DoD to Control War Zone Contractors

The Defense Department appears about to get jurisdiction over security contractors operating in war zones.

Congress is moving to put all armed contractors operating in combat zones under military control, acting on a Pentagon recommendation that could run into resistance at the State Department. The Senate this month included such a requirement in its 2008 defense authorization bill. Sen. Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, told reporters Wednesday he is confident the House will go along with the idea and include it in a final bill sent to President Bush.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice was to testify Thursday about the subject before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. She has ordered new rules for the private guards who are hired to protect U.S. diplomats. They include increased monitoring and explicit rules on when and how they can use deadly force. The steps were recommended by a review panel that Rice created after a deadly Sept. 16 shooting involving Blackwater USA guards. Rice also called for better coordination with the military, but did not explicitly act on a suggestion by Defense Secretary Robert Gates that combatant commanders have control over the contractors.

Levin, D-Mich., said he was not sure if Rice expressly opposed the idea. “Whether she likes it or not, we expect to get this language” to emerge in the compromise with the House.

State’s objection to having its private security forces controlled by another agency is understandable.

Armed contractors operating overseas while in the employ of the United States government need to be subject to U.S. law. The UCMJ is the most obvious vehicle for that and it may be necessary for the security forces to be employed by DoD to make that work. Rather obviously, though, it makes little sense administratively to have the day-to-day operations of people protecting diplomats controlled by another agency. Presumably, they could be detached to State control while still being under Defense authority.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Wayne says:

    Sounds like another layer of bureaucracy because the world isn’t perfect. Do you know how much money and effort is wasted to build something overseas because of the many layers of bureaucracies? Now they want to do it with security forces.

    I would suggest giving the U.S. more legal authority over these contractors but leave the responsibilities with the State Department. You run into problems with so call attachments from one entity to another. The military has been doing it for decades and still have problems when they do it and that is from units within its own organization.

  2. davod says:


    You hit the nail on the head. State has Rules of Engagement for these guys. State should be the one to enforce any new requirements (I really wonder if this wasn’t already included somewhere).

    The head of the Diplomatic Security Service has just been sacked over the contractor issue (Former head of the President’s secret service security detail).

    Hasn’t anyone noticed that the changes suggested by the investigtion team will almost certainly be exploited by the rat bags. Not that they haven’t already attacked under the cover of civilians.

    I just hope they do not end up sacking his replacement because of an unnacceptable loss of life and the kidnapping of those under contractor protection. Not because he won’t deserve it, but because the new policy of no civilian casualties at all cost will have resulted in dead and kidnapped people.


    Look to a wave of refusals to travel to Iraq by State Department Officials.