Private military arrives in New Orleans

NEW ORLEANS – Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from Blackwater, a private security firm that also works in Iraq, began patrolling the streets of New Orleans last week. Some of them said they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor, and have been given the authority to use lethal force by the Department of Homeland Security, according to a report by Jeremy Scahill and Daniela Crespo for Democracy Now!

"This is a totally new thing to have guys like us working CONUS (Continental United States)," a heavily armed Blackwater mercenary told the journalists. "We’re much better equipped to deal with the situation in Iraq." Some Blackwater employees are among the most feared professional killers in the world, accustomed to operating without concern for legal consequences. Some of the men in New Orleans had returned from Iraq as recently as two weeks before.

Blackwater is one of the leading private security firms servicing the occupations of Iraq and Afghanistan. It has several U.S. government contracts and has provided security for many senior diplomats, foreign dignitaries and corporations.

Officially, Blackwater says its forces are in New Orleans to "join the hurricane relief effort." A Sept. 1 statement on the company’s website advertises airlift services, security services and crowd control. The company, according to various news reports, has begun taking private contracts to guard hotels, businesses and other properties. Less publicized is that they also are engaged in general law enforcement activities, including "securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals," the Democracy Now! report said.

A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security, Russ Knocke, told the Washington Post he knew of no federal plan to hire Blackwater or other private security. "We believe we’ve got the right mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal government to meet the demands of public safety," he said. But the two mercenaries claim they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Louisiana governor’s office, and that some of them are sleeping in camps organized by DHS in New Orleans and Baton Rouge. They also said that they not only had authority to make arrests but also to use lethal force.

The two private military professionals said they hoped to return to Iraq in October, but have been told they could be in New Orleans for up to six months.