After the Cold War there has been a tremendous growth in the private security industry. Private security companies (PSCs) are increasingly replacing or supplementing national military in conflict areas. In this master thesis I discuss the relationship between the United States and the PSCs it hires Colombia.
The character of the PSCs is disputed. Companies portray themselves as modern business entities that provide a wide range of services and have a varied group of customers. Critics on the other hand compare the PSCs to lawless mercenaries. The lack of accountability is the most common argument against the use of PSCs. I take a closer look at this argument by investigating how the United States uses and controls PSCs in Colombia. Since year 2000 the US has spent around $4 billion on support to "Plan Colombia" – the Colombian government's programme to fight drug trafficking and illegally armed groups. As part of the support the US has hired PSCs to provide intelligence, spray and destroy coca plants and train the Colombian army and police.The research question is: To what degree is the United States able to control the private security companies it hires in Colombia? The question focuses on the relationship between the policy makers in the US Congress, the US government that is responsible for enforcing the laws and the hired service providers in the PSCs. I use the Congress' conditions on US assistance to Colombia as a starting point and discuss to what extent these are followed by the PSCs. Agency theory is the theoretical framework in this thesis. It is discussed if the agents in the PSCs act in ways that are in conflict with the interest of the one that has delegated the power – the principal, here the US Congress and the US government. The literature review is supplemented with interviews that were conducted in Colombia in the beginning of 2006.I discuss the role of PSCs in combat and their functions as intelligence providers. I also analyse how the personnel cap that has been set by the US Congress is handled, and how companies and employees from different countries are bound together through a complicated network of subcontractors.
The literature review and the interviews in Colombia did not uncover that the PSCs are trigger-happy villains acting outside the control of the US government. The findings suggest that the US government is quite capable of controlling the PSCs. The high level of secrecy might however weaken the accountability and stop people outside the government from comprehending the effects of the privatisation of military services. The way the PSCs operate in Plan Colombia does not give the US Congress and the US people – the ultimate principals – the possibility to fully understand what the consequences of their delegation of power really are.