Black Water

Blackwater: Profitable Patriotism

Blackwater USA President Gary Jackson, a former SEAL, exudes a can-do spirit that radiates through the company. MORT FRYMAN / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

© July 24, 2006

MOYOCK, N.C. — Not many companies can point to a 598-pound stuffed black bear in the lobby and say it was shot right on the corporate grounds.

Then again, not many have a 7,000-acre headquarters on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Right paw raised high, jaws frozen open, the bear is the star attraction in “the lodge,” a rustic log building in the heart of the Blackwater USA complex. The bear was shot in 2000 by a worker hunting on the property.

That was a bad year for the bear, but a big one for Blackwater. The company had spent its first three years struggling for an identity, paying staff with an executive’s credit card and begging for customers.

But in 2000, in the fallout from the terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, Blackwater found its future: providing security in an increasingly insecure world.

There is nothing humble about the company today. In March, Fast Company business magazine, under the heading “Private Army,” named Blackwater President Gary Jackson No. 11 in its annual “Fast 50” list of leaders who are “writing the history of the next 10 years.” It made special note of the company’s estimated 600 percent revenue growth between 2002 and 2005.

Blackwater has rocketed from obscurity to the big time in less than a decade. Peter Singer, author of “Corporate Warriors” and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says that although Blackwater might not be the biggest player in the private military industry, “they’ve certainly gained the biggest profile.”

They’ve done it with deep-pocket backing, high-powered political connections and an uncanny knack for capitalizing on the violent milestones of a turbulent time.

The way Jackson sees it, there are two kinds of people in the world:

“Talkers and doers,” he said, with a heavy emphasis on the D-word.

It’s easy to guess which one Jackson is – and, for that matter, just about everyone else at Blackwater.

“That’s what stands special operations out in the U.S. military,” said Jackson, a former Navy SEAL. “Those guys are doing stuff every single day. … And that’s where we come from. We are about doing.”

Special ops is most definitely where Blackwater comes from. The founders were all SEALs, including Al Clark, one of the first to envision the place.

In the early 1990s, Clark was a SEALs trainer based in Virginia Beach. He was frustrated by the lack of training sites for the elite sailors. The shortage forced the SEALs to borrow a patchwork of facilities from other military services.

Clark decided that once his Navy hitch was over, he wanted to open “a place where everything was together … kind of like one-stop shopping.”

In 1995, Clark mentioned his idea to a baby-faced sailor he was training at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base: Erik Prince.

Prince, it turned out, had been thinking along the same lines.

As his SEAL career took him to Haiti, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Prince said, he realized the men were not getting “the cutting-edge training they needed to ensure success.”

“In a letter home while I was deployed, I outlined the vision that is today Blackwater,” the media-shy Prince said in a rare e-mail interview last week.

Prince and Clark mapped out plans for more than a year.

“Finally I asked him, ‘Well, who’s going to pay for all this?’” Clark said. “He said, ‘The Prince Group.’ I’m like, ‘Who’s the Prince Group?’”

That’s when Clark discovered Prince was no ordinary SEAL. He was a SEAL with money – heir to a Michigan auto parts fortune.

Prince’s father had recently died. “I was in the unusual position after the sale of the family business to self-fund this endeavor,” Prince said.

Clark recalled asking Prince how much it would take.

“He said, ‘Let’s start with a million and see where it takes us,’” Clark said. “All I could think was, ‘Wow. Cool.’”

The two began scouting for a location, settling on northeastern North Carolina because it offered ample land relatively close to three major military centers: Hampton Roads, Washington and Fort Bragg, N.C.

As they zeroed in on specific parcels near the Great Dismal Swamp, Clark noticed something.

Blackwater’s new headquarters building anchors a sprawling compound half the size of Manhattan. The complex includes 40 gun ranges, two mock ships and a small make-believe town. There are plans to build a 30-acre mock city that can be configured to mimic any urban area. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

“All the water on the property looked black,” he recalled. “It’s colored by the peat.”

And the company name was born. On Dec. 26, 1996, Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. was formed.

A month later, the company bought land in Currituck and Camden counties. Plans called for the major construction to occur on the Currituck side of the line, but local opposition sent the growth in the other direction, to the west.

Small and rural, Camden welcomed the development. Maj. John Worthington, a chief deputy with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, was chairman of the county’s zoning board at the time.

“I was skeptical at first,” said Worthington, who is also a part-time instructor at Blackwater now. “So were a lot of people. We just didn’t know what they were. There was some worry that they might be some militant group, like that Randy Weaver guy in Idaho.”

But Worthington said Prince and the Blackwater people won over Camden County officials.

“Currituck really missed the boat on this one,” Worthington said.

Blackwater is now easily Camden County’s biggest taxpayer and employer, with a compound half the size of Manhattan and 450 permanent employees – not counting its database of more than 14,000 independent contractors.

Video: Training at Blackwater Academy

Q&A: Interview with Blackwater founder Erik Prince

Not everyone is thrilled with the company’s growth. Neighbors have complained about noise, traffic and proximity to firing ranges.

For the past two years, Susan Zimmerman has lived in a neighborhood just off Puddin Ridge Road, which leads to Blackwater’s main entrance.

“There is so much traffic going in and out of there now,” she said. “And if you think about the munitions going up and down our residential road, it’s pretty frightening.”

Zimmerman said she also hears more noise from the compound these days.

“You hear what sounds like big bombs going off,” she said. “It scares the bejeebers out of you.”

When Jackson got wind of the plans for Blackwater, he was nearing the end of a 23-year Navy career.

At the time, he was officer in charge of a counter-drug platoon in the Bahamas. He had been priming himself for civilian life by learning to write computer code and create Web pages.

“So I wrote a Web site and mailed it to Erik Prince on a 3½-inch disk,” he said. “We still have that disk, by the way. It’s terrible. But this was nine years ago, and they loved it.

“They hired me basically as a jack of all trades. I transitioned to the civilian world in about 24 hours.”

Jackson would eventually rise through the ranks, all the way to president. With CEO Prince choosing to stay out of the public eye, Jackson often plays the role of top-ranking spokesman for Blackwater.

The lean and lanky Jackson is the ultimate “doer,” swimming two miles most mornings in the lake in front of the headquarters and jogging on lunch breaks. His intensity ripples through the organization, setting a full-tilt pace for others to follow.

Joining Jackson on his daily swims and runs are Blackwater executive vice president Bill Mathews and vice president Chris Taylor. Other company executives frequently come along. Mathews says Jackson revels in their occasional “1-percenter days.”

“When we finish a run on a 100-degree day,” Mathews said, “he’ll say something like, ‘We just did something that only 1 percent of the population would do.’”

Jackson has been known to offer a $1,000 bounty to Blackwater employees who will quit smoking for a year.

He recalls the early, rocky days at Blackwater. At first, its founders envisioned a training center serving a 50-50 split of military and civilians.

SET YOUR SIGHTS ON ADVENTURE, an early billboard screamed in fluorescent green letters, aimed at weekend warriors seeking fun with guns.

“We tried everything trying to make this business go forward,” Jackson said. “We started building our own target systems because the commercial stuff that we bought off the shelf was not holding up. For years two and three, that was really the major cash flow that was coming in here.”

Even with the luxury of Prince’s financial backing, “we were a very small business in the beginning,” Jackson said. “We counted our pennies.”

Initially working out of an office on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach, Jackson remembers times when he paid the staff with his American Express card while waiting for the next advance from the home office.

“We did the Motel 6 thing,” he said. “I personally drove tens of thousands of miles dragging stuff up and down the eastern seaboard. I got kicked out of trade shows because I couldn’t afford to pay for a table but I was in there guerrilla marketing.”

Ultimately, Blackwater’s struggle to forge its identity resulted in a parting of the ways between Prince and his early collaborator Clark, who left the company in 2000.

“Just call it philosophical differences,” Clark said, declining to elaborate.

Blackwater is all about the bear – from its logo to this specimen shot on company grounds in 2000. The nearly 600-pounder greets visitors in the lobby of “the lodge” in the heart of the Blackwater compound. Bears still roam the 7,000-acre property – only 500 of which are developed. CHRIS CURRY/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

The turning point for Blackwater came with the October 2000 suicide bombing of the Norfolk-based Cole. The al-Qaida terrorist attack, in the port of Aden, Yemen, killed 17 sailors.

“Osama bin Laden turned Blackwater into what it is today,” Clark said.

The Cole bombing settled the company’s internal debate: Blackwater would quit foraging for civilian business and start going for federal contracts in a big way.

“We were at about 20-something emplyees,”  Jackson said.  “The Cole was bombed, and the 

 Navy did a bottom-up review and looked at their processes, their procedures, their tactics, and they found out that there were some glaring holes. The young sailor was not getting the training with live firearms.”

The Navy, along with the other services, had been downsized in anticipation of a post-Cold War “peace dividend.”

“They lost most of their firearms instructors,” Jackson said. “So they called us up and asked us, could we train up to 20,000 students in a prescribed amount of time … and I said, ‘Sure.’ And we did it.”

Blackwater trained 50,000 sailors under that five-year contract. Today, it trains more than 40,000 people a year from a variety of agencies – including all the military services – at its Moyock compound, which it says is the largest tactical training facility in the world. At least 90 percent of its revenue comes from government contracts.


While the company had struggled early on, its timing was excellent. Several forces had created a perfect storm for the rise of the private military industry.

Instead of peace, the end of the Cold War created a power vacuum and a chaotic world order, putting millions of former soldiers out on the market. At the same time, there was a growing trend toward privatization of government functions. The result: a $100 billion-a-year global business.

Most of the work is mundane, supporting troops in the field by cooking the meals, doing the laundry and driving the trucks. Blackwater’s sliver of the industry – accounting for roughly 5 percent of total revenues – provides tactical military services. Other major players in that field include DynCorp International and Triple Canopy in the United States and ArmorGroup International and Aegis Defense Services in Britain.

In the lingo of military wonks, Blackwater and its competitors are at the “tip of the spear.”


When al-Qaida upped the stakes with the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, Blackwater’s business model shifted again.

In the year since the Cole attack, training had dominated the company’s mission. After 9/11, the focus began to veer toward on-the-ground security services.

January 2002 brought the start-up of a new division, Blackwater Security Consulting, which quickly landed its first assignment, a classified contract still in force today. The company won’t talk about who the client is or what the work entails.

It is known that Blackwater security teams have been dispatched to the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa.

Contacts can help pave the way for work. Private military companies often pepper their ranks with influential names, and Blackwater plays that game as well as anyone. Last year Prince, a major Republican campaign contributor, snagged two heavyweights as they came through Washington’s revolving doors.

Cofer Black, a career CIA and State Department official, is now Blackwater’s vice chairman. Joseph Schmitz, a former inspector general at the Pentagon, is the Prince Group’s chief operating officer and general counsel.

Connections are desirable at any level. Blackwater employee Gloria Shytles recently won a Republican primary for a seat on Currituck County’s Board of Commissioners. Shytles is one of the company’s “lead detailers,” responsible for matching contractors with missions.

As Blackwater’s federal contracts have soared into the hundreds of millions, its revenues and profits can only be guessed at, since the company is privately held.

But Blackwater says it’s more about patriotism than profit.

“We’re a force for good,” said Taylor, a beefy former Marine who has been with the company four years. “We are working in support of freedom and democracy around the world.

“It’s intoxicating. This is the best place to work in the world.”

It got even better in March 2003, when President Bush expanded the “global war on terror” to Iraq, providing yet more fuel for Blackwater’s meteoric rise.

It also got more complicated.

A Blackwater helicopter flies over Baghdad in April 2004. The growing presence of private security companies is stirring up questions over objectives, coordination and accountability. Contractors are generally immune from Iraqi law for acts performed in carrying out their contracts. PATRICK BAZ/AFP/GETTY IMAGES


On May 1, 2003, President Bush stood on the deck of the aircraft carrier Lincoln under a “Mission Accomplished” banner and declared: “Major combat operations in Iraq have ended.”

But it was just the beginning for private military companies and their missions in Iraq.

U.S. government agencies coming in to rebuild the shattered country expected a benign environment. Instead, they found a cauldron of violence. As insurgent attacks steadily escalated, millions of dollars were diverted from reconstruction to security, opening up a huge new market for the private military industry.

One of the first companies to jump in was Blackwater USA.

Executives of the North Carolina-based company landed a meeting with Paul Bremer III, the diplomat chosen by Bush to head the Coalition Provisional Authority, Iraq’s interim government.

“Nobody had really figured out exactly how they were going to get him from D.C. and stand him up in Iraq,” Blackwater President Gary Jackson said. “The Secret Service went over and did an assessment and said, ‘You know what? It’s much, much more dangerous than any of us believed.’ So they came back to us.”

In August 2003, Blackwater was awarded a $21 million no-bid contract to guard Bremer, and U.S. agencies have been tapping the Blackwater well ever since. The company now has about 1,000 contractors in Iraq – the most it has ever had.

Other players also have rushed in to meet the demand. Last month, the government estimated that there were at least 180 security companies operating in Iraq with more than 48,000 employees – the largest private military deployment in history.

In the first Gulf War 15 years ago, the ratio of private contractors to troops was 1 to 60; in the current war, it’s 1 to 3.

In fact, the private sector has put more boots on the ground in Iraq than all of the United States’ coalition partners combined. One scholar, Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, suggests that Bush’s “coalition of the willing” would be more aptly described as the “coalition of the billing.”

Those bills are in the billions and rising.

Blackwater alone has won $505 million in publicly identifiable federal contracts since 2000, according to an online government database. About two-thirds of that amount was in no-bid contracts.

The bulk of those are with the State Department, which has used the company to guard its ambassadors in Iraq since Bremer’s provisional government was disbanded in mid-2004.

Federal regulations allow agencies to bypass competitive bidding in cases of “unusual and compelling urgency” – which just happens to be Blackwater’s stock in trade.

“When there is a crisis,” Jackson said, “they have a tendency to call us first.”

Why does Blackwater get so much federal work? Company officials say it’s because of their strong track record. The organization’s high-level political connections certainly don’t hurt.

Blackwater declined to discuss the particulars of its work in Iraq, but Brian Leventhal, a State Department spokesman, said the company’s contracts were awarded under “emergency conditions.” Competitive bids were sought in May and are now being reviewed, he said.

The mushrooming presence of private security contractors on the battlefield is uncharted territory, spawning a difficult set of questions about conflicting objectives, poor coordination and lack of accountability.

As the United States and the global community struggle for answers, Blackwater – once again – finds itself in the middle of the fray.


In Iraq, Blackwater’s security teams stepped into a world that has been widely compared to the Wild West.

In defense-speak, it’s a “complex battle space,” shared by a dizzying array of players: military forces, government agencies, humanitarian groups, contractors, insurgents and Iraqi civilians just trying to get through the day.

When Marine Col. Thomas X. Hammes did a stint in Iraq in early 2004, he encountered them all. Hammes was assigned to help set up bases for the newly reconstituted Iraqi armed forces. On several occasions, he crossed paths with Blackwater convoys escorting Bremer.

They did a professional job, he said, but they used “very aggressive” tactics in protecting the “principal” – security lingo for the VIP under guard, also known as the “package” or “egg.”

“I was in an Iraqi army civilian vehicle at the time so we were treated as Iraqis” by the Blackwater contractors, Hammes said in an e-mail interview. “… The very act of guarding a principal – forcing his convoy through traffic, keeping all Iraqis away from the vehicle – irritated the Iraqis.”

Blackwater accomplished its mission: keeping Bremer alive. But, Hammes said, it did nothing to help further the larger U.S. goal of winning Iraqi hearts and minds.

“The Iraqis perceived the armed contractors as being above the law,” he said. “They felt if a U.S. soldier or Marine did something wrong, he might eventually be held accountable for it. They believed contractors would simply fly out of the country…. They don’t seem to be held responsible by any authority.”

Since the start of the war in March 2003, no private military contractors have been charged with – let alone convicted of – a crime in Iraq.

Unlike military personnel, dozens of whom have been charged with crimes in Iraq, private contractors are not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

Chris Taylor, a Blackwater vice president, said the company doesn’t want its workers subjected to the military justice system because of possible “institutional biases” against contractors.

Under an order issued by Bremer that remains in effect, contractors are also generally immune from Iraqi law for acts performed while carrying out their jobs. Contractors might or might not be covered by civilian U.S. law, depending on which agencies they work for.

According to the Raleigh News & Observer, which reviewed voluntary reports filed with the government during a nine-month period in 2004-05, contractors fired into 61 Iraqi civilian vehicles.

According to a report in the Los Angeles Times, Blackwater contractors fired into a taxi at a Baghdad intersection in May 2005, killing a passenger and wounding the driver. A review by the U.S. Embassy found that two contractors had not followed proper procedures and they were fired, a U.S. official told the newspaper.

Asked about the shooting, Taylor said: “To the best of my knowledge, it didn’t happen.”

Moments after a car bombing last year in Baghdad, a Blackwater helicopter hovers over the area. The company's air fleet consists of 25 planes and choppers, all of which belong to its aviation affiliate, Presidential Airways. MARWAN NAAMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Amid the crazy quilt of actors in the Iraq war zone, trigger-pullers on the same side sometimes end up shooting at each other.

A report last year by the Government Accountability Office, a congressional watchdog agency, found many instances of “blue on white” violence: U.S. troops firing on contractors or, less often, contractors firing on troops. In one five-month period in early 2005, there were 20 such incidents reported. They were so frequent that reports weren’t always filed, investigators were told.

Communication appears to be better these days. The GAO reported that there were just 12 incidents of friendly fire filed from June 2005 to June 2006. But relations between the military and private sectors are still rocky.

U.S. military commanders have authority over private contractors within the confines of military installations. One Army officer told the GAO that his unit had barred some security contractors from the mess hall because they insisted on carrying loaded weapons.

Outside the bases, contractors operate independently of the military chain of command – a fact that gives some officers heartburn. Two examples in the GAO report bear strong resemblance to known Blackwater incidents, but the report did not name the companies involved:

– An Army officer said security providers escorted the Coalition Provisional Authority administrator into his squadron’s area of operations without the military’s knowledge, got involved in a firefight and had to be rescued.

– A division commander didn’t know several contractors were operating in his area until he was instructed to recover the bodies after they had been killed.

Taylor said the establishment of regional operations centers in Iraq where contractors can voluntarily coordinate their activities with military commanders has helped smooth out the rough spots.

“As with anything in a conflict zone, there are speed bumps,” he said. “Lessons are learned. This gets better and better all the time.”

The GAO also found that there are no established U.S. or international standards for contractor training, experience, weapons qualifications or other skills. The International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based trade group of 24 military contractors including Blackwater, agrees standards are needed – with a caveat.

“We’re all for that, but you have to have some flexibility built into the system,” said Doug Brooks, the association’s president. “Most of the work in terms of security is doing things like guarding gates and perimeters. And you really don’t need a James Bond to guard a gate.”

Amnesty International issued a report in May asserting that the United States’ “war outsourcing” has created a “virtual rules-free zone” for contractors. The organization cited a survey of 60 publicly available Iraq military and reconstruction contracts. Not one explicitly required that contractors obey international human rights law.

“There’s a culture of impunity,” said Mila Rosenthal, director of the business and human rights program at Amnesty International USA.

Rosenthal points out that some of the interrogators accused of abuses at Abu Ghraib prison were private contractors. So far, none have been punished.

“It sends the message that you can do whatever you want over there and get away with it,” she said.

No Blackwater personnel were among those implicated in the Abu Ghraib scandal.

Taylor said the training regimen for his company’s contractors includes instruction in ethics and international humanitarian law. Each contractor is given a 55-page handbook that lays out applicable laws regarding murder, torture, humiliating and degrading treatment, human trafficking and destruction of religious and cultural facilities.

“We constantly reinforce to our people their obligations under humanitarian law,” Taylor said. “When there is chaos and conflict, there will always be a difficult environment.”

Taylor acknowledged that because of his company’s high profile, the margin for error is especially small.

“It does not behoove us to cut corners or break laws,” he said. “Everybody’s looking at us. Because we’re Blackwater, we extra can’t do it.”


Concerns about financial accountability are growing right along with the increased workload being shouldered by private military companies.

The GAO found that none of the major federal agencies operating in Iraq – the State Department, the Defense Department or the U.S. Agency for International Development – has complete data on the cost of using private security providers.

There is wide agreement, even within the industry, that the government is ill-equipped to guard against waste, fraud and abuse. In March, a federal jury found Custer Battles, a Northern Virginia-based security company, guilty of defrauding the Iraqi interim government and ordered it to pay more than $10 million in damages and fines.

“If you’re going to outsource this much, you’ve got to have the oversight capability,” said Brooks, the trade-group spokesman. “We’ve downsized our oversight. We don’t have enough contract officers.”

U.S. Rep. David Price, D-N.C., one of several members of Congress who have taken an interest in the issue, has been trying for a year to get a contractor-oversight bill enacted.

“The administration needs to get its act together on this,” Price said. “There’s been a certain kind of legal twilight zone that these guys have been operating in, and the military commanders have too often, it seems, not known exactly what was going on.”

Congressional frustration boiled over at a hearing in Washington last month when members of a House subcommittee grilled security company spokesmen and government officials for five hours.

Blackwater’s Taylor and representatives of two other companies were peppered with questions about their revenues, contracts, training and hiring practices.

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., said there is an “astonishing lack of accountability for the billions of dollars being spent on private security contractors.”

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., complained that he asked the Pentagon 18 months ago for a cost accounting of Iraq contracts awarded to Blackwater and three other companies and has been “stonewalled” ever since.

The criticism was bipartisan.

“Some conservatives are starting to wonder if this misadventure in Iraq isn’t more about money for defense contractors than it is about security,” said Rep. John Duncan, R-Tenn.

One exchange with a Pentagon official left Rep. Dennis Kucinich, D-Ohio, incredulous.

“If someone connected with a private contracting company was involved in murdering a civilian,” Kucinich asked, “would the department be ready to recommend their prosecution?”

Shay Assad, a senior contracting official in the Defense Department, replied: “Sir, I’m just not qualified to answer that question.”

“Wow, think about what that means,” Kucinich said. “Private contractors can get away with murder.”

Industry spokesmen say they welcome regulation – up to a point.

At a recent conference in Washington, Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black said his company is “not fly-by-night; we’re not tricksters. We are all for oversight of an industry like ours.”

He also said there are limits to what the company would support. For example, he said, putting contractors under the military chain of command might pose problems when the client is a nonmilitary agency.

Blackwater’s major client in Iraq is the State Department, so that’s where the company gets its marching orders.

“We are responsible to who hired us,” Black said. “You have to leave the dance with the one that brought you.”

In an e-mail interview, Blackwater founder Erik Prince said: “Given the sensational tone of the media coverage our industry receives, it is understandable that there are calls for more regulation.”

In the end, though, an unfettered marketplace is self-regulating, Prince said:

“Those companies or individuals who disregard the moral, ethical, and legal high ground are not long for this industry…. We want to reduce opportunities for abuse without constraining the flexibility that makes our industry so valuable.”

That industry was churning along with little public scrutiny until a Blackwater convoy found itself lost on a spring day in 2004 near a bridge over the historic Euphrates River.

Katy Helvenston-Wettengel, whose son and his three colleagues were killed in 2004 in Fallujah, says Blackwater sent them ''on a suicide mission.'' The four families are suing the company for damages. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Video: Interview with Katy Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of slain Blackwater contractor    Text: Contractor Scott

It was the lynching seen around the world.

On March 31, 2004, an American convoy was ambushed by insurgents in Fallujah, a hotbed of Iraqi rage over the U.S. presence. The four men escorting the convoy in two Mitsubishi SUVs were killed in a fusillade of small-arms fire. A furious mob set the vehicles ablaze, dragged the bodies out and partly dismembered them. Two were strung up from a bridge over the Euphrates River.

The entire episode was captured on film and aired worldwide.

The four dead Americans were not soldiers. They were civilians working for North Carolina-based Blackwater USA. The nation learned with a horrifying jolt that there was something new going on here: Modern warfare was being privatized.

The Fallujah ambush had profound consequences on two fronts:

In Iraq, it irrevocably altered the course of the war. U.S. military commanders, who had no advance knowledge of the convoy’s presence in Fallujah, were ordered by Washington to change tactics and pound the city into submission, inflaming the Iraqi insurgency to new heights.

  • Back home, families of the four victims are suing Blackwater for damages. The outcome could be costly for the company. It also has implications for the entire private military industry if it sets a precedent for holding companies legally responsible when their contractors die on the battlefield.
The remains of the contractors were burned, and two of the bodies were strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River. The span has since become known among U.S. forces as Blackwater Bridge. KHALID MOHAMMED / ASSOCIATED PRESS
  • Video: Interview with Katy Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of slain Blackwater contractor

    Text: Contractor Scott Helvenston’s last e-mail

    List: Blackwater’s fallen contractors

    Transcript: The last flight of Blackwater 61

    Full special report

Blackwater also is the target of a lawsuit involving three servicemen killed in a plane crash in Afghanistan in November 2004. Citing the pending litigation, Blackwater declined to discuss either incident.

“Out of respect for the judicial process and out of respect for the families, we just won’t comment,” said company vice president Chris Taylor.

But in court papers, the company has laid out its defense in sweeping terms.

Blackwater is arguing that although it is a private company, it has become an essential and indistinguishable cog in the military machine and, like the military, should be immune from liability for casualties in a war zone.

At stake, Blackwater says, is nothing less than the authority of the president, as commander in chief of the armed forces, to wage war as he sees fit.

The plaintiffs say it’s all about corporate greed, unaccountability and a private army run amok.

Things do go wrong in a violent business like Blackwater’s.

A memorial garden on the Moyock compound attests to that. A ring of 25 large stones encircles a pond. Each one bears the chiseled name of a fallen contractor.

The company’s casualties are among more than 500 civilian contractors who have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the beginning of the fighting – roughly one-sixth of U.S. fatalities and more than twice as many as have been suffered by all of America’s coalition partners combined.

When a military service member is killed on the battlefield, a public announcement is made within 48 hours. The service member is entitled to burial in Arlington National Cemetery with a 21-gun salute and a bugler playing taps. An American flag is draped over the casket and presented to the next of kin.

When a private contractor dies, there is no fanfare. There is not even an official list of contractor casualties. The identities of the dead trickle out as their families come forward.

In a sense, it is the 21st century incarnation of the Unknown Soldier.

Taylor said the company’s policy of not identifying casualties is based on privacy concerns for their families.

“They have the choice of how they will honor the service and commitment of their loved ones,” he said.

Compared to soldiers, Taylor said, even wounded contractors “don’t enjoy a respectful status. How do you tell a guy who’s just lost his arm and eye escorting someone that just because he’s no longer wearing a uniform, he’s any less noble?”

With his tousled blond hair, Hollywood face and muscular build, Scott Helvenston was a walking advertisement for the Navy SEALs.

The Florida native joined the Navy on his 17th birthday and became the youngest-ever recruit to finish the rigorous training for the elite commando corps.

While stationed at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base and living in the North End of Virginia Beach, he met a local girl, Patricia Irby. They were married in the base chapel in 1988, settled in San Diego and had two children.

Helvenston spent 12 years in the Navy, about half that time as a SEAL instructor. He was also a world champion pentathlete , fitness trainer and movie stuntman who coached Demi Moore for her role in the film “G.I. Jane.”

In March 2004, recently divorced and looking to make some short-term cash while waiting to start a new job, Helvenston signed on with Blackwater for a two-month tour in Iraq.

His mother says she begged him not to go.

“I said, ‘It’s all about oil, Scotty. You don’t want to go risk your life for oil,’” said Katy Helvenston-Wettengel of Leesburg, Fla. “But he wanted to help, and he needed to make some money.”

She said he was told he would be doing security work for Paul Bremer III, head of the interim Iraq government. But after a week in Kuwait, Helvenston-Wettengel said, the mission suddenly changed.

Around 10 p.m. March 28, Helvenston was ordered to leave at 5 a.m. the next day with three Blackwater contractors he had never met, according to the lawsuit filed by the four men’s families. Their assignment: escort a convoy of flatbed trucks to pick up kitchen equipment from a military base on the edge of Fallujah.

When Helvenston resisted the order, citing the short notice and lack of preparation, the lawsuit alleges, his boss, Justin McQuown, reacted violently.

McQuown “burst into Helvenston’s bedroom … screamed at and berated him – calling Helvenston a ‘coward’ and other demeaning and derogatory names,” the plaintiffs say in court papers. “McQuown then threatened to fire Helvenston if he did not leave early the next morning with the new team.”

Helvenston’s teammates, all ex-Army Rangers, were Wesley Batalona of Honokaa, Hawaii; Mike Teague of Clarksville, Tenn.; and Jerry Zovko of Cleveland.

According to the lawsuit, Blackwater broke its contractual obligations to the contractors by sending them into hostile territory in unarmored vehicles without automatic weapons or a rear gunner.

The lawsuit says: “Blackwater cut corners in the interest of higher profits.”

Blackwater won’t talk about Fallujah now, but eight days after the ambush, Patrick Toohey, a senior company executive, told The New York Times that the company had already made changes in its “tactics, techniques and procedures.”

Today, Taylor will say only: “We don’t cut corners. We try to prepare our people the best we can for the environment in which they’re going to find themselves.”

The lawsuit says otherwise, alleging that a Blackwater employee refused to give the team maps of the area, telling them “it was too late for maps.”

“They were sent on a suicide mission,” Helvenston’s mother said.

Helvenston-Wettengel says she was sitting at her home computer that day, doing research for her job as a real estate broker, with the TV on in the background, when the images of the burning SUVs and the rampaging mob began airing.

“I thought, ‘How horrible for those families.’ A couple of hours later they said they were security contractors, and I thought, ‘Oh, my God, Scotty’s a security contractor. But he’s in Baghdad, he’s OK, he’s not in Fallujah. He’s protecting Paul Bremer.’

“Finally around 4 o’clock they said ‘Blackwater.’

“I called Blackwater and said, ‘My name’s Katy. I’m Scott Helvenston’s mom. Is he OK?’ and they said, ‘We don’t know.’ I was on and off the phone with Blackwater until 3 a.m. By midnight I knew he was gone. …

“They said, ‘He was in the wrong place at the wrong time.’”

In Blackwater's memorial rock garden, stones etched with the names of fallen contractors pay tribute to 25 men - and one dog - killed while serving with the company in Iraq and Afghanistan. The statue of a boy represents the families of contractors. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

The U.S. Marines, who had military responsibility for the Sunni Arab heartland in and around Fallujah, knew it was a tinderbox and had been trying hard not to set it aflame. “Patient, persistent presence” was their motto.

The attack on the Blackwater convoy changed everything.

The convoy had entered the city by bypassing a Marine checkpoint without the Marines’ knowledge. The Marines learned of the ambush the same way the rest of the world did: from the grisly pictures on TV.

President Bush, enraged by the attack, ordered a major assault on the city. Brig. Gen. Mark Kimmitt, a Pentagon spokesman, said of the coming U.S. response: “It will be deliberate, it will be precise and it will be overwhelming. … We will pacify that city.”

A key objective of the assault, U.S. leaders said, was to capture the killers of the Blackwater contractors and bring them to justice.

The Blackwater incident was a tragic error that provoked a violent chain of events, according to Bing West, a former Marine and Reagan-era assistant defense secretary who wrote “No True Glory,” a book about the battle for Fallujah.

“Ultimately, Fallujah was a decision by our top leadership against the advice of the Marines,” West said in an interview. “They were not going to change their entire strategy because of a tactical error. They were overruled.”

Video: Interview with Katy Helvenston-Wettengel, mother of slain Blackwater contractor

Text: Contractor Scott Helvenston’s last e-mail

List: Blackwater’s fallen contractors

Transcript: The last flight of Blackwater 61

Full special report

What followed days later, in early April, was the first street-by-street fighting by U.S. military forces since the Vietnam War. As Al-Jazeera broadcast pictures of dead, bleeding and maimed Iraqis in Fallujah hospitals, the city became a rallying point for anti-U.S. anger.

Worried that the assault was jeopardizing the political stability of the country, U.S. leaders suspended the offensive a week later. The fighting settled into a series of skirmishes, flare-ups and periods of calm.

Four days after Bush was re-elected in November, the Marines launched a second, more deadly assault on the city with massive bombing and bloody house-to-house combat. The major fighting was over within a week.

“It looked like a savage tornado had roared through the downtown district, smashing everything in its path,” West wrote.

Over the course of the two sieges, U.S. forces carried out nearly 700 airstrikes in which 18,000 of the city’s 39,000 buildings were damaged or destroyed. About 150 U.S. troops and thousands of Iraqis were killed. The city was locked down behind barbed wire, a curfew declared and access limited by military checkpoints.

A year later, only about half of Fallujah’s population of 300,000 had returned.

The insurgency was quelled in Fallujah but intensified elsewhere across Iraq. Before the second assault on Fallujah in November 2004, U.S. military leaders estimated active enemy forces at 20,000. By January 2005, Iraq’s national intelligence chief placed the number at 200,000.

“In some ways, the second Fallujah campaign was the end of any hope for success for the United States in Iraq,” said Juan Cole, a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Michigan.

The perpetrators of the Blackwater ambush were never found.

On Nov. 14, 2004, the Marines rolled away a coil of razor wire and held a ceremonial reopening of the Fallujah bridge, calling the span’s clearing for traffic a symbolic victory. In black paint on the green trestle, a Marine had printed: This is for the Americans of Blackwater murdered here in 2004. Semper Fidelis.

Less than two weeks later, over Thanksgiving weekend, Blackwater was in the headlines again.

In broad daylight and clear weather, a twin-engine turboprop airplane operated by the company’s aviation affiliate, Presidential Airways, slammed into a mountainside in the rugged highlands of Afghanistan, killing all six aboard: three company crewmen and three U.S. soldiers.

An Army investigation found that the crewmen had no flight plan, lacked experience flying in Afghanistan, were poorly trained, had inadequate communications gear and violated federal regulations requiring the use of oxygen masks at high altitudes.

The families of the dead soldiers are suing Presidential Airways for negligence. The case is set for trial in February.

In both cases, Blackwater claims immunity under the Feres doctrine, a legal precedent that prevents someone injured as a result of military service from suing the federal government.

Contracts signed by the Fallujah victims include a section releasing Blackwater from liability for any loss or injury suffered on the job. The plaintiffs say the contracts are invalid because Blackwater failed to fulfill its obligations.

In court papers, the company cites the Pentagon’s “Total Force” concept, which designates private contractors as an integral component of the military mission along with active-duty and reserve troops and civilian employees.

Blackwater says the government’s unprecedented reliance on private contractors on the battlefield has made them so indistinguishable from uniformed personnel that the company should enjoy the same immunity from liability as the government.

“You can’t separate the contractors from the troops anymore,” Joseph Schmitz, general counsel of Blackwater’s parent company, said after a March federal appeals court hearing in Richmond.

In court papers, Blackwater says its contractors perform “a classic military function” and asserts that the courts “may not impose liability for casualties sustained in the battlefield in the performance of these duties.”

Blackwater casts its defense in constitutional terms, arguing that the separation of powers and presidential authority are at stake.

“The judiciary may not impose standards on the manner in which the President oversees and commands the private component of the Total Force in foreign military operations,” the company says in one brief.

To that, the plaintiffs in the Fallujah case reply that Blackwater is trying to have it both ways – acting as a private entity on one hand and aligning itself with the government on the other.

In their filing, they argue: “Blackwater cannot have its cake and eat it too. As a private security company, reaping private profits, they should be held accountable for their wrongful conduct, just like every other private corporation in America.”

Undergirding Blackwater’s profits, the plaintiffs say, is the workers’ compensation insurance that covered the Fallujah victims and has provided death benefits to their families under the federal Defense Base Act – insurance that is ultimately paid for by taxpayers.

The premiums are paid up front by Blackwater, then passed along to the government in the contracts. And if the insured person is injured or killed in a war zone, the government reimburses the insurance carrier for benefits paid.

Blackwater officials point out that the Defense Base Act has been in existence for 65 years and is routinely used by overseas government contractors.

In the end, the case is about more than money, said Marc Miles, a Santa Ana, Calif., lawyer representing the Fallujah victims’ families: “It’s about sending a message.”

Regardless of how the court fight turns out, Blackwater is moving on, looking for new opportunities once the U.S. presence in Iraq and Afghanistan winds down.

Last summer, thanks to a nasty storm, it found a new niche right here at home.

Expecting the worst, Blackwater contractors rushed into the hurricane-ravaged Gulf Coast in September heavily armed. At the height of its work there, the company had close to 600 contractors in the region. Nearly a year later, the assault rifles are gone but roughly 100 Blackwater men are still on the job. CHRIS WALKER/CHICAGO TRIBUNE

NEW ORLEANS — Every day, storm victims still line up at FEMA’s disaster relief centers. Time has only fueled their frustration.

It’s been nearly a year since Hurricane Katrina hit the Gulf Coast, and huge swaths of New Orleans remain in rubble. Red tape, mix-ups or dead ends can easily trigger a boil-over.

The people who work for the Federal Emergency Management Agency usually catch the wrath.

“Let me put it to you this way,” says Gary Marratta, one of the agency’s security coordinators. “We used to go out in T-shirts with a big ‘FEMA’ across the back. We don’t do that anymore – ever since this one guy told me, ‘You know, that space between the ‘E’ and the ‘M’ makes a pretty good target.’”

Blackwater USA protects FEMA’s Katrina staff – a contract that has cost taxpayers $73 million through the end of June, or about $243,000 a day.

Tony Yates runs the Blackwater security crew assigned to a disaster relief center set up in the city’s downtown public library. FEMA’s workers at the library are mostly women – local teachers recruited after the storm destroyed their schools. They hunch over rows of laptops, interviewing applicants at long tables jammed between bookshelves. They’re not accustomed to the kind of rage that can come their way.

“Sometimes they see it building in the person they’re talking to,” Yates says, “but they’re too intimidated to call us over. So we keep an eye on body language.”

He also keeps an ear cocked for the code. This week, it’s “blue form.” If a worker raises her voice and asks for one, a Blackwater guard strolls over and hovers. One look at his sturdy presence – and the dull-black sheen of the 9 mm Glock on his hip – persuades most tough customers to rein it in. Two to three times a month, Yates says, someone leaves the library in handcuffs.

Video: Interview with Blackwater VP Chris Taylor

Mary Cornelius, the center’s director, looks up from her desk, watching as Yates makes his quiet rounds.

“I can’t tell you what it means to have them here,” Cornelius says. “A lot of people are at the end of their rope down here. We never know who’s going to walk in that door or what they have in mind.”

For battle-hardened Blackwater, New Orleans appears to be gravy work – at least at this point. It’s the tail end of a milestone mission: the private military company’s first domestic deployment – an undertaking that, at its height, employed close to 600 of the company’s contractors.

Blackwater’s men were among the first outsiders to reach the Gulf Coast after the costliest hurricane in U.S. history made landfall Aug. 29. The company’s quick response led to a windfall of work, both government and commercial.

It also has affected the way disasters within the nation’s borders will be dealt with in the future. Katrina woke Americans to the harsh fact that calamities can overwhelm even the government, and rescue can be a long time coming. Some people girding for the next one have already laid plans to hire their own deliverance from companies like Blackwater.

At first, Blackwater’s arrival set off alarms in New Orleans. The company’s work in Iraq has forged a soldier-of-fortune image, and nerves jangled when Blackwater’s commando-types surfaced on the streets of Louisiana, outfitted with body armor and assault rifles.

Concerned calls came in to Mark Smith, who works for Louisiana’s Department of Homeland Security, part of the governor’s office.

“Everyone wanted to know what those Blackwater mercenaries were doing down here,” Smith said.

Blackwater bristles at that reaction.

“This is not the occupation of Louisiana,” said Andy Veal, one of the company’s Katrina zone supervisors. “This is Americans helping fellow Americans.”

It is also a potential plug for a hole in Blackwater’s business model. Private military companies thrive on war – an icy fact that could gut the now-booming industry when or if Iraq settles down.

Katrina offered Blackwater a chance to diversify into natural disasters. After the hurricane, the company formed a new division of domestic operations. Seamus Flatley, a retired Navy fighter pilot, is the division’s deputy director.

“Look, none of us loves the idea that devastation became a business opportunity,” Flatley said. “It’s a distasteful fact, but it is what it is. Doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, even newspapers – they all make a living off of bad things happening. So do we, because somebody’s got to handle it.”

Guarding FEMA workers is Blackwater’s primary task now in the Gulf Coast. Contractor Chris Knight is part of a security detail that keeps the peace at the New Orleans Public Library, which doubles as a disaster relief center. CHRIS CURRY PHOTOS / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

America’s Gulf Coast is a long way from the troubled lands where Blackwater usually plies its trade. But after Category 3 Katrina, the area resembled a war zone. Hundreds were dead. Communities were destroyed. Law and order collapsed with the levees. Residents were trapped by floodwaters. Rescuers were being shot at.

“The scope of this thing – how big it was – was just too much for any organization,” said Coast Guard Cmdr. Todd Campbell, who directed a large part of the rescue operations, including the dramatic rooftop airlifts that had the nation glued to the TV.

“Every aircraft we had was committed,” Campbell said. “And it wasn’t enough. I couldn’t find anyone who could give us more.”

Campbell didn’t know it, but a Blackwater crew was already beating its way toward Louisiana in a just-purchased Super Puma helicopter.

Bill Mathews, Blackwater’s executive vice president, explained why the company headed in before anyone called for help:

“We ran to the fire because it was burning.”

Campbell says Blackwater asked just one thing: that the Coast Guard cover the cost of the Puma’s fuel. But what really impressed him was the crew’s attitude.

“Just the way they walked in,” Campbell said, “with confidence in their faces. They weren’t rattled one bit by what was going on. They just listened to what we wanted and went out and did it.”

The 9th Ward of New Orleans still looks much like it did in the weeks after Hurricane Katrina. In the aftermath, Blackwater escorted rescuers into the area. The company says conditions were so depressing that it rotated the duty among its contractors

Precisely what that was depends on who’s doing the recalling.

According to Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s president: “We were lifting people off of housetops, off of small boats, to med-evacs – people that were sick and hurt.”

According to Campbell: “They offered to do rescues, but there were legal concerns. What if someone got hurt? So we asked them not to engage in pulling people out. They debriefed me at the end of every day, and no one ever mentioned doing any rescues. If they were out there doing them, it was solely on their own.”

Campbell has no doubts about the rest of Blackwater’s help. For two weeks after the storm, the Puma conducted survey flights and ferried 12 tons of water, food and supplies to rescuers and stranded inhabitants.

“What they did was critical,” Campbell said. “I’ve never been in a position like that before, where I had to reach out to civilians for help. I couldn’t have asked for a better, more professional response.”

In the midst of all that humanitarian work, the phones started ringing at company headquarters in Moyock, N.C.

“The word got out,” Jackson said. “’Blackwater’s in New Orleans.’ People started calling us from the hotels: ‘Can you do this? Can you do that?’ We set up a 24-hour-a-day operational center, and we started taking these commercial contracts.”

The first customer was a communications company that hired Blackwater to fetch 100 of its employees who were stuck in flooded homes. Because a state of emergency had been declared, Blackwater could bypass Louisiana licensing requirements. Boats, waders and other gear were loaded on a company cargo plane. A convoy of SUVs rolled out of Moyock.

Within 18 hours, Jackson said, Blackwater had 135 men on the ground. They were outfitted for battle, complete with helmets, flak vests, pistols, batons and M-4 carbines, capable of firing 900 rounds per minute.

“Yes, we looked a little heavy-handed coming in,” Jackson said, “but it was because of the intel that we received.”

Exaggerated or not, Jackson said, reports coming out of New Orleans indicated the place was in anarchy, with armed looters roaming the city and outlaws preying on the populace.

“We did a risk assessment and decided we’re going to send guys in there for real,” he said.

Jackson said Blackwater re-established order in the city’s most famous area: “We got guys into the French Quarter … and we basically secured it.”

His claim rubs some the wrong way.

“There may be some braggadocio involved there,” said Lt. Lawrence McCleary of the Louisiana State Police. “If they were securing a hotel or something down there, that’s one thing, but locals secured the French Quarter.”

Maj. Ed Bush of the Louisiana National Guard said: “Every group wants to kind of thump their chest a little bit, but just think about it. We live here. Seems kind of naive to think Blackwater beat us to the French Quarter.

“But you know what? I’m not interested in getting into a pissing match over it – not with someone who came down here and really helped. It’s safe to say they were among the first to arrive.”

Whatever the sequence of events, in those first days after the storm, Blackwater’s client list exploded.


Blackwater says it has not fired a single shot since arriving in Louisiana. The company’s contractors heard plenty of gunfire, though. None, they say, was aimed at them.

“We’d be on one street going to a house for extraction and on the next street over we’d hear ‘bang-bang-bang,’” Veal said. “Then the Blackhawks would swarm in. It was kind of surreal, that all that was happening in this country. Americans were floating by dead in the street and there was no time to do anything about it. We had to focus on the living. It was like something you’d see in the Third World.”

Veal says Blackwater rescued plenty of nonpaying folks along with the paying ones.

“Once you came across someone, you just couldn’t leave them there,” he said.

Clients were signing up quickly. Blackwater won’t name them or reveal what it charged. It will only say that the jobs called for a laundry list of duties.

Blackwater contractors stood guard over fuel shipments, generators, transmitters, railroad cars, stores, hotels, banks, museums, landmarks, industrial sites, power plants and a temporary morgue set up in Baton Rouge. They escorted CEOs, insurance adjusters, technicians and repair crews. They watched over high-dollar homes and conducted “asset retrieval.” They plucked priceless paintings off walls and fetched precious gems from abandoned bedrooms.

“It was hot and miserable,” Veal said. “We were all sleeping in tents. The bugs just ate you alive.”

One week after the storm, Blackwater landed a contract with the Federal Protective Service, the agency that provides security at federal buildings and watches over FEMA when its workers deploy. The rate, according to a copy of the contract obtained from the Department of Homeland Security: $950 per day for every man the company supplied.

Dennis O’Connor, a spokesman for the Federal Protective Service, said the magnitude of the disaster left the agency with little choice: “We don’t have enough people to handle something like this ourselves, and the local security companies were devastated. Whoever we awarded the contract to had to be totally self-sustaining. Everything down there was wiped out.”

Blackwater had the mind-set for dealing with such hardships. The company set up its own camps, equipped with shower trailers, dining tents, post offices, barber shops, laundry facilities, armories and mechanic shops. Contractors from across the country poured into Moyock, where they were outfitted with tactical gear and sent south.

The Federal Protective Service contract gave Blackwater more impact in the hurricane zone. While contractors were not deputized – a fact that left them with no official law enforcement powers – their formidable presence was now spread across the city.

“They helped us keep the bubble afloat,” said the National Guard’s Bush. “At first, they occupied their battle space and we occupied ours, but as the weeks trickled on and the Guard guys from other states started going home, Blackwater stepped in to fill the void.”

The transition worried some locals, Bush said.

“I think it was the fact that they were civilians more than anything else,” he said. “So we walked the ground together for a while, until everyone got more comfortable. We turned over some pretty big areas to them.”

Less than a month after Katrina battered the Gulf Coast, Hurricane Rita delivered a second blow, coming ashore just to the west.

Federal Protective Service expanded its contract and Blackwater rushed toward Rita.

“At one time,” Jackson said, “we were spread across 500 miles, from Texas to Mississippi.”

With the heavily padded “red man” in the bad guy role, contractor Eric Miller practices the proper way to use a baton. The class, at Blackwater’s base in Baton Rouge, is part of a four-day course the company set up to ensure its contractors meet Louisiana requirements for security work. CHRIS CURRY PHOTOS /THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

The commercial work has dried up. So has the need for military-style action. The combat look has softened to tan polo shirts and sidearms. Tents have been replaced with hotel rooms. Dinner is served on china. FEMA is the main reason Blackwater is still here.

Roughly 100 contractors are all that remain. They’re split between New Orleans, Baton Rouge and a few scattered outposts. They work 12-hour shifts, often seven days a week, standing guard at FEMA sites. They’re paid around $300 a day, which means they can earn up to $9,000 a month.

Most are former law enforcement officers. They hired on after the storm, when special-ops types were no longer required and Blackwater made the shift to a long-term presence.

“Law enforcement is better suited for this kind of job,” Blackwater’s Flatley says. “They’re used to dealing with the public – with Americans. They’re trained to defuse things, not escalate them.”

There are harder-core guys, who rotate between stints in Iraq and New Orleans.

“You wouldn’t really call this a vacation,” Flatley says, “but they are able to recharge here between tours overseas.”

When it comes to hiring, the stakes are high. Everybody carries a gun, and one hothead making the wrong call could ruin the company’s image and derail a lucrative future in the disaster business. Of the 1,600 contractors Blackwater has cycled through the Gulf Coast, Flatley says, around three dozen have been sent home for various infractions – none criminal.

Kathleen Young operates the Chateau LeMoyne, a hotel in New Orleans that was guarded by Blackwater. The company flag at the French Quarter hotel is the only one flying at a site other than the Moyock compound, according to Blackwater.

“It can be as small as unprofessional behavior, partying too much or even just a bad attitude,” he says. “We can’t afford to put up with any of it. At that point, my only question is, ‘Do you prefer an aisle or a window seat?’”

State and local police say they know of no arrests of Blackwater contractors in their area, but that does not stop the talk. Rumors had Blackwater commandeering apartments, shooting bad guys and conspiring with the government to hide corpses.

The company says there is no truth to such stories. Tommy Potter, a former police officer from Franklin, is the company’s area manager for New Orleans. He shakes his head at the rumors.

“Look,” he says, “people swore that there were alligators walking down the streets. How does that stuff get started? Who knows?”

The Blackwater men admit that, in the early days, they bumped heads a bit with local police, who resented all the out-of-town guns. They’ll volunteer that someone slashed all four tires on a company SUV. At the library, Yates confesses he was in one real knock-down, drag-out – with a large woman who leaped on him and wouldn’t quit.

Kathleen Young runs the Chateau Le-Moyne, a French Quarter hotel. She thinks Blackwater’s mere presence stops trouble in its tracks. Young’s hotel chain hired the company the day after Katrina.

“I didn’t know that,” she says, “and I was scared to death coming back into the Quarter after the storm. Looters were everywhere. Windows were smashed out. There were no police.

“And then I got here, and there were two Blackwater guys camped out in my lobby. Nothing was touched. They stayed with me for weeks, and I never saw anyone challenge them.”

Young was so impressed, she struck a deal with Blackwater to house more of its men. At one point, contractors occupied nearly half of her 171-room hotel. The number has dwindled, but her lobby, at any given time, is still full of men carrying guns.

Young has also put Blackwater on retainer.

“If something like this ever happens again,” she says, “I want them in here before the storm.”

Blackwater isn’t content to wait around for Mother Nature to strike again. It’s busy scouring the far corners of the world for more business.

Blackwater parachuted onto the public stage in a flashy way this spring at the Virginia Gold Cup horse race in Northern Virginia. The show marked a turning point for a company that has long preferred its privacy. CHRIS CURRY PHOTOS / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

WARRENTON, Va. – Emerald rolling hills. Acres of white fence. It’s a postcard spring day in horse country.

Fifty-thousand people are gathered for the 81st running of the Virginia Gold Cup, a high-stakes steeplechase that draws the political glitterati from nearby Washington.

Sleek steeds prance toward the starting line. “The Star-Spangled Banner” swells. Wide-brimmed hats turn skyward. Hands shield designer sunglasses.

Oooh, says the crowd. Look at that. Five parachutes have blossomed against the blue – pre-race entertainment. But these chutes don’t belong to the usual military show teams: the Army’s Golden Knights or the Navy’s Leap Frogs.

These are emblazoned with a bear-paw logo and strapped to some of the finest jumpers in the world – five of whom now work for Blackwater USA.

It’s the new team’s first public U.S. performance, and a high-visibility U-turn for a company that has long preferred the shadows.

The reason behind the strategy shift: Blackwater has decided that l ying low is a problem.

“People were getting our story wrong,” said company vice president Chris Taylor. “The parachute team is a way to create awareness, so people will ask about us and we can deliver the accurate story.”

It does get them noticed.

Necks crane as the jumpers come together, link into a tiered formation and float to Earth, unfurling Blackwater’s flag as they descend. Touchdown is perfect, a cloud of billowing silk on the infield. The crowd erupts in applause.

Blackwater says one of the goals of its parachute team is to interest children in military careers, particularly special operations. The Gold Cup jump was the team's first public U.S. demonstration. The members, who were veterans in the field before joining Blackwater, have made a combined 36,000 jumps.

“Wow,” says John O’Rourke of Watson Wyatt Worldwide, a management consulting company. “Can’t say I’ve ever heard of Blackwater before, but that jump was phenomenal.”

“Stirring,” adds O’Rourke’s wife, Jenine.

The couple are leaning on a fence, watching as their two children join other kids invited to help the jumpers repack their chutes.

“Isn’t that sweet?” Jenine says.

Impressing the power brokers is more important. Unlike the military, Blackwater must woo its customers. The well-heeled crowd at the steeplechase is flush with the right kind of people – VIPs who could pave the way for a government contract, buy the company’s new products or use its personal bodyguard service themselves.

Blackwater’s hospitality tent buzzes with invitation-only guests. Gathered around white linen tablecloths, they network and nosh hors d’oeuvres. A few stout-looking men dressed in suits stand sentinel, arms crossed, the coiled wire of an earpiece disappearing into the back of their collars.

Erik Prince, the company’s reclusive founder, is reportedly in attendance, but as usual, he steers clear of the spotlight.

Later, Taylor asks a newspaper photographer if he managed to snap any pictures of Prince at the race.

The answer is no. Taylor grins.

“Good. Then we did our job.”


Prince may choose to stay in the background, but his company is bent on polishing its image. A good reputation makes domestic work, like the Katrina contract, easier to line up. It can offset character-damaging accusations, like the two yet-to-be settled lawsuits that portray the company as callous and inept.

Blackwater wants all doors open. The company says it has more than two dozen projects under way, an almost dizzying pursuit of new frontiers.

Among them:

In addition to its ongoing assignments guarding American officials and facilities in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater has won contracts to combat the booming opium trade in Afghanistan and to support a SEAL-like maritime commando force in Azerbaijan, an oil-rich former Soviet republic.

  • On the home front, Hurricane Katrina’s $73 million purse has persuaded Blackwater officials to position themselves as the go-to guys for natural disasters. Operating licenses are being applied for in every coastal state of the country. Governors are being given the pitch, including California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom a Blackwater official recently visited to discuss earthquake response.

    “We want to make sure they’re aware of who we are and what we can bring to the table,” said Seamus Flatley, deputy director of Blackwater’s new domestic operations division. “We want to get out ahead of it.”


  • Last year, the company opened offices in Baghdad and Amman, Jordan. More recent expansion plans call for a Blackwater West in Southern California and a jungle training facility at the former Subic Bay naval base in the Philippines.


    Image is already affecting the Philippines deal. News reports out of the area indicate strong local opposition, fueled by fears of an influx of “mercenaries.” A Filipino senator says he intends to investigate accusations that Blackwater is recruiting his countrymen for security jobs in Iraq; the Filipino government forbids its citizens to work there.

    Taylor said the locals are overreacting. Clients at Subic and the type of training offered there will be subject to Defense Department oversight.

    “We will only teach who and what the U.S. government wants us to,” he said.

    Taylor also denied accusations that Blackwater is using its toehold at Subic Bay to recruit for Iraq.

    “Why does everyone think that?” Taylor asked. “Why can’t we just be offering training in that part of the world?”

    The company confirms that it does recruit in foreign lands. Taylor said Blackwater has hired roughly 20 Filipinos for guard duty in Afghanistan, where there is no ban on such work.

    A few years back, Blackwater created a diplomatic embarrassment for Chile by recruiting Chileans who had trained under the ousted regime of military dictator Augusto Pinochet. The new Chilean government was concerned about its country’s reputation abroad and worried that the former henchmen of a toppled dictator would not represent it well.

    Similar concerns surface here at home about the way America’s private military companies represent the country overseas.

    Thomas X. Hammes, a retired Marine colonel, encountered U.S. contractors during his 2004 tour of duty in Iraq. To the Iraqi people, Hammes said, those contractors were America:

    “We are held responsible in the people’s eyes for everything they do, or fail to do.”


Now a graduate of the Blackwater Academy program, Thomas Pouge looks at pictures with his high school sweetheart at a graduation ceremony at the Blackwater USA compound in Moyock. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Thomas Pogue will soon be on his way to somewhere dangerous – most likely Iraq. Of the 19 young men who entered the latest Blackwater Academy, Pogue is among the nine who made it all the way through.

In fact, Pogue, 25, a former Navy SEAL from Chesapeake, won the academy’s “Honor Man,” an award given to the top all-around student in the class.

After graduation, Pogue said he was anxious about what he’ll encounter overseas.

 the same time, really different.”

“I’m sure it’ll be a lot like what I’m used to,”  he said, “but at the same time, really different.”

Pogue pointed out that contractor teams have limited time to train together. They don’t have a massive force of men and machines at their back when things go wrong. They aren’t necessarily privy to military intelligence. And their defensive role, he says, places them at a disadvantage.

“The enemy comes to you,” he said. “You wait to be attacked.”

He’s counting on Blackwater to even things up.

“You just hope the experience of the guys you’re with makes up for all the rest. I’m really relying on the company to make the right hires and choose the right contracts.”

The cutthroat “mercenary” image of private contractors, Pogue said, “is a product of ignorance. We’re the same people you have in the military. We just got out.”

Money is a big reason, Pogue said: “This country does not pay its soldiers enough for the work they do. This industry is one way to level the field.”

He sees a big future for the private military business. “These forces can be employed without a lot of publicity – and that’s a very useful characteristic for any government. It’s politically easier, and there is less red tape.”

The ultimate reason Pogue believes his profession will stick around:

“We’re expendable. If 10 contractors die, it’s not the same as if 10 soldiers die. Because people will say that we were in it for the money. And that has a completely different connotation with the American public.”

One day, Pogue could find himself among the men Blackwater marshals for what is perhaps its most controversial plan ever: the creation of a brigade-size armed force – about 1,700 troops – that could be deployed on “peacekeeping” or “stability” missions in world trouble spots, such as the Darfur region of Sudan.

Speaking at a special-operations conference in Amman in March, Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black said the company has approached the United Nations and several African countries with the idea.

“I do believe there are situations where it is viable to use the commercial contractor option,” he said, arguing that a small private force would be a flexible, low-cost alternative to U.N. troops.

The idea found support in some quarters and raised alarm in others.

After interviewing Blackwater officials this spring, veteran news commentator Ted Koppel suggested that private military companies shoulder more of war.

In a May column in The New York Times, Koppel wrote that a “rent-a-force, harnessing the privilege of every putative warrior to hire himself out for more than he could ever make in the direct service of Uncle Sam, might relieve us of an array of current political pressures.”

Others worry where companies like Blackwater will draw the line. Peter Singer, a scholar at the Brookings Institution think tank, said that in the past, private military companies “have been hired to do everything from defending facilities and escorting convoys to protecting drug cartels and overthrowing governments.”

Indeed, there are no laws that dictate who Blackwater can work for, as long as the client isn’t involved in criminal activity or at war with the United States.

But Taylor said his company would only hire out for missions approved by the American government.

“If we went against the wishes of our government, we’d be blackballed,” he said. “We’d never get another U.S. contract.”

Taylor said Black’s remarks have been misunderstood: “We’ve never said we’ll be an army for hire to go fight somebody’s battles. We have never said that we would provide an offensive combat capability. It would be only defensive.”

That distinction is difficult, if not impossible, to draw, Singer countered.

“It’s not analytically honest,” he said. “No one in the military is defined as to whether they’re offensive or defensive. No weapon is offensive or defensive. The saying is, a weapon is offensive or defensive depending on which side of the gun barrel you’re facing.”

Singer offered an example. If a convoy bristling with machine guns came rumbling through the streets of Norfolk, he said, local residents would likely view it as offensive – regardless of the troops’ stated intentions.

“Often these companies will say, ‘We only do defensive work, so that means that we’re somehow good,’” Singer said. “Basically what they’re trying to do is put a moral imprimatur on a business. Companies aren’t good or bad. They’re just companies. It’s how they operate that determines their moral standing.”

Unsavory activities by private warriors have prompted legislative action in several countries, most notably South Africa, where memories of the nation’s apartheid-era security forces are still fresh. Hearings were held by Parliament this spring on a tough new anti-mercenary bill that would prohibit South Africans from participating in armed conflict areas without the permission of their government.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, a Washington-based trade group of private military companies including Blackwater, flew to Johannesburg to speak against the bill, arguing that it would hobble peacekeeping operations around the world.

Several thousand South Africans are estimated to be working for security companies in Iraq.

“They don’t want to be considered criminals when they go home,” Brooks said.

Taylor distanced Blackwater from the kind of overt combat missions undertaken by companies like Executive Outcomes, a South African firm that was hired to put down insurgencies in Angola and Sierra Leone in the mid-1990s.

“I don’t think you’ll ever see that again,” Taylor said. “The first thing we want to be is a tremendous deterrent. Our first goal is not to actively engage in live-fire exchanges.”

On the other hand, he added, “You can’t ask people to defend something and then penalize them for defending it well.”

There have never been easy answers in war. Questions about motives, money and morality litter battlefields, while people caught up in life-and-death struggles make split-second decisions.

Blackwater says it’s only filling a niche others can’t or choose not to. So, while the country wrestles with this new twist on an old way to wage war, Blackwater will keep plugging away – engaging critics, courting customers and hatching plans.

Every day brings a new challenge.

“We have a very long-term view to our work,” company founder Prince said in an e-mail interview. He said Blackwater wants to help transform the Defense Department into “a faster, more nimble organization.”

Company President Gary Jackson put it this way: “We have a dynamic business plan that is 20 years long, and it starts every day at zero-745” – 7:45 a.m. military time, when Blackwater’s daily staff meeting begins.

“We’re not going anywhere. Anybody that builds a 65,000-square-foot headquarters in the middle of the Dismal Swamp does not have an exit strategy.”

  • Reach Joanne Kimberlin at (757) 446-2338 or
  • Reach Bill Sizemore at (757) 446-2276 or


   Blackwater’s top brass

The Virginian-Pilot
© July 24, 2006

ERIK PRINCE, 37, Blackwater’s founder and chairman, has deep roots in conservative Republican politics in Michigan.

His father, Edgar Prince, turned a small die-cast shop in Holland, Mich., into a major auto parts supplier with a specialty product: a windshield visor with a lighted mirror. After his death in 1995, the company was sold for $1.4 billion. Edgar Prince was a confidant and financial backer of Gary Bauer, a conservative activist and onetime presidential candidate.

Erik Prince’s sister Betsy, a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party, is married to Dick DeVos, billionaire son of the founder of marketing giant Amway and this year’s likely Republican candidate for governor of Michigan.

Erik Prince went to private schools in Michigan, earned his pilot’s license at 17 and attended the U.S. Naval Academy. He later joined the Navy and was deployed with a SEAL team.

Prince was living in Virginia Beach when he founded Blackwater in 1996. He now runs the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, from an office in McLean, Va.

His first wife, Joan, died of cancer in 2003. He has since remarried, and has six children.

Prince is a board member of Christian Freedom International, a nonprofit group dedicated to helping persecuted Christians around the world.

Since 1998, he has made nearly $200,000 in contributions to Republican committees and candidates, including President Bush and indicted former House leader Tom DeLay, according to Federal Election Commission records.

Erik Prince (born June 6, 1969 in Holland, Michigan) is the founder and owner of the military support contractor Blackwater USA. A millionaire and former US Navy SEAL, after high school he briefly attended the United States Naval Academy before attending and graduating from Hillsdale College. After college, he earned a commission in the United States Navy after joining in 1992, and served as a Navy SEAL officer on deployments to Haiti, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, including Bosnia. When his father Edgar Prince unexpectedly died in 1995, he ended his Navy service prematurely. After Erik’s mother, Elsa Prince, sold the family’s automobile parts company, Prince Corporation, for $1.3 billion to Johnson Controls, Inc., Erik moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater USA at the age of 27.

GARY JACKSON, 49, Blackwater’s president, has been with the company almost from the beginning. Like Prince, he is a former SEAL, having retired as a warrant officer after 23 years in the Navy.

He is the senior executive at Blackwater’s 7,000-acre headquarters and training compound in Moyock.

Jackson makes no secret of his political leanings. As editor of Blackwater’s weekly electronic newsletter, he posted this headline at the top of the edition after the November 2004 presidential election: BUSH WINS; FOUR MORE YEARS!! HOOYAH!

He has made $9,000 in contributions to President Bush and Republican congressional candidates since 2004, according to Federal Election Commission records. Among the recipients of his donations were DeLay; Rep. Duncan Hunter, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee; and Rep. Jerry Lewis, chairman of the House Appropriations Committee.

COFER BLACK, 56, joined Blackwater in February 2005 as vice chairman after three decades in the Central Intelligence Agency and the State Department.

He was the CIA’s director of counterterrorism when al-Qaida hijackers struck the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11, 2001.

In congressional testimony in 2002, Black said the CIA thwarted plans by Osama bin Laden to kill Black when he was stationed in Khartoum, Sudan, in 1995.

In his book “Bush at War,” Bob Woodward said Black gave these marching orders to an undercover agent he dispatched to Afghanistan after the terrorist attacks: “Get bin Laden, find him. I want his head in a box.”

According to a United Press International report, Black was incensed when U.S. and Afghan forces failed to catch bin Laden at Tora Bora and complained about it anonymously in The Washington Post, prompting Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to derail his CIA career. Black has denied that he was forced out of the agency.

In 2002 Black moved to the State Department, where one of his duties was managing security for the 2004 Olympic Games in Greece. In 2003, Blackwater won a contract to train security teams for the games.

Company officials say there was no connection.

JOSEPH SCHMITZ, 49, became chief operating officer and general counsel of the Prince Group in September 2005 after a stint as inspector general at the Defense Department.

Schmitz was the senior Pentagon official responsible for investigating waste, fraud and abuse. Now he faces a congressional inquiry into accusations that he quashed two criminal investigations of senior Bush administration officials. The inquiry is continuing, according to a spokeswoman for Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa.

A graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy, Schmitz was a special assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese III in the Reagan administration. He was awarded the Defense Department Medal for Distinguished Public Service on his retirement from the Pentagon.

Schmitz’s father, John G. Schmitz, was a two-term Republican congressman from California and a prominent member of the John Birch Society, an ultra-conservative group that flowered during the Cold War. He ran for president in 1972 as the candidate of the American Independent Party after its founder, George Wallace, was paralyzed by a would-be assassin.

John Schmitz’s political career ended with the revelation that he had a mistress who bore two of his children. He then moved to Washington, where he bought a house once owned by Sen. Joseph McCarthy.

Joseph Schmitz’s sister, Mary Kay LeTourneau, also became embroiled in a scandal. As a married teacher in Washington state, she went to prison after being convicted of having a sexual relationship with a 13-year-old student with whom she ultimately had two children. The two have since married.


Prince Group (Parent company)

Blackwater divisions

Blackwater Training Center — Firearms and tactical training

Blackwater Target Systems — Manufacturing and sales

Blackwater Security Consulting — Security services

Blackwater Canine — Explosives-detecting dogs

Raven Development Group — Construction

Blackwater Armor — Armored personnel carriers

Blackwater Airships — Blimps


Affiliated companies

Presidential Airways — Aviation

Greystone — International security services

Blackwater USA Expands to Combat Slower Growt With Gold Rush for Armed Men Over, BW Looks to Diversify By ROBERT Y. PELTON 02/27/2007 2:19 PM ET

Blackwater USA Blackwater Grizzly

Blackwater USA is rapidly building a mini-industrial empire in Camden and Currituck counties on the eastern seaboard. Expanding investment in domestic projects may indicate the future of Blackwater’s business expansion, since by their own forecasts they see slower times ahead.

The company is wholly owned by Erik Prince and does not release financial figures, but estimates of their income range wildly from $100 million to $600 million per year.

Blackwater currently operates out of a 7,500-acre compound with a brand new modern headquarters (with another Executive HQ in Tyson’s Corner, VA) set in the forested swamp of North Carolina. The originally 3,000-acre Moyock facility was purchased and developed in the late 90s to be a shooting range and training facility. Al Clark a former Navy Seal was said by some to be the force behind the training facility but Erik Prince vision has always been connected to his considerable personal and business resources. Initially the range and the target manufacturing facility had modest income but no profit.

It wasn’t until Erik Prince picked up his first security contract from the CIA (with then VP of Security Jamie Smith) that income began to flow. There was a navy training contract (based on the need to prevent future Cole-type bombings and terrorist attacks) and then the Bremer detail. From there Blackwater began to pick up State Dept contracts and then corporate clients like the controversial protection contract that resulted in the infamous Fallujah event that put contractors on the public map. Blackwater’s current visibility is due to their post-9/11 entry into the private security business and their largest chunk of business still comes in protecting State Department and OGA operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and other hostile regions

Even with the war on terror continuing to simmer, President Gary Jackson was recently quoted in a local paper as saying that Blackwater USA’s growth will stop doubling each year and drop to around 50% growth, or even perhaps as low as 25%. They also expect to invest $50 million in business development in the coming year up from $15 million in 2006.

Since 9/11, Blackwater has become one of the largest suppliers and trainers of hired guns, but Prince’s latest expansion pushes Blackwater further into other realms. New projects include an observation blimp, an industrial park, new training sites, an intelligence division, continued expansion in branded products manufactured or sold under license, and the “Grizzly” armored personnel carrier.

Jackson announced that after a fitful start, the Grizzly will go into production in a 70,000-square-foot facility in the Moyock compound. Initial production goals are to build one Grizzly per day. Previously the Grizzly was assembled in Pasquotank Commerce Park outside Elizabeth City.

The Grizzly is an evolution of the typical armored GMC Suburban, marketed as a more agile, comfortable and higher-powered replacement for the Humvee, but it does not deal with the higher threat posed by EFPs.

The cost of an armored Humvee is $150,000. Although the Army was slow to address the threat posed by IEDs, most military vehicles provide armored protection. The EFP has now escalated armor protection demands, and has set the bar for defensive technology. This may render the Grizzly obsolete, even though it is better than the Humvee.

Blackwater’s Grizzly may not be able to compare with the recent public NASDAQ offerings of Force Protection and other more high-tech retro fit concepts from Ceradyne. Other areas where Blackwater will continue investing include for aerial observation platform in the form of an unmanned blimp–a low-speed UAV that stay aloft for as long as four days. Blackwater’s aviation division is also relocating to the North Carolina property. Planning is underway for a hotel, including a 206-bed facility to replace the spartan bunkhouse used for training programs.

The final item in the works for the Moyock compound is the development of an “invitation only” industrial park comprised of 10 to 15-thousand square feet buildings for the manufacture of Blackwater-related or licensed products. Prince even his own development and heavy construction company that will benefit from the increased activity at Moyock.

Blackwater has also launched a high-priced academy, purchasing training properties in the midwest and southern California.

The 80-acre midwestern facility, scheduled to open this Spring, lies 50 miles west of Chicago, on Skunk Hallow Road near Mt. Carroll, Illinois. The 824-acre California facility is being constructed 45 miles east of San Diego, off Highway 8, three miles north of Potrero, but has run into zoning delays.

It remains to be seen just how far and wide Prince can roam and what the future holds. Prince’s father was a major supplier of auto parts to the Big Three automakers and prided himself on his manufacturing skills. The younger Prince seems to be heading down the same path with armored trucks, blimps and even a range of clothing.

Blackwater dabbles in licensing its distinctive bear pay/gun site logo to Sig Sauer, a clothing manufacturer and many others. Unlike more conservative companies like DynCorp, Olive, Triple Canopy, HART, ArmorGroup, MVM and others Blackwater and Erik Prince have worked hard to build a culture of Blackwater. Blackwater may be the only intel/security company that hawks T-shirts and gear to 12-year-olds on Halloween and also to insurgents looking to get a laugh.

Your lowest cost entry into the world of Blackwater is their $1 sticker. A true collectible years from now.

Contractors in combat: Firefight from a rooftop in Iraq

courtesy of Cpl. Lonnie Young Cpl. Lonnie Young, right, fought alongside a handful of Blackwater contractors during a rooftop battle in Najaf, Iraq. Young, a Norfolk-based Marine, was wounded in the shoulder before being evacuated on a Blackwater helicopter. COURTESY OF CPL. LONNIE YOUNG

The Virginian-Pilot
© July 25, 2006


A video circulating on the Internet leaves little doubt that contractors do get caught up in combat.

Running just under seven minutes, it has appeared on several Web sites under such titles as “Mercenary Sniper in Iraq” and “Sniper and Firefight Video.”

The video shows a team of Blackwater USA contractors firing from a rooftop in Najaf, Iraq, on April 4, 2004 – four days after four other Blackwater men were killed and their bodies mutilated in an ambush in Fallujah.

Chris Taylor, a vice president at Blackwater, said the video was not authorized by the company, but he confirmed that it is authentic and involved Blackwater personnel.

Web link: Watch the video on (WARNING: contains graphic language)

Taylor said the men, under contract to protect the headquarters of the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority, repelled an attack by 300 to 400 insurgents during a period of about 18 hours. Blackwater sent in helicopters to resupply the team with ammunition and ferry out a wounded U.S. Marine.

The video opens with footage shot from a helicopter circling as another helicopter drops in ammo to the Blackwater team on a rooftop. The remaining footage is shot from the rooftop, focusing mostly on a single gunman crouched behind a ledge, wearing a backward ball cap, sunglasses and orange earplugs, coolly firing an M-4 assault rifle with a telescopic sight.

The gunman reloads twice during the video. Toward the end he exclaims, “It’s like a (expletive) turkey shoot.”

The wounded Marine evacuated by Blackwater was Norfolk-based Lonnie Young. Out of the service now and living in Kentucky, Young says he has seen the video and recognizes the faces in it.

Young says the Americans took up positions on two adjoining rooftops. He was on the building across from where the video was shot, but said the scene was much the same on his rooftop, where he was shot in the shoulder.

“I was up there within 30 seconds of the first incoming,” Young said, “and Blackwater was already there – binoculars out, weapons locked on, picking out targets.”

As the only uniform on his rooftop, Young said, his first reaction was to start barking orders.

“But I realized real quick that these guys knew what they were doing. So, instead of telling them what to do, I started working with them.”

Need an Army? Just Pick Up the Phone

Barry Yeoman      The New York Times     Friday, April 2, 2004

Blackwater USA, which lost four soldiers in the March 31 massacre in Falluja, Iraq, is just one of the private companies replacing U.S. soldiers in war zones

Blackwater Training Center: Over 6000 acres of private land, the most comprehensive private tactical training facility in the United States.

DURHAM, N.C. — The murderous attack on four American civilians in Falluja, Iraq, brought home gruesome images of charred bodies dangling from a bridge over the Euphrates River. It also introduced Americans to a company few had heard of: Blackwater USA, which was providing security for food delivery convoys when its employees were ambushed.

Blackwater, which operates from a 5,200-acre training ground in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina, is a private military firm that provides an array of services once performed solely by military personnel. The company trains soldiers in counterterrorism and urban warfare. It also provides the American government with soldiers for hire: former Green Berets, Army Rangers and Navy Seals. In February it started training former Chilean commandos ‹ some of whom served under the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet ‹ for future service in Iraq.

Business is booming at Blackwater, and the company is hardly alone. Private contractors are an invisible but growing part of how war is now fought. Some 10,000 of them are serving in Iraq ‹ one private worker for every 10 soldiers ‹ more than the number of soldiers from Britain, America’s largest coalition partner. Some are supplied by well-known corporations like Halliburton. But for the most part, the private military industry is dominated by more obscure businesses with names that seem designed to tell as little as possible about what the company does. 

Nor is their presence limited to Iraq. In recent years, soldiers-for-profit have served in Liberia, Pakistan, Rwanda and Bosnia. They have guarded Afghanistan’s president, Hamid Karzai, and built the military detention facilities holding Al Qaeda suspects in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. They have been an essential part of the American war on drugs in Latin America. Peter Singer of the Brookings Institution, who wrote a book on the private military industry, says it brings in about $100 billion a year worldwide. 

The industry rose to prominence under President George H.W. Bush ‹ Brown and Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, received a $9 million contract to study supplementing military efforts after the Persian Gulf war. The Clinton administration sent more work to contractors, but it is under the current president, a strong believer in government privatization, that things started booming. Gary Jackson, the president of Blackwater, envisions a day when any country faced with peacekeeping duties will simply call him and place an order. “I would like to have the largest, most professional private army in the world,” he told me.

This raises some obvious questions. Shouldn’t war be a government function? Why rely on the private sector for our national defense, even if it is largely a supporting role? Part of the reason is practical: since the end of the cold war, the United States military has been shrinking, from 2.1 million in 1989 to 1.4 million today. Supporters of privatization argue that there simply aren’t enough soldiers to provide a robust presence around the world, and that by drafting private contractors to fix helicopters, train recruits and cook dinner, the government frees up bona fide soldiers to fight the enemy. (Of course, in the field, the line between combatant and noncombatant roles grow fuzzier, particularly because many of the private soldiers are armed.) Private contractors are supposed to be cheaper, too, but their cost effectiveness has not been proved.

Low manpower and cost savings aren’t the only reasons these companies appeal to the Pentagon. For one, substituting contactors for soldiers offers the government a way to avoid unpopular military forays. According to Myles Frechette, who was President Bill Clinton’s ambassador to Colombia, private companies performed jobs in Latin America that would have been politically unpalatable for the armed forces. After all, if the government were shipping home soldiers’ corpses from the coca fields, the public outcry would be tremendous. However, more than 20 private contractors have been killed in Colombia alone since 1998, and their deaths have barely registered. 

This points to the biggest problem with the outsourcing of war: there is far less accountability to the American public and to international law than if real troops were performing the tasks. In the 1990’s, several employees of one company, DynCorp, were implicated in a sex-trafficking scandal in Bosnia involving girls as young as 12. Had these men been soldiers, they would have faced court-martial proceedings. As private workers, they were simply put on the next plane back to America. 

Think about it: a private military firm might decide to pack its own bags for any number of reasons, leaving American soldiers and equipment vulnerable to enemy attack. If the military really can’t fight wars without contractors, it must at least come up with ironclad policies on what to do if the private soldiers break local laws or leave American forces in the lurch. 

What happened in Falluja was a tragedy, no matter what uniform the slain men wore. Private contractors are viewed by Iraqis as part of the occupation, yet they lack the military and political backing of our combat troops. So far, the Pentagon has failed to prove it can take responsibility for either the actions or the safety of its private-sector soldiers. 

** Barry Yeoman is a freelance writer based in Durham, N.C. He writes frequently for Mother Jones and Discover.

Wrongful Death Lawsuit Against Security Firm Can Proceed

September05,2006 Maddy Sauer Reports:

A lawsuit filed against Blackwater USA, a private security firm, for the wrongful deaths of four employees who were killed while working in Iraq will move forward in North Carolina state court following attempts by the company to move the case to federal court.

The lawsuit was first filed in January of last year by the families of four men who were killed in Fallujah in one of the uglier incidents in the early stages of the Iraqi insurgency. ABC News first reported on the suit in April of last year.

The four American civilians were guarding a food supplies convoy when they took a wrong turn and ended up in the middle of Fallujah, which had been a hotbed of insurgent activity. The men were shot, dragged from their vehicles, their bodies set on fire and hung from a bridge.

In the lawsuit, the families of the men say Blackwater cut corners in protecting them by not complying with safety requirements outlined in the company’s contract for the mission. For example, Blackwater sent the men out in unarmored vehicles, rather than the safer and more expensive armored vehicles. Lawyers for the families contend that Blackwater simply pocketed the difference in cost between the armored and unarmored vehicles.

Also under the contract for the mission, there were supposed to be six men in the detail, three for each car, but Blackwater only sent two men for each car, leaving the rear gunner lookout post empty, according to the plaintiffs’ lawyers.

The lawsuit also alleges that Blackwater failed to provide maps or radio contact with the U.S. military, which may explain why the convoy missed the critical turn that morning. Instead of taking the road around Fallujah, they ended up in one of the most dangerous places in the world for an American.

Blackwater is just one of many private security firms operating in Iraq with little government oversight. Its owner, Erik Prince, is a major Republican campaign contributor and his company has received more than $85 million worth of U.S. government contracts. Over 20 Blackwater employees have been killed in Iraq. The company has not returned calls seeking comment.

Now that the case has been returned to state court in North Carolina, where Blackwater is based, lawyers for the families hope they can go to trial within a year.

“This case should have already gone to trial,” said Marc Miles who represents the families, “but we’ve had a year and a half of unnecessary delays by Blackwater.”

Iraq contractors make billions on the front line

‘Our job is to be a bullet sponge’

From Nic RobertsonCNN Tuesday, June 13, 2006;

BAGHDAD, Iraq (CNN) — Private military contractors are earning billions of dollars in Iraq — much of it from U.S. taxpayers.

Business is booming for those willing to tackle one of the most dangerous jobs on Earth. Lucrative U.S. government contracts go to firms called on to provide security for projects and personnel — jobs that in previous conflicts have been done by the military.

A single contract awarded to Britain’s AEGIS Specialist Risk Management company by the Pentagon was worth $293 million, and while the government says it cannot provide a total amount for the contracts — many of which are secret — industry experts estimate Iraq’s security business costs tens of billions of dollars.

These contractors have not been without controversy. Late last year, AEGIS launched an investigation into whether its employees produced video clips that showed up on the Internet in which it appeared civilian vehicles were being shot at. AEGIS has not released the results of its investigation, but a U.S. Army investigation found no probable cause that a crime occurred.

The market for private contractors is there thanks to an unprecedented “outsourcing” of conflict, according to Amy Clark, who led the Baghdad end of a small private security contractor.

“Where you’ve got a military where the assets and the personnel are strained, then private contractors have had to step in and fill the void,” she told CNN, agreeing to be interviewed if her company’s name was not revealed.

But where there is money, there is also danger. No official totals exist of how many private contractors have been killed in Iraq. But Clark believes the death rate among the 25,000 or so contractors is higher than among U.S. military forces.

Going where the military won’t

The danger does not bring glamour. Clark’s outfit shepherds convoys along supply lines strewn with roadside bombs targeting U.S. and Iraqi forces and those who support them. Missions have included guarding trucks carrying gravel for military bases.

“Military doesn’t even like to go where we are going, and most of the companies that do this don’t want to go where we are going … and that’s why we’re going,” explained one of Clark’s men, nicknamed “Mr. GQ.”

His colleague, Gonzo, gives a graphic description of what their team faces: “If we get ambushed and cut off, then yes, we are going to fight back and push through. That’s what we get paid to do — protect the clients, protect the asset — that’s our job. 

“It sounds crude, but basically our job is to be a bullet sponge.”

There is debate about how far these private contractors should go, what authority they have and who should police them, and no hard and fast answers. In the meantime, the contractors continue to face danger.

On one day recently, two roadside bombs went off simultaneously near one of Clark’s security trucks, and the convoy was then attacked with heavy small-arms fire from nearby rooftops.

“The blood in the back seat of the truck, all the bone fragments and flesh pretty much told the tale — they got hit pretty bad,” Gonzo said.

That same night, three roadside bombs were detonated beside the same convoy. Two of Clark’s men were killed and five wounded.

A year’s pay in 3 months

There is plenty of money and plenty of work to go around, much of it taken by Blackwater — one of the larger companies and perhaps the best known, because tragedy befell its employees in Falluja March 31, 2004. Four employees were killed — two of their bodies hung from a bridge.

Blackwater was founded in 1997, and business boomed after 9/11. Wartime demands are allowing it to expand even further, and it recently opened new headquarters in North Carolina, where it can train people from the military and law enforcement.

Blackwater also looks for opportunities beyond war zones to disaster areas, such as the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina, or places where peacekeepers could be stationed, like the crisis-hit region of Darfur in Sudan.

Cofer Black, a former head of the CIA Counterterrorism Center and now vice-chairman of Blackwater, said the company is ready to tackle more hot spots.

“My company could deploy a reasonable small force under guidance or leadership of any national authority and do a terrific job of protecting, you know, innocent women from being raped, young kids from having their arms hacked off with machetes.”

Like most contractors, Gonzo is ex-military and has specific personal reasons for being in Iraq and facing the danger.

A veteran of the first Gulf War, he says he can earn in three months what it would take him a year to get in the United States. “My wife and I are pretty frugal. My goal is pretty simple — I just want to be able to pay off a house and some property.”

He holds up a picture of his three children. “We all have to be over here for a reason. Mine’s so that I can provide a better life for my wife and kids.”

IN THE NEWS  The Great GRIZZLY above (the prototype version)!” watch the video
Fox News Report from April 29, 2007

” Blackwater USA is comprised of five companies; Blackwater Training Center, Blackwater Target Systems, Blackwater Security Consulting, Blackwater Canine, and Blackwater Air (AWS). We have established a global presence and provide training and tactical solutions for the 21st century.

Our clients include federal law enforcement agencies, the Department of Defense, Department of State, and Department of Transportation, local and state entities from around the country, multi-national corporations, and friendly nations from all over the globe.

We customize and execute solutions for our clients to help keep them at the level of readiness required to meet today’s law enforcement, homeland security, and defense challenges.
Any and all defense services supplied to foreign nationals will only be pursuant to proper authorization by the Department of State.

Come to Blackwater, where the professionals train.”


More Photos:

Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater  It is one of the most infamous incidents of the war in Iraq: On March 31, 2004, four private American security contractors get lost and end up driving through the center of Falluja, a hotbed of Sunni resistance to the US occupation. Shortly after entering the city, they get stuck in traffic, and their small convoy is ambushed. Several armed men approach the two vehicles and open fire from behind, repeatedly shooting the men at point-blank range. Within moments, their bodies are dragged from the vehicles and a crowd descends on them, tearing them to pieces. Eventually, their corpses are chopped and burned. The remains of two of the men are strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River and left to dangle. The gruesome image is soon beamed across the globe.

Iraq for Sale:  The War Profiteers


Blackwater Runs Red

In 1997, Erik Prince founded Blackwater USA, expanding the family’s Christian conservative empire into private security and war for hire. Erik is a former U.S. Navy SEAL and son of the late billionaire automotive parts supplier, Edgar. (In a Q&A published by the Virginian-Pilot on July 24, Erik noted some of his father’s less successful ideas, including a sock drawer light and an automated ham de-boning device.)

The elder Prince was widely known for his close association with anti-choice crusader Gary Bauer. Bauer was a domestic policy advisor in the Reagan White House before succeeding Jerry Regier (a former Reagan official, as well) for the leadership role of the Family Research Council (FRC) in 1988. With Edgar’s help, Bauer put the FRC on the map. (When Edgar died in 1995, the company was sold for $1.4 billion.)

Erik’s sister Elizabeth, commonly referred to as Betsy, was the head of the Michigan Republican Party until early 2005. She is also the former finance chairwoman for the National Republican Senatorial Committee (NRSC). She married Dick DeVos, the son of billionaire Amway co-founder (now under the name Alticor), Richard DeVos. Forbes ranked DeVos as the 121st richest person in the world in 2003 with an estimated net worth of $1.7 billion.

Under DeVos’ tutelage, Amway has donated roughly $7.5 million to Republican candidates since 1990. The contribution-tracking website, NewsMeat, lists personal campaign donations from DeVos; since February 1979, he has donated over $650,000 to Republicans, over $2 million to “special interests” and one lone contribution to a Democrat, Joe Torsella, in 2003.

Richard and his wife Helen operate the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation and are known to have associations or donated to right-wing groups such as Focus on the Family, the Federalist Society and the Heritage Foundation.

Dick and Betsy DeVos donate huge sums of money to Republican candidates and causes. In the 2004 cycle, the couple ranked fifth among the highest political donors with $981,846 to Republicans. In fact, from 1990 through 2006, the couple donated $2,491,270 to Republicans with only $1,000 going to Democrats back in 1992.

The Grand Rapids Press reported July 9:

Since 1999, DeVos, his wife, Betsy, and their immediate family have poured at least $7 million into expanding school choice — vouchers, tuition tax credits and charter schools — and promoting candidates who back those causes.

In 2000, the family headed the campaign to legalize school vouchers in Michigan, raising big money and donating plenty as well. The initiative failed to pass.

This election cycle, the family is back at it again. But this time, Dick is running for the Republican Party’s nomination for Michigan Governor. His campaign chairman is David Brandon, chief executive of Domino’s Pizza and major Republican donor. Brandon has given over $100,000 to GOP candidates since 1987. (Side note: The founder of Domino’s Pizza, Thomas Monaghan, broke ground on the Ave Maria, Florida township, complete with its own university and strict Catholic-based laws.)

As for Erik, he started in Republican politics early, making his first donation — $15,000 — to the GOP at the age of nineteen. (At 19, I was $10,000 in financial aid debt and eating Ramen quite frequently.) Since 1989, Prince has donated over $151,250 to Republicans.

According to The News & Observer, Prince was among the first interns at the Family Research Council and interned for President George H.W. Bush for six months. (It is reasonable to suggest that, through his father’s Reagan-era connections, he was able to get the position.) He campaign for Patrick Buchanan’s Republican primary challenge to Bush in 1992, possibly because he “saw a lot of things I didn’t agree with — homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills. I think the administration has been indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns,” he told the Grand Rapids Press in early 1992.

That far-left lefty leftist Bush really showed his true colors, didn’t he? Actually talking with gays in the White House? Heavens to Betsy!

It should also be noted that Erik served as a defense analyst for tainted Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-California). Rohrabacher was a special assistant to Reagan before being elected to Congress in 1988, and has a chronicled involvement in the scandal of disgraced Republican lobbyist, Jack Abramoff.

Erik was a volunteer firefighter and enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1992, joining the elite SEALs and operating with the SEAL Team 8 in Norfolk, Virginia. Due to personal reasons, his military career was cut short, bowing out in 1996. At the age of twenty-seven, he founded Blackwater USA.

He is a board member of the Christian Freedom International, “a nonprofit group dedicated to helping persecuted Christians around the world,” reported the Virginian-Pilot on July 24, 2006. As of April 2005, among the list of “directors” for CFI is Robert Reilly, the former director of the Voice of America (VOA), who was criticized for being “too ideological.” (The New York Times reported on the ideological bent in October 2001. Subscription required.) After Reilly resigned “abruptly” from the VOA, the April 21, 2003 edition of the Christian Science Monitor, it was reported that he now heads the Pentagon’s broadcasting efforts in Iraq.

Prince is associated with a number of other companies. In addition to Blackwater, he is affiliated with Bering Truck Distribution, Phase One Ltd., the Prince Group (who hired the former Defense Department Inspector General, Joseph E. Schmitz) and Prince Household L.L.C. He has associations with the Christian Solidarity International (CSI) and Institute of World Politics, a national security organization that teaches graduate diplomats and offers two Masters degree programs. He is also listed among the forty Board of Trustees for the Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum with Senator John McCain.

Presidential Airways, whose parent company Presidential Airways, Inc. and its sister company, Aviation Worldwide Services (AWS), are owned by Blackwater, and based in Melbourne, Florida. It received a $2.43 million contract from the Department of Defense to provide “aircraft supports,” in February 2006. Late last year, Washington Post reporter Dana Priest revealed a network of secret CIA prisons in Eastern Europe; she received a Pulitzer Prize for her work. It turns out, according to independent media sources, AWS and Presidential were both involved in the chartered flights.

Erik and his politically-active extended family are enablers of the Republican political elite and are reaping the benefits in return. Specifically, Erik is a war profiteer through his private security company’s paid warriors. Beholden to nobody but the almighty dollar, these mercenaries are increasingly tasked with operations that were formerly conducted by uniformed U.S. military personnel.

Which do you trust?

Erik is notorious for his media-shy demeanor and preference to stay out of the lime light. What better way to send him a message about his company’s practices in Iraq than by casting him under the spotlight he seeks to avoid. Please contact us with any insights into this otherwise secretive and reclusive war whore.

Blackwater USA Headquarters
850 Puddin Ridge Road
Moyock, North Carolina 27958
[source: British American Security Information Council (BASIC) Research Report, September 2004:

Part 3, Appendix2]

Issa: Attack on Blackwater is Attack on… Petraeus

By Spencer Ackerman – October 2, 2007, 10:51AM

Gold-Plated Rambos

  By Patrick B. Pexton

All of these security personnel, whether civil servants or uniformed military, are highly trained. And, by most all accounts, they do an exemplary job. They are swift and sure when force is necessary. They are also sensitive to civilians, whether confronting a line of impatient visa seekers or in the course of guarding the commander in chief. And, if there are any problems, they are accountable to a clear chain of command.

Yet, despite this solid reputation, they’re mostly absent from Iraq. Instead, the top American diplomats there have relied on the hired guns of the increasingly swampy North Carolina private-security firm Blackwater USA. Since 2003, the State Department has paid Blackwater upwards of $832 million for security in Iraq. Today, Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince and three State Department officials are scheduled to appear before Congress to explain what that money paid for. The short answer? Gold-plated Rambos that are a slight to the U.S. government’s in-house security personnel and a hindrance to U.S. policy goals.

If the State Department’s attitude is any indication, clearly Blackwater and the two other major private contractors — Dyncorp and Triple Canopy — are the Cadillacs, maybe the Rolls Royces, of security. State has been happy to leave them to their own devices and send big checks. Written contracts (some of them no-bid) are vague, requiring “protection of U.S. and/or certain foreign government high-level officials whenever the need arises.” Accountability is non-existent. After the Sept. 16 Blackwater shootout that reportedly left 11 Iraqi civilians dead and 14 wounded, the State Department couldn’t say which laws — Iraqi or American, if any — the Blackwater agents were subject to.

 for private security services are high. Court documents in one of several lawsuits filed by families of Blackwater agents killed in Iraq suggest that its triggermen are paid $600 a day — or more than $150,000 a year. By contrast, a Marine gunnery sergeant, with say 15 years experience and maybe a couple of tours in Iraq’s Anbar province under his belt, would make about $43,000. That discrepancy could be even higher, according to a report released yesterday by the Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The report cited a fee for each contractor of $1,222 a day or $445,000 a year and declared that a Blackwater guard is “over six times more than the cost of an equivalent soldier.”

But even more costly are the harmful effects on U.S. policy. The arrogance and trigger-happy ways of the gold-plated Rambos are killing innocent Iraqis and destroying the good will that our uniformed troops up the road are fighting and dying for. Indeed, our diplomats had to hunker down in the Green Zone after the latest shootout. They feared for their lives, and the reaction of Iraqis, if they ventured out with Blackwater in tow.


State Department officials claim the situation is one of necessity. “[T]here is simply no way at all that the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq,” says the U.S. ambassador there, Ryan Crocker. “There is no alternative except through contracts.” It’s certainly true that civilian diplomatic security agents are a small force. But the most reliable estimates put the number of private security contractors protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq at less than 1,000. That’s the equivalent of a battalion or less of Marines or soldiers. Surely the Pentagon, even given its shortages, could lend a battalion to protect senior diplomats doing the necessary political work in Iraq. It could also redirect some of the $20,000 enlistment bonuses now offered to green recruits and instead try to retain the senior soldiers and Marines leaving uniform to work for Blackwater.

Not all Marines are perfect; the ongoing courts martial of Marines accused in the killings of civilians at Haditha, Iraq, underscore that. Nor are all Blackwater employees criminals; many of them served with distinction in the armed forces. But by giving private security firms such special treatment, U.S. officials are implying that these private armies are better at their jobs than government security personnel. And, if you believe that, I have a few thousand Secret Service agents and U.S. Marines I’d like you to meet.

Patrick B. Pexton is deputy editor of National Journal.



Contractors training at Blackwater in North Carolina.

 September 30, 2007 — Americans have always despised mercenaries. Our dislike of hired killers dates back to the days of our Founding Fathers. When Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat the Hessians at Trenton, he targeted hirelings who’d burned, raped and murdered their way across northern New Jersey. During our Civil War, the fiercest insult Southerners hurled across the Potomac was the accusation that the Irish immigrants inducted into the Union armies were mercenaries. Men who fought for pay alone were repulsive to American values. And now the United States has become the world’s No. 1 employer of hired thugs. By a conservative count, we and our partners in Iraq employ 5,000 armed American and other Western expatriates, at least 10,000 third-country- nationals or TCNs, and upwards of 15,000 Iraqis who should be serving their own country in uniform. George Washington must be grinding his false teeth in heaven. To be fair, not all of the mercenaries your tax dollars pay create problems (although they all pose moral issues). TCNs, such as the Peruvian guards in the Green Zone and Ugandans guarding mess halls on Marine forward operating bases, usually take their responsibilities seriously. As for the Iraqi hires, it’s a constant game of “Who Do You Trust?” The gravest problems arise from the collection of psychos, misfits, sadists and can’t-make-it-back- home gunslingers employed by the “private security contractors” or PSCs. For one American tax dollar to go to these thugs is a travesty. We’ve starved our armed forces. Now we’re doling out billions for armed farces. Again, it’s vital to be fair – and PSCs come in a wide range of flavors. Some contractors are disciplined and wary of doing harm. Nor could we do without them, having painted ourselves into an ugly corner by making a religious cult of privatization and outsourcing. Our troops abroad now depend on contractors for elementary services.

Nonetheless, rogue elements within the security contractor world do so much damage to our strategic goals and international relationships that it’s hard not to conclude that we should just shut them down and do the best we can without them. The most notorious recent incident occurred two weeks ago, when gunmen from Blackwater USA, an organization that’s created far more than its fair share of trouble, shot up a crowd of Iraqi civilians in a thriving district of Baghdad. The details remain murky – and Blackwater and its State Department defenders are doing all they can to make them murkier. But most accounts, whether from “our” Iraqis or U.S. soldiers who rushed to the scene, pin the blame on Blackwater’s thugs. The information emerging suggests that, in the course of a routine escort mission for American diplomats, at least one of the Blackwater boys either imagined a threat or just felt like busting some caps. A woman and child died in a car (which did not carry any bombs). Up to 10 more unarmed Iraqis were slaughtered in a tempest of automatic weapons fire. Up to two dozen were wounded. The firepower employed by Blackwater was better suited to a full-scale combat engagement with an enemy army than it was to the protection of a diplomat – who was, apparently, never in any danger. Blackwater claims that Iraqi security forces returned fire at its convoy. Well, if they did, they were awfully brave, since the Iraqi police don’t have the kind of heavy weaponry packed by Blackwater’s gunmen (without proper licenses, at that). On the contrary, reports suggest that Blackwater’s men just got into a partying spirit, emptying additional magazines long after any threat had evaporated. Some accounts describe internal confrontations between Blackwater supervisors and sadists who wouldn’t stop shooting.
With Blackwater reinforcing its thugs with its own helicopter gunships and Iraqi security forces begging for help to save civilian lives, the U.S. Army had to step in and enforce a cease-fire.
Oh, one Blackwater employee did suffer a minor injury. And a number of the company’s vehicles were scratched. Guess that makes up for the dead mom and her kid.
In war, the innocent die. Got it. And no apologies are necessary for legitimate casualties in the course of combat. But there’s no excuse for killing the innocent just for a hoot.
Blackwater couldn’t care less – if it did, it would press for prosecutions itself. Instead, the company works the loopholes in the shabby system the State Department forced on the government of Iraq.
And who gets the blame? Our troops. Iraqis just see all of the pale faces with guns as Americans. They don’t differentiate between the honorable men and women in uniform and the narcissistic killers who adorn themselves with knives and cop-killer side arms – and who look like rejects from professional wrestling.
And, as any soldier in Iraq can tell you, one contractor shoot-’em-up can ruin months of progress. (Of course, the contractors don’t make money off of progress – a peaceful Iraq would be terrible for business.)
Speaking with Army officers in Iraq, you’ll find some who defend specific security contractors as responsible and valuable. I’ve personally seen some who behaved with discipline and professionalism. But I couldn’t find one military officer who had a good word to say about Blackwater – the kindest comment came from a major on a repeat tour who told me that “given my own dealings with them in ’05, this latest incident [has] not come as a surprise to me.”
A well-placed colonel had believed that Blackwater’s cowboy years had been back in 2004 and 2005. He’d hoped that the company was now under control.
It wasn’t.
Another officer recalled his experiences up-country on his last tour of duty. A rival of Blackwater’s, Triple Canopy, escorted State reps who visited his unit’s area. The security details always checked in, got briefed, confirmed the route status, made sure the Army knew when they entered and exited the sector, and even asked if any large gatherings of Iraqis were expected – so they could bypass them. The soldiers and the contractors from Triple Canopy “developed a rapport.”
Then Blackwater took over the escort mission. The officer “got a decidedly different impression of the guys I came in contact with . . . Security officers who came to the TOC [tactical operations center] were swaggering, arrogant and didn’t want to be bothered knowing about the route status . . . I clearly remember the first day I met them [and] began the standard brief I would give to Triple Canopy. The Blackwater guy threw up his hand and said dismissively, ‘I’m good to go, Hoss.’”
Soon after that, Blackwater gunmen shot up some locals, killing one civilian and wounding several others. They didn’t bother to inform the Army unit responsible for the area – which had to pick up the pieces. Our troops hadn’t known that State had anyone in the area that day and only found out after the damage was done.
How can it be that you and I are working and paying taxes to fund six-figure salaries for thugs who undercut our progress in Iraq, make a mockery of the values we profess, and trash America’s image?  most-frightened human beings you’ll Our country has been dishonored. By our “Hessians.”
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of the recent book “Wars Of Blood And Faith.”
Founded: 1997 in North Carolina by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince
Logo: A bear claw within a rifle sight
Employees: It boasts a database of 20,000 men; it’s estimated they have about 1,000 contractors in Iraq.
Pay: Blackwater has four tiers of contractor. Tier 1, made up mostly of former military personnel, can pay $600-$650 a day, according to author Jeremy Scahill. The bottom tier, usually Iraqi locals, make much less. Scahill heard that Colombian contractors, at Tier 3, made as little as $34 a day.
Contracts: Over $700 million in State Department contracts alone since 2003, including a $27 million contract to guard Iraq administrator Paul Bremer for 11 months.
Nickname: Iraqis call it “the Mossad.” “There’s probably no deeper insult for the Iraqis,” Scahill says.
Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Nation Books), explains the meteoric ascent of the troubled private military contractor. Blackwater may not be the largest of these companies, “but it’s a high-end boutique on a strip-mall full of Wal-Marts. And it’s politically closest to the administration.”
1997 – Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL whose family is a major Republican donor, founds Blackwater Lodge and Training Center in North Carolina. The name is a tip of the hat to the local swamps, and it’s advertised as a sportsman’s paradise – though the company mentions that a growth area could be in the increased outsourcing of military contracts.
1999 – After the Columbine tragedy, Blackwater builds a mock high school called RU Ready High. Law enforcement officials from around the country train in the facility to respond to school shootings.
2000 – After the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen, the U.S. Navy grants Blackwater a $35 million contract to train its sailors to respond to terrorist attacks.
2001 – After 9/11, Blackwater is granted its first contract in a military zone. Details are classified; Scahill believes the mission was to guard a structure in Afghanistan for the CIA.
2003 – Blackwater receives a $27 million no-bid contract to guard U.S. administrator Paul Bremer in Iraq.
2004 – In March, Iraqi insurgents attacked a convoy containing four Blackwater contractors, who were killed, their bodies hung from a Euphrates bridge. The company hired lobbyists from the Alexander Strategy Group the day after the ambush, and within a week Blackwater officials met with top GOP lawmakers. Three months later, Blackwater was awarded a $320 million contract to provide diplomatic security in Iraq.
2005 – After Hurricane Katrina, Blackwater is contracted to provide security, logistics and transport on the Gulf Coast. Its employees protect government facilities for the Department of Homeland Security.
2006 – On Christmas Eve, an off-duty Blackwater contractor shoots and kills a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president inside the Green Zone. The Iraqis label it a “murder.” Blackwater admits it whisked the contractor out of Iraq.
2007 – On Sept. 16, at Nissor Square in Baghdad, Blackwater contractors get into a fire fight in which 11 Iraqis are killed. Blackwater officials say that they came under attack from multiple locations. According to an Iraqi investigation, the Blackwater contractors fired at a car that ignored warnings and Iraqi Army soldiers responded by firing on the Blackwater team, which was answered by more shooting. The next day, the Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in the country. So far the Bush administration has backed Blackwater. “The company has lost about 30 men in Iraq,” Scahill says. “They’ve never lost anyone they were assigned to protect. So there’s a

FACTBOX: Report says Blackwater Iraq shootings at 1.4 per week


(Reuters) – Blackwater, the embattled U.S. security contractor, defended itself in Congress on Tuesday over “escalation of force” incidents in Iraq that a congressional report said equal 1.4 shootings per week.

The report prepared by Democratic staff of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005 and shot first 84 percent of the time despite a contract agreement to use force only in defense.

The report said Blackwater usually does not remain at the scene to determine if there are casualties. But Blackwater’s own incident reports still record 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 instances of property damage, mainly to Iraqi vehicles.

Blackwater activities came under intense scrutiny in Washington after a September 16 shooting killed 11 Iraqi civilians, wounded 14 and initially prompted the Iraqi government to revoke the company’s license.

Following are five other incidents listed in the Democratic report from the committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

* June 2005, a Blackwater team killed an Iraqi man with a shot to the chest. The victim’s brothers reported to the State Department that the father of six was killed as an innocent bystander. An internal State Department document said the Blackwater personnel who fired the shots initially failed to report the shooting and sought to cover it up.

* October 2005, a Blackwater team protecting a motorcade in Mosul encountered a vehicle that appeared to be turning into the motorcade’s path. When the driver did not heed warnings to stop, a Blackwater gunner released “a burst of fire” that apparently disabled the vehicle. A civilian nearby was hit in the head by a bullet. Blackwater continued on without stopping but reported the incident as a probable killing. An ambulance was sent to the scene.

* November 2005, a Blackwater motorcade collided with 18 vehicles during a round trip journey. Written statements from team members were determined by Blackwater to be “invalid, inaccurate, and at best, dishonest reporting.” According to a Blackwater contractor who was on the mission, the tactical commander “openly admitted giving clear direction to the primary driver to conduct these acts of random negligence for no apparent reason.” Two employees were fired as a result.

* September 2006, a Blackwater team with four vehicles was driving on the wrong side of the road in a maneuver called “counter flowing.” The driver of an Iraqi car heading toward the Blackwater team lost control while trying to avoid them. The car swerved, skidded into a Blackwater vehicle, crashed into a telephone pole and caught fire. The Blackwater team collected people and sensitive equipment from its own disabled vehicle and left the scene without trying to assist the occupants of the Iraqi vehicle, which Blackwater described as “a ball of flames.”

* Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed a security guard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq within 36 hours. The U.S. embassy’s charge d’affaires recommended that Blackwater apologize to the dead man’s family and pay them $250,000. But the State Department’s Diplomatic Security Service said the sum was too high and could cause Iraqis to “try to get killed.” In the end, Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment.

Trigger-Happy Journalists 

October 1, 2007; Page A22

“They are immature shooters and have very quick trigger fingers,” says an anonymous lieutenant colonel.

“Why are we creating new vulnerabilities by relying on what are essentially mercenary forces?” asks a nameless intelligence officer. “They often act like cowboys over here,” says an unidentified commander.

Ever since a recent shootout in downtown Baghdad, newspapers have been ablaze with charges that private security contractors in Iraq are trigger-happy.

This rush to pass judgment is hardly surprising. Frequently derided as “mercenaries” and “rent-a-cops,” security contractors make an easy target for war opponents.

As a former employee of a major Blackwater competitor, I find this categorical smearing of contractors to be starkly at odds with my experience. I served as an officer in the Navy SEALs for six years. After I left, I joined a private security firm and was promptly sent to Iraq.

Contrary to the popular belief that Blackwater contractors are “thugs for hire,” most are highly professional and well trained. Blackwater operates the world’s largest private military training facility. Its 1,000 contractors working in Iraq are drawn from the ranks of former military and law enforcement officials. Many of its workers are former SEALs or veterans of other special-operations units.

The risks these workers assume are underscored by the infamous 2004 ambush in Fallujah, in which four Blackwater contractors were murdered and mutilated. To date, Blackwater has lost 30 contractors. For all anyone knows, last month’s incident could have turned into another Fallujah had Blackwater’s contractors reacted differently. The details are still terribly unclear.

The contractors — and the U.S. diplomats they were escorting — claim they were ambushed. Yet Iraq’s Ministry of Interior almost immediately issued a report declaring that the contractors were “100% guilty.” Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has charged that the operators killed “in cold blood.”

With conflicting reports, condemnations should not be made until the joint Iraqi-U.S. investigation is completed. The media, however, has accepted the Ministry of Interior’s version of events, all but writing off the accounts of both Blackwater and the State Department.

This follows a long-established pattern of unfounded claims in the press about security contractors. For instance, numerous reports reference contractors making over $1,000 a day — far more than active-duty soldiers. Some point to the more than $700 million Blackwater has received in State Department contracts in order to denounce security firms as war profiteers.

The truth, however, is that contractors are cost-effective. Blackwater contractors, for example, are generally paid $450-$650 a day. More important, unlike U.S. servicemen, they usually receive no benefits and are paid only for the days they work. Security contractors at the better firms have typically retired from active duty or left the military on their own accord after extended service. They are honorable veterans who have chosen to risk their lives to protect American diplomats in a war zone.

Instead of depleting our armed forces, security contractors allow the government to recapture its investment in these men during wartime and avoid the extraordinary expense of training new recruits. In short, they’re already trained and experienced — and cost money only when they’re needed.

Another common myth is that contractors are above the law. True, the June 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 exempts contractors (and other diplomatic personnel) from local prosecution. But that doesn’t mean that contractors have been granted blanket immunity from prosecution. In fact, the order clearly states that this immunity is limited only to acts necessary to fulfill contracts. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians — as alleged in last month’s incident — are not covered.

Contractors are also subject to numerous U.S. statutes and regulations, as well as international treaties. Just last year, Congress amended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to include contractors. Contractors can also be prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which permits charges to be brought in federal court for crimes abroad.

Like soldiers, security contractors are sometimes forced to make split-second decisions with enormous consequences. They must be — and are — accountable to our government for their actions. But the people I worked with in Iraq, including veterans working for Blackwater, were hardly rogue cowboys. I did, however, meet some trigger-happy journalists over there.

Mr. Ryan is a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer who spent time in Iraq as an employee of Triple Canopy, a private security firm.

Eric Prince

The Vindication of Erik Prince 

Erik Dean Prince, BUD/S 188 and ST-8.          NATIONAL REVIEW ONLINE                   December 5, 2013 

The former Blackwater CEO releases a new book, Civilian Warriors, to set the record straight. 

By Alec Torres

Erik Prince now lives in Abu Dhabi. The former Navy SEAL and creator of the military-contracting company Blackwater isn’t even sure he wants to remain an American citizen. 

“Uh . . . for the record, for now I plan on retaining my U.S. citizenship, but I am very, very worried about the direction of America right now,” he told me on November 18, the day before Civilian Warriors, his book about his time at the helm of Blackwater, was released. 

Blackwater was an amazing success story. A company born out of a desire to help America in any way possible, it provided security for diplomats, resupply aid to soldiers, relief to disaster-struck populations, and more. Yet it was ruined by the politics and policies of the government it served. Looking back on the story of Blackwater, Prince worries about the future of the country he had risked his life for and built his company to aid and protect. 

His worry is understandable. Not only were he and his company hounded by the press, sued, badgered by Congress, reviled, and subjected to IRS scrutiny, but his time first in the military and then as a private contractor provided a first-person view of the decline of American influence and prestige abroad as well as the depths of government waste and inefficiency. 

“You can’t spend yourself off a cliff. You can’t make decisions leading almost to self-immolation and expect the country is going to go on the way it always has,” he said. “America is held in lower regard today wherever I go in the world. It’s not respected. It’s not trusted as a partner. The repeated blunderings of the U.S. ever since the Arab Spring have lowered America’s stock.” 

Far more worrisome than America’s standing abroad, says Prince, is the growth of the U.S. government. “I believe unfortunately that the greatest threat to American liberty is becoming the U.S. government,” he told me. “It’s not a foreign enemy any more. It’s the growth and bloat of the U.S. government itself.” 

Having spent years as the object of anti-war anger, forced to keep silent by an agreement with the State Department he was hired to protect, Prince has come out in the open to give his side of the story, telling a tale of bureaucratic waste, government malice, and media deceit. 

But for Prince, it wasn’t always that way. 

He started out with a simple idea: build a world-class one-stop training facility for special-operations personnel, who, at that time, were being shipped to different facilities around the country at the taxpayers’ expense. Financed by the fortune left to him by his late father and informed by his own experiences as a former Navy SEAL, Prince set up shop in 1998 in North Carolina’s Great Dismal Swamp, whose charcoal-colored waters provided the company’s name. 

The years from 1999 to 2006 saw the rapid rise of Prince’s company from a struggling training facility and shooting range to a worldwide, billion-dollar corporation. At each crisis, from the 2000 bombing of the USS Cole to September 11 to America’s response in the form of the War on Terror, Blackwater stepped up to the plate, purchasing new equipment, expanding capabilities, and providing personnel where the government was lacking. Eventually Blackwater had contracts flying supplies into the mountainous regions of Afghanistan, guarding American diplomats in Baghdad, and protecting CIA bases in Kabul and Taliban-held eastern Afghanistan. And while Blackwater earned a profit, it offered its services at a fraction of the cost the government would have incurred performing these functions itself. 

Then came Nisour Square. On Sunday, September 16, 2007, in western Baghdad, Blackwater troops were clearing the road for a diplomatic convoy. A car approaching from the other direction ignored repeated warnings to stop. Fearing another car-bomb attack, Blackwater’s Paul Slough opened fire on the car, occupied, it was later determined, by an innocent man and his mother. What ensued was a pitched battle, the details of which are still disputed. As Iraqi militants fired on the Blackwater men and they returned fire, more than three dozen Iraqi civilians were shot, and eleven of them died. 

The result was an international outcry. The Iraqi government demanded Blackwater’s removal from the country. American media outlets blared stories of the “Blackwater Massacre” and “Mass Murder in Nisour Square.” The U.S. Justice Department charged five Blackwater agents with a total of 14 counts of voluntary manslaughter, 20 counts of attempted manslaughter, and the use and discharge of a firearm during a violent crime. While individual agents were indicted, Blackwater itself faced no charges. Democrats in Congress became furious that the company remained legally unscathed, and in the 2008 elections, the role of military contractors, with Blackwater as their face, became a campaign issue. 

When I spoke with Prince, I asked him about the aftermath of Nisour Square. He told me it was the first step in the unraveling of his company. “It was the perfect time for the anti-war Left that during the Vietnam War went after the troops. This time, they went after contractors,” Prince said. “Look, I came from a conservative family, I supported conservative causes in the past, I was the sole owner. We were the perfect target for all those folks to say, ‘That’s it.’ It became a campaign talking point for the congressional elections.” 

Prince also thinks the State Department threw Blackwater under the bus, depriving its agents of evidence by barring them from having dashboard cameras in their vehicles, which Prince believes would have exonerated them, and refusing to defend his men, who were acting in defense of American diplomats. “The sad thing is the State Department could have shut down a lot of nonsense with the media by saying, ‘We did an investigation, and this is what it is,’” Prince said. 

Perhaps worse, Prince and his employees were unable to speak to the press and give their account of the events because of a gag rule in their contract with the State Department. 

With the world seemingly against them and no means of defense, Blackwater personnel were targeted as “cowboys” and “war profiteers,” reckless men endangering the lives of innocent people. What followed was years of court proceedings, bad press, and attacks from Washington politicians. Blackwater changed its name to Xe Enterprises in 2009 and eventually Academi in 2010. Prince, for the good of the company, had stepped down in March 2009. 

* * * 

Though Erik Prince finished a draft of Civilian Warriors in 2011, he waited to publish until now, when the final prosecutions against five former executives of his company had finished, the men ultimately exonerated and the case dismissed. Now, with the past behind him, he can take the time to tell his story. 

“I wrote this book just to set the record straight,” Prince told me. “The characterization of being these overly aggressive war profiteers who were running amok was just not the case. I think the book does a pretty good job of taking those arguments apart.” 

To combat the notion that military contractors are a new evil in the modern era performing what ought to be strictly governmental functions, Prince traces the history of military contracting from Columbus — who “with the stroke of Isabella’s pen . . . effectively became a private military contractor,” Prince writes — to Iraq. 

“Contractors are strewn all through American history, from the founding of the country and the original colonists, to the building of the Continental Army, to the privateers of the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, to the Flying Tigers, you name it,” Prince told me. “Why say, ‘Oh there should never be any fighting contractors?’ because there certainly have been in the past.” 

Throughout the book, Prince details the infuriating and counterproductive policies of central control in Washington, especially the State Department. “It’s the curse of dumb policies set back in Washington that say, ‘You will have a Suburban with running lights and sirens, washed and waxed, and you’re going to run the same route every day,’” Prince said, reflecting on those who claimed his company was dangerously belligerent. “It’s pretty easy for the enemy to play whack-a-mole. So, then, driving aggressively is about the only thing you can do to avoid losing people.” 

In the light of this troubled past with the State Department, I asked him if there is any bad blood. “I try to forget about them as much as I can,” he said with a laugh. “The sad thing is I know that if we had been on the job in Benghazi, the U.S. ambassador would be alive. We had competent people and did something like 100,000 runs in Iraq and Afghanistan, and none of the diplomats we were guarding was ever killed or injured.” 

Despite the way his company was treated by politicians and bureaucracies, Prince still sees an important future for private military contractors, who continue to constitute a large portion of America’s footprint abroad. “In the short term, the key thing is that if we have a competitive contractor system, at least we have a private-sector benchmark as to what things should cost,” Prince said. “The Pentagon budgets $2.1 million a year for every active-duty soldier. So a private contractor can say, ‘That’s bullshit. I can provide a guy with the same qualifications, a 35-year-old man with ten years’ experience, and I can put him in the field for $400,000 a year. That’s one-fifth of what the government spends.’” 

Though the benefits of using private contractors are clear, he offered a warning for American companies in the contracting world. “To have my company wrecked by politics is a sad and hopefully a cautionary tale to the next guy who is dumb enough to run to the sound of an alarm bell,” he told me. His one bit of advice: “Don’t be an American company, because you are automatically subjecting yourself to every parasitic, ambulance-chasing lawyer in America.” 

Today, from Abu Dhabi, Prince is working with a private-equity start-up on mining, agriculture, and energy exploration, development, and logistics in Sub-Saharan Africa. His next project is to build a petroleum refinery in South Sudan to bring affordable energy to a country otherwise dependent on Gulf fuel expensively transported over sea and land. “That’ll be a very satisfying project, I hope,” Prince told me, “and probably the single greatest act of economic development that country has ever seen. Obviously we’re doing it to make money, but bringing usable energy to the people of South Sudan is long overdue.” 

Though he has lived in Abu Dhabi the past three years and is unsure of his future citizenship, his kids attend school in Virginia, and he remains a Virginia resident, taxpayer, and voter. 

Reflecting on what in his view is the greatest threat to America — the size of the government — Prince offered one frank solution: “Cut the whole thing.” “There is a ton of room across the board,” he added. “I could cut 40 percent out of the Pentagon easy.” 

He worries in particular that Republicans don’t understand the gravity of the situation and are letting their love of the military obscure reality. “For Republicans, you need to take away the notion that it’s unpatriotic to cut the defense budget. I love the military, but it needs to be cost-effective, not just effective,” he said. “We’re not endangering America by cutting the defense budget. We’re endangering it by not.” 

Prince is doubtful, though, that politicians will be able to agree on a solution. Instead, he thinks that only crisis — in the form of hyperinflation and budgetary collapse or the next all-out war — will spark reform. 

Regardless, Prince foresees a hard future for America, and he’s not sure he wants to be here when that future comes. 

— Alec Torres is a William F. Buckley Fellow at the National Review Institute.

Exclusive: Court Docs Reveal Blackwater’s Secret CIA Past

March 14, 2013 at 11:31 AM 


 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. 

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 r 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. 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 affiliated with Academi, 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.” David Boies, the lawyer who represented Al Gore in Bush v. Gore, took up Gary Jackson’s case last fall. Boies told me he did so because he saw the prosecution as an abuse of power. “These people were functioning really as an arm of the CIA at a time when the CIA’s resources were strained,” he said. “I think that Erik Prince and Mr. Jackson and other people at Blackwater thought they were being patriots.” Reflecting on the prosecution and the scrutiny of the company he founded, Prince said the charges against Blackwater executives left him “perplexed and angry.” “Blackwater carried out countless life-threatening missions for the CIA,” he said. “And, in return, the government chose to prosecute my people for doing exactly what was asked of them.”

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