The government's use of private security contractors (PSCs) has grown dramatically in recent years, but the public remains largely in the dark about how they are hired, trained and managed. The extremely sensitive nature of their work keeps most of that information veiled in secrecy. We only hear about PSCs when they are involved in tragic situations like the September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq. Even then, the government and private companies keep a tight lid on public disclosures.
Fortunately, United Press International was able to pierce the veil of secrecy with a Freedom of Information Act request that produced heavily redacted portions of the U.S. State Department's Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) contract, under which the State Department hires such companies as Blackwater Worldwide, DynCorp International, and Triple Canopy to protect its personnel around the globe. Military affairs analyst (and former POGO staffer/martial arts giant) David Isenberg wrote about this contract and discussed some of its specifications in his "Dogs of War" column last week.
The document contains 63 pages of specifications covering every aspect of security personnel recruitment, training, job performance, personal conduct and discipline, with one notable exception: One brief passage, buried on page 44, warns guards not to disclose "official information, records and documents" to "unauthorized personnel." Other than this one vague warning, however, the contract is mum on communicating with the public or the media. Either the State Department has supreme confidence in its contractors' discretion, or, more likely, the section of the contract dealing with this important matter was redacted before the document was turned over to UPI.
The State Department reportedly spends billions every year on PSCs. For those interested in learning more about PSCs, this Congressional Research Service report provides excellent background and analysis.
-- Neil Gordon