  There are standards being discussed in Congress but those standards are related to the Department of Defense only. The State Department has a tremendous private security. . .

01:14:45;27              Blackmon: And Erik you would agree that those things should be, are not coordinated, are not standard uniform?

01:14:50;11              Prince: Completely uncoordinated and

01:14:15;15              Hagedorn: And they need to be coordinated and centralized and you know if it’s going to. . .

01;14:56;24              Prince: That would assume the Appropriations Committee in Congress that appropriates the money for each of the agencies could actually even coordinate to a common standers so that  speaks. . .

01:15:04;19              Hagedorn: Well some people call it the fourth branch. There are people who call this privatization a fourth branch of the government and if that’s true then we are in trouble if we go forward into what people also call the second contractors war the potential of that and also if we I would really like to talk about ISIS and the concept.

01:15:27;24              Blackmon: Well let’s do talk about ISIS and let me pose the question this way and I’m really curious to hear where you would go with this but let’s start with Erik first. In terms of ISIS that’s a situation the Unites States can’t seem to quite decide what it wants to do or what it can do as a nation, as a national institution or how to use the military. I’ve heard a fair number of people say why isn’t this exactly the situation that the United States or somebody hires Blackwater or somebody else to go in and do the things the United States is unwilling to send its soldiers to do. Is that part of how the future ought to work?

01:16:03;11              Prince: Well, that’s how the past has been.   That’s how maybe not the present is, but it’s certainly a possibility for the future. If there’s that kind of a demand signal that said company ABC assemble me a 5,000 man brigade, give me artillery, armor, some infantry, vehicles, and air to conventionally sweep ISIS from Iraq and destroy them.  It is possible for the private sector to organize that, there would be no problems recruiting and you don’t need state of the art equipment to do that.

01:16:35;03              Blackmon: Anne, does that freak you out what he just said?

01:16:37;17              Hagedorn:   Well it (laughter) freak me out. It concerns me tremendously because I want to know   the reason I thought we should discuss this is I would like to know what the structure and the authority would be for such a force.

 

01:16:52;03                  Blackmon: Stop there. What would the structure and authority be of a force like that if you were assigning it? 

01:16:56;1                     Prince:  If again that’s to be determined by the national command authority.

01:17:00;06                  Blackmon: Yeah but what should it be? What are you going to tell them it should be?

01:17:02;26                  Prince: Put a flag officer in charge and give very clear right and left flank of what the rules of engagement are, um, what you know are the objectives. Spell them out and then go.

01:17:15;26                  Hagedorn: But shouldn’t the initiative, shouldn’t it come, this industry should be supporting, should be supplying military support as we are talking about and it’s the government that should be in control of a strategy

01:17:33;25                  Prince: Correct, I said put a active serving flag officer in charge of the overall command and control. I just gave you the hypothetical then there’s all talk.  If you need boots on the ground but there’s no U.S. boots on the ground. Ok who’s boots? You can hire them.

01:17:52;06                  Hagedorn: Good question, Who’s boots? Where are these people coming from? And what’s the training and the vetting and what’s the how?

01:17:59;24                  Prince: You could actually do it with all Americans.

01:18:02;00                  Hagedorn: How can they be controlled?

01:18:00;16                  Prince: You could do it cost-effectively with all Americans. You could do it cost effectively with all Americans if you wanted to. If you think about a Marine that spent six years a machine gunner or working on a tank and now he’s maybe going to community college and he’s working for his brother’s landscaping business and you offered him a ninety thousand dollar salary with the opportunity to go back to with his colleagues to go fight ISIS, there would be plenty of guys who would take that job.

01:18:25;07                 Blackmon: And what about the idea of someone. . .

01:18:27;17                 Prince: The same U.S. military people that were just there five years previous in uniform so do you trust them less because they’re not wearing an active duty service? Because once a marine always a marine.

01:18:38;11                Blackmon: And what if some government other than the United States government wanted Blackwater to or a Blackwater like company to do the same thing with an all American force.

01:18:45;11                Prince: That’s a regulated activity by the U.S.  So a U.S. company could not do that.

01:18:50;07                Blackmon: Should they be able to? Should I mean is that the sort of thing that comes on to the table if we, if this world evolves in the way that we’ve been talking about?

01:18:58:15                Prince: The U.S. can't certainly can’t control the decisions of other nations, and I believe there will be significant demand signals given by other nations that want to do, that need more support for those kind of things. So, the demand signal is coming, whether the U.S. is going to be part of it or not that remains to be seen.  But it’s going to happen, because like I said, this is as old as warfare itself. The idea of fighting the big one, okay, like World War II, the U.S. military has been built and equipped for for the last 70 years. Very rarely, fortunately, does the big one ever come. So there’s likely to be lots of small brushfires and so that hybrid mix of active duty supported by contractors in some role is going to happen, it’s inevitable, accept that.

01:19:46:24                Blackmon: Ann, I’m still uh I think you’ve conveyed pretty clearly your anxieties about a lot of this and you’ve quoted in your book from a report The Commission on Wartime Contracting that came out in 2011 that uh that expressed alarm about the uh use of military contractors and ended with reform is essential now uh reform will save lives and money and support U.S. interests uh but I’m not entirely clear, I understand the anxieties, I’m not entirely clear though what exactly is the reform that a report like that or that in toto the argument that you’re making, what exactly is the reform in a really tangible way that you’re saying should be happening or that report would?

01:20:27:14              Hagedorn: Well that report the report actually listed about 25 suggestions and some of those have been I’ve mentioned some of those have been taken to. For example, in the issue of foreign contractors and and and our uhm enlisting foreign contractors under U.S. contracts there’s 38.5 billion dollars in a category called miscellaneous foreign contractors without any list of the uh jobs that they performed or the names of the companies. And it also points out uh between about 30 and 60 billion they couldn't identify exactly how much but between 30 and 60 dollars in waste and fraud.  um So that was a report that came out in August of 2011. And there have been efforts to uh to increase the accountability

01:22:33:00              Prince:   You had anxieties, I had anxieties as well. I mean for the ten years I owned the business with people deployed my phone never shut off. Ever. And so, a 2:00 a.m. call that a helicopter had been shot down, our men had been killed, we lost 41 of our men doing that job. Um, there’s a model for overseas contracting that the U.S. could follow better, the global large scale construction companies and large scale oil and gas it might those terms might make people nervous but the fact is they do multi-billion dollar jobs in different places, hard places, remote places, difficult to monitor places. They spend billions of dollars cost-effectively cause they’re spending their own money, drilling, exploring, making something happen. So there’s plenty of models of people doing difficult things in difficult places our government can model how they do oversight how they do contract management without the constant overbilling.

01:23:30:22              Hagedorn: That's a good point and. . .

01:23:32:15              Blackmon: Let me just stop you right there because I think we’ve actually arrived at a little piece of consensus there, no don’t shake hands yet.  I want to come back to you Eric one last time and I think we’ll have to finish with this. But as you have you did do this for ten years, sort of you’ve been in the hot seat for both things you did and things you had nothing to do with through this whole period of time. You’re sort of the face of this phenomenon for a lot of people. But you look back over that period of time and one, some people will say, particularly in the aftermath of the sentences of these former employees of yours, some would say that the company should have suffered in some more tangible way because of those instances and maybe you should have suffered as the architect of the company.   I’d like to hear from you on that. But the other thing and just a final thought as you look back over this period of time are there things that you would do differently?  I mean what you have learned now.  Are there things that could have been avoided in some way that you have an insight into now that you didn’t have eight or ten years ago?

01:24:39:18           Prince: Sure, I regret ever working for the State Department.   Uh, no look at the end of the day it’s just not worth it because we provided, we did more than 100,000 missions uh none of their people were ever killed or injured.  Our men fired their weapons less than one half of one percent of all those missions.  And for the company to be wrecked and defined by one incident that went bad one day, it’s not fair.  But life’s not fair.  And for whatever nonsense the company or I have had to put up with men have lost their lives men are incarcerated, 41 of our men were killed, hundreds severely wounded and not to mention the thousands of active soldiers that paid an infinitely higher price.  War is hard, war is bad, and it should be avoided as much as possible. But unfortunately there are some people that want to destroy our way of life.  I travel extensively, I encounter those types of places and people and so that's just a reality that fortunately most Americans are oblivious too but uh hopefully they can stay that way.

01: 26:32:27           Blackmon:  We are going to be continuing to reckon with these questions for a long time to come.  Thank you both very very much.   Ann Hagedorn, Erik Prince thank you both for being here.  The books are Civilian Warriors and The Invisible Soldiers.  To send us a comment about this program, to download a podcast of this and other episodes ,or to read a transcript, visit us at millercenter.org where American Forum is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I’m Doug Blackmon.  See you next time. 

Douglas Blackmon:  Welcome back to the Miller Center’s American Forum.  In our continuing special series, Aftermath of the Endless War, reckoning with the profound effects on America, its people, and our national security of a decade of war in Iraq and Afghanistan. More than 50 years ago, President Dwight Eisenhower departed the White House with a famous farewell warning to the American people to “guard against the … influence…of a rising “military–industrial complex.”  When President Eisenhower said that in 1961, he was talking mostly about the makers of guns and bombs—not privately financed armies.  But in fact America has a long history with mercenary military forces. Even before the concept of the United States had taken hold, Americans in British uniform battled alongside hired Iroquois fighters against the French and their native allies. A key moment of the American Revolution came when George Washington crossed the Delaware River on Christmas Day, 1776 and took by surprise 900 drunken and distracted German fighters unclear on exactly why they had been hired by the English King to help suppress what looked to be a hopeless American insurgency against the greatest military power in the world.  Americans in 1776 were offended by Britain’s use of soldiers-for-hire.  But in recent years, the United States has become enormously dependent on contemporary versions of such fighting forces. Without a draft, America’s all-volunteer army has been unable to meet the demands of the war on terror and turned to the assistance of private armies, an ancient answer to the difficulty of modern warfare in a society unwilling to shoulder the massive shared sacrifices that war has historically demanded of every nation. Hundreds of thousands of private contractors have provided support or direct military and security services to protect diplomats, embassies, and other critical American targets in Iraq and Afghanistan. Thousands remain in those countries today. Oftentimes, the number of contractors has matched or exceeded U.S. military personnel in those areas. The initial toppling of the Taliban in Afghanistan was substantially credited to the work of private forces contracted by the CIA. In 2010, the Washington Post reported that 265,000 contractors had high-level security clearances, making up almost one-third of the entire U.S. intelligence workforce. Our guests today hold sharply different views on the effectiveness, impact on our national security, and perhaps morality of this new dimension of American military practice. Joining us are Erik Prince, a former U.S. Navy SEAL and founding CEO of Blackwater, once the best-known and most controversial private military contractor. He is also the author of Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Also joining us is Ann Hagedorn, an award-winning journalist and author. Her most recent book, Invisible Soldiers: How America Outsourced Our Security, is a sharp critique of the increasing privatization of US security.  Thank you both for joining us. 00:18:57;00              Blackmon: This is a big topic, a complicated topic.  It’s also one that’s been in the news recently and let’s just start right there – Black- your former firm Blackwater’s been in the news. Four Blackwater employees, Erik, were sentenced recently to long prison terms in connection with a very controversial episode from 2007 in which Blackwater contractors ended up in a firefight, at the end of which there were 14 Iraqi civilians, 17 by some other accounts, who were killed,  00:19:24:01              Erik Prince: It was actually 11.

00:19:24:23              Blackmon:  Eleven. The – why those numbers can move around is a mystery to me. But – but – but recently, the- four of those former employees were sentenced to long prison terms, one to life in prison, the other three to 30 year prison terms and another contractor pleaded guilty and testified in the trial of- of those others. In the past and in your book, you’ve – you’ve for the most part I think taken the position that to defend what had happened that day. And those – and all of those gentlemen who were recently sentenced maintain their innocence and are appealing their sentences and we should say that. But at this stage of the game, what’s your – where do you stand on what happened and the outcome of those court cases?

00:20:06;17              Prince: Look, any innocent loss of life is a tragedy. But making – but forcing people to make snap judgments in a war zone a few minutes after a large car bomb had gone off requires clear decision-making. And, you know, we’d asked for cameras, we’d asked for cameras in writing, to prevent this very kind of thing, the same kind of thing that you see in police shooting controversies, of a dashboard cam to record so there’s that  third party witness. We’d asked for those, the State Department denied them and now these U.S. military veterans who served the military well, who were there doing a job again under the operation control of the state department, are held to a standard not necessarily by a jury of their peers. You know, it’s hard to have a jury of your peers 7,000 miles away, seven years later, not having to make those kinds of decisions in battle. That being said, and even the charges of – they sentenced them for 30 years based on a – on a firearms charge really designed to go after cocaine traffickers who are using machine guns, not necessarily a government agent under the operation control of the state department, issued a weapon by by the government. So that case was thrown out once already. The government got a conviction this time. The guys have a very strong case for an appeal and I will leave it at that.

                                   Blackmon:  Ann, you write about the same incident in your book and you refi – you refer to it as “privatized mayhem.” Your take on the – on that episode is very critical in your book and you quote extensively from the contractor who testified at the – at the trial on his description of the – of of saying that, in fact, the civilians had not been warned sufficiently, I think would be a fair way to describe it. And that there was indiscriminate shooting, so we really had radical – radically different recollections and understanding – understandings of that event. But what’s your take on it and what’s your – what’s your response to the way that that criminal proceeding where it now stands?

00:22:34:13              Hagedorn: I think we have to get beyond the debate. The debate will continue in court through the appeal, but what is the legacy?  What is the lesson learned and there are many, of course. But um but the main one is that this approach to what happened in terms of the privatization is so symbolized by what happened at Nusoor Square. Nusoor Square was the traffic circle where it had occurred. Because the – the – the reaction of these men who were working for the contractors, who were working for the State Department, and their job was diplomatic security and they were entering into a civilian situation. The guns and initial response was extre – was was violent to a situation that could have been taken – could have been handled in a very different way. And I think what we have to realize is that this strategy for counterinsurgency does not really win the hearts and minds of the population. And so you have to see what the recruitment power was for for the extremist groups and the enemies that were fighting – [interrupted by Blackmon]

00:25:01:01              Blackmon: You mean that that issue became a rallying call interrupted by Hagedorn]

00:25:24:01              Hagedorn: … became a huge rallying call.

                                 Blackmon:  At the time that the incident occurred in 2007, that was – that was at a moment when folks in America really had the feeling that things were just going to hell in a hand-basket in Iraq. Uh and we really couldn’t tell where things were going. It seemed to be very chaotic and in some respects, here have been some people who said private contractors actually ended up being scapegoated to some degree. And it was easier to condemn a group of private “Rambos” as people wanted to think of them rather than facing up to perhaps what would have been a broader debacle of American foreign policy, in terms of the whole situation.

00:28:21:27              Hagedorn:  Well I think that the industry itself and the many companies that were involved I think what is really missed in the story is that there is more to it than Blackwater.  Blackwater was a huge company and still is in a different, a new incarnation but there were many more companies beyond Blackwater and with Blackwater, working with Blackwater in many different functions.  You know some logistic support and armed security for logistic support to air transport interrogations, intelligence and analysis, you know a vast array of services and. . .

00;29:01:09              Blackmon:  But what about the idea. Let me stop you.  What about the idea of have contractors gotten more than their fair share of criticism and scorn? 

00:29:12:12              Hagedorn:  Yes, on a certain level I think that’s true. I think that, but largely on a scale of the equivalent to the numbers of private contractors that there are and our dependence on it I don’t think so because I think that you have to, and it’s our job as journalists, it’s our job citizens of a democracy to be very aware of who is defending us and securing us. 

00:29:38:24              Blackmon:  Let’s hear from Erik on this now.

00:29:39:28              Prince:  You know, in the Vietnam War when you had a draft the anti-war left went after the troops.  This time it was very easy to go after contractors and they created, there is some legitimate controversies and a lot of them overinflated and conflated.  The fact is the United States military is very large, very capable and very expensive.  And we have magnificent conventional capabilities going from Kuwait to Baghdad maneuver warfare taking down the Iraqi army. But when you turn that huge conventional capability now you have to do stability operations and counterinsurgency operations it creates gaps.  Because the army can’t retask that air defense missile man to be a body guard, or a trainer, or a logistics person.  And military finds it cheaper, simpler and more effective to find an Indian or a Pakistani or Bangladeshi that can cook or wash the dishes or do that kind of logistic support functions.  So there’s a wider range of contracted supplied services because nature hates a vacuum.  And if there’s a command given by the commanders on the armed forces ground, someone can step forward and provide those services.  And I disagree with your opening argument about the founding colonists having distain for contractors because you know across the street from the White House you have Lafayette Park.  Lafayette, Rochambeau and Steuben, and Kosciuszko, contractors, mercenaries if you will, came and built the Continental Army.  Nine out of ten ships taken during the American Revolution by privateers.  You would say that’s a privately contracted vessel.

00:31:13:01              Blackmon:  Yea sure, I made reference to the fact and it’s a good point and I think I specifically said and I was referring to the Hessians that they didn’t like.  But the colonists most certainly did.  And they were Native American fighters before the Revolution and during the Revolution, the French. 

00:31:27:25              Prince:  And even the founder of this university, Thomas Jefferson, had a real problem with piracy.  The Barbary Pirates.  He turned to a former army officer, eight marines and 90 contracted mercenaries.  That’s where the Marine’s hymn comes from the halls of Montezuma to the shores of Tripoli.  They marched from Alexandria, took down a garrison and ended up releasing 340 American sailors that had been hostages. 

00:31:49:14              Blackmon:  So there’s a whole history there.

00:31:50:27              Prince:  But it’s old, it’s presence, it’s old as warfare itself and it’s going to be part of warfare in the future.  So I agree there are things we should find on common ground to make it better, more effective because the U.S. military is the most expensive in the world. For 150 years we had a War Department and then we shifted to a Defense Department after World War II and we focused on deterrence.  Now deterrence doesn’t really matter against a death cult like ISIS.  And so you have to find a way to adapt to not a third generation war, ok, maneuver warfare, but a long dwell insurgency.  So you have to focus on being nimble and not having it cost so much.  You can afford to stay there for a long time to sort those things out.

00:32:31:18              Blackmon:  Ann, what were you going to say?

00:32:33:06              Hagedorn:  We’ve always had private contractors in the U.S. government.  But what’s happening now is that the scope has never been wider, worldwide and in the United States our dependency has never been greater and the growth of the industry has, you know, beyond Blackwater has exceeded the level of accountability.  There are efforts for accountability, toward accountability that is the international code of conduct.  Now there are standards that are trying to be imposed on the armed sector of this business but at the same time the growth and the expansion and the intensity of the dependence of various agencies.  It’s not just the Department of Defense, it’s the State Department, Homeland Security, the CIA on and on.  And so there can be a use, I’ve always, I always try to be fair about this and be open minded to see what potential these companies have for our defense and security but how can you utilize them fully without full accountability and transparency.  And those are just words “accountability” and “transparency” but when you look at the details especially the subcontractors.  I think that’s a perfect example because it’s not just the U.S. decides to contract with Blackwater or DynCorp, or Triple Canopy or any of the other companies but often there are layers of subcontractors.  So we have representatives from many countries in South America and Africa, third world nationals.

00:35:21:00              Blackmon:  So what you’re getting at. . .

00:35:24:08              Hagedorn:  And the accountability on these different levels is very difficult to achieve and what I’m saying is that before we go into any second contractors war or before we go into another contingency operation which we are a dependent on private military and security companies we have got to complete the job that has begun but to complete of sufficient accountability.  And there are people who believe that that’s not possible.  When you have an industry that is based on making money from conflict. . .

00:35:58:25              Blackmon:  Let’s have some interaction, ok?  Let’s try to break that down because what you are talking about is a central issue of that, I mean, and it cuts both ways I think, and Erik tell us what you think about this that on the one hand the fact that for instance in Afghanistan that the U.S. was not prepared in September of 2001 to undertake the kind of operation that then was a huge success in Afghanistan and did topple the Taliban.  And so the CIA overwhelmingly was reliant on private contractors who were able to move faster in their own way and had the capacity to do was a huge success story.  The flexibility of private contractors was a big part of that.  At the same time, and we’ve seen in other situations even the one we were just talking about, the question is are private contractors operating with more discretion at times than they can handle?  Do things get out of hand because they’re not operating under the kind of command and control structure, the same kind of command and control structure as the military.  I think that’s the concern of a lot of people.   There are also a lot of other examples.  Benghazi.  What’s your take on that?

00:37:07:27              Prince:  Let me just clarify.  You know people make Blackwater out to be this enormous company.  At its height we never represented more than one tenth of one percent of the defense budget.  So. . .

00:37:18:18              Blackmon:  That’s a big budget.  So that one tenth of one percent is still a pretty big dollar ah. . .

00:37:24:11              Prince:  It’s a tiny number.

00:37:25:24              Blackmon:  The point I’m trying to make thought that I getting at.  When we throw around these big numbers like 250 thousand contractors, that’s not 250 thousand fighting individuals there’s a huge number of cooks and support people who are contractors but a much smaller number of soldiers who are part of that picture.

00:37:43:22              Prince:  Look, the U.S. military, the U.S. government is a particularly lousy buyer of services or goods for that matter.  They don’t buy anything really very cost effectively.  And I agree that the military industrial complex that Eisenhower warned about has become realized.  When you look at the return on dollars for every dollar that Lockheed or Boeing Northrup spends for ridiculously overpriced programs, I agree.  The taxpayer is not getting good value.  When it comes to buying contractors, contractor support focusing on firm fixed contracts versus cost plus.  Look, if you build a house, right?  You don’t say to the builder tell me what it’s going to be when you’re done.  No, you lock in the price and you build the house.  And it is possible to do more of that through firm-fixed price.  Ninety-seven percent of our contracts, Blackwater's old contracts, were firm-fixed price.  Doing it exactly that way because we knew our business and we knew how to operate it.  Cost-plus gives that incentive to run the meter up as high as you can for the vendor to back charge.... to back charge the tax payer.  So going forward, having more focus on really capable people, in the purchasing ranks, to do that.  You know in the military, not necessarily the, you know, the best and brightest career-wise might go into the infantry, or into the combat arms, there hasn't been as much focus on contracting.  There needs to be more because that’s the military is going to depend on those kind of services going forward.  They need to make vendors step up their game.  

00:39:14;01              Blackmon: And that's on the financial, the efficiency end of it.  What about on more of the command and control question?  You know, are the contractors the ones who are fighting figures not providing support services?  Is there a sufficient mechanism in place at this point that- to. . .

00:39:29;18              Prince: Sure.  Well, look.  We, Blackwater never had fighting figures out there.  We had bodyguards.  

00:39:33;19              Blackmon: Okay.

00:39:43;03              Prince: They might've been armed, but they were not there to fight.  Look, there is significant dysfunction between DOD or CIA or State Department as to how well they're coordinating.  But that goes all the way back to Washington and their dysfunction between those agencies.  So, contractors are not gonna solve that. We just get caught between the plate tectonics of Washington and, and sometimes get made the scapegoat.  

00:39:59;03              Blackmon: Ann you started to refer to that a minute ago.  And really succinctly.  What’s the, what would you say in terms of whether there's a sufficient rules of engagement that can in fact be maintained for private military contractors? I think the suggestion of your book is that there's not sufficient control over and that contractors end up having more discretion than they can handle.  Is that a fair...?

00:40:38;09              Hagedorn:  Well that was certainly true in Iraq, and has been partially true in Afghanistan.  It’s part of what Erik said; it's the nature of the game.  I mean, it's really tha- things- it's combat, you have armed security guards in a war zone.  There's a potential for things to happen.  But there are ways to prevent that.  There are ways to try very hard and harder to prevent that.  

00:41:09;17              Blackmon: And are those things happening?

00: 41:10;18             Hagedorn: And part of that is vetting, training, and also like I said getting control of the subcontractor and of the business.  But there is an effort, there is an international effort, I think I mentioned it before, that’s been in the works since about 2006.  And it's a group of a very large group working on international code of conduct, includes industry representatives, and there are standards.  Now they're at the point of, I think there are 700 companies that signed on to the International Code of Conduct.  And now they're at the point of enforcement, which is the crucial point.  Can you actually enforce standards in this industry? It’s an international industry, it recruits internationally, it performs on all continents, and so uh, this is quite a task. But one thing. . .

00:42:06;28              Blackmon: Is that a legit process?

00:42:09;11              Prince: But look, standards, vetting, screening, all that, much of that was in place already.  Look, Blackwater was performing to an eleven hundred page contract with very detailed standards for psychological evaluations, criminal background check, hundreds of hours of training, prior military experience, all the rest.  It ultimately comes down to judgement.  If you're putting people in a difficult situation, can they make that judgement right every time? And I, you know, I just remind people in October of 2013, there was an incident on Capitol Hill, or outside the White House, where a woman got into a traffic altercation outside of a federal building, federal law enforcement officers open fired on her.  She drove to another venue, they open fired on her again.  They finally gunned her down near the Supreme Court.  What'd they find in the car? No guns, no bombs, no weapons.  A black female dental assistant and her infant child in the back, gunned down with hundreds of rounds fired outside federal buildings.  There had been no car bombs that day, there was no combat in D.C. that day, but those federal officers open fired on and killed an innocent woman.  No human cry.  I can't even imagine the noise would've been made if contractors did that.  So again, people in difficult situation have to make a split second judgement.  And it’s easy to second guess that seven years later, it's tough when you're, when you're sitting there with a thousand pound car bomb rolling at you.

 00:40:10;11             Blackmon: At the same time, though, let’s do not overlook that the fairly substantive role that these military contractors have played in these operations over time.  I mean I think you make the case not just that it’s an efficient way to have bodyguards, but that this is a very effective way, a very effective element, of an evolving military strategy on the part of the United States.  And that the military contractors have been efficient and successful for the most part.  That these are aberrations where, that we've heard the most about.  

00:44:41;03                Prince: As I’ve said in the past, we employ people. We employed thousands of people. Sometimes people make mistakes. I make mistakes.  But we also use turbine engines and a turbine engine only has two or three moving parts and yet turbine engines break, so again, we’re striving for perfection but we’re far short of it.

00:45:00;00                Blackmon: Yeah but I’m trying to get you to toot your horn a little bit here. Um the uh the subtitle of your book is the unsung heroes of the war on terror so who are those unsung heroes? Tell us that story.

00:45:11;20                Prince: The people we had, and people want to call the guys working for us for the State Department or overseas, mercenaries. Technically they don’t even meet that definition. We recruited U.S. military veterans. Same ones that are lauded on Veteran’s Day here, who already volunteered to serve America once and they volunteered to go back again. And we didn’t, they couldn’t we, we couldn’t make them stay in the war zone, they volunteered to do it every day so we had to provide them a competitive wage, good living conditions, um and a reasonable hope of coming home, okay? Because we couldn’t press-gang, we couldn’t stop-loss them. They volunteered to do that job, to fill that gap again. And they wanted to go home when they were done. Because they’re not there for fighting, they’re there for a job. They’re there to put their kid through college, to buy a house, and to have a decent retirement.

00:46:27;07                Blackmon: But the narrative you describe at the beginning of the book is a very powerful story of Bremer getting in danger and there being an attack on his life and Blackwater operatives pulling off a very successful operation. You talk about another incident with the Polish ambassador to Iraq in 2007 so there are these. . .

00:46:53;06                Prince: One of my proudest moments is I spoke at the National War College in Washington and um, you know I got out of the Navy as a Lieutenant and um there was three hundred colonels there and they all popped to attention and I spoke to them about what we did and how we do it and then a guy came up to me afterwards and he had been a colonel in Baghdad, a brigade commander and he said, so you know he would have had  three or four thousand people under his command, and he said, um, on the top of the dashboard of their Humvees were the Blackwater call signs and frequencies cause his men knew that if they got in trouble and they called the Blackwater guys, they would come. No nonsense, no excuses, they would come and help. And then we did that repeatedly and that was not even, that was certainly well beyond the contracted language. But we also believe the good Samaritan rule is in effect. So again, you have people who are willing to go and volunteer to do this, uh, to give color on the whole idea of mercenaries or contractors, General Westmoreland who was the Chief of Staff of the Army in Vietnam was debating Milton Friedman before Congress when U.S. switched from a draft to an all-volunteer army, and Westmoreland said I don’t want to lead an army of mercenaries. That’s how he described the current all-volunteer force. People getting paid a market wage to do a job in a difficult place and Friedman’s answer was, well sir if you don’t want to lead an army of mercenaries I don’t want to be served by a mercenary accountant, a mercenary lawyer, or a mercenary butcher. And that was the last they talked about it because look, if you’re either being paid a wage for the job you do or you’re a slave right? I mean you could say someone being forced to join the military, it’s involuntary, so we can have an all-volunteer force augmented by private contractors or you’re going to have to go back to conscription. Particularly in an era where you have um all kinds of global threats. America can say we’re opting out of that and we’re just going to let it fester or you have to be engaged but you have to be engaged in a way that is lean, cost effective, and sustainable because the current headcount cost for the U.S. Army soldier in Afghanistan this year is two point two million dollars a year.

00:48:56;08                Blackmon: Per person. Per head.

00:48:56;2                  Prince: Per person. Not for a contractor, for a green suit wearing soldier.

00:49:02;02                Blackmon: And what’s a contractor cost?

00:49:04;16                Prince: Far less than that. I mean out typical retail billing for a contractor was eleven hundred dollars a day so you annualize that out, that’s four hundred grand. So it’s a fraction of the cost.

00:49:16;29                Blackmon: So Anne, what’s your take on all of that? Is that the case for contractors?

00:49:21;04                Hagedorn: I would love to hear from Erik what he thinks about the the relationship between privatizing, increased dependency on private companies on the private sector, what Eisenhower did warn about and but it was the weapons makers he was warning about and now we’re talking about probably seventy percent of it being service oriented um and armed and unarmed services but the uh but the question is doesn’t this weaken the link uh between the people uh uh uh of a democracy and and national policy?  Doesn’t this contribute to indifference in younger generations and therefore uh that to me that’s another definition of national insecurity. The greater the indifference for the future then the more insecure we should feel.

00:51:28;21                Prince: I think we’re past the point of indifference. When you think that less than less than one half of one percent of the population serves in the military, so you know, forty years ago everyone had served or most males had. Um it’s much less uh, the American people can’t relate to a soldier as much. Um but going forward, you know, the ability to volunteer, to serve, to assist, I’m not a wholesale outsourcing of the U.S. Army or U.S. armed forces or those things. There’s a core function that should be done by government employees, active duty service people, but many of the supporting functions can be and should be competitively bid and it will really drive your cost down. See I’m of the opinion that the defense budget is way too large. Spend more than the next seventeen countries combined, United States taxpayers do. Um the way to do, the way to make that cheaper is by competitive bidding for all those other kind of support services. The U.S. Military keeps trying to, I call it mow the lawn with a Porsche. You can do that, but it’s just really expensive.  And when you have supersonic jets designed for state-on-state combat trying to kill two guys in a Toyota pickup truck that are ISIS, it’s not a very effective use of resources. So there’s all kinds of ways in between there to shave down the cost, the expenditure, and to make the net force much more effective.

 00:53:00;00             Blackmon:  So it sounds like you, you agree in a lot of respects with the idea, the sort of basic notion, that it’s not a good thing necessarily that, that so few Americans end up actually directly participating in something like this, that there’s the distance that has set in between the people who fight for our country and the, and the rest of the citizens. You, you-

00:53:19;20              Prince: Sure, but that ship sailed four years ago.

00:53:21;18              Blackmon: But that’s sailed, yeah. It’s too late to go back on that. I think that’s an, uh, an important area, I’m not sure everyone accepts that that’s the case.

00:53:29;00              Prince: You could almost make the case that more contractor participation would have more people exposed to the national security efforts of America than you did, cause you’re not going to go back to the draft.

00:53:37;08              Blackmon: Historically, getting the boys home, now the boys and the gals home has been one of the reasons that wars have been brought to an end, and that sense of that we’ve all got some skin in this game and we don’t want it to last any longer than necessary. I think a lot of people fear that all the privatization efforts actually creates a financial incentive to, to keep these conflicts going for certain parties, but it sounds like that, that’s… you certainly don’t see it that way.

00:54:03;02              Prince: Well that’s where oversight and appropriations discipline comes from, and having good government active oversight of those people, leading from the front, not from Washington, leading from the front. Empower the decision maker that’s there in the field of battle, um and don’t… You know, we have more admirals than we have ships, so the amount of overhead that exists in the U.S. military is bloated beyond belief.

00:55:03;01              Hagedorn:  What we’re missing here I think, um, is the concept of allegiance to nation and that sort of passionate commitment, and I’m sure Erik you’re going to, you believe that the people who worked for you had a passionate commitment. But when you say “waiting for them to come home,” come from where? You know, um, you know, when you have twenty percent of private contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan are US nationals, coming home from where and where is the passionate allegiance to nation? And you say “Yes, okay, it has been depleting for a long time” and that indifference has been growing, but that doesn’t mean that we can just let it go and let it continue to grow. And, and, and add to it or fuel it, you know. We have to identify what the, uh, what the issue are in terms of a democracy, in terms of, of the uh, representation, our representation, our image.

00:57:03:15              Blackmon interjects: But so is that an argument for the draft? Is that what you’re saying? You’re agreeing with Erik, that we need to bring back the draft to try to restore that?

00:57:08;24              Prince: I’m not advocating that we bring back the draft?

00:57:10;02              Blackmon: Yeah but you’re saying that we’d have to. But are you saying that’s the direction we’ have to go?

00:57:11;25              Prince: That’s a societal question, alright? How any “elite” students from this “elite” university are joining the military? Okay?

00:57:19;08              Blackmon: Not many. But some.

00:57:21;05              Prince: Exactly. But how many are even qualified? Seventy percent of all the people military age, military age, are even qualified to serve because they’re overweight, out of shape, too many drugs, uh, criminal records, or tattoos, although the tattoo issue I understand was just removed I believe in the last few weeks. Only seventy percent, seventy percent are not even qualified to join if they wanted to, okay? So that speaks to a much bigger issue of contractors, draft or not. That’s a societal problem. But the fact is, you still-

00:57:53:02              Blackmon: We’re not going to do a show on obesity [laughter].

00:57:54;28              Prince: No, exactly, but you have a lot of people, you have, you have barbarians out there [Hagedorn: No tattoos!], you have barbarians there who want to destroy Western civilization  and our way of life, and who is going to [Hagedorn: Okay] prevent that from happening? Active duty forces, of course, supported by contractors.

00:58:16;25              Blackmon: Americans may ultimately have some cost objections to Pakistanis being the people who are operating the cafeterias in a military complex in Iraq, but they don’t have a real . . .

00:58:37;04              Prince: But its far cheaper than sending a guy from America.

00:58:39;02              Blackmon: Well exactly. What I’m saying though is I don’t think that’s really the issue that Americans are deeply concerned about. What they are more concerned about is the question of, of who’s carrying guns, and the patriotism question you asked, which is a powerful one,, does someone who presumably, the idea is, a military contractor is there for money not for loyalty, and I think you were expressing a worry about that.

00:59:20;20              Blackmon:  But my point is that military contractors have actually demonstrated something, uh, a much higher level of, of patriotism and a willingness to fight to the very end than looks like regular soldiers. So is there really an issue there?

00:59:50;02              Hagedorn: [Begins to talk unintelligibly]

00:59:51;20              Prince: The issues are accountability, reliability, cost. Okay? Accountability,  that is a government function, clear definition. Reliability, that’s a matter of who you hire. Do you hire people that will stand and do the job done, regardless of whether it’s the airplane arriving on time, getting the meal cooked on time, or when the mortars start falling and the enemy starts shooting at you, do you stay or do you run away? And cost, that’s a simple apples to apples comparison that you can measure. And I, when I go back to how the military measures things, the problem of the military is they view all their personnel as a free good. And I give an example. We, my old company, we used to do vertical replenishment, which is when you embark our helicopter aboard a military supply ship, and we take over the mission of flying supplies from that ship to other ships. We showed up to do that job with two helicopters and eight people, replacing the Navy who was doing it with two helicopters and 35 people. And for every 35 they had deployed, they had another 75 to 100 back in the States waiting to deploy or just back. So it’s very simple to go on an apples to apples basis, we were cheaper. The problem is the that admiral says “I need 35 men to do that job,” he views them as a free good. Right? And when you have a free good you tend to use a lot more of it. The Navy or the military as a whole has completely lost track of what anything costs. Whether it’s how it- what it costs to fly an airplane to do a close air support mission. I mean, for heaven’s sakes, flying missions over Iraq, flying bombers from the United States to do that, is to me, fiscal insanity.

01:01:19;02              Blackmon: Yeah, Al Gore’s $50 hammer. But back to the, back to the patriotism sort of question that you were trying to raise a minute ago, is that really an issue?

01:01:26;03              Hagedorn:  If, if the, if the citizens and the youth of America don’t understand the impact of war, then how can they uh, be involved in the uh, the decision making as we’re supposed to be and the voice of the people if they don’t have the information actually given to them through a certain level of transparency? And this industry has not, uh, and the government has not been open about the use of uh, of, of Blackwater in certain situations.  I’m sure it was an issue of national security but in many situations it was not and uh, in terms of the covert nature of it. . .

01:03:12;25              Prince: Sure.

01:02:00:00              Hagedorn:  We need to be more transparent about it and just one other point about the cost when you’re looking at the cost of official issues for one thing the cost it’s a business, it’s a business you know.  Your company and you want to cut the cost and you cut the cost in terms of the subcontracting.  And you have examples of not just subcontracting in Benghazi but there are many examples of problems that sort of bring to light this issue of allegiance to nation. 

01:03:52:05              Blackmon: What’s an example of that?  Give us one. Give us an example of that?

01:03:53:10              Hagedorn:  Well there was one in October of 2009 when some Afghanistan subcontracted Afghanistan guard at a U.S. combat outpost, it was attacked and they fled and in some congressional reports it shows that they were found sort of huddled in their barracks.  Now this concept in Afghanistan.  There’s another example of subcontractors being part of the Taliban.  You know.  So how do you.  . .

01:04:25:22              Blackmon:  Let’s pause for a second and let Erik answer.

01:04:27:10              Prince:  And many of the employee diplomatic security agents at Benghazi were found in closets hiding.  Those were government employees, so I’m not saying all contractors are great and government people are bad.  You employ people and it’s about who selects the right people to do that job.  And you spool up and have a temporary capability when you need it and the cost and the legacy tale for the contractors goes away for the taxpayer.  If you need a car for the weekend in some other town you rent one.  You don’t buy a car and sit on it for a year.  And the same way if you need 500 or 1,000 bodyguards or cooks or whatever you spool it up, you use it and then it goes away.  You don’t have to employ and then cover the insurance and retirement benefits for the next 25 years for more government employees.  So it’s, you say that there not transparency or accountability.  Look, there’s some functions that the U.S. government does that are classified and that’s where you entrust your elected officials on the oversight committees to provide that kind of oversight for what they are doing.

                                   Blackmon:  And it’s also worth noting that in Benghazi there were also local militia who were had been subcontracted to man the guard posts at the perimeter and they disappeared when events began as well.   Would that suggest then what you were saying that we really should have a, that if you’re not going to contract those kinds of services out then you’re talking about a pretty gigantically larger American military force that’s capable of doing all of those kinds of functions down to a pretty low level.

01:06:05:26              Prince:  And we already have the most expensive one in the world. 

01:06:09:06              Hagedorn:  Ok, but the cost cutting that can occur in the private sector when you are privatizing public functions like this or public jobs or inherently governmental jobs in defense and security the cost cutting in order for a company to make money will go to the labor issue.  It will go to the label level the care of the contractors.  I mean in 2011 there was a congressional investigation about exploitation of contractors.  That there were retched living conditions.

01:06:59:00              Prince:  And that’s where good buying decisions by the U.S. government, good contract officers prevent those things from happening and weed out the companies that do. 

01:07:50:07              Blackmon:  Some of what you’re saying is pointing out a perhaps insufficient degree of respect for military contractors and the sacrifices that the bad things that have happened to them.  But there has been some talk about that military contractors particularly now that we have such a heavy reliance on those figures that they should receive purple hearts if they are injured in a combat situation.  Or that the American society should extend to them some of the kinds of lifetime benefits that a soldier receives if they are injured.   

01:08:36:23              Prince:  It’s interesting you bring that up.  You mentioned we rescued the Polish ambassador.  Our people that were involved in that rescue were actually awarded the equivalent of a silver star and a bronze star by the Polish government.  Which is the first time Americans have been recognized since World War II by the Poles.  We as a company gave out, it’s actually on the back cover of the book, my book, a Blackwater Defensive Liberty medal to each of our guys who did something exemplary in action.  So as a company we recognized them but never anything from the government. 

01:09:07:08              Blackmon:  But should there be something broader than that and what does that do to the balance in terms of the equation has generally been that an ex-military person goes to work for a military contractor and is paid a higher salary.  This is at least the simple description of things.  Is likely to make more money personally but forgoes some of the baked in lifetime benefits

01:09:32:06              Prince:  He forgoes for job security because he might get paid higher for that 90 day or 180 day contract but when it goes away there’s no other job for him.  He’s looking for a job.  I don’t think you have to do medals.  I don’t think the guys do it for medals.  They do it because they are professionals and they know how to do that skill set.  I mean look, if you spent 20 years in a Seal team in a Special Forces unit you develop a very critical set of skills.  Some of those skills apply to a normal commercial life, some of them might apply in a way that can be very well reutilized by the U.S. government in a temporary basis.  So why not?

01:10:04:16              Blackmon:  There’s also been a lot discussion lately, we’ve had some on this program about post-traumatic stress syndrome, suicide in the military, some of the traumatic effects of service in these theaters the focus on that has been active duty military people.  One would assume there’s a version of that among private contractors as well.  Do you get anxious over whether they are these private contractors whose 180 day contract has expired and they are out in the work force?  Are they getting the kind of support or care that they ought to be getting?  And should we be worried about that?

01:10:39:11              Prince:  As a company I think we set the standard for how we took care of our people. We had a company chaplain, chaplain of the Marine Corps.  We had on staff psychologists who had interviews before, during, and after the deployments but we ran our deployments differently.  We didn’t send them for 15 months like the Army does.  We’d send a guy for 60 or 90 days and they’d be back out.  And they would go back and see their family, kiss their kids, go on vacation and get back to normal life.  Putting someone in a hot zone shot at every day for 15 months.  So I think if you look at the incidents if you look at the statistics of PTSD of those kinds of problems among contractors is significantly lower.  And they are also volunteering to go every day. 

01:11:37:03              Hagedorn:  Well I think that it loops back to the issue of transparency and this is an industry beyond Blackwater and that it should be approached as something if we are embracing this and depending on these companies then we have to bring the contractors into the fold and it has to be transparent, it has to be part of the system.  I mean there are people I’ve talked to who want regulatory commission for private military and security contractors and I can see Erik smirking more government more government but the uh there needs to be a um greater with the increasing dependence and the scope of this way beyond Blackwater at this point, internationally way beyond Backwater then there has to be an approach that is not based in the era of Blackwater.  There are standards being discussed in Congress but those standards are related to the Department of Defense only. The State Department has a tremendous private security. . .

01:14:45;27              Blackmon: And Erik you would agree that those things should be, are not coordinated, are not standard uniform?

01:14:50;11              Prince: Completely uncoordinated and

01:14:15;15              Hagedorn: And they need to be coordinated and centralized and you know if it’s going to. . .

01;14:56;24              Prince: That would assume the Appropriations Committee in Congress that appropriates the money for each of the agencies could actually even coordinate to a common standers so that  speaks. . .

01:15:04;19              Hagedorn: Well some people call it the fourth branch. There are people who call this privatization a fourth branch of the government and if that’s true then we are in trouble if we go forward into what people also call the second contractors war the potential of that and also if we I would really like to talk about ISIS and the concept.

01:15:27;24              Blackmon: Well let’s do talk about ISIS and let me pose the question this way and I’m really curious to hear where you would go with this but let’s start with Erik first. In terms of ISIS that’s a situation the Unites States can’t seem to quite decide what it wants to do or what it can do as a nation, as a national institution or how to use the military. I’ve heard a fair number of people say why isn’t this exactly the situation that the United States or somebody hires Blackwater or somebody else to go in and do the things the United States is unwilling to send its soldiers to do. Is that part of how the future ought to work?

01:16:03;11              Prince: Well, that’s how the past has been.   That’s how maybe not the present is, but it’s certainly a possibility for the future. If there’s that kind of a demand signal that said company ABC assemble me a 5,000 man brigade, give me artillery, armor, some infantry, vehicles, and air to conventionally sweep ISIS from Iraq and destroy them.  It is possible for the private sector to organize that, there would be no problems recruiting and you don’t need state of the art equipment to do that.

01:16:35;03              Blackmon: Anne, does that freak you out what he just said?

01:16:37;17              Hagedorn:   Well it (laughter) freak me out. It concerns me tremendously because I want to know   the reason I thought we should discuss this is I would like to know what the structure and the authority would be for such a force.

 

01:16:52;03                  Blackmon: Stop there. What would the structure and authority be of a force like that if you were assigning it? 

01:16:56;1                     Prince:  If again that’s to be determined by the national command authority.

01:17:00;06                  Blackmon: Yeah but what should it be? What are you going to tell them it should be?

01:17:02;26                  Prince: Put a flag officer in charge and give very clear right and left flank of what the rules of engagement are, um, what you know are the objectives. Spell them out and then go.

01:17:15;26                  Hagedorn: But shouldn’t the initiative, shouldn’t it come, this industry should be supporting, should be supplying military support as we are talking about and it’s the government that should be in control of a strategy

01:17:33;25                  Prince: Correct, I said put a active serving flag officer in charge of the overall command and control. I just gave you the hypothetical then there’s all talk.  If you need boots on the ground but there’s no U.S. boots on the ground. Ok who’s boots? You can hire them.

01:17:52;06                  Hagedorn: Good question, Who’s boots? Where are these people coming from? And what’s the training and the vetting and what’s the how?

01:17:59;24                  Prince: You could actually do it with all Americans.

01:18:02;00                  Hagedorn: How can they be controlled?

01:18:00;16                  Prince: You could do it cost-effectively with all Americans. You could do it cost effectively with all Americans if you wanted to. If you think about a Marine that spent six years a machine gunner or working on a tank and now he’s maybe going to community college and he’s working for his brother’s landscaping business and you offered him a ninety thousand dollar salary with the opportunity to go back to with his colleagues to go fight ISIS, there would be plenty of guys who would take that job.

01:18:25;07                 Blackmon: And what about the idea of someone. . .

01:18:27;17                 Prince: The same U.S. military people that were just there five years previous in uniform so do you trust them less because they’re not wearing an active duty service? Because once a marine always a marine.

01:18:38;11                Blackmon: And what if some government other than the United States government wanted Blackwater to or a Blackwater like company to do the same thing with an all American force.

01:18:45;11                Prince: That’s a regulated activity by the U.S.  So a U.S. company could not do that.

01:18:50;07                Blackmon: Should they be able to? Should I mean is that the sort of thing that comes on to the table if we, if this world evolves in the way that we’ve been talking about?

01:18:58:15                Prince: The U.S. can't certainly can’t control the decisions of other nations, and I believe there will be significant demand signals given by other nations that want to do, that need more support for those kind of things. So, the demand signal is coming, whether the U.S. is going to be part of it or not that remains to be seen.  But it’s going to happen, because like I said, this is as old as warfare itself. The idea of fighting the big one, okay, like World War II, the U.S. military has been built and equipped for for the last 70 years. Very rarely, fortunately, does the big one ever come. So there’s likely to be lots of small brushfires and so that hybrid mix of active duty supported by contractors in some role is going to happen, it’s inevitable, accept that.

01:19:46:24                Blackmon: Ann, I’m still uh I think you’ve conveyed pretty clearly your anxieties about a lot of this and you’ve quoted in your book from a report The Commission on Wartime Contracting that came out in 2011 that uh that expressed alarm about the uh use of military contractors and ended with reform is essential now uh reform will save lives and money and support U.S. interests uh but I’m not entirely clear, I understand the anxieties, I’m not entirely clear though what exactly is the reform that a report like that or that in toto the argument that you’re making, what exactly is the reform in a really tangible way that you’re saying should be happening or that report would?

01:20:27:14              Hagedorn: Well that report the report actually listed about 25 suggestions and some of those have been I’ve mentioned some of those have been taken to. For example, in the issue of foreign contractors and and and our uhm enlisting foreign contractors under U.S. contracts there’s 38.5 billion dollars in a category called miscellaneous foreign contractors without any list of the uh jobs that they performed or the names of the companies. And it also points out uh between about 30 and 60 billion they couldn't identify exactly how much but between 30 and 60 dollars in waste and fraud.  um So that was a report that came out in August of 2011. And there have been efforts to uh to increase the accountability

01:22:33:00              Prince:   You had anxieties, I had anxieties as well. I mean for the ten years I owned the business with people deployed my phone never shut off. Ever. And so, a 2:00 a.m. call that a helicopter had been shot down, our men had been killed, we lost 41 of our men doing that job. Um, there’s a model for overseas contracting that the U.S. could follow better, the global large scale construction companies and large scale oil and gas it might those terms might make people nervous but the fact is they do multi-billion dollar jobs in different places, hard places, remote places, difficult to monitor places. They spend billions of dollars cost-effectively cause they’re spending their own money, drilling, exploring, making something happen. So there’s plenty of models of people doing difficult things in difficult places our government can model how they do oversight how they do contract management without the constant overbilling.

01:23:30:22              Hagedorn: That's a good point and. . .

01:23:32:15              Blackmon: Let me just stop you right there because I think we’ve actually arrived at a little piece of consensus there, no don’t shake hands yet.  I want to come back to you Eric one last time and I think we’ll have to finish with this. But as you have you did do this for ten years, sort of you’ve been in the hot seat for both things you did and things you had nothing to do with through this whole period of time. You’re sort of the face of this phenomenon for a lot of people. But you look back over that period of time and one, some people will say, particularly in the aftermath of the sentences of these former employees of yours, some would say that the company should have suffered in some more tangible way because of those instances and maybe you should have suffered as the architect of the company.   I’d like to hear from you on that. But the other thing and just a final thought as you look back over this period of time are there things that you would do differently?  I mean what you have learned now.  Are there things that could have been avoided in some way that you have an insight into now that you didn’t have eight or ten years ago?

01:24:39:18           Prince: Sure, I regret ever working for the State Department.   Uh, no look at the end of the day it’s just not worth it because we provided, we did more than 100,000 missions uh none of their people were ever killed or injured.  Our men fired their weapons less than one half of one percent of all those missions.  And for the company to be wrecked and defined by one incident that went bad one day, it’s not fair.  But life’s not fair.  And for whatever nonsense the company or I have had to put up with men have lost their lives men are incarcerated, 41 of our men were killed, hundreds severely wounded and not to mention the thousands of active soldiers that paid an infinitely higher price.  War is hard, war is bad, and it should be avoided as much as possible. But unfortunately there are some people that want to destroy our way of life.  I travel extensively, I encounter those types of places and people and so that's just a reality that fortunately most Americans are oblivious too but uh hopefully they can stay that way.

01: 26:32:27           Blackmon:  We are going to be continuing to reckon with these questions for a long time to come.  Thank you both very very much.   Ann Hagedorn, Erik Prince thank you both for being here.  The books are Civilian Warriors and The Invisible Soldiers.  To send us a comment about this program, to download a podcast of this and other episodes ,or to read a transcript, visit us at millercenter.org where American Forum is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.  I’m Doug Blackmon.  See you next time. 

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