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September 10, 2005

Mercs on the streets of New Orleans

Posted by Thad

Operation Truth reports that the infamous Blackwater mercs are on the scene in the Big Easy:

New Orleans - Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force. Several mercenaries we spoke with said they had served in Iraq on the personal security details of the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer and the former US ambassador to Iraq, John Negroponte.

"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told us as we stood on Bourbon Street in the French Quarter. "We're much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq."

Apparently, Lindsay, Bob, and Kyle have had an encounter with these mercs while trying to investigate the situation in the city. Stay tuned for further details.

UPDATE: The Dark Wraith has more.

UPDATE AGAIN: Will Bunch of Attytood has some great commentary on this as well. (Hat tip: commenter ghostcatbce)

- Thad


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» Insurrection in NOLA? from Maximum Advantage Discussed
Perhaps the whole picture is far beyond mere media disaster damage control. I believe the answer may be that some sort of insurrection or rebellion is occurring. Left to die, some may have decided to violently strike back. If so, the government is do... [Read More]


You wonder whether the Libertarians or libertarian Republicans will notice what's happening. I doubt it; except for Henley and a few others, they seem like a completely worthless bunch.

This fits in with the fact that apparently NOLA refugees will be put in heavily-policed, restricted entry/exit camps.

In other words, Bush's disaster relief failure will be used to justify increase use of police powers on US citizens.

I don't think I'm going to immediately condemn the use of mercs/private militias/whatever in this instance. They will, after all, be functioning within the domestic regulatory state with the tort and criminal systems, if not totally intact in the region, still at least recognized for the sake of future claims or prosecutions. That seems to remove some of the concerns such forces raise elsewhere.

Eli, what do mercs know how to do? What are their skills? What relevance does that have to actual disaster relief, especially now that the situation has already been stabilized? The portrayal of the NOLA and Katrina as primarily a policing problem is in the works, and TV is playing along. But NOLA is not primarily a policing problem.

The legal scheme these guys are working within includes the recent Padilla precedent. It's coincidental that that was affirmed just now, but that's an enormous straw in the wind.

Whenever mercs are used, it's in large part because they exist in a legal grey area, and are not limited by an established body of law the way the NG, Army, and police are. A bad sign there.

I have no idea what your education has been, but it seems to have incapacitated you for noticing what's going on in front of your eyes.

The Philly blog, Attytood, has more info:

John: Mercs are generally relatively well-trained folks, coming from the public security field. Their skills are usually the skills you'd expect from police or military. My point is that the gray area they exist in internationally doesn't exist domestically. In Iraq, they're gun-toting international men of mystery. Here, they're mall cops.

Of course it's not primarily a policing problem. I have to say, though, that it's not primarily a road-rebuilding problem, or a water supply problem, or a fundraising problem. It's a problem across a lot of fields, one of which is policing.

My position is that I'm not immediately condemning this strategy. Do you have a reason why I should immediately condemn it?


I know you to be an intelligent man and your positions are usually logically well founded but frankly in this you are so full of shit that your eyelids are brown!

"Mercs are generally relatively well-trained folks, coming from the public security field. Their skills are usually the skills you'd expect from police or military. My point is that the gray area they exist in internationally doesn't exist domestically. In Iraq, they're gun-toting international men of mystery. Here, they're mall cops."

Blackwater hires ex-CIA, Seals, Special Forces, and OPs as their preferred employees.

This is from their website:

"Blackwater was founded in 1997 from a clear vision developed from an understanding of the need for innovative, flexible training and security solutions to support freedom and democracy everywhere.

Our founder is a former U. S. Navy SEAL. He founded Blackwater on the belief that both the military and law enforcement establishments would require additional capacity to train fully our brave men and women in uniform to the standards required to keep our country secure and to help ensure peace and security, and freedom and democracy everywhere.

Blackwater USA consists of six separate business units: Blackwater Training Center (the largest private firearms and tactical training center in the U. S.), Blackwater Target Systems, Blackwater Security Consulting, Blackwater Aviation Worldwide Services, Blackwater Canine, and Raven Development Group.

We are not simply a "private security company." We are a turnkey solution provider for 4th generation warfare. We assist with the development of national and global security plans, train, equip and deploy public safety and military warriors, build combat live-fire indoor/outdoor ranges, MOUT facilities and shoot houses, create ground and aviation operations and logistics support packages, develop and execute canine solutions for patrol and explosive detection, and can design and build facilities both domestically and in austere environments abroad.

Blackwater lives its core values of excellence, efficiency, execution, and teamwork. In doing this, we have become the most responsive, cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of freedom and democracy everywhere."

Eli your assertion that they are "mall cops" here flys in the face of reason. I want you to chew on this line from their website:

"We are not simply a "private security company." We are a turnkey solution provider for 4th generation warfare."

Perhaps you have never had any contact with folks like these and that is the source of your naiveté, but let me assure you that I have and these guys are not Mary Poppins mall cops by any stretch of the imagination.

I value my friendships with these guys, but make no mistake they are the best trained killers you’ll ever meet and I’m glad that when they are working it’s for us and it is “over there” (where ever that may be). But the idea of them on the street in an American city working is one scary thought.

The lack of a gray area that you refer to isn’t accurate. You know all the bullshit that is being used to justify Bush’s inaction in NOLA regarding the Posse Comitatus Act of 1876. Which is a bogus argument because the act only prohibits Federal Troops from taking on a law enforcement roll, but it doesn’t prohibit rescue operations or the troops supporting local law enforcement? National Guardsmen are exempt completely from restrictions of this act.

Bush demanded that Governor Blanco federalize the troops and waive Posse Comitatus so he could send in the troops. The Governor resisted for reasons that she has not discussed as of yet.

Still, the Act wouldn’t have prevented Federal troops from assisting in search and rescue operation and in fact Governor Blanco never did sign such a waiver and there are indeed regular Army, Air force, and Navy personnel in Louisiana and NOLA.

The mercs you’re talking about though are in a gray zone in that they are the best of the best of the Federal troops, but they aren’t Federal troops any more and they are performing law enforcement duties.

Flint: I certainly didn't mean my "mall cops" remark to come across as a smear on the skill or training of the Blackwater folks. As I pointed out, if there's an objection to be made, it's not on the level of skill, as far as I know.

What I meant was that, as much as they're more well-trained than most private security, they're just as legally vulnerable. Hopefully, that training might keep them out of legally explosive situations. I don't know if it will.

I think we essentially agree - they exist in a conceptual gray area militarily - they're not public agents of a country, but they have much of the training one would associate with such a role. But the legal gray area simply isn't what it is internationally. That's my point.

Eli, the Bush administration has been aggressively producing grey areas of law ever since they came into office. That's what Padilla and Guantanamo are all about; that's what the ghost detainee question is all about. Now it's gone domestic.

These guys have been deputized and given police powers including the right to kill, and this was done AFTER the NOLA security problem had been pretty much solved. I seriously doubt that they were recruited by, or are fully controlled by, state or local government. Looks like someone rubber-stamped something.

Eli, I'm only vaguely familiar with your posting history, but this single post of yours will make me mistrust anything you write in the future. Your reality sense and methods of reasoning seem so deficient that your independent contributions to questions seem likely to be totally random. I sense that you're bright and intensely miseducated, but your sense of context is disastrously lacking.

Yes, you should have immediately condemned the strategy, and I've think I've given enough reasons why. Your cheap little flaunt of "independent thinking" damns you.

"Hopefully, that training might keep them out of legally explosive situations."

It is exactly their training that is the problem and has explosive potential. These guys are trained to be in the worst situations you can imagine, where the difference between life and death is measured in fractions of a second. If they feel threatened that training takes over and they don't think... just act.

A personal experience with one who had spent a great deal of time "in country" was enough to make me realize just how dangerous they can be.

I was with a group of them who wanted to go to a bar, shoot some pool and have a couple of beers. One of them remarked on his friend and told me that there was likely to be trouble and to be ready to get out of there in a hurry.

I asked how he knew and he told me to look at the gait of my friends walking. It didn't appear to be too strange except he kept his feet close to the ground in a sort of glide step. I asked what that was about and he told me that he was "automatically" looking for trip wires.

Later that night, some clown did set him off and 13 guys were hospitalized. The very training that keeps many of these guys alive when they are "in country" make them big liabilities in civilian life.

I respect these guys but I know what they are about and I'll also say they are very cynical about civilian authorities.

As to the gray areas, John is right. The Bush administration has been manufacturing them more than any administration in history. They have been looking for ways to use Federal troops to control the civilian population for some time and that is a dangerous precendent.

Here is Colonel John R. Brinkerhoff arguing for exactly that in reference to "Posse Comitatus" and its impedimentary nature to Homeland security.

"It is time to rescind the existing Posse Comitatus Act and replace it with a new law. The old law is widely misunderstood and unclear. It leaves plenty of room for people to do unwise and perhaps unlawful things while trying to comply with their particular version. It certainly does not provide a basis for defining a useful relationship of military forces and civil authority in a global war with terrorism. The Posse Comitatus Act is an artifact of a different conflict-between freedom and slavery or between North and South, if you prefer. Today's conflict is also in a sense between freedom and slavery, but this time it is between civilization and terrorism. New problems often need new solutions, and a new set of rules is needed for this issue.

President Bush and Congress should initiate action to enact a new law that would set forth in clear terms a statement of the rules for using military forces for homeland security and for enforcing the laws of the United States. Things have changed a lot since 1878, and the Posse Comitatus Act is not only irrelevant but also downright dangerous to the proper and effective use of military forces for domestic duties."

In closing all I'll say is that it was for good reason that Rome never allowed the legions to enter the city after a campaign.

Knew this was coming.

This afternoon the Special Agent in Charge of the FBI in NOLA was on television saying that there are so many law enforcement officers, troops, and private contractors in the city that it is becoming a problem.

They're setting up a command and control center to coordinate their activities because they are afraid that these units may not recognize eachother and shoot one another.

He was quick to add that they are in no way "Federalizing" the law enforcement in NOLA. So ya gotta ask... why do they need mercs?

They're just now setting up a command and controll center? Michael Chimino could have made Heaven's Gate in this amount of time.

You know all the bullshit that is being used to justify Bush’s inaction in NOLA regarding the Posse Comitatus Act of 1876.

I think the "negotiation" with the governer basically went "Nobody goes to NOLA unless you declare an "Insurrection" and I get full controll of everything." 'Cause, yknow, it's not SAFE.

Aside from whatever nefarious intents are being speculated, it would have given Bush the opportunity to ride in at the head of the cavalry and save the day. I think the jury's still out on whether the governor was right to resist.

When I don my tinfoil hat, I suspect that the current "security operation" is a dry run for something larger. Televising it makes us grow accustomed to a strong "security" presence in our neighborhoods.

There is some truth in what you say but what confuses people and has now become clear after listening to the Mayor and others on the Sunday talk show circuit is this...

The Friday conversation between the Govenor and the President, which the mayor was in attendance on Airforce One, wasn't the Friday before the storm. The Meeting took place Friday after the storm had hit on Monday. That's four days after it had left the area.

That four day delay was critical and that is when the outbreak of looting and such began to occur. During this time the US military branch that handles this was ready to move in immeadiately after the storm had moved out.

This branch is known as North Com and Lt. Commander Sean Kelly in an interview with the BBC said they started moving into position before the Katrina had even made landfall.

They had the USS Batann hospital ship, with its search and rescue helicopters actually chasing the storm in. They had 9 million RTE meals, water, transportation, and 4000 military personnel ready to go.

Here's a link to the interview and according to Kelly the only thing that held up the response was the President never gave them the order to go in.

The Governor never did sign a wavier for Posse Comitatus and an Insurrection was never declared and yet we now have regular Army, Navy, and airforce personnel in NOLA right now.

So was the President prevented by law from going in? Absolutly not! Nope! Nada! No way!

So what was the reason for his delay? In this I will join you under your tinfoil hat!

The governor kicked the emergency plan into action on Friday night, declared the Emergency on Saturday and late Saturday did have a phone conversation with the President. Time magazine reports this:

"The day the storm hit, [Blanco] asked President Bush for "everything you've got." But almost nothing arrived, and she couldn't wait any longer. So she called the White House and demanded to speak to the President. George Bush could not be located, two Louisiana officials told Time, so she asked for chief of staff Andrew Card, who was also unavailable.

Finally, after being passed to another office or two, she left a message with DHS adviser Frances Frago Townsend. She waited hours but had to make another call herself before she finally got Bush on the line. "Help is on the way," he told her."

My point is that is that anyone who is terribly offended about the use of private contractors entrusted with police powers ought to light up the torches and storm their local universities, subdivisions, shopping malls, etc - because it happens all the time. John, I'm fully aware that the Bush administration has pursued gray areas elsewhere, but that's hardly any proof that there's one here. As to you being immediately suspicious of anything I saw from now on - well, ok. I'll try to remember to shed a few tears about that when I get the chance.

My point is that is that anyone who is terribly offended about the use of private contractors entrusted with police powers ought to light up the torches and storm their local universities, subdivisions, shopping malls, etc - because it happens all the time.

University security guards and mall cops are authorized to use deadly force?

Certainly not all of them, but some private security people are, via arrangements with local police. This is definitely the case on some college campuses - the university police receive the same training as normal police and are entrusted with the same powers, but are private employees.

"Authorization to use deadly force" isn't the same thing as unreviewable discretion to use deadly force. If private security in New Orleans kills anyone, they'll have to be able to justify it legally, or they'll be liable under both the criminal and civil systems.

Certainly not all of them, but some private security people are, via arrangements with local police.

I did not know this. (I don't think I've ever seen a campus security guard who was even armed.) I find this somewhat disturbing. Anyway, thanks for the clarifying info, Eli.

We are a turnkey solution provider for 4th generation warfare.

Can someone tell me what the hell this means? It sounds like a cross between Dilbert's Pointy Haired Boss and Darth Vader. I am especially perplexed by "turnkey solutions"

I do like that they sell T-shirts, though.

My main experience with the question was in my undergraduate days, when there was lots of controversy surrounding the question of arming some of the campus cops. The way it worked there was that there were normal security guards, and then there were individuals called police who underwent the same training as city police and were authorized by the city to uphold statutes, but who were employed by and answered to the university. To be fair, under the regulatory scheme Rhode Island had set up, they were police officers in name, but they were still under the control of the same agency that controlled the other security people, which was itself under the control of the university, which was private.


You're absolutely right when it comes to campus security at large campuses. Some universities are like small cities, and it would be nearly impossible in some cases to rely strictly on the local police force. For example, nearly 1/3 of the people who live in Corvallis, Oregon are undergrad students. The university prudently arms its security force with only nightsticks and pepper spray while they patrol, but if they didn't have a weapons cache and the authority to make arrests and use deadly force, the security situation would quickly become untenable. BTW, those security guards with full police authority are nearly all (if not all) former police officers.

As for the Blackwater people, I don't see how the Bush administration can continue to pretend that they aren't straining our domestic forces when they have to spend money on private security firms during natural disasters.

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