War Profiteer of the Month: Combined Systems Inc. (CSI)
Headquartered in Jamestown, Pennsylvania, United States, Combined Systems Inc. (CSI)—often manufacturing under the brand name Combined Tactical Systems (CTS)—supplies Tunisia, Yemen, Germany, Netherlands, India, East Timor, Hong Kong, Argentina, Chile, Thailand, Trinidad and Tobago, Cameroon, and Sierra Leone, as well as its most high-profile clients as of late— Egypt and Israel. They are owned by Point Lookout Capital and the Carlyle Group, with the former, whose offices are located in New York City, holding the controlling shares. On Point Lookout’s portfolio page, the section on CSI reads: “The company’s CTS branded product line is the premiere less-lethal line in the industry today.”
Until recently, Combined Systems used to fly the Israeli flag at its headquarters. According to its own advertising, its "OC Vapor System is ideal for forcing subjects from small rooms, attics, crawl spaces, prison cells," and is used against prisoners in the US. Nearly every week Combined Systems Inc. holds trainings across the US for law enforcement and security personnel, in using their “chemical munitions” and other weaponry.
CSI is the primary supplier of tear gas to the Israeli military as well as a provider to Israel’s police (and border police) for use in occupied Palestine. There is extensive written documentation of CSI sales and shipments to Israel; moreover CTS-brand canisters are ubiquitous at Palestinian protests, including the regular demonstrations at Bil’in, Ni’lin and Nabi Saleh. The number of deaths as well as serious injuries as a result of teargas cannisters has drastically increased since 2008, when Israel began using Combined Systems’ “extended range” 40mm cartridges, sold under the brand name “Indoor Barricade Penetrator,” and which travel at a velocity of 122 meters per second and are designed to penetrate buildings.
Palestinian protesters recently killed by tear gas include Mustafa Tamimi, from the small village Nabi Saleh, on December 9, 2011. An Israeli soldier inside an armored jeep fired a tear gas canister at close range directly into his face. Jawaher Abu Rahma of Bil’in suffocated on tear gas at a protest in January of last year. His brother, Bassem Abu Rahma, died in April 2009 when an Israeli soldier fired a tear gas canister directly into his chest.
There have also been countless injuries. The Popular Struggle Coordination Committee, a coordinating body for unarmed demonstrations in the West Bank, noted in a 2010 report: “According to Palestinian Red Crescent records in Bil’in and Ni’ilin, 18 people have been directly shot at and hit by the high velocity projectiles since their introduction, in these two villages alone.”
Tunisia and Egypt
Photos and news reports have shown that CSI is a major tear gas provider for the Tunisian military. A Tunisian protester and a photographer from France were recently killed by impacts from tear gas canisters fired at close range.
The company’s tear gas is the primary one used by the Egyptian security forces in its attempt to crush demonstrations there, which still continue. Amnesty International documented three shipments of tear gas from CSI (in the U.S.) to Egypt in 2011 that were approved by the U.S. State Department, despite the Egyptian security forces’ record of using of tear gas to kill and injure protesters. In the months following Mubarak’s ouster, Human Rights Watch also reported excessive use of force against peaceful demonstrations, including illegally shooting tear gas into the crowd at shoulder height, on February 25, March 9, April 9, June 28 and 29, August 1 and October 9.
Combined Systems has aggressively advertised its products. On May 18, 2011, the Chilean government announced— in the wake of a study by the University of Chile which demonstrated that CS exposure may lead to miscarriages— that they would temporarily suspend the use of tear gas throughout the country. Latin America News Dispatch quotes then-Interior Minister Rodrigo Hinzpeter as saying: “[I]t seems reasonable to suspend the use of tear gas until new medical reports dispel any doubts about the appropriateness of employing these gases to confront situations of public disorder and vandalism.” Fortunately for the Chilean government— and unfortunately for Chilean protesters, such as the 30,000 protesters who, a week earlier, had gathered to demonstrate against the HidroAysén hydroelectric project and been faced with tear gas— the Chilean government was able to put together a report, three days later, citing Combined Systems, arguing that tear gas was safe. The report, and the lifting of the ban on tear gas, came just in time for the state to use tear gas against the next round of HidroAysén protests.