Black water was founded in 1998 by a team of former Navy Seals. Worldwide it claims to have trained tens of thousands of security personnel to work in the hot spots of the world. They have a large presence in Afghanistan and Iraq as well as other Middle Eastern countries.
The company, now called Xe Services, a name change often taking place after they receive negative press, was once the United States’ go-to contractor in Iraq and Afghanistan. They had been under the microscope since 2007, when Blackwater guards (mercenaries) were accused of killing 17 civilians in Baghdad.
The company and its executives and personnel have faced a mired of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and Congressional investigations surrounding crimes and accusations of murder and bribery. In 2010, federal prosecutors announced charges over weapons against five senior Blackwater executives, including its former president, Erik D. Prince.
These cases have fallen apart, the burden of legal obstacles including the difficulties in obtaining evidence in war zones and gaining proper jurisdiction for prosecutions in American civilian courts, and of overcoming immunity deals given to defendants by American officials on the scene have contributed to the failure in prosecutions.
2011, a federal appeals court reopened the criminal case against four former American military contractors accused of manslaughter in connection with the Nisour Square shooting in 2007.
The Baghdad Shooting.
On Sept. 16, 2007, a convoy of four armored vehicles carrying Blackwater guards armed with automatic rifles rolled through Baghdad. Out on a day in which an explosion had the city on edge, a man was shot in the head while driving, yet his car kept rolling. The guards responded with a barrage of gunfire and explosive weapons, leaving 17 dead and 24 wounded.
The shootings, in the middle of traffic, set off an anti-American political firestorm in Iraq and an international debate over the role of private security contractors in modern war zones. The Blackwater guards were accused of firing wildly and indiscriminately from their convoy into other cars and at Iraqi civilians. The guards defended their actions, saying they were responding to fire from insurgents.
The Nisour Square shootings became a watershed event in the Iraq war, and led the Iraqi government to demand greater sovereignty and control over foreign contractors operating in the country. The Baghdad government later demanded and won the right to subject foreign contractors to Iraqi law, while the United States government grudgingly began to impose greater curbs on the freewheeling activities of the personnel guarding American diplomats in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The former employees of Blackwater Worldwide were accused of manslaughter after the fatal shooting. But the charges were dismissed in December 2009 by a federal judge in Washington, who criticized the Justice Department for its handling of the case and ruled that prosecutors had relied on tainted evidence.
In April 2011, however, an appeals panel ordered the case reopened. The three-judge appeals panel, disagreeing with the judge’s decision, sent the case back, ordering Judge Ricardo M. Urbina of Federal District Court to review the evidence against each defendant individually.
The appeals court ruling was a victory for the Justice Department, which had been bruised by Judge Urbina’s ruling taking it to task for an overzealous prosecution.
Blackwater itself never truly recovered from the shooting. It quickly became the subject of numerous Congressional and federal investigations and lawsuits for a broad range of activities in Iraq and elsewhere.
After Blackwater was roundly condemned for its conduct in Iraq, Blackwater created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts.
While it is not clear how many of those businesses won contracts, at least three had deals with the United States military or the Central Intelligence Agency. Since 2001, the intelligence agency has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates.
The network of companies — which includes several businesses located in offshore tax havens — allowed Blackwater to obscure its involvement in government work from contracting officials or the public, and to assure a low profile for any of its classified activities.
Senator Carl Levin, the Michigan Democrat who is chairman of the Armed Services Committee, has requested that the Justice Department investigate whether Blackwater officers misled the government when using subsidiaries to solicit contracts.
The settlement with the State Department followed lengthy talks between Blackwater and the State Department that dealt with the violations as an administrative matter, allowing the firm to avoid criminal charges. It does not resolve other legal troubles still facing Blackwater and its former executives and other personnel.
Those include the indictments of five former executives on weapons and obstruction charges; a federal investigation into evidence that Blackwater officials sought to bribe Iraqi government officials; and the arrest of two former Blackwater guards on federal murder charges stemming from the killing of two Afghans in 2009.
Relationship with the CIA.
In December 2009, The New York Times reported that private security guards from Blackwater participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.
The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations.
Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, several former Blackwater guards have said they at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield.
Separately, former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on some C.I.A. flights transporting detainees in the years after the 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
Blackwater’s partnership with the C.I.A. has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater.
The C.I.A.’s continuing relationship with the company has drawn harsh criticism from some members of Congress, who argue that the company’s tarnished record should preclude it from such work.
Nonetheless, in June 2010 the State Department awarded Blackwater a $120 million contract to provide security at its regional offices in Afghanistan, while the C.I.A. renewed the firm’s $100 million security contract for its station in Kabul. At the time, the C.I.A. director, Leon E. Panetta, defended the decision, saying that the company had offered the lowest bid and had “cleaned up its act.”
For a time, the company’s founder, Erik Prince, had ambitions to turn Blackwater into an informal arm of the American foreign policy and national security apparatus, and proposed to the C.I.A. to create a “quick reaction force” that could handle paramilitary operations for the spy agency around the world. He had hopes that Blackwater’s military prowess could be an influential force in regional conflicts around the world.
Mr. Prince, a former Navy Seal member and the heir to an auto parts fortune, has tried to shed his ties to Blackwater and its past activities. He overhauled the company’s management in 2009, changed its name, and in later 2010 sold the privately held company. He also moved with his family to Abu Dhabi from the United States, a move that colleagues say was a result of his deep anger and frustration over the intense scrutiny he and his firm have received.
While Mr. Prince stepped down from any management or operational role, he was expected to have a financial interest in his former company’s future. The company was subject to an agreement it reached with the State Department in August 2010. Under the settlement, the company paid $42 million in fines over hundreds of violations of United States export control regulations, permitting it to continue to compete for government contracts.
The new buyers hoped to recast the company as a military training organization instead of a private security service. The company’s training center in Moyock has trained more than 50,000 United States government personnel and allied forces. The buyers hope to receive new contracts to train forces in Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen, among other locations, especially as the United States withdraws troops and needs to train local forces.
In January 2011, Mr. Prince was said to be backing an effort by a South African mercenary firm to insert itself in Somalia’s civil war. According to a report by the African Union, an organization of African states, Mr. Prince provided initial funding for a project by Saracen International to win contracts with Somalia’s embattled government. The Somali government has been cornered into a small patch of Mogadishu by the Shabab, a Somali militant group with ties to Al Qaeda.
The company, with corporate offshoots in Uganda and other countries, was formed with the remnants of Executive Outcomes, a private mercenary firm composed largely of former South African special operations troops that operated throughout Africa in the 1990s.
According to a Jan. 12, 2011 confidential report by the African Union, Mr. Prince “is at the top of the management chain of Saracen and provided seed money for the Saracen contract.” A Western official working in Somalia says he believes that it was Mr. Prince who first raised the idea of the Saracen contract with members of the Emirates’ ruling families, with whom he has a close relationship. Mr. Prince could not be reached for comment.
With its barely functional government and a fierce hostility to foreign armies since the hasty American withdrawal from Mogadishu in the early 1990s, Somalia is a country where Western militaries have long feared to tread. This has created an opportunity for private security companies like Saracen to fill the security vacuum created by years of civil war.
Days after the disclosure of the African Union report, many of Somalia’s biggest financial supporters, including the United States, have questioned the wisdom of the deal. Somali officials, in turn, cooled to the idea of working with Saracen.
Obama administration and Pakistan.
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.
The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.
A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.
His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”
“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. … “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”
The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”
The ethical question of private soldiers.
The hiring of a private security company has given the government a way to covertly put more troops on the ground; these guys with boots on the ground are attracted and motivated by dollars they have been rebranded. Any other nation that employs the same tactic has their force branded Mercenaries.
Security personnel (mercenaries) working as contractors earn salaries which are many times what a regular soldier earns. The soldiers who are fighting for their belief in their country are not worth the same as those who have no moral responsibility to a country or a cause other than money.
So we the administration hand in hand with the banker cabal corrupting the wars they have started, again turning it into big business and without the need to justify it to the people. They simply buy additional soldiers on the sly. This is a private (illegal) corporate army.
One of the many reasons why the civilized world has come to accept a moral prohibition on mercenaries is that moral intuition tells us that money is the wrong reason for a person to go onto a battlefield, that war is a unique environment and that soldiers who kill and risk dying for a cause should do so primarily because the cause is right, not because the price is right.
The vast sums being used to lure individuals onto the battlefield corrupt and highlight the disregard for law they show the commitment of governments to achieve their goals by any means. Morality and ethics are placed to the side if they do not serve the objective.
Fundamental to our way of life and to the justification of our system of government is that it is just and legal in its operation. If it is not, then what are people fighting for?
Why do we see ever expanding wars, the threat of terrorist attacking where ever that maybe is it because we use this kind of martial prostitution?
We will see these guys rolling out over the US when the impending martial law is finally declared?