Commando cops

Just after midnight on March 18 of last year, Donald MacKay settled in for the night at his home in Apopka.

Suddenly, he heard a bullhorn: "ORANGE COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE -- SEARCH WARRANT!" A second later, the front door was destroyed.

"I was laying in bed," MacKay remembers. "I go to sit up and the guy punches me in the face and says, ‘Get down!'"

Deputies dressed in battle fatigues and carrying machine guns rousted MacKay and his roommate out of their beds and hauled them both into the living room -- naked, MacKay says. "They were yelling, ‘Where's the cocaine!' They found a bag of flour in the kitchen and they were like, ‘What's this?'" They seized a marigold starter kit and the flower pot as "cultivation equipment."

Then narcotics detectives found half a joint under the couch -- MacKay says it was the roommate's -- and they hauled both men to jail.

The raid on Donald MacKay was one of more than 120 conducted last year by the Orange County Sheriff's Special Weapons And Tactics team, and it was unusual in one way: MacKay is white and a homeowner, while most of the raids last year were on renters or in black neighborhoods.

But the MacKay incident also typifies a national trend. While most people think of SWAT as the last line of defense when, say, a killer barricades himself in a house with hostages -- as happened in a high-profile local incident last December -- the daily reality of SWAT is quite different.

Nationally, just 3.6 percent of SWAT actions involve anyone remotely resembling a hostage -- and many times even then the "hostage" is a bed-ridden relative of the "barricaded" suspect. These are domestic violence cases in which confused and angry people slam their doors in a cop's face, so typical that "they're not newsworthy," according to Osceola County Sheriff's SWAT member David Sklarek.

What do SWAT teams do the rest of the time?

"Our bread-and-butter is `serving` high-risk search warrants," says Lt. Michael Foreman, former president of the Florida SWAT Association and a former member of the 40-member Orange County Sheriff's SWAT team. "The SWAT team's purpose is to enter and neutralize the threat -- seat everybody down."

That role has recently been called into question. Peter B. Kraska, a professor of police studies at Eastern Kentucky State University, surveyed 846 law enforcement agencies. He found that between 1980 and 1995, the number of times that SWAT units were dispatched increased by 538 percent while the crime rate was flat. He decried the trend as "the militarization of police work," and published his findings last year in the journal Social Problems.

There followed a counterattack by the National Tactical Officers Association, a nonprofit SWAT clearinghouse that claims 20,000 members. "This whole issue of the militarization of SWAT, we feel, is unfounded," says Larry Glick, the association's executive director.

Glick makes his point with a six-page summary of statistics, including the number of American police killed on the job last year (159), the number of "critical incidents" reported (186) and the number of suspects killed by SWAT (5). According to Glick's handout, all but seven "incidents" were "resolved without shots fired after SWAT arrival," even though 106 of the incidents "involved firearms" (presumably belonging to the suspect).

But Glick omits mention of the 20,000 or so times that SWAT teams bashed down doors last year to serve warrants. In 1972, by comparison, such "no-knock" raids numbered just a few hundred; in 1971 there were four, according to "Agency of Fear," a book by Edward Jay Epstein.

The SWAT officers who spoke with Orlando Weekly were among the smartest and most dedicated in their field: men (all men here, and mostly white) who train on their own time, who sometimes buy their own equipment, who strive to do their job better. We found heroes who saved drowning children, disarmed people about to harm themselves and others, even a full-time firefighter who serves on SWAT part time.

Yet their tactics splinter the Constitution's prohibition against unreasonable search and seizure and threaten the lives of everyone whose home they invade -- and key tenets of democracy itself.

"I was going through his bedroom door as he was reaching for his gun," says David Manuel of the Maitland Police Department's Tactical Response Team. This was Manuel's most dangerous mission, the only time his team had to use a "flash-bang" grenade to distract a suspect.

Manuel, 34, is square-jawed with a V-shaped torso and biceps like footballs. Close-cropped hair and a smiling, relaxed confidence make him a SWAT poster boy.

The man with the gun was David Fowler. As with most cases, the warrant against Fowler was served after a tip about "drug activity." Drug paraphernalia also had been spotted in Fowler's home by an officer responding to an earlier domestic violence call, according to police records. Just after midnight on Sept. 26, 1995, the team moved in.

As an officer shined a search light on the premises from an airplane overhead, the team crashed through the door. Within seconds Manuel -- pointing a machine gun -- was in the bedroom confronting Fowler, whose hand was poised near the .38 revolver on his night stand, according to the police report.

Fowler's rap sheet includes stolen cars, drug sales and a first-degree murder charge which he eventually plea-bargained to possession of a firearm. Sentenced to 15 years in prison, he was out in five. He was subsequently picked up for driving with a suspended license in 1984, shoplifting in 1988, cocaine in 1990. After Manuel cuffed him, Fowler was charged under various drug laws, and with possession of a firearm again. He was convicted of parole violations related to the presence of the gun.

Fowler is the kind of guy that David Manuel was meant to catch.

Doug Carpenter is not.

Carpenter and his roommate, Carlos LeBron, had the bad luck to be home -- and stoned -- when Officer Terry Johnson, as a representative of Maitland's "New Resident Visitation Program," arrived at their front door with pamphlets one December morning in 1995.

"A white male occupant answered the door, who appeared to Officer Johnson to be extremely nervous and did not want Officer Johnson to enter the residence," says a police report of the incident. "Officer Johnson noticed a strong odor of what he believed to be cannabis (marijuana) emanating from the residence ."

Maitland detectives obtained evidence that the two landscapers smoked pot from modified beer cans. And on Jan. 11, 1996, the Tactical Response Team smashed down their door with a 60-pound steel ram.

"They scared the hell out of me," LeBron says. "They're lucky I didn't have a heart attack. They break the door, scream ‘get on the floor,' `point` all these weapons ... I felt the air going out of me and I couldn't breathe."

LeBron says he would have opened the door if they'd just waited a second. What happened next was perhaps the least that can happen to a crack entry and search team in a case like this. With both suspects handcuffed, a three-hour search of the premises turned up ... nothing.

Winter Park's drug-sniffing dog was called in as backup.

"They were like, ‘We're not leaving this house without finding anything,' but I almost got away," LeBron recalls. "I finally told them where to find the pot when they brought in the dog, ‘cause I was scared. The cop said, ‘If you have anything here and I find it, we'll arrest you.'"

LeBron's stash was in a box on his dresser. The total take? One marijuana cigarette, a "small piece of leaf," and the contents of LeBron's box: 5.3 grams. The perpetrators were issued summonses to appear in court; both eventually pleaded no contest and paid $150 fines.

The two men had no prior arrests, and the cops did not suspect them of dealing. There were no complaints from neighbors, no tips from informants. Just two guys smoking weed in their house.

But Maitland did cut them some slack: Although it didn't make the official report, the Tactical Response Team might have nabbed the pair for theft of police equipment. "They left the battering ram on the floor there," LeBron says. "I had to take it back to the station the next day."

Maitland Police Chief Ed Doyle says of the raid, "it's not one we're going to put up on the mantel," adding that the warrant was served mainly because the young men were new to the area, and renters -- a potential problem (by Maitland standards) to be nipped in the bud. Although Doyle had earlier said all Maitland warrants are served by SWAT, he reverses himself: "White-collar warrants, we have detectives do that," he explains. "We don't knock down an office door for someone doing a flim-flam operation."

SWAT and narcotics officers in several jurisdictions confirm the tendency to target the less affluent.

Apopka's MacKay got a black eye during the Orange County SWAT raid on his home, plus a night in jail after drug detectives found three grams of marijuana. The charges against Mackay were dropped, he says. He tossed his roommate out the next day, and says he doesn't know what became of him.

The three-hour search and its aftermath caused several hundred dollars in damage to his home but was mostly an exercise in humiliation, MacKay says: "It's like somebody robbed your house. Everything's upside-down and sideways, on top of each other."

The warrant in MacKay's case was based on a deputy's assertion that MacKay's roommate had promised to provide her heroin -- and had sold her pot once before. He says he would have sued, but he's not rich and "you're fighting a losing battle" against police testimony.

Orange County's civilian review board, which oversees allegations of deputy misconduct, has received zero complaints relating to SWAT, says board Chairman Paul McQuilkin. But he acknowledges that few citizens know where to file a complaint.

Because so few people do, cases like these go unreported. And SWAT teams are not eager to detail their warrant work.

In response to a request under Florida's open-records law, the Orange County SWAT team initially detailed 37 hostage, suicide and barricaded gunman call-outs -- most of which turned up nothing. This for a team that was dispatched 619 times during the past five years, 582 of those times to serve search warrants -- 94 percent of its work. The only search warrant included in the initial batch of information was a July 1996 raid in which the SWAT team was shot at. No one was injured, but the suspects got out before deputies went back into the house.

Further requests for information brought forth additional records for 121 warrants served in 1997. Close review of 70 raids in January, March, June, August and October of that year found arrests in just 28 of the raids, although 11 of the searches were carried out for other agencies, who would have recorded any arrests; omitting those 11, SWAT raids carried out by Orange County's SWAT team resulted in immediate arrests in just 47 percent of the cases surveyed. The crimes ranged from drug possession to grand theft of a boat. Weapons were seized in just eight cases -- 13 percent.

But there were more arrests than immediately apparent, counters Lt. Mike Miller of the sheriff's narcotics unit, which arranges most of that department's SWAT raids. Miller's own review found that between 31 and 36 of his division's raids led to arrests -- for a possible 84 percent -- although the records were not definitive. (Some of the non-arrest cases included contraband seizures, he says: "Occasionally we do hit the house when there's no one there. Consequently nobody gets arrested, or we don't find anything.")

But Miller admits that the break-ins are often based on flimsy evidence.

"A lot of our warrants are street-level warrants," Miller says. "We always have probable cause, but there's not a lot of investigative -- how can I word this? -- many times these warrants are based on citizen's complaints, trash pulls. Things aren't as sure-fire as wiretaps."

The vast majority of the warrants were for small drug busts. The largest was a seizure of 500 grams of pot, plus 15 grams of cocaine and a loaded .25-calibre semiautomatic handgun. On the opposite end, several raids led to the arrest of suspects with drug paraphernalia, on which deputies detected trace elements of cocaine or marijuana.

Miller cautions that the MacKay raid should be seen in the context of the larger case. SWAT deputies raided three homes in MacKay's neighborhood that night and the next; their total take was five arrests and more than 40 grams of pot seized.

"In these cases, every time we identify a house, we get a warrant," Miller says. "Our experience is that drug dealers, couriers, will hide their dope in other people's houses."

It's important to remember that pot in any quantity is grounds for arrest, Miller continues. "I'm sorry Mr. MacKay feels violated," he says. "I wish he called me; I would have explained all this to him `but` I'm a little jaded to the idea that people are innocent."

Although an incomplete record was made available for review, Orange County's SWAT team was at least partially forthcoming. The Orlando Police Department argued that SWAT records are exempt from state open-records laws. Absurdly, Osceola County declined to tell a reporter the most basic information about the county's 20-man SWAT team. "The number of people and the budgetary items is kind of a confidential thing," says Osceola County Sheriff's Patrol Cmdr. Darwin Cowdery.

Orlando Police Lt. David Kowalske says his team has gone on 111 calls since 1992 -- 84 of which were warrants. That means Orlando is a little less busy than the average city SWAT team while its warrant percentage -- at 75.6 -- is right at the national average. "For a long time the SWAT team did all the warrants," Kowalske says. "It got to be too much. We said, ‘Why not let the drug guys do it? They're trained.'" Today, he says, Orlando's SWAT team serves warrants on "only those for whom criminal history indicates they're dangerous."

Sometimes they are.

On Feb. 27 of this year veteran officer Robert Bond was shot in the neck during an early morning raid on a family that police say specialized in stealing automatic teller machines. Bond, who last December killed John Armstrong in the raid in Orlando that ended a three-day standoff and freed two children he held hostage, was not seriously injured in the most recent incident. But the man who allegedly shot him, 71-year-old Pal Krasniqi, was killed.

Of Maitland's 12 SWAT-type dispatches from 1993 to 1997, nine were warrant searches, eight of those for drugs. The searches yielded two weapons.

The exploding number of warrants has arguably made the crime rate appear higher than it would otherwise. "The drug war of the late 1980s and early 1990s required the servicing of an almost unprecedented number of search warrants and a lesser number of arrest warrants," Professor Kraska notes. "Rather than reactively responding to traditional crimes such as robbery, the police can go into the population and proactively produce cases against an almost limitless number of drug users and low-level dealers."

The result is increasing danger not just for criminals, but for anyone who might be a suspect.

There are no statistics to rate the safety of SWAT against traditional police methods, but SWAT officers stake high confidence on their heavy bullet-proof vests, practiced entry methods, extraordinary weapons and training. "A good person who happens to be in a dope dealer's house," says Cmdr. David Call of the newly formed Apopka Police SWAT team, "they're the safest people in the world."

Reassuring. But untrue.

Suspected criminals, innocent civilians, even police officers have been injured and killed in botched warrant cases from Seattle to Sarasota where, in December 1996, a Sarasota police SWAT team shot and killed a 33-year-old machinist who passed out drunk in his home. Joseph Buczek had a gun in his hand when police burst in on the mistaken idea that they had been called to an attempted suicide. During the several-hour "standoff," no SWAT officers spoke to Buczek's neighbors, who knew he was a harmless drunk who carried a weapon because of a recent robbery. The state's attorney ruled the killing justified.

Former Los Angeles Police Chief Daryl Gates is usually credited with inventing SWAT after the Los Angeles riots of 1965. But the real impetus for urban police SWAT teams came in the wake of a 1963 race riot in Oxford, Miss., when Major Gen. Creighton Abrams suggested that the U.S. Army keep tabs on civil-rights activists. "We in the Army should launch a major intelligence project ... to identify personalities, both black and white, and develop analyses of the various civil-rights situations," Abrams wrote. The suggestion quickly grew into a secret -- and illegal -- network of links between military and law enforcement units.

More recently, minor scandals erupted in more than 20 cities after special-forces soldiers rappelled from helicopters in "anti-terrorist" training exercises. The racket from machine guns, choppers and grenades made 911 switchboards light up, and the Army was often forced to retreat in the face of angry neighbors.

Army officials told The Washington Post that the urban training was necessary in light of an increased terrorist threat, and denied that the military was training jointly with police. U.S. law has forbidden the mixing of military and police functions since the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act. But since 1980 that law has been amended several times with two attempts at repeal. Today, military SEAL teams routinely train SWAT outfits. And at least one U.S. military thinker is pushing for a military-police complex modeled on Brazil's.

"The U.S. military experience during the 1992 Los Angeles riots and the 1995 experience of the Brazilian Armed Forces in countering criminals in Rio de Janeiro offer insights for civilian and military leaders," retired Army Col. William Mendel of the Foreign Military Studies Office at Fort Leavenworth, Kan., writes. "These kinds of domestic support operations have made the military-law enforcement nexus an important dimension of today's national security environment."

In the past four years the U.S. government has transferred about $900 million worth of surplus military M-16s, Humvees, armored personnel carriers and even helicopters to SWAT units across the country, including several locally. It also has a $60 million agreement to fund "technology transfer" between the departments of Defense and Justice that is being used in part to integrate the training of soldiers and police here in Orlando.

"The thing we don't want to do is train your guys that every time they enter, they have to use force," says Jeff Horey, deputy manager for the Technology Transfer Program of the Naval Air Warfare Systems Division. "But we do want to give them an idea of what it's like to be shot at."

Horey briefs Maitland's Manuel on the workings of a computerized video simulation system that fills two classrooms at the Orlando Naval Training Center. Built by the Pentagon starting in 1988, the system was paid for in part by the technology transfer fund. By next year it will be marketed by an Atlanta-area company called Fire Arms Training Systems -- which will sell both to military and law enforcement customers here and abroad.

Horey has put units from the FBI, military special forces, and Orlando, Orange and Seminole County SWAT teams through the simulation. Under sponsorship of the National Institute of Justice, the locals get to train for free as a way to test the equipment.

"This system was put together after a request by the Marines Special Operations Group," says Horey, who works for the military but is a civilian. "There is a little bit of blurring of the lines between Navy and civilian law enforcement," he explains.

(He later becomes concerned about his words. "I'd hate to see the project jeopardized from a stupid statement," he says, amending the above to: "There is a similarity of functions between civilian law enforcement and military operations other than war.")

In the first scenario, three Maitland officers burst in, their guns drawn and projecting infrared beams on the screen where two women are shown seated. One is behind a desk. "I'm just the office manager," she says. Both kneel and the room is deemed "clear."

"The next room will be a bit more dynamic," Horey promises.

Gunfire erupts immediately as the Maitland team dispatches a rough form of video justice next door. "Those are pretty good numbers," Horey says as the statistics flash over the dead bodies: 11 shots, four kills.

Replays record the hits. Options are pointed out. "The question is, do you take the head shot? And I think you did," Horey says. The first room is reloaded and the cops burst through again on a new scenario. The woman who was behind the desk is now standing with her arm around the other woman's neck, pointing a gun at her. "I'm gonna shoot her! I'll shoot her now!" she screams as team members shout their own orders. Police open fire as she shoots at them. The perpetrator falls, but one guy hits the hostage.

Realistic training?

"Believe it or not, it's better than it used to be," Horey says. "It used to be ... more of a fun video game. We'd like them to continue to take it seriously -- or possibly take it more seriously than they are."

Serious or not, civilian police have heretofore been trained to back out of situations where their presence may incite a person to harm himself or another. Shooting bad guys out from behind their hostages is not done.

"We would have backed out `in a real situation`," Manuel says. "But we look at this more like a game than anything else."

Fellow officer Steve Chapman disagrees.

"We don't back out once we're confronted with a hostage `taker who` doesn't cover anything," Chapman says. "You come in and do what you can to defend that hostage."

Who is right? Here's where SWAT training changes police behavior fundamentally. If Manuel and Chapman both bust into a house, and Chapman shoots someone, then that is the policy. And this simulation -- and the supposed experience it affords the officers -- will be cited to convince a jury of the correctness of that policy.

"Maybe the patrol people shouldn't engage," Horey says. "But if they do engage, they need to justify their actions. In a court case they need to articulate, subjectively, why they did use force or didn't use force."

Such a display may never happen in Maitland. But it will happen somewhere in Orange County. It's only a matter of time.

What we found

An Orlando Weekly review of SWAT history, insider publications and available records from Orange, Osceola, Orlando and Maitland SWAT teams indicates that Central Florida is a nationwide center for SWAT activities -- and a laboratory of the concerns critics raise. Among our findings:

More than 80 percent of the times that SWAT teams are dispatched, it is to serve search warrants, breaking down people's doors in search of drugs, guns and cash.

Some SWAT actions are for such minor crimes that perpetrators pay only small fines. Sometimes there are no arrests at all.

The annual SWAT Round-up competition in Orlando -- among the largest in the U.S. -- relies on equipment manufacturers and suppliers for funding. These companies have a keen interest in expanding SWAT teams, and even pay police officers directly to train other officers and market their equipment.

Pentagon money used for "conversion" of military equipment to civilian use (formerly called the "peace dividend") is supplying heavy equipment to SWAT teams for use in the "war on drugs." At the Orlando Naval Training Center, the program offers police SWAT teams training designed for Marine commandoes.

Privatized corporate commandoes are a growing trend, creating a system that one respected military magazine calls "capitalist warlordism."

Putting police on the payroll

Orange County Sheriff's Commander Michael Foreman is a SWAT veteran, former president of the Florida SWAT Association and an expert in weapons designed to hurt people but not kill them. These are called "less- lethal" weapons and fill a crucial gap between the nightstick and the sidearm. "This is the direction law enforcement is going," Foreman says.

It's a direction steered in large part by the weapons manufacturers, with the help of events like the annual SWAT Round-up each fall in Orlando.

Founded in 1983 as a friendly local competition, the Round-up now draws police and prison guard teams from as far as Saudi Arabia. And it helps fund the SWAT teams of Orlando, Winter Park and Maitland as well as the Orange County Sheriff's Office.

But the real money is in the trade show, where vendors jockey for market share in the multibillion dollar security business. Indeed, the Round-up is at the center of a cozy marketing alliance among SWAT supply companies, nonprofit professional associations and some SWAT officers.

Foreman, for one, works not only for Orange County but banks checks from Defense Technology Corp., a division of Armor Holdings `see sidebar` and a manufacturer of "less-lethal weapons" which pays him to teach courses in their use. Although the sheriff's office policy is devised in part to "prohibit conflicts of interest," it does not address Foreman's situation directly. "I recognize that it can't interfere with my primary duties," Foreman says.

Maitland Police Chief Ed Doyle says he'd forbid it entirely. "I won't allow someone to work as a representative for a company," he says. "It might give me trouble with other vendors."

But that doesn't stop vendors from going after cops.

"Officers like to be trained by officers," says Larry Battle, Armor Holdings' president of manufacturing products, who adds that close ties between his company and police evolve from the need to match useful tools (his products) to effective tactics (cop experience). An integrated curriculum also stands up better when, inevitably, the police department and deep-pocketed manufacturer are taken to court.

Battle denies he targets politically-wired cops like Foreman. But there's no denying the marketing advantage of a police spokesman-trainer. "We don't have any of our officers push our product specifically," Battle demurs. "`But` obviously, if they teach a course based on our product line ..."

The Orlando Police SWAT team's expert in "less-lethal" weapons is Officer Robert Pigman, who works part time for SAGE Corp. Pigman first encountered the SAGE Multi-Launcher, used by OPD since 1996, at the 1995 SWAT Round-up. Next month he will travel to Pontiac, Mich., to become a Master Instructor, capable of repairing the $1,800 weapon.

The pay is decent, says Pigman -- $30 to $50 an hour for travel time and teaching. But it's no road to riches. "When you really figure in all the time you spend creating your lesson plans," he says, "unless they pay you super-big bucks, you're just breaking even."

Pigman's two-and-a-half years of extracurricular service has never posed a conflict-of-interest problem for the OPD, he says: "This happens quite a bit in law enforcement because there's such a close relationship between vendors and end users. They recruit you to show off their wares. `But` you're going to choose the best product out there. If your employee works for the competition, so be it."

Questions about conflict of interest surprise John Klein, founder and president of SAGE Corp. "It's never been an issue in terms of the number of times a guy is called to train," he says.

Less lethal devices can save lives, although they've also been blamed for a handful of deaths since wide-spread deployment a few years ago, usually because the weapons were used improperly. The new weapons demand precision rarely required of police before -- hence the need for training.

The SWAT Association is a key vehicle for training, says Foreman. After inheriting the moribund nonprofit organization four years ago from Orange County Sheriff Kevin Beary (then chief of security for Johnson Controls' Kennedy Space Center contract), Foreman helped build the 60-member organization to its present 2,000-plus members mostly, he says, by offering high-quality training at low cost.

Training was always available through a police chiefs association and the National Tactical Officers Association, he says. "But they usually charge $300 to $400 per course. Most agencies ... can't afford this."

So Foreman pulled strings. He got "professional courtesy" rates from in internationally-known gunslingers such as Ron McCarthy, former chief SWAT trainer for the police chiefs association, and Phil Singleton, a former SAS commando who usually gets $10,000 a visit. SWAT Association members now get top training for about $30 a head.

In turn, the companies that offer the training get exposure. That's why they advertise; it's why they show up at the SWAT round-up every year.

"Training drives sales," Foreman says. "Sales doesn't drive training."

Forces to be reckoned with

For the past 15 years one of the major sponsors of the annual Orange County SWAT Roundup has been Jacksonville-based American Body Armor, which makes bullet-proof vests worn by SWAT officers in Central Florida and around the globe. ABA cultivates a good guy image with its logo -- an armadillo with a bullet bouncing off its back -- and its slogan, "Over a quarter century dedicated to saving lives."

But the company has changed. Two years ago ABA renamed itself Armor Holdings and began buying other military supply companies. It also has gotten into the shadowy business of private security.

In April 1997 the company acquired London-based Defense Systems Limited, a company founded in 1981 by former members of Britain's elite Special Air Service. DSL is among the handful of large private security firms providing multinational corporations protection from insurgent guerrillas, kidnappers, and anyone else -- union activists, say, or environmentalists -- who would challenge corporate prerogatives. Among DSL's 115 clients in 22 countries are Andarko Petroleum (oil fields in Algeria), British Petroleum (exploration rigs in Colombia), DeBeers (diamond mine in the Congo) and Price Waterhouse (office guards in Russia). DSL also works for the U.S. State Department at embassies in Bahrain, Uganda, Congo, Ecuador and Angola.

DSL's pedigree puts it among the elite in its field. But that elite has recently drawn unwanted scrutiny from journalists, intelligence analysts and some governments, who note that these companies act as mercenary armies on behalf of the highest bidder.

The best-known example so far is Executive Outcomes, a South Africa-based firm that changed the course of a civil war three years ago in Angola. In his rare public statements, DSL chairman and founder Alastair Morrison (who did not return calls seeking comment for this article) goes to great lengths to differentiate his company from Executive Outcomes. But after Executive Outcomes was ordered out of Angola at the behest of President Clinton, DSL was one of the companies that rushed to fill the power vacuum.

"When foreign countries don't want to become actively involved `in a civil war` they pass the work on to these sorts of companies," Jakkie Cilliers, of the Institute for Defense Policy in Johannesburg, told Reuters.

Typical is the example of DSL training local police and paramilitary units in Colombia, which was revealed in a British television documentary and an article last summer in the London Guardian.

Since 1992, DSL has had the security contract for British Petroleum's oil exploration unit in Casanare, Colombia, where BP is developing a site there in partnership with Total of France, U.S.-based Triton and Colombia's state oil company. Because the Castro-inspired National Liberation Army has a historic presen

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