The Paydirt of Paranoia
By Aziz Choudry
”They’ll privatise your hopes and they’ll privatise your fears. If they catch your children crying, they’ll privatise the tears” (Brian McNeill, “Sell Your Labour, Not Your Soul”)
Forbes magazine reported that the September 11 attacks had made private security firms “the economic darlings of the world”. Many of the major players were already raking in profits. In the waves of political opportunist “security” hysteria which continue to sweep the world, with even more draconian immigration detention regimes, more fear, paranoia and warmongering, many of these companies have been doing very well indeed.
“It's clear that since Sept. 11 there's a heightened focus on detention ... more people are gonna get caught. So I would say that's positive ... with the focus on people that are illegal and also from Middle Eastern descent in the United States there are over 900,000 undocumented individuals from Middle Eastern descent ... that is a population, for lots of reasons that is being targeted... The Federal business is the best business for us and ... Sept. 11 is increasing that business," said Steve Logan, CEO of Cornell Corrections, a US private prison company in a Third Quarter 2001 conference call with analysts.
The immigration detention business is booming. The global reach of the top players in the security industry is astounding. They are truly transnational corporations in every sense. And in our struggles against the neoliberal agenda, just like other transnational corporations, they must be vigorously exposed and opposed.
It is in their interests to encourage private “solutions” to governments imposing racist, restrictive border controls, mandatory detention, domestic security measures and aggressive foreign policy. Meanwhile they help to whip up and sustain a climate of fear and hysteria in the name of the “war on terror” and “security”. Private security firms and government security, intelligence and defense agencies have long been closely linked.
Since awarding the contract to run its notorious immigration detention centres to Wackenhut Corrections Corporation subsidiary Australasian Correctional Management (ACM) in 1997, Australia’s Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (DIMA) earnt the dubious distinction of becoming Wackenhut’s third largest customer, after the States of Texas and Florida.
By 2001 this contract was providing the corporation with eleven percent of its total global revenues. In an SBS interview, reported in The Australian on November 25, 2000, George Wackenhut, former FBI agent and head of Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, said: "Australian operations are very important to us. They're really starting to punish people the way they should have done all along. The do-gooders say no, punishment is not the answer, but I can't think of a better one."
Wackenhut’s directors and senior management have long resembled a Who’s Who of former CIA, FBI, US Secret Service and military high-ups. In the security business, as with other corporate players, there is a revolving door of personnel between industry and government, close political contacts, enormous political lobbying power, secrecy, and unaccountability.
Many such companies offer a vast array of services. In the spirit of deregulation, privatization, cost-cutting and contracting out, governments are willing buyers. From airport security, to running private jails, from surveillance of activists to private military operations, there is money to be made in the security business.
The UK’s largest security corporation, Securicor, was the first private company to buy into the British immigration detention regime in August 1970, when the then Conservative government awarded it the contract for the Harmondsworth Immigration Detention Centre. It ran this until December 1988 when Group 4 took over. Securicor now boasts 125,000 staff in 28 countries. It owns the embattled Argenbright Security, Inc., which was the largest U.S. airport security company on September 11, forced out of most of its airport operations after the Department of Transportation announced it would not do business with the company after security lapses.
Chubb, another global security corporation, provides guards for Australia’s detention centres holding predominantly Iraqi and Afghani asylumseekers on the tiny remote Pacific island of Nauru.
Like the rest of the corporate world, mergers and acquisitions are commonplace. Swedish-headquartered global security giant Securitas entered the North American market by acquiring Pinkerton in 1999 and Burns International in 2000. Now the Securitas AB group has some 300 offices in over 30 countries in North and South America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and Africa with annual revenues of US$6 billion and over 210,000 employees.
Political activists will be interested to know that Pinkerton Global Intelligence Services (PGIS) sells intelligence on a range of groups, including political organisations Its website (www.ci-pinkerton.com/global/groupProfiles.html) explains:
“The Group Profiles provide a detailed overview of high-profile fringe organizations and terrorist groups. The Group Profiles highlight both global and domestic organizations. PGIS covers the following groups: politically-based, environmentalists, anti-globalists, anti-Western groups, extremist religious factions, recognized terrorists, among many others.”
In another major move, a US $570 million deal, Copenhagen-based Group 4 Falck bought out Wackenhut Corporation last May. In December, Australia’s Federal Government announced that Group 4 Falck Global Solutions Pty Ltd (Group 4) would be taking over the operation of the immigration detention centres.
Just as the continued spotlight on conditions at Woomera, breakouts, and ongoing resistance of many detainees had doubtless led to its gradual phasing out and replacement with the newly opened Baxter immigration detention centre, so too the Howard government hoped that an apparent change in management might defuse further embarrassment and outrage. I say apparent because the move is little more than a name change. Group 4 already owned ACM when it was awarded the 4-year, Aus $100 million-a-year contract to run the centres. Spot the difference? I can’t. In Australia ACM/Wackenhut and the Immigration Department routinely avoided scrutiny and hard questions by referring inquiries back and forth between them and denying media access to the camps. No doubt the “new” contractor will enjoy the same symbiotic relationship with government.
According to its website (www.wackenhut.com), “The Wackenhut Corporation is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action Employer. We uphold all State and Federal Civil Rights laws. We also believe that fostering diversity within the workplace contributes to the success of the Company”. Wackenhut claims that it will not tolerate sexual harassment or workplace harassment, whether it occurs between a supervisor and subordinate or between co-workers. Too bad about the rights of the people it imprisons.
South Australia's Department of Human Services reported that between January and June 2002 there had been 130 notifications of alleged abuse at Woomera, 92 requiring investigation. 10% of these involved sexual abuse. ACM has been accused of covering up incidents of physical and sexual abuse within the camps. Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission slammed the conditions and ACM’s management, calling it a “miasma of despair and desperation”. Many guards have used racist abuse against the detainees, and beatings, tear gas and other forms of violent tactics have been commonplace inside the cages and razor wire.
Meanwhile Group 4 Falck maintains (www.group4falck.com) that it “works both nationally and internationally on the basis of principles regarding such issues as human rights, racism and child labour.”
As Group 4 officially takes over in Australia, its operations elsewhere give a sense of things to come. It operated Europe’s largest immigration detention centre at Yarl’s Wood in Bedfordshire, England which was closed after being virtually destroyed by fire in February 2002. Firefighters complained that Group 4 had grossly inadequate safety measures and had impeded them from reaching the scene of the blaze.
Fire Brigades Union General Secretary, Andy Gilchrist criticised Group 4 for treating asylum seekers as “second class citizens” by putting “private profit before the lives of asylum seekers. Group 4 flatly refused to put a sprinkler system into these premises to cut their costs”. With last year’s takeover it is now the largest detention contractor in the UK.
In her book “Open Borders: The case against immigration controls” (Pluto, London, 2000), Teresa Hayter documents the poor conditions, inadequate medical facilities, punitive and racist treatment and lack of accountability that characterised the regime at Group 4’s Campsfield House near Oxford. So much for principles. More detentions and more cost-cutting mean bigger profits for companies like Group 4.
Many of those detained under Australia’s mandatory detention policy are from the Middle East. So let us not forget how, late last year, British and Danish journalists exposed the activities of Hashmira, a leading Israeli security firm in which Group 4 had bought a 50 percent share.
In the Occupied Territories it provided back-up for the Israeli military in settlements deemed illegal by the UN. In October, in the Israeli settlement of Kedumim, The Guardian’s Peter Lagerquist and Jonathan Steele observed: “In the name of "security" the guards, many of whom are settlers, routinely prevent Palestinian villagers from cultivating their own fields, travelling to schools, hospitals and shops in nearby towns, and receiving emergency medical assistance.”
“Intimidation and harassment are common, causing many villagers to fear for their lives”. Uncomfortable with adverse media publicity and political pressure from some Danish MPs, Group 4 withdrew its guards from the West Bank. Following this the Brimbank Community Legal Centre in Melbourne wrote to Group 4 that the UN High Commissioner Human Rights Special Envoy and Australia’s Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission had found the mandatory detention policy violated human rights law as it applied to adults and children in detention, and invited the company to withdraw from the tender process.
Needless to say, it did not. This month, Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock admitted to Parliament that the average time spent in detention by children is fifteen months. The Fortress Australia mentality and security paranoia of governments like John Howard’s mean more profits for companies like Group 4.
This Easter, Baxter, with its 9000 volt electric fence, and high tech surveillance and alarm systems, will be the site of another major mobilization against Australia’s privatised immigration concentration camps (see www.baxterwatch.net)
As we mobilise against the war, and plan to confront the next World Trade Organisation ministerial meeting in Cancun this coming September, and as people inside and outside the corporate-controlled Woomeras and Baxters of the world struggle for a world where “no one is illegal” we must continue to expose the connections between these issues.
John Howard’s enthusiastic support of the US oiligarchy’s war on Iraq is all the more obscene, given the numbers of Iraqi people already incarcerated in the privatised hellholes like Baxter, Woomera, and Port Hedland. Howard stands ready (subject to Cabinet approval) to commit some 2000 Australian special forces and other troops, a squadron of F/A-18 fighters and Australian warships to the US’s oil war. Somebody should tell him that war creates refugees.
Neoliberal logic reduces all living things and all human activities to mere commodities to be bought and sold in the market place. Group 4 Falck Global Solutions’ website boasts: “People, is our business…our business is our people” Exactly. As Michael Welch, Associate Professor of Criminal Justice at Rutgers University wrote in a 2000 paper on the role of the US Immigration and Naturalization Service in the Prison-Industrial Complex “[U]ndocumented immigrants are commodified as raw materials for private profit."