- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 15, 2003

The deaths yesterday of three employees of a Reston-based defense company protecting U.S. diplomats in the Gaza Strip highlight the explosive growth of — and growing perils to — private companies taking over jobs once the exclusive domain of government and the military.

So-called private military companies can be found in some of the world’s most dangerous places, from Afghanistan to postwar Iraq to the coca-growing jungles of Colombia.

Tom Maneri, spokesman for the CSC Corp., the parent company of Reston’s Dyncorp, confirmed yesterday that three Dyncorp employees — John Branchizio, Mark T. Parson and John Martin Lind Jr. — had been killed when a bomb exploded in the midst of a convoy of U.S. diplomats traveling along a main highway in the Palestinian territory. The three, well-known to journalists and U.S. officials working in the region, were there as part of a Dyncorp contract to provide security and other logistical services to the U.S. Embassy in Israel.

Mr. Maneri referred all questions about Dyncorp’s work to the State Department, reflecting the low profile preferred by private military companies in their work around the globe.

But Peter Singer, a fellow at the Brookings Institution who has written extensively on these firms, said yesterday the attack could focus new attention and questions on the role of private military companies in U.S. foreign policy.

“It appears the work these men were doing was not controversial, but overall, you are talking about maybe a $100 billion industry operating in some of the most sensitive parts of the world, and few Americans are even aware of what they do,” Mr. Singer said.

Mr. Singer said he knows of at least five employees of private military companies who have been killed supporting the U.S.-led military mission in Iraq.

The al Qaeda bombings in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, in May targeted the main living quarters for employees of Vinnell Corp., another Virginia-based private firm with a contract to help train the Saudi Arabian national guard. Nine Vinnell employees were killed in the strike.

Six employees of private military contractors have been killed in Colombia, where the U.S. government is backing Bogota in a brutal civil war against leftist rebels.

Analysts say the growth of private firms performing traditional military and security chores reflects cost-savings factors, as well as military planners’ transfer of more active-duty personnel to war-fighting positions.

The Center for Public Integrity sponsored an extensive study of the growth of private military companies through its International Consortium of Investigative Journalists. The survey estimates that the private military industry, dominated by U.S., British and South African firms, is present in some 110 countries around the world.

Maud Beelman, director of the consortium, said the private companies provide another useful service to governments: “When a private contractor employee gets hurt or killed in one of these incidents, you don’t get the same hue and cry from the public.”

The study said, “PMCs allow governments to pursue policies in tough corners of the world with the distance and comfort of plausible deniability.”

But President Bush and other U.S. officials made clear yesterday that they saw the bombing as a direct attack on U.S. power in the Middle East and that three Dyncorp employees were part of the embassy team.

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