U.S. Private Sector Providing Drug-War Mercenaries to Mexico

Job Posting Seeks Former Soldiers to Provide Urban Warfare, Counterinsurgency Training

L-3 MPRI, a division of a major U.S. defense contractor, is hunting in the mercenary community to hire “site leads” who can help oversee the company’s personnel in Mexico and also coordinate “with Mexican Army officials” at a dozen training sites, called “VMTCs,” located in Mexico.

Those VMTCs, or Virtual Military Training Centers, provide “high quality training and simulation support,” and the site leads being sought will report directly to the L-3 MPRI’s project manager (or PM) in Mexico City, a job advertisement posted on a L-3 MPRI Web page states.

Critics of U.S. drug war policy have long maintained that the militarism it encourages is, in large part, profit-motivated, with the $1.5 billion Mérida Initiative being held out as evidence of the mercenary nature of the policy. Under the initiative, the U.S. has agreed to provide the Mexican government with sophisticated military equipment and training to help advance its “fight” against “organized crime and associated violence,” according to the U.S. State Department.

Although it is not clear, at this point, who is funding L-3 MPRI’s training centers in Mexico — whether they are being supported by Mérida money or the Mexican government, or via some other program — what is clear is that the help-wanted advertisement represents important evidence that U.S. private-sector companies have mercenary operations inside Mexico that appear to be providing high-level training to the Mexican military in support, at least in part, of that nation’s prosecution of the drug war. Some 35,000 Mexicans have been murdered since President Felipe Calderón took office in late 2006 and launched his so-called war on the “drug cartels.”

L-3 MPRI was founded in 1987 by a group of U.S. military brass and its president, appointed in January 2010, is John Craddock, who, prior to his retirement from the U.S. Army in 2009, served as the Commander in Chief of the U.S. European Command and as Supreme Allied Commander Europe — overseeing the armies of NATO’s 28 member nations.

L-3 MPRI was acquired in 2000 and now operates as a division of the New York-based L-3 Communications Corp., a corporation with some $16 billion in annual revenues and 62,000 employees. It serves as a “prime contractor” in the defense/security market, providing “command, control and communications, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance” services and products to the U.S. and allied foreign governments, according to its Web site.

Among the services provided by L-3’s MPRI division, which itself employs some 5,000 people, is military training that makes use of “simulations and simulators,” according to its Web site.

The following, from an L-3 MPRI marketing brochure, offers a bit more insight into the company’s offerings, as does this video:

International Defense Training and Equipping – We provide international defense and military customers with training and education programs relating to force modernization and development, military stabilization, live-fire training simulations and exercises, maritime and border security, and more, all under license of the United States government.

… Simulation Products, Training and Technology – We provide state-of the art simulation technology training for driving (patrol cars, trucks, emergency vehicles), laser marksmanship (all types of weapons), and maritime (navigation, ship handling, engines, and cargo handling)….

Again, the L-3 MPRI advertisement does not make clear what specific services are being provided to the Mexican government via its 12 VMTCs in Mexico, nor is there any indication in the ad as to how long those training centers have been in operation.

However, the job-opening advertisement does make clear what the company is looking for in its “site leads.”

From the want ad:

Requirements: Minimum company grade officer or retired senior NCO (E7-E9) with fifteen years service in either the US Army or Marine Corps. Minimum of three years combat or contracting experience as a team leader in a theater of war training with foreign armies teaching urban warfare, counterinsurgency, IED defense or infantry tactics. Spanish speaker preferred. [Emphasis added.]

Locations: MEXICO (Various locations) ….

Narco News did contact a spokesman for L-3 MPRI, Senior Vice President of Strategic Communications Rick Kiernan, via phone and e-mail, seeking answers to the following questions:

1. What is the nature of the training being provided to the Mexican military through L-3 MPRI’s 12 Virtual Military Training Centers [VMTCs] in Mexico?

2. Where are the VMTCs located in Mexico, or at least in what parts of the country?

3. Could you please provide the name of the entity [i.e.., Mexican government or a U.S. agency] that is contracting with L-3 MPRI for the VMTC training/services?

4. How many employees/contractors are employed by L-3 MPRI at the VMTCs in Mexico?

5. Can you provide a description of what a VMTC is set up to provide in terms of training/services? [For example, do the VMTCs utilize real-life field intelligence in creating virtual training scenarios?]

6. In addition to the Mexican Army, are L-3 MPRI’s VMTCs providing training/services to other Mexican military or law enforcement groups? If so, can you identify them?

Kiernan, when reached via phone, responded as follows to the questions:

We don’t have a contact [in Mexico] to do that kind of work. There has been no contract awarded that I know of.

Narco News sources contend, however, that the L-3 MPRI advertisement is circulating in the mercenary community and, as of the time of this report, the want ad was still listed on the company’s jobs board. A screen shot of the ad can be found at this link.

The L-3 MPRI spokesman’s statements denying that the company has an active contract in Mexico is puzzling in that light, though Kiernan did say L-3 is a big company and contracts “stop and start” all the time — so it’s possible this particular pact is simply not on his radar at this time for some reason. 

Prior Narco News coverage also has made it clear that the U.S. Department of Defense is involved in providing training services to the Mexican military, not unlike those described in L-3 MPRI’s advertisement for mercenary “site leads.”

Narco News reporter Erin Rosa penned an article in February, US Teaching "Counterinsurgency" Courses To Mexican Military in Drug War, that states the following:

In August 2009, a mobile training team with the Joint Special Operations University (JSOU), a military school that teaches special forces tactics, trained the Mexican Army and Navy, the [State Department] report shows. Unlike reports in previous years, the document does not detail the exact location where these trainings took place.

In October, when a Narco News investigation found that both the JSOU and WHINSEC [formerly the School of the Americas] were operating in Mexico, the State Department and Department of Defense did not disclose what they were doing or where they were located. At that time Alex Featherstone, the spokesman for the US Embassy in Mexico, said that the Department of Defense, through the Office of Defense Coordination at the embassy, holds “seminars, conferences, and meeting venues,” including for events that focus on “counter-narcotics efforts.” …

And now it seems the U.S. military may, as it is in so many other conflict zones across the world, be working in concert with a mercenary force in Mexico’s drug war.

Tosh Plumlee, a former CIA contract pilot, did not seem surprised by the revelation:

“A few months ago someone … sent me a copy [of an advertisement] similar to this one [from L-3 MPRI],” he told Narco News. “Not sure if it was the same company or another one. … There is a lot of merc recruiting nowadays.”

Update April 4, 2011 — 10:24 PM Eastern

A little more insight into the nature of L-3 MPRI’s Virtual Military Training Centers has just surfaced.

Yet another help-wanted ad posted on the L-3 Communications Web Site has come to Narco News’ attention.

The information in the job posting describes L-3’s VTMC network in Mexico as being part of an effort called “Project Sparta,” which is designed “to train Mexican Army soldiers in basic and advanced urban warfare operations” with the ultimate goal of creating an “Urban Warfare Elite Force.”

The “new specialized reaction force” will support “federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in the war against organized crime and the drug cartels,” the L-3 MPRI help-wanted ad states.

More from the L-3 MPRI ad:

The Urban Warfare Program will train basic level soldiers on the skills needed to support counter organized crime campaigns, to understand and support law enforcement functions and processes, to operate within the civil legal framework, and to effectively interact with the Mexican society. [Emphasis added.]

Qualifications [for Training Specialist]: Former combat arms officer or NCO (E5-E9 ) with 5 years of service in the US Army or Marine Corps. Minimum of 2 years of combat or contracting experience in a theater of war training with Foreign armies teaching urban combat, counterinsurgency, IED defense or infantry tactics. Spanish speaker preferred.

It is worth noting that the two L-3 MPRI ads featured in this story are seeking former soldiers, essentially mercenaries, who would not likely have training in "law enforcement functions and processes." However, given the limited information available through the L-3 MPRI ads, it is possible the "Urban Warfare Program" might also be recruiting trainers with a law enforcement background.

Kind readers, you can view the full advertisement at this link or as a screen shot at this link.

Stay tuned….

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