This guest column by Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is instructive in terms of what he does say and what he doesn’t say. Prince addresses 3 objections in his column, objections that are based on the Grand Rapids Press stories on Blackwater from April 29. The first objection was that Prince doesn’t feel that Blackwater was “capitalizing” on the attacks of September 11, 2001. Prince provides nothing to substantiate this by providing readers with the company’s contracts before and after September 11, 2001. Instead, Prince points out that the company was simply providing security needs. He also states that “Very brave American veterans, many of whom were retired, once again answered the call to duty by working for my company.” What Prince does not address is that these veterans get paid a great deal more money to “serve” the country and that many of the soldiers are not even from the US. In Jeremy Scahill’s book “Blackwater,” he documents that Blackwater has recruited mercenaries from many countries, especially former soldiers who served under brutal regimes like Pinochet in Chile.
The second objection that Prince raises has to do with the use of the term mercenary. He says that “Blackwater professionals do not engage in offensive missions,” and instead prefers to call them body guards. The whole US military operation in Iraq was an offensive mission and since Blackwater is doing some of the US military’s work, like guarding Paul Bremer when he was in charge of Iraq, that constitutes on offensive operation. Also, according to Scahill, “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 would seem to contradict Erik Prince’s claim that “Blackwater does not now, nor has it ever, provided security services for, or on behalf of, any country other than the United States of America.”
The last objection by Prince in the essay has to do with the GR Press mentioning no-bid contracts, which Prince does not deny. However, he claims that most of their contracts have been “competitively bid.” He also dismisses the insinuation that these contracts were the result of “political connections,” but again provides no evidence that Blackwater does or does not have such connections. Scahill documents a tremendous amount of political connection in his book, particularly the recruiting of former government officials to come work for Blackwater shortly after departing from positions in the US government that have been directly tied to current US wars and the intelligence community. For example, 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.
This guest essay by Prince clearly demonstrates his unwillingness to opening debate the role that his company, Blackwater, plays in the global war on terrorism. The GR Press did include an editor’s note at the end of the essay saying that they tried to interview Prince on several occasions, but the company spokesperson said no one was available. Whenever any entity receives government funding there should be as much transparency as possible, particularly considering the amount of private soldiers Blackwater has in Iraq and how much money thay have made in recent years.
In response to a series of articles about me and my company, Blackwater USA, I am compelled to clarify a few points.
My company is a turnkey solutions provider to a variety of clients and has been responsible for increased operations in increasingly hostile environments. Blackwater’s core competency is in training military and law enforcement personnel. We have provided cutting edge training to these communities since long before 9.11 and continue to do so. My plan never was to reap benefits from terrible events, but when there was a compelling need for advanced capabilities, the plan was adapted.
I take issue with the reporter’s claim that my company sought to “capitalize” on these attacks. Shortly after the gruesome attacks of 9.11, a security need arose in some of the most dangerous places in the world. Very brave American veterans, many of whom were retired, once again answered the call to duty by working for my company. The individuals who risk their lives each day working for Blackwater have not forgotten and they remain committed. They swear the same oath to defend the United States Constitution that the uniformed military services do.
Your story referred to Blackwater as “arguably the world’s most powerful private army.” The Constitution does not permit the establishment of a private army, and Blackwater’s team of highly motivated and capable security professionals serve at the request of the United States Government. Furthermore, Blackwater professionals do not engage in offensive missions. You would be correct in calling them a team of bodyguards, but very wrong in using a description of them as a “private army.”
Clearly, the mercenary label is intended to polarize the discussion and craft the most negative image possible of Blackwater. The highest authority on rhetoric, the Oxford English Dictionary, however, defines “mercenary” as: “a professional soldier serving a foreign power.” Blackwater does not now, nor has it ever, provided security services for, or on behalf of, any country other than the United States of America.
Your reporter accurately reported that my company was awarded a no-bid contract to guard the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority. We were also awarded 14 other competitively bid contracts in the same region within months. No-bid contracts are awarded in urgent and compelling situations. For the record, the same contract was later competitively bid and awarded. In fact, over 90 percent of Blackwater’s contracts are competitively bid, casting doubt on the reporter’s insinuation that the company’s success has been due in large part to political connections. All of Blackwater’s facilities and development projects are funded with private Blackwater dollars. We have never received any of the “plus ups” or directed appropriations that continue to undermine the integrity of Congress.