Banned Blackwater Training Now Possible Under Proposed U.S. Rule

Middle East and North Africa

This blog post appeared first on Thomas E. Ricks column on Foreign Policy

The State Department’s Directorate for Defense Trade Controls has proposed a rule change that could loosen oversight of private security companies and exacerbate the problems we’ve seen with them.

The U.S. requires U.S. companies aiming to provide military training to first obtain a U.S. license to ensure such assistance is “consistent with the foreign policy interests of the United States.” The proposed change would exempt many types of military and police training. Under the proposed change, a U.S. company could provide “law enforcement, physical security, or personal protective services” if it does not involve the “employment” of a U.S. defense article without first obtaining U.S. license. Similarly, a U.S. company could deliver military training or advice on issues such as combat tactics, logistics, intelligence, weapons capability needs, and force structure without U.S. scrutiny. The rule would allow U.S. private security companies to provide training on the “basic operation” of U.S. arms without a license.

This licensing system has been critical for stemming problematic U.S. private training to foreign security forces — and revising contracts to make them more consistent with U.S. goals. In the mid-1990s, the State Department used them to prevent U.S. private contractors from providing military training to foreign security forces in Angola. In 2012, the Justice Department fined Academi/Blackwater for $7.5 million for failing to obtain a license for furnishing security services to the South Sudanese government.

The proposed exemptions would allow a U.S. private company to provide military training to foreign security units that the State Department has otherwise prohibited under its various military aid programs, such as to the presidential guard in Chad. Or a U.S. company could deliver types of training that the United States may not want provided such as “enhanced interrogation techniques.” A private contractor could be drawn into armed fire while providing personal protection, which may later require U.S. military actions or greater U.S. involvement.

The U.S. government has made gains in regulating the industry (though more needs to be done — see summary of what here). These gains should make a repeat of the calamities in Iraq and Afghanistan much less likely but they need to be solidified, not undermined.

Colby Goodman is Acting Director, Security Assistance MonitorDeborah Avant is Sié Chéou-Kang Chair for International Security and Diplomacy at University of Denver and manager of the Private Security Monitor.