Trump and the PISS Industry

by David Isenberg

Given his reputation as an allegedly successful businessman before being elected president, it should come as no surprise that Donald Trump favors greater use of the private sector. Thus, those favoring privatizing and outsourcing activities previously done by the government are predictably elated by Trump’s election.

Various private security companies in particular are licking their chops. I previously wrote about the good times the private military and security contracting industry can expect in the Trump era. But Iraq, Afghanistan, or Africa are not the only realms for private security contractors. Another venue for private contractors, both here at home and in many other parts of the world, is the one dealing with immigrant, refuges, and homeland security issues, and it’s about to get very big. You could call it PISS (Private Immigrant and Security System).

Most people think of this industry only in the context of the occasional headline concerning private prison companies like Corrections Corporation of America (since rebranded CoreCivic) or GeoGroup. But the PISS industry is global.

Global Abuses

An article last year in the journal Race & Class noted that:

Germany’s booming private security industry, which operates with sparse legislative oversight or accountability, is attracting large numbers of neo-Nazis to its ranks. It is estimated that one in ten neo-Nazis known to the intelligence services works in private security. And it is private security companies, operating for profit, that are largely contracted to guard and manage Germany’s refugee centres. Thus, those who are most hostile to refugees and asylum seekers are those who, increasingly, are being put in positions of direct access to and authority over them.

In Australia the housing of refugees on privatized offshore detention centers on Nauru and Manus Island, which has led to thousands of allegations of physical and sexual abuse and several deaths, has been so bad that a coalition of human rights lawyers is petitioning the International Criminal Court to investigate alleged crimes against humanity.

Britain is expected to pay private security companies up to £80 million to police ports at Calais, Dunkirk, and the Eurotunnel terminal to stem the flow of illegal migrants to England. Under the contract, private guards will carry out round-the-clock searches on UK-bound trucks and act as temporary “custody officers” for migrants caught trying to reach Britain illegally.

British companies like SERCO and G4S, the world’s largest private security company, have long run under contract asylum-seeker accommodation centers and have come under attack for allegedly providing unsuitable homes for people. The coroner at the inquest into the death of Jimmy Mubenga, an asylum-seeker that G4S “unlawfully killed” in 2010, noted that G4S is well known for its “unhealthy culture” and “endemic racism.” GS4, like some private military contractors, has also had its share of fraud scandals. A UK detention center for migrants awaiting deportation reportedly cost more to house families than the Ritz hotel.

Serco, another major British outsourcing company, was awarded a further five-year contract in early 2016, despite concerns about its conduct at the 12 offshore detention centers it has managed in Australia since 2009. Serco was heavily criticized by a welfare inspector official who was concerned about the unhygienic conditions at its Christmas Island center and the high level of self-harm among detainees, which had increased six-fold in six months.

Serco also has multiple contracts with various components of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, including Customs & Border Protection, Immigration & Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship & Immigration Services.

American Opportunities

In the United States, private companies can look forward to a bevy of opportunities. Mother Jones reported on a White House memo issued to Department of Homeland Security officials calling for raising the number of people incarcerated daily by ICE to 80,000. That would be more than double the daily annual average for 2016. As the article noted:

As of November, a whopping 65 percent of ICE detainees were held in facilities run by private prison companies, which typically earn a fee per detainee per night and whose business model depends upon minimizing costs to return profits to their shareholders. Since Trump’s election, private prison stocks have soared, and two new, for-profit detention centers are opening in Georgia and Texas.

Aside from fulfilling a campaign pledge by Donald Trump, the return to increased use of private prisons is also a sign of the industry’s political sophistication. The Washington Post reported that:

The private-prison industry is a formidable one, generating billions of dollars of revenue each year and giving significant amounts to politicians. The GEO Group and CoreCivic, for example, donated $250,000 to support Trump’s inaugural festivities, spokesmen for the companies said. Management and Training Corp. did not, a spokesman said. Separately, the GEO Group, gave $275,000 to the pro-Trump super PAC Rebuilding America Now, according to FEC filings. One $100,000 donation came a day after the Justice Department announced it would no longer use the facilities.

This, of course, is hardly news. A 2015 report by the group Grassroots Leadership noted that

Between 2008 and 2014, CCA spent $10,560,000 in quarters where they lobbied on issues related to immigrant detention and immigration reform. Of that amount, CCA spent $9,760,000 — 61 percent of total private prison lobbying expenditures — in quarters where they directly lobbied the DHS Appropriations Subcommittee, which maintains the immigrant detention quota language and shapes the way in which it is interpreted

Contemporary private security contractors have the technology the border security complex wants from video surveillance systems and mobile surveillance trucks to Backscatter vans that use the same X-ray technology as airport security. An article in the NACLA Report on the Americas added:

Then there are the drones. In 2015 alone, nine unmanned surveillance systems, mostly Predator Bs manufactured by the company General Atomics, logged 5,000 hours doing surveillance over flights on the border. Some are equipped with “man-hunting radar,” the term used by Northrop Grumman, the company that originally designed the VADER system to seek out “road side bombers” in Afghanistan.

Aside from prisons and high technology, Trump’s proposed border wall is a multi-billion-dollar contract opportunity. According to The New York Times, researchers at MIT said last year that a 1,000-mile, 50-foot-high steel-and-concrete wall would run taxpayers about $40 billion. No wonder contractors are licking their chops. Between 2006 and 2011, a team led by Boeing managed to spend $1 billion constructing only 53 miles of a projected 2,000-mile wall along the border with Mexico. The government finally gave up on the project at that point. “The project was a loss for taxpayers,” The New York Times concluded. “But for contractors, it was a big win.”

Photo of aspiring migrant at the U.S.-Mexico border by Tomas Castelazo via Wikimedia Commons

David Isenberg

David Isenberg is an independent researcher and writer on U.S. military, foreign policy, and national and international security issues. He a senior analyst with the online geopolitical consultancy Wikistrat and is a U.S. Navy veteran. He is the author of Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq. His blog, The PMSC Observer, focuses on private military and security contracting, a subject he has testified on to Congress.


One Comment

  1. All of this stems from the war mentality and emphasis in the USA and of course, “obsolete” NATO. If instead of huge military spending, troops, weapons, spying on us all, efforts were made to communicate among “enemies” or potential rivals. Trying the use of diplomatic methods, people with ability to try to understand others’ points of view (even the USA among over 320 million occupants, must have some real diplomats) and using encounters to talk and discuss how the different views could be adjusted without threats and invasions, would not be impossible if there was the will to do so. Drastic methods to make money out of imprisoning the victims of conflict are not beneficial to anyone but those benefiting from these cruel actions.

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