So-called news first:
Blackwater is now the focus of investigations in both Baghdad and Washington over a Sept. 16 shooting in which at least 11 Iraqis were killed.(Off topic: Have you noticed how the press has started attempting to explain exactly why they are using anonymous sources? No longer the "senior official speaking on 'background' only," now it's "in order to discuss a delicate, continuing investigation," or "not authorized to speak on the matter.")
Beyond that episode, the company has been involved in cases in which its personnel fired weapons while guarding State Department officials in Iraq at least twice as often per convoy mission as security guards working for other American security firms, the officials said.
“The incident rate for Blackwater is higher, there is a distinction,” said a senior American government official who insisted on anonymity in order to discuss a delicate, continuing investigation. “The real question that is open for discussion is why.”
A Blackwater spokeswoman declined to comment.
Rosa Brooks opines in the L. A. Times:
The White House's motives are obvious. Why fight another war, with all the bother of convincing Congress, if you can quietly hire a private military company to fight it for you? Why interrogate suspected insurgents if you can outsource the whole messy business? Why go through the tedious process of training Afghan judges if DynCorp will handle it instead -- as long as you're not too picky about the results?Now we start picking on Erik Prince. An excerpt from an extract of Jeremy Scahill's book on Blackwater, published in the Times Online (The extract is a long one for you Internet attention span types, but here are our favorite parts):
As for the corporations so eagerly lapping up the contracting dollars, there's no conspiracy -- it's just the good old profit motive. If the White House wants to sell off U.S. foreign policy, someone's going to buy it. Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater, is straightforward about his company's goal: "We're trying to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did for the Postal Service."
Since FedEx rendered the post office irrelevant for all but the most trivial forms of mail, this means you can kiss our national security apparatus goodbye.
Blackwater is a private army, and it is controlled by one person: Erik Prince, a radical right-wing Christian mega-millionaire who has served as a major bankroller not only of President Bush’s campaigns but of the broader Christian-right agenda. In fact, as of this writing Prince has never given a penny to a Democratic candidate—certainly his right, but an unusual pattern for the head of such a powerful war-servicing corporation, and one that speaks volumes about the sincerity of his ideological commitment. Blackwater has been one of the most effective battalions in Rumsfeld’s war on the Pentagon, and Prince speaks boldly about the role his company is playing in the radical transformation of the U.S. military. “When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx?” Prince recently asked during a panel discussion with military officials. “Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.”Whew! Some of Erik's friends & associates, from a review of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army in Media Mouse:
Blackwater claims that its forces operate under the legally impotent and unenforceable code of conduct written by its own trade association, ironically named the International Peace Operations Association. Erik Prince says his forces are “accountable to our country,” as though declarations of loyalty to the flag are evidence of just motives or activities or somehow a substitute for an independent legal framework.
Prince likes to position Blackwater as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military, and in September 2005 he issued a company-wide memorandum requiring all company employees and contractors to swear the same oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution as Blackwater’s “National Security-related clients (i.e. Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies)” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . . . So help me God.”
But despite the portrayal of Blackwater as an all-American operation seeking to defend the defenseless, some of its most ambitious and secretive projects reveal a very different and frightening reality. In May 2004, Blackwater quietly registered a new division, Greystone Limited, in the U.S. government’s Central Contracting office. But instead of incorporating the company in North Carolina or Virginia or Delaware, like Blackwater’s other divisions, Greystone was registered offshore in the Caribbean island-nation of Barbados. It was duly classified by the U.S. government as a “tax-exempt” “corporate entity.” Greystone’s promotional literature offered prospective clients “Proactive Engagement Teams” that could be hired “to meet emergent or existing security requirements for client needs overseas. Our teams are ready to conduct stabilization efforts, asset protection and recovery, and emergency personnel withdrawal.” It also offered a wide range of training services, including in “defensive and offensive small group operations.”
Greystone boasted that it “maintains and trains a workforce drawn from a diverse base of former special operations, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals ready on a moment’s notice for global deployment.” The countries from which Greystone claimed to draw recruits were: the Philippines, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Peru, many of whose forces have human rights records that are questionable at best. It asked applicants to check off their qualifications in weapons: AK-47 rifle, Glock 19, M-16 series rifle, M-4 carbine rifle, machine gun, mortar, and shoulder-fired weapons (RPG, LAAW). Among the qualifications the application sought: sniper, marksman, door gunner, explosive ordnance, counter-assault team. In Iraq, Blackwater has deployed scores of Chilean mercenaries, some of whom trained and served under the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. “We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals,” said Blackwater president Gary Jackson. “The Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system.”
With domestic armed forces stretched to the limit—and a draft off the table for political reasons— the U.S. government is left to struggle to find nation-state allies willing to staff the occupations of its “global war on terror.” If the national armies of other states will not join a “coalition of the willing,” Blackwater and its allies offer a different sort of solution: an alternative internationalization of the force achieved by recruiting private soldiers from across the globe. If foreign governments are not on board, foreign soldiers—many of whose home countries oppose the U.S. wars— can still be enlisted, at a price.
This process, critics allege, is nothing short of a subversion of the very existence of the nation-state and of principles of sovereignty and self-determination. “The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say ‘mercenaries’ makes wars easier to begin and to fight—it just takes money and not the citizenry,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose organization has sued private contractors for alleged human rights violations in Iraq. “To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need for mercenaries. Likewise, here at home in the United States. Controlling an angry, abused population with a police force bound to obey the Constitution can be difficult—private forces can solve this ‘problem.’”
As with Halliburton, the Pentagon’s largest contractor, Blackwater is set apart from simple war profiteers by the defining characteristic of its executives’ very long view. They have not just seized a profitable moment along with many of their competitors but have set out to carve a permanent niche for themselves for decades to come. Blackwater’s aspirations are not limited to international wars, however. Its forces beat most federal agencies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, as hundreds of heavily armed Blackwater mercenaries—some fresh from deployment in Iraq—fanned out into the disaster zone. Within a week, they were officially hired by the Department of Homeland Security to operate in the U.S. Gulf, billing the federal government $950 a day per Blackwater soldier. In less than a year, the company had raked in more than $70 million in federal hurricane-related contracts—about $243,000 a day. The company saw Katrina as another moment of great opportunity and soon began applying for permits to contract its forces out to local governments in all fifty states. Blackwater executives have met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about deploying there in the aftermath of an earthquake or another disaster. “Look, none of us loves the idea that devastation became a business opportunity,” said the Blackwater official heading up its new domestic operations division formed after Katrina. “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.”
But critics see the deployment of Blackwater’s forces domestically as a dangerous precedent that could undermine U.S. democracy. “Their actions may not be subject to constitutional limitations that apply to both federal and state officials and employees—including First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal searches and seizures. Unlike police officers, they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights,” says CCR’s Michael Ratner. “These kind of paramilitary groups bring to mind Nazi Party brownshirts, functioning as an extrajudicial enforcement mechanism that can and does operate outside the law. The use of these paramilitary groups is an extremely dangerous threat to our rights.”
What is particularly scary about Blackwater’s role in a war that President Bush labeled a “crusade” is that the company’s leading executives are dedicated to a Christian-supremacist agenda. Erik Prince and his family have provided generous funding to the religious right’s war against secularism and for expanding the presence of Christianity in the public sphere.
Prince is a close friend and benefactor to some of the country’s most hard right Christian evangelists, such as former Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson, who went on to become an adviser to President Bush and a pioneer of “faith-based prisons,” and Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer, an original signer of the Project for a New American Century’s “Statement of Principles,” whom Prince has worked alongside since his youth and who was a close friend of Prince’s father. Some Blackwater executives even boast of their membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia formed in the eleventh century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending “territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems.”
The Order today boasts of being “a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps, and public institutions” and “diplomatic relations with 94 countries.” The outsourcing of U.S. military operations in Muslim countries and in secular societies to such neo-crusaders reinforces the greatest fears of many in the Arab world and other opponents of the administration’s wars.
Most of the world first heard of “private military companies” after the infamous March 31, 2004, ambush of four Blackwater soldiers in Fallujah, Iraq—a gruesome mob murder that marked the moment the war turned and the Iraqi resistance exploded. Many of the media reports at the time (and today) refer to these shadowy forces as “civilian contractors” or “foreign reconstruction workers” as though they were engineers, construction workers, humanitarians, or water specialists. The term “mercenary” was almost never used to describe them. That is no accident. Indeed, it is part of a very sophisticated rebranding campaign organized by the mercenary industry itself and increasingly embraced by policy-makers, bureaucrats, and other powerful decision makers in Washington and other Western capitals. Those men who died at Fallujah were members of Washington’s largest partner in the coalition of the willing in Iraq—bigger than Britain’s total deployment—and yet most of the world had not a clue they were there. The ambush resulted in Blackwater being positioned in a key role to affect the regulations that would oversee (or not) the rapidly expanding industry, of which Blackwater was the new leader. Three months later, the company was handed one of the U.S. government’s most valuable international security contracts: to protect diplomats and U.S. facilities. The highly publicized deaths of four of its private soldiers would prove to be the spark that set Blackwater on a path to success for years to come.
The story of Blackwater’s rise is an epic one in the history of the military-industrial complex. The company is the living embodiment of the changes wrought by the revolution in military affairs and the privatization agenda radically expanded by the Bush administration under the guise of the war on terror. But more fundamentally, it is a story about the future of war, democracy, and governance. This story goes from the company’s beginnings in 1996, with visionary Blackwater executives opening a private military training camp in order “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training,” to its contract boom following 9/11, to the blood-soaked streets of Fallujah, where the corpses of its mercenaries were left to dangle from a bridge. It includes a rooftop firefight in Muqtada al-Sadr’s stronghold of Najaf; an expedition to the oil-rich Caspian Sea, where the administration sent Blackwater to set up a military base just miles from the Iranian border; a foray into New Orleans’s hurricane- ravaged streets; and many hours in the chambers of power in Washington, D.C., where Blackwater executives are welcomed as new heroes in the war on terror. But the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army began far away from the current battlefields, in the sleepy town of Holland, Michigan, where Erik Prince was born into a right-wing Christian dynasty. It was the Prince family that laid the groundwork, spending millions of dollars over many decades to bring to power the very forces that would enable Blackwater’s meteoric ascent.
The founder and CEO of Blackwater is Erik Prince, son of Edgar Prince, the now deceased businessman from Holland, Michigan. Prince's background as a Western Michigander is not just limited to geography, the brother of Betsy DeVos has also embraced the conservative religious beliefs that his family promoted zealously, particularly with their money. Erik began his political career working as an intern for Gary Bauer at the Family Research Council and also worked in the Bush I White House, although he thought that this administration was too liberal. Prince disapproved of the Bush I administration to the extent that in 1992 he supported Patrick Buchanan for President, something that got him into trouble with his sister Betsy.A pause to look at the "Order of Malta," & its Wikipedia entry. And something from Conspiracy Nation. And a bit more paranoia from the web, linking the "Military Order" w/ the John Birch Society.
Unlike his family, which is part of the Christian Reformed Church, Erik Prince is a Catholic. He most likely became Catholic when he married his first wife, who died of cancer shortly after they were married. Interestingly enough, most of the leadership at Blackwater is also Catholic, albeit a conservative wing of the church that is quite reactionary. Erik Prince is personally connected to conservative Catholic groups like Catholic Answer, Crisis magazine, and a Grand Rapids-based group, the Acton Institute. But Prince has not abandoned his Protestant/Evangelical roots and is a close friend of Watergate criminal turned believer Chuck Colson.
They have shared the podium on several occasions, even once at Calvin College. According to Scahill, Prince is aligning himself with a new Catholic/Evangelical alliance called "Evangelicals and Catholics Together." The ECT manifesto states:"The century now drawing to a close has been the greatest century of missionary expansion in Christian history. We pray and we believe that this expansion has prepared the way for yet greater missionary endeavor in the first century of the Third Millennium. The two communities in world Christianity that are most evangelistically assertive and most rapidly growing are Evangelicals and Catholics."
Prince's relationship to what Scahill calls the "Theocon" movement is not marginal. Prince himself writes about this relationship and it's importance, particularly with the mission of Blackwater. Prince says "Everybody carries guns, just like the Prophet Jeremiah rebuilding the temple in Israel - a sword in one hand and a trowel in the other."
Then Fallujah happened. Several Blackwater contractors were killed in what Scahill documents as a botched mission. This didn't stop the administration and Blackwater in using the Blackwater deaths as justification for a massive military assault on that city just after the 2004 Presidential election.
Blackwater used the incident to hire its first lobbyist, Paul Behrends, from the Republican lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group. Here Prince's religious right connection paid off. Behrends was on the board of Christian Freedom International (CFI) with Prince for years. The CFI was founded by veterans from the Reagan administration, many of who were "major players in the Iran-Contra scandal."
This lobbying certainly paid off. Blackwater was able to expand in step with US foreign policy interests. After the US invasion of Afghanistan, the US set up military bases in the Caspian region. In Azerbaijan, Blackwater "would be tasked with establishing and training an elite Azeri force modeled after the US Navy SEALs that would ultimately protect the interests of the US and its allies in a hostile region." This all occurred during a time when the US State Department said there were "restriction[s] on the right of citizens to peacefully change their government; torture and beating of persons in custody; arbitrary arrests and detention, particularly of political opponents; harsh and life-threatening prison conditions; excessive use of force to disperse demonstrations; and police impunity."This constant growth for Blackwater posed a problem, in that they were not able to keep up with the growing demand for training and providing mercenary forces for "security duty." Again Prince turned to his past connections. He was stationed for a period of time in Chile while in the US military. It was here that he tapped into another military source. Jose Miguel Pizarro was an ex-military man in Chile that Prince knew. Pizarro, an ardent defender of former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet eventually became Blackwater's main recruiter for mercenaries from Latin America. Soon, other Chilean mercenaries, Colombians and Hondurans would become contract workers for Blackwater in Iraq. This raises interesting questions about the type of people that Blackwater employs, considering many of them have worked as part of military or para-military organizations with brutal track records.
Blackwater was also able to tap into veterans of the US intelligence community. Cofer Black a 37-year veteran of the CIA, was hired by Blackwater in February of 2005 as the company's vice chairman. Black had been appointed by Bush as his "coordinator of counterterrorism, with the rank of at large ambassador at the State Department." Soon after that the company scored another big insider in the person of Joseph Schmitz. Schmitz, before joining Blackwater was tasked with the job of overseeing all war contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Schmitz, whose connection to war profiteers was well known, determined after his investigation that "there was no wrong doing" with any of the private contractors in Iraq or Afghanistan. For those who have seen the documentary Iraq for Sale, you know this to be a bold lie. Shortly after Schmitz exonerated his friends in the war profiting industry he announced that he was going to work for Blackwater.
Schmitz is also part of the inner circle of Theocons with Prince.
In a 2004 speech Schmitz said "No American today should ever doubt that we hold ourselves accountable to the rule of law under God. Here lies the fundamental difference between us and the terrorists." Schmitz is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, "a Christian militia formed in the eleventh century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems." In addition, Schmitz is a devotee to someone who fought alongside of George Washington, the Prussian militarist Baron Friedrich Wilhelm Von Steuben. "Von Steuben is one of four men often cited by Blackwater officials as founding mercenaries of the United States." Erik Prince and the other Blackwater leadership, like Joseph Schmitz, think they are following in that tradition.
From the Iraq for Sale website:
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.Another side note: The only reference we've seen to Mr. Prince attending the USNA was in the Wikipedia entry on him. That may just be (gasp!) incorrect.
He is a board member of 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.
Another review of Blackwater, from the Baltimore Chronicle & Sentinel:
[P]olitically powerful Christian fundamentalists and Neocons are pressing forward with their battle for what they call 'freedom' and 'democracy'—whether the U.S. public, or indeed the rest of the world, wants to fight or not.How interesting. Which family could that be? (Didn't make the local connection there, to Southern California's own John G. Schmitz.)
They envision, as a Baltimore Sun letter to the editor expressed on March 25, "a global war, with the United States serving as the primary defender of Western civilization against our rarely named enemy, Islamist totalitarianism..."
Sounds over the top, doesn't it? Yet those who believe "Western civilization" (read "Christendom" or perhaps "Judeo-Christendom") is imperiled by 'infidels' are pushing hard to confront and defeat 'the enemy.'
War that serves the purposes of this 'belief' faction also fuels profits for war-related businesses.
In addition to its size, Blackwater merits being singled out for attention because of its leaders' well-placed political, social, and religious connections, and its founder Erik Prince's immense wealth and Catholic extremist connections.
Questions arise for which there are no known answers at this time, such as: How much seed money did Prince put up to start Blackwater? How much profit did he make on his initial investment? Who else besides Erik Prince has a financial stake in Blackwater?
Joseph E. Schmitz, the scandal-ridden former Pentagon Inspector General during the first years of the Iraq war, is a member of the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Says Scahill, Schmitz "comes from one of the most bizarre, scandal-plagued, right-wing political families in U.S. history," and the facts back him up. Schmitz left the Pentagon in 2005 to take job as Blackwater's Chief Operating Officer and General Counsel.
Joseph Edward Schmitz is the son of the [late] John G. Schmitz, former California State Senator, Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, and U.S. Presidential candidate (1972). Schmitz attended Catholic schools as a child and Georgetown Preparatory School while his father served in Congress. He holds a B.S. (1978) from the United States Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland and a J.D. (1986) from Stanford University. He was on the wrestling team at the Naval Academy. His siblings include Mary Kay Letourneau and John Patrick Schmitz. Upon graduation from the Naval Academy, Schmitz served in the U.S. Navy for approximately four years, including a stint as an exchange officer with the German Navy. Schmitz left active duty and was in the Naval Reserve until 2001. After leaving active duty, Schmitz attended law school. He clerked with James L. Buckley, Circuit Judge, United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit and was a special assistant to Attorney General Edwin Meese III during the Reagan Administration.Hmmm, The DaVinci Code or not, Opus Dei, huh?
He is a member of Opus Dei.
Some ex-members and their families, secularists, supporters of liberation theology, some Catholics, especially liberals, have argued that Opus Dei is cult-like, secretive, and highly controlling. For Massimo Introvigne, a Catholic sociologist, Opus Dei is intentionally stigmatized by its opponents, because they "cannot tolerate the 'return to religion' of the secularized society."Guess what, Massimo? We cannot tolerate a return to the Stone Age, either.
Robert Greenwald has a brief Huffington post on Prince. Here's video.A look at the big Blackwater cheeses, & the components of the empire. Chris Hedges, former NYT Mideast Bureau chief, in Truthdig on "America's Holy Warriors:"
The drive by the Christian right to take control of military chaplaincies, which now sees radical Christians holding roughly 50 percent of chaplaincy appointments in the armed services and service academies, is part of a much larger effort to politicize the military and law enforcement. [...] I repeatedly listened to radical preachers attack as corrupt and godless most American institutions, from federal agencies that provide housing and social welfare to public schools and the media. But there were two institutions that never came under attack—the military and law enforcement. [...] They painted the war in Iraq not as an occupation but as an apocalyptic battle by Christians against Islam, a religion they regularly branded as “satanic.” All this befits a movement whose final aesthetic is violence. It also befits a movement that, in the end, would need the military and police forces to seize power in American society. [...] “The Bush administration has already come close to painting our current wars as wars against Islam—many in the Christian right apparently have this belief,” Ratner said. “If these wars, bad enough as imperial wars, are fought as religious wars, we are facing a very dark age that could go on for a hundred years and that will be very bloody.”That's the same Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights quoted above in the extract from Jeremy Scahill's book. We've had just about enough of this, which must be the longest piece of typing & copying & pasting since the inception of this web log. For further info (if you think you need any) please consult this page o' links we stole most of this from. "And in conclusion..." we'll go w/ this brief reply we left to a comment:
We're no more paranoid than the next wacky leftist blogger/smart-ass, & don't much go for the conspiracy theory approach either, but when dealing w/ true believers who are convinced they are fulfilling "God's plan," as opposed to, say, a bunch of semi-competent bureaucrats &/or corporate drones w/o a holy mission, our paranoia level goes up a few notches.