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Crescent Goes Down Hard in Washington Post Print
Violations and Kidnapping Take Down Media-Friendly Security Company
By ROBERT Y. PELTON 07/29/2007

Journalist Steve Fainaru didn't quite know what to expect when he was assigned to cover security contractors in Iraq. Over drinks in an upscale Sushi restaurant he laid out his mission and his frustration with getting any security company to give him access. Media attention from a major print publication can be a mixed blessing and the topic of guns-for- hire always seemed to stray into the realm of dime adventure novels rather than clear headed analysis. His credentials ranged from covering the Boston Red Sox for the Boston Globe to doing war zone pieces in Iraq. Fainaru did get a nod, but no prize for his Pulitzer folks 2006 coverage of Iraq. To his credit, he assumed nothing and simply wanted to understand the industry and how it worked. He had been rebuffed by the usual high profile security groups who had previously given me access. Any call from the Washington Post creates the same emotional energy as a bird transfixed by a snake. On one hand the high profile exposure inside the beltway can put you on the map...or it can end your business.

I suggested starting with the minor leagues to build credibility. Specifically Crescent Security, a Kuwaiti based group that hungered for the spotlight. Crescent was one of the first companies to appear on the media landscape starting with the controversial "Heavy Metal Mercenary" by Tish Durkin in the September, 2004 Rolling Stone.

Durkin, known for her solid reporting, had appeared in Baghdad to write a balanced overview of the industry for Rolling Stone. She was introduced to Blackwater, Triple Canopy and other firms by the local private security organization run by Lawrence Peter. But Durkin zeroed in on a Crescent employee... the guitar-playing, Jesus-loving, ex-Marine, Wolf Weiss. Balanced and fair went out the window and the pony tailed, uber-macho, fast talking, heavily tattooed rock and roll star Weiss got the ink and the notoriety. "Heavy Metal Mercenary" became the albatross around the neck of the industry as the image of 'roid raging, gun displaying cowboys on Iraq's roads began it's march into the public's perception. Sadly Wolf Weiss was killed in an ambush later that year and he is survived by his wife and children who had moved to Kuwait in hopes of building a bigger business.

Next on deck was "A Bloody Business, American War Zone Contractors and the Occupation of Iraq" by former SF Colonel Gerald Shumacher. In this gutsy book Shumacher takes his turn hanging out with Crescent Security while they do the dusty and dirty work of contractors. "Bloody Business" filters the business through an ex-military filter of gun-love, mercenary romance and perhaps macho bombast to justify the company's aggressive posture and "bend the rules" position. The book is accurate, unapologetic in its sense of admiration and handles questionable moral or legal acts with a wink and nod.

Anyone who has read Schumacher's book usually comes away with a sense of "Can they really do that and get away with it?" Well now the American public knows for sure in the Post's and Fainaru's Pulitzer-quality series on the bad boy world of Crescent Security.

In a multi part series in the Washington Post on the company and the kidnapping of its employees, Fainaru found himself in the right place and the right time with the right access. And it's not pretty at all. Unlike Shumacher who has a "boys will be boys" attitude towards infractions in a war zone, Fainaru has the cold dispassionate gaze of the high school principal when miscreants are caught red-handed. Like all good journalists, it is not Fainaru's opinion that drives the piece but the employees of Crescent that are left to tell the story in a way that leaves no mercy;

    "I've worked for a billion companies, and this is the worst I've ever worked for," said Brad Ford, a former Crescent guard who now works in Afghanistan for another security firm. "I couldn't believe how they were getting away with all the stuff they were getting away with."

The Washington Post articles tells the tale of five kidnapped employees who the writer got to know during his time hosted by Crescent in 2006. The series also explores a dark world of criminality, duplicity in the security industry and includes the allegation that the men were kidnapped by former employees of Crescent.

The article details multiple infractions and misconduct, common in the industry but damning when exposed to those who regulate such things:

    "On Feb. 1, U.S. military police entered Crescent's living quarters and found 143 cans of beer, illegal steroids and an assortment of weapons that private security companies are prohibited from possessing under U.S. military regulations, including seven fragmentation grenades, a Bushmaster rifle with its serial number removed and four antitank weapons known as LAW rockets, according to a memorandum the military later sent to Crescent.

    A month later, the military opened shipping containers belonging to Crescent and found more banned weapons, including four .50-caliber machine guns, 2,200 rounds of .50-caliber ammunition and nine more LAWs."

Although its not news (the story had been held by the Post who were concerned about the impact on the five kidnapped men, the kidnap took place last November, and Crescent was forced to close down this spring) the impact is timely with new legislation proposed by Senator Jim Webb. One thing is clear, Crescent's impact on the public perception of security contractors will be with us for a long time.
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