by Jeremy Scahill
In September 2008 the secretive mercenary company Blackwater USA found its name splashed across front pages throughout the world after the company’s shooters gunned down seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square.
But by early 2008, Blackwater had largely receded from the headlines save for the occasional blip on the media radar sparked by Congressman Henry Waxman’s ongoing investigations into its activities. Its forces remained deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and business continued to pour in. In the two weeks directly following Nisour Square, Blackwater signed more than $144 million in contracts with the State Department for “protective servicesâ” in Iraq and Afghanistan alone and, over the following weeks and months, won millions more in contracts with other federal entities like the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.
In the Middle of the Drug
War and Defense Activity
While the firm is quietly maintaining its Iraq work, it is aggressively pursuing other business opportunities. We use Blackwater to do a lot of our training of counter-narcotics police in Afghanistan. Such an arrangement could find Blackwater operating in an arena with the godfathers of the war industry, such as Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon. It could also see Blackwater expanding into Latin America, joining other private security companies well established in the region.
The massive U.S. security company DynCorp is already deployed in Colombia, Bolivia and other countries as part of the “war on drugs.” In Colombia alone, U.S. military contractors are receiving nearly half the $630 million in annual U.S. military aid for the country. Just south of the U.S. border, the United States has launched Plan Mexico, a $1.5 billion counternarcotics program. This and similar plans could provide lucrative business opportunities for Blackwater and other companies. “Blackwater USA’s enlistment in the drug war,” observed journalist John Ross, would be “a direct challenge to its stiffest competitor, DynCorp — “up until now, the Dallas-based corporation has locked up 94 percent of all private drug war security contracts.” The New York Times reported that the contract could be Blackwater’s “biggest job ever.”
In addition to providing armed forces for war and conflict zones and a wide range of military and police training services, Blackwater does a robust, multimillion-dollar business through its aviation division. It also has a growing maritime division and other national and international initiatives. Among these, Black water is in Japan, where its forces protect the U.S. ballistic missile defense system, which, according to Stars and Stripes, “points high-powered radio waves westward toward mainland Asia to hunt for enemy missiles headed east toward America or its allies.” Meanwhile, early this year, Defense News reported, “Blackwater is training members of the Taiwanese National Security Bureau’s (NSB’s) special protection service, which guards the president. The NSB is responsible for the overall security of the country and was once an instrument of terrorism during the martial law period. Today, according to its Web site, the NSB is responsible for ‘national intelligence work, special protective service and unified cryptography.'”
Most Profitable is Public and
Private World Intelligence Services
What could prove to be one of Blackwater’s most profitable and enduring enterprises is one of the company’s most secretive initiatives — a move into the world of privatized intelligence services. In April 2006, Prince quietly began building Total Intelligence Solutions, which boasts that it “brings CIA-style” services to the open market for Fortune 500 companies. Among its offerings are “surveillance and countersurveillance, deployed intelligence collection, and rapid safeguarding of employees or other key assets.”
As the United States finds itself in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in its history, few areas have seen as dramatic a transformation to privatized services as the world of intelligence. “This is the magnet now. Everything is being attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community,” says former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman. “My major concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The entire industry is essentially out of control. It’s outrageous.”
Last year R.J. Hillhouse, a blogger who investigates the clandestine world of private contractors and U.S. intelligence, obtained documents from the office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $17.5 billion in 2000. That means 70 percent of the U.S. intelligence budget is going to private companies.
Total Intelligence, a firm connected with Blackwater, is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, and is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorist center. The firm employs at least sixty-five full-time staff — some estimates say it’s closer to 100. “Total Intel brings the … skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room,” Black said when the company launched. “With a service like this, CEOs and their security personnel will be able to respond to threats quickly and confidently — whether it’s determining which city is safest to open a new plant in or working to keep employees out of harm’s way after a terrorist attack,” according to Cofer Black, Blackwater vice chair. Black insists, “This is a completely legal enterprise. We break no laws. We don’t go anywhere near breaking laws. We don’t have to.” But what services Total Intelligence is providing, and to whom, is shrouded in secrecy. It is clear, though, that the company is leveraging the reputations and inside connections of its executives.
War Crimes and Vigilantism
Blackwater was thrust back into the spotlight in August of this year by a series of stunning revelations about its role in covert U.S. programs. Since at least 2002, Blackwater has worked for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan on “black” contracts. On August 19, the New York Times revealed that the company was, in fact, a central part of a secret CIA assassination program that Dick Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. The paper then reported that Blackwater remains a key player in the widening air war in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it arms drone aircraft. These disclosures follow allegations — made under oath by former Blackwater employees — that Prince murdered or facilitated the murder of potential government informants and that he “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.”
In addition, Blackwater is being investigated by the Justice Department for possible crimes ranging from weapons smuggling to manslaughter and by the IRS for possible tax evasion. It is being sued in federal courts by scores of Iraqi civilians for alleged war crimes and extrajudicial killings. Two of its men have pleaded guilty to weapons-smuggling charges; another pleaded guilty to the unprovoked manslaughter of an Iraqi civilian, and five others have been indicted on similar counts. The U.S. military is investigating Blackwater’s killing of civilians in Afghanistan in May, and reports are emerging that the company may be implicated in the CIA’s extraordinary rendition program.
Yet, despite these black marks, the Obama administration continues to keep Blackwater on the government’s payroll.
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. These excerpt are from The Nation. June 23, 2008 and August 6, 2009.