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Blackwater is operating in Guam and Shariki, Japan

May 4, 2010 

Another blogger shared the following articles about Blackwater and their involvement in Guam and Shariki, a tiny village in Japan that hosts a missile defense radar facility.  She points out:

• In 2006, Blackwater’s aviation division won a $91 million contract for air charter work in Guam, a contract the Navy had set aside for small businesses. Two losing bidders challenged the award, saying Blackwater had more than 1,500 employees, the threshold for an aviation contract. An administrative judge ruled for Blackwater, saying the company’s 1,000-plus guards working overseas did not count as employees…

• Blackwater teamed up with the Chenega, an Alaskan Native American tribe of 69 people, to guard a missile defense installation in northern Japan. As a native-owned company, Chenega can win special no-bid contracts because of rules crafted by Alaska’s powerful U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

• And this is from Wikipedia:  In Asia, Blackwater has contracts in Japan guarding AN/TPY-2 radar systems.

More:  A U.S. military mobile BMD radar (AN/TPY-2, i.e., “X-Band Radar”) was deployed in June 2006 to the. ASDF Shariki Sub-base in Aomori Prefecture, Japan. A new detachment, consisting of a small team of military service members and contractors who will operate and maintain the Forward Based X-Band Radar Transportable (FBX-T) system, was honored during an activation ceremony 26 September 2006 at Camp Shariki in Aomori Pref., hosted by Brig. Gen. John E. Seward, commanding general of 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command of the U.S. Army Pacific Command. The FBX-T radar is designed to provide early detection and tracking of ballistic missile threats while providing a key element to the layered defense strategy. The radar is a defensive system with no offensive capability and will fall under the command and control of the 94th AAMDC, which is based at Fort Shafter, Hi. The command officially joined USARPAC in Oct. 2005.

I found the information fascinating that Blackwater was teaming with Chenega, an Alaska Native Corporation that has “Special 8A” status to get no-bid, unlimited contracts from the federal government.   This arrangement is ripe for corruption.  The federal government has issued scathing reports on the abuses of the Special 8A status whereby, native corporations get the sole source contract as a front for a larger military contractor.

Native Hawaiian Organizations also get special 8A status for military contracts thanks to Senator Inouye.  However, since Native Hawaiians are not listed as a federally recognized tribe, every year Senator Inouye must add Native Hawaiians into the existing statutes via provisions of defense spending bills.  The so-called Akaka Bill to list Native Hawaiians as a native tribe under the U.S. government would solidify Native Hawaiian access to these special 8A contracts.  Some of the leading proponents of the Akaka Bill are already getting the no-bid contracts for defense projects.  The passage of the Akaka Bill will further militarize Hawai’i by co-opting Native Hawaiians into the military industrial complex.

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http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/1575255/

Blackwater’s Aggressive, Entrepreneurial Culture Keeps its Business Growing

By McClatchy-Tribune News Service

May 17, 2008

Blackwater was all over the news last fall, and the news wasn’t good. The North Carolina company created a diplomatic crisis when its guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad square.

The Iraqi government promised to evict the company from Iraq. Blackwater’s reclusive owner, Erik Prince, was called to Congress to testify; and afterward, he began a PR blitz of the national media. He even appeared on “60 Minutes.”

Today, however, the trouble has subsided. Last month, the State Department renewed its contract with Blackwater to provide security in Iraq. It’s still in Afghanistan for the military. In the fall, Blackwater won a new contract, for $92 million, to fly soldiers and cargo around Pakistan and Afghanistan for the Army. And the company was one of five picked to support the Pentagon’s Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Program, a five-year contract worth up to $15 billion.

As the company grows, so do its headaches: a persistent congressional investigation, several high-profile lawsuits and a federal weapons investigation. Still, Blackwater is thriving because of its aggressive and entrepreneurial business culture and a strong network of Republican connections. The company has hired extensively from the top levels of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department, and named the former No. 2 official at the CIA to its Board of Advisors.

“Their connections certainly help a lot,” said Peter Singer, an expert on military contractors at the Brookings Institution. “But they may be a vulnerability in the future, if the regime changes in Washington.”

This is a company that barely existed at the start of the decade; Blackwater grew from $204,000 in federal contracts in 2000 to almost $600 million in 2006. Its rise is a case study in business timing and the power of financial and political capital to take advantage of a new market.

Blackwater Lodge and Training Center was the brainchild of Al Clark, a Navy SEAL and instructor. Dissatisfied with the Navy’s rented training grounds, Clark told colleagues he would open his own when he left the service. Clark hooked up with Erik Prince, a young Navy SEAL who shared his interest in training. Clark didn’t know it at the time, but Prince was an heir to a billion-dollar auto-parts fortune.

When the two broke ground on Blackwater Lodge and Training Center in Currituck and Camden counties in northeast North Carolina in 1997, the timing was good. The military had closed and consolidated bases after the Cold War and neglected training facilities. Blackwater built the largest shooting facility in the country, with indoor ranges, mock urban landscapes, a 1,200-yard firing range, driving tracks and a lake for naval training. Blackwater boasted it could design any sort of training a client might want.

The location was excellent, within four hours of the Pentagon in Washington, and Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The country’s biggest naval base in Norfolk, Va., was less than an hour away. Despite the steady stream of business, Blackwater wasn’t making money. Clark recalled how Prince summoned him to his office, on Christmas Eve 1999 and said, “I want this place profitable tomorrow.”

Clark said his relations with Prince went downhill when Prince complained that he was training the students so well that no one would come back for more training.

Clark left Blackwater in the summer of 2000. Business was growing steadily, Clark said, but the company wasn’t making a profit.

“There are two people who put Blackwater on the map,” Clark said _ “Al Clark and Osama bin Laden.”

After the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, the demand for training from military and law enforcement filled Blackwater’s ranges and classrooms.

Blackwater’s most lucrative line of business wouldn’t be in the Eastern North Carolina town of Moyock, but overseas. It was the brainchild of a former CIA employee, Jamie Smith.

While working at Blackwater before Sept. 11, Smith had suggested that Blackwater go into the private security business, guarding businessmen or government officials. Prince was initially skeptical, but warmed to the idea after the attacks on New York City and the Pentagon.

Prince contacted Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the No. 2 official at the CIA. Krongard had known Prince since at least 1999, when Krongard’s son, a Navy SEAL, had trained at Blackwater, according to Al Clark. Krongard had visited Blackwater and shot at the firing ranges, Clark said. (In October, Krongard stepped down from Blackwater’s Board of Advisors because his brother, Howard Krongard, was the State Department inspector general responsible for investigating Blackwater. Howard Krongard later resigned.)

The CIA was stretched thin in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. Blackwater landed a sole-source, no-bid contract to provide security at CIA stations in Afghanistan.

When Blackwater won the contract, the company had no one to staff it. Smith advertised for security contractors in the Washington Post, according to author Robert Young Pelton. Smith led the security team when it arrived in the early spring of 2002.

The contract was not a big one; it called for 16 Blackwater security personnel, plus dozens of Afghan guards hired locally. But it was profitable, a Blackwater budget spreadsheet shows. Blackwater expected a 26 percent profit on the job.

Most important, the contract was a start, a foot in the door of what would expand into a billion-dollar industry once the U.S. invaded Iraq.

The invasion created a huge demand for private security in Iraq. Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld sent about half the troops recommended by his Army chief of staff. There weren’t enough soldiers to secure the country, let alone protect U.S. diplomats and civilian workers.

In August 2003, Blackwater won a $27 million sole-source contract to guard Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority and probably the top assassination target of insurgents.

The contract called for helicopters to fly Bremer around Iraq. Blackwater was well positioned for that; the company had bought a Florida aviation company four months earlier.

Peter Singer, an expert on private military contractors, said this was typical of Blackwater’s business savvy.

“They are very good and very savvy at identifying market needs and pushing hard to enter into those markets, even before clients have recognized the need,” Singer said.

The private security business turned Blackwater into a heavyweight government contractor; the company went from $204,911 in government contracts in fiscal 2000 to $593 million in 2006, an average annual growth rate of 277 percent. Blackwater went from having 16 guards in Afghanistan to more than 850 personnel in Iraq.

By the end of 2006, Blackwater had received more than $1 billion in government contracts. That doesn’t include classified contracts, including providing security at CIA sites overseas.

The CIA contracts are lucrative, according to a document Blackwater filed in a federal lawsuit.

Blackwater had a contract since 2003 to protect a CIA site in Pakistan, the document said. “The profit potential is high (25%+ margin),” because of the classified nature of the budgets, and the knowledge gained from past performance on existing contracts.

During congressional testimony in October, Erik Prince said that Blackwater made a 10 percent profit on his State Department contracts, but he declined to elaborate or discuss the company’s annual profits. He also declined to comment for this report. But there is a healthy markup for the company’s services: Blackwater bills the State Department $1,221 for a security guard earning $500 a day.

For all the controversy, Blackwater has an unblemished record on its main task in Iraq: None of the diplomats in the company’s care have been killed or wounded. Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy recently told The New York Times that the diplomats could not function in Iraq without Blackwater: “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

A company that has banked more than $1 billion in federal payments since Sept. 11, 2001, doesn’t sound like a small business, but Blackwater says it is.

For a company providing security services, the threshold for a small business is $17 million in annual revenue. Blackwater passed that threshold in 2003, yet continued to list itself as a small business.

In 2006, Blackwater’s aviation division won a $91 million contract for air charter work in Guam, a contract the Navy had set aside for small businesses. Two losing bidders challenged the award, saying Blackwater had more than 1,500 employees, the threshold for an aviation contract. An administrative judge ruled for Blackwater, saying the company’s 1,000-plus guards working overseas did not count as employees.

Blackwater’s contention that its guards are not employees has generated a lot of controversy.

Last year, an Internal Revenue Service hearing officer ruled that a Blackwater security guard was an employee, not an independent contractor. U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman has asked the IRS to investigate whether the company used the independent contractor designation to avoid paying federal taxes. Blackwater disputes Waxman’s complaint. If that ruling were applied to Blackwater’s entire work force, the company could be on the hook for $50 million in unpaid Medicare and Social Security taxes that companies must pay for their workers.

Prince, Blackwater’s founder, is known for his libertarian views. He touts the virtues of the free market and entrepreneurs. But the company is not averse to exploiting contracting loopholes and government giveaways.

Blackwater teamed up with the Chenega, an Alaskan Native American tribe of 69 people, to guard a missile defense installation in northern Japan. As a native-owned company, Chenega can win special no-bid contracts because of rules crafted by Alaska’s powerful U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens.

But to fulfill the terms, Chenega needed a partner to supply the guards, so it turned to Blackwater. The contract was worth $5 million for Blackwater in 2006 and $6 million for the first half of 2007.

In North Carolina, the Department of Commerce approved a $120,000 grant for Blackwater to support the company’s production of its Grizzly armored vehicle. The department projected that Blackwater would file for $637,500 in tax credits for the same project.

Despite the phenomenal growth, Prince has been quietly looking for more investors. At the end of April, the giant hedge fund Cerberus said it had decided against investing as much as $200 million in Blackwater. After news broke of Cerberus’ interest, Blackwater President Gary Jackson sent an e-mail message saying the company was anticipating even more growth, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“The company has “had two successive quarters of unprecedented growth,” Jackson wrote, and is “exploring multiple avenues to finance our continued expansion.”

© 2008, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.).

External link: http://www.tradingmarkets.com/.site/news/Stock%20News/1575255/

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http://www.stripes.com/article.asp?section=104&article=49341

Tiny base assimilates into Japanese town

To allay locals’ health fears, housing built close to radar

By Teri Weaver, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Monday, October 8, 2007

SHARIKI, Japan

In Shariki, selecting the right place for American workers’ housing involved more than worrying about a daily commute.

For the 100 or so government contractors and two U.S. Army soldiers now living in and around the tiny Japanese village near the Sea of Japan, setting up a homestead also sent a message about their mission, according to the company commander at Shariki Communications Site.

“There were some people that told us, if you build that housing (elsewhere), it will be a public relations disaster,” said Capt. Will Hunter, whose unit in Shariki is attached to the 94th Army Air and Missile Defense Command in Hawaii. “It implies that you don’t think it’s safe to live around the radar.”

The radar is the AN/TPY-2, which points high-powered radio waves westward toward mainland Asia to hunt for enemy missiles headed east toward America or its allies. The system is serious — it could burn a person standing in the wrong place at the wrong time, Hunter says.

That hasn’t happened, he says, and occasional testing by the Americans and Japanese has found the radar does not interfere with local cell phones or harm local farming. Still, showing is better than telling, and that means building a housing complex for the Americans only a five-minute drive from the site.

It’s an apt example of how community relations can take on special meaning when a seaside village of 5,500 Japanese residents finds itself hosting several dozen Americans.

Hunter, the first commander of the year-old unit, has spent much of the past year making and implementing decisions like housing location. He’s also become a local ambassador of sorts at festivals, parades, Japanese military ceremonies and even afternoon cookouts.

“I think that’s my bigger job,” he said when weighing building relationships with local residents against his other tasks, working with the contractors and ensuring security of the radar site.

First Sgt. Ben Williams, the only other soldier in the unit, has picked up the role as well. Williams has been in the Army 16 years, and this is his first assignment without soldiers to lead and with a foreign language to negotiate. “I’m still feeling this out,” he says.

On one of his first days in town, he, Hunter and about 20 other workers from base helped drag a 16-ton float for a festival in Goshogawara, the biggest city about 45 minutes from base. “I was drenched,” he said of the sweaty work on the humid summer night.

For Hunter, much of the community relations means establishing safety procedures and conveniences for the Americans. He has set up phone lists and emergency procedures with local police and other officials so languages won’t be barriers to a response to Americans in need.

He’s even collected menus from local restaurants and had them translated to make it easier for the Americans to dine out and for local businesses to attract more customers.

The local community has responded as well. Lt. Col. Masaru Ohta, the Japan Air Self Defense Force’s 21st Air Defense Missile Squadron commander, ensures Americans get invited to festivals and meetings. And the city of Tsugaru, which oversees the smaller community of Shariki, has built a police koban in the village.

“I choose to say this police box was built for us, not because of us,” Hunter says.

Vehicle accidents have been the one sore spot for Hunter. There have been quite a few since the Americans came to Shariki, where an average of 12 meters of snow falls each winter.

Most of the accidents involve simple mistakes, not paying attention or slipping on ice, Hunter says. Still, a couple of Japanese people have been injured and gomen money, traditional compensation and condolence money, has been paid.

“In all honesty, I have beat up the contractors a lot about making their people drive correctly,” Hunter says while driving on a narrow two-lane road through rice paddies. The highway connects Shariki and Goshogawara, the closest place to big-city life that includes karaoke parlors, a dance club and two malls.

It’s hard to have absolute control, however, over a workforce that reports to a private company rather than a company commander, he says.

The Americans work for Raytheon and Chenega Blackwater Solutions, who, respectively, run the missile radar and provide security at the base.

In the past year, a couple of workers were sent home as punishment. But Hunter has no direct control over their privilege to hold a license, as he does over soldiers.

At the Shariki police station, inspector Yoshifumi Nakagawa warmly welcomes Hunter and gives business cards printed in English and Japanese to the two members of his staff – Williams and translator Yuko Akita.

Nakagawa was happy to learn Hunter has an interpreter, his first even though the Army unit officially stood up on Sept. 26, 2006. Previously, the captain relied on a handful of the contractors who speak Japanese, or a few of Ohta’s command staff who speak English.

The police official and the translator exchange cell phone numbers, then Nakagawa praises Hunter for participating in a recent community walk. It’s a formal thank-you for two men who see each other regularly. Both take the same language exchange course on Fridays, and the group has dinner together once a month.

Ohta credits the Americans’ involvement in the community with appeasing some of the fears first raised when the radar was built. “Because they participate in local events,” he says through a translator, “now there are no objections.”

The objections haven’t quite gone away. A Japanese Ministry of Defense office, at Shariki city hall, is where the Defense Facilities Administration Bureau works as liaison between the community and the U.S. Army base, Hunter says. It’s also where locals can go with concerns about the radar site.

In the past year, complaints have fallen off so much that the office has reduced its hours twice.

A couple of months ago, Hunter met with the bureau to hear about any recent complaints. One resident said his pacemaker had acted oddly when he drove on Shariki’s main street. Another man said his radio transmitted only static at 5 a.m. on a recent day. Both men suspected the radar.

“Things like that still come up,” Hunter said. “I think for the most part, people understand the radar is not going to hurt them.”

Blackwater Secrets Exposed

May 4, 2010 

Blackwater is in the news again with the release of secret tapes of Blackwater owner Erik Prince speaking candidly about the chilling details of Blackwater’s covert operations.  Democracy Now! aired these recordings today:

EXCLUSIVE…Secret Recording of Erik Prince Reveals Previously Undisclosed Blackwater Ops

Investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill obtains a rare audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, to a friendly audience in January. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. In a Democracy Now! exclusive broadcast we play excerpts of the recording and speak with Scahill about the revelations.

Jeremy Scahill also wrote a story in The Nation .

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Published on Tuesday, May 4, 2010 by The Nation

Secret Erik Prince Tape Exposed

by Jeremy Scahill

Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the “Tulip Time Festival” in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.

Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.

In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight “terrorists” in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater’s secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.” Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater “call[ed] in multiple air strikes,” blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the “largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history.” He characterized the work of some NATO countries’ forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations “should just pack it in and go home.” Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.

Prince also claimed that a Blackwater operative took down the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in Baghdad and criticized the Secret Service for being “flat-footed.” He bragged that Blackwater forces “beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene” during Katrina and claimed that lawsuits, “tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills” and political attacks prevented him from deploying a humanitarian ship that could have responded to the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit Indonesia.

Several times during the speech, Prince appeared to demean Afghans his company is training in Afghanistan, saying Blackwater had to teach them “Intro to Toilet Use” and to do jumping jacks. At the same time, he bragged that US generals told him the Afghans Blackwater trains “are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.” Prince also revealed that he is writing a book, scheduled to be released this fall.

The speech was delivered January 14 at the University of Michigan in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, ROTC commanders and cadets, businesspeople and military veterans. The speech was titled “Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear” and was sponsored by the Young Presidents’ Association (YPO), a business networking association primarily made up of corporate executives. “Ripped from the headlines and described by Vanity Fair magazine, as a Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier and Spy, Erik Prince brings all that and more to our exclusive YPO speaking engagement,” read the event’s program, also obtained by The Nation. It proclaimed that Prince’s speech was an “amazing don’t miss opportunity from a man who has ‘been there and done that’ with a group of Cadets and Midshipmen who are months away from serving on the ‘tip of the spear.'” Here are some of the highlights from Erik Prince’s speech:

Send the Mercs into Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria

Prince painted a global picture in which Iran is “at the absolute dead center… of badness.” The Iranians, he said, “want that nuke so that it is again a Persian Gulf and they very much have an attitude of when Darius ran most of the Middle East back in 1000 BC. That’s very much what the Iranians are after.” [NOTE: Darius of Persia actually ruled from 522 BC-486 BC]. Iran, Prince charged, has a “master plan to stir up and organize a Shia revolt through the whole region.” Prince proposed that armed private soldiers from companies like Blackwater be deployed in countries throughout the region to target Iranian influence, specifically in Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. “The Iranians have a very sinister hand in these places,” Prince said. “You’re not going to solve it by putting a lot of uniformed soldiers in all these countries. It’s way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint.” In addition to concerns of political expediency, Prince suggested that using private contractors to conduct such operations would be cost-effective. “The overall defense budget is going to have to be cut and they’re going to look for ways, they’re going to have to have ways to become more efficient,” he said. “And there’s a lot of ways that the private sector can operate with a much smaller, much lighter footprint.”

Prince also proposed using private armed contractors in the oil-rich African nation of Nigeria. Prince said that guerilla groups in the country are dramatically slowing oil production and extraction and stealing oil. “There’s more than a half million barrels a day stolen there, which is stolen and organized by very large criminal syndicates. There’s even some evidence it’s going to fund terrorist organizations,” Prince alleged. “These guerilla groups attack the pipeline, attack the pump house to knock it offline, which makes the pressure of the pipeline go soft. they cut that pipeline and they weld in their own patch with their own valves and they back a barge up into it. Ten thousand barrels at a time, take that oil, drive that 10,000 barrels out to sea and at $80 a barrel, that’s $800,000. That’s not a bad take for organized crime.” Prince made no mention of the nonviolent indigenous opposition to oil extraction and pollution, nor did he mention the notorious human rights abuses connected to multinational oil corporations in Nigeria that have sparked much of the resistance.

Blackwater and the Geneva Convention

Prince scornfully dismissed the debate on whether armed individuals working for Blackwater could be classified as “unlawful combatants” who are ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention. “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”

It is significant that Prince mentioned his company operating in Pakistan given that Blackwater, the US government and the Pakistan government have all denied Blackwater works in Pakistan.

Taking Down the Iraqi Shoe Thrower for the ‘Flat-Footed’ Secret Service

Prince noted several high-profile attacks on world leaders in the past year, specifically a woman pushing the Pope at Christmas mass and the attack on Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, saying there has been a pattern of “some pretty questionable security lately.” He then proceeded to describe the feats of his Blackwater forces in protecting dignitaries and diplomats, claiming that one of his men took down the Iraqi journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi, who threw his shoes at President Bush in Baghdad in December 2008. Prince referred to al-Zaidi as the “shoe bomber:”

“A little known fact, you know when the shoe bomber in Iraq was throwing his shoes at President Bush, in December 08, we provided diplomatic security, but we had no responsibility for the president’s security–that’s always the Secret Service that does that. We happened to have a guy in the back of the room and he saw that first shoe go and he drew his weapon, got a sight picture, saw that it was only a shoe, he re-holstered, went forward and took that guy down while the Secret Service was still standing there flat-footed. I have a picture of that–I’m publishing a book, so watch for that later this fall–in which you’ll see all the reporters looking, there’s my guy taking the shoe thrower down. He didn’t shoot him, he just tackled him, even though the guy was committing assault and battery on the president of the United States. I asked a friend of mine who used to run the Secret Service if they had a written report of that and he said the debrief was so bad they did not put it in writing.”

While the Secret Service was widely criticized at the time for its apparent inaction during the incident, video of the event clearly showed another Iraqi journalist, not security guards, initially pulling al-Zaidi to the floor. Almost instantly thereafter, al-Zaidi was swarmed by a gang of various, unidentified security agents.

Blackwater’s Forward Operating Bases

Prince went into detail about his company’s operations in Afghanistan. Blackwater has been in the country since at least April 2002, when the company was hired by the CIA on a covert contract to provide the Agency with security. Since then, Blackwater has won hundreds of millions of dollars in security, counter-narcotics and training contracts for the State Department, Defense Department and the CIA. The company protects US Ambassador Karl Eikenberry and other senior US officials, guards CIA personnel and trains the Afghan border police. “We built four bases and we staffed them and we run them,” Prince said, referring to them as Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). He described them as being in the north, south, east and west of Afghanistan. “Spin Boldak in the south, which is the major drug trans-shipment area, in the east at a place called FOB Lonestar, which is right at the foothills of Tora Bora mountain. In fact if you ski off Tora Bora mountain, you can ski down to our firebase,” Prince said, adding that Blackwater also has a base near Herat and another location. FOB Lonestar is approximately 15 miles from the Pakistan border. “Who else has built a [Forward Operating Base] along the main infiltration route for the Taliban and the last known location for Osama bin Laden?” Prince said earlier this year.

Blackwater’s War on Drugs

Prince described a Narcotics Interdiction Unit Blackwater started in Afghanistan five years ago that remains active. “It is about a 200 person strike force to go after the big narcotics traffickers, the big cache sites,” Prince said. “That unit’s had great success. They’ve taken more than $3.5 billion worth of heroin out of circulation. We’re not going after the farmers, but we’re going after the traffickers.” He described an operation in July 2009 where Blackwater forces actually called in NATO air strikes on a target during a mission:

“A year ago, July, they did the largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history, down in the south-east. They went down, they hit five targets that our intel guys put together and they wound up with about 12,000 pounds of heroin. While they were down there, they said, ‘You know, these other three sites look good, we should go check them out.’ Sure enough they did and they found a cache–262,000 kilograms of hash, which equates to more than a billion dollars street value. And it was an industrialized hash operation, it was much of the hash crop in Helmand province. It was palletized, they’d dug ditches out in the desert, covered it with tarps and the bags of powder were big bags with a brand name on it for the hash brand, palletized, ready to go into containers down to Karachi [Pakistan] and then out to Europe or elsewhere in the world. That raid alone took about $60 million out of the Taliban’s coffers. So, those were good days. When the guys found it, they didn’t have enough ammo, enough explosives, to blow it, they couldn’t burn it all, so they had to call in multiple air strikes. Of course, you know, each of the NATO countries that came and did the air strikes took credit for finding and destroying the cache.”
December 30, 2009 CIA Bombing in Khost

Prince also addressed the deadly suicide bombing on December 30 at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. Eight CIA personnel, including two Blackwater operatives, were killed in the bombing, which was carried out by a Jordanian double-agent. Prince was asked by an audience member about the “failure” to prevent that attack. The questioner did not mention that Blackwater was responsible for the security of the CIA officials that day, nor did Prince discuss Blackwater’s role that day. Here is what Prince said:

“You know what? It is a tragedy that those guys were killed but if you put it in perspective, the CIA has lost extremely few people since 9/11. We’ve lost two or three in Afghanistan, before that two or three in Iraq and, I believe, one guy in Somalia–a landmine. So when you compare what Bill Donovan and the OSS did to the Germans and the Japanese, the Italians during World War II–and they lost hundreds and hundreds of people doing very difficult, very dangerous work–it is a tragedy when you lose people, but it is a cost of doing that work. It is essential, you’ve got to take risks. In that case, they had what appeared to be a very hot asset who had very relevant, very actionable intelligence and he turned out to be a bad guy… That’s what the intelligence business is, you can’t be assured success all the time. You’ve got to be willing to take risks. Those are calculated risks but sometimes it goes badly. I hope the Agency doesn’t draw back and say, ‘Oh, we have to retrench and not do that anymore,’ all the rest. No. We need you to double down, go after them harder. That is a cost of doing business. They are there to kill us.”
Prince to Some NATO Countries in Afghanistan: ‘Go Home’

Prince spoke disparagingly of some unnamed NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan, saying they do not have the will for the fight. “Some of them do and a lot of them don’t,” he said. “It is such a patchwork of different international commitments as to what some can do and what some can’t. A lot of them should just pack it in and go home.” Canada, however, received praise from Prince. “The Canadians have lost per capita more than America has in Afghanistan. They are fighting and they are doing it and so if you see a Canadian thank them for that. The politicians at home take heavies for doing that,” Prince said. He did not mention the fact that his company was hired by the Canadian government to train its forces.

Prince also described how his private air force (which he recently sold) bailed out a US military unit in trouble in Afghanistan. According to Prince, the unit was fighting the Taliban and was running out of ammo and needed an emergency re-supply. “Because of, probably some procedure written by a lawyer back in Washington, the Air Force was not permitted to drop in an uncertified drop zone… even to the unit that was running out of ammo,” Prince said. “So they called and asked if our guys would do it and, of course, they said, ‘Yes.’ And the cool part of the story is the Army guys put their DZ mark in the drop zone, a big orange panel, on the hood of their hummer and our guys put the first bundle on the hood of that hummer. We don’t always get that close, but that time a little too close.”

Blackwater: Teaching Afghans to Use Toilets

Prince said his forces train 1300 Afghans every six weeks and described his pride in attending “graduations” of Blackwater-trained Afghans, saying that in six weeks they radically transform the trainees. “You take these officers, these Afghans and it’s the first time in their life they’ve ever been part of something that’s first class, that works. The instructors know what they’re talking about, they’re fed, the water works, there’s ammunition for their guns. Everything works,” Prince said. “The first few days of training, we have to do ‘Intro to Toilet Use’ because a lot of these guys have never even seen a flushed toilet before.” Prince boasted: “We manage to take folks with a tribal mentality and, just like the Marine Corps does more effectively than anyone else, they take kids from disparate lifestyles across the United States and you throw them into Paris Island and you make them Marines. We try that same mentality there by pushing these guys very hard and, it’s funny, I wish I had video to show you of the hilarious jumping jacks. If you take someone that’s 25 years old and they’ve never done a jumping jack in their life–some of the convoluted motions they do it’s comical. But the transformation from day one to the end of that program, they’re very proud and they’re very capable.” Prince said that when he was in Afghanistan late last year, “I met with a bunch of generals and they said the Afghans that we train are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.”

Prince also discussed the Afghan women he says work with Blackwater. “Some of the women we’ve had, it’s amazing,” Prince said. “They come in in the morning and they have the burqa on and they transition to their cammies (camouflage uniforms) and I think they enjoy the baton work,” he said, adding, “They’ve been hand-cuffing a little too much on the men.”

Hurricane Katrina and Humanitarian Mercenaries

Erik Prince spoke at length about Blackwater’s deployment in 2005 in New Orleans during Hurricane Katrina, bragging that his forces “rescued 128 people, sent thousands of meals in there and it worked.” Prince boasted of his company’s rapid response, saying, “We surged 145 guys in 36 hours from our facility five states away and we beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene.” What Prince failed to mention was that at the time of the disaster, at least 35% of the Louisiana National Guard was deployed in Iraq. One National Guard soldier in New Orleans at the time spoke to Reuters, saying, “They (the Bush administration) care more about Iraq and Afghanistan than here… We are doing the best we can with the resources we have, but almost all of our guys are in Iraq.” Much of the National Guard’s equipment was in Iraq at the time, including high water vehicles, Humvees, refuelers and generators.

Prince also said that he had a plan to create a massive humanitarian vessel that, with the generous support of major corporations, could have responded to natural disasters, such as earthquakes and tsunamis across the globe. “I thought, man, the military has perfected how to move men and equipment into combat, why can’t we do that for the humanitarian side?” Prince said. The ship Prince wanted to use for these missions was an 800 foot container vessel capable of shipping “1700 containers, which would have lined up six and a half miles of humanitarian assistance with another 250 vehicles” onboard. “We could have gotten almost all those boxes donated. It would have been boxes that would have had generator sets from Caterpillar, grain from ADM [Archer Daniels Midland], anti-biotics from pharmaceutical companies, all the stuff you need to do massive humanitarian assistance,” Prince said, adding that it “would have had turnkey fuel support, food, surgical, portable surgical hospitals, beds cots, blankets, all the above.” Prince says he was going to do the work for free, “on spec,” but “instead we got attacked politically and ended up paying tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills the last few years. It’s an unfortunate misuse of resources because a boat like that sure would have been handy for the Haitian people right now.”

Outing Erik Prince

Prince also addressed what he described as his outing as a CIA asset working on sensitive US government programs. He has previously blamed Congressional Democrats and the news media for naming him as working on the US assassination program. The US intelligence apparatus “depends heavily on Americans that are not employed by the government to facilitate greater success and access for the intelligence community,” Prince said. “It’s unprecedented to have people outed by name, especially ones that were running highly classified programs. And as much as the left got animated about Valerie Plame, outing people by name for other very very sensitive programs was unprecedented and definitely threw me under the bus.”

© 2010 The Nation

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

“These Guys Are Like Vultures”: profiteering from disaster

February 19, 2010 

http://www.alternet.org/story/145741/

“These Guys Are Like Vultures”: Profit-Driven Private Contractors Flocking to Haiti

By Anthony Fenton, IPS News

Posted on February 19, 2010, Printed on February 19, 2010

Private military contractors have quickly positioned themselves at the center of an emerging “shock doctrine” for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

VANCOUVER, Canada, Feb 19, 2010 (IPS) — Critics are concerned that private military contractors are positioning themselves at the center of an emerging “shock doctrine” for earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

Next month, a prominent umbrella organization for private military and logistic corporations, the International Peace Operations Association (IPOA), is co-organizing a “Haiti summit” which aims to bring together “leading officials” for “private consultations with attending contractors and investors” in Miami, Florida.

Dubbed the “mercenary trade association” by journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: the Rise of the World’ Most Powerful Mercenary Army, the IPOA wasted no time setting up a “Haiti Earthquake Support” page on its website following the Jan. 12 earthquake that devastated the Caribbean country.

IPOA’s director Doug Brooks says, “The first contacts we got were journalists looking for security when they went in.” The website of IPOA member company, Hart Security, says they are currently in Haiti “supporting clients from the fields of media, consultancy and medical in their disaster recovery efforts.” Several other IPOA members have either bid on or received contracts for work in Haiti.

Likewise, the private military contractor, Raidon Tactics, has at least 30 former U.S. Special Operations soldiers on the ground, where they have been guarding aid convoys and providing security for “news agencies,” according to a Raidon employee who told IPS his company received over 1,000 phone calls in response to an ad posting “for open positions for Static Security Positions and Mobile Security Positions” in Haiti.

Just over a week following the earthquake, the IPOA teamed up with Global Investment Summits (GIS), a UK-based private company that specializes in bringing private contractors and government officials from “emerging post-conflict countries” together, to host an “Afghanistan Reconstruction Summit,” in Istanbul, Turkey. It was there, says IPOA’s director Doug Brooks, that the idea for the Haiti summit was hatched “over beers.”

GIS’s CEO, Kevin Lumb, told IPS that the key feature of the Haiti summit will be “what we call roundtables, [where] we put the ministers and their procurement people, and arrange appointments with contractors.” Lumb added that his company “specialize[s] in putting governments together [with private contractors].”

IPOA was “so pleased” with the Afghanistan summit, says Lumb, they asked GIS to do “all the organizing, all the selling” for the Haiti summit. Lumb pointed out that all of the profits from the event will be donated to the Clinton-Bush Haiti relief fund.

While acknowledging that there will be a “a commercial angle” to the event and that “major companies, major players in the world” have committed to attend, Lumb declined to name most of the participants.

One of the companies Lumb did mention is DACC Associates, a private contractor that specializes in management and security consulting with contracts providing “advice and counsel” to governments in Afghanistan and Pakistan.

DACC President Douglas Melvin, a former Special Forces commander, State Department official and director of Security and Administrative Services for President George W. Bush, acknowledged that “from a revenue perspective, yes there’s wonderful opportunities at these events.”

Melvin added that he believes most attendees will be “coming together for the right reasons,” a genuine concern for Haiti, are “not coming to exploit” the dire situation there, and does not expect his company to profit off of their potential contracts there.

Naomi Klein, author of The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism, is concerned that the thesis of her best-selling book will once again be tested in Haiti. She told IPS in an e-mail, “Haiti doesn’t need cookie cutter one-size fits all reconstruction, designed by the same gang that made same such a hash of Iraq, Afghanistan and New Orleans — and indeed the same people responsible for the decimation of Haiti’s own economy in the name of ‘aid.'”

Unhappy with critics’ characterization of the IPOA, Brooks said, “If Scahill and Klein have the resources, the capabilities, the equipment, to go in and do it themselves then more power to them.”

University of California at Los Angeles professor Nandini Gunewardena, co-editor of Capitalizing on Catastrophe: Neoliberal Strategies in Disaster Reconstruction, told IPS that “privatization is not the way to go for disaster assistance.”

“Traditionally, corporations have positioned themselves in a way that they benefit at the expense of the people. We cannot afford for that to happen in Haiti,” she said, adding that “any kind of intermediate or long-term assistance strategy has to be framed within that framework of human security.”

This, according to the U.N-.based Commission on Human Security, means “creating political, social, environmental, economic, military and cultural systems that together give people the building blocks of survival, livelihood and dignity.”

Denouncing the “standard recipe of neoliberal policies,” Gunewardena said, “If private corporations are going to contribute to Haiti’s restoration, they have to be held accountable, not to their own standards, but to those of the people.”

Reached by telephone, Haiti’s former Minister of Defense under the first presidency of Jean Bertand Aristide, Patrick Elie, agreed. He’s worried about the potential privatization of his country’s rebuilding, “because these private companies [aren’t] liable, you can’t take them to the United Nations, you can’t take them to The Hague, and they operate in kind of legal limbo. And they are the more dangerous for it.”

Elie, who accepted a position as advisor to President Rene Preval following the earthquake, added “These guys are like vultures coming to grab the loot over this disaster, and probably money that might have been injected into the Haitian economy is going to be just grabbed by these companies and I’m sure that they are not only these mercenary companies but also the other companies like Halliburton or these other ones that always [come] on the heels of the troops.”

In its 2008 report, “Private Security Contractors at War: Ending the Culture of Impunity,” the NGO Human Rights First decried the “failure of the U.S. government to effectively control their actions, and in particular the inability or unwillingness of the Department of Justice (DoJ) to hold them criminally responsible for their illegal actions.”

The IPOA’s Brooks told IPS that members of the Haitian diaspora and Haiti’s embassy have been invited and are “going to be a big part” of the summit.

While stressing that it’s impossible to know the exact details of an event that is planned outside of public scrutiny, Elie countered that if high-level Haitian officials were to participate, “It’s either out of ignorance or complicity.”

Worried that Haiti is already seeing armed contractors in addition to the presence of more than 20,000 U.S., Canadian, and U.N. soldiers, Elie says he has seen private contractors accompanying NGOs, “walking about carrying assault rifles.”

If the U.S. military pulls out and hands over the armed presence to private contractors, “It opens the door to all kinds of abuses. Let’s face it, the Haitian state is too weak to really deal efficiently with this kind of threat if it materializes,” he said.

The history of post-disaster political economy has shown that such a threat is all too likely, says Elie. “We’ve seen it happen so many times before that whenever there is a disaster, there are a bunch of vultures trying to profit from it, whether it’s a man-made disaster like Iraq, or a nature-made disaster like Haiti.”

“Blackwatergate”

January 10, 2010 

http://www.democracynow.org/2010/1/8/blackwatergate_private_military_firm_in_firestorm

“Blackwatergate”–Private Military Firm in Firestorm of Controversy over Involvements in Iraq, Afghanistan and Germany

Blackwater-graphic2

Blackwater is all over the news. In the last seventy-two hours, a series of breaking developments involving the notorious private military firm have come to light, ranging from their involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even Germany, as well as legal cases here at home. We speak with investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, who is launching an investigation into why two Blackwater contractors were among the dead in the

December 30 suicide bombing at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan.

Guests:

Jeremy Scahill, investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent, author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D – IL), leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations

JUAN GONZALEZ: Blackwater is all over the news. In the last seventy-two hours, a series of breaking developments involving the notorious private military firm have come to light, ranging from their involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq, and even Germany, as well as legal cases here at home.

In the latest news, two former Blackwater operatives were arrested yesterday on murder charges stemming from their alleged involvement in the shooting deaths of two Afghan civilians in Kabul in May.

The news broke just hours after it was revealed Blackwater had reached a settlement with Iraqi victims of a string of shootings, including the Nisoor Square massacre, who had sued the company for what they called “senseless slaughter.” Blackwater is reportedly paying $100,000 for each of the Iraqis killed by its forces and between $20,000 to $30,000 to each Iraqi wounded. News of the settlement came a week after a federal judge dismissed manslaughter charges against five Blackwater operatives involved in the Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen Iraqi civilians.

Then, on Wednesday, prosecutors in Germany announced they had launched a preliminary investigation into a report that the CIA and Blackwater had planned a secret operation in 2004 to assassinate a German citizen in Hamburg with suspected ties to al-Qaeda.

AMY GOODMAN: And last but not least, Blackwater’s continued involvement with the CIA surfaced this week when it was revealed two Blackwater contractors were among the eight dead in the December 30th suicide bombing at the CIA station in Khost, Afghanistan. Last month, the CIA announced the agency had canceled its contract with Blackwater.

Illinois Representative Jan Schakowsky, a leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and the chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, says she’ll launch an investigation. Congress member Schakowsky joins us now on the phone from Washington, DC.

And we’re joined here in the studio by investigative journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, author of the international bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Jeremy, let’s begin with you. The piece you have in The Nation magazine says “Blackwater and the Khost Bombing: Is the CIA Deceiving Congress?” Two Blackwater operatives killed there?

JEREMY SCAHILL: My understanding is that there were two Blackwater operatives killed at this bombing—one was a former Navy Seal; the other was an Army master chief sergeant—and that there was a third Blackwater operative that was wounded in the blast, I understand from my sources.

Let’s remember here that this was the worst attack on a CIA base that we know about since the 1980s. And here you have three Blackwater guys in the center of this blast at the time. Now, we’re not sure what the role was of the Blackwater guys there. That’s what Representative Schakowsky is investigating right now. But let’s say for a moment that they were doing security, because Blackwater has, since 2002, had a contract with the CIA to do force protection in Afghanistan for the CIA. They not only guard static outposts of the CIA, but when CIA operatives move around the country, Blackwater guys travel with them as their security.

So if they were doing the security there, and you have, on their watch, this incredibly devastating attack, not just against some random CIA outpost in the middle of Canada or something, but against the epicenter of the forward operating maneuvers that the intelligence community of the US is engaged in to hunt down Ayman al-Zawahiri and Osama bin Laden, because this asset made it onto that base, we understand, claiming that he had just met with Ayman al-Zawahiri. So how is it that he walks in there with explosives? And then, I think that should be one of the things that’s investigated as Congresswoman Schakowsky takes this on.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, Congresswoman Schakowsky, your concerns about this latest report and what you’re hoping to look into?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: You know, regardless of what the role that the Blackwater operatives were playing in this incident, why is the CIA, why is any unit of the government, the State Department, the Department of Defense—why would anyone hire this company, which is a repeat offender, threatening the mission of the United States, threatening, endangering the lives of American, well, CIA and military, and then—and also known to threaten and kill innocent civilians? It is just amazing to me, astonishing to me, that we still find Blackwater anywhere in the employ of the United States government at any place around the world.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, during the primaries, Hillary Clinton supported a ban on Blackwater. President Obama didn’t. How does that relate to what you’re introducing now, the legislation that you’re introducing?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Look, I’m introducing legislation called Stop Outsourcing Our Security, and the idea of that is that when we have mission-sensitive activities, inherently governmental functions in battle zones around the world, that we should have only people that bear the stamp of the United States government. And that means that that would include no private military contractors at all in those operations.

Now, look, when we have a situation where you can question whether or not these contractors can get away with murder—after all, this case against those shooters at Nisoor Square has been dismissed—hopefully that there will be another effort by the Justice Department to go after these people, because it was dismissed for prosecutorial misconduct, which is true. I think there were many mistakes made. But right now, these contractors are in a legal limbo. And so, if these individuals can get away with murder, imagine—you don’t have to imagine, you know what it does to our relations with the Iraqi government and with governments around the world. And now you’ve got a situation where Germany is asking, what were Blackwater people doing in Germany?

JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, I’d like to ask you about that, in particular, Congresswoman. Here you have a situation not just of being involved in murder, but apparently of being involved in government-sanctioned assassination attempts. And that is being, to some degree, contracted out. Forget about whether the government should be involved in such a kind of assassination attempts, but to contract out that activity? That is really astounding.

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can’t talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations. And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities, you know, like that.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, what do you know about what happened?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Erik Prince gave this interview to Vanity Fair magazine, and he gave the interview to a former CIA lawyer, Adam Ciralsky, who, himself, has had a history of doing what’s called “graymailing,” which is that you believe or you fear that the government is going to come after you in some way, and so you then leak parts of information about what it was that you were involved with, which is what Erik Prince was doing in that Vanity Fair article as a way of sort of saying to the government, “If you come after me, I’ll blow the whistle on all these things.”

One of the things, though, that came out in that article is that Erik Prince, shortly after 9/11, assembled, he claims, a team, a secret clandestine team for the CIA that trained not at any of the official CIA facilities, but at one of Erik Prince’s homes in Virginia. He trains this team, and then they deployed around the world. And they would go into countries, and, in the parlance of the intelligence community, they would go “in dark,” meaning that, in some cases, the CIA chief of station in the countries that they went into wasn’t even notified that they were going in there.

So, what Representative Schakowsky is talking about here, or, Juan, you were asking about, is that one of these operations allegedly took place in Hamburg, Germany, where a Blackwater-led team inserted inside of Germany to hunt down this man who was a Syrian-born naturalized citizen of Germany that had been alleged to have had connections with three of the 9/11 plotters. And they were doing what’s called—they were trying to find him, fix his location, and finish him off, is what they call it. And my understanding is that someone actually in government, not a Blackwater person, called off that operation, so the trigger was never pulled.

Another operation took place, we understand, inside of Dubai. And Erik Prince talks about working on covert operations inside of Syria, as well, where he was helping the Joint Special Operations Command, JSOC, the Special Forces, identify targets inside of Syria.

So all of this needs to be very deeply probed, because you have not only a situation where these hit teams are being contracted out, but the German politicians are now saying, What if the German intelligence outsourced to a private company assassination operations in New Orleans, in the United States? How would your government respond to this? So this could be a substantial diplomatic problem for the Obama administration, because the Merkel government is now starting to ask questions. Not just Green Party politicians, but today one of Angela Merkel’s biggest allies in Germany said that they’re probing it, and they want answers from Washington.

AMY GOODMAN: Congress member Schakowsky, what kind of support do you have from the White House on either of your efforts—the legislation to stop outsourcing or the investigation?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, we have met with various agencies about the issue of just the outsourcing of security issues and security matters in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And I think that the thing that’s really frightening is it seems that the United States military, the United States government, doesn’t have the capacity, at least when we talk about private security contractors, to do the job and seems to think that it is—makes us more agile and nimble to be able to contract out.

My question is, how many times do we have to—does the mission have to be endangered or do people have to be killed before we understand that it is so important for us to have people who are within the standard chain of command, where the accountability mechanisms are built in, who aren’t going to go rogue on us and do things that are improper? And so, so far, what we’re finding is that even in Iraq—and Jeremy was able to turn that up—that contracts that were supposed to be terminated continued because Blackwater had a capacity that even the United States government does not have.

This is a very unwholesome, unhealthy situation. We have to build that capacity, and we have to end this relationship with companies that don’t have the same standard of transparency and accountability as those who work directly for the United States of America.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And Jeremy, what about that Iraq situation, the Nisoor Square killings? There were some settlements that Blackwater has reached with some of the victims, but not all of them. And what’s been the reaction of the Iraqi government to the acquittals of the Blackwater people?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first, on the settlement that was announced yesterday, we’re talking about not just the Nisoor Square massacre, but we’re also talking about six other incidents—the shooting of bodyguards at an Iraqi TV station, the killing of three other individuals shortly before Nisoor Square. And my understanding from sources is that the victims who—the families of people who died were paid somewhere in the ballpark of $100,000, and then injuries were compensated between $20,000 and $30,000. And then there were a couple of people that got more because of the nature of their injuries. But you’re talking about Blackwater getting—they get $1.5 billion in Iraq. Ninety percent of this company’s revenue comes from the US government. For them to pay, you know, five, six million dollars is chump change. In fact, one source that’s been involved with these cases told me that Blackwater got a real bargain here. And indeed, Blackwater released a statement saying that they were pleased with it, and it allows the company to get on with its business.

But one story that people are not really looking at, the way that these guys got off on these manslaughter charges for Nisoor Square is identical to the way that Oliver North got off on the criminal charges stemming from Iran-Contra, because they were granted immunity by the State Department immediately after the shooting. And so, the prosecutors then, from the Justice Department, had to use—could not use any information from the statements that they gave, because the had been promised immunity by the State Department. Why on earth did the State Department give these guys immunity? These were the prime suspects, and you give them an immunity that generally is reserved for people that you’re trying to flip as witnesses, not the actual suspects.

But I spoke to—and this is something no one’s reported yet—I spoke to a source with direct knowledge of the US military’s official investigation of Nisoor Square, and this source told me that military investigators had determined that it was a criminal event, that it was unprovoked fire, and—and this is what the important part is—and that military investigators had determined that those men who did the shooting at Nisoor Square were not entitled to immunity under the Bremer-era Order 17 that granted immunity to contractors, because they shot unprovoked civilians, which violated the terms of their contract, and had disobeyed orders from superiors not to leave a post where they were, meaning that they were not eligible for that immunity.

And the investigators determined that the appropriate legal venue would have been in Iraq, that the Iraqis should have been allowed to go and arrest those individuals, but they were secretly ferried out of Iraq in the dead of night by the State Department and Blackwater, taken to the US, where they then got off on murder—on manslaughter charges, on the same technicality that Oliver North got off on.

AMY GOODMAN: Could they be extradited?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Scott Horton, who is an international and military law expert that you interviewed last week, I talked to him about this, and the United States and Iraq do have an extradition treaty of 1934. The Status of Forces Agreement gives Iraq jurisdiction. And if they were ineligible for Order 17 immunity, then Iraq could say that the appropriate place for their trial, now that you’ve failed to do it for technical reasons, would in fact be in Iraq.

JUAN GONZALEZ: And was that military determination done before they left the country or afterwards?

JEREMY SCAHILL: No, this was—the military started investigation within less than an hour of the last bullets being fired there. They went on the scene. They gathered forensic evidence. But this was an investigation that went on for months. And so, it’s not as though the military, you know, determined it within twenty-four hours and said, “Oh, wait a minute, we have to hand these guys over to Iraqis.” It was investigators looking and carefully and meticulously documenting this incident and then saying this was improper that they were removed from the country.

AMY GOODMAN: In the settlement, which is incredibly low, $100,000 per death, did some of the Iraqi families want to pull out?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, first of all, there is another lawsuit. There are other Iraqis that have different legal representation. And there’s a case that’s gotten no attention yet in the state of North Carolina. The man who was perhaps the single most prominent witness to the Nisoor Square shooting, he was driving a vehicle right behind the first vehicle that the Blackwater guys shot. His nine-year-old son was shot in the head. His head exploded on a van, on his cousins and other people in the vehicle. That man has retained counsel in North Carolina and is suing. That could be a very problematic case for Blackwater, because they’re not only suing Erik Prince of Blackwater, they’re suing the individual shooters in state court in North Carolina. So that could be the one that ends up actually going to trial.

There also—you could read it in the papers—there were—some of the plaintiffs in this case were very, very disappointed in the settlement that they got and felt that $100,000 for a death is a complete injustice.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, the latest news of the two former Blackwater operatives who were arrested on murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Remember, these killings took place under the Obama administration. And what’s significant about this is that the men who are alleged to have murdered—these second-degree murder charges with the indictment—two Afghan civilians were there as military trainers. These weren’t security operatives. The Obama administration is dramatically expanding the US training of Afghan forces, meaning that you’re going to have more of these types of guys on the ground. So these individuals were alleged to have opened fire unprovoked on a civilian vehicle, killing two people. They weren’t even—they weren’t guarding any diplomats. They weren’t even in the country to be guarding anyone. They were there as trainers. And yet, they’re involved with this incident that has caused some significant diplomatic problems between the US and the Karzai government.

JUAN GONZALEZ: Congresswoman Schakowsky, I’d like to ask you, finally, in terms of how, in your experience and—how the military is reacting to these continual problems with Blackwater and how it’s affecting its ability to continue its mission, whether it’s in Iraq or in Afghanistan?

REP. JAN SCHAKOWSKY: Well, I think there’s a good deal of resentment, in general, toward the contractors. You know, the companies like Blackwater recruit out of the military. We train them. They take the highly skilled people, and they skim them off. They pay them a good deal more. They are indistinguishable often to the people on the ground, to the Iraqis or the Afghans, from people who are actually in the military. And yet, they conduct themselves in a much more reckless way and—often, not always. And so, I think that the military itself—I’m talking now not about necessarily the top brass, but—would appreciate the fact if the jobs were done by the military themselves, as opposed to hiring out these companies who have proven themselves to be so unreliable and dangerous.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. Congress member Jan Schakowsky, leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, thanks for joining us from Washington, DC. And Jeremy Scahill, thank you so much for your work, investigative journalist, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, and Democracy Now! correspondent.

Afghanistan and the Marketplace of Violence

January 8, 2010 

The following article was published in the online newsletter War TImes:

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Afghanistan and the Marketplace of Violence

By H. Patricia Hynes

The national spotlight on U.S. troop escalation in Afghanistan has overshadowed the prevalence of private military contractors in that conflict. The number of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan could grow to 160,000 as the number of U.S. soldiers reaches 100,000 in 2010, the highest ratio of private military contractors to soldiers in U.S history. The Afghanistan war has been called the first U.S. contractor war. It heralds a future in which waging war no longer requires citizens, only money. These corporate warriors are a potent but barely perceptible component of U.S. militarism and foreign policy. 

WAR AS A ‘MARKET NICHE’

After 9/11 one of the few sectors to enjoy growth was the young market niche of private military contractors, known as “privatized military companies” or PMCs. These are lean, nimble global companies formed and managed in many cases by former military men and specialized in armed conflict services. They offer “expertise” for combat in conventional and counterinsurgency warfare; intelligence and spying; war logistics and strategy; training militaries and operating drones; building and servicing military bases; post-war de-mining operations and peacekeeping. Their clients include governments of all ilk from “democratic” to “rogue,” the UN and NGOs, rebel groups, paramilitaries and drug cartels.  Sometimes they contract with both sides of a conflict. Some garner business concessions in oil and natural resources in client countries, thus the cachet of conflict in resource-rich countries.

According to Allison Stanger, author of One Nation Under Contract (2009), PMCs have made the U.S. wars in Iraq and Afghanistan possible, given the low support of Allies.  Stanger observes that the core pillars of national security – intelligence, diplomacy, development and defense – are increasingly handled by private contractors, a troubling trend unremarked by most Americans.

Peter Singer of the Brookings Institute generated a detailed taxonomy of their militarized services and case examples of their clients and covert activities in his book Corporate Warriors (2003). He raises many vital concerns about the impact of war profiteering by military mercenaries – namely the jeopardizing of human rights in war, the increased traffic in arms, the profit motive as stimulant for armed conflict, and little public scrutiny. 

FRAUD, ABUSE, AND BEYOND

Here are five caveats regarding military merchants in corporate clothing:

1. Corporate profit vs. public good. Being in the “marketplace of violence,” PMCs rely upon and are positioned to promote continuous armed conflict, with few, if any, public checks and balances. Fraud is common: According to a federal audit of Pentagon contractors in Afghanistan, 16% of monies paid the contractors has been for “questioned and unsupported costs.” See: http://www.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/12/17/afghanistan.contractors.probe/

2. Global glut in ex-soldiers and arms. Since the end of the Cold War, the market has been saturated with ex-soldiers and military weapons unloaded by governments to arms brokers. On the “demand” side of violence, the incidence of conflicts within countries has doubled since the end of the Cold War and zones of conflict have doubled as well, creating a perfect storm of opportunity for corporatizing war. 

3. Under the radar screen and outside the law. Contract and subcontract oversight of private firms in Afghanistan is severely compromised, due to distance and dependency on their services.  Case in point: a two year paper trail and a recent lawsuit reveal that ArmorGroup security guards for the U.S. embassy in Kabul have been involved in security lapses, drunken and lewd hazing rituals, intimidation of whistleblowers, petty corruption, abusive work conditions, and sexual predation. With little evidence of disciplinary action, except company assurance, and with virtually no other option at hand, the State Department renewed the ArmorGroup contract in 2008 and 2009. See: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/09/12/world/asia/12secure.html

4. Abuse; here are a few from a huge list:

*Afghan militias hired and armed as security contractors. Having fewer soldiers than needed for a counterinsurgency war, the U.S. and NATO depend heavily on private security firms for security and training of Afghan police. According to one expert on Afghanistan, security contractors “have hired, armed and trained local militias that were supposed to be demobilized and disarmed, enabling them to persist and profit as part of the ‘private sector,’ awaiting the spark that will set off another civil war.” See: http://www.tcf.org/list.asp?type=TN&pubid=1721

*Funding the Taliban. Between 10 and 20% of the Pentagon’s logistics contracts in Afghanistan – hundreds of millions of dollars – end up as extortion payments to the Taliban for protection of U.S. supply convoys from attacks on Afghan roads and highways. Further, many of the local security companies hired by the U.S. for the war effort are run by warlords. The “right war” is riddled with crime and contradiction as the Pentagon pays its enemies for protection. See: http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091130/roston/print

*Sexual Exploitation and Trafficking of Women. The patterns of sexual exploitation by military contractors in the Iraq war provide insight into the war in Afghanistan. In an original study of military prostitution and trafficking during the Iraq war, the researcher concludes that the privatization of war – through heavy reliance on military contractors – has worsened the prostituting of women in war zones. Private military contractors are more seasoned and sophisticated about prostitution and trafficking of women and they have more disposable income than the military (some earning between $650US and $1000US per day).  When violating the U.S. military prohibition against involvement in prostitution they are not prosecuted; and they are accountable only to their companies. See: http://www.counterpunch.org/mcnutt07112007.html

According to a former manager of the PMC ArmorGuard security guards for the U.S. Embassy routinely frequented brothels in Kabul where Chinese girls had been trafficked for sexual exploitation. One guard bragged of planning to buy a prostitute for pimping her.  Other guards were alleged to be involved in sex trafficking also.  The whistleblower was forced from his job, and his requests to the company and the State Department for investigation were ignored for two years. See: http://edition.cnn.com/2009/WORLD/asiapcf/09/10/afghanistan.embassy.whistleblower/

5. Risk of militarizing governments and non-state networks. There are many risks to peace and security in the proliferation of PMCs, among them: abetting repressive and criminal clients; promoting and sustaining conflict; enabling covert warfare; and moving the military industrial complex even more centrally from the public sphere to the private where the only checks and balances are shareholders. 

POLITICAL EXPEDIENCY, ROAD TO DISASTER

In the end, the use of private military may be more palatable to the U.S. public whose media reports the numbers of U.S. military deployed, injured and killed yet rarely spotlights the number of corporate warriors employed in conflict, injured and killed. Thus, a private military can be politically expedient for the government, given the fear of arousing public “war fatigue” with news coverage of soldiers’ deaths. Further, private military employees – many of whom are not U.S. citizens — relieved the government from instituting a draft to cover the personnel needs of two concurrent, stalemated wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. 

Private militaries make it possible for even the poorest countries to purchase the most sophisticated systems in the world and the capacity to use them. The dreaded outcome of the privatization of war is that some military companies would arm and train traffickers in weapons, drugs, and humans; terrorist networks; and “rogue states” – with the rationalization that if they don’t do it, another company will.

The inevitable breakdown of social order within war has hazardous results for civilians — most particularly the sex trafficking, rape and torture of women. Ceding armed conflict and ultimately national security to the private market of military contractors is a dire and disastrous trend. 

ADDITIONAL SOURCES &D RECOMMENDED READINGS

Sarah E. Mendelson. Barracks and Brothels: Peacekeeping and Human Trafficking in the Balkans. 2005. Washington DC: CSIS Press.

P.W. Singer. Corporate Warriors: The Rise of the Privatized Military. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press. 2003. *Source of term “marketplace of violence.”

Jeremy Scahill. Blackwater: the Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Army. New York: Nation Books. 2007.

Allison Stanger. One Nation Under Contract: The Outsourcing of American Power and the Future of American Foreign Policy. New Haven: Yale University Press. 2009.

Pat Hynes, a retired Professor of Environmental Health, is on the board of the Traprock Center for Peace and Justice.  A longer version of this article can be found on the Traprock Center website at: http://traprock.info/focus%20areas/privatecontractors.htm

You can sign-on to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras e-mail Announcement List (2-4 messages per month, including our ‘Month in Review’ column), at http://www.war-times.org. War Times/Tiempo de Guerras is a fiscally sponsored project of the Center for Third World Organizing. Donations are tax-deductible; you can donate on-line at http://www.war-times.org or send a check to War Times/Tiempo de Guerras, c/o P.O. Box 22748, Oakland CA 94609.

Is Blackwater CEO ‘graymailing’ the U.S. Government?

January 5, 2010 

http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091221/scahill2

Is Erik Prince ‘Graymailing’ the US Government?

By Jeremy Scahill

December 4, 2009

The in-depth Vanity Fair profile of the infamous owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince, is remarkable on many levels–not least among them that Prince appeared to give the story’s author, former CIA lawyer Adam Ciralsky, unprecedented access to information about sensitive, classified and lethal operations not only of Prince’s forces, but Prince himself. In the article, Prince is revealed not just as owner of a company that covertly provided contractors to the CIA for drone bombings and targeted assassinations, but as an actual CIA asset himself. While the story appears to be simply a profile of Prince, it might actually be the world’s most famous mercenary’s insurance policy against future criminal prosecution. The term of art for what Prince appears to be doing in the VF interview is graymail: a legal tactic that has been used for years by intelligence operatives or assets who are facing prosecution or fear they soon will be. In short, these operatives or assets threaten to reveal details of sensitive or classified operations in order to ward off indictments or criminal charges, based on the belief that the government would not want these details revealed. “The only reason Prince would do this [interview] is that he feels he is in very serious jeopardy of criminal charges,” says Scott Horton, a prominent national security and military law expert. “He absolutely would not do these things otherwise.”

There is no doubt Prince is in the legal cross-hairs: There are reportedly two separate Grand Juries investigating Blackwater on a range of serious charges, ranging from gun smuggling to extralegal killings; multiple civil lawsuits alleging war crimes and extrajudicial killings; and Congress is investigating the assassination program in which Prince and his company were central players. “Obviously, Prince does know a lot and the government has to realize that once they start prosecuting him,” says Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and the executive director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “In some ways, graymail is what any good defense lawyer would do. This is something that’s in your arsenal.”

Perhaps the most prominent case of graymail was by Oliver North when he and his lawyers used it to force dismissal of the most serious charges against him stemming from his involvement in the Iran-Contra Affair. In another case, known as Khazak-gate, a US businessman, James Giffen, allegedly paid $78 million in bribes to former Khazakh Prime Minister Nurlan Balgimbayev in an attempt to win contracts for western oil companies to develop the Tengiz oil fields in the 1990s. In 1993, he was charged with violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act in the largest overseas bribery case in history. After Giffen was indicted, he claimed that if he did what he was accused of, he did it in the service of US intelligence agencies. The case has been in limbo ever since.

“This is as old as the hills as a tactic and it has a long track record of being very effective against the government,” says Horton. “It’s basically a threat to the government that if you prosecute me, I’ll disclose all sorts of national security-sensitive information. The bottom line here is it’s like an act of extortion or a threat: you do X and this is what I’m going to do.” Horton said that the Vanity Fair article was Prince “essentially putting out the warning to the Department of Justice: ‘You prosecute me and all this stuff will be out on the record.'”

According to Ciralsky’s article, Prince was a “full-blown asset” of “the C.I.A.’s National Resources Division [which] recruited Prince in 2004 to join a secret network of American citizens with special skills or unusual access to targets of interest:”

Two sources familiar with the arrangement say that Prince’s handlers obtained provisional operational approval from senior management to recruit Prince and later generated a “201 file,” which would have put him on the agency’s books as a vetted asset. It’s not at all clear who was running whom, since Prince says that, unlike many other assets, he did much of his work on spec, claiming to have used personal funds to road-test the viability of certain operations…

Prince was developing unconventional means of penetrating “hard target” countries–where the C.I.A. has great difficulty working either because there are no stations from which to operate or because local intelligence services have the wherewithal to frustrate the agency’s designs. “I made no money whatsoever off this work,” Prince contends. He is unwilling to specify the exact nature of his forays. “I’m painted as this war profiteer by Congress. Meanwhile I’m paying for all sorts of intelligence activities to support American national security, out of my own pocket.”

“I think that [Prince] will use all of his information and his knowledge of these secret dealings in basically what is an extortion play: ‘You come after me, and I’ll spill the beans on everything,'” says Horton. “That’s the essence of graymail and the Department of Justice will usually get its feathers all ruffled up and they’ll say, ‘You can’t deal with the government like this. This is unfair and improper.’ But in the end, it usually works.”

In the Vanity Fair article, Prince alleges that he was outed–by whom he does not say, but the implication is that CIA Director Leon Panetta named him in a closed door hearing of the Intelligence Committee last June, and then the name was leaked by one of the attendees of that hearing. Sloan, the former federal prosecutor, said that if what Prince says in the Vanity Fair article about his role in secret CIA programs is true, he has a case that laws were broken in revealing his identity. “I’m not his fan, but he’s not wrong. For somebody to leak his identity as a CIA asset clearly merits a criminal investigation,” Sloan said. “Whether they should have ever hired Erik Prince or made him into an asset is a separate question. Assuming he really was a CIA asset, basically a spy, an undercover operative, and somebody decided to leak that, that’s not acceptable and that is a violation of the same law that leaking Valerie [Plame]’s identity was. If you can’t leak one person, you can’t leak any person, not just the people you like versus the people you don’t like.”

While much of the focus in the Vanity Fair story was on Prince’s work with the CIA, the story also confirmed that Blackwater has an ongoing relationship with the US Special Forces, helping plan missions and providing air support. As The Nation reported, Blackwater has for years been working on a classified contract with the Joint Special Operations Command in a drone bombing campaign in Pakistan, as well as planning snatch-and-grab missions and targeted assassinations. Part of what may be happening behind closed doors is that the CIA is, to an extent, cutting Blackwater and Prince off. But, as sources have told The Nation, the company remains a central player in US Special Forces operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Prince’s choice of Adam Ciralsky to tell his story is an interesting one as well. Ciralsky was a CIA lawyer who in 1997 was suspended under suspicion he was having unauthorized contacts with possible Israeli intelligence agents. Ciralsky vehemently denied the allegations, saying he was the victim of a “witch-hunt” at the Agency. In any case, there is no question that Prince would view Ciralsky through the lens of his own struggle against the CIA. “When I saw the article, the first thing that just leapt off the page was his name. I thought, ‘My god, why would he go to Adam?'” said Horton. “And then I read the article and I thought, of course he’d go to Adam. There is this legal theme being developed in the article and Adam, as a lawyer who had dealt with the CIA, fully understands that. I mean I think he fully understood he was going to do a piece that would help Prince develop his legal defense and that’s what this is. The amazing thing to me is that Vanity Fair printed it. Do the editors of Vanity Fair not understand what’s going on here?”

+++

http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2010/01/blackwater-201001

Scandal

Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy

Erik Prince, recently outed as a participant in a C.I.A. assassination program, has gained notoriety as head of the military-contracting juggernaut Blackwater, a company dogged by a grand-jury investigation, bribery accusations, and the voluntary-manslaughter trial of five ex-employees, set for next month. Lashing back at his critics, the wealthy former navy seal takes the author inside his operation in the U.S. and Afghanistan, revealing the role he’s been playing in America’s war on terror.

By Adam Ciralsky

January 2010

I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions,” says Erik Prince as he surveys his heavily fortified, 7,000-acre compound in rural Moyock, North Carolina. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.” Prince—the founder of Blackwater, the world’s most notorious private military contractor—is royally steamed. He wants to vent. And he wants you to hear him vent.

Erik Prince has an image problem—the kind that’s impervious to a Madison Avenue makeover. The 40-year-old heir to a Michigan auto-parts fortune, and a former navy seal, he has had the distinction of being vilified recently both in life and in art. In Washington, Prince has become a scapegoat for some of the Bush administration’s misadventures in Iraq—though Blackwater’s own deeds have also come in for withering criticism. Congressmen and lawyers, human-rights groups and pundits, have described Prince as a war profiteer, one who has assembled a rogue fighting force capable of toppling governments. His employees have been repeatedly accused of using excessive, even deadly force in Iraq; many Iraqis, in fact, have died during encounters with Blackwater. And in November, as a North Carolina grand jury was considering a raft of charges against the company, as a half-dozen civil suits were brewing in Virginia, and as five former Blackwater staffers were preparing for trial for their roles in the deaths of 17 Iraqis, The New York Times reported in a page-one story that Prince’s firm, in the aftermath of the tragedy, had sought to bribe Iraqi officials for their compliance, charges which Prince calls “lies … undocumented, unsubstantiated [and] anonymous.” (So infamous is the Blackwater brand that even the Taliban have floated far-fetched conspiracy theories, accusing the company of engaging in suicide bombings in Pakistan.)

In Hollywood, meanwhile, a town that loves nothing so much as a good villain, Prince, with his blond crop and Daniel Craig mien, has become the screenwriters’ darling. In the film State of Play, a Blackwater clone (PointCorp.) uses its network of mercenaries for illegal surveillance and murder. On the Fox series 24, Jon Voight has played Jonas Hodges, a thinly veiled version of Prince, whose company (Starkwood) helps an African warlord procure nerve gas for use against U.S. targets.

But the truth about Prince may be orders of magnitude stranger than fiction. For the past six years, he appears to have led an astonishing double life. Publicly, he has served as Blackwater’s C.E.O. and chairman. Privately, and secretly, he has been doing the C.I.A.’s bidding, helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into “denied areas”—places U.S. intelligence has trouble penetrating—to assembling hit teams targeting al-Qaeda members and their allies. Prince, according to sources with knowledge of his activities, has been working as a C.I.A. asset: in a word, as a spy. While his company was busy gleaning more than $1.5 billion in government contracts between 2001 and 2009—by acting, among other things, as an overseas Praetorian guard for C.I.A. and State Department officials—Prince became a Mr. Fix-It in the war on terror. His access to paramilitary forces, weapons, and aircraft, and his indefatigable ambition—the very attributes that have galvanized his critics—also made him extremely valuable, some say, to U.S. intelligence. (Full disclosure: In the 1990s, before becoming a journalist for CBS and then NBC News, I was a C.I.A. attorney. My contract was not renewed, under contentious circumstances.)

But Prince, with a new administration in power, and foes closing in, is finally coming in from the cold. This past fall, though he infrequently grants interviews, he decided it was time to tell his side of the story—to respond to the array of accusations, to reveal exactly what he has been doing in the shadows of the U.S. government, and to present his rationale. He also hoped to convey why he’s going to walk away from it all.

To that end, he invited Vanity Fair to his training camp in North Carolina, to his Virginia offices, and to his Afghan outposts. It seemed like a propitious time to tag along.

Split Personality

Erik Prince can be a difficult man to wrap your mind around—an amalgam of contradictory caricatures. He has been branded a “Christian supremacist” who sanctions the murder of Iraqi civilians, yet he has built mosques at his overseas bases and supports a Muslim orphanage in Afghanistan. He and his family have long backed conservative causes, funded right-wing political candidates, and befriended evangelicals, but he calls himself a libertarian and is a practicing Roman Catholic. Sometimes considered arrogant and reclusive—Howard Hughes without the O.C.D.—he nonetheless enters competitions that combine mountain-biking, beach running, ocean kayaking, and rappelling.

The common denominator is a relentless intensity that seems to have no Off switch. Seated in the back of a Boeing 777 en route to Afghanistan, Prince leafs through Defense News while the film Taken beams from the in-flight entertainment system. In the movie, Liam Neeson plays a retired C.I.A. officer who mounts an aggressive rescue effort after his daughter is kidnapped in Paris. Neeson’s character warns his daughter’s captors:

If you are looking for ransom, I can tell you I don’t have money. But what I do have are a very particular set of skills … skills that make me a nightmare for people like you. If you [don’t] let my daughter go now … I will look for you, I will find you, and I will kill you.

Prince comments, “I used that movie as a teaching tool for my girls.” (The father of seven, Prince remarried after his first wife died of cancer in 2003.) “I wanted them to understand the dangers out there. And I wanted them to know how I would respond.”

You can’t escape the impression that Prince sees himself as somehow destined, his mission anointed. It comes out even in the most personal of stories. During the flight, he tells of being in Kabul in September 2008 and receiving a two a.m. call from his wife, Joanna. Prince’s son Charlie, one year old at the time, had fallen into the family swimming pool. Charlie’s brother Christian, then 12, pulled him out of the water, purple and motionless, and successfully performed CPR. Christian and three siblings, it turns out, had recently received Red Cross certification at the Blackwater training camp.

But there are intimations of a higher power at work as the story continues. Desperate to get home, Prince scrapped one itinerary, which called for a stay-over at the Marriott in Islamabad, and found a direct flight. That night, at the time Prince would have been checking in, terrorists struck the hotel with a truck bomb, killing more than 50. Prince says simply, “Christian saved Charlie’s life and Charlie saved mine.” At times, his sense of his own place in history can border on the evangelical. When pressed about suggestions that he’s a mercenary—a term he loathes—he rattles off the names of other freelance military figures, even citing Lafayette, the colonists’ ally during the Revolutionary War.

Prince’s default mode is one of readiness. He is clenched-jawed and tightly wound. He cannot stand down. Waiting in the security line at Dulles airport just hours before, Prince had delivered a little homily: “Every time an American goes through security, I want them to pause for a moment and think, What is my government doing to inconvenience the terrorists? Rendition teams, Predator drones, assassination squads. That’s all part of it.”

Such brazenness is not lost on a listener, nor is the fact that Prince himself is quite familiar with some of these tactics. In fact Prince, like other contractors, has drawn fire for running a company that some call a “body shop”—many of its staffers having departed military or intelligence posts to take similar jobs at much higher salaries, paid mainly by Uncle Sam. And to get those jobs done—protecting, defending, and killing, if required—Prince has had to employ the services of some decorated vets as well as some ruthless types, snipers and spies among them.

Erik Prince flies coach internationally. It’s not just economical (“Why should I pay for business? Fly coach, you arrive at the same time”) but also less likely to draw undue attention. He considers himself a marked man. Prince describes the diplomats and dignitaries Blackwater protects as “Al Jazeera–worthy,” meaning that, in his view, “bin Laden and his acolytes would love to kill them in a spectacular fashion and have it broadcast on televisions worldwide.”

Stepping off the plane at Kabul’s international airport, Prince is treated as if he, too, were Al Jazeera–worthy. He is immediately shuffled into a waiting car and driven 50 yards to a second vehicle, a beat-up minivan that is native to the core: animal pelts on the dashboard, prayer card dangling from the rearview mirror. Blackwater’s special-projects team is responsible for Prince’s security in-country, and except for their language its men appear indistinguishable from Afghans. They have full beards, headscarves, and traditional knee-length shirts over baggy trousers. They remove Prince’s sunglasses, fit him out with body armor, and have him change into Afghan garb. Prince is issued a homing beacon that will track his movements, and a cell phone with its speed dial programmed for Blackwater’s tactical-operations center.

Once in the van, Prince’s team gives him a security briefing. Using satellite photos of the area, they review the route to Blackwater’s compound and point out where weapons and ammunition are stored inside the vehicle. The men warn him that in the event that they are incapacitated or killed in an ambush Prince should assume control of the weapons and push the red button near the emergency brake, which will send out a silent alarm and call in reinforcements.

Black Hawks and Zeppelins

Blackwater’s origins were humble, bordering on the primordial. The company took form in the dismal peat bogs of Moyock, North Carolina—not exactly a hotbed of the defense-contracting world.

In 1995, Prince’s father, Edgar, died of a heart attack (the Evangelical James C. Dobson, founder of the socially conservative Focus on the Family, delivered the eulogy at the funeral). Edgar Prince left behind a vibrant auto-parts manufacturing business in Holland, Michigan, with 4,500 employees and a line of products ranging from a lighted sun visor to a programmable garage-door opener. At the time, 25-year-old Erik was serving as a navy seal (he saw service in Haiti, the Middle East, and Bosnia), and neither he nor his sisters were in a position to take over the business. They sold Prince Automotive for $1.35 billion.

Erik Prince and some of his navy friends, it so happens, had been kicking around the idea of opening a full-service training compound to replace the usual patchwork of such facilities. In 1996, Prince took an honorable discharge and began buying up land in North Carolina. “The idea was not to be a defense contractor per se,” Prince says, touring the grounds of what looks and feels like a Disneyland for alpha males. “I just wanted a first-rate training facility for law enforcement, the military, and, in particular, the special-operations community.”

Business was slow. The navy seals came early—January 1998—but they didn’t come often, and by the time the Blackwater Lodge and Training Center officially opened, that May, Prince’s friends and advisers thought he was throwing good money after bad. “A lot of people said, ‘This is a rich kid’s hunting lodge,’” Prince explains. “They could not figure out what I was doing.”

Today, the site is the flagship for a network of facilities that train some 30,000 attendees a year. Prince, who owns an unmanned, zeppelin-esque airship and spent $45 million to build a fleet of customized, bomb-proof armored personnel carriers, often commutes to the lodge by air, piloting a Cessna Caravan from his home in Virginia. The training center has a private landing strip. Its hangars shelter a petting zoo of aircraft: Bell 412 helicopters (used to tail or shuttle diplomats in Iraq), Black Hawk helicopters (currently being modified to accommodate the security requests of a Gulf State client), a Dash 8 airplane (the type that ferries troops in Afghanistan). Amid the 52 firing ranges are virtual villages designed for addressing every conceivable real-world threat: small town squares, littered with blown-up cars, are situated near railway crossings and maritime mock-ups. At one junction, swat teams fire handguns, sniper rifles, and shotguns; at another, police officers tear around the world’s longest tactical-driving track, dodging simulated roadside bombs.

In keeping with the company’s original name, the central complex, constructed of stone, glass, concrete, and logs, actually resembles a lodge, an REI store on steroids. Here and there are distinctive touches, such as door handles crafted from imitation gun barrels. Where other companies might have Us Weekly lying about the lobby, Blackwater has counterterror magazines with cover stories such as “How to Destroy Al Qaeda.”

In fact, it was al-Qaeda that put Blackwater on the map. In the aftermath of the group’s October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, in Yemen, the navy turned to Prince, among others, for help in re-training its sailors to fend off attackers at close range. (To date, the company says, it has put some 125,000 navy personnel through its programs.) In addition to providing a cash infusion, the navy contract helped Blackwater build a database of retired military men—many of them special-forces veterans—who could be called upon to serve as instructors.

When al-Qaeda attacked the U.S. mainland on 9/11, Prince says, he was struck with the urge to either re-enlist or join the C.I.A. He says he actually applied. “I was rejected,” he admits, grinning at the irony of courting the very agency that would later woo him. “They said I didn’t have enough hard skills, enough time in the field.” Undeterred, he decided to turn his Rolodex into a roll call for what would in essence become a private army.

After the terror attacks, Prince’s company toiled, even reveled, in relative obscurity, taking on assignments in Afghanistan and, after the U.S. invasion, in Iraq. Then came March 31, 2004. That was the day insurgents ambushed four of its employees in the Iraqi town of Fallujah. The men were shot, their bodies set on fire by a mob. The charred, hacked-up remains of two of them were left hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates.

“It was absolutely gut-wrenching,” Prince recalls. “I had been in the military, and no one under my command had ever died. At Blackwater, we had never even had a firearms training accident. Now all of a sudden four of my guys aren’t just killed, but desecrated.” Three months later an edict from coalition authorities in Baghdad declared private contractors immune from Iraqi law.

Subsequently, the contractors’ families sued Blackwater, contending the company had failed to protect their loved ones. Blackwater countersued the families for breaching contracts that forbid the men or their estates from filing such lawsuits; the company also claimed that, because it operates as an extension of the military, it cannot be held responsible for deaths in a war zone. (After five years, the case remains unresolved.) In 2007, a congressional investigation into the incident concluded that the employees had been sent into an insurgent stronghold “without sufficient preparation, resources, and support.” Blackwater called the report a “one-sided” version of a “tragic incident.”

After Fallujah, Blackwater became a household name. Its primary mission in Iraq had been to protect American dignitaries, and it did so, in part, by projecting an image of invincibility, sending heavily armed men in armored Suburbans racing through the streets of Baghdad with sirens blaring. The show of swagger and firepower, which alienated both the locals and the U.S. military, helped contribute to the allegations of excessive force. As the war dragged on, charges against the firm mounted. In one case, a contractor shot and killed an Iraqi father of six who was standing along the roadside in Hillah. (Prince later told Congress that the contractor was fired for trying to cover up the incident.) In another, a Blackwater firearms technician was accused of drinking too much at a party in the Green Zone and killing a bodyguard assigned to protect Iraq’s vice president. The technician was fired but not prosecuted and later settled a wrongful-death suit with the man’s family.

Those episodes, however, paled in comparison with the events of September 16, 2007, when a phalanx of Blackwater bodyguards emerged from their four-car convoy at a Baghdad intersection called Nisour Square and opened fire. When the smoke cleared, 17 Iraqi civilians lay dead. After 15 months of investigation, the Justice Department charged six with voluntary manslaughter and other offenses, insisting that the use of force was not only unjustified but unprovoked. One guard pleaded guilty and, in a trial set for February, is expected to testify against the others, all of whom maintain their innocence. The New York Times recently reported that in the wake of the shootings the company’s top executives authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi higher-ups in order to buy their silence—a claim Prince dismisses as “false,” insisting “[there was] zero plan or discussion of bribing any officials.”

Nisour Square had disastrous repercussions for Blackwater. Its role in Iraq was curtailed, its revenue dropping 40 percent. Today, Prince claims, he is shelling out $2 million a month in legal fees to cope with a spate of civil lawsuits as well as what he calls a “giant proctological exam” by nearly a dozen federal agencies. “We used to spend money on R&D to develop better capabilities to serve the U.S. government,” says Prince. “Now we pay lawyers.”

Does he ever. In North Carolina, a federal grand jury is investigating various allegations, including the illegal transport of assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in dog-food sacks. (Blackwater denied this, but confirmed hiding weapons on pallets of dog food to protect against theft by “corrupt foreign customs agents.”) In Virginia, two ex-employees have filed affidavits claiming that Prince and Blackwater may have murdered or ordered the murder of people suspected of cooperating with U.S. authorities investigating the company—charges which Blackwater has characterized as “scandalous and baseless.” One of the men also asserted in filings that company employees ran a sex and wife-swapping ring, allegations which Blackwater has called “anonymous, unsubstantiated and offensive.”

Meanwhile, last February, Prince mounted an expensive rebranding campaign. Following the infamous ValuJet crash, in 1996, ValuJet disappeared into AirTran, after a merger, and moved on to a happy new life. Prince, likewise, decided to retire the Blackwater name and replace it with the name Xe, short for Xenon—an inert, non-combustible gas that, in keeping with his political leanings, sits on the far right of the periodic table. Still, Prince and other top company officials continued to use the name Blackwater among themselves. And as events would soon prove, the company’s reputation would remain as combustible as ever.

Spies and Whispers

Last June, C.I.A. director Leon Panetta met in a closed session with the House and Senate intelligence committees to brief them on a covert-action program, which the agency had long concealed from Congress. Panetta explained that he had learned of the existence of the operation only the day before and had promptly shut it down. The reason, C.I.A. spokesman Paul Gimigliano now explains: “It hadn’t taken any terrorists off the street.” During the meeting, according to two attendees, Panetta named both Erik Prince and Blackwater as key participants in the program. (When asked to verify this account, Gimigliano notes that “Director Panetta treats as confidential discussions with Congress that take place behind closed doors.”) Soon thereafter, Prince says, he began fielding inquisitive calls from people he characterizes as far outside the circle of trust.

It took three weeks for details, however sketchy, to surface. In July, The Wall Street Journal described the program as “an attempt to carry out a 2001 presidential authorization to capture or kill al Qaeda operatives.” The agency reportedly planned to accomplish this task by dispatching small hit teams overseas. Lawmakers, who couldn’t exactly quibble with the mission’s objective, were in high dudgeon over having been kept in the dark. (Former C.I.A. officials reportedly saw the matter differently, characterizing the program as “more aspirational than operational” and implying that it had never progressed far enough to justify briefing the Hill.)

On August 20, the gloves came off. The New York Times published a story headlined “CIA sought Blackwater’s help to kill jihadists.” The Washington Post concurred: “CIA hired firm for assassin program.” Prince confesses to feeling betrayed. “I don’t understand how a program this sensitive leaks,” he says. “And to ‘out’ me on top of it?” The next day, the Times went further, revealing Blackwater’s role in the use of aerial drones to kill al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders: “At hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan … the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency.”

Erik Prince, almost overnight, had undergone a second rebranding of sorts, this one not of his own making. The war profiteer had become a merchant of death, with a license to kill on the ground and in the air. “I’m an easy target,” he says. “I’m from a Republican family and I own this company outright. Our competitors have nameless, faceless management teams.”

Prince blames Democrats in Congress for the leaks and maintains that there is a double standard at play. “The left complained about how [C.I.A. operative] Valerie Plame’s identity was compromised for political reasons. A special prosecutor [was even] appointed. Well, what happened to me was worse. People acting for political reasons disclosed not only the existence of a very sensitive program but my name along with it.” As in the Plame case, though, the leaks prompted C.I.A. attorneys to send a referral to the Justice Department, requesting that a criminal investigation be undertaken to identify those responsible for providing highly classified information to the media.

By focusing so intently on Blackwater, Congress and the press overlooked the elephant in the room. Prince wasn’t merely a contractor; he was, insiders say, a full-blown asset. Three sources with direct knowledge of the relationship say that the C.I.A.’s National Resources Division recruited Prince in 2004 to join a secret network of American citizens with special skills or unusual access to targets of interest. As assets go, Prince would have been quite a catch. He had more cash, transport, matériel, and personnel at his disposal than almost anyone Langley would have run in its 62-year history.

The C.I.A. won’t comment further on such assertions, but Prince himself is slightly more forthcoming. “I was looking at creating a small, focused capability,” he says, “just like Donovan did years ago”—the reference being to William “Wild Bill” Donovan, who, in World War II, served as the head of the Office of Strategic Services, the precursor of the modern C.I.A. (Prince’s youngest son, Charles Donovan—the one who fell into the pool—is named after Wild Bill.) Two sources familiar with the arrangement say that Prince’s handlers obtained provisional operational approval from senior management to recruit Prince and later generated a “201 file,” which would have put him on the agency’s books as a vetted asset. It’s not at all clear who was running whom, since Prince says that, unlike many other assets, he did much of his work on spec, claiming to have used personal funds to road-test the viability of certain operations. “I grew up around the auto industry,” Prince explains. “Customers would say to my dad, ‘We have this need.’ He would then use his own money to create prototypes to fulfill those needs. He took the ‘If you build it, they will come’ approach.”

According to two sources familiar with his work, Prince was developing unconventional means of penetrating “hard target” countries—where the C.I.A. has great difficulty working either because there are no stations from which to operate or because local intelligence services have the wherewithal to frustrate the agency’s designs. “I made no money whatsoever off this work,” Prince contends. He is unwilling to specify the exact nature of his forays. “I’m painted as this war profiteer by Congress. Meanwhile I’m paying for all sorts of intelligence activities to support American national security, out of my own pocket.” (His pocket is deep: according to The Wall Street Journal, Blackwater had revenues of more than $600 million in 2008.)

Clutch Cargo

The Afghan countryside, from a speeding perch at 200 knots, whizzes by in a khaki haze. The terrain is rendered all the more nondescript by the fact that Erik Prince is riding less than 200 feet above it. The back of the airplane, a small, Spanish-built eads casa C-212, is open, revealing Prince in silhouette against a blue sky. Wearing Oakleys, tactical pants, and a white polo shirt, he looks strikingly boyish.

As the crew chief initiates a countdown sequence, Prince adjusts his harness and moves into position. When the “go” order comes, a young G.I. beside him cuts a tether, and Prince pushes a pallet out the tail chute. Black parachutes deploy and the aircraft lunges forward from the sudden weight differential. The cargo—provisions and munitions—drops inside the perimeter of a forward operating base (fob) belonging to an elite Special Forces squad.

Five days a week, Blackwater’s aviation arm—with its unabashedly 60s-spook name, Presidential Airways—flies low-altitude sorties to some of the most remote outposts in Afghanistan. Since 2006, Prince’s company has been conscripted to offer this “turnkey” service for U.S. troops, flying thousands of delivery runs. Blackwater also provides security for U.S. ambassador Karl Eikenberry and his staff, and trains narcotics and Afghan special police units.

Once back on terra firma, Prince, a BlackBerry on one hip and a 9-mm. on the other, does a sweep around one of Blackwater’s bases in northeast Afghanistan, pointing out buildings recently hit by mortar fire. As a drone circles overhead, its camera presumably trained on the surroundings, Prince climbs a guard tower and peers down at a spot where two of his contractors were nearly killed last July by an improvised explosive device. “Not counting civilian checkpoints,” he says, “this is the closest base to the [Pakistani] border.” His voice takes on a melodramatic solemnity. “Who else has built a fob along the main infiltration route for the Taliban and the last known location for Osama bin Laden?” It doesn’t quite have the ring of Lawrence of Arabia’s “To Aqaba!,” but you get the picture.

Going “Low-Pro”

Blackwater has been in Afghanistan since 2002. At the time, the C.I.A.’s executive director, A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard, responding to his operatives’ complaints of being “worried sick about the Afghans’ coming over the fence or opening the doors,” enlisted the company to offer protection for the agency’s Kabul station. Going “low-pro,” or low-profile, paid off: not a single C.I.A. employee, according to sources close to the company, died in Afghanistan while under Blackwater’s protection. (Talk about a tight-knit bunch. Krongard would later serve as an unpaid adviser to Blackwater’s board, until 2007. And his brother Howard “Cookie” Krongard—the State Department’s inspector general—had to recuse himself from Blackwater-related oversight matters after his brother’s involvement with the company surfaced. Buzzy, in response, stepped down.)

As the agency’s confidence in Blackwater grew, so did the company’s responsibilities, expanding from static protection to mobile security—shadowing agency personnel, ever wary of suicide bombers, ambushes, and roadside devices, as they moved about the country. By 2005, Blackwater, accustomed to guarding C.I.A. personnel, was starting to look a little bit like the C.I.A. itself. Enrique “Ric” Prado joined Blackwater after serving as chief of operations for the agency’s Counterterrorism Center (CTC). A short time later, Prado’s boss, J. Cofer Black, the head of the CTC, moved over to Blackwater, too. He was followed, in turn, by his superior, Rob Richer, second-in-command of the C.I.A.’s clandestine service. Of the three, Cofer Black had the outsize reputation. As Bob Woodward recounted in his book Bush at War, on September 13, 2001, Black had promised President Bush that when the C.I.A. was through with al-Qaeda “they will have flies walking across their eyeballs.” According to Woodward, “Black became known in Bush’s inner circle as the ‘flies-on-the-eyeballs guy.’” Richer and Black soon helped start a new company, Total Intelligence Solutions (which collects data to help businesses assess risks overseas), but in 2008 both men left Blackwater, as did company president Gary Jackson this year.

Off and on, Black and Richer’s onetime partner Ric Prado, first with the C.I.A., then as a Blackwater employee, worked quietly with Prince as his vice president of “special programs” to provide the agency with what every intelligence service wants: plausible deniability. Shortly after 9/11, President Bush had issued a “lethal finding,” giving the C.I.A. the go-ahead to kill or capture al-Qaeda members. (Under an executive order issued by President Gerald Ford, it had been illegal since 1976 for U.S. intelligence operatives to conduct assassinations.) As a seasoned case officer, Prado helped implement the order by putting together a small team of “blue-badgers,” as government agents are known. Their job was threefold: find, fix, and finish. Find the designated target, fix the person’s routine, and, if necessary, finish him off. When the time came to train the hit squad, the agency, insiders say, turned to Prince. Wary of attracting undue attention, the team practiced not at the company’s North Carolina compound but at Prince’s own domain, an hour outside Washington, D.C. The property looks like an outpost of the landed gentry, with pastures and horses, but also features less traditional accents, such as an indoor firing range. Once again, Prince has Wild Bill on his mind, observing that “the O.S.S. trained during World War II on a country estate.”

Among the team’s targets, according to a source familiar with the program, was Mamoun Darkazanli, an al-Qaeda financier living in Hamburg who had been on the agency’s radar for years because of his ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers and to operatives convicted of the 1998 bombings of U.S. Embassies in East Africa. The C.I.A. team supposedly went in “dark,” meaning they did not notify their own station—much less the German government—of their presence; they then followed Darkazanli for weeks and worked through the logistics of how and where they would take him down. Another target, the source says, was A. Q. Khan, the rogue Pakistani scientist who shared nuclear know-how with Iran, Libya, and North Korea. The C.I.A. team supposedly tracked him in Dubai. In both cases, the source insists, the authorities in Washington chose not to pull the trigger. Khan’s inclusion on the target list, however, would suggest that the assassination effort was broader than has previously been acknowledged. (Says agency spokesman Gimigliano, “[The] C.I.A. hasn’t discussed—despite some mischaracterizations that have appeared in the public domain—the substance of this effort or earlier ones.”)

The source familiar with the Darkazanli and Khan missions bristles at public comments that current and former C.I.A. officials have made: “They say the program didn’t move forward because [they] didn’t have the right skill set or because of inadequate cover. That’s untrue. [The operation continued] for a very long time in some places without ever being discovered. This program died because of a lack of political will.”

When Prado left the C.I.A., in 2004, he effectively took the program with him, after a short hiatus. By that point, according to sources familiar with the plan, Prince was already an agency asset, and the pair had begun working to privatize matters by changing the team’s composition from blue-badgers to a combination of “green-badgers” (C.I.A. contractors) and third-country nationals (unaware of the C.I.A. connection). Blackwater officials insist that company resources and manpower were never directly utilized—these were supposedly off-the-books initiatives done on Prince’s own dime, for which he was later reimbursed—and that despite their close ties to the C.I.A. neither Cofer Black nor Rob Richer took part. As Prince puts it, “We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability. If it went bad, we weren’t expecting the chief of station, the ambassador, or anyone to bail us out.” He insists that, had the team deployed, the agency would have had full operational control. Instead, due to what he calls “institutional osteoporosis,” the second iteration of the assassination program lost steam.

Sometime after 2006, the C.I.A. would take another shot at the program, according to an insider who was familiar with the plan. “Everyone found some reason not to participate,” says the insider. “There was a sick-out. People would say to management, ‘I have a family, I have other obligations.’ This is the fucking C.I.A. They were supposed to lead the charge after al-Qaeda and they couldn’t find the people to do it.” Others with knowledge of the program are far more charitable and question why any right-thinking officer would sign up for an assassination program at a time when their colleagues—who had thought they had legal cover to engage in another sensitive effort, the “enhanced interrogations” program at secret C.I.A. sites in foreign countries—were finding themselves in legal limbo.

America and Erik Prince, it seems, have been slow to extract themselves from the assassination business. Beyond the killer drones flown with Blackwater’s help along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border (President Obama has reportedly authorized more than three dozen such hits), Prince claims he and a team of foreign nationals helped find and fix a target in October 2008, then left the finishing to others. “In Syria,” he says, “we did the signals intelligence to geo-locate the bad guys in a very denied area.” Subsequently, a U.S. Special Forces team launched a helicopter-borne assault to hunt down al-Qaeda middleman Abu Ghadiyah. Ghadiyah, whose real name is Badran Turki Hishan Al-Mazidih, was said to have been killed along with six others—though doubts have emerged about whether Ghadiyah was even there that day, as detailed in a recent Vanity Fair Web story by Reese Ehrlich and Peter Coyote.

And up until two months ago—when Prince says the Obama administration pulled the plug—he was still deeply engaged in the dark arts. According to insiders, he was running intelligence-gathering operations from a secret location in the United States, remotely coordinating the movements of spies working undercover in one of the so-called Axis of Evil countries. Their mission: non-disclosable.

Exit Strategy

Flying out of Kabul, Prince does a slow burn, returning to the topic of how exposed he has felt since press accounts revealed his role in the assassination program. The firestorm that began in August has continued to smolder and may indeed have his handlers wondering whether Prince himself is more of a liability than an asset. He says he can’t understand why they would shut down certain high-risk, high-payoff collection efforts against some of America’s most implacable enemies for fear that his involvement could, given the political climate, result in their compromise.

He is incredulous that U.S. officials seem willing, in effect, to cut off their nose to spite their face. “I’ve been overtly and covertly serving America since I started in the armed services,” Prince observes. After 12 years building the company, he says he intends to turn it over to its employees and a board, and exit defense contracting altogether. An internal power struggle is said to be under way among those seeking to define the direction and underlying mission of a post-Prince Blackwater.

He insists, simply, “I’m through.”

In the past, Prince has entertained the idea of building a pre-positioning ship—complete with security personnel, doctors, helicopters, medicine, food, and fuel—and stationing it off the coast of Africa to provide “relief with teeth” to the continent’s trouble spots or to curb piracy off Somalia. At one point, he considered creating a rapidly deployable brigade that could be farmed out, for a fee, to a foreign government.

For the time being, however, Prince contends that his plans are far more modest. “I’m going to teach high school,” he says, straight-faced. “History and economics. I may even coach wrestling. Hey, Indiana Jones taught school, too.”

Scahill exposes involvement of Blackwater mercenaries in secret US operations in Pakistan

December 3, 2009 

In this article published in The Nation, Jeremy Scahill exposes the existence of covert U.S. operations in Pakistan to assassinate or kidnap Taliban or al Qaeda operatives.   Blackwater mercenaries are at the heart of this secret war.

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http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091207/scahill

The Secret US War in Pakistan

By Jeremy Scahill

November 23, 2009

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”

Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince contradicted this statement in a recent interview, telling Vanity Fair that Blackwater works with US Special Forces in identifying targets and planning missions, citing an operation in Syria. The magazine also published a photo of a Blackwater base near the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”

Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”

Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral’s] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.'”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”

Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Did Blackwater try to bribe Iraqi officials after killing 17 Iraqi civilians?

November 11, 2009 

The NY Times reports that top executives of Blackwater, the notorious mercenary corporation now known as Xe, tried to bribe Iraqi officials to mitigate the political fallout for the murder of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater employees.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2009/11/11/world/middleeast/11blackwater.html?th=&emc=th&pagewanted=all

Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died

By MARK MAZZETTI and JAMES RISEN

Published: November 10, 2009

WASHINGTON — Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials.

Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.

Stacy DeLuke, a spokeswoman for the company, now called Xe Services, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees. Mr. Black did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.

Reached by phone, Mr. Jackson, who resigned as president early this year, criticized The New York Times and said, “I don’t care what you write.”

The four former Blackwater executives, who had held high-ranking posts at the company, would speak only on condition of anonymity. Two of them said they took part in talks about the payments; the two others said they had been told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions. In agreeing to describe those conversations, the four officials said that they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, which had led them to leave the company.

A senior State Department official said that American diplomats were not aware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.

Blackwater continued operating as the prime contractor providing security for the United States Embassy in Baghdad until spring, when the Iraqi government said it would deny the company an operating license. The State Department replaced Blackwater with a rival in May, but the company still does some work for the department in Iraq on a temporary basis.

Five Blackwater guards involved in the shooting are facing federal manslaughter charges, and their trial is scheduled to start in February in Washington. A sixth guard pleaded guilty in December. The company has never faced criminal charges in the case, although the Iraqi victims brought a civil lawsuit in federal court against Blackwater and Mr. Prince.

Separately, a federal grand jury in North Carolina, where the company has its headquarters, has been conducting a lengthy investigation into it. One of the former executives said that he had told federal prosecutors there about the plan to pay Iraqi officials to drop their inquiries into the Nisour Square case. If Blackwater followed through, the company or its officials could face charges of obstruction of justice and violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, which bans bribes to foreign officials.

Officials at the United States Attorney’s Office in Raleigh declined to comment on their investigation, and it is not clear whether the payment scheme is a focus of the grand jury.

Federal prosecutors in North Carolina have interviewed a number of former Blackwater employees about a variety of issues, including allegations of weapons smuggling, according to several former employees who say they have testified before the grand jury or been interviewed by prosecutors, as well as lawyers familiar with the matter. Two former employees have pleaded guilty to weapons charges and are believed to be cooperating with prosecutors.

Since 2001, Blackwater has undergone explosive growth, not only from security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from classified work for the Central Intelligence Agency that included taking part in a now defunct program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to load missiles on Predator drones.

The Nisour Square shooting was the bloodiest and most controversial episode involving Blackwater in the Iraq war. At midday on Sept. 16, 2007, a Blackwater convoy opened fire on Iraqi civilians in the crowded intersection, spraying automatic weapons fire in ways that investigators later claimed was indiscriminate, and even launching grenades into a nearby school. Seventeen Iraqis were killed and dozens more were wounded.

The matter set off an international outcry and intense debates in Iraq and the United States over the role of private contractors in war zones. Many Iraqis condemned Blackwater, which they had long seen as an arrogant rogue operation, and Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki declared that the Blackwater shooting was a challenge to his nation’s sovereignty. His government opened investigations into the episode and previous fatal shootings by Blackwater guards, and threatened to bar the company from operating in the country.

Those responses deeply worried Blackwater officials. Before the Nisour Square shootings, the company had operated in Iraq without a license largely because the Iraqi government had never enforced the rules. Being blocked from the country would have been costly — the State Department deal was Blackwater’s single biggest contract. From 2004 through today, the company has collected more than $1.5 billion for its work protecting American diplomats and providing air transportation for them inside Iraq.

“It would hurt us,” Mr. Prince, the chairman, said in an interview in January about losing the diplomatic security contract. “It would not be a mortal blow, but it would hurt us.”

The former Blackwater executives said it was not clear who proposed paying off Iraqi officials. But after Mr. Jackson, the former company president, approved the plan, the cash for the payoffs was taken from Amman and given to Rich Garner, then a top manager in Iraq, the former executives said. One of those executives said that officials in Iraq’s Interior Ministry, which is responsible for operating licenses, were the intended recipients.

Mr. Garner, who still works for the company, could not be reached for comment. The former executives said they did not know whether Mr. Garner was involved in decisions about the bribery scheme.

At that time, Mr. Black was in a series of discussions with Patricia A. Butenis, the deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in Baghdad, about compensation payments to the Nisour Square victims. According to former Blackwater officials, Mr. Black was furious when he learned that the payoff money was being funneled into Iraq, and he swiftly broke off the talks with Ms. Butenis.

“We are out of here,” Mr. Black told a colleague, one former executive said. After returning to the United States, Mr. Black and Robert Richer, who had also joined Blackwater after a C.I.A. career, separately confronted Mr. Prince with their concerns about the plan, one former Blackwater executive said.

Mr. Richer left Blackwater in February 2008, followed by Mr. Black several months later, amid a battle inside Blackwater between former C.I.A. officers working at the company’s office outside Washington and executives at Blackwater’s headquarters in North Carolina.

The former officials said that Mr. Black, Mr. Richer and others believed that Blackwater had cultivated a cowboy culture that was contemptuous of government rules and regulations, and that some of the company’s leaders — former members of the Navy Seals including Mr. Prince and Mr. Jackson — had pushed the boundaries of legality. Contacted by telephone, Mr. Richer would not discuss specifics of why he left the company.

Ms. Butenis, now the United States ambassador to Sri Lanka, declined to comment for this article. But other State Department officials confirmed that embassy officials had met with Blackwater executives to encourage them to compensate the victims of Nisour Square.

The United States military had a well-established program for paying families of civilian victims of American military operations, but at the time of the Nisour Square shooting, the State Department did not have a similar program, officials said.

In interviews, three Iraqis wounded in Nisour Square said that Blackwater had made payments of several thousand dollars to them and other victims. Still, some of them joined the civil lawsuit against Blackwater. Settlement talks collapsed Tuesday, according to Susan Burke, a lawyer for the victims.

Even after the furor that was set off by the shootings, State Department officials made it clear that they did not believe they could operate in Baghdad without Blackwater, and Iraqi officials eventually dropped their public demands for the company’s immediate ouster.

Raed Jarrar, the Iraq consultant to the American Friends Service Committee, said in a recent interview that the Maliki government had gone too easy on Blackwater. “They had two different messages,” he said. “The Iraqi public, and even the Iraqi Parliament, was told that all private contractors would be pulled out of the country, while the contractors and the State Department were told the opposite.”

In late 2008, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government hammered out an agreement governing the role of security contractors in Iraq. Under the new rules, security contractors lost their immunity from Iraqi laws, which had been granted in 2004 by L. Paul Bremer III, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, which ran the country after the start of the American-led war. The Iraqi government also made it mandatory for security contractors to obtain licenses to operate in the country.

In March 2009, the Iraqis said that the company would not be awarded a license. Two months later, the State Department replaced it with a competing security contractor, Triple Canopy.

Barclay Walsh contributed research from Washington, and Mohammed Hussein from Baghdad.

Obama increasing use of mercenaries in Iraq and Afghanistan

June 6, 2009 

http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/http://rebelreports.com//140378/

Obama Has 250,000 ‘Contractors’ Deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan and is Increasing the Use of Mercenaries

By Jeremy Scahill, Rebel Reports
Posted on June 1, 2009, Printed on June 6, 2009

A couple of years ago, Blackwater executive Joseph Schmitz seemed to see a silver lining for mercenary companies with the prospect of US forces being withdrawn or reduced in Iraq. “There is a scenario where we could as a government, the United States, could pull back the military footprint,” Schmitz said. “And there would then be more of a need for private contractors to go in.”

When it comes to armed contractors, it seems that Schmitz was right.

According to new statistics released by the Pentagon, with Barack Obama as commander in chief, there has been a 23% increase in the number of “Private Security Contractors” working for the Department of Defense in Iraq in the second quarter of 2009 and a 29% increase in Afghanistan, which “correlates to the build up of forces” in the country. These numbers relate explicitly to DoD security contractors. Companies like Blackwater and its successor Triple Canopy work on State Department contracts and it is unclear if these contractors are included in the over-all statistics. This means, the number of individual “security” contractors could be quite higher, as could the scope of their expansion.

Overall, contractors (armed and unarmed) now make up approximately 50% of the “total force in Centcom AOR [Area of Responsibility].” This means there are a whopping 242,657 contractors working on these two U.S. wars. These statistics come from two reports just released by Gary J. Motsek, the Assistant Deputy Under Secretary of Defense (Program Support): “Contractor Support of U.S. Operations in USCENTCOM AOR, IRAQ, and Afghanistan and “Operational Contract Support, ‘State of the Union.'”

“We expect similar dependence on contractors in future contingency operations,” according to the contractor “State of the Union.” It notes that the deployment size of both military personnel and DoD civilians are “fixed by law,” but points out that the number of contractors is “size unfixed,” meaning there is virtually no limit (other than funds) to the number of contractors that can be deployed in the war zone.

At present there are 132,610 in Iraq and 68,197 in Afghanistan. The report notes that while the deployment of security contractors in Iraq is increasing, there was an 11% decrease in overall contractors in Iraq from the first quarter of 2009 due to the “ongoing efforts to reduce the contractor footprint in Iraq.”

Both Pentagon reports can be downloaded here.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Pirates vs. Private Military Firms

January 13, 2009 

The Lawless Fighting the Lawless

By Shaun Randol, 1/2/2009

Pirates are a hot news item these days. Increased ship seizures around the Horn of Africa have renewed interest not just in piracy, but also on how to combat the criminal behavior as well. And now, seeing profits to be had in policing pirate-laden waters, private military firms (PMF) have stepped into the fray. In the Gulf of Aden’s anarchic waters, one of the world’s busiest shipping channels, pirates and PMFs are poised to make millions of dollars plying their respective trades. The lining of their pockets, however, is not the only thing these disparate factions share; international law regarding the treatment of these groups is equally murky. In the choppy waters around Somalia, mixing pirates and PMFs, with sprinklings of NATO, European, Russian, Chinese, Indian (and soon, maybe Japanese) warships as well as possibly some rogue, militant, Islamic terrorist groups, makes for a dangerous, potentially violent, concoction.

As of this writing, there are at least fifteen ships and nearly 250 hostages being held by Somali pirates, including the Sirius Star, a bulk vessel loaded with 300,000 tons of crude oil, and a Ukrainian ship containing 33 military tanks. “Pirates based in Somalia have made the waters off east Africa some of the most dangerous in the world,” reports GlobalSecurity.org (11/24/08). “There were 15 attacks on ships in or near Somali waters from January to July 2007-two of these on World Food Programme (WFP) contracted vessels… compared to 10 such attacks in 2006.” Tellingly, more than thirty vessels were hijacked in 2008; in the weeks preceding the turn of the year, at least ten vessels were seized. Somali pirates engaged in more than one hundred attacks in 2008, more than twice as many as the previous year.

2009 is shaping up to be no different. On January 1, French authorities intercepted to pirate vessels as they were about to seize a Panamanian vessel. Eight Somalis were arrested. Elsewhere in the Gulf of Aden, however, pirates captured the Blue Star, a cargo vessel with 28 Egyptian crew members aboard. The same day, a Malaysian military helicopter thwarted a pirate attack against an Indian tanker.

Acts of piracy on the high seas often occur in ambiguous, international territory. State military warships (from, for example, NATO, the U.S., or Europe) combating piracy do so in uncharted waters, so to speak. (The ink is still wet on a UN Security Council resolution authorizing countries to pursue pirates on land and sea using “all necessary measures”). Private military firms eager to contribute their services provide an attractive alternative for states and shipping companies looking to clear the waters of such pesky riffraff without the risk of sparking international incidents. This does not mean, however, that utilizing PMFs represents a straightforward option.

When it comes to combating piracy, international law lacks both teeth and clarity. The United Nations Convention of the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) defines piracy as “all illegal acts of violence or detention … committed for private ends by the crew or passengers of a private ship.” (Accordingly, if the objective is political-not economic-in nature, the act may be terrorism rather than piracy). Piracy, according to UNCLOS, within territorial waters is a crime against the state and subject to national laws. But what if, as is the case with Somalia, there is a weak local government or no state to speak of? UNCLOS states:

“On the high seas, or in any other place outside the jurisdiction of any State, every State may seize a pirate-ship or aircraft, or a ship or aircraft taken by piracy and under the control of pirates, and arrest the persons and seize the property on board. The courts of the State which carried out the seizure may decide upon the penalties to be imposed, and may also determine the action to be taken with regard to the ships, aircraft or property, subject to the rights of third parties acting in good faith.”

France took advantage of this clause as far back as April 2008; Special Forces captured six pirates who had seized a French passenger vessel, and then sent the captured pirates to Paris for due process.

Unlike France, however, states like Germany, the United Kingdom, the United States, Russia, and others are (so far) hesitant about using military force against pirates. NATO’s Standing Naval Maritime Group just finished its mission escorting WFP ships (none of its four vessels engaged in decisive, anti-pirate action). A European task force of ten ships-codenamed Atalanta-moved into the region this month, but it is unclear to what extent they will engage or pursue Somali pirates. Meanwhile, the International Association of Independent Tanker Owners (INTERTANKO) has also called for a UN blockade of the dangerous waters. With no such barrier forthcoming, a lack of security in the region as a whole, and with no apparent cessation in acts of piracy, there are economic and diplomatic openings private military firms seek to exploit.

Sensing that pirated waters will remain “uncontrolled,” private shipping companies will increasingly seek alternative means to securing their financial interests. Indeed, such ventures promise to be highly profitable business opportunities for PMFs, some of which are already participating in anti-pirate activity around Somalia. Drum Resources Limited, a British PMF, for example, offers protection services of four guards stationed on a commercial ship at a price of $8100 per day. Secopex, a French PMF, will provide security escorts at a cost of $12,000 per day. For about $30,000, British-based Anti-Piracy Maritime Security Solutions provides vessels with three private guards and a small arsenal of non-lethal weapons (e.g. long range acoustic device, water cannons). By late November, 2008, this PMF had teams on seven ships. “Inquiries are going through the roof,” said principal Nick Davis. With average ransom amounts hovering around $1 million, hiring PMFs becomes a financial no-brainer to shipping entities. Yet while Davis’ company has seen some action, he also acknowledges Anti-Piracy’s exploits “purely displace the threat” to other ships.

Citing “major terrorist implications” of the piracy problem, Blackwater Worldwide-the infamous PMF continuing to make headlines in Iraq-is also offering its corporate services in the waters off Somalia. The firm’s small ship, the McArthur, can hold two helicopters and 35 personnel and would provide a security escort for ships sailing through pirate-waters. Unlike Anti-Piracy, however, Blackwater will deploy lethal force against potential pirates if necessary. In an interview with “Defense News,” Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince addressed the gray areas in maritime rules of engagements by underscoring “…a pretty clear use of force continuum, from warning shots [to] laser dazzlers. But frankly, if guys are in a small boat, in a twenty-foot fishing boat in the middle of the Gulf of Aden, holding an RPG, he’s not out there fishing. So clearly, you know what their intent is.” In short, “the sharpshooters on board the two helicopters on Blackwater’s ship, the McArthur, will do their jobs” (October 26, 2008). At the time of the interview Prince reported Blackwater was in negotiation with thirteen different shipping lines to provide security against pirates. Other PMFs like Hollow Point, Defense Services, ArmorGroup, Secopex, and Asia Risk Solutions, to name a few, are also looking to gain a foothold in this potentially lucrative-and ambiguous-line of work.

An increase in reliance on private military firms to combat piracy in the Gulf of Aden will have far-reaching implications. In Iraq alone, where there are more PMF contractors active than coalition forces, PMFs have caused much consternation. Yet, while Iraq’s war is largely contained (geographically speaking) piracy is quite literally a global phenomenon. “The concentration of piracy incidents continues to be located in areas with little or not maritime law enforcement, political and economic stability, and a high volume of commercial activity,” notes GlobalSecurity.org. “Incidents of piracy tend to occur in four regional areas: Southeast Asia, Africa, South America, and Central America. Furthermore, most incidents of maritime crime occur in coastal waters with nearly 80 percent of all reported piracy incidents occurring in territorial waters.” This last bit of reality in the pirate trade makes it difficult for foreign militaries to intervene without sparking an international incident. Hence, the use of “politically neutral” private entities like Blackwater to protect commercial vessels becomes an increasingly attractive, security alternative. A dangerous, security precedent is being exacerbated off the coast of Somalia.

If piracy is haphazardly regulated in international law, then PMFs operate in an even grayer area. There is no substantial, international treaty regarding the use of private military firms. A Protocol added to the Geneva Conventions in 1977 (APGC77) comes closest to defining parameters for PMF involvement in the international arena, though it specifically deals with “mercenaries,” a moniker many PMFs find objectionable and outright reject. APGC77 loosely defines mercenaries as foreign nationals motivated by private gain hired to fight in armed conflict and “is neither a national of a Party to the conflict nor a resident of territory controlled by a Party to the conflict.” By many accounts, today’s PMFs would fall into this broad definition, especially if they operate in Somalia’s territorial waters (or if, for example, the Iraqi government hires outside PMFs for security tasks). Still, the U.S., where most PMFs originate, is not a party to this Geneva Protocol, leaving firms like Blackwater to operate in legally murky zones. The 1989 UN Resolution 44/34, International Convention against the Recruitment, Use, Financing and Training of Mercenaries, does nothing to clarify the situation.

The success of Somali pirates will likely encourage copycat actions around the world, which will, in turn, increase the need and/or reliance on private military firms to tackle the problem. (Insurance premiums for shipping companies are already on the rise). If PMFs are hired to clear the waters around Africa (or elsewhere) of pirates, many new questions surrounding these two groups will arise. What plays in the waters off the African coast, for one, may not go over well with countries like, say, China, who has a vital interest in the Straits of Malacca-another pirate-patrolled shipping channel.

Moreover, accountability becomes a serious issue: if a PMF kills an innocent fisherman or destroys private or state property, for example, who should be punished? The state who hired the firm? The private shipping company that placed the guards on their boats? The private military firm employing the trigger-happy guards? International law is decidedly unclear in this matter, creating a dangerous juridical vacuum.

Right now, the use of PMFs in fighting pirates is a case of the lawless fighting the lawless. It is anarchy on the high seas. Profits to be gained from piracy-and from fighting it-are magnets for an increase in both adventures. What we are witnessing off the African coast is another instance of private enterprise increasingly filling the voids of traditional state functions. If states or international bodies like the UN do not step into this fray to control the situation, beginning with bolstered international treaties on the uses of PMFs, the lawlessness in the waters off Somalia portend more trouble than just inconvenience for international trade.

Shaun Randol is an Associate Fellow at the World Policy Institute. He regularly contributes to the World Policy Journal blog, is a contributor to Foreign Policy in Focus, and regularly publishes in academic journals. Mr. Randol is also a research assistant at the India China Institute and an independent research consultant.