April 24, 2002


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The privatization of everything


ATTENTION READERS OF Soldier of Fortune magazine: according to an April 16 Los Angeles Times story, the Pentagon may soon be tapping private military contractors to train the fledgling Afghan national army. Apparently, Defense Department officials have met with several mercenary-type corporations about the training program, which would be funded with taxpayer dollars.

Since the end of the cold war, the soldier-schooling business has been a quiet growth industry, with companies like Military Professional Resources (MPRI), Vinnell Corp., BDM International, DynCorp, Armor Holdings, and Science Applications International Corp. winning contracts with governments around the globe and posting fat revenues. Boasting a roster thick with ex-Pentagon brass, MPRI, for example, has trained troops in Nigeria, Colombia, Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, and Saudi Arabia – and the company is looking for U.S. approval to do business with Equatorial Guinea, an oil-rich dictatorship with a horrendous human rights record.

Headquartered in Florida, Armor Holdings – which has contracts with the U.S. State Department – offers one-stop shopping for foreign militaries and multinational corporations in need of security. Not only does the company provide troop training, "executive protection," armed guards, and "rapid response teams," but it also manufactures body armor, police clubs, and armored cars. "The result," Armor Holdings brags on its Web site, "is peace of mind."

So cock your guns and go east, young men. (A.C. Thompson)

Workers for hire now under fire

For years the Cesar Chavez Street corridor has been a key spot for day laborers looking for work. Employers can easily pull on and off Highway 101 to hire a few men to help paint a house or landscape a garden.

But over the past two weeks, advocates say, more than a dozen laborers and those who recruit them have received tickets from the San Francisco Police Department for interfering with traffic.

Elly Kugler, a worker advocate with the San Francisco Day Labor Program, told us the post-Sept. 11 timing isn't coincidental. "It's not as simple as a grand plan to target immigrants," she said. "But it's definitely part of a wave of repression that's been increasing in all sectors of law enforcement and governmental agencies."

Kugler said the local crackdown takes on greater significance since the Justice Department cleared the way earlier this month for police departments to share information with the federal Immigration and Naturalization Service. Meanwhile, Congress is poised to pass the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act, cosponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, which would beef up border patrols and create a massive new database to track suspected terrorists.

Although the SFPD has vowed not to collaborate with the INS, Kugler is still worried. "We hope that would stick," she said. "But in light of a national initiative, we think that it would probably be a struggle." (Cassi Feldman)