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September 14, 2005

Chatting with mercenaries

NEW ORLEANS, LA.

Sorry the updates have been sporadic. Things have been pretty crazy lately.

Two days ago we tried to get interviews from some of the private security agents operating in New Orleans. An 82nd Airborne officer in the French Quarter told me that Blackwater was guarding the Sheraton Hotel on Canal Street. Incidentally, Canal Street is also the mainstream media's staging area in New Orleans.

Sure enough, there were two guys in Blackwater t-shirts, and mirrored wrap-around sunglasses guarding the entrance to the Sheraton. They wouldn't talk to me, as in, they literally wouldn't speak to me beyond "We have no comment at this time." That was disappointing. 

So, I went around the corner. Back there, I saw four guys in full mercenary getup. The private security forces stand out because they have major weapons and no uniforms. But what really sets them apart is their conspicuously non-military demeanor. They're twitchy, slouchy, and angry-looking. They never smile. If you wave at them, they won't wave back. They hate cameras. Earlier this week, a Blackwater dude lunged at our car after Kyle tried to take a picture of him.

I couldn't tell whether the guys in the alley were Blackwater or some other security force. I started snapping pictures about three blocks away.* Actually, my camera batteries were dead, but I wanted them to think I was taking pictures. I figured they'd be more likely to talk to me if I gave them an excuse to chew me out. It worked.

A big white guy in a floppy hat said, "You're taking pictures?"

I said, "You bet! Can you just lean in a little?" I snapped another picture. They seemed stunned.

"What kind of soldiers are you? " I asked.

"We're private." A twitchy guy with mutton-chop sideburns said.

"What do you mean?"

"We can't talk about that."

I said I wanted to ask questions about them, not about their work. The floppy hat guy said his name was Greg and that he'd been in the Navy. When I asked him whether he was a Seal, he said "I'm being deliberately vague."

I asked if he'd been to Iraq.

"Some of us have," he said.

By this time, Greg's bald colleague was becoming visibly agitated. I figured I should leave soon.

"Are you out here by yourself?" Greg asked.

"My crew's around the corner," I said.

"What kind of weapons do you have?" Greg asked.

I had to admit I was unarmed. The guys seemed genuinely concerned that I was out without a gun. It was getting dark, so I headed off in search Bob, Kyle, and the rental car.

*This is the last picture I snapped before my batteries ran out. The mercenaries were way up ahead and to the right, out of frame.

**I assumed they were Blackwater because Blackwater guards were stationed in front of the building.

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Comments

You be careful out there. Keep it up though, it's good.

Damn, you're brave.

Damn, you're cool.

Don't get hurt, please.

You guys are brave.

You guys *rock*.

Thank you for the work you're doing.

Watch out, too. Not for the "natives" - for the "security" forces. [sic]

"What kind of weapon do you have" is a dangerous question to be asked. I'm assuming these people were deputized, if not, they probably could have gotten that "paperwork snafu cleared up" within a few minutes, if they'd needed to.

Even in right-to-carry states, stating that you have a weapon (which is ALWAYS preferable to hiding it when in a direct conversation... the criminal justice system does not react well to politically unsavory people hiding weapons from law enforcement) is a guarantee at least that you will be disarmed and at the very least made to wait while your permit and priors are checked.

A good answer to that question is always "Nextel."

Please be careful, Lindsay. We don't have enough like you in the world.

Ric L. (ex of TableTalk)

A member of a private company tries to attack someoen because of a camera? Have these people forgot that they're not in Iraq, and yes, they can get sued and the comapny they work for can get sued, *and* they can go to jail for assault?

Yeah, Josh, that's the difference between operating in the United States and operating in another country. Here, you have to at least pretend you're paying attention to human rights. It must be so frustrating for them... no wonder they never smile.

Ms. Lindsay, Stumbled upon your web-site and after reading some of the commentary I could'nt help but to retort. I am also a vet who has worked for BW USA, both in the middle east and CONUS- continental US on more than one occasion. Please allow me to say that we (contractors) are a highly trained, highly motivated and very sensible group of individuals. Your portrayal of any BW contractor as being "slouchy" or "grumpy" is in my estimation, unfair. These men, like myself, are committed to the highest standards regarding human ethics. We have trained vigorously and put our lives in harms way to preserve the freedom that you and all American's enjoy daily. The men restoring order in New Orleans are working long hours in an environment of what we would call "defensive posturing". Being under the threat of small arms fire will certainly not put a "smile" on your face. This is a serious business and we take it that way. Pointing a camera or anything for that matter, at an agent in defensive posture is an act of plain ignorance. Also, a good way to become dead. This is not a game that you can afford to lose. These men are performing difficult tasks and are the best in the business. I can attest. We smile too. I can also attest to that. I have issued a seldom used e-mail-for post, please don't bombard with hate mail. CR

This is regarding CR's comment. In Iraq, i worked closely with private security contractors. they are professional. they dont slouch, they arent grumpy, and they DO dislike cameras, and other objects pointed at them. as he said, this isnt a game. it was very dangerous what you did. and reckless. not brave. Brave is doing the fighting in Iraq, not taking pictures of suffering people while you drive around in a rental car spreading the news that hurricanes suck. Grow up ma'am.

Hate it when civilians try to get personal with these type of people. They do not think/act in the same way you do, and their perception of the world is entirely different. Next time don't try to be cute with them and let them do their job.

Oh wow, I checked out the comments from your 2005 post and found a couple from self-proclaimed security guys. This one struck me funny:

“We have trained vigorously and put our lives in harms way to preserve the freedom that you and all American's enjoy daily. The men restoring order in New Orleans are working long hours in an environment of what we would call "defensive posturing". Being under the threat of small arms fire will certainly not put a "smile" on your face.”

The US army and the NOLA police were also there. Some of those guys were war veterans, too; but they didn’t go around tilting at windmills and growling at cameras. If this is a fair example of the Black Water mentality, that group might want to tighten its psychological fitness requirements for potential employees.

And then there was this comment, which simply served to piss me off:

“This is regarding CR's comment. In Iraq, i worked closely with private security contractors. they are professional. they dont slouch, they arent grumpy, and they DO dislike cameras, and other objects pointed at them. as he said, this isnt a game. it was very dangerous what you did. and reckless. not brave. Brave is doing the fighting in Iraq, not taking pictures of suffering people while you drive around in a rental car spreading the news that hurricanes suck. Grow up ma'am.”

This idiot seemed to be under the impression that journalists view risking their own lives as some kind of super-fun game to be played only until the burly ‘roid-enraged mercenaries show up to teach the silly fools a lesson on how to survive in an urban war zone.

Oops, meant to post that in the new thread.

Oops, meant to post that in the new thread.

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