Source: Democracy Now! January 26, 2007
Title: “Our Mercenaries in Iraq: Blackwater Inc and Bush’s Undeclared Surge”
Author: Jeremy Scahill
Student Researcher: Sverre Tysl
Faculty Evaluator: Noel Byrne, Ph.D.
The company that most embodies the privatization of the military industrial complex—a primary part of the Project for a New American Century and the neoconservative revolution is the private security firm Blackwater. Blackwater is the most powerful mercenary firm in the world, with 20,000 soldiers, the world’s largest private military base, a fleet of twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships, and a private intelligence division. The firm is also manufacturing its own surveillance blimps and target systems.
Blackwater is headed by a very right-wing Christian-supremist and ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, whose family has had deep neo-conservative connections. Bush’s latest call for voluntary civilian military corps to accommodate the “surge” will add to over half a billion dollars in federal contracts with Blackwater, allowing Prince to create a private army to defend Christendom around the world against Muslims and others.
One of the last things Dick Cheney did before leaving office as Defense Secretary under George H. W. Bush was to commission a Halliburton study on how to privatize the military bureaucracy. That study effectively created the groundwork for a continuing war profiteer bonanza.
During the Clinton years, Erik Prince envisioned a project that would take advantage of anticipated military outsourcing. Blackwater began in 1996 as a private military training facility, with an executive board of former Navy Seals and Elite Special Forces, in the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. A decade later it is the most powerful mercenary firm in the world, embodying what the Bush administration views as “the necessary revolution in military affairs”—the outsourcing of armed forces.
In his 2007 State of the Union address Bush asked Congress to authorize an increase in the size of our active Army and Marine Corps by 92,000 in the next five years. He continued, “A second task we can take on together is to design and establish a volunteer civilian reserve corps. Such a corps would function much like our military reserve. It would ease the burden on the Armed Forces by allowing us to hire civilians with critical skills to serve on missions abroad when America needs them.”
This is, however, precisely what the administration has already done—largely, Jeremy Scahill points out, behind the backs of the American people. Private contractors currently constitute the second-largest “force” in Iraq. At last count, there were about 100,000 contractors in Iraq, 48,000 of which work as private soldiers, according to a Government Accountability Office report. These soldiers have operated with almost no oversight or effective legal constraints and are politically expedient, as contractor deaths go uncounted in the official toll. With Prince calling for the creation of a “contractor brigade” before military audiences, the Bush administration has found a back door for engaging in an undeclared expansion of occupation.
Blackwater currently has about 2,300 personnel actively deployed in nine countries and is aggressively expanding its presence inside US borders. They provide the security for US diplomats in Iraq, guarding everyone from Paul Bremer and John Negroponte to the current US ambassador, Zalmay Khalilzad. They’re training troops in Afghanistan and have been active in the Caspian Sea, where they set up a Special Forces base miles from the Iranian border. According to reports they are currently negotiating directly with the Southern Sudanese regional government to start training the Christian forces of Sudan.
Blackwater’s connections are impressive. Joseph Schmitz, the former Pentagon Inspector General, whose job was to police the war contractor bonanza, has moved on to become the vice chairman of the Prince Group, Blackwater’s parent company, and the general counsel for Blackwater.
Bush recently hired Fred Fielding, Blackwater’s former lawyer, to replace Harriet Miers as his top lawyer; and Ken Starr, the former Whitewater prosecutor who led the impeachment charge against President Clinton, is now Blackwater’s counsel of record and has filed briefs with Supreme Court to fight wrongful death lawsuits brought against Blackwater.
Cofer Black, thirty-year CIA veteran and former head of CIA’s counterterrorism center, credited with spearheading the extraordinary rendition program after 9/11, is now senior executive at Blackwater and perhaps its most powerful operative.
Prince and other Blackwater executives have been major bankrollers of the President, of former House Majority Leader, Tom DeLay, and of former Senator, Rick Santorum. Senator John Warner, the former head of the Senate Armed Services Committee, called Blackwater, “our silent partner in the global war on terror.”