The reclusive Blackwater founder tries to ban journalists and recorders from his speeches in front of friendly audiences. This time he failed.
By Jeremy Scahill
READ THE FULL STORY ON MY NEW BLOG AT THENATION.COM
Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the “Tulip Time Festival” in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.
Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.
In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight “terrorists” in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater’s secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan “barbarians” who “crawled out of the sewer.” Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater “call[ed] in multiple air strikes,” blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the “largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history.” He characterized the work of some NATO countries’ forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations “should just pack it in and go home.” Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.
Prince also claimed that a Blackwater operative took down the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in Baghdad and criticized the Secret Service for being “flat-footed.” He bragged that Blackwater forces “beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene” during Katrina and claimed that lawsuits, “tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills” and political attacks prevented him from deploying a humanitarian ship that could have responded to the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit Indonesia.
Several times during the speech, Prince appeared to demean Afghans his company is training in Afghanistan, saying Blackwater had to teach them “Intro to Toilet Use” and to do jumping jacks. At the same time, he bragged that US generals told him the Afghans Blackwater trains “are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan.” Prince also revealed that he is writing a book, scheduled to be released this fall.
READ THE FULL STORY AT THENATION.COM
Blackwater’s founder and owner Erik Prince is headlining the Tulip Time Festival in his hometown of Holland, MI on May 5. The press release is precious.
I have just accepted an invitation to speak in Holland, MI that same day. Can’t wait for Erik to show me around! Here is the press release from the Interfaith Congregation of Holland, MI, the group that invited me:
“Blackwater” Author Jeremy Scahill To Speak During Tulip Time
Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army,” will speak during Holland’s Tulip Time Festival on May 5, the same day Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, will address a Tulip Time luncheon. Scahill’s talk will be at 7:30 p.m. at the Holland 7 Theater, 500 Waverly Road.
“The Tulip Time festival says Mr. Prince will discuss the ‘value-based’ lessons of his childhood in Holland,” says Scahill. “I believe it is important for people in Holland to hear about the actual values Prince and his company have employed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where Blackwater operatives have killed innocent civilians and stolen childhoods.” Scahill said he would welcome the opportunity to have a public dialogue with Mr. Prince that evening in Holland.
Scahill’s visit is being hosted by Interfaith Congregation of Holland. Chaplain Bill Freeman says, “Many people reacted negatively to the announcement of Erik Prince’s visit, because, even though Mr. Prince is a native of Holland, the company he founded, Blackwater, renamed Xe, is very controversial. So as a group that believes in being fair and balanced, Interfaith Congregation wanted to give people the chance to hear the other side.”
Scahill’s address is free and open to the public.
By Jeremy Scahill
Here’s a question for all those fans of the mercenary industry—some of whom pop into this site—who say that the private security industry is a conduit to allow patriotic veterans to continue their service through Blackwater et al., that the money is exaggerated, and that the profits aren’t all that:
How do you like these apples?
Gary Jackson, the former president of Blackwater (you know, the guy facing a slew of felony charges, including conspiring to falsify documents and federal weapons charges), appeared in court this week where prosecutors accused him of running Blackwater with a “scofflaw” attitude. Joe Neff of the Raleigh News and Observer reveals this nugget: Jackson’s salary at Blackwater was a whopping $1.5 million a year. His severance package: $425,000 a year for 5 years. Oh, and here’s some caramel for your tasty apple: 90% of Blackwater’s revenue has come from the US government.
Yeah, US taxpayers are really lucky to have been paying 90% of this guy’s $1.5 million salary. That’s about what the average US general makes, right? Not even close.
Firm Run by Ex-Israeli Special Forces Soldier Wants US Security Contracts in Jerusalem, Iraq, Afghanistan
As the Obama Administration continues the military privatization agenda, a CIA-connected firm and an Israeli-run company named Instinctive Shooting International are looking to cash in
By Jeremy Scahill
The Obama administration has continued the Bush-era reliance on private contractors to sustain the US occupation of Iraq and the US operations in Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, Obama has surpassed Bush’s reliance on contractors with current contractor levels surpassing 100,000 Defense Department contractors deployed. In Iraq, Obama has maintained the long-standing ratio of one contractor to every US soldier.
General Stanley McChrystal, the US commander in Afghanistan/Pakistan, said recently that he believes the US has “created in ourselves a dependency on contractors that is greater than it ought to be.” He added: “I think it doesn’t save money. I actually think it would be better to reduce the number of contractors involved, increase the number of military if necessary.”
Despite such proclamations, the pattern of dependence on contractors is continuing unabated—and not just within the Department of Defense.
This week the US State Department posted a solicitation for armed private security contractors to deploy in “critical or higher than critical threat areas” globally under its Worldwide Protective Services program. Among the firms that have held these contracts are Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy and Armor Group. ArmorGroup was exposed last year by whistleblowers for a range of misconduct at the US embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. Among the actions revealed by the Project on Government Oversight were hazing rituals involving nudity and heavy drinking that at times included personnel urinating on each other. The whistleblowers alleged that ArmorGroup personnel created a general atmosphere of fear and intimidation. Last December, following POGO’s revelations, the State Department said it was phasing out ArmorGroup.
In its solicitation for contract bids this week, the State Department says it will hire as many as six “qualified US firms” for “anticipated and unanticipated personal protective, static guard, and emergency response” functions. The contracts are slated to last one year with the potential for four, year-long options.
To qualify for the contracts, security companies must have a total annual value of at least $15 million in security contracts and must possess a valid “Final Secret Facility Security Clearance.” After the contracts are awarded, the State Department says that it will then sponsor the contractor for “Top Secret Facility Clearance.” In addition, bidding companies must have at least two years of experience operating in “austere and hostile environments overseas” such as Pakistan, Afghanistan and Iraq and experience in “operating long term personal protective security details for executive level dignitaries.” The solicitation indicates that the work will include “a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Baghdad, Iraq, a static guard and emergency response team requirement in Kabul, Afghanistan, and a personal protective security service requirement in Jerusalem.”
Among the companies listed as “interested vendors” to bid on the contracts are the predictable list of industry giants: L-3 Services, SAIC, USIS, Northrop Grumman, and DynCorp. Two lesser-known firms in particular that have expressed interest in the contracts jump out: Instinctive Shooting International and Evergreen International Aviation.
Hiring Instinctive Shooting International for any type of armed contract in a Muslim country, particularly to operate in Jerusalem with a stamp of US government legitimacy, should be cause for serious concern and Congressional inquiry. Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) was founded by Hanan Yadin, a former member of the Israel National Counter-Terrorism Agency and a veteran of the Israeli Defense Forces. According to his bio [PDF], Hanan “received advanced training at the Israeli Anti-Terror Academy and served as an instructor at the Israeli Military Intelligence Academy. As part of a Special Ops unit he executed high-risk missions against terrorist’s cells. Hanan is an expert marksman and has completed advanced training in crisis response, Krav Maga (the Israeli unarmed fighting system), urban warfare and tactical operations.”
I encountered ISI operatives, all former Israeli soldiers, manning an armed check-point in New Orleans in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. At the time, in 2005, its website described ISI’s personnel as “veterans of the Israeli special task forces from the following Israeli government bodies: Israel Defense Force (IDF), Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, Instructors of Israel National Police Counter Terrorism units, General Security Service (GSS or ‘Shin Beit’), Other restricted intelligence agencies.”
Today the website has changed dramatically. Its main graphic is of US soldiers wearing American flag patches, wielding automatic weapons in what appears to be Iraq. “After 9/11, ISI was able to bring to bear all of its resources, expertise and experience to work with U.S. military and government agencies in gaining a deeper understanding of radical Islam and provide proven tactical techniques to improve counter-terror operations,” according to the website. This would hardly be ISI’s first US government contract. It has received many training and security contracts since its founding in 1993. According to the company, it is currently under a five-year contract with the US Army that began in November 2009.
Evergreen has had long-standing ties to the CIA. “In 1980 an Evergreen plane flew the recently deposed Shah of Iran from Panama to Egypt, hours before the Panamanian government was due to receive an extradition request from the new government in Tehran,” according to SourceWatch. “Giving rides to dictators is something of a specialty for the company - it also allowed El Salvador’s President Duarte to use its helicopter, which was officially in the country to help repair power lines. And according to a series of articles in The Oregonian in 1988, Evergreen’s owner and founder Delford M. Smith ‘…acknowledged one agreement under which his companies provide occasional jobs and cover to foreign nationals the CIA wants taken out of other countries or brought into the United States.’”
Evergreen is perhaps best known more recently for offering—unsolicited—its security services to Oregon county clerks ahead of the 2008 elections. “During this crucial election Evergreen Defense and Security Services has recognized the potential conflict that could occur on November 4,” an email from company president Evergreen president Tom Wiggins to election officials stated. “Never has there been a more heated battle in the race for president and voters seem more involved and determined to achieve their respective goals. EDSS proposes to post sentries at each voting center on November 4 to assure that disputes among citizens do not get out of control. All guards will be unarmed but capable of stopping any violence that may occur, and detaining troublemakers until law enforcement help arrives.” The offer was suspect on several fronts, not the least of which being that Oregon has no polling places and votes by mail.
According to State Department documents, among the projects up for bidding are:
—Private security teams in Jerusalem. The solicitation calls for 46 personnel, including 36 “security specialists” and team/shift leaders for armed details.
—Embassy guards and an Emergency Response Team in Kabul. The solicitation calls for 219 personnel, including a 142-member embassy guard force and 49 “emergency response” personnel.
—Embassy guards and an Emergency Response Team in Baghdad, Iraq. The solicitation calls for 551 personnel, including 357 “armed guards” and an Emergency Response Team consisting of 30 protective security specialists and four “designated defense marksmen.”
The US embassy in Iraq, according to the documents, requires the greatest number of contractors. This is likely because the embassy there is the largest of any embassy of any nation in history.
The State Department has a conference for prospective bidders scheduled for April 27-28 in Arlington, Virginia. Attendance is mandatory for interested companies.