Outsourcing Military Security Has Risks

ByABC News

W A S H I N G T O N, April 1, 2004 -- The four private security workers killed in Wednesday's grisly attack by Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah were all former members of America's elite special forces.

Three were ex-Navy SEALS, and one was a former Army Ranger.

The family of Scott Helvenston said he was one of those killed. A former Navy SEAL from Virginia, Helvenston had two children.

He ran his own fitness video business before going over to Iraq two weeks ago for contractor, Blackwater USA. Helvenston also had a part as an instructor in the 1997 movie GI Jane.

In Ohio, Donna Zovko of Cleveland said her son was also one of those killed — Jerry Zovko, 32, a former Army Ranger.

"He loved the military very much. At the early age, he loved the little green Army men," she said. "Other boys would play with trucks, cars, and bicycles; he would have his little Army men to play with."

Her son left the Army in 2001 to work overseas for Blackwater.

Zovko's brother said he had been in Iraq for about a year and that his most recent duty was providing security for Paul Bremer, the top U.S. administrator in Iraq.

"He was a bodyguard for famous people and when this started in Iraq, he felt he had to be there," Tom Zovko said. "His words to me were, 'Someone's got to go, it's got to be done.' "

Private Armies on the Rise

Zovko and Helvenston were part of the growing ranks of private armies working in some of the world's most dangerous places.

"They are people with bull's-eyes painted on them whether they are in uniform or out of uniform, and the extremists in Iraq are working on them overtime," said Gordon Adams, professor of international affairs at George Washington University.

Officials at the Pentagon — which is the largest employer of private fighters — say they don't know how many are working in Iraq, but experts estimate there are as many as 15,000 private contractors doing military work there.

That's nearly double the entire British force in Iraq, America's largest coalition partner.

"The military has shrunk over the years and wants to maintain front-line troops as their military capability — not [providing] security and police forces," Adams said. "So as the forces shrunk, as the budgets have shrunk, it has become cost-effective to contract it out."

The four men killed in Fallujah were not the first private soldiers killed in the line of battle.

The Steele Foundation, which provided security for ousted Haitian leader Jean-Bertrand Aristide, is another large private security presence in Iraq. It lost two of its workers in a roadside attack outside Baghdad in January.

The San Diego firm Titan Corp. says 13 of its employees have been killed in Iraq.

It's a dangerous and profitable business.

By some estimates, private security firms take in about $100 billion a year globally. Because they offer significantly higher pay, the private firms are luring away some of the military's most experienced special forces troops.

"It is a dramatic change in the situation over there. It's a more difficult working environment," said Andy Lax of the Steele Foundation.

The reliance on private fighters can understate American losses in Iraq. Not only doesn't the military keep track of the number of private security workers in Iraq, spokesmen say they don't know how many have been killed.

Tom Zovko said his brother was in Iraq because he thought he was "making the world a better place."

He said their mother had talked to Jerry Zovko just a few days before the Fallujah attack. " He asked her how the family was doing, [said] he was happy. It made sense for him to be there."

Reporting by ABCNEWS' Jonathan Karl and Gaelle Drevet.