At the end of the 19th Century, in the blood-red aftermath of the Homestead Strike, Congress passed a law that came to be known as the Anti-Pinkerton Act. That name probably wasn’t a stretch, since the text of the law specifically prohibits the Federal Government from contracting with the Pinkerton National Detective Agency or a “similar organization” offering “mercenary or quasi-military forces” for hire.
Yup. I know what you’re thinking.
Alas, because of a series of GAO findings and court rulings, things are not as cut on the bias as it would seem (seam?). Though I feel like common sense would dictate finding the Bush Administration, the State Department, the Pentagon, et al. guilty of violating the Anti-Pinkerton Act (though not all in the same way), the fact is that a variety of judges and comptrollers general have hemmed in this law to the point where two over-long nights of reading on my part have left me pretty sure that a) you’ll get nowhere with the current executive branch challenging the use of private security contractors under Pinkerton, b) if you’re lucky enough to have the standing to get to a finding of fact in the courts, it’s going to take a judge with a big-picture view and a lot of time on his/her hands to make the APA a ready-to-wear tool in stopping the Bush Administration’s extensive use of mercenary or quasi-military forces, and c) we really need a new-look Anti-Pinkerton-style law to cut through all this crap.
Of course, given the deep pockets of firms like Aegis, DynCorp, and the current bête noire, Blackwater—and all the lobbying that that would buy—I am deathly afraid to tug on a thread, lest the few protections the law still affords completely unravel.
But, given the overuse of private contractors for security, intelligence, and aggressive action, given the ever-growing list of revelations about PSC crimes, given that those crimes, committed in the name of security, are actually making us less secure—in and out of Iraq—and given that people are actually getting killed by these paid in the USA cowboys, it is absolutely time to pull that thread and write a modern law in the spirit of the Anti-Pinkerton Act. And that spirit would include strict prohibitions on the government hiring private firms to provide military or quasi-military duties (in addition to intelligence work and that old chestnut, the always fashionable “strikebreaking”).
Call it the Anti-Pinkerton Act for all seasons. I mean, the way things have gone lately, hadn’t we best tell those private summer soldiers that it’s now fall?
Here are some of the articles that helped me fashion this post:
A blog, probably a little to my right, but filled with Pinkerton Act info (don’t know what all the pictures are about)
An article from last summer
And one from this
The comment that got me thinking about all of this in the first place