“The situation is so bad in Puerto Rico that a private security firm formerly known as Blackwater has fielded several requests to send employees to the island — and there are already guards roaming around with long guns on the streets of San Juan.
US security firm Academi, formerly called Blackwater, has received at least five different requests for help, including one from Federal Protective Services, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.
“We’ve been invited to bid armed and unarmed security of fuel and water, but have not received responses,” said Paul Donahue, CEO of Constellis, Academi’s parent company.
“The top two concerns as reported to us are the need for security of fuel (for gas stations and for generators so businesses can operate), and for humanitarian support, i.e. water distribution.”
A job listing on the Constellis Web site says they’re looking for “security professionals to deploy to Puerto Rico to provide humanitarian and armed security services.” One of the tasks would be dealing “tactfully with the general public,” it says.
The Whitestone Group, another U.S. security company, posted an online ad on Sept. 29 seeking “retired officers with gun licenses for immediate response in Puerto Rico,” the island’s Center for Investigative Journalism reported.
Armed guards from unidentified private security companies have also been spotted around San Juan, some with long guns that may be illegal because they require special licenses given out by the government, experts told the CIJ.
“It is very restricted,” said Rosa Emilia Rodríguez, the chief federal prosecutor in Puerto Rico. “I’m surprised that this is happening. I don’t know if they are off-duty police officers. I don’t know, I would have to see the circumstances. A police officer can work in a private security company in their spare time.”
Héctor Pesquera, secretary of the Puerto Rico Department of Public Safety, is crafting an executive order with rules that private guards must abide by.
Rodriguez said security contractors shouldn’t be able to carry long guns.
“They would be going very far,” she told CIJ.
A law enforcement source said sending private security guards over to Puerto Rico to help with relief efforts “sounds unusual since Puerto Rico is a US territory.”
“Private contractors are usually hired for hot zones like the Middle East where there are concerns about terrorist attacks,” the source said.
But Donahue, the CEO of Constellis, said private security details were also deployed in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.
“In Katrina, we protected schools, churches, hospitals, food suppliers, water, power, tent cities…everything,” he said. “The police, military and guard were doing the heavy lifting and we were in critical support roles.”
In 2014, four former Blackwater security guards were found guilty in the 2007 shootings of more than 30 Iraqis in Baghdad, which raised questions about the US use of private security contractors during the Iraq War.
One of the convictions has since been overturned.