[ISN] George Wackenhut Dies; Security Pioneer
isn at c4i.org
Mon Jan 10 10:17:43 EST 2005
By Matt Schudel
Washington Post Staff Writer
January 7, 2005
George R. Wackenhut, the founder of a global security company that has
guarded U.S. embassies, nuclear power plants and the trans-Alaska oil
pipeline as well as neighborhood malls and countless private homes,
died Dec. 31 of a heart ailment in Vero Beach, Fla. He was 85.
A hard-nosed businessman who began his career as an FBI agent tracking
down counterfeiters and check forgers, Mr. Wackenhut capitalized on
the nation's growing concern about corporate and personal security as
he expanded his Florida-based company from a four-man operation in
1954 to a multibillion-dollar corporation.
In 1984, he launched a subsidiary to design and manage jails and
detention centers for the burgeoning private prison market in the
United States and abroad. In time, Wackenhut Corp. became the nation's
second-largest private prison operator. When Mr. Wackenhut sold his
company to a Danish firm in 2002, it operated in 54 countries and had
$2.8 billion in revenue.
Mr. Wackenhut was an outspoken political conservative with ties to
powerful Republicans and high-ranking leaders of the military, FBI and
CIA. His office, with chairs carved in the shape of elephants,
reflected his political leanings.
Frequent rumors that his company was in the employ of the CIA were
never substantiated, but Mr. Wackenhut, who was obsessive about
high-tech security gadgets in his private life, seemed to relish the
suggestion. Several of his senior executives were, in fact, former CIA
operatives, and his company's board of directors included former FBI
director Clarence Kelly, former National Security Agency director
Bobby R. Inman, and former Defense secretary and deputy CIA director
On rare occasions, his company's clandestine work did land in the
headlines. In 1991, a U.S. House committee investigated charges that a
Wackenhut executive, working for a consortium of oil companies,
illegally spied on a whistleblower exposing environmental damage
caused by the oil industry. The executive, who had also discussed
trying to implicate a California congressman in his sting, resigned
immediately after a meeting with Mr. Wackenhut.
Wackenhut-operated prisons have had problems as well. In 1999, the
company lost a $12 million annual contract to run a jail in Texas when
several Wackenhut guards were indicted for having sex with female
Nonetheless, Mr. Wackenhut cultivated an image of probity, toughness
and precise military order. His teak-and-granite office was spotless,
and he kept a barber's chair in his private bathroom to avoid leaving
the office for a haircut.
George Russell Wackenhut grew up in Upper Darby, Pa., outside
Philadelphia. An outstanding athlete, he was a professional soccer
goalie with the Philadelphia Nationals in his youth. He graduated from
what is now West Chester University in Pennsylvania.
Stationed in Hawaii with the Army Corps of Engineers, Mr. Wackenhut
was present at the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941. He
recalled that he was so close to a Japanese warplane that he could see
the face of the pilot.
After serving in the Pacific, he moved to Baltimore, where he received
a master's degree in education from Johns Hopkins University and
taught classes in physical education and health.
In 1951, Mr. Wackenhut joined the FBI as a special agent in
Indianapolis and Atlanta, resigning in 1954 to launch a company in
Coral Gables, Fla., with three other former agents. At one point, they
had to pass the hat to meet payroll, and the company's total assets
amounted to $1.56.
After early struggles -- including a fistfight between Mr. Wackenhut
and one of his partners -- he took sole control of the company in
1958, naming it for himself. After working all day in the office, he
sometimes worked as a security guard at night.
By 1964, he had contracts to guard the Kennedy Space Center in
Florida, as well as the Atomic Energy Commission's nuclear test site
in Nevada. He branched out to include food service for prisons and to
provide protection for companies going through labor strikes. The core
of his business, though, was providing security guards to watch out
for criminal activity.
Ironically, his company moved from the Miami suburb of Coral Gables to
Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., in part because Miami's high crime rate made
it difficult to attract good workers.
In 1994, an 800-page biography of Mr. Wackenhut, called "The Quiet
American,"  was published. When he sold his company for $570
million in 2002, he owned more than 50 percent of its stock.
Even with a tight profit margin of 2.5 percent, the company's earnings
allowed Mr. Wackenhut to live lavishly in homes scattered throughout
the country. Until he moved to Vero Beach nine years ago, his primary
residence was a $10 million turreted mansion near Miami decorated with
firearms and medieval suits of armor. His house was wired with
infrared and laser sensors, closed-circuit television monitors and
photo-cell surveillance and had private radios for his family.
Survivors include his wife of 61 years, Ruth Wackenhut of Vero Beach,
who was the company's secretary for many years; two children, Janis
Ward and Richard Wackenhut; seven grandchildren; and three
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