400 US mercenaries ‘deployed on ground’ in Ukraine military

About 400 elite mercenaries from the notorious US private security firm Academi (formerly Blackwater) are taking part in the Ukrainian military operation against anti-government protesters in southeastern regions of the country, German media reports.

The Bild am Sonntag newspaper, citing a source in intelligence circles, wrote Sunday that Academi employees are involved in the Kiev military crackdown on pro-autonomy activists in near the town of Slavyansk, in the Donetsk region.

On April 29, German Intelligence Service (BND) informed Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government about the mercenaries’ participation in the operation, the paper said, RIA Novosti reported. It is not clear who commands the private military contractors and pays for their services, however.

In March, media reports appeared suggesting that the coup-imposed government in Kiev could have employed up to 300 mercenaries.That was before the new government launched a military operation against anti-Maidan activists, or “terrorists” as Kiev put it, in southeast Ukraine.

At the time, the Russian Foreign Ministry said then that reports claiming Kiev was planning to involve “involve staff from foreign military companies to ‘ensure the rule of law,’” could suggest that it wanted “to suppress civil protests and dissatisfaction.”

In particular, Greystone Limited, which is currently registered in Barbados and is a part of Academi Corporation, is a candidate for such a gendarme role. It is a similar and probably an affiliated structure of the Blackwater private army, whose staff have been accused of cruel and systematic violations of human rights in various trouble spots on many occasions.

“Among the candidates for the role of gendarme is the Barbados-registered company Greystone Limited, which is integrated with the Academi corporation,” the Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “It is an analogue, and, probably and affiliated body of the Blackwater private army, whose employees have repeatedly been accused of committing grievous and systematic human rights abuses in different troubled regions.”

Allegations increased further after unverified videos appeared on YouTube of unidentified armed men in the streets of Donetsk, the capital of the country’s industrial and coalmining region. In those videos, onlookers can be heard shouting “Mercenaries!”“Blackwater!,” and “Who are you going to shoot at?”

(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)(FILES) A picture taken on July 5, 2005 shows contractors of the US private security firm Blackwater securing the site of a roadside bomb attack near the Iranian embassy in central Baghdad. (AFP Photo / Ahmad Al-Rubaye)

Academi denied its involvement in Ukraine, claiming on its website that “rumors” were posted by “some irresponsible bloggers and online reporters.”

“Such unfounded statements combined with the lack of factual reporting to support them and the lack of context about the company, are nothing more than sensationalistic efforts to create hysteria and headlines in times of genuine crisis,” the US firm stated.

The American security company Blackwater gained worldwide notoriety for the substantial role it played in the Iraq war as a contractor for the US government. In recent years it has changed its name twice – in 2009 it was renamed Xe Services and in 2011 it got its current name, Academi.

The firm became infamous for the alleged September 16, 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad. The attack, which saw 20 others wounded, was allegedly without justification and in violation of deadly-force rules that pertained to American security contractors in Iraq at the time. Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security guards were involved in at least 195 shooting incidents in Iraq and fired first in 163 of those cases, a Congressional report said at the time.

Published time: May 11, 2014 15:04
Edited time: May 12, 2014 21:59 Get short URL

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Einsatz gegen Separatisten Ukrainische Armee bekommt offenbar Unterstützung von US-Söldnern

400 US-Söldner sollen in der Ostukraine gegen die Separatisten kämpfen. Das berichtet “Bild am Sonntag” und beruft sich dabei auf Geheimdienstinformationen. Die Kämpfer kommen demnach vom Militärdienstleister Academi, früher bekannt als Blackwater.

Berlin – Es war ein eindeutig formuliertes Dementi. “Unverantwortliche Blogger und ein Onlinereporter” hätten “Gerüchte” verbreitet, wonach Angestellte der Firma Academi in der Ukraine im Einsatz seien. Das sei falsch und nichts mehr als ein “sensationalistischer Versuch, eine Hysterie zu kreieren”. So äußerte sich der US-Militärdienstleister, ehemals unter dem Namen Blackwater zu unrühmlicher Bekanntheit gelangt, am 17. März auf seiner Webseite.

Die staatliche russische Nachrichtenagentur “Ria Novosti” legte freilich am 7. April nach: Blackwater-Kämpfer agierten in der Ostukraine – und zwar in der Uniform der ukrainischen Sonderpolizei “Sokol”. Eine unabhängige Bestätigung dafür gab es nicht.

Ein Zeitungsbericht legt nun nahe, dass an der Sache womöglich doch etwas dran sein könnte: Laut “Bild am Sonntag” werden die ukrainischen Sicherheitskräfte von 400 Academi-Elitesoldaten unterstützt. Sie sollen Einsätze gegen prorussische Rebellen rund um die ostukrainische Stadt Slowjansk geführt haben. Demnach setzte der Bundesnachrichtendienst (BND) die Bundesregierung am 29. April darüber in Kenntnis. Wer die Söldner beauftragt habe, sei noch unklar.

Die Informationen sollen vom US-Geheimdienst stammen und seien während der sogenannten Nachrichtendienstlichen Lage, einer regelmäßigen Besprechung unter Leitung von Kanzleramtschef Peter Altmaier (CDU), vorgetragen worden. An dem Treffen hätten auch die Präsidenten der Nachrichtendienste und des Bundeskriminalamts, der Geheimdienstkoordinator des Kanzleramts und hochrangige Ministeriumsbeamte teilgenommen.

Angeblich Luftraum gezielt verletzt

Die Zeitung berichtet aus der Runde weiterhin, dass die US-Geheimdienstler auch über Informationen verfügten, wonach russische Flugzeuge absichtlich den Luftraum der Ukraine verletzt hätten. Die Regierung in Moskau hatte das dementiert. Der BND habe aber Informationen der Amerikaner, dass Moskaus Militärpiloten den Einsatzbefehl bekommen hätten, gezielt in den ukrainischen Luftraum einzudringen.

Eine Bestätigung für den Bericht gibt es bisher nicht. Der BND habe eine Stellungnahme abgelehnt, so “Bild am Sonntag”. Private Sicherheitsfirmen wie Academi gerieten insbesondere während des Irak-Kriegs in die Kritik. In den USA stehen mehrere ehemalige Blackwater-Angestellte im Zusammenhang mit der Tötung von irakischen Zivilisten vor Gericht. Academi hat sich mit einer Millionenzahlung von Ermittlungen in den USA freigekauft.
11. Mai 2014, 08:10 Uhr

11. Mai 2014, 08:10 Uhr

Find this story at 11 Mai 2014

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PRIVATE US-SICHERHEITSFIRMA ACADEMI Wer steckt hinter der Söldnertruppe?

Ukrainer, Russen oder doch auch US-Amerikaner? Wer kämpft wirklich auf welcher Seite im ukrainischen Bürgerkrieg?
Am Wochenende sorgte ein Bericht der „BILD am SONNTAG“ für Aufregung, wonach die ukrainischen Sicherheitskräfte von 400 Söldnern der US-Firma Academi unterstützt würden. Der Bundesnachrichtendienst habe die Bundesregierung am 29. April darüber in Kenntnis gesetzt. Die Informationen sollen vom US-Geheimdienst stammen.
Das Dementi kam prompt:
Academi habe nirgendwo in der Ukraine Personal präsent oder im Einsatz, sagte Vizeunternehmenschefin Suzanne Kelly „Zeit Online“. Es sei auch nicht geplant, in der Ukraine präsent zu sein oder einen Einsatz zu starten.

Doch wer steckt wirklich hinter Academi?
Das Unternehmen bezeichnet sich selbst als Anbieter von Sicherheitsdienstleistungen. Es verweist auf seine Erfahrung in den gefährlichsten Regionen der Welt, ein erstklassiges, weltweites Netzwerk von Sicherheitsexperten und seine vertrauensvolle Partnerschaft mit staatlichen und privaten Kunden.
Academi ist aus der 1997 gegründeten privaten US-Sicherheitsfirma Blackwater hervorgegangen.
Das Unternehmen erlangte traurige Berühmtheit, als im Irak-Krieg Blackwater-Mitarbeiter, die dort im Auftrag des Pentagon tätig waren, am 16. September 2007 im Westen von Bagdad 17 irakische Zivilisten erschossen. Zudem sollen Söldner an Folter-Verhören in Geheimgefängnissen der CIA beteiligt gewesen sein.
Blackwater wurde 2009 in Xe Services umbenannt, was laut Beobachtern dabei helfen sollte, die Makel der Vergangenheit zu loszuwerden. 2010 kaufte eine private Investorengruppe die Firma. Der Gründer Erik Prince, ein früherer Marinesoldat und Millionenerbe, verließ das Unternehmen.
VergrößernDer frühere Blackwater-Chef Erik Prince, Archivbild von 2007
Der frühere Blackwater-Chef Erik Prince, Archivbild von 2007
Foto: Reuters
2011 erfolgte die erneute Umbenennung in Academi. Geleitet wird die Firma nun vom Ex-Brigadegeneral der US Army, Craig Nixon. Im Aufsichtsrat sitzt auch der ehemalige Justizminister unter Präsident George W. Bush, John Ashcroft.
Das Management betont, rein gar nichts mehr mit Blackwater und Prince zu tun zu haben. Es sei „unglaublich unverantwortlich“, den Eindruck zu erwecken, Academi und Blackwater seien ein und dasselbe, schimpfte Vizechefin Kelly.
Doch in seiner auf der Webseite des Unternehmens abrufbaren Image-Broschüre verweist Academi auf seine langjährige, über ein Jahrzehnt zurückreichende Erfolgsgeschichte.
VergrößernMitarbeiter der privaten US-Sicherheitsfirma Blackwater schützen Paul Bremer, den zivilen US-Verwalter im Irak (Mitte), in Bagdad, Irak. Archivbild vom 8. September 2003
Mitarbeiter der privaten US-Sicherheitsfirma Blackwater schützen Paul Bremer, den zivilen US-Verwalter im Irak (Mitte), in Bagdad, Irak. Archivbild vom 8. September 2003
Foto: dpa
Das Unternehmen erhält weiterhin lukrative Aufträge der US-Regierung, unter anderem als Betreiber von Militäranlagen in Afghanistan.
Die Firma gibt an, pro Jahr rund 20 000 Mitarbeiter zu Aufträgen zu entsenden. Kunden seien Regierungen und private Einrichtungen. Nach brasilianischen Medienberichten schulte Academi zuletzt die Polizei des Landes für den Umgang mit terroristischen Bedrohungen bei der anstehenden Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft.
Ob tatsächlich Academi-Söldner in der Ukraine im Einsatz sind, lässt sich schwer nachprüfen. Auf den bereits im März bei Youtube hochgeladenen Videos, die als „Beweis“ angeführt werden, sind lediglich maskierte, schwer bewaffnete Männer zu sehen. Aus einer wütenden Menge sind „Blackwater“-Rufe zu hören.

Seit dem Erscheinen der Videos wird immer wieder spekuliert, dass Söldner die pro-westliche ukrainische Regierung unterstützen.
Die russische Nachrichtenagentur Interfax verbreitete die Äußerungen eines russischen Diplomaten in Kiew, wonach 300 Söldner bereits in der ukrainischen Hauptstadt eingetroffen seien. Die meisten seien aus den USA und zuvor im Irak und in Afghanistan im Einsatz gewesen. Dabei wird auch immer wieder die private US-Sicherheitsfirma Greystone genannt – früher ebenfalls ein Tochterunternehmen von Blackwater.
Die britische „Daily Mail“ fragte den Sicherheits-Experten Dr. Nafeez Amad vom unabhängigen Londoner Institut für Politikforschung und -entwicklung (IPRD), ob es sich bei den im Video gezeigten Soldaten um US-Söldner handeln könnte.
Seine Antwort: „Schwer zu sagen. Es ist sicherlich im Bereich des Möglichen.“ Die Uniformen der Männer glichen denen von US-Söldnern. Die Männer sähen auch nicht wie russische Söldner aus.
Andererseits sei die Frage, warum sich die Männer in dem Video so öffentlich zur Schau stellen, wird Dr. Amad weiter zitiert.
„Natürlich ist auch möglich, dass das alles russische Propaganda ist.“

14.05.2014 – 22:33 Uhr

Find this story at 14 Mai 2014

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The Jason Bourne Strategy: CIA Contractors Do Hollywood

Think of it as the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency’s (CIA) plunge into Hollywood — or into the absurd. As recent revelations have made clear, that Agency’s moves couldn’t be have been more far-fetched or more real. In its post-9/11 global shadow war, it has employed both private contractors and some of the world’s most notorious prisoners in ways that leave the latest episode of the Bourne films in the dust: hired gunmen trained to kill as well as former inmates who cashed in on the notoriety of having worn an orange jumpsuit in the world’s most infamous jail.

The first group of undercover agents were recruited by private companies from the Army Special Forces and the Navy SEALs and then repurposed to the CIA at handsome salaries averaging around $140,000 a year; the second crew was recruited from the prison cells at Guantanamo Bay and paid out of a secret multimillion dollar slush fund called “the Pledge.”

Last month, the Associated Press revealed that the CIA had selected a few dozen men from among the hundreds of terror suspects being held at Guantanamo and trained them to be double agents at a cluster of eight cottages in a program dubbed “Penny Lane.” (Yes, indeed, the name was taken from the Beatles song, as was “Strawberry Fields,” a Guantanamo program that involved torturing “high-value” detainees.) These men were then returned to what the Bush administration liked to call the “global battlefield,” where their mission was to befriend members of al-Qaeda and supply targeting information for the Agency’s drone assassination program.

Such a secret double-agent program, while colorful and remarkably unsuccessful, should have surprised no one. After all, plea bargaining or persuading criminals to snitch on their associates — a tactic frowned upon by international legal experts — is widely used in the U.S. police and legal system. Over the last year or so, however, a trickle of information about the other secret program has come to light and it opens an astonishing new window into the privatization of U.S. intelligence.

Hollywood in Langley

In July 2010, at his confirmation hearings for the post of the Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper explained the use of private contractors in the intelligence community: “In the immediate aftermath of the Cold War… we were under a congressional mandate to reduce the community by on the order of 20%… Then 9/11 occurred… With the gusher… of funding that has accrued particularly from supplemental or overseas contingency operations funding, which, of course, is one year at a time, it is very difficult to hire government employees one year at a time. So the obvious outlet for that has been the growth of contractors.”

Thousands of “Green Badges” were hired via companies like Booz Allen Hamilton and Qinetiq to work at CIA and National Security Agency (NSA) offices around the world, among the regular staff who wore blue badges. Many of them — like Edward Snowden — performed specialist tasks in information technology meant to augment the effectiveness of government employees.

Then the CIA decided that there was no aspect of secret war which couldn’t be corporatized. So they set up a unit of private contractors as covert agents, green-lighting them to carry guns and be sent into U.S. war zones at a moment’s notice. This elite James Bond-like unit of armed bodyguards and super-fixers was given the anodyne name Global Response Staff (GRS).

Among the 125 employees of this unit, from the Army Special Forces via private contractors came Raymond Davis and Dane Paresi; from the Navy SEALs Glen Doherty, Jeremy Wise, and Tyrone Woods. All five would soon be in the anything-but-covert headlines of newspapers across the world. These men — no women have yet been named — were deployed on three- to four-month missions accompanying CIA analysts into the field.

Davis was assigned to Lahore, Pakistan; Doherty and Woods to Benghazi, Libya; Paresi and Wise to Khost, Afghanistan. As GRS expanded, other contractors went to Djibouti, Lebanon, and Yemen, among other countries, according to a Washington Post profile of the unit.

From early on, its work wasn’t exactly a paragon of secrecy. By 2005, for instance, former Special Forces personnel had already begun openly discussing jobs in the unit at online forums. Their descriptions sounded like something directly out of a Hollywood thriller. The Post portrayed the focus of GRS personnel more mundanely as “designed to stay in the shadows, training teams to work undercover and provide an unobtrusive layer of security for CIA officers in high-risk outposts.”

“They don’t learn languages, they’re not meeting foreign nationals, and they’re not writing up intelligence reports,” a former U.S. intelligence official told that paper. “Their main tasks are to map escape routes from meeting places, pat down informants, and provide an ‘envelope’ of security… if push comes to shove, you’re going to have to shoot.”

In the ensuing years, GRS embedded itself in the Agency, becoming essential to its work. Today, new CIA agents and analysts going into danger zones are trained to work with such bodyguards. In addition, GRS teams are now loaned out to other outfits like the NSA for tasks like installing spy equipment in war zones.

The CIA’s Private Contractors (Don’t) Save the Day

Recently these men, the spearhead of the CIA’s post-9/11 contractor war, have been making it into the news with startling regularity. Unlike their Hollywood cousins, however, the news they have made has all been bad. Those weapons they’re packing and the derring-do that is supposed to go with them have repeatedly led not to breathtaking getaways and shootouts, but to disaster. Jason Bourne, of course, wins the day; they don’t.

Take Dane Paresi and Jeremy Wise. In 2009, not long after Paresi left the Army Special Forces and Wise the Navy SEALs, they were hired by Xe Services (the former Blackwater) to work for GRS and assigned to Camp Chapman, a CIA base in Khost, Afghanistan. On December 30, 2009, Humam Khalil Abu-Mulal al-Balawi, a Jordanian doctor who had been recruited by the CIA to infiltrate al-Qaeda, was invited to a meeting at the base after spending several months in Pakistan’s tribal borderlands. Invited as well were several senior CIA staff members from Kabul who hoped Balawi might help them target Ayman al-Zawahiri, then al-Qaeda’s number two man.

Details of what happened are still sketchy, but the GRS men clearly failed to fulfill their security mission. Somehow Balawi, who turned out to be not a double but a triple agent, made it onto the closed base with a bomb and blew himself up, killing not just Paresi and Wise but also seven CIA staff officers, including Jennifer Matthews, the base chief.

Thirteen months later, in January 2011, another GRS contractor, Raymond Davis, decided to shoot his way out of what he considered a difficult situation in Lahore, Pakistan. The Army Special Forces veteran had also worked for Blackwater, although at the time of the shootings he was employed by Hyperion Protective Services, LLC.

Assigned to work at a CIA safe house in Lahore to support agents tracking al-Qaeda in Pakistan, Davis had apparently spent days photographing local military installations like the headquarters of the paramilitary Frontier Corps. On January 27th, his car was stopped and he claims that he was confronted by two young men, Faizan Haider and Faheem Shamshad. Davis proceeded to shoot both of them dead, and then take pictures of their bodies, before radioing back to the safe house for help. When a backup vehicle arrived, it compounded the disaster by driving at high speed the wrong way down a street and killing a passing motorcyclist.

Davis was later caught by two traffic wardens, taken to a police station, and jailed. A furor ensued, involving both countries and an indignant Pakistani media. The U.S. embassy, which initially claimed he was a consular official before the Guardian broke the news that he was a CIA contractor, finally pressured the Pakistani government into releasing him, but only after agreeing to pay out $2.34 million in compensation to the families of those he killed.

A year and a half later, two more GRS contractors made front-page news under the worst of circumstances. Former Navy SEALs Glen Doherty and Tyrone Woods had been assigned to a CIA base in Benghazi, Libya, where the Agency was attempting to track a developing North African al-Qaeda movement and recover heavy weapons, including Stinger missiles, that had been looted from state arsenals in the wake of an U.S.-NATO intervention which led to the fall of the autocrat Muammar Qaddafi.

On September 11, 2012, U.S. Ambassador Christopher Stevens was staying at a nearby diplomatic compound when it came under attack. Militants entered the buildings and set them on fire. A CIA team, including Doherty, rushed to the rescue, although ultimately, unlike Hollywood’s action teams, they did not save Stevens or the day. In fact, several hours later, the militants raided the CIA base, killing both Doherty and Woods.

The Gang That Couldn’t Shoot Straight

The disastrous denouements to these three incidents, as well as the deaths of four GRS contractors — more than a quarter of CIA casualties since the War on Terror was launched — raise a series of questions: Is this yet another example of the way the privatization of war and intelligence doesn’t work? And is the answer to bring such jobs back in-house? Or does the Hollywood-style skullduggery (gone repeatedly wrong) hint at a larger problem? Is the present intelligence system, in fact, out of control and, despite a combined budget of $52.6 billion a year, simply incapable of delivering anything like the “security” promised, leaving the various spy agencies, including the CIA, increasingly desperate to prove that they can “defeat” terrorism?

Take, for example, the slew of documents Edward Snowden — another private contractor who at one point worked for the CIA — released about secret NSA programs attempting to suck up global communications at previously unimaginable rates. There have been howls of outrage across the planet, including from spied-upon heads of state. Those denouncing such blatant invasions of privacy have regularly raised the fear that we might be witnessing the rise of a secret-police-like urge to clamp down on dissent everywhere.

But as with the CIA, there may be another explanation: desperation. Top intelligence officials, fearing that they will be seen as having done a poor job, are possessed by an ever greater urge to prove their self-worth by driving the intelligence community to ever more (rather than less) of the same.

As Jeremy Bash, chief of staff to Leon Panetta, the former CIA director and defense secretary, told MSNBC: “If you’re looking for a needle in the haystack, you need a haystack.” It’s true that, while the various intelligence agencies and the CIA may not succeed when it comes to the needles, they have proven effective indeed when it comes to creating haystacks.

In the case of the NSA, the Obama administration’s efforts to prove that its humongous data haul had any effect on foiling terrorist plots — at one point, they claimed 54 such plots foiled — has had a quality of genuine pathos to it. The claims have proven so thin that administration and intelligence officials have struggled to convince even those in Congress who support the programs, let alone the rest of the world, that it has done much more than gather and store staggering reams of information on almost everyone to no particular purpose whatsoever. Similarly, the FBI has made a point of trumpeting every “terrorist” arrest it has made, most of which, on closer scrutiny, turn out to be of gullible Muslims, framed by planted evidence in plots often essentially engineered by FBI informants.

Despite stunning investments of funds and the copious hiring of private contractors, when it comes to ineptitude the CIA is giving the FBI and NSA a run for their money. In fact, both of its recently revealed high-profile programs — GRS and the Guantanamo double agents — have proven dismal failures, yielding little if anything of value. The Associated Press account of Penny Lane, the only description of that program thus far, notes, for instance, that al-Qaeda never trusted the former Guantanamo Bay detainees released into their midst and that, after millions of dollars were fruitlessly spent, the program was canceled as a failure in 2006.

If you could find a phrase that was the polar opposite of “more bang for your buck,” all of these efforts would qualify. In the case of the CIA, keep in mind as well that you’re talking about an agency which has for years conducted drone assassination campaigns in Pakistan, Yemen, and Somalia. Hundreds of innocent men, women, and children have been killed along with numerous al-Qaeda types and “suspected militants,” and yet — many experts believe — these campaigns have functioned not as an air war on, but for, terror. In Yemen, as an example, the tiny al-Qaeda outfit that existed when the drone campaign began in 2002 has grown exponentially.

So what about the Jason Bourne-like contractors working for GRS who turned out to be the gang that couldn’t shoot straight? How successful have they been in helping the CIA sniff out al-Qaeda globally? It’s a good guess, based on what we already know, that their record would be no better than that of the rest of the CIA.

One hint, when it comes to GRS-assisted operations, may be found in documents revealed in 2010 by WikiLeaks about joint CIA-Special Operations hunter-killer programs in Afghanistan like Task Force 373. We don’t actually know if any GRS employees were involved with those operations, but it’s notable that one of Task Force 373’s principal bases was in Khost, where Paresi and Wise were assisting the CIA in drone-targeting operations. The evidence from the WikiLeaks documents suggests that, as with GRS missions, those hunter-killer teams regularly botched their jobs by killing civilians and stoking local unrest.

At the time, Matthew Hoh, a former Marine and State Department contractor who often worked with Task Force 373 as well as other Special Operations Forces “capture/kill” programs in Afghanistan and Iraq, told me: “We are killing the wrong people, the mid-level Taliban who are only fighting us because we are in their valleys. If we were not there, they would not be fighting the U.S.”

As details of programs like Penny Lane and GRS tumble out into the open, shedding light on how the CIA has fought its secret war, it is becoming clearer that the full story of the Agency’s failures, and the larger failures of U.S. intelligence and its paramilitarized, privatized sidekicks has yet to be told.

by Pratap Chatterjee, Tomdispatch.com
December 5th, 2013

Find this story at 5 December 2013

Private Army Formed to Fight Somali Pirates Leaves Troubled Legacy

WASHINGTON — It seemed like a simple idea: In the chaos that is Somalia, create a sophisticated, highly trained fighting force that could finally defeat the pirates terrorizing the shipping lanes off the Somali coast.

But the creation of the Puntland Maritime Police Force was anything but simple. It involved dozens of South African mercenaries and the shadowy security firm that employed them, millions of dollars in secret payments by the United Arab Emirates, a former clandestine officer with the Central Intelligence Agency, and Erik Prince, the billionaire former head of Blackwater Worldwide who was residing at the time in the emirates.

And its fate makes the story of the pirate hunters for hire a case study in the inherent dangers in the outsourced wars in Somalia, where the United States and other countries have relied on proxy forces and armed private contractors to battle pirates and, increasingly, Islamic militants.

That strategy has had some success, including a recent offensive by Kenyan and African Union troops to push the militant group Al Shabab from its stronghold in the port city of Kismayu.

But with the antipiracy army now abandoned by its sponsors, the hundreds of half-trained and well-armed members of the Puntland Maritime Police Force have been left to fend for themselves at a desert camp carved out of the sand, perhaps to join up with the pirates or Qaeda-linked militants or to sell themselves to the highest bidder in Somalia’s clan wars — yet another dangerous element in the Somali mix.

A United Nations investigative group described the effort by a company based in Dubai called Sterling Corporate Services to create the force as a “brazen, large-scale and protracted violation” of the arms embargo in place on Somalia, and has tried to document a number of grisly cases in which Somali trainees were beaten and even killed. In one case in October 2010, according to the United Nations group, a trainee was hogtied with his arms and feet bound behind his back and beaten. The group said the trainee had died from his injuries, an accusation disputed by the company.

Sterling has portrayed its operation as a bold private-sector attempt to battle the scourge of piracy where governments were failing. Lafras Luitingh, a senior manager for the project, described the October 2010 occurrence as a case of “Somali-on-Somali violence” that was not indicative of the overall training program. He said that the trainee had recovered from his injuries, and that “the allegations reflect not the professional training that occurred but the fact that professional training was needed,” he said.

A lawyer for the company, Stephen Heifetz, wrote an official response to the United Nations report, calling it “a collection of unsubstantiated and often false innuendo assembled by a group with extreme views regarding participants in Somali politics.”

Sterling officials have pointed out that in March, a United Nations counterpiracy organization — a separate entity from the investigative group that criticized Sterling — praised the semiautonomous Somali region of Puntland for creating the program. Moreover, the company argues, Somalia already is a playground for clandestine operations, with the C.I.A. now in the midst of an extensive effort to arm and equip Somali spies. Why, they ask, is Sterling Corporate Services singled out for criticism?

Concerned about the impact of piracy on commercial shipping in the Middle East, the United Arab Emirates has sought to take the lead in battling Somali pirates, both overtly and in secret by bankrolling operations like Sterling’s.

American officials have said publicly that they never endorsed the creation of the private army, but it is unclear if Sterling had tacit support from parts of the United States government. For instance, the investigative group reported in July that the counterpiracy force shared some of the same facilities as the Puntland Intelligence Service, a spy organization answering to Puntland’s president, Abdirahman Farole, that has been trained by C.I.A. officers and contractors for more than a decade.

With the South African trainers gone, the African Union has turned to a different security contractor, Bancroft Global Development, based in Washington, to assess whether the pirate hunters in Puntland can be assimilated into the stew of other security forces in Somalia sanctioned both by the United States and the African Union. Among those groups are a 10,000-man Somali national army and troops of Somalia’s National Security Agency, based in Mogadishu, which is closely allied with the C.I.A.

Michael Stock, Bancroft’s president, said a team of his that recently visited the camp where the Puntland force is based witnessed something out of the Wild West: nearly 500 soldiers who had gone weeks without pay wandering the main compound and two other small camps, an armory of weapons amassed over two years at their disposal.

Although the force is far from the 1,000-man elite unit with helicopters and airplanes described in the United Nations report, Mr. Stock and independent analysts said the Puntland soldiers still posed a potential threat to the region if left unchecked.

“Sterling is leaving behind an unpaid but well-armed security force in Puntland,” said Andre Le Sage, a senior research fellow who specializes in Africa at the National Defense University in Washington. “It’s important to find a way to make them part of a regular force or to disarm them and take control of them. If that’s not done, it could make things worse.”

Mr. Stock, whose company trains soldiers from Uganda and Burundi for counterinsurgency missions in Somalia under the African Union banner, said Bancroft would not take over Sterling’s counterpiracy mission.

The Sterling operation was shrouded in a degree of secrecy from the time Mr. Luitingh and a small group of South Africans traveling in a private plane first touched down in Bosasso, Puntland’s capital, in 2010. The men worked for Saracen International, a South African private military firm hired by the emirates and composed of several former members of the Civil Cooperation Bureau, the feared paramilitary squad during the apartheid era.

The following year, after The New York Times wrote about the operation, Saracen hired a prominent Washington law firm to advocate for the mission at the State Department and the Pentagon, and a rebranding campaign began. A new company, Sterling Corporate Services, was created in Dubai to oversee the training in Puntland. It was an attempt to put distance between the Somalia operations and Saracen’s apartheid-era past, but some of the officers of the two companies were the same.

Two well-connected Americans were also involved in the project. Michael Shanklin, a former C.I.A. station chief in Mogadishu, was hired to tap a network of contacts both in Washington and East Africa to build support for the counterpiracy force. More significant was the role of Mr. Prince, who had become an informal adviser to the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

At the time, Mr. Prince was also involved in a project to train Colombian mercenaries at a desert camp in the emirates to carry out missions at the behest of the Emirati government.

But the emirates’ refusal to publicly acknowledge their role in the operation, or to make a formal case to the United Nations Security Council to receive permission to build the army under the terms of the Somalia arms embargo, drew the ire of United Nations arms monitors, who repeatedly pressed the emirates to shut down the mission.

Lawyers for Sterling gave extensive briefings on the program to the State Department, the Pentagon and various United Nations agencies dealing with piracy.

Yousef Al Otaiba, the emirates’ ambassador to Washington, declined to comment for this article.

American officials said they had urged Sterling’s lawyers, from the firm of Steptoe & Johnson, to have the operation approved by the Security Council. Mr. Heifetz, the company’s lawyer, said Puntland and other Somali authorities did receive permission to build the police force. A spokeswoman for the State Department said the United States government never approved Sterling’s activities.

“We share the monitoring group’s concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the Saracen and Sterling Corporate Services’ train-and-equip program for the Puntland Maritime Police Force, as well as the abuses alleged to have occurred during the training,” said Hilary Renner, a State Department spokeswoman, referring to the United Nations Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the investigative arm.

October 4, 2012
By MARK MAZZETTI and ERIC SCHMITT

Find this story at 4 October 2012

© 2012 The New York Times Company

Private Security Companies in Somalia are in violation of the arms embargo – UN

The United Nations is concerned that member states are failing to uphold the arms embargo on Somalia by allowing private security companies (PSCs) to operate in the country. South Africa, Uganda, Ethiopia and the United Arab Emirates were singled out in a UN report.

In its Report of the Monitoring Group on Somalia and Eritrea, the United Nations said that the provision of security assistance, in the absence of UN authorisation, “constitutes a violation of the general and complete arms embargo on Somalia.” It added that the Monitoring Group was concerned that member states “routinely fail to fulfil their obligations” which require them to prevent “the direct or indirect supply, sale or transfer of weapons and military equipment and the direct or indirect supply of technical assistance or training, financial or other assistance” to Somalia.

The report highlights several of the numerous security companies operating in Somalia, notably Sterling Corporate Services/Saracen International Lebanon. In late 2011, the assets, personnel and operations of Saracen International Lebanon were transferred to Sterling Corporate Services (SCS), reportedly a Dubai registered company, which resumed large-scale military training, technical assistance and support to the Puntland Maritime Police Force (PMPF).

“Established in May 2010, with the involvement of Erik Dean Prince, the American founder of Blackwater U.S.A., this externally-financed assistance programme has remained the most brazen violation of the arms embargo by a PSC,” the report said. “In 2011, Saracen’s training camp near Bosaaso became the best-equipped military facility in Somalia after AMISOM’s bases in Mogadishu. The SCS base today includes a modern operational command centre, control tower, airstrip, helicopter deck and about 70 tents, which can host up to 1,500 trainees.”

“Thanks to this massive initiative, the Puntland Maritime Police Force is now a well-equipped elite force, over 1,000 strong, with air assets used to carry out ground attacks, that operates beyond the rule of law and reports directly to the President of Puntland. This private army disingenuously labeled a ‘counter-piracy’ force, has been financed by zakat [Muslim charity] contributions mainly from high-ranking officials from the United Arab Emirates, including Crown Prince and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The UAE government, however, has officially denied any involvement in the project,” the UN reports.

The Monitoring Group stated that SCS was characterised by a lack of transparency, accountability or regard for international law and this was unlikely to change without intervention from its state sponsor.

Another private security company mentioned in the report was the South African-based Pathfinder, which in August 2011 was contracted by Africa Oil, via its local subsidiaries, to provide security advice and risk analysis. Pathfinder personnel on the ground liaise with local authorities in charge of security and oversee the Exploration Security Unit (ESU), a special branch of the Puntland security forces established to protect oil exploration and exploitation.

The UN report noted that Pathfinder’s transparency and its efforts to comply with the sanctions regime arguably represent ‘best practices’ for private security companies in Somalia. “However, its ‘temporary issue’ of military equipment and the direct funding of the ESU by Africa Oil (via its subsidiary, Canmex) constitute violations of Security Council resolution 733 (1992).”

Also singled out in the report was the Washington DC-based charity Bancroft Global Development, operating in Somalia under the auspices of AMISOM. The report said it is currently the only private company providing assistance to Somali security sector institutions that complies with UN resolutions.

Other security providers form part of a growing network of private contractors that provide security details for individuals, foreign companies, diplomatic missions, international non-governmental organisations and international organizations in Somalia. They supervise local militias, provide armed escorts and static guards, often importing armoured vehicles, personal protective equipment (PPE) and operating in an arguably paramilitary fashion, according to the United Nations report.

Apart from organisations based in Somalia, private security companies are also used to provide protection to diplomats, international NGO workers, journalists, foreign contractors and businessmen visiting Mogadishu. Since November 2011, even the United Nations has also engaged a private local militia in Mogadishu to protect the movements of its staff.

Written by defenceWeb
Wednesday, 08 August 2012 14:28

Find this story at 8 August 2012

© defenceweb

Exclusive: Court Docs Reveal Blackwater’s Secret CIA Past

It was the U.S. military’s most notorious security contractor—but it may also have been a virtual extension of the CIA. Eli Lake reports.

Last month a three-year-long federal prosecution of Blackwater collapsed. The government’s 15-felony indictment—on such charges as conspiring to hide purchases of automatic rifles and other weapons from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives—could have led to years of jail time for Blackwater personnel. In the end, however, the government got only misdemeanor guilty pleas by two former executives, each of whom were sentenced to four months of house arrest, three years’ probation, and a fine of $5,000. Prosecutors dropped charges against three other executives named in the suit and abandoned the felony charges altogether.

via office of the King of Jordan

But the most noteworthy thing about the largely failed prosecution wasn’t the outcome. It was the tens of thousands of pages of documents—some declassified—that the litigation left in its wake. These documents illuminate Blackwater’s defense strategy—and it’s a fascinating one: to defeat the charges it was facing, Blackwater built a case not only that it worked with the CIA—which was already widely known—but that it was in many ways an extension of the agency itself.

Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, heir to an auto-parts family fortune, Blackwater had proved especially useful to the CIA in the early 2000s. “You have to remember where the CIA was after 9/11,” says retired Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who served as the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 to 2006 and later as the ranking member of the committee. “They were gutted in the 1990s. They were sending raw recruits into Afghanistan and other dangerous places. They were looking for skills and capabilities, and they had to go to outside contractors like Blackwater to make sure they could accomplish their mission.”

But according to the documents Blackwater submitted in its defense—as well as an email exchange I had recently with Prince—the contractor’s relationship with the CIA was far deeper than most observers thought. “Blackwater’s work with the CIA began when we provided specialized instructors and facilities that the Agency lacked,” Prince told me recently, in response to written questions. “In the years that followed, the company became a virtual extension of the CIA because we were asked time and again to carry out dangerous missions, which the Agency either could not or would not do in-house.”

A prime example of the close relationship appears to have unfolded on March 19, 2005. On that day, Prince and senior CIA officers joined King Abdullah of Jordan and his brothers on a trip to Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina, according to lawyers for the company and former Blackwater officials. After traveling by private jet from Washington to the compound, Abdullah (a former Jordanian special-forces officer) and Prince (a former Navy SEAL) participated in a simulated ambush, drove vehicles on a high-speed racetrack, and raided one of the compound’s “shoot houses,” a specially built facility used to train warriors in close-quarters combat with live ammo, Prince recalls.

At the end of the day, company executives presented the king with two gifts: a modified Bushmaster AR-15 rifle and a Remington shotgun, both engraved with the Blackwater logo. They also presented three Blackwater-engraved Glock pistols to Abdullah’s brothers. According to Prince, the CIA asked Blackwater to give the guns to Abdullah “when people at the agency had forgotten to get gifts for him.”

Three years later, the ATF raided the Moyock compound. In itself, this wasn’t unusual; the ATF had been conducting routine inspections of the place since 2005, when Blackwater informed the government that two of its employees had stolen guns and sold them on the black market. Typically, agents would show up in street clothes, recalled Prince. “They knew our people and our processes.”

But the 2008 visit, according to Prince, was different. “ATF agents had guns drawn and wore tactical jackets festooned with the initials ATF. It was a cartoonish show of force,” he said. (Earl Woodham, a spokesman for the Charlotte field division of the ATF, disputes this characterization. “This was the execution of a federal search warrant that requires they be identified with the federal agency,” he says. “They had their firearms covered to execute a federal search warrant. To characterize this as anything other than a low-key execution of a federal search warrant is inaccurate.”)

During the raid, the ATF seized 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmaster AR-13 rifles the bureau claimed were purchased illegally through the sheriff’s office in Camden County, North Carolina. It also alleged that Blackwater illegally shortened the barrels of rifles and then exported them to other countries in violation of federal gun laws. Meanwhile, in the process of trying to account for Blackwater’s guns, the ATF discovered that the rifles and pistols presented in 2005 to King Abdullah and his brothers were registered to Blackwater employees. Prosecutors would subsequently allege that Gary Jackson—the former president of Blackwater and one of the two people who would eventually plead guilty to a misdemeanor—had instructed employees to falsely claim on ATF forms that the guns were their own personal property and not in the possession of Jordanian royalty.

In all of these instances—the purchase of the rifles through the Camden County sheriff, the shipment of the guns to other countries, and the gifts to Abdullah—Blackwater argued that it was acting on behalf of the U.S. government and the CIA. All of these arguments, obviously, were very much in Blackwater’s legal interest. That said, it provided the court with classified emails, memoranda, contracts, and photos. It also obtained sealed depositions from top CIA executives from the Directorate of Operations, testifying that Blackwater provided training and weapons for agency operations. (A CIA spokesman declined to comment for this story.)

One document submitted by the defense names Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA chief of the Directorate of Operations, and Buzzy Krongard, the agency’s former executive director, as among those CIA officers who had direct knowledge of Blackwater’s activities, in a section that is still partially redacted. This document is the closest Blackwater has come to acknowledging that Prince himself was a CIA asset, something first reported in 2010 by Vanity Fair. One of the names on the list of CIA officers with knowledge of Blackwater’s work in the document is “Erik P”—with the remaining letters whited out.

This document made Blackwater’s defense clear: “the CIA routinely used Blackwater in missions throughout the world,” it said. “These efforts were made under written and unwritten contracts and through informal requests. On many occasions the CIA paid Blackwater nothing for its assistance. Blackwater also employed CIA officers and agents, and provided cover to CIA agents and officers operating in covert and clandestine assignments. In many respects, Blackwater, or at least portions of Blackwater, was an extension of the CIA.”

When I asked Prince why Blackwater would often work for free, he responded, “I agreed to provide some services gratis because, in the wake of 9/11, I felt it my patriotic duty. I knew that I had the tools and resources to help my country.”

Moreover, according to still-sealed testimony described to The Daily Beast, the agency had its own secure telephone line and a facility for handling classified information within Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters. CIA officers trained there and used an area—fully shielded from view inside the rest of the Blackwater compound by 20-foot berms—to coordinate operations.

Sara D. Davis/AP

In the wake of the major charges being dropped, the U.S. attorney who prosecuted the case against Blackwater, Thomas Walker, told me that it would be wrong to dismiss the prosecution as a waste of time. “The company looks completely different now than before the investigation,” he said. “For example, in 2009, Erik Prince was the sole owner. This company now has a governing board that is accountable.”

In 2010 Prince sold Blackwater, which is now known as Academi, for an estimated $200 million. Prince retains control of numerous companies that were part of Blackwater before he sold it, but he told me that he had “ceased providing any services” to the U.S. government.

Walker would not discuss Blackwater’s relationship with the CIA. But he did say the defense that the company was acting for the government did not excuse any violations of federal law. “Our evidence showed there was a mentality at the company that they considered themselves above the law,” Walker said. “That is a slippery slope. There came a time when there had to be accountability at Blackwater.”

by Eli Lake Mar 14, 2013 4:45 AM EDT

Find this story at 14 March 2013

© 2013 The Newsweek/Daily Beast Company LLC

overheid werkt(e) met besmet beveiligingsbedrijf

Ondanks de voorkennis omtrent gruwelijke misdragingen door veiligheidsagenten van Blackwater, ging het KLPD en de AIVD in 2009 voor een training van (geheim) agenten in zee met dit obscure Amerikaanse particuliere beveiligingsbedrijf.

“Op 17 november 2009 vertrok ik samen met de majoors Edwin en Mark naar Afghanistan. Wij maken deel uit van de nieuwe missie NTM-A” (Nato Training Mission – Afghanistan), schrijft Kees Poelma (Kmar) op zijn weblog.

“In mijn vorige functie had ik hele goede contacten opgebouwd met mensen van XE-Services (beter bekend als het voormalige Blackwater)”, zo vervolgt Poelma zijn relaas. “Misschien is ‘beter’ niet het juiste woord, maar daarvoor moet je Blackwater maar eens googelen. Sinds Irak zijn ze namelijk zodanig ‘verstoken van gunsten’ dat ze hun naam maar eens moesten veranderen. XE leidt de Afghan Border Police op en dat doen ze op vier verschillende trainingsites in Afghanistan.”

Poelma werd uitgenodigd door XE-Services om hun trainingsites te bekijken. Het bedrijf heeft haar naam ondertussen opnieuw gewijzigd in Academi. Zoals Poelma opmerkt is het bedrijf besmet. Het is dan ook opmerkelijk dat het Nederlandse leger en politie ‘hele goede contacten’ onderhouden met de ‘private contractor’.

Contract

Op 24 februari 2010 verklaarde de democratische voorzitter Carl Levin van de Armed Services Committee van de Amerikaanse Senaat dat de PEO STRI (Program Executive Office for Simulation, Training and Instrumentation) van het Amerikaanse leger het volgende: “relied on a Dutch officer to act as a Technical Officer Representative to oversee the contract.”

Het contract waar Levin op duidt, betreft een afspraak met Paravant LLC, een dochteronderneming van XE-Services, voor de training van de Afghan National Army Troops. De hoorzitting vond plaats in verband met diefstal, moord en andere vergrijpen door medewerkers van Paravant in Afghanistan.

De Nederlandse officier zou werkzaam zijn geweest op het CSTC-A, de plaats waar de trainingen van de Afghaanse politie en het leger worden gecoördineerd. Welke rol de Nederlandse officier bij CSTC-A heeft gespeeld in het verwerven van het contract, en welke relatie de officier met Paravant/Blackwater had, is onduidelijk.

Blackwater werd in 1997 opgericht door oud Navy Seals man Erik Prince. Voorafgaande de oorlogen in Afghanistan en vooral Irak deed het bedrijf voornamelijk kruimelwerk. De invasie in Irak van 20 maart 2003 betekende een flinke boost voor het bedrijf. De private beveiligingsbedrijven die zowel persoons- als transportbeveiliging uitvoeren, misdroegen zich echter op grote schaal.

De onvrede onder De Irakese bevolking bouwde zich na de invasie in sneltreinvaart op en kwam tot uitbarsting bij de aanslag op vier medewerkers van Blackwater in Fallujah, maart 2004. De wereld beschuldigde meteen Al Qaeda of de rebellen van de lynchpartij, maar de aanslag was een reactie op het opereren van de ‘private contractors’.

Gewelddadig optreden

Hoe de medewerkers van Blackwater zich bijvoorbeeld gedroegen in Irak toont Harper’s Magazine met de publicatie The Warrior Class, geschreven door Charles Glass (april 2012). Het artikel is eigenlijk gebaseerd op een verzameling video’s die Glass van medewerkers van Blackwater heeft gekregen http://harpers.org/archive/2012/04/hbc-90008515. Op de beelden is te zien dat mensen worden overreden, auto’s van de weg worden gereden, er willekeurig wordt geschoten op voorbijgangers en auto’s, dat er wordt gescholden en dat de schending van alle basale rechten van Irakezen met voeten worden getreden.

Veel beelden waren er nog niet voorhanden, maar de verhalen van schandalig optreden wel degelijk. Februari 2005 schoot een beveiligingsteam van Blackwater machinegeweren leeg op een auto in Bagdad. Dit incident kwam naar buiten omdat Blackwater op dat moment een lid van het Amerikaanse State Department beveiligde. Veel incidenten komen niet aan het licht omdat medewerkers van Blackwater na een incident gewoon doorrijden, zoals de videobeelden laten zien.

De wetteloosheid van medewerkers van Blackwater vindt zijn dieptepunt op 16 september 2007 op het Nisour Square in Bagdad. Een beveiliger van het bedrijf schoot een bestuurder van een rijdende auto dood, die tengevolge niet tot stilstand kwam. Wat volgde was een bloedbad, waarbij de medewerkers van Blackwater op alles schoten wat bewoog. Bij deze slachting kwamen 17 mensen om het leven.

Het bedrijf ontkende dat zij verantwoordelijk was voor de moordpartij en dat de beveiligingsagenten slechts reageerden op schoten die op hen afgevuurd werden. De verdachten werden uiteindelijk Irak uit gesmokkeld. Naar aanleiding van de schietpartij op het Nisour Square schreef Jeremy Scahill Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army (2007), een boek dat de aard, omvang en gedrag van het bedrijf uit de doeken doet.

Goede contacten

Kees Poelma van de Koninklijke Marechaussee beschrijft op zijn weblog de goede contacten die hij onderhoudt met ‘mensen van XE-Services’. Over welke contacten heeft hij het? Op 12 januari 2005 sluiten de ‘Dutch Special Forces’ en Blackwater USA een contract voor het gebruik van het Blackwater Training Center, tegenwoordig bekent onder de naam United States Training Center.

Minister Rosenthal beantwoordt op 14 december 2010 vragen van de Kamerleden Van Bommel en Van Dijk ten aanzien van Blackwater. “Het Korps Commando Troepen heeft van 10 t/m 23 februari 2005 met 60 personen getraind op het Blackwater trainingscomplex in North Carolina. Gedurende deze trainingsperiode is alleen gebruik gemaakt van faciliteiten. Trainingen zijn uitsluitend door eigen instructeurs verzorgd.”

Het contract vermeldt tevens: ‘Blackwater Training Center welcomes the opportunity to provide range rental for your continuing firearms training.’ Hoewel het Korps Commando Troepen zijn eigen instructeurs heeft meegenomen volgens de minister, wordt in proposal #226 wel een ‘number of personnel 57’ opgevoerd. Of dit slaat op de 60 mariniers is onduidelijk. Waarschijnlijk wel, maar het blijft onduidelijk of Blackwater geen instructeurs heeft geleverd.

De folder van Blackwater Training Center prijst haar eigen instructeurs op allerlei manieren aan. ‘On over 6000 acres of private land, we have trained and hosted over 50.000 Law Enforcement, Military and civilian personnel. […] Our instructors are ranked the best in the world and our facilities are second to none.’

De minister zegt dat de “trainingen uitsluitend door eigen instructeurs zijn verzorgd”, maar de aantallen, ook die voor de lunch en het diner, roepen vragen op over de aanwezigheid van Blackwater-instructeurs. ‘Lunch for 75 persons for 11 days and dinner for 75 persons for 11 days.’

De Sales Coordinator van Blackwater voegt daar op 12 januari 2005 nog aan toe dat ‘the houses are not intended to practice charge calculations. They are designed to practice techniques involved in breaching placement of charges, placement of shooters in relation to the charge and command and control and detonation the charge.’ Het schrijven van 12 januari 2005 lijkt op een set huisregels van Blackwater.

Voorkennis

De training vond in februari 2005 plaats, dezelfde maand waarin Blackwater-medewerkers een willekeurige auto in Bagdad onder vuur namen, waarvan het lot van de inzittenden onduidelijk is. Of het ministerie van Defensie op de hoogte was van dit incident valt te betwijfelen. In een voorblad zonder datum met de titel contract Blackwater wordt vermeld dat ‘het gerucht dat de firma Blackwater onder de USNAVY valt en dat het schietterrein van de USNAVY is wil ik bij deze ook heel snel ontkrachten.’

Het voorblad is opgesteld door de eerste verwerver, een kapitein van de C-Logistiek Brigade/Divisie Logistiek Commando uit Apeldoorn. Opvallend aan het voorblad is de expliciete vermelding dat er geen gebruik wordt gemaakt van instructeurs van de firma Blackwater. Dit wordt vermeld onder het kopje ‘marktverkenning’ dat begint met de zin ‘er is geen concurrentie mogelijk, het betreft hier een monopolist. Het betreft hier een privé onderneming op privéterrein. Wel dienen er vergunningen aangevraagd te worden, indien er gebruik wordt gemaakt van instructeurs van de firma Blackwater.’

De verwarring van de eerste verwerver over de relatie tussen Blackwater en de USNAVY viel misschien in 2005 nog te begrijpen, na het Nisour Square incident in september 2007 was dat niet langer mogelijk. De status en de rol van Blackwater was toen duidelijk. De kritiek op het bedrijf ook. Het is dan ook onbegrijpelijk dat ruim een jaar later er contact wordt opgenomen met Total Intelligence Solutions LLC voor het bestellen van een Mirror Image Training Program.

Daar tegenover kan worden opgemerkt dat de Department of Special Interventions (DSI) van het KLPD niet wist dat Total Intelligence Solutions LLC onderdeel uitmaakte van de Prince Group van Erik Prince, de toenmalige CEO van Blackwater, maar het adres in Arlington in de Verenigde Staten zal toch op zijn minst enkele bellen hebben doen rinkelen? Nu staat de DSI niet bekend om haar doortastendheid – zie de wijze waarop een belwinkel in Rotterdam op kerstavond 2010 werd vernield door leden van het team – maar enige background check van bedrijven die worden ingehuurd zou er toch moeten zijn.

Duidelijkheid

De Washington Post besteedde op 3 november 2007, twee maanden na de slachting op Nisour Square, een artikel aan Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS) onder de kop ‘Blackwaters Owner Has Spies for Hire’. Het is dus onwaarschijnlijk dat het de overheid is ontgaan dat er een contract met Blackwater werd afgesloten. En hoe staat een contract met Blackwater in verhouding met het principe van duurzaam inkopen dat de overheid hanteert?

In de overeenkomst met de KLPD die Total Intelligence Solutions LLC op 17 november 2008 opstuurt, worden dan ook naast TIS de bedrijven EP Investments LLC, Terrorism Research Center INC en Blackwater Lodge and Training Center INC vermeld. Het lijken aparte bedrijven, maar vallen allemaal onder Blackwater, later XE Services genoemd, zoals blijkt uit amendment no 1 van 8 juni 2009. In dat amendment is de naam van de Blackwater Lodge ondertussen ook gewijzigd in U.S. Training Center. Al met al was het duidelijk dat Blackwater in het spel was.

Ook de status van het bedrijf was duidelijk. Op 7 november 2007 beantwoordden de ministers van Defensie en Buitenlandse Zaken, Middelkoop en Verhagen, vragen van kamerlid Pechtold. De ministers verzekeren dat ‘Nederland nooit Blackwater in dienst heeft gehad. De ministeries van Buitenlandse Zaken en Defensie werken wel samen met andere particuliere beveiligingsbedrijven’.

In het antwoord van de regering komt het huren van de trainingsfaciliteiten van Blackwater door het Korps Commando Troepen niet aan de orde. Opvallend omdat voor de minister van Defensie toch duidelijk moet zijn geweest hoe gevoelig de zaak lag. Pechtold onderstreepte nota bene de onrust door de slachting op Nisour Square.

Een maand later beschreef de Adviesraad Internationale Vraagstukken in het rapport ‘De inhuur van private militaire bedrijven’ de zorgen over Blackwater. ‘De affaire Blackwater heeft de grote risico’s die aan de inzet van PMC’s zijn verbonden nog eens onderstreept. Het roekeloze en onverantwoordelijke optreden van sommige PMC’s, vooral de veiligheidsbedrijven onder hen, die in Irak immuniteit voor de lokale rechtsmacht genieten, brengt het winnen van de hearts and minds en daarmee zelfs van de hele counter-insurgency in gevaar.’

Het 59ste advies gaat verder door te stellen dat ‘het in opspraak gekomen Amerikaanse bedrijf Blackwater een negatieve uitstraling op de hele bedrijfstak heeft.’ Extra voorzichtig zijn dus bij het inhuren of gebruiken van diensten van het bedrijf.

Mirror Image Training

Een jaar later sluiten de Dienst Speciale interventies (DSI) en Blackwater een overeenkomst voor een Mirror Image Training, verzorgd door het Terrorism Research Center (TRC). TRC maakt deel uit van Total Intel, dat op haar beurt sinds februari 2007 weer onderdeel uitmaakt van Blackwater sinds februari 2007. Voorafgaande de overeenkomst had Blackater al een strategisch partnership met het centrum.

De Mirror Image Training was er op gericht om in de huid van de terrorist te kruipen. ‘Hierdoor is de deelnemer in staat om zichzelf ook daadwerkelijk als terrorist te zien en door diens ogen de zwakke punten binnen de eigen werkomgeving te herkennen en te begrijpen, die men zelf vaak over het hoofd ziet’, vermeldt de doelstelling van het reisverslag Mirror Image Training in Moyock, NC.

De laatste zin van de doelstelling is veelzeggend, gelet op het gedrag van Blackwater-medewerkers, maar ook dat van de DSI-medewerkers in gedachten: ‘Met deze inzichten op zak zijn deelnemers na het afronden van de training beter in staat te anticiperen, te voorkomen en te reageren op terroristische dreigingen.’

Om een beeld te krijgen waar de Nederlandse commando’s en leden van de KLPD en AIVD hun training hebben gekregen, hier een beschrijving van Moyock door Nathan Lodge. In zijn artikel Blackwater: Lawyers, guns and Money van 6 april 2007 probeert Lodge de omvang van het terrein te omschrijven. http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2007/04/inside_the_bell/

Lodge: ‘It’s hard to understate how massive the Moyock facility is. The place has 34 shooting ranges, three driving tracks and an airfield. It boasts several ‘shoot houses’ (for indoor shooting drills), a maritime training facility (for hostile boarding practice) and a breaching facility (for breaking down doors), as well as a full armory. It’s like a military base – without the golf course.’

Mindset

De cursus voor de leden van de KLPD gaat over het creëren van een ‘mindset’ waarbij ‘de rol van de radicale islam van groot belang is. Dit komt onder andere naar voren tijdens de dagelijkse gebeden en de lessen over de geschiedenis van de islam. Daarnaast wordt ook inzicht geboden in vormen van westers terrorisme, waaronder de IRA.’

De mindset kan vertaald worden naar de ‘situatie in tal van regio’s, waaronder Afghanistan, Irak, Colombia, Gaza en de West Bank evenals stedelijke gebieden en verschillende terroristische groeperingen.’ De mindset wordt vooral bepaald door ‘contraterroristische technieken gebaseerd op Britse en Israëlische ervaringen’, vermeldt het reisverslag van de training.

Nu kan het zo zijn dat de Israëliërs veel ervaring hebben met de oorlog in het Midden-Oosten, maar tegelijkertijd roepen hun acties ook veel vragen op. De laatste operatie in de Gaza, Cast Lead, is door verschillende zijden veroordeeld. Ook de Europese Unie is zeer kritisch over de wijze waarop de Israëliërs regelmatig huishouden in de bezette gebieden.

De Britten zijn overigens ook weer niet het beste voorbeeld van omgang met de opstand in Noord-Ierland. De IRA pleegde regelmatig aanslagen, maar de Britten hebben in de loop van de strijd regelmatig zelf vele slachtoffers gemaakt door infiltratie, informanten, valse beschuldigingen en andere schendingen van mensenrechten.

Hoewel de training misschien interessant kan zijn, moet een land dat vaak zijn vingertje opsteekt over de mensenrechten in andere landen toch grote zorgvuldigheid in acht nemen als het gaat om samenwerking met bedrijven waar een zweem omheen hangt van strafbare feiten en onoorbaar optreden.

Laten we daarom nog even een andere mindset van het bedrijf Blackwater bekijken. Naast het wild om zich heen schieten, heeft het bedrijf ook een nogal verwrongen beeld van recht en orde. Het programma Countdown van MSNBC besteedt op 6 augustus 2009 aandacht aan het gebruik van hoeren door leden van Blackwater. http://www.rawstory.com/rawreplay/2009/08/blackwater-provided-child-prostitutes-to-contractors-lawsuit/

‘Keith Olbermann (van MSNBC) quoted on Thursday from the employees sworn declarations that Blackwater was guilty of using child prostitutes at its compound in Baghdads fortified Green Zone. The declarations describe Blackwater as having young girls provide oral sex to Enterprise members in the Blackwater Man Camp in exchange for one American dollar.’

Nu is het zo dat het programma van MSNBC vier maanden na de training van de DSI werd uitgezonden, maar de mindset is wel degelijk belangrijk. Verantwoordelijken binnen de KLPD en als laatste verantwoordelijke, de minister van Veiligheid en Justitie, hadden gezien de status van het bedrijf vraagtekens moeten zetten bij een training door Blackwater.

Vraagtekens die al in de reactie van het ministerie van Defensie en Buitenlandse Zaken expliciet worden gezet in een reactie op het advies ‘Inhuur civiele dienstverleners in operatiegebieden’. Adviesraad Internationale Vraagstukken in april 2008. ‘De groei van de inzet van particuliere beveiligingsbedrijven in operatiegebieden is niet onomstreden. De recente ophef over het optreden van de firma Blackwater in Irak is aanleiding geweest voor vele kritische vragen.’

Lofuitingen

Terug naar de training. De DSI besloot om zich door personeel van Blackwater te laten opleiden. Waarschijnlijk werden ze op positieve wijze beïnvloed door het artikel van David Crane uit oktober 2003. Zijn verhaal ‘Blackwater Training Center Tactical Training For Professionals and Civilians’ in Defense Review is één grote loftuiting op de kwaliteiten van het bedrijf.

Rick Skwiot doet het in de PortFolio Weekly dunnetjes over onder de titel ‘On the Firing Line The Blackwater Training Center’. ‘The Blackwater Training Center in Moyock teaches soldiers, cops and ordinary citizens how to keep their edge in an increasingly dangerous world.’ En: ‘The most dangerous creatures lurking in The Great Dismal Swamp that spans the Virginia-North Carolina line are not the 600-pound black bears, rattlesnakes or water moccasins. Rather, they’re the men and women—soldiers, sailors, SWAT teams and civilians—taking aim with live ammo in the 5,200-acre Blackwater Training Center.’

De training van de DSI vond plaats van 27 maart 2009 tot en met 6 april 2009. Niet alleen de DSI doet aan de training mee. Volgens de minister gaat het om vijftien medewerkers van de KLPD. De dienstreizen formulieren die openbaar zijn gemaakt, vermelden vier leden van de DSI, twee leden van de DKDB, twee leden van de DSRT, twee leden van de DNR van de verschillende KLPD onderdelen en twee leden van de AIVD, de inlichtingendienst. Het totaal komt op twaalf.

Ook op het bestel-aanvraagformulier is sprake van twaalf tickets naar Norfolk in de Verenigde Staten, voor de overnachtingen betreft het twaalf personen. De DSI overnacht het langst, tien dagen, de medewerkers van de AIVD het kortst, twee dagen. Bij de vouchers voor de overnachtingen is het aantal van 27 maart 2009 tot en met 29 maart 2009 ook twaalf. De voucher-nummers van de overige overnachtingen zijn niet vrijgegeven.

De eerste trainingsdag van 27 maart werd besteed aan het ontwikkelen van het concept mirror image training. ‘Course to be conducted should be designed to replicate terrorism recruitment training, techniques and operational methodology in order to better prepare students to fight the War on Terror. Course of instruction should look towards placing students into simulated terrorist cells in order to receive insight into the mindset and rationale of the terrorist through hands on experience. Cells shall be comprised of approximately eight students per cell with an assigned instructor per cell. Instructors shall have strong backgrounds in unconventional warfare. For instructions and presentations addressing terrorism, contractor shall provide personnel who are high level experts in their field. (CIA, FBI, Department of State, etc…)’, schrijft agent Yvonne C. Frederico over een training van the Naval Special Warfare Group One in juni 2008.

William J. Henry van het National Guard Bureau is nog explicieter: ‘This training is an intensive, one week classroom and field training program, designed to realistically simulate terrorist recruiting, training techniques and operational tactics. This is a total-immersion course that places the student inside a terrorist organization in order to better teach him how to think and operate like a terrorist. This course includes lodging and meals tailored to simulate living as a terrorist cell.’

Celadviseur

De training van de DSI zal er niet zoveel van afwijken omdat de Nederlanders het terrein deelden met Belgische, Amerikaanse en Canadese militairen, politieambtenaren en leden van inlichtingendiensten. Het enige dat de minister van Veiligheid en Justitie los wil laten over die eerste dag is dat ‘na de les de cellen een celadviseur toegewezen krijgen en een operatie werd voorbereid.’

Op maandagochtend 28 maart werd de operatie uitgevoerd na ‘het ochtendgebed, gevolgd door een les over de geschiedenis van de islam en in het bijzonder de scheiding tussen de sjiieten en soennieten.’ Over de operatie laat de minister angstvallig niets los, maar wel over de lunch ‘bestaande uit een plat broodje, een plak kaas, een bakje humus, fruit en thee of water.’ Maandag stond voor de rest in het teken van HUMINT ‘human intelligence’, informanten en infiltranten en werd ‘de mindset binnen een terroristische cel’ besproken waar ‘bij nieuwe leden van een cel op wordt gelet.’

Evan Wright beschrijft in ‘Camp Jihad, A ragtag army of cops, soldiers, and G.I. Joe wannabes play terrorist for a week in a counterintuitive counterterrorism program’ (New York Magazine, 21 mei 2005) om wat voor operaties het zou kunnen gaan. De gespeelde cel waar Wright deel van uitmaakte moet een ongelovige vrouw ontvoeren. ‘When I spot the approaching SUVs, I frantically signal LDR. Gunshots start to crackle. A Marine in our cell charges the lead SUV, screaming, Allah akbar!’

De cel van Wright slaagde in haar opzet, misschien ook de Nederlandse DSI/AIVD terroristencel, want dinsdagochtend ‘volgde een presentatie over middelen tot overwinning.’ De rest van de dag stond in het teken van interne veiligheid en de financiering van de terreur. Na het avondeten kwam een gastspreker een lezing houden.

De Nederlanders hebben de ontvoering ook nagespeeld, want laat die avond werd er gesproken over losgeld. ‘De groepering die hem had ontvoerd, wilde losgeld van de […] Geld was ook het motief van deze ontvoering. Er was geen sprake van een religieus uitgangspunt’, vermeldt pagina 8 van het dossier dat de minister van Veiligheid en Justitie openbaar heeft gemaakt.

Woensdag 1 april is ‘net als voorgaande dagen’, vermeldt het verslag. ‘Ochtendgebed, les in de Arabische taal en …’ iets dat geheim blijft. Wright die de training heeft meegemaakt, beschrijft in zijn artikel Camp Jihad dat deze leek op een ‘Renaissance Faire’, zoals de Elf Fantasy Fair in slot Haarzuilens bij Utrecht.

Wright: ‘Whether a week spent wearing Arab head garb and shooting AK-47s will actually help cops and soldiers plumb the complexities of our enemies’ hearts and minds is an open question. […] But when I first witness my fellow students donning their scarves, some of them shouting, for comic effect, ‘Praise Allah!’ in their best Ali G accents, I momentarily feel as if I’ve entered a weird, terrorist-camp version of a suburban Renaissance Faire.’

Andrew Garfield

De training had echter niet alleen een speels karakter, er moest de deelnemers ook wat bijgebracht worden. Naast de lezing op dinsdagavond volgde woensdagmiddag een gedragswetenschapper die een lezing hield over de ‘mindset in het Midden-Oosten’. De minister schrijft, in antwoord op een bezwaarprocedure in het kader van de Wet Openbaarheid van Bestuur (Wob), dat de naam van deze wetenschapper niet meer te achterhalen valt.

Gedurende de training waar Wright echter aan deelnam, kwam Andrew Garfield, een oud Britse inlichtingenfunctionaris, als spreker opdraven die in het kader van de Terrorist Fair leuk meespeelde in de creatie van het cel-denken. ‘Our Jihad is succeeding beyond our wildest expectations. Look at how the Americans are blundering around in Iraq, filling our ranks with new recruits.’

Garfield duidde in zijn rol als ‘terroristen-expert’ op het lompe gedrag van de Amerikanen in Afghanistan, Irak en elders. De boodschap van Garfield bij de Mirror Image training was enigszins surrealistisch. Zo zei hij tegen Wright dat ‘killing terrorists or insurgents will not kill the movement.’ Waarom is de training er dan opgericht om terroristen nader te begrijpen om hen te bestrijden?

Gezien het respectloze gedrag van Blackwater-medewerkers in Irak en Afghanistan, waarbij slachtoffers vielen, is de grote vraag of het bedrijf überhaupt wel in staat is om de ‘mindset in het Midden-Oosten’ te beschrijven. Het kan al niet eens normaal omgaan met burgers, zoals blijkt uit de films die Harper’s Magazine online heeft geplaatst.

Het feit dat het bedrijf in de afgelopen jaren talrijke naamsveranderingen heeft ondergaan – Blackwater, Xe Services, Paravant LLC, Greystone Limited, XPG, Raven, Constellation, Total Intelligence Solutions, EP Investments, US Training Center, GSD manufacturing, Presidenial Airlines, Select PTC, Academi, R2, Reflex Responses etc. – duidt er tevens op dat het haar naam niet wil verbeteren, maar de aandacht wil afleiden van de vele mensenrechtenschendingen en andere vergrijpen van haar medewerkers. De mindset van Blackwater is het probleem, en daarmee de Mirror Image training.

De een na laatste dag van de training stond in het teken van de finale. Woensdagavond werd het ‘plan voorgelegd aan een militaire raad’ en donderdag was ‘het de bedoeling om het getrainde in wedstrijdvorm in praktijk te brengen.’ Die dag verliep een beetje rommelig, want naast de wedstrijd gaat het ook over de ‘zelfmoordaanslagen in de metro van Londen op 7 juli 2005’, ‘de politieactie van 22 juli 2005 op metrostation Stockwell’ (het doodschieten van de Braziliaan Jean Charles de Menezes), ‘een blik op de toekomst’, de ‘documentaire Meeting Resistance’ en als afsluiting het ‘martelaarsfeest’.

Geheime conclusies

Veel informatie werd via de Wob-procedure niet vrij gekregen omdat er anders er een mirror mirror image training kon worden georganiseerd om de training van de KLPD’ers en de AIVD’ers te spiegelen. De conclusies worden ons volledig onthouden, maar het beeld van de training dat op basis van verschillende artikelen boven komt drijven, is dat van het spel ‘vlag veroveren plus’, met veel testosteron.

Misschien verklaart de training wel de aanpak van de inval van het belhuis in Rotterdam op Kerstavond 2010. Vraag is alleen of dit iets te maken heeft met het winnen van hearts and minds of het slechten van de oorlog tegen de terreur. Misschien is dat laatste echter in het geheel niet de bedoeling.

Wright sprak een van de mirror image trainers Frank Willoughby, specialist in hinderlagen en Improvised Explosive Devices, geïmproviseerde bommen. Willoughby staat symbool voor de vercommercialisering van oorlog. ‘The prospect of mounting chaos seems, frankly, to excite some instructors. At times, Frank Willoughby is unable to conceal how glad he is that the war on terrorism promises to be endless. […] Punching his fist into his hand, he adds, ‘Soon as they hit us 9/11’, I told my wife, ‘the game is on!’, schrijft Wright in Camp Jihad.

Blackwater’s verderfelijke reputatie is een reden om niet met het bedrijf in zee te gaan. Maar een belangrijkere conclusie van dit verhaal is dat de belangen van de private sector niet gericht zijn op vrede. Zij willen oorlog en chaos creëren, omdat dat nu eenmaal de voorwaarden zijn om geld mee te verdienen. Een politiedienst die in deze voetsporen treedt, roept bij elke deur die nutteloos wordt opengetrapt, net als Willoughby, the game is on.

Find this story at 19 June 2012

Into Africa: Ex-navy SEAL sets trail for investors: Erik Prince of Blackwater fame has set up a company that will be the ‘search radar’ to help firms manage the risks of investing there

Investors going to Africa face political risk in some countries and the very bad transportation and infrastructure, says Erik Prince. Photo: SCMP

The man who built up Blackwater – the giant private security force that guarded US diplomats in some of the world’s most dangerous places, including Afghanistan and Iraq – sees Africa as his future.

After Erik Prince sold his firm to investors about two years ago, the former officer in the Navy SEALs – the special US military force that killed Osama bin Laden last year – set up a new company called Frontier Resource Group (FRG) early this year.

FRG is an Africa-dedicated investment firm partnered with major Chinese enterprises, including at least one state-owned resource giant that is keen to pour money into the resource-rich continent.

“Africa is so far the most unexplored part of the world, and I think China has seen a lot of promise in Africa,” Prince said during a brief trip to Hong Kong last week to meet potential Chinese investors and partners. “But the problem is if you go alone, you bear the country risk on your own. You have to get support and maintenance there,” Prince, FRG’s managing partner, told the South China Morning Post in an exclusive interview.

Despite the geographical distance, economic and diplomatic ties between Beijing and many African countries have rapidly strengthened in the past decade.

Earlier this year, Beijing pledged US$20 billion in credit to African governments over the next three years.

Most of the money is to be used to support the development of infrastructure, agriculture, manufacturing and small businesses in Africa.

Prince, who credits the Navy SEALs with bringing out his entrepreneurial spirit, said there were two main risks that perhaps every businessman in Africa must face.

The first one is the political risk in some countries, and the second is the very bad transportation and infrastructure, which means a high cost of doing business there.

“If you can’t get to market cheaply enough, that’s not interesting,” Prince said.

Many foreign investors came to Africa purely for its natural resources, he said, but they forgot that transporting those resources was as important as exploring and producing them.

Prince, who works and lives in Abu Dhabi, where FRG is headquartered, said investing in Africa’s infrastructure, energy facilities and commercial agriculture to meet the local people’s basic needs of work and life should mean as much as investing directly in natural resources.

In July, FRG made the first closing of its first Africa-dedicated private equity fund, having raised US$100 million in a few months.

Prince committed some money himself to the fund to demonstrate a strong, long-term commitment to investing in the continent.

Following the first closing, Prince was invited by sovereign wealth funds, rich families and big banks in Asia, including some from Hong Kong and the mainland, to advise them on investment opportunities in Africa. Some wanted to put money into FRG’s first fund.

Now the firm aimed to raise an additional US$400 million by the first quarter of next year to close the capital-raising period of the fund, Prince said.

He said he was “selective” about his investors, as he only wanted to bring in those who could add value to FRG and its projects in Africa.

In 1997, Prince set up Blackwater, initially with his own money. That company received more than US$2 billion in contracts from US government agencies, including the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

When asked how he turned Blackwater into a business success, Prince said Blackwater was a part of his history and Africa meant the future for him.

However, he said his experience in the SEALs and Blackwater developed his operational expertise for doing business in Africa.

“People come to Africa to help [Africans] to build up the capabilities there and to show them both know-how and capital,” he said. “Our job is to put all these things together and make them good investment opportunities.”

Monday, 19 November, 2012, 12:00am

George Chen

Find this story at 19 November 2012

Copyright © 2012 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Is CIA Lying About its Blackwater Contacts?

After CIA director Leon Panetta revealed last summer that private contractor Blackwater was part of a covert CIA hit squad, tasked with summary killings and assassinations of al-Qaeda operatives, the CIA vowed to sever its contacts with the trigger-happy security firm. But did it do so? It doesn’t look like it. Last November, it became known that the company, (recently renamed Xe Services) remains part of a covert CIA program in Pakistan that includes planned assassinations and kidnappings of Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects. More recently, it was revealed that two of the seven Americans who died in the December 30 bomb attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, were actually Blackwater employees subcontracted by the CIA.

The question is, why were these two Blackwater employees present during a sensitive security debriefing at the base, involving the entire leadership of the CIA team there, and even the Agency’s second-in-command in Afghanistan? As Nation magazine’s Jeremy Scahill correctly points out, “the fact that two Blackwater personnel were in such close proximity to the […] suicide bomber shows how deeply enmeshed Blackwater remains in sensitive CIA operations, including those CIA officials claim it no longer participates in, such as intelligence gathering and briefings with valuable agency assets”.

January 8, 2010 by intelNews 11 Comments

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Find this story at 8 Januari 2010 

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.

Erik Prince, founder of the Blackwater security firm (recently renamed Xe), at the company’s Virginia offices. Photograph by Nigel Parry.

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.

Prince in the tactical-operations center at a company base in Kabul. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.”

Blackwater outpost near the Pakistan border, used for training Afghan police. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.

Prince at a Kandahar airfield. Photograph Adam Ferguson.

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.”

E
rik 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.

A Blackwater aircraft en route to drop supplies to U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan in September. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.

Prince in his Virginia office. His company took in more than $1 billion from government contracts during the George W. Bush era. Photograph by Nigel Parry.

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.”

W
hen 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.”

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.

Prince in the tactical-operations center at a company base in Kabul. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.”

Blackwater outpost near the Pakistan border, used for training Afghan police. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.

Prince at a Kandahar airfield. Photograph Adam Ferguson.

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.”

E
rik 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.

A Blackwater aircraft en route to drop supplies to U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan in September. Photograph by Adam Ferguson.

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.

Prince in his Virginia office. His company took in more than $1 billion from government contracts during the George W. Bush era. Photograph by Nigel Parry.

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.”

W
hen 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

By Adam Ciralsky

Find this story at Januari 2010

 

Vanity Fair © Condé Nast Digital. Your California Privacy Rights.

Blackwater/Academy settles weapons-smuggling charges

In the eyes of many, the United States-based security firm formerly known as Blackwater is synonymous with ‘scandal’. Founded in 1997 by self-confessed CIA agent Erik Prince, the company was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in non-competitive contract bids by the Bush administration, to provide wide-ranging security services in Iraq. But the company’s ‘shoot-first-ask-questions-later’ attitude resulted in numerous bloody incidents in the country, including the 2007 Nisur Square massacre, in which at least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed by trigger-happy Blackwater guards. In 2009, a frustrated US Department of State refused to renew the company’s governmental contracts, after which Blackwater terminated its partnership with the US government (or did it?). What is perhaps less known about the company, now renamed to Academi LLC, is that it has for years been the subject of several investigations by US authorities for a host of criminal offences, ranging from selling secret plans to foreign governments to illicit weapons trafficking. According to court documents unsealed yesterday at the United States District Court in New Bern, North Carolina, Academi has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle some of these charges. Under the agreement, the company has owned up to 17 different criminal violations with which it was charged after a five-year multi-agency federal investigation led by the Department of Justice. The charges include possessing unregistered fully automatic weapons in the US, illegally exporting encrypted satellite-telephone hardware to Sudan, training foreign nationals without a license, giving classified documents to foreign governments, as well as selling weapons to the Kingdom of Jordan without US government authorization and then lying about it to US federal firearms officials. It is worth noting that yesterday’s settlement was in addition to a separate $42 million settlement agreed in 2010 with the US Department of State. The latter had charged Blackwater/Academi with violating the US Arms Export Control and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations Acts. Interestingly, the attorney for the US government, Thomas G. Walker, chose his words carefully yesterday in speaking publicly about the case. He said that the proceedings concluded “a lengthy and complex investigation into a company which has provided valuable services to the United States government, but which, at times, and in many ways, failed to comply with important laws and regulations concerning how we, as a country, interact with our international allies and adversaries”. But some of the investigators who actually worked on the ground in the case were far less diplomatic in their court testimony. Jeannine A. Hammett, a Special Agent and Criminal Investigator with the Internal Revenue Service, accused Blackwater/Academi’s senior leadership of breaking the trust of the American public by committing crimes “to line their own pockets”.

August 8, 2012 by intelNews 1 Comment

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Find this story at 8 August 2012

New Blackwater Iraq Scandal: Guns, Silencers and Dog Food

Ex-employees Tell ABC News the Firm Used Dog Food Sacks to Smuggle Unauthorized Weapons to Iraq

A federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food, ABCNews.com has learned.

Under State Department rules, Blackwater is prohibited from using certain assault weapons and silencers in Iraq because they are considered “offensive” weapons inappropriate for Blackwater’s role as a private security firm protecting US diplomatic missions.

“The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” said former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou, an ABC News consultant.

Six Blackwater employees are under investigation by another federal grand jury, in Washington, D.C., in connection with the shooting deaths of at least 17 civilians in September 2007 at a Baghdad traffic circle. Prosecutors are expected to return indictments in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the case.

The investigation of the alleged dog food smuggling scheme began last year after two Blackwater employees were caught trying to sell stolen weapons in North Carolina. The two, Kenneth Cashwell and William “Max” Grumiaux pleaded guilty in February and became government witnesses, according to court documents.

Two other former employees tell ABCNews.com they also witnessed the dog food smuggling operation. They say the weapons were actually hidden inside large sacks of dog food, packaged at company headquarters in North Carolina and sent to Iraq for the company’s 20 bomb-sniffing dogs.

Larger items, including M-4 assault weapons, were secreted on shipping pallets surrounded by stacks of dog food bags, the former employees said. The entire pallet would be wrapped in cellophane shrink wrap, the former employees said, making it less likely US Customs inspectors would look too closely.

In a statement, Blackwater did not address directly the allegations involving silencers but says “all firearms shipped to Iraq by Blackwater were given proper US government license.” The statement denied Blackwater owned or possessed any M4 weapons in Iraq.

US Army officials told ABCNews.com earlier this year, at least one Blackwater M4 weapon was discovered during a raid on an suspected insurgent location in Iraq.

Last year, a US Department of Commerce inspector at JFK airport in New York discovered a two-way radio hidden in a dog food sack being shipped by Blackwater to Iraq, according to people familiar with the incident.

Blackwater says the radio did not need a license and was hidden among the dog food sacks, not inside the dog food.

The company says it is a common practice “to prevent corrupt foreign customs agents and shipping workers from stealing the valuables.”

In addition to the grand jury investigation, Blackwater sources say the company is facing a multi-million dollar fine for some 900 instances in which it violated State Department licensing requirements for the export of certain weapons and technical know-how.

Blackwater acknowledged in its statements “numerous mistakes in complex and demanding area of export compliance,” saying most of the violations were failures of paperwork not “nefarious smuggling.”

Of the 900 cases, about 100 of them have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution, according to lawyers briefed on the case.

By BRIAN ROSS and JASON RYAN

November 14, 2008—

Find this story at 14 November 2008

Copyright © 2012 ABC News Internet Ventures

Why did US Government Take Blackwater to Court?

Last week I gave a live television interview to the main news program of RT, about the company formerly known as Blackwater. As intelNews reported on August 8, the private military outfit, which rebranded itself to Academi in late 2011, agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle no fewer than 17 violations of United States federal laws, including several charges of illegal weapons exports. This was hardly the first time that the scandal-prone company made headlines for breaking the law. Last week’s settlement followed a separate $42 million settlement agreed in 2010 with the US Department of State. The latter had charged Blackwater/Academi with violating the US Arms Export Control and International Trafficking in Arms Regulations Acts. Those familiar with the murky world of private military contractors are aware that these companies are often hired by governments precisely because they are willing and able to break the law in pursuit of tactical directives. In fact, the main difference between Blackwater/Academi and other private military contractors is not its disregard for legal boundaries, but the lack of discretion with which it keeps breaking the law. This is precisely the reason why it regularly finds itself charged with a host of different criminal violations.

Now, there is little doubt that the services Blackwater/Academi provided to the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan far exceeded things such as VIP protection or tactical training. In one typical case, the company was found to have illegally shipped to Iraq weapon silencers, hidden among sacks of dog food intended for its K-9 unit. As I told RT news, one does not have to be an expert on the operational side of intelligence to realize that there is really only one thing you need gun silencers for —and it’s not VIP protection.

But if Blackwater/Academi resorted to breaking the law in order to assist the US government’s military or intelligence objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, why was it taken to court by that very government? The answer, as I told RT, has to do with the fact that governments —including America’s— are not monolithic. They are complex amalgamations of actors, often with competing interests, who fight for bureaucratic dominance as often as they collaborate in pursuit of common goals.

Blackwater/Academi is a case in point: the company has for over a decade had a very cozy relationship with certain elements of the US government apparatus, notably the CIA, the George W. Bush White House, and some offices in the State Department. But other governmental interest groups, including parts of the Pentagon, the Internal Revenue Service, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have been skeptical about Blackwater/Academi’s operations since even before 9/11. It is not surprising, therefore, that government agencies like the IRS or the FBI examine Blackwater/Academi’s role with reference to their own, narrow administrative goals, while disregarding the broader strategic benefits that others in the US government may attribute to these very operations. It is plausible, for instance, that by presenting the King of Jordan with a birthday present consisting of a case of state-of-the-art fully automatic weapons, Blackwater/Academi was acting as a conduit for the US Department of State or the CIA. The FBI, which has always considered Blackwater/Academi as a band of mercenary cowboys, could care less about the relationship between the Royal House of Jordan and the State Department. It therefore takes the company to court, and as in fact it did, for illegally exporting weapons to a foreign country.

August 13, 2012 by intelNews

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |

Find this story at 13 August 2012

ACADEMI — ex-Blackwater — Boosts State Dept Business, Eyes Acquisitions: EXCLUSIVE

ARLINGTON, VA: How confident is the new management at private security contractor ACADEMI — formerly known as Xe and, also, infamously, as Blackwater — that they’ve turned the company around?

Last month, apparently without attracting any public attention (until now), they quietly bought another security firm, International Development Solutions, and took over its piece of the State Department’s $10 billion World Protective Services contract, which then-Blackwater got kicked out of years ago.

And ACADEMI plans on further acquisitions, CEO Ted Wright confirmed in an exclusive interview with AOL Defense.

The company has spent a year rebuilding and is set to grow again, said Wright, who took over in June 2011. (He was hired by a new ownership team that bought out Blackwater founder Erik Prince the previous December). “The things we said we were going to do a year ago, we’ve kind of done,” said Wright, just back from visiting employees in Afghanistan.

Since he started, the company has not only a new name but a new management team, a new board of directors — in fact it didn’t even have a board before — and a new corporate headquarters in Arlington, looking across the Potomac River straight at the headquarters of the State Department. Many of the employees doing security work in the field are new, Wright said, and the core of ACADEMI’s business, its training cadre, has turned over almost completely: Only about 10 instructors remain from the old days, compared to 30 new hires, with another 20 on the way.

“After a year, back office is good, governance is good, and now we’re beginning to grow,” Wright said. “Now we’re going to be acquisitive.”

Wright downplayed the acquisition of International Development Solutions as a first step, more consolidation than expansion. IDS was not a truly independent company but a joint venture that ACADEMI co-founded, subcontracted for, and already owned 49% percent of. Critics in Congress and the media even called IDS a “shell company” and a “front,” created as a cut-out so the ACADEMI / Xe / Blackwater name would not appear on State Department contracts, though Wright said ACADEMI always did some work directly for State. The main difference is that ACADEMI was a subcontractor on the World Protective Services program, but now it will be a prime contractor working directly for State. (The State Department did not return multiple calls and emails requesting comment; we will update this story when and if they do).

“The people in the field doing the work [for State], they’re employes of IDS and they’ll become employees of ACADEMI,” said Wright. “That was the reason I was just in Afghanistan, to go to talk to the employees. [For them] there’s no difference at all, zero….The only difference is the administrative functions that were split between us and the other company now are just all us.” In terms of both personnel and revenue, he said, absorbing IDS only grows ACADEMI by “10 or 15 percent.”

Wright has much bigger targets in mind. “[We’ll] maybe buy companies that give us new capabilities,” he said,” or spread us to a new location like maybe the Pacific or Latin America or Africa.” ACADEMI is already standing up a new training site in North Africa, he said, while its existing site in Afghanistan, called “Camp Integrity,” is “about to double in size,” from under 200 to 300 to 400 people, with an influx of new Special Operations customers Wright declined to talk about in any detail. Last month, the company started a new branch, ACADEMI Consulting Services, aimed at commercial clients — “oil and gas, multi-nationals, high net-worth individuals”: ACADEMI only does about $15 million a year for such non-governmental customers currently, Wright said, but he expects rapid growth. Some day, Wright even hopes to get back into business in Iraq, where the company is currently banned.

So while the US military is out of Iraq and drawing down, albeit slowly, in Afghanistan, Wright said, that doesn’t mean ACADEMI will shrink. To the contrary: Wright plans to grow. After all, the State Department, other civilian agencies, and the private sector are still in dangerous places, only with fewer US troops deployed to protect them. “We’ve got some very stable customers that have enduring requirements for security in Afghanistan,” said Wright. “Our business is not going going to shrink quickly.” While some private security contractors will ultimately go out of business, he predicted, ACADEMI will be trying to buy them up. “The industry will now consolidate,” he said. “The strong will survive: We intend to be one of those.”

The company once called Blackwater isn’t going away. But what about the culture that permitted its infamous abuses — mistreatment of Afghan and Iraqi civilians, misappropriation of weapons, drug use, drinking, and the killing of at least 14 innocent Iraqis in 2007 in Baghdad’s Nisour Square?

Find this story at 8 june 2012

By Sydney J. Freedberg Jr.

Published: June 8, 2012

© Copyright 2012 AOL Inc. All Rights Reserved.