The Rand Corporation Opines on "Hired Guns"

06/16/2010 11:32 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • David Isenberg Author, 'Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq'

Hmm, it appears the private security contracting industry can pat themselves on the back today. Or maybe not.

As anyone who follows military and security issues knows, you haven't really arrived in the pantheon of vital, national security topics until you are the subject of a study by the think tank equivalent of one of the establishment's duly accredited wise old men.

Well, today all the contractors can sit back and break out a cold one.

The wisest of the wise, in terms of federally funded think tanks, the Rand Corporation, has released a book "Hired Guns: Views About Armed Contractors in Operation Iraqi Freedom."

This study uses a systematic, empirically based survey of opinions of U.S. military and State Department personnel on the ground in Iraq to shed light on the following questions: To what extent are armed PSCs perceived to be imposing costs on the U.S. military effort? If so, are those costs tempered by positive contributions? How has the use of PSCs affected U.S. military operations in Operation Iraqi Freedom? While the military personnel did report some incidents of unnecessarily threatening, arrogant, or belligerent contractor behavior, the survey results indicate that neither the U.S. military nor State Department personnel appear to perceive PSCs to be "running wild" in Iraq. Moreover, respondents tended to consider PSCs a force multiplier rather than an additional strain on military troops, but both military and State Department respondents held mixed views regarding the contribution of armed contractors to U.S. foreign policy objectives.

Oh wait, don't quaff that brew just yet.

According to the press release:

A survey of staffers from the U.S. military and the U.S. State Department who worked in Iraq during 2003 to 2008 found that a sizeable minority viewed the widely reported abuses of power and the killing of civilians by security contractors as potentially detrimental to the overall American mission in the country.
"While U.S. government workers don't believe these armed private security companies are 'running wild' in Iraq, they do have serious concerns about behavior that is unnecessarily threatening or belligerent," said Molly Dunigan, an author of the study and an associate political scientist with RAND, a nonprofit research organization.
Most U.S. officials surveyed said they had not witnessed power abuses by contractors, but having even a few officials observe such behavior is troubling, particularly in the context of a continuing stability operation in which poor contractor behavior can very quickly become detrimental to U.S. goals.

And why do we have these problems?

"We discovered much of the problem is that the international law covering these kinds of operations is murky--from 2003 to 2008, these firms were essentially legally immune to prosecution in Iraq," Dunigan said. "The 2009 Status of Forces Agreement between Iraq and the United States has given Iraq jurisdiction over these contractors, but they still are thought to, in effect, be legally immune from prosecution under U.S. law."

I suppose it is good that RAND confirms what everyone else has been saying for just about forever, but I was hoping for a bit more.

Oh wait, some of the problems are just due to a misunderstanding.

Based on the findings, Dunigan and her colleagues said there are several things the U.S. could do to improve relations with the military and private security contractors. Since the survey findings indicate that contractors' higher pay relative to military employees has had a negative effect on military morale, the researchers recommend that the military pre-deployment training regimen could be improved to give more information on contractor functions, in an effort to increase the level of understanding and cohesion between contractors and the military in the field.

Well, we can't have that. Maybe Congress could authorize a National Contractors campaign medal to increase cohesion?