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Phenomenon of Private Security Agencies Case Study

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Updated: Dec 25th, 2020


The concept of private security agencies has become widely discussed in recent decades. They have been considered a dangerous side-effect of the military-industrial complex, practical sources of work for veterans who were not able to create a career after leaving the official armed forces, and in some countries, they serve the role of the police. Private security agencies may be dedicated to providing only security in the form of guarding a specified location, providing bodyguard services, and patrols over a designated area, but some organizations extend their operations to more risky missions. Those organizations that engage in armed combat services are classified as private military companies and often take part in international conflict at the behest of its clients. The lack of oversight and regulation of such organizations became a major concern after their heavy involvement in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. The topic of private security agencies is controversial and has not received enough attention in the last few years, which makes it important to discuss and find more relevant and current information. This paper will provide a detailed outlook at the phenomenon of private security agencies, including their history, role in homeland security, relation to the police forces, and other elements that deserve attention.

General Information

One of the main issues concerning private security agencies is the difficulty in defining their nature. While on the surface they are often presented as strictly dedicated to the private security of businesses, VIPs, and cargo, in reality, many of the most successful organizations have taken part in armed conflict on an international scale. At times they are used to combat terrorist threats when a country is not capable of providing its forces, while in others they operate as private police units to deal with crime or “undesirable elements.” This reputation made such organizations appear as mercenary forces that would be willing to fight for any cause if the price is right. The UN General Assembly created a convention that was ratified by 35 states that equated private military corporations to mercenary groups and therefore prohibited them. Countries such as Italy, Canada, Germany, Romania, Belarus, and many others have taken a strong stance against such organizations. However, the largest buyers of their services, including the United States, refused to sign this document and continued to actively use them in both security and military fields. The number of private military contractors is growing with each year, and their forces are present on every continent (United Nations General Assembly, 1989).

History of Private Security Agencies

The history of private security agencies goes back to antiquity due to the prevalence of private armed forces in the majority of historical conflicts. However, their nature did not fully reflect the current form of the industry due to being almost entirely focused on assisting in armed conflict. Even more recent private agencies such as the Pinkerton National Detective Agency, which was established by Allan Pinkerton in 1850, are not representative of the private security industry that is being discussed in this study. They did, however, eventually transition to the more modern form of operation (McFate, 2017).

Perhaps the first modern private security agency was created by David Stirling and John Woodhouse. In 1965, they gathered a group of ex-SAS members to begin an organization called WatchGuard International. Their organization was initially focused on providing security and military services to clients who were able to pay for them. Stirling’s previous history of working in the Middle East, including Saudi Arabia, led to the first operations taking place in Yemen where he and his staff established professional connections with the Iranian Government and various contacts in African countries such as Zambia and Sierra Leone. The services of the company quickly expanded to the training of armed forces and military groups, as well as the provision of weapons and other military equipment. The later was enabled by Stirling’s previous experiences of weapons trade during his military service. Also, Stirling established KAS Enterprises which was focused on anti-smuggling and poaching operations in areas where endangered species are present. Their most active efforts were connected to the World Wide Fund for Nature’s efforts to forcibly eliminate instances of illegal poaching of elephant tusks in Southern Africa (Bandeira, 2017; McFate, 2017).

While Stirling’s organization eventually ceased to be due to internal conflict between its founders, the majority of private security organizations followed in their footsteps by focusing on similar activities and business practices. The end of the Cold War led to a large number of trained military personnel being relieved of duty, which provided private security organizations with a great number of employees. By the start of the Iraq war, the United States, United Kingdom, ad several Middle Eastern countries were actively working with such agencies on a variety of missions. Despite the initial public pushback against the military involvement of private security agencies in wars, their presence did not diminish, and the industry continues to grow to this day (McFate, 2017).

The Role of Private Security Agencies in Homeland Security and Anti-Terrorism Activities

The role of private security agencies in homeland security is all-encompassing as the majority of traditionally public security roles may be substituted through private organizations. Some of the most commonly filled roles that are filled by such organizations are directly related to security. Private organizations often guard strategic positions, engage in patrols, risk assessment operations, and training of personnel in areas where governments are unable to provide it. In recent years, this type of security expanded to cyber-security, as hacker attacks began to threaten important infrastructure objects and sensitive information. Private security agencies also protect closed-gate communities that do not allow unauthorized people on their premises. However, they are also actively used in armed conflicts such as the Afghanistan war in a variety of roles from intelligence gathering to policing secured areas, and other military objectives. Anti-terrorist actions range from screening and monitoring of civilians during public events and in conflict areas, to participating in attacks on terrorist strongholds and assassination of terrorist leaders (Avant, 2016).

The Private Security Involvement in Intelligence and Sharing Information with the Police

The cooperation of private and public security is essential to provide effective security to the designated area. Large metropolitan areas often require more personnel than the public security sector can provide at a time. Communication between public and private security members allows for more people to be involved in monitoring areas where suspects may be present as well as assessing threats from terrorist organizations and lone wolves during large public events such as parades, concerts, and other types of public gatherings. Information may be shared in forms of reports, photos, video, and audio recordings from people of private organizations based on the specifications provided by the public sector security.

The partnership of Blackwater and CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan Post 9/11 Attacks

Blackwater Security Company was allegedly established in 1997 by a former Navy SEAL Erik Prince. The true origins of the organization are disputed by various sources, and due to its history of unethical conduct, information on the organization is difficult to verify. From the first contracts, Blackwater was closely involved with the CIA as they were given orders to guard the CIA headquarters where anti-Osama bin Laden operations were organized. Their partnership with the CIA continued as Blackwater was subsequently hired to assassinate al-Qaeda leaders. No known successful operations were conducted, and the program was eventually terminated, but the CIA continued to use Blackwater contractors in its operations in Afghanistan and Pakistan. After the initial controversy caused by the public reveal that Blackwater was subcontracted by the CIA, the name of the company changed to Xe Services in 2009. However, after two years of continuous operation in the regions, another incident occurred as an employee of Xe Services killed two men who were protected by diplomatic immunity in Pakistan. The incident attracted a lot of public attention, and the perpetrated was charged with homicide and illegal possession of a firearm. He was eventually pardoned after the families of the victims were compensated monetarily. It is unknown whether the organization continued to be employed by the CIA, but since then the organization changed its name twice due to buyouts and mergers and is now known as Constellis Holdings (Bandeira, 2017).

Differences between Private Security and the Police

The differences between private security and the police are important. While both may be capable of preventing crime and terrorist activity, their allowances and authority differ. Public police are operated by the government, and their training, certification, supplies, and payment are provided by the state. They may operate at various levels from federal to local. Welfare and the safety of the public is the primary concern for public security forces. Private security’s resources, training, and equipment are fully provided by the parent organization and their concerns most often align with the completion of the given task, rather than the welfare of others. Such organizations do not receive the same oversight that public security does and their actions are rarely politicized unless they are hired by government officials.

Due to the differences in the available funding and manpower, private security agencies are capable of providing more professionally trained personnel for performing police duties, while also equipping them with more advanced gear. However, their actions are often less restricted by the law than those of the regular police officers. This may be seen as a positive aspect by some clients but may lead to injury or death from excessive use of force by the contractors (Avant, 2016).

The Growth of the Private Security Industry

As it was mentioned earlier, the industry grew especially quickly after the end of the Cold War. It is estimated that more than six million members of various military forces of western countries were relieved of duty during that time either due to budget cutbacks or by personal choice. The majority of the private security agencies operating today were created by personnel from the more elite and specialized forces that found the post-Cold War world to be a profitable ground for operation. By privatizing their skills as elite soldiers, they were able to gain payments that were not possible while operating in the public sector. Despite the high military budgets of countries like the United States and Russia, paychecks that even the most prestigious units receive are far below the risk and effort provided by them. Those who believe that their services worth more than they are provided and have no ideological, national, or ethnic connection to their country quickly become prime candidates for private security agency positions. Contractors from the United States Special Operation Forces, the British Special Air Service, and a variety of other special forces units either joined with the existing private security organizations or created their own during this period (McFate, 2017).

After the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the start of the Iraq war, the number of organizations and contractors increased dramatically. It is estimated that in 1990, on average there were 50 official military personnel for each private contractor operating in the field of conflict. In recent years, this ratio reduced to 10 people per contractor. The industry grew incredibly fast during this time, and with the increased interest in private security organizations in the Middle East, Africa, and Southeast Asia, the market may grow even further (McFate, 2017).

The Reason for the Privatization of Some Police Functions

The primary reasons for the use of private police are related to the funding and manpower that the state is capable of providing. Some counties utilize private security agencies in almost all police functions due to the greater level of control and training that they provide. Private security contractors are also seen as people with fewer restrictions, which make them more threatening in the eyes of the population. They may be used in situations where wrongful actions of the police could result in negative publicity or even international attention. Private security is not seen as a political entity, which makes it a lesser target if anything goes wrong. The responsibility for wrongdoing is often given to the individual perpetrator, rather than the organization as a whole, or the clients who hired it (McFate, 2017). A highly trained and well-equipped force that does not attract attention to itself can be seen as an ideal police force on many occasions.

The Fields in Which Private Security Operate

Private security agencies operate in a multitude of fields. As it was previously mentioned, the majority of the activities that Stirling’s agency was involved in, continued to be the primary fields where private security agencies were welcome. Protection of structures, the patrol of areas, bodyguard services to VIPs, training of armed forces, and military involvement in the conflict zones are some of the more common operation types for such organizations. However, these organizations are also involved in more humanitarian actions such as rescue operations after natural disasters, policing of zones where criminal activity is on the rise, as well as preservation efforts for animals in danger of being poached. In recent years, private security agencies were involved in multiple anti-poaching operations and are seen as almost essential due to the danger that poachers provide to the animals and reservation guards. More mundane services such as protection and transportation of bank funds in armored cars and other valuable cargo transportation are also common (Petersohn, 2017). The flexibility of private security organizations allows them to have more opportunities for work as well as good PR. Companies like Blackwater have previously provided their services free of charge during rescue operations to gain public trust and respect.

The Most Powerful Security Agencies at the Moment

There are thousands of security agencies operating at the moment, but some have a powerful grip on the industry in a variety of fields. Perhaps the most powerful private security organization on a global scale is G4S. As a result of a merger between the British Securicor and Danish Group 4 Falck, G4S became one of the largest private security organizations in the world. They operate with more than 600,000 employees in the field and gain billions of dollars in revenue every year. They operate in such fields as regular security, prisoner transportation, monitoring, as well as response to threats (“G4S Corporate Website”).

Securitas AB is another organization that is comprised of a variety of smaller security organizations. While it was originally established in Sweden, its operations spread to more than 50 countries of the world and its acquisitions allowed it to have more than 300,000 staff members in the field. The company is focused primarily on security such as the provision of guards, guard dogs, patrol activities, home security installation. Most public efforts concern the protection of large events such as sports championships, business conventions, and less formal events (“Securitas,” 2018).

The third-largest private security agency is ADT Corporation. They are based in Florida, the United States and are primarily focused on home security, and monitoring systems. They operate on a global scale and provide both electronic systems and personal security guards to more than 6 million clients. While it was originally a subsidiary of a Swiss security agency Tyco International, its success allowed it to split from it and begin operating as an independent company. The focused approach to business provides the company with more than 3 billion dollars every year.

Personal Opinion and Recommendation

I find private security agencies to be problematic in a variety of ways. The lack of control over the actions of agencies that focus on military operations is extremely concerning and represents some of the worst aspects of modern warfare. Such agencies are businesses and operate only to gain profit. Throughout history, the actions of soldiers were always justified through noble virtues such as duty, self-sacrifice, honor, valor, and general care for the welfare of the homeland. When these virtues are taken away, the soldier becomes a killer for hire. They may be operating on the same side as public troops, but their concerns and reasons for being there are much different and are controlled only by profit. The lack of responsibility that such companies have shown in the past is also alarming. Action against perpetrators is only taken when the issues become public. Background checks seem to be either lacking or disregarded by the recruiters, which allow potentially dangerous individuals to gain access to military training and equipment. I do not believe that such organizations should have the same authority as regular police for these reasons. I would recommend stricter restrictions on such companies so that they are forced to operate under the same laws as police and even stricter in some cases. Private security is important and can provide good to the world, but it has to be strictly focused on security and not offensive or policing action.


Private security agencies are multifaceted. Their fields of operation stretch from bodyguard services to transportation and military action. As the industry grows, it begins to gain power akin to those of official armies, which begins to concern the public. They operate in almost every country, and it is possible that in the future they would take an even larger role in military conflicts.


Avant, D. D. (2016). International Studies Quarterly, 60(2), 330–342. Web.

Bandeira, L. (2017). The second Cold War. Cham, Switzerland: Springer, Cham.

(2018). Web.

McFate, S. (2017). The modern mercenary: Private armies and what they mean for world order. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.

Petersohn, U. (2017). Journal of Conflict Resolution, 61(5), 1046–1072. Web.

(2018). Web.

United Nations General Assembly. (1989). Web.

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