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16. Mercenary Armies in Service to Global Corporations

Sources: CAQ, Title: “Mercenary Armies & Mineral Wealth,” Date: Fall 1997, No. 62, Author: Pratap Chatterjee; MULTINATIONAL MONITOR, Title: “Guarding the Multinationals,” Date: March 1998, Author: Pratap Chatterjee

SSU Censored Researchers: Jason Bothwell and Kelly Dahlstrom
SSU Faculty Evaluators: Linda Lopez and John Steiner

In many countries, multinational corporations have paid directly for private policing services from the local army; or have hired outside security companies to harass nationals who protest against the environmental impact of their operations. The firms involved represent a growing number of new corporate security operations around the world, linking former intelligence officers, standing armies, and local death squads.

One of these security companies is Defense Systems Limited (DSL). DSL is run by two ex-Special Air Service commandos out of London offices, across the street from Buckingham Palace. Their clients include petrochemical companies, multinational banks, embassies, nongovernmental organizations, and national and international organiza-tions. One of DSL’s biggest contracts is with Mark Heathcote, a former M16 (British equivalent of the CIA) officer who ran operations in Argentina during the Falklands War. Heathcote is now the chief of security for British Petroleum (BP). In 1996, DSL sent a group of British personnel to train Colombian Police on BP-owned rigs. Training included lethal-weapons handling, sniper fire, and close quarter combat.

Another firm, Executive Outcomes, also offers mercenary armies to multinationals. Executive Outcomes fielded a private mercenary army in Angola in 1993, and offers high-tech security forces to corporations all over the world. In Nigeria, the Anglo-Dutch multinational Shell corporation has been accused of causing major pollution in the Niger Delta for the last 38 years. Shell directly employs an elite detachment of Nigerian police to protect its own interests. Numerous demonstrators have been beaten and executed because of Shell operations in Nigeria.

In Indonesia, a U.S. company, Freeport McMoram, has been accused of dumping more than 110,000 tons of mining waste into local rivers every day. When the Indonesian populace protested the devastation to its land, Indonesian troops, hired to protect Freeport McMoram, moved in and cracked down on the protesters. Human rights groups estimate that the army has killed nearly 2,000 people in the region in the two decades the company has been in residence.

In Burma, two oil companies, Unocal and Total, are combining to build a $1.2 billion, 40-mile long pipeline that will deliver natural gas to a power plant in Thailand. Officials from the government-in exile say the Burmese army has rounded up some 500,000 people to provide unpaid, forced labor on the pipeline.

In India, armies have recently become available to multinational corporations for a very cheap price. Enron, a gas producing multinational from Texas, reportedly paid soldiers about $3.50 per person, per day for a battalion to guard a power plant under construction. Since then, Amnesty International has recorded several incidents of violence towards protesters, says Chatterjee. The Cold War kept national armies throughout the Third World well supplied with weapons as the superpowers vied for control of almost every country on the planet. Now, with the Cold War over, a new market has been created for these specially trained armies, and for privatized security businesses such as DSL. They can now be hired to protect multinational corporations from the wrath of the local people trying to protect their own communities.

UPDATE BY AUTHOR PRATAP CHATTERJEE: “Multinational mineral extraction companies like British Petroleum and Shell finance some of the bloodiest conflict zones around the world today in countries from Algeria to Zaire. Although nonprofit organizations chronicle human rights and environmental abuses in these situations, and international organizations like the United Nations regularly attempt to negotiate peace between warring factions, none of these institutions point out that these operations are often financed by companies that sell products from gold rings to gasoline in every neighborhood. Nor is there any system in place to address the root causes of these day-to-day disasters.

“Many of the mercenaries mentioned in the story seem to have gone undercover. Alastair Morrison and Richard Bethell of Defense Systems Limited have apparently been laid off, while Tony Buckingham has resigned from the board of Diamond Works and Eeben Barlow of Executive Outcomes has mysteriously vanished. The conflicts, however, continue in every one of the countries described in the story, from Colombia to Sierra Leone, with assistance from well-financed mercenaries.

“Although the mainstream press, from The New York Times in this country to the Financial Times in Britain, often cover conflict and provide daily business coverage of multinational corporations, they only occasionally cover mer-cenaries. These reports typically refer to mercenaries as individual “soldiers-of-fortune” failing to point out that the companies in their business pages pay for daily murder and that these companies are often guilty of rampant environ-mental abuses that are the source of community protest and conflict.

“A Web version of winning stories (with clickable maps and links to both human rights groups, other media, and the mercenaries themselves) exists at the following URL: To get regular updates on the subject of mercenaries and the mineral industries I recommend that readers subscribe to a twice-monthly electronic magazine named Drillbits & Tailings which I edit for Project Underground, a non-profit organization which supports communities affected by the mineral industries. The magazine is available electronically for free (financial support is encouraged) by e-mailing All back issues (57 by mid-December 1998) are archived and completely searchable on the World Wide Web at”

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