Guarding the Multinationals

DSL and the International Private "Security" Business

by Pratap Chatterjee

Multinational Monitor, March, 1998


On a Tuesday morning in late June last year, Alan Golacinski and Michael Golovatov joined Jacksonville, Florida Mayor John Delaney at the dedication of a new building in the city's "international tradeport."

Golacinski is president of U.S. Defense Systems, a private company that provides security for U.S. embassies, especially in African countries. Golovatov is the director of a Moscow-based company known as Alpha-A which provides security for businesses transporting goods across the former Soviet Union.

A decade before, the two men would have been bitter, and probably deadly, rivals. Golacinski was White House Security Adviser, a position he rose to after 20 years in the State Department, while Golovatov spent an equal number of years working for the ICGB's crack commando team, known at the time as Alpha.

Now both Golacinski and Golovatov report to the same bosses-Richard Bethell and Sir Alistair Morrison-two ex-Special Air Service (SAS) commandos in London. They run a profitable private company named Defense Systems Limited (DSL) in London in offices next to Buckingham Palace.

Old-Boy Networks and the New Security

"Who are the sorts of people that would be our clients? Petrochemical companies, mining or mineral extraction companies and their subsidiaries, multinationals, banks, embassies, non-governmental organizations, national and international organizations. Those people who operate in a very dodgy, hostile type of environment," Major-General Stephen Carr-Smith of DSL told Darius Bazargan, a British reporter last year.

Oil and gas companies top the list: Broken Hill Proprietary Petroleum of Australia; British Petroleum, Shell and British Gas of the United Kingdom; Amoco, Chevron, Exxon, Mobil and Texaco of the United States; Ranger of Canada. Mining companies like Cambior of Canada and De Beers of South Africa are also well represented.

DSL has also supplied security services to embassies in countries torn by civil war such as the Democratic Republic of the Congo (former Zaire), where their officers guard the United States, South African and Swiss embassies. The company also worked in Angola where its security guards policed the British, Italian, South African, Swedish and U.S. Embassies, until January 1998.

The old-boy network of the British and United States establishment has merged smoothly with the former Soviet intelligence agents. "One of the reasons we think we're so successful [is] we understand the nature of the beast," Golacinski told a Jacksonville reporter, explaining how DSL was able to obtain so many government contracts.

The former rivals also have common skills and a common interest: providing strong-arm services and the pursuit of profit. Fortunately for the ax-spooks, as the Cold War ended, liberalization of the global economy generated a rush by multinationals into the Third World-and an accompanying demand for strong-arm services and intelligence-gathering operations to help guard the global corporations' destructive endeavors.

The situation is not dissimilar to the 1950s, after the Second World War and the dismantling of the old European colonial empires, when De Beers hired former British counter-intelligence officers like Sir Percy Sillitoe to launch a diamond war in Sierra Leone and evict rivals. Sillitoe's army laid booby traps, mined border crossings and ambushed traders until all diamond buyers were persuaded to sell their wares to De Beers.

The modern equivalent of Sir Percy also goes further than just providing routine security guards to fill sentry boxes and sit behind bulletproof counter windows for the diamond merchants, oil drolleries and their ilk.

DSL has provided counter-insurgency training for security forces in Sri Lanka, Papua New Guinea and Mozambique. Bethell, who is nicknamed 'Tarzan' because of his long blond locks, personally organized a training mission of the Colombian police's elite force in 1990.

The company's ability to provide one-stop shopping options for clients in search of a private army recently expanded. In early 1997, Defense Systems and Gorandel were bought up by Armor Holdings, riot control equipment manufacturers in Jacksonville, Florida.

Armor Holdings was originally known as American Body Armor but changed its name a couple of years ago after it was rescued from bankruptcy caused by the failure of the Saudi Arabian government to pay a major bill.

Through a newly acquired subsidiary named Defense Technology of America in Caspar, Wyoming, Armor Holdings can now offer DSL clients a wide array of riot control toys.

Defense Technology literature offers prospective buyers pepper gas generators (pepper gas is an extremely irritating chemical used by police forces which has allegedly caused over 60 deaths in custody in recent years) as well as a variety of grenades for use by police or prison wardens. The company offers "flameless expulsion" grenades that can be used to fill a 12-by-20 foot room with a chemical agent in four to five seconds to control unruly crowds, "rubber ball" tear gas grenades, which, unlike conventional tear gas dispensers, are hard to throw back and "Stinger Combo CS" grenades, which contain an explosive charge allowing blast dispersion of rubber pellets that contain tear gas in a circular pattern over a distance of 50 feet.

Defense Technology also offers grenade launchers, gas pistols and masks, riot shields, billy clubs, nightsticks, nickel plated handcuffs, leg irons, batons, special devices for breaking down doors or barricades and projectiles that explode with a loud report and a brilliant flash to distract attention.

Armor Holdings executives were exultant when the takeover of DSL was completed. "As the leading global provider of specialist security services, DSL is positioned to continue its development both internally and through acquisition in a world requiring increasing security and intelligence services," said Jonathan Spiller, chief executive officer of Armor Holdings.

For the riot control equipment manufacturers, Bethell and Golacinski's experiences as spooks and providing security are an excellent complement. Bethell worked for the SAS in Argentina during the British war against Argentina to take control of the Falkland Islands. Golacinski ran security at the U.S. Embassy in Teheran during the final days of the U.S. backed regime of the Shah of Iran.

Although Golovatov's personal history is not public, Alpha, the KGB unit he worked in for 20 years, was well known in its day for spearheading the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and crushing pro-independence protests in Lithuania. Both DSL and Armor company officials have refused to comment on the integration of these companies. Golacinski and Morrison declined telephone and fax requests to be interviewed for this article. Nor was Spiller available for comment despite a number of attempts by Multinational Monitor to reach him.

But emerging evidence gleaned from recent reports appears to indicate that today, the past experiences of these men in the violent promotion of the colonial interests of Cold War rivals has been transformed into similar services for the extractive interests of multinational corporations, which are afraid of local communities protesting against the environmental and social devastation left behind by their operations.

DSL's Controversy in Colombia

One of DSL's biggest contracts is with Mark Heathcote, a former MI6 (British equivalent of the Central Intelligence Agency) officer who ran operations in Argentina during the Falklands War, who is now the chief of security for British Petroleum (BP).

Heathcote hired DSL to provide protection from Marxist rebels, who have repeatedly dynamited Colombia's oil pipelines. In 1996, DSL sent a group of British trainers to secretly train Colombian police on BP rigs in lethal-weapons handling, sniper fire and close-quarter combat.

An internal DSL fax dated October 1996 announced: "The effects of the training team are noticed in a positive manner." Another DSL fax states: 'The police morale is high and they have expressed their enjoyment of the training they have received. Good job to whoever was involved."

In 1997, the second largest oil pipeline in Colombia, operated by Occidental Corporation of California, was blown up 65 times. The longest pipeline, run by BP, was blown up just once.

The work of BP's police trainers is rather mysterious and was initially denied by BP, when interviewed by an investigative television documentary team in Britain called World in Action.

But a former DSL employee who talked to the film makers under the assumed name of "Rod" explained that the trainers were "operating in Colombia without a contract. They can leave at any date, any time. They have separate accounts, monies deposited in England and in Colombia."

Rod told World in Action that the training team was using the oil company's private airport terminal in Yopal, Colombia.

"I saw civilian clothed personnel who were Colombians and an ex-SAS operative carrying the black boxes, checking right through Yopal Airport," Rod said. "They just put their weapons inside the box, their ammunition in another box and went right through, not signing any forms. It could have been anything, it could have been 15 or 20 mini Uzis in a box, it didn't matter."

Not surprisingly, BP's successful security operations have been plagued by accusations of intimidation of innocent civilians and human rights abuses.

"BP has to spend a fortune on security and unfortunately; although it's not their policy, this leads to security forces threatening the local community," says Julio Cesar Rodriguez, chair of the oil committee in the Colombian Congress.

"The police are now ... getting more involved with patrolling activities that are the normal requirements of an infantry unit, which is definitely being seen by the population as another military force in the area. The people are scared to death; you can see it on their faces," said Rod.

Daniel Bland, a human rights researcher for Justice & Peace, a Bogota-based inter-church coalition, told World in Action that the situation for local communities affected by the environmental and social consequences of the oil drilling has been dire. El Morro, a community at the heart of BP's newest oil field, was persecuted for forming a community group to complain about damage to their road and natural water supply, he says.

"In all the testimony we've received, any kind of organized protest against BP in any way, the leaders of those protests are singled out for persecution for harassment and for death threats," he said.

Locals agree. Gabriel Narvaez, president and adviser to the El Morro association, explained: "In Colombia, to speak against the large state programs, or those of the multinationals, is an act of suicide. It is almost like condemning oneself to death. "

The documentary named Carlos Arregui and Gabriel Ascencio as being among six members of the El Morro association who were murdered after the group started campaigning over damage to their road. BP responded swiftly to the negative publicity in Britain after the World in Action documentary was aired.

"We reject the allegations altogether," says Ian Stuart, a spokesperson for BP in London. "The whole thing was written in a relentlessly vindictive and adversarial manner. Defense Systems simply provides supervisory staff for the security in our compounds (at the drilling sites) and gives us advice."

The company asked the Fiscalia General, the Colombian judicial authorities, to investigate the charges made in the documentary as well as an earlier unpublished Colombian human rights report. Susanne Curtis, a BP spokeswoman in London, told Multinational Monitor that the Fiscalia General completed its report in February 1998 and the company was awaiting authorization to publish the findings.

Back to the Future

In recent years, DSL has discovered another potential gold mine of work: the United Nations, which is engaged in providing security in situations of conflict, and the World Bank, which arrives afterwards to provide reconstruction services.

From the 1992 to 1996, DSL was the largest private sector provider to the United Nations operations in the former Yugoslavia in tasks such as vehicle maintenance, providing drivers, warehousing, camp construction, mine clearance and communications.

DSL believes that it can expand the role of private security companies in operating the modern war machine. Carr-Smith says: "My model is like a set of traffic lights. This small private sector planning team sits down working with the planners and they're looking at a range of tasks which come within a range of three categories.

"Red tasks, which are those that only military logisticians can do. Because of where it is, when they need it, they have to have the capability, reaction time-all those sorts of things. There are then going to be some green tasks that the private sector can and will do. An awful lot of things back in this country; ports of embarkation, ports of disembarkation, rear area type stuff."

"And then there's the chunk in the middle-the amber bit, which are tasks that both the military and the private sector could do. But which one of them does it will depend on the circumstances at the time. And in the early stages they might dictate that the military logisticians do it. But over a period of time, which could be days or could be weeks or months-those tasks could swing for the private sector to do."

DSL is positioning itself to provide "post-conflict reconstruction" services also, according to company officials, by working with major infrastructure companies like Tarmac-Wimpey in Britain and Bechtel of San Francisco.

Not surprisingly, these infrastructure companies also offer essential services to multinational extraction and manufacturing operations in Third World countries. In Algeria, DSL guards Bechtel contractors providing services to oil companies like BP.

DSL is only one of scores of private sector operations that offer security services to multinational companies. Other like Executive Outcomes of South Africa will even provide fighting forces to take over rebel areas, as indeed it has done in countries from Angola and Sierra Leone to Papua New Guinea.

The mushrooming of these services appears to substantiate the arguments made by Martin Van Creveld, a war theoretician, in his 1991 book, The Transformation of War.

"As used to be the case until at least 1648, military and economic functions will be reunited," Van Creveld writes. "Much of the day-to-day burden of defending society against the threat of low-intensity conflict will be transferred to the booming security business, and indeed the time may come when the organizations that comprise that business will ... take over the state."

In the future, says Van Creveld, armed conflicts around the world will resemble the old.

"War-making entities," he says, will look a lot like they did in the feudal past - tribes, city-states, religious associations, private mercenary bands, and commercial organizations such as the East India Company in the time of the British empire.


Pratap Chatterjee is an investigative writer who tracks mercenary and mining operations for Project UnderGround, a Berkeley-based activist group.

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