The Next Military Superpower Might Not Be A Country, But A Corporation. And That's Terrifying.

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When the Iraq War began, there was one private military contractor for every 10 U.S. military members. Within four years there were more contractors than there were U.S. military. That shift speaks for itself. The video below says more.

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Tony Schiena: Rock 'n' Roll.

Jedd Thomas: This is Tony Schiena, owner of MOSAIC Security, private military company that provides elite forces level security for their clients. Tony has a VIP coming in to Caracas tomorrow who will need a guard. We tagged along as he scouted out a particularly dangerous neighborhood that we'll need to pass through in the morning. It's called the Triple X Barrio.

The main issue with this client is...

Tony Schiena: We need to pick him up at point A, the airport, and deliver him to his meeting at the military installation but there's no circumventing this. These guys should be flanking on each side. Good, he's already seen a potential shooter.

Jedd Thomas: Considering the police claim 25 people are shot in this barrio a day, the armed person they spotted was not taken lightly.

Tony Schiena: Come! Come! Come! This is the wrong [bleep] place to be. Fall out, guys! Okay, let's go!

Jedd Thomas: We took a little detour looking for an additional route out from the main road because it was too dangerous.

PMC: Okay, move! Move!

Jedd Thomas: Although we were able to get out without incident, it was clear that tomorrow's security was going to need to be very serious.

We're at the airport, about to extract the client. So the idea is to get him from here to go to meet a government contractor. There's been a number of attempts on his life so tensions are running a little bit high.

PMC: Everybody, recover, recover, recover.

Jedd Thomas: [?] there's been two or three attempts on your life?

Pablo Fidanza: Two, two. You just need to be careful and act accordingly.

Jedd Thomas: For the business that you work in, you wouldn't be at operate without these guys taking you through countries?

Pablo Fidanza: No, I wouldn't feel safe. It is like having a top private army because not only are they quantity, they are quality. I'm in a lethal war and when I land in this country, I'm at war. That's why you need to use these good bad guys.

Jedd Thomas: While providing highly trained security for VIPs like Pablo is one role PMCs play, it's really just the tip of the iceberg. In fact, the international private military industry has been exploding over the last 20 years. To find out more about this new modern world of mercenaries, we spoke to P.W. Singer, author of the book Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry.

Peter Warren Singer: A Private Military Company, a PMC, is private companies taking on roles that have traditionally been done by the military and intelligence agencies, by the broader national security complex. We have this assumption of war. And who fights it? A man in uniform. And that uniform to us means they're a part of a national military. And when you look at the 21st century, that image in our mind, it just doesn't hold true. These companies, they've taken on all the different roles of war, everything from the back end logistics, to training and consulting, to the tactical battlefield roles. Pretty much, it's the new American way of war. Whether you're talking about Iraq, or now Afghanistan, roughly half of the force there is private military.

Jedd Thomas: In fact, business is so good that the global market for private security services is projected to reach $218 billion in 2014. And as more and more aspects of more and more security are outsourced to PMCs, these companies are poised to grow even larger.

Peter Warren Singer: Outsourcing is always about cost savings. It's the number of people that you don't have to call up from your national guard and reserves to take on these roles. Deaths, injuries, capture of Private Military Contractors doesn't resonate into the political world the same way it does for someone in the military. So we're seeing everything from companies that have been cooperating in Iraq now doing things like counter-piracy operations off Somalia to the emergence of Chinese private security companies operating in Africa or the Russians used private contractors during their Crimea operation. When we look at the future frontiers of the private military industry, they reflect the next frontiers of war.

Jedd Thomas: To find out more about this massive industry that is fast becoming the future of war, we spoke to the man that almost single-handedly created the modern PMC as we know it.

We're here in Abu Dhabi, and we're going to interview one of the most important people in the PMC world, Erik Prince. He was the founder of Blackwater.

Erik Prince: PMC is as American as Thanksgiving Day. First colonies were started by contractors. So hired to secure those logistics that private companies. Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth Colonies were private endeavors. Look, I started Blackwater as a way to stay connected to the Seal teams. When our customers called us, we ran very hard to fill their needs. We were mischaracterized as out of control mercenaries. And the fact is we were American veteran serving America again and getting paid in a competitively bid contract. Full stop. We did exactly the job the U.S. government hired us to do and did it well. More than 100,000 missions, on the security side, no one under our care ever killed or injured.

Jedd Thomas: For our first hand look to see what it takes to become a soldier for hire, we traveled to the Czech Republic to the Anti Terror Academy, a former military base which is now one of the most popular security training facilities in Europe.

This is were future PMC soldiers are going to be freshening up their skills before they go out and work. In theory, even people like me can do these training courses and basically be guns for hire.

Trainer: Make sure you focus on that foresight.

Jedd Thomas: Okay.

Trainer: Squeeze in the trigger.

Jedd Thomas: Although they're willing to train beginners like me, it was clear that a vast majority of the guys there were formerly military running through combat drills.

How did you get into all of this?

Phillip Mills: So I left the army because the money wasn't good enough for what I was getting paid to do. Why would I do five years in Iraq in the army and earn 120 grand when I can do two years in Iraq and earn 400 grand? I'm certain in my era anybody who is any good in the army, isn't in the army anymore.

Jedd Thomas: The main goal in a facility like this, is to take the elite skills the soldiers already have for offensive combat and reshape them to provide defensive special forces level security and protection.

Trainer: The two guys behind, they just push out.

Jedd Thomas: But as I watch them run their drills, it was clear that these maneuvers were much more than just defensive. They aren't only learning to provide additional support and security, they are essentially becoming their own army. Nobody knows more about what it means to have private armies for hire than the world famous mercenary, Simon Mann. After serving the British Special Forces, he spent over 20 years in the PMC industry. Until 2004, when he served five years in prison in Equatorial Guinea for his role and attempt to help stage of coup.

Simon Mann: A Private Military Company to me is a company that is prepared to carry out full-on offensive military operations under contract. You pass a load of money and we will help you win your war.

Where I get worried is when you start saying, "No, the way forward is for combat operations to be privatized and giving out wholesale to the private sector." There are certain things that armies has to do and the way of doing them that should not be in the private sector. These guys are fighting for money. They're not fighting for the state. They're not fighting out of the sense of duty or patriotism.

When it gets serious is if you get a PMC that starts to get excessively muscular. The line between defense and offense gets very quickly blurred so immediately any decent soldiers will start thinking, "Instead of sitting here waiting to be shot, why don't we get out there and bag the bad guys before they manage to shoot us?" And suddenly, the rules start to get bent.

Jedd Thomas: The further you look into the training around the world for PMC, the more you realize that their public face is simply defensive security, is only one side to their capabilities.

So we're here to see Mick Cowan. He's a former sniper and he's now a PMC. He's asked us to keep his location secret because he just doesn't want people to know where this is going on. We're going to spend a little bit of time with him and find out what he does, how it all works.

Mick Cowan: I operate as a consultant for a number of companies and I step in and provide the actual instructional ability.

Jedd Thomas: Simply put, he trains PMCs to be snipers using the latest military techniques and hardware.

Mick Cowan: Basically an AR-15n4 with a red dots site on it.

Jedd Thomas: And it's not just about shooting accuracy. They also teach you how to blend in with your environment so your target doesn't even know you exist.

Trainer: Jedd, you got to be very low and slow.

Aaron Nixon: I'll check if I can spot him and I will radio the walker.

Trainer: Okay. Is that him in position again?

Aaron Nixon: Okay, roger.

Jedd Thomas: Is there any kind of contracts that come along that you just morally don't agree, and you don't take?

Mick Cowan: Yes, certainly. There would be jobs that I could see coming along then I'll go, "Mmm, thanks but no thanks." But morality is down to the individual and down to the companies themselves. You'll always get people who are morally repugnant. You always get cowboys.

Jedd Thomas: But it's not only the moral question of who these cowboys might work for that makes many uneasy. For Veteran journalist, Robert Pelton, who witnessed the rise of PMC in both Iraq and Afghanistan first hand. It's a concern about their willingness to blur the lines if it serves their purpose.

Robert Young Pelton: It is a myth to assume that contractors are aligned with governments and they synchronize. They actually have opposing goals. And there are many cases in which contractors were actually arrested by military in Iraq for doing exactly that - shooting people, causing a mess.

PMC: I shot it in front of him. It may have ricocheted and hit his car but...

Robert Young Pelton: It's security but it doesn't seem like security because it is to keep them secure. If I come out and punch you in the face, I say, "That's for your protection." That's kind of a joke. You see fences going up, you see guard posts, you see people stopping you. And you say, "That's not a police badge." And it's up to the public to decide whether they think the use of force by a non-state actor is appropriate.

Jedd Thomas: In fact, the actions of some PMCs has caused such an alarm, that U.S. Congresswoman, Jan Schakowsky, has introduced legislation to limit them from use in war zones altogether.

Jan Schakowsky: There has been concern about using people who don't wear the badge of the United States of America who are not part of a chain of command, who aren't held accountable in the same ways. I think what scares me the most about these Private Military Contractors is that by and large, they operate in the shadows. The transparency isn't there, the accountability isn't there. It appears that these contractors, literally, may be able to get away with murder.

Jedd Thomas: When you consider that these companies might operate above the law even while employed by the U.S. government, the bigger question for New York Times Washington correspondent, David Sanger, is what happens when PMCs were completely outside the jurisdiction of America itself?

David Sanger: One big concern fro Private Military Contractors is a question of allegiance. When they become political instruments to help prop up a government, that's when you begin to ask the question, "Does this cooperation have a foreign policy of its own? And is that cooperation's foreign policy in sync or in opposition to American foreign policy? Are they truly American? Are they truly international? Who exactly are they working for?"

Jedd Thomas: When the best and the brightest from armies around the world are now working for PMCs, you have to wonder if the next military superpower won't be a country but a corporation.

Tony Schiena: I think the PMC of the future can manipulate governments. Where at the stage now that I think it can happen.

There may be small errors in this transcript.

Video produced by VICE.

Jul 30, 2014

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