From his humble Colorado Springs living room, Brian X. Scott, a former federal bureaucrat and proud Army veteran, is mired in a momentous, paper-strewn battle with the government.
He's trying to stop the feds from using private armed guards in the war on terror.
"The use of these contractors is bad for the country," he says. "It's bad for the Army. We're disconnecting the citizen part from the solider part. These security contractors are really mercenaries for hire."
Should he triumph, perhaps thousands of armed security contractors in Iraq would need to be replaced by allied troops, which some critics say are already too thinly spread.
But, referencing incidents in which security contractors were implicated in civilian deaths in the war, Scott adds that the military push to win the trust of average Iraqis is at stake.
So last spring, when Scott saw listings for two contracts that required private security, he posed as a contractor and submitted bids.
"I have no intention of carrying out a contract," he explains. "To protest, I needed to be seeking a contract."
One contract solicited private guards for cargo transports. The other called for guards at gates and gun towers at Camp Victory, a U.S. base in Baghdad.
"Just the fact that the private security guards are placed where there could be an attack that is a combat role and not allowed," Scott says. "They're replacing troops with mercenaries."
Hearts and minds
The war on terror has given rise to thousands of private security contractors in Iraq, says journalist Robert Young Pelton in Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror.
He dubs them "neo-mercenaries" working for the highest bidders and killing if necessary.
The contractors, who earn hundreds of dollars more a day than troops, have become essential in Iraq, he says.
"You can't take a crap without them," Pelton says.
Yet the contractors many Americans aren't connected to U.S. efforts to win the hearts and minds of Iraqis.
"They are working for their clients," he says.
In March, the News & Observer in Raleigh, N.C., provided a rare overview of incidents involving security contractors.
Reviewing 400 voluntary incident reports spanning nine months of 2004-2005, the newspaper found that contractors shot at 61 vehicles. Yet in just seven instances were Iraqis clearly attacking.
In most cases, contractors drove away. None were prosecuted.
Erich Langer, a spokesman for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Gulf Region Division in Iraq, which is overseeing $18 billion in U.S. reconstruction projects, says companies are required to protect their own workers and equipment.
"Everybody needs security in this country," he says via telephone from base in Baghdad. "You've got to go out and hire it."
Asked why troops aren't providing security for the reconstruction projects, Langer says: "It's reducing the number of soldiers who have to serve in Iraq."
A history of battle
This is not the first time Scott has scrapped with the federal government.
In the early 1980s, as a captain in the Army, Scott was moved from the infantry to an Army social services office after sending a letter to the Soviet government in support of a nuclear freeze.
He got busted when he told other soldiers he sent the letter, and for five years fought to be reinstated. In 1989, he was honorably discharged; Army records note his "misconduct."
He is also one of three local write-in candidates to replace U.S. Congressman Joel Hefley, viewing his campaign as a chance to "whine about the war."
So far his challenge of the use of security contractors is bombing.
On June 27, Maj. Peter G. Hartman, an Arlington, Va.-based Army trial lawyer, wrote that Scott was advancing an apparent "political agenda." Hartman also concluded that private contractors in the two contracts that Scott challenged are strictly guards.
The Government Accountability Office on Aug. 18 backed Hartman, denying Scott's protest, including his core contention that security contractors amount to "quasi-military" armed forces that should be prohibited under the country's Anti-Pinkerton Act. The act banned the use of mercenaries by federal contractors in 1893, after big businesses hired Pinkerton Detective Agency guards to crush labor unions.
The GAO's Gary L. Kepplinger wrote that subsequent court and other "precedents clearly identified services that are not prohibited by the act, namely "guard or protective services ... even if the individual guards are armed.'"
Scott has asked the GAO to reconsider its decision. He also may take the issue to federal court if he can find a lawyer to help him.
"The line between defense and offense is thin," he says. "One minute a guard is standing there, the next minute he's fighting. Then maybe he's giving chase. Sounds to me like we're using mercenaries."
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