But Wardak's family connections would also spell ruin for NCL. In an effort to distance himself from the widespread corruption within his cabinet, Karzai in 2011 forbade private security companies with government ties. NCL was forced out, but by then its two-year contract was up anyway.

A few months later, Wardak landed in Miami Beach. He quickly reinvented himself as a philanthropist. He gave $100,000 to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. And he sponsored lavish parties — including DJ Irie's 2011 and 2012 Star Island soirees — to promote Ludus Athletics: "the finest organic, recycled, and other eco-conscious materials... for the most beautiful people on earth."

It wasn't the first time Wardak had thrown a smoke bomb to hide the real carnage he'd left behind in Afghanistan. In another article in the Nation, Roston reported Wardak had paid powerful lobbying firm Patton Boggs to push for an extended U.S. troop presence in Afghanistan. The firm had created a nonprofit called the Campaign for a U.S.-Afghanistan Partnership (CUSAP) to be the "face" of the campaign. All the while, Wardak was making tens of millions off the war. Within months, however, CUSAP all but disappeared.

Cameron K. Lewis
Cameron K. Lewis

Wardak refused to speak with New Times about NCL, CUSAP, or even Ludus Athletics. In the past, he has denied directly or indirectly paying the Taliban. New Times did reach Milt Bearden, a former CIA official who helped the mujahideen — including Abdul Wardak — fight the Soviets in Afghanistan. Bearden was on the board of both NCL Holdings and CUSAP until Roston's articles were published.

"Hamed has sort of gotten a bum wrap," Bearden says. "He's a bright kid — valedictorian, Rhodes Scholar, and all that. I thought the whole thing [about NCL funding the Taliban] was unfair. There is sort of a sense of nastiness toward any of the things going on in Afghanistan."

As for Wardak's overseas security work, Bearden says, "I think Hamed bailed out or sold out."

That's the same message delivered by Wardak's attorney, Frank Smith. "Hamed has no current active government contracts," he says. Even Ludus Athletics "is kind of mothballed right now."

But is Wardak really out of the mercenary game? State records show Smith helped Wardak register a new company out of Cooper City called VLOX, LLC in June. According to transparency watchdog the Sunlight Foundation, VLOX is nothing more than Boggs' new name for NCL Holdings.

"This is what our boys did a year after we trained them," Andrew Wilson says, sitting in a tiny, windowless office he rents in Hollywood. Gun range targets are displayed like diplomas on the walls around him. A machete hangs above his computer.

Wilson presses play, and machine-gun fire rattles the laptop. The video is a compilation of Mexican news coverage of a 2009 shootout between officers and a particularly vicious drug cartel. Next, Wilson opens photos the cops sent him of the shootout's aftermath. They show bullet-shredded cars and narcos with their faces blown off.

"They killed 12 Zetas in a single day," Wilson says proudly. "That's got to be some kind of a record."

The carnage onscreen is a stark reminder of the impact local private security companies have on communities thousands of miles away. No matter how unknown they may be in Miami, firms such as Risk Inc. leave large, bloody boot prints around the world. Their bland office buildings often hide powerful paramilitary organizations and millions in profits.

Yet these companies are subjected to little scrutiny. In fact, South Florida's explosion of security firms echoes a broader and troubling trend of privatizing armed forces in America and beyond.

"Intelligence, military, and, increasingly, homeland security functions in the United States are largely in the hands of private companies," the journalist Scahill says. "Their infrastructures are being built up with U.S. taxpayer dollars. They are given access to sensitive documents, sensitive military operations, and potentially the private data of millions of American citizens. But they are, at the end of the day, for-profit companies."

The same is occurring around the globe. In fact, the private security industry has swelled to more than $100 billion worldwide. At the height of the American invasion of Iraq, the Department of Defense employed 100,000 private contractors — ten times as many as the Persian Gulf War a decade earlier.

There has been some pushback. In 2009, President Obama called for a reduction in government reliance on such companies, tightened regulations, and increased the number of federal auditors scrutinizing their contracts.

But critics say the reforms weren't nearly enough. "Private companies working in this capacity should be subjected to the Freedom of Information Act, where journalists and the American people have the right to see the full extent of what a corporation is doing on behalf of the American government," Scahill says.

"The explosion of the private security and the private intelligence industries is something that should be thoroughly investigated by congress. And yet there is nary a peep from Capitol Hill."

That silence suits men such as Wilson, Wardak, and Walbridge just fine. Despite scathing media scandals involving their respective companies, all three remain players in Miami's booming private security industry.

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