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Private Security Companies/Private Military Companies/Private Military Contractors or PMCs/PSCs (known non-euphamistically as mercenaries and occasionally to their participants/sympathizers/groupies as the Circuit) are the result of a confluence of the timeless figure of the mercenary with a military-corporate-governmental bureaucracy which engages frequently in globe-spanning conflicts not in the interests of the citizens of the involved government, despite the representation of these citizens being said government's only source of legitimacy.

Such entities form an ever more important discrete component of the military-industrial complex. Emerging categorically during the Vietnam War and coming to prominence during the Balkan conflicts of the 1990s, they fulfill a different role than the scientific & engineering firms such as Raytheon/Lockheed/etc which came to occupy their current status during and after World War II following the formation of the National Defense Research Committee.

The Protocol Additional GC 1977 (APGC77) provides the most widely accepted international definition of a mercenary, though not endorsed by some countries, including the United States. The Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts, (Protocol I), 8 June 1977 states:

Art 47. Mercenaries

1. A mercenary shall not have the right to be a combatant or a prisoner of war.
2. A mercenary is any person who:
(a) is especially recruited locally or abroad in order to fight in an armed conflict;'
(b) does, in fact, take a direct part in the hostilities;
(c) is motivated to take part in the hostilities essentially by the desire for private gain and, in fact, is promised, by or on behalf of a Party to the conflict, material compensation substantially in excess of that promised or paid to combatants of similar ranks and functions in the armed forces of that Party;
(d) is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict;
(e) is not a member of the armed forces of a Party to the conflict; and
(f) has not been sent by a State which is not a Party to the conflict on official duty as a member of its armed forces.

All the criteria (a – f) must be met for a combatant to be described as a mercenary.

Thus, no matter how badly it may offend various parties' delicate sensibilities, it can be clearly understood that (for instance) Blackwater recruiting in Laos or Chile for combatant positions on behalf of the U.S. in Iraq would meet the definition of mercenary activity as defined by the Geneva Convention.

Well-Known Privateers

MPRI - The CIA front through which the mujaheddin fighters later known as al-Qaeda would operate with American funds to help take Sarajevo in September of 1995 after Bill Clinton and National Security Adviser Anthony Lake gave the business of Iranian-Croatian arms-smuggling to Bosnian operatives without consulting the CIA.

DynCorp - The company that brought you commercial-scale coal liquefaction and also this shit.

Triple Canopy - Took over most of Blackwater's Iraqi CPA contracts in April of 2009.