Private Armies gives viewers an inside look at the workings of private military firms, including those they employ, how they operate, and how they are funded. The audience is privy to the training regimens required for private security officials, from arms management to demolition derby-like vehicular maneuvers.
The film opens in Kabul, the capital of Afghanistan. A common target for terrorist attacks it is also the main operating grounds for many private military companies. The filmmakers don bullet-proof vests and go for a ride-along with a British security firm, receiving directions on response techniques in the event of an assault as they head towards a private military training camp outside of the city. Although travelling in an armored vehicle, the risk of encountering a booby-trap courtesy of the Taliban is very real. "Now I have a job I can do outside of the military," one of their guides offers as an explanation for his death-defying vocation. But another factor is revealed as well; the average monthly salary of an Executive Officer in the private sector is three times that of the formal military - a strong influence in making such a career choice.
A representative of the United Nations Disarmament Committee explains that the international community including Europe, the United States and Japan generally finances the private security services provided by independent military firms. Companies such as London's Armor Group, Europe's leading privately owned military company, have grown significantly post-9/11, employing more than 10,000 people in 38 different companies across the world. A nondescript corporate office like any other, Armor Group essentially functions as a militaristic temp agency, providing security forces to countries during times of conflict.
In a rare exception to the norm, notorious American securities firm Blackwater - a subsidiary of the neoconservative Prince Group - opens its doors to the film crew, granting access to the world's largest training center where "even door handles are replaced by machine guns." In contrast to the previous interview subjects, one Blackwater operative passionately explains that the paycheck is secondary to the belief that the work they do is deeply important. One woman, however, questions if the firm can be trusted and whether her son's death while on a Blackwater mission is being exploited in the name of patriotism to bolster the firm's brand.
Expository and concerning, Private Armies explores the purpose of private military firms while leading viewers to question the regulations of these firms, and evaluate the benefits or risks they may bring to the nations they become involved with.