Frank Gallagher is an impressive man if only half the things in The Bremer Detail(available today at are true. For almost a year he was in charge of the security detail that guarded Ambassador Paul Bremer during his time as head of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq. It was Gallagher’s work on this detail that helped put Blackwater on the map and garnered them additional government security contracts.
I’d like to have a beer or six with him and hear more details about some of the stories he tells. The book’s conversational tone reinforces the idea that Frank is just a great guy telling you some cool war stories. Very, very few people could do what Gallagher did and it’s enjoyable to spend a few hours in his world.
The narrative moves briskly, weaving in anecdotes and incidents and then moving on. Those familiar with Baghdad and the Green Zone will recognize the sights, the sounds, and the pace – you can’t dwell on things in combat, you execute, learn what lessons you can, and move on quickly.
Were this book simply a collection of those stories it would be an enjoyable read, but Gallagher has a larger agenda. He aims to rehabilitate the reputation of private security contractors in the wake of Blackwater’s deadly misconduct.
“Right up front I will tell you that the company I worked for was Blackwater,” Gallagher writes, before distancing himself and his team from the atrocity that occurred in Nisour Square some years later (a topic about which I’ll have more to say once the jury returns a verdict). He then propounds the patriotism of the security contractors he worked with and aims to equate them with military service members, “In my mind the overwhelming majority of these people are heroes in the same sense that the military people they served besides are heroes.”
Gallagher’s larger purpose in writing this book is “to dispel the myths and misconceptions about who these security contractors were.” But instead of dispelling these myths, Gallagher reinforces them in ways big and small. Reading about his team supplying alcohol to residents of the Green Zone, their booze-fueled skirt-chasing pool parties, bureaucratic Blackwater infighting and their almost non-existent training program, I got the sense that Nisour Square was not an aberration but an eventuality.
Gallagher goes to great lengths to defend the drinking and womanizing of his team, boasting of their “rock star” status and detailing a procedure whereby other team members were prohibited from pursuing a woman once one of them had conquered and slept with her. In Gallagher’s retelling, the Alpha Male (his term) was allowed to drink and sleep around with impunity as long as he didn’t break any “big boy rules.”
Some of the anecdotes gave me pause. For example, Gallagher details how the dog handlers on his team would at times direct their dogs to snarl or bark at local Iraqi people in order to be “intimidating.” Iraqis in general dislike dogs for religious reasons. In a Quranic verse the Angel Gabriel tells Mohammed that “We angels do not enter a home in which there is a dog or a picture.”
To Gallagher, the sight of a dog going nuts at an Iraqi “as if to tear the throats out of the offending shit-talkers…was hilarious to watch.”
His team’s general contempt for the Iraqi people is further illustrated by the reaction of one of its members to local Iraqi workers hired to protect their sleeping quarters from incoming rockets with sandbags. This team member – appropriately named “Psycho” – was awakened one morning by the noise.
“He stormed outside in his leopard-skin briefs with his M-4 at the ready and yelled at them: ‘Why can’t you behave like a subjugated people?’
We laughed like hell. First because none of them spoke English…”
This passage so incensed me that I almost couldn’t finish the book.
There is no basis for Gallagher to assume none of the workers spoke English. Quite often the Iraqis I interacted with in Baghdad and elsewhere would address me in English. Much of the satellite television available in Iraq is broadcast in English with Arabic subtitles. I stopped counting how many interpreters I worked with who told me they learned English by watching movies.
Late one night in Kirkuk, a vehicle in our patrol accidentally nudged a truck parked in a particularly narrow street. As we assessed the damage to each vehicle (very minor as it turns out) a crowd of locals gathered at a nearby corner. I dispatched my interpreter to see if they knew the owner of the truck and after a few minutes I joined them.
I conversed with them through the interpreter for about five minutes, but when I cracked a joke about how Americans can’t drive I heard one of the locals laugh even before what I’d said was translated. Turns out about half of the group spoke English and we laughed and talked until the patrol ready to leave. If I had, at any point during that incident, said what ‘Psycho’ had screamed to those Iraqi workers, I guarantee it would have been a different kind of night.
But the intricacies of a counterinsurgency campaign don’t matter much to Gallagher. He had one job to do – protect Ambassador Bremer – as long as he did that nothing else mattered. Including the US mission in Iraq.
COL T.X. Hammes is particularly ruthless in his assessment of Blackwater’s tactics: “They made enemies everywhere…I would ride around with Iraqis in beat up Iraqi trucks and they were running me off the road. We were threatened and intimidated. [But] they were doing their job, exactly what they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it, and they were making enemies on every single pass out of town.”
I applaud Gallagher’s courage, sense of selfless service and his honesty. Ambassador Bremer so admired him that he threatened the entire Blackwater contract if they forced Gallagher to rotate home as originally planned. He is a true patriot.
But the fact remains that Blackwater – and private security in general – was the wrong solution to the State Department’s security problem in Iraq. An “Alpha Male” fully sanctioned to intimidate anyone and everyone he sees is the wrong tool for a counterinsurgency campaign in densely populated downtown Baghdad.
Also notable in Gallagher’s narrative are the things that aren’t there. Blackwater’s training regimen, for example.
Gallagher’s training consisted of a single day at the shooting range. Physical fitness test? “He said not to worry about it as the range had tested all he had needed to see.” New hires on Gallagher’s team, seemingly selected and trained in the same nonchalant manner, were a constant source of conflict.
Gallagher received no training in the Arabic language or the history or culture of the Iraqi people. He at one point mentions the 14 July Bridge connecting the Green Zone to Karadda, noting only that “this bridge crossed the Euphrates River and was named by the Iraqis to honor a special date in their history.” Gallagher goes no deeper in his analysis of the city or the Iraqi people at any point in the narrative.
What about the Sunni-Shiite conflict? Gallagher barely mentions it. The word “Sunni” turns up just three times in the text, and two of those are in the same sentence. Many of the incidents he discusses would be much richer had he included details relevant to this dynamic, but he is uninterested.
Even the short time he spent six feet away from Saddam Hussein the night he was captured is distressingly short on details. He notes that the Iraqis present were upset with Saddam but Gallagher doesn’t understand the language and didn’t have an interpreter with him so the implications of this historic and potentially important confrontation are lost on both author and reader.
The fact that Ambassador Bremer is an incredibly dedicated, hard working man who is cool under fire comes across loud and clear, and perhaps if there is a hero in this story it’s him. After a violent IED attack on Route Irish that severely damaged his vehicle, “Ambassador Bremer leaned over and casually asked Brian Mac, ‘Tell me again why we shouldn’t go to Davos?'” Had things gone differently in Iraq, I suspect the name Paul Bremer would be much more prominent in our political headlines today.
Also missing from Gallagher’s narrative is any coordination with the US or Iraqi ground commanders whose battlespace Gallagher’s team would traverse to reach their destination. This would be an issue for years to come, not to be addressed until after the 2007 Blackwater incident in Nissour Square. Neither US units nor their Iraqi counterparts had any inkling that a Blackwater security detail would be in their area until we saw them – or they caused an incident.
At the beginning of the book Gallagher talks about his frustration with the lack of cooperation from the CID unit he replaced, yet he and Blackwater in general did not deign to show that same level of cooperation with the US or Iraqi forces who travelled the streets every day and had more definitive, precise information.
But that’s not the job Gallagher was contracted to do. He was paid to protect Bremer, and he did that one job incredibly well. If you’re interested in reading an engaging and well-written series of outrageous, funny, dangerous, and borderline misogynistic stories about Alpha Males in a combat zone, this is an enjoyable read.
If, however, you’re interested in a broader comment on the Iraq War, Ambassador Bremer’s role in the Coalition Provisional Authority, or the future of government contracted security teams, you’re not going to find it here.
0 0 votes
Article Rating