I have been meaning to write a piece about Blackwater USA for a while now, and after seeing Turkana’s post from Sunday, I figured that now is as good a time as any.
We have all heard stories about Blackwater USA as well as Halliburton in Iraq, the salaries they get, the no-bid contracts, the deaths of “contractors” who are in Iraq and other snippets of stories. And while there is much known and reported about Halliburton – more so because of the ties to Vice President Cheney, there hasn’t been much written around here regarding Blackwater – at least not much other than the reports of their people being killed, the potential for them to sue based on this and a few other blurbs here and there.
What I want to do here is give some background information on Blackwater – but not in the term of what they are doing in Iraq, but more so how they got to be so powerful and lucrative. Of course, there are many ties to the Bush administration(s) as well as the republican party, and that is really my focus here. You know, more cronyism that results in billions of dollars from We the People to line the pockets of major republican party donors which then can be funneled back to the republican party. Lather, rinse, repeat.
We are not simply a "private security company." We are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations firm who provides turnkey solutions. We assist with the development of national and global security policies and military transformation plans. We can train, equip and deploy public safety and military professionals, build live-fire indoor/outdoor ranges, MOUT facilities and shoot houses, create ground and aviation operations and logistics support packages, develop and execute canine solutions for patrol and explosive detection, and can design and build facilities both domestically and in austere environments abroad.
I’ll lay off the whole discussion of “professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations” since that is supposed to be what our own military does. And of course, that would beg the question as to whether we are headed towards a second, privatized military which is not bound by the Geneva Conventions (oh wait, those are “quaint” anyway) or other international law. Or even US law, for that matter.
But I digress, because the information about Blackwater (even though this is hardly new) is very telling.
Blackwater USA Founder Erik Prince in addition to being a former Navy SEAL, is, shall we say, very well connected to republican party causes. For example, consider the following:
- His sister is Betsy DeVos, former Chair of the Michigan republican party and wife of former Amway president (and major republican party contributor) Dick DeVos;
- He serves on the board of Christian Freedom International, a company whose mission includes (ironically) the following: CFI believes that all able Christians have a responsibility to assist others in the Body of Christ who are living under the burden of harassment, imprisonment, torture, and martyrdom.
- According to a Harper’s article (linked below), he contributed around $200,000 to republican committees and candidates (including George W. Bush) since 1998;
- He interned at the Family Research Council, the ultra right wing group founded by his father and Gary Bauer; and
- According to Sourcewatch, he interned in George HW Bush’s administration and campaigned for Pat Buchanan in 1992.
As you can see – there are deep ties to the republican party money machine here, as well as ultra conservative organizations and Poppa Bush’s administration.
Blackwater USA was founded in 1996/97, and its’ US facility is in North Carolina. Not surprisingly, its’ two overseas offices are in Baghdad and Kuwait City. It has been estimated that there are around 20,000 Blackwater “mercenaries” in Iraq. Its’ annual revenues are around $100 million, pretty much all from government contracts. And, like many other companies that work closely with the Bush administration, there is the “revolving door” between government and private industry. Per the Harper’s article:
In 2004, Blackwater retained the Alexander Strategy Group, the PR and lobbying firm that closed down earlier this year due to its embarrassing ties to Jack Abramoff and Tom DeLay. (Paul Behrends, a former national security adviser to Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, handled the account for Alexander. After the firm shut down, Behrends moved on to a firm called C&M Capitolink, and took the Blackwater account with him.)
A number of senior CIA and Pentagon officials have taken top jobs at Blackwater, including firm vice chairman Cofer Black, who was the Bush Administration's top counterterrorism official at the time of the 9/11 attacks (and who famously said in 2002, “There was before 9/11 and after 9/11. After 9/11, the gloves came off.”)
Prince's visits [to the CIA] are probably one reason that the revolving door to Blackwater keeps turning. Last fall, Rob Richer resigned from the post of Associate Deputy Director of Operations; he immediately took a job as Blackwater's Vice President of Intelligence.
As reported in TPM Muckraker and in the book Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror by Robert Young Pelton, Blackwater USA’s first job was a $5+ million no bid contract with the CIA, which was obtained due (in large part) to the relationship between a top CIA official and Blackwater founder.
A 2006 article in The Nation noted that there was more than a bit of lucrative profits (and charges of war profiteering) going on with Blackwater in Iraq:
Blackwater's high-profile job of guarding the head of the US occupation, Paul Bremer. At $21 million, it represented the company's biggest contract in Iraq.
According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200."
It should be noted that the no-bid contracts in Iraq, including the one noted above with respect to Bremer, now total over $300 million.
After Hurricane Katrina ravaged the Gulf Coast (no thanks to the stellar job that this administration and FEMA did with all of the warnings and calls for help), Blackwater was back in the news. It got a $400,000 contract to provide security for FEMA reconstruction efforts. Broken down, the cost charged by Blackwater was close to $1,000 per guard provided per day. I will note that this was questioned by Senator Obama at the time it was provided.
Of course, the story doesn’t end there. It was later reported by Blackwater mercenaries that they were working for the Department of Homeland Security, and not just providing the “basic” security:
Heavily armed paramilitary mercenaries from the Blackwater private security firm, infamous for their work in Iraq, are openly patrolling the streets of New Orleans. Some of the mercenaries say they have been "deputized" by the Louisiana governor; indeed some are wearing gold Louisiana state law enforcement badges on their chests and Blackwater photo identification cards on their arms. They say they are on contract with the Department of Homeland Security and have been given the authority to use lethal force.
I figured that there had to be some ties with the republican party when it came to Blackwater. And maybe this was something that was more widely known that I thought. However, in seeing how this company rose in a manner similar to Halliburton – we knew a lot about how much Halliburton was tied to this administration.
Now, I see just how much Blackwater – an entity that is arguably more dangerous to the “freedom” of people here in the US and around the world than Halliburton – is directly tied into very high levels of the US government, and more specifically - this administration.
Is it too much of a stretch to say that the money coming from our tax dollars is being funneled right back to the republican party/war machine through the no bid contracts and lucrative donations or contributions to republican or ultra conservative causes?
I think not.