Whether it’s the ongoing escapades of Blackwater founder Erik Prince, the spectacular failure of a coup attempt in Venezuela masterminded by an ex-Green Beret last year, or the recent brazen assassination of Haitian president Jovenel Moïse, the shady activities of U.S. mercenaries have been in the news of late.
But hiring a soldier of fortune isn’t as difficult or sketchy as one might think. In fact, there is an entire job board dedicated to linking private military contractors—PMCs for short, a term which is used as a catch-all for paid security and guns-for-hire—with mercenary work.
Active since 2017, Silent Professionals advertises positions all over the world and in the U.S. to potential mercenaries with real soldiering tradecraft and offers an insight into the often murky world of PMC employment. One posting for a position in Iraq, for example, is light on details but asks for a veteran with sniper and marksman skills that could be used for “defensive” purposes.
“Employer is seeking Protective Security Specialists (PSS) with Defensive Marksman (Sniper) training and experience for full-time contract work in Iraq,” reads the posting, which offers well over $3,000 a week for what is described as a security detail at a compound. The same posting also makes no mistake about what the client needs: A U.S. citizen with a sniper certificate from the Marines, U.S. Army, or Special Forces schools, preferably one with experience at war.
Other positions advertised are in conflict hotspots like the eastern coast of Africa, parts of Mexico, Afghanistan, and South Sudan. Another position, which was posted in 2018, asked specifically for a “Special Operations Medic” with SEAL experience to help train an undisclosed entity in the Arab Gulf, the identity of which would be “disclosed upon hiring.” Not all of the jobs on Silent Professionals are classic mercenary gigs, though. Some are described as administrative, business-related, IT, and logistical, while others are traditional security details for high-end and wealthy clients across the continental U.S. and abroad.
Silent Professionals was co-founded by U.S. military veteran Adam Gonzales, who left the army in 2004 after four years (and once worked security for rapper Lil Wayne), and his wife Susan Gonzales—a former U.S. military intelligence officer who began working in the private sector after her service. Both looked at the project of Silent Professionals as a way to help transition the thousands of American veterans from the War on Terror, into civilian life, then getting them paid jobs using their battle-hardened skill sets.
Susan Gonzales told VICE News that the site is trying to help PMCs do precisely the opposite of recent mercenary exploits , and is adamant that Silent Professionals would never support coups.
“We regularly receive requests all around the world to support a coup, staff or train armies in territorial conflicts, etc., and we simply do not provide any contractor support for such matters as requests like these do not meet our vetting requirements," she said. “What you're seeing in the news lately on mercenaries is exactly what my team ensures does NOT happen on our platform. The use of mercenaries that you're seeing a lot in the news today shows the dark side of this business if you give access to such power to unscrupulous individuals or entities.
“What people don't see on the news is the immensely positive side of this business when employed responsibly. For example, just about any company today operates globally, and when traveling a simple bodyguard just doesn't cut it to keep executives and business owners safe from kidnappings, terrorist or cartel activities, social/political unrest, cyber attacks, or other complex security threats.”
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According to Gonzales, since its launch the site has helped “10,000 experienced security professionals find employment.” She said the site vets candidates extensively and doesn’t take any cuts from contractors, but instead charges companies that they also strenuously vet to post jobs onto the board. Most of the contractors it helps employ are “former military with special operations or combat arms backgrounds, seasoned combat pilots, snipers, combat divers, cyber and intelligence operators,” and are dominantly American veterans, which she says is the “most requested type of security professional in the world.”
A former PMC and U.S. veteran, who asked for anonymity to protect their work history, said online job boards like Silent Professionals catering to veterans are popular for a reason.
“The lack of precise vetting and a cogent transition process for [special forces] veterans and PMCs from special access programs is why these PMC job boards are so successful,” he said, explaining that vets looking for work do what most people do: Go online and see what they’re qualified for.
The former security contractor, who did PMC work in Afghanistan and was deployed into combat with the military, said that the pipeline between vets leaving the military and heading into the mercenary world represents a major national security issue.
“The U.S. government puts guys through all kinds of [special forces], CIA, and NSA sponsored training, then pretty much just loses track of them after they finish their tours of duty,” he said. “The Pentagon has no definitive capability right now to police what countries they go to work for or pass training on to. It’s a pretty bone-headed national security blunder that the government continues to repeat every year despite the glaring signs of mental instability and political sectarianism within the military.”
In an op-ed of sorts on the Silent Professionals blog, Adam Gonzales said that he saw an opportunity among rich clients all over the globe that needed the best security money could buy. The countless soldiers finishing tours and years of service in the special forces and other branches of the military were the ideal pool of talent to satisfy that demand.
“Whether they are private individuals or giant, multinational corporations, when it comes to physical security, these folks are calling in the best they possibly can. We’re not talking about the kinds of security guards you see roving around the mall or the workplace common areas,” Gonzales wrote. “I now run a job board focused on vetting and hiring military and law enforcement veterans for these high-in-demand jobs and it is clear that combat vets are who the ultra-wealthy clients want.”
The mercenary industry has boomed since the Afghanistan and Iraq wars began in the early aughts via private companies looking for security in hostile environments, and lucrative Pentagon contracts up for grabs. Infamously, Prince ran the now-defunct multimillion dollar mercenary outfit Blackwater, which not only dominated U.S. government contracting and came under congressional review (not to mention being connected to an alleged war crime in Iraq), but set the model for where the business was going: Governments and corporations paying highly-trained vets spewing out of a bottomless pit of global conflicts to do security work and military operations for cash.
In a widely cited 2019 academic paper on the mercenary industry for the National Defense University Press, Sean McFate, a former paratrooper and mercenary turned professor at Georgetown University, described just how lucrative and shadowy the business has become.
“Private force has become big business, and global in scope,” McFate wrote. “No one truly knows how many billions of dollars slosh around this illicit market. All we know is that business is booming. Recent years have seen major mercenary activity in Yemen, Nigeria, Ukraine, Syria, and Iraq.”
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