A major beneficiary of the privatization of war, Garda is the world’s largest privately held security firm with nearly 50,000 employees. A 2014 Canadian Business profile described the Montreal firm’s business as “renting out bands of armed men to protect clients working in some of the Earth’s most dangerous outposts.” Garda operated in Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Pakistan, Nigeria, Algeria, Yemen, Somalia, Libya and elsewhere.
A source of employment for retired Canadian, British and US forces, Garda has built up its connections in military–political circles. A former Canadian ambassador to the US and Stephen Harper advisor, Derek Burney, is chair of its International Advisory Board. Garda’s board also includes retired four-star US Admiral Eric T. Olson, Deputy Secretary of the US Department of Homeland Security Michael P. Jackson and UK Permanent Secretary, Intelligence, Security and Resilience in the Cabinet Office Sir Richard Mottram. Garda also made former Canadian Conservative minister Christian Paradis a Senior Vice President and Derek Burney, former ambassador to the US and Chief of Staff to Prime Minister Brian Mulroney, chair of its International Advisory Board.
While US militarism boosts its profits, the company has deflected criticism with a noble Canadian shield. When four Garda employees were kidnapped (and later killed) in 2007, the head of the company claimed its private soldiers in Iraq were “perceived differently because we’re Canadian.” Of course, he didn’t mention if Iraqis shot by unaccountable mercenaries feel that way on discovering the bullets were fired by an employee of a Canadian firm.
Garda has been engulfed in controversy in Afghanistan. In 2012 two of its British employees were caught with dozens of unlicensed AK-47 rifles and jailed for three months while two years later the head of Garda’s Afghan operations, Daniel Ménard, was jailed for three weeks on similar charges. Commander of Canadian Forces in Afghanistan in 2009-10, Ménard left the military after he was court-martialed for recklessly discharging his weapon and having sexual relations with a subordinate.
Garda’s most successful foray abroad is in Libya where it appointed former Canadian Lieutenant-Colonel Andrew Zdunich head of its operations. Sometime in the “summer of 2011”, according to its website, Garda began operating in the country. After Libya’s National Transition Council captured Tripoli (six weeks before Muammar Gaddafi was killed in Sirte on October 20, 2011) the rebels requested Garda’s assistance in bringing their forces “besieging the pro-Qaddafi stronghold of Sirte to hospitals in Misrata”, reported Bloomberg. Garda’s involvement in Libya may have contravened that country’s laws as well as UN resolutions 1970 and 1973, which the Security Council passed amidst the uprising against Gaddafi’s four-decade rule.
Resolution 1970 called for an arms embargo, mandating all UN member states “to prevent the provision of armed mercenary personnel” into Libya. Resolution 1973 reinforced the arms embargo, mentioning “armed mercenary personnel” in three different contexts.
Contravening international law can be good for business. As the first Western security company officially operating in the country, Garda’s website described it as the “market leader in Libya” with “over 3,500 staff providing protection, training and crisis response.” Garda’s small army of former British special forces and other elite soldiers won a slew of lucrative contracts in Libya. The company’s Protective Security Detail provided “security for a number of international oil companies and their service providers” as well as NATO soldiers training the Libyan Army (the first time NATO contracted out the protection of a training program).
Garda protected British Ambassador Dominic Asquith. In Under Fire: The Untold Story of the Attack in Benghazi, Fred Burton and Samuel M. Katz describe the ambassador’s protection detail: “Some members of Sir Dominic Asquith’s security detail were undoubtedly veterans of 22 Special Air Service, or SAS, Great Britain’s legendary commandos, whose motto is ‘Who Dares Wins.’ Others were members of the Royal Marines Special Boat Service, or SBS.”
In June 2012 a rebel group attacked Asquith’s convoy in Benghazi with a rocket-propelled grenade. “The RPG-7 warhead fell short of the ambassador’s vehicle”, notes Under Fire. Two Garda operatives “were seriously hurt by fragmentation when the blast and rocket punched out the windshield of the lead vehicle; their blood splattered throughout the vehicle’s interior and then onto the street.”