After four guards employed by an American military contractor in Iraq were convicted of killing 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, a Franklin & Marshall College professor’s interest in private military companies (PMCs) became a scholarly pursuit.
Blackwater’s transgression moved Associate Professor of Organizational Studies Bryan Stinchfield to first include Blackwater and similar PMCs that provide armed security details into his organizational behavior course at F&M. Eventually, his curiosity led to academic papers and an op-ed in Newsweek.
“The United States has always relied on military contractors in its history, going all the way back to the Revolutionary War, but only within the last 15 years has our reliance on PMCs gotten to what I call absurd levels,” Stinchfield said. “Half the U.S. force in Afghanistan going back to about 2013 were private contractors.”
A business professor, Stinchfield’s background includes having served as a pilot in the U.S. Army as well as intelligence work as a counter-terrorism officer.
Blackwater was founded in 1997 by former U.S. Navy SEAL officer Erik Prince. He eventually sold his company to a private investor group that renamed it Academi and that similar transactions have raised questions for Stinchfield.
“Since about 2010, private equity firms have been buying private military companies and other companies within the private military industry,” he said. “If you have a private army, you need to deploy it to make money. This is unlike the U.S. military, where it’s going to get funded with taxpayer money whether it’s fighting a war or not.”
While a peer-review journal, “Small Wars & Insurgencies,” considers his paper on PMCs, Stinchfield is collaborating on a project with Ted Auch, a program coordinator at Fractracker Alliance, a nonprofit that studies, maps and reports the risks of oil and gas development.
Oil companies, especially those with North African and Middle East operations, are users of PMCs. The researchers, through mapping and collecting data on violent episodes in the region, want to determine whether private security operations are effective.
“What we want to be able to do is test whether PMC activity in the Middle East and North Africa, while guarding oil infrastructure, actually secures peace,” Stinchfield said. “The claim is that it provides security to the infrastructure and those who control the infrastructure, but what about security to the communities surrounding it?”