The following interview with Doug Brooks [1] was carried out in Washington D.C., on January 13, 2014 by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann. The main focus of the interview was on the terminology of Private Military Companies (PMC) and Private Security Companies (PSC), the size of the private security industry, the goal behind ISOA as well as the diverse chances and challenges coming with the use of PSC and the recent shift towards the Afghan Public Protection Force (APPF) in Afghanistan. All footnotes are remarks by Patrick Renz and Frauke Heidemann, aimed at giving some additional background knowledge and especially giving the links to the cited documents so that the reader can follow up on these issues easily.


. Terminology

Starting with the terminology issue: the companies prefer to NOT be referred to as as PMSCs. You will notice that the International Code of Conduct (ICOC) [2] does not use the term Private Military and Security Company (PMSC) because the companies don’t like the whole military terminology. For a lot of human rights people into the legal definitions – once you start calling anything that is in its nature civilian military, even when it is about the provision of security – it is applying rights to them they don’t have. For the industry this is just a non-starter.

How would you define the difference between PMC and PSC? [3]

It is generally offensive vs. defensive operations. You can say that Executive Outcomes (EO) and to a lesser extent Sandline were the only real PMC that have existed. [4] Even I used the term PMC back in my academic days. However, as I learned about the international legal definitions it became clear that one needed to make a pretty solid line between what PMC do and what security companies do. I am a big fan of EO, they did an amazing job especially in Sierra Leone, where they essentially ended the war in 1996. Nevertheless, this was a very different sort of operation than what any other company such as Blackwater did in Iraq or Afghanistan.

So all the bigger companies today should be referred to as PSC?

They are all PSC. They protect a person, place or thing. A safe example is convoy or mobile security where you are protecting a person or a convoy that is moving around. It is interesting, when you talk to the private security industry about this, because they were probably military in the past. When you are trained in the U.S. military one rule is that when you are ambushed, you attack into the ambush. The first thing you are doing as a private security company is you don’t attack in an ambush, you get away from the ambush. You get the person or convoy you are protecting out of there. This means to completely retrain someone from these offensive operations of “let us kill the bastards” to getting away. Although as one private security employee put it to me, you still want to get retribution and as you are getting away you are still trying to do as much damage as you can. However, you are getting away, you are not staying around, because you are not allowed to. This is one of the things you will see in a lot of articles about Iraq. They talk about security companies being involved in events such as fleeing and leaving. But that is because they are required to. They cannot participate in hostilities, they have to leave. [5] Everything else is up to the military and the police.


. Industry Size

What struck us most at first were the numbers. They seem to range from the PSC industry being as huge as over 100 billion USD to rather small numbers. [6] From your experience, which numbers are realistic?

The only way you can get to numbers as high as 100 billion USD is by including companies such as Boeing, which have small subsidiaries doing things such as repairing aircrafts. Does that mean Boeing is part of the stability operations industry? I think that is a stretch. You take Boeing out, you take Airbus out and it looks differently. Halliburton is a big company and KBR is a big company. [7] Even for them, most of the business is oil services somewhere else, thereby getting to 100 billion USD is impossible. A recent article by the UN Working Group [8] is getting to 244 billion USD, which again is another aspect as they are including domestic security. In the U.S. we have three times as many private security employees as we have policemen. The concierge downstairs is private security. If you include all those people you can get to 244 billion USD worldwide. I think Great Britain has three to four times as many private security employees as policemen, South Africa has five or six times as many. This way you get those numbers, but it is a whole different ballgame if you talk about domestic security in a normal place as opposed to security in Iraq, Afghanistan or Congo.

At the peak of the Iraq war I ran the numbers myself based on all the contracts including reconstruction, the entire stability operations industry such as the KBR logistics contract, all the infrastructure plus security contracts, and I came up with about 20 billion USD. That is globally. Of that the security companies were about 10 percent, resulting in about 2 billion USD globally. These are the ones doing extractive security, operating in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia. The overall number is significantly smaller, whereby the percentage that is PSC has gone up a bit. The peak in Afghanistan was about 18% being security that has gone down and Afghanistan replaced all the private security companies or at least almost all of them with the APPF, which is governmental. [9] Therefore, it is hard to get the numbers right.



What was the main goal behind the foundation of ISOA and what is the goal now?

I was writing about the role of the private sector in peacekeeping operations and came across all those PSC that were part of a much bigger thing going on. Nobody on the peacekeeping side of think tanks and academia or any other relation understood the role of the private sector or they downplayed it. You have certain noble peacekeeping ideas of all countries contributing to the UN and having a wonderful coming together of those countries bringing peace elsewhere. In reality part of this is true but you also have to move all these people around, you have to have medics, you need to get helicopters to move around. If you get into this field, you see contractors everywhere. During my dissertation I did an academic fellowship in South Africa, part of that was going to Sierra Leone a couple of times during the peacekeeping operations. It was just fascinating when getting in the field. There was the UN and militaries from Nigeria, India and so forth but the infrastructure was being moved around by PAE trucks as well as by DynCorp and ICI was bringing in helicopters with Russian and Ukrainian crews. Every helicopter basically had an American former Special Forces member or reservist in the crew. They worked essentially for the U.S. Ambassador on different contract roles. All of them were former U.S. military and understood the risks and how to minimize them whereby having more flexibility to do what the UN wouldn’t do. There was also the Sierra Leonean Air Force, which was essentially EO’s employees flying a MI-24 and going out everyday on behalf of the Sierra Leone government working very close with the British. [10] In May of 2000 all the UN units were surrounded out in the hinterland by the revolutionary army. The Indians did the spearhead to go in and rescue all those enclaves. They had their own helicopters but the lead helicopter was the Sierra Leonean helicopter. They had hired South African pilots, Ethiopian mechanics and a Nigerian, Fijian and French gunner. It was a “private sector UN” flying the helicopter. They knew what they were doing while the Indians were in combat for the first time. You never hear about that, the UN is all “hush hush” about such happenings. There is a wonderful article about it in an Indian military magazine, mentioning the Indian air operations but not with one word the Sierra Leonean Air Force. Nowadays, the contractors are holding these things together. I was just out on a contract in Mogadishu and when you go around the airport, there are contractors over contractors such as Supreme and PAE.

AMISOM is mostly made up of Ugandans. They are very capable in terms of combat soldiers; they are quite professional and have a ton of experience. But like all militaries from developing countries they don’t have their own helicopter maintenance capabilities. All this is provided by the EU or the U.S. in the form of contractors. The most interesting one is Bancroft Global, who goes out on all the operations with AMISOM, is all ex military members from various countries and goes along with the front line as they do explosive ordinance disposals (EOD), look and defuse roadside bombs and so on. These are high end technical services where it is way better to have a 45 years old who has been doing this all his professional life long as opposed to a 22 years old who has never seen such a situation before.


. Chances and Challenges

What do you see as the biggest challenge for PSC when operating?

Wherever you are, you have local laws. If you operate in Afghanistan all your companies operate under Afghan law – under the Afghan legal system – for better or worse. In Iraq after 2003 it was initially different because it was an occupied country. They adopted the laws afterwards and we still have security contractors operating there today. The laws can be challenging. The other thing is the registration process, which is just a nightmare and usually corrupted, making it difficult for any company from the U.S., the UK and Europe who has to follow anti-corruption laws. How do you register your company when you are essentially required to pay a bribe? Basically this means it takes a really long time until you can use all the right pressures to not have to pay your bribe. In Iraq until this day, to get a 6 (or 12)-month operating license, it takes 18 months and you literally have to apply for a renewal of your license before you even get it. That is the only way it works unless you start paying people off. Local companies tend to get their licenses really fast but for international companies that does not work. Nevertheless if you were running a company out of Switzerland and you wanted to operate in Iraq in the oil infrastructure and needed security, do you hire a local Iraqi company to do your security? It is very easy to do but you are going to send a bunch of international people, kidnapping targets of Al-Qaeda, to Iraq. Are you going to trust those Iraqi companies paying bribes? It is a big decision to make and for any international company doing this stuff they want internationally managed companies to do the security. The individuals who do the actual security work are probably local in all companies, it doesn’t matter if it is British, American or Iraqi. Nevertheless, you want a company that can train these people, professionalize them, give them an understanding of rules of use of force so they don’t embarrass you and cause political problems. The last things a company wants are political problems. Therefore you want professionals training those people.

Additionally, you are operating under different laws. If you are in a car accident in the U.S., there are laws in place. If it happens to you in a post conflict situation such as Iraq or Afghanistan, chances are you deal with it on the spot. The U.S. always had the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (MEJA) and they also extended the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ). [11] If you are operating under US government contract – any nationality – you can be brought back to the U.S. and tried for a felony level crime. That has been on the books since 2001 and was expanded, whereby industry supported this expansion. There is also a new law coming out named the Civilian Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act (CEJA) because MEJA was only for Department of Defense (DoD) contractors which now gets extended to U.S. government contracts. [12] Basically this means you will be brought to the U.S. for trial. There have been more than 60 or 70 MEJA cases since 2007. Presumably a lot more happened, but the Department of Justice won’t give out the information. Most of them have been Americans as you can’t try the locals but there was one case where a South African contractor was brought back and tried in Virginia. However, there is a little trap door or escape clause. If you say you will bring a South African from Iraq to the U.S. for trial, the U.S. has to go to South Africa and ask if they want to try this person instead. In this case South Africa waived that option. Thereby, this does not violate any international treaties. CEJA would be fully supported by the industry, which has no problem with accountability. It is really not an issue, they want to be professional and want clients to know that it is safe to use PSC.

The Blackwater group was under the Department of State contract. The MEJA is a military jurisdiction act, which applies to the DoD and was expanded with support of the industry to cover all contracts working in support of the U.S. military operation. As this whole incident (Nissour Square) happened, the Department of State came forward and said they were not working in support of the DoD mission but working in support of a diplomatic mission. They wanted the contractors of theirs who screwed up not to be tried under MEJA but Blackwater at that time was under MEJA. The final point being: the laws exist, they always have. In Afghanistan we had contractors thrown in Afghan prison when they allegedly screwed up.

How do you assess the role of PSC in development aid projects in unstable countries?

There was a reason for why we started International Peace Operations Association (IPOA) and afterwards ISOA. When I was writing an article about the political economy of the war in Sierra Leone, I interviewed all these NGOs, politicians, UN folks and the fascinating thing in Sierra Leone was how much Sierra Leoneans loved EO and wanted them to come back. The only thing they loved more than EO were the British. Everybody else was useless as far as they were concerned, especially in terms of combat capability. So they loved EO and wanted them to come back. At a two-day conference along with NGOs we agreed on some guidelines for companies in a conflict. All the literature at that point was very hostile to private security and private military companies. We drew this up in a letter and my idea was to take this letter to the PSC and other companies, get their feedback and come up with a compromise document on how companies should operate. The problem was I took this document to MPRI, Sandline and other companies who all looked at these guidelines put together by academics, human rights specialists as well as NGOs and said “don’t change it”. Any company that is operating professionally should follow these guidelines anyway according to them. Therefore that letter was revised when I got back to the U.S. and when somebody said they needed a trade association, I sent the letter to a group of people in the human rights community, got their feedback and it became the original Code of Conduct (CoC) for the trade association. [13] Eventually we developed our own accountability system to handle complaints based on that CoC and when new companies joined they had to accept it. Theoretically, if anyone violated it they could be kicked out of the association, but so far no one has gone so far (the goal has always been to return companies to compliance, not to simply kick companies out for violations). Essentially if the trade association supporting accountability ends up kicking you out, that is really bad for the company. Therefore when the companies were approached with a complaint, they all were trying to either ensure that it was not a problem or handle it in case it really existed.

Every couple of years we would update the CoC, bring in the companies, every NGO that wanted to come, journalists and do a big conference going through all paragraphs. We got input from a lot of NGOs and the headquarters loved that we had that. In the field NGOs often hire security without any policy at all. They are running off donations, funded from people generally not in support of private security. They don’t want to have a policy and don’t want to know what exactly is happening but leave it to the employees in the field to arrange such things. Some NGOs have covert policies and quietly say how they will do this but in the field they often times hire “Thugs are Us”, meaning local companies that have nothing to do with our CoC. Also very common is to hire local warlords’ kids or thugs because if you hire them, they are not going to attack you. This is very common and painful. I saw a lot of that apparently happening in Somalia in 1993. They hired all these guys and wouldn’t get attacked by their own contractors but by other groups. That is the way it works until this day. If you ask an NGO whether they use PSC, they will probably deny it. If you show them they do, they will probably express sentiments of not having any alternative.

Is it any different if you have governmental development aid agencies such as USAID?

Usually agencies such as USAID require security in the field. They certainly allow it and are very open about it. When doing meetings on security in Afghanistan they bring in all the USAID contractors, which are NGOs and other companies and they have long discussions about the APPF. They have to make the decision if it is too risky to operate the USAID contracts. Other NGOs use the acceptance model, which is great and if you are able to use local personnel that is very helpful. There was a great piece where one NGO interviewed a bunch of other NGOs on how they operate in Afghanistan and what compromises they have to make such as working with the Taliban and having no women in the organization. It is really interesting and a lot of companies don’t get credit for the fact that they use as many locals as they can. It lowers their risks and profile as locals are not generally the target. Thereby, they are far more effective.

From your point of view, why are PSC allowed to operate?

The first question is whether there is enough police and military presence in the country. South Africa is a wonderful example. They have a huge crime issue and at the same time they have a perfectly capable police and military but can’t use the military for fighting crime. They have a limited number of police officers so every grocery store etc. needs security and a private guard that is armed as the criminals are. In the entire world you are using private security guards for those functions and just license them so you don’t lose control over the use of force. In South Africa for example many police stations are protected by private security until this day. They can’t arrest anyone but detain someone, whereby they play a different role. From a state perspective it makes sense, as they can’t provide all the security. From an NGO perspective, it would seem odd that ExxonMobil from the U.S. would get free police protection as they obviously have a lot of stuff they need protected from terrorists or from people stealing. Why should the public be funding that and why should our taxes go into protecting a rich for-profit organization? From a state perspective the question is why they should provide that much security. The larger issue is to have a military capable of preventing an invasion and one certainly wants a capable military, but that does not mean offering this type of free protection. You just can’t afford that. Looking at it from the commercial perspective. If you are again a Swiss company looking to go into an unstable place, you are about to put your nationals in there, it is about your insurance risk: what happens if a worker gets attacked by the Taliban? If they get attacked or killed the insurance company pays the family etc. so you want to have decent security to protect your people. The U.S. has laws that require you to provide a safe working place. [14] In the case of the Maersk Alabama all the crewmembers – except for the captain – were suing the Waterman Steamship Corporation and Maersk for not providing a safe working environment. Under U.S. law you can sue the company – now they are regretting not having had private security on that ship (Maersk was actually one of the first companies to put PSCs on all their ships going by Somalia). If you want to operate, you need effective security from a commercial and insurance perspective.

When talking about the stability operations industry it is an industry, which would be normal everywhere else but is operating in a place where there is a lot of risk and therefore they do it in a different way and their risk assessments are different. I like to use water purification as an example. We have them in the U.S. and they work for cities etc. making sure the water is good. If they were to try to do that in Afghanistan, Iraq or the Congo, there are all those other issues they are not aware of. They could do the engineering part just fine but they might not be able to deal with corrupt police, with rebels or with rival gangs. You need a specialized company who does that and that is where our industry comes in. They do 90% normal stuff in really weird places.

When talking about the ban of private security in Afghanistan, why is the shift to the APPF happening?

The APPF is a joke. The ban was an interesting development since the Karzai family has made a lot of money with the security companies. There are many Afghan companies that are rearmed warlord militias and Karzai was afraid they would essentially come after him at some point. There is also the resentment of these companies in the local public because if you give someone, even a local, a machine gun they become completely arrogant. However, since it was easier to go after foreigners than after locals, he basically said in a local speech not in English where there happened to be some Afghan journalists – they have a really good media sector – that he would ban them. Essentially he was caught in the act and cornered when he told them they needed to get rid of those companies. It is a very top-down system where everything that is decided by the leader has to get implemented. I was over there talking to one of Karzai’s aids who said this whole APPF idea is very stupid but has to be implemented now. They had to delay things because it took so much time to train the APPF. A lot of the APPF is actually trained by PSC. Everything was done way too fast, the system is terrible, the government can’t pay these guys and does not really understand what the role of the APPF is. Sometimes a company wants the APPF to protect a railroad they are building and they are paying them but protection is just not there. It is, as you would expect. They can barely run their own government and now created this gigantic bureaucracy to run private security without having the infrastructure or capability to do it.

Now coming back to that: if you were running a company, would you trust the APPF to protect your employees? The answer is probably no. There have been a number of incidents so far and USAID for example is having all those contracts of which a lot of the contractors are coming back and saying using the APPF they can’t guarantee the security of their workers and want to end their contract without penalty because of the risk factor. USAID however has been pushing back and has said the APPF is as good as regular private security. Quite frankly a lot of companies just did not renew contracts and quietly pulled out. In the Afghan-American Chamber of Commerce this is a big issue. Investors know there is no certain security and it is important to know that the Afghan military and police are not as bad as the APPF. (Since our conversation the APPF was disbanded and folded into the Ministry of Interior – the situation has gone from bad to worse)

Do you have any take on what this will mean for Chinese extractive companies in Afghanistan?

In terms of the mining industry, the only extractive stuff I see is whatever can be flown out such as diamonds. The really big extractive material is too risky and nobody is going to invest at this point until the security situation vastly improves.

In South Sudan there was a Canadian company Talisman that ran all the oil extraction, which was the most hated company in the NGO community because they were operating in Sudan. The company was investing in all those community projects, hiring locals, capacity building but everybody said they had to leave and eventually they did and sold everything to Chinese and Indian companies. At this point the international spotlight looked elsewhere. Talisman Energy actually offered to continue the community projects but was turned down and had to leave completely. During the ongoing civil war, a number of Chinese were evacuated. There was an interview with some oil workers fleeing those areas because they were still operating and it was interesting because they were operating in areas where a lot of Western companies no longer operate. China is now participating more in UN operations, they can no longer work with all the shitty governments and they have to be a player in all of this now and hate the fact that they have to take sides. I see this global maturing of China – it is becoming just as bad as the rest of us. China has been very good for Africa as they were willing to go in there and invest in roads, railways etc. This has all been good, not high quality of course but in general very positive. The Africans have been pushing back because in the past the Chinese were always bringing in thousands of their own to do the work. In Nairobi, Kenya the road system was funded by the Chinese and initially it was only Chinese doing the work, now it is actually Kenyans. Their efforts are improving I think, even though most people might disagree with that point.

What do you see as the biggest risk or benefit of having PSC operating in an unstable country?

You have to have a CoC. There is the Montreux Document for example holding people accountable. It was always frustrating to our industry that organizations and companies ignore the guidelines that already exist. A lot of work has gone into developing the Montreux Document, the ICOC, and the ISOA CoC and yet clients, not just NGOs but also extractive companies ignore all that and hire the lowest bidder, the cheapest people they can find or just completely ignore the standards that exist for whatever reason. That is very frustrating. When I was running ISOA the high-income companies that were willing to be transparent followed all these rules, paid the extra money and were overlooked by the U.S. government on contracts. Classic is the labor trafficking issue. There was this problem where a lot of companies hired Indians, Pakistanis and Filipinos not telling them what was in the contract, underpaying them, and holding on to their passports. There is however also a whole bunch of companies following the Federal Acquisition Regulations for years, which are very explicit on this issue. And yet the U.S. government kept on hiring those other companies. There are constant issues with companies not adhering to the rules and guidelines. Clients just want the cheapest contractors. Why spend 50 USD a month to have a contractor guard your base if you can have it for 25 USD a month. Less training, less understanding of the use of force but for you as a NGO it is cheaper and as a NGO you want to spend money on whatever your purpose is and not on security. NGOs that are not having policies or will not pay attention to their own policies are a huge issue. There is a manual for NGOs on the use of private security, which would be very helpful for this.


Thank you very much for the interview.


[1] More about Doug Brooks at:
[2] More information on the International Code of Conduct for Private Security Providers on their website: On the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) website however there is a variation of use of either Private Security Companies or Private Military and Security Companies. More on what the ICRC sees Private Military and Security Companies at their FAQ:
[3] The discussion about PSC and PMC or PMSC is led both in academic circles and in the human rights community, while the reference to PMSC or PMC mostly is used to imply that the companies referred to work in inherently military functions.
[4] Sandline International is also referring to itself as a PMC on their company website: also in Peter W. Singer’s “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry: Updated Edition”. The book is accessible at: overview over EO and its work is provided in Chapter 7 of Peter W. Singer in “Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry: Updated Edition”.
[5] This line of argument is also according to the regulation regarding the use of force as stated in clause 30 of the ICOC.
[6] The larger numbers were reported by e.g. the Huffington Post ( and by other news outlets based on the UN Working Group report of August 2013. Exaggerated numbers have however also been around earlier.
[7] The entire scope of products and services offered by both Halliburton and KBR is explained on their respective websites:
[8] UN Report on the “Use of mercenaries as a means of violating human rights and impeding the exercise of the right of peoples to self-determination (A/68/339); August 20, 2013:
[9] More on the APPF’s mission and its history on their website:
[10] The operations of EO in Sierra Leone were also further elaborated on in Peter W. Singer’s book.
[11] More on the UCMJ:
[12] The goal of CEJA is to extend jurisdiction over contractors who commit crimes outside of the U.S. while being employed by another agency than the DoD: – summary/libraryofcongress.
[13] The current version of the CoC of ISOA can be looked up here:
[14] This requirement is codified in the Operational Safety and Health Act.

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