Blackwater founder Erik Prince gives his loudest rebuke yet of a government he says threw him under the bus in a new book, “Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror.”
“If I could send a message back to my younger self, it would be: Do not work for the State Department at all,” he told Bloomberg Businessweek on his recent press circuit.
Such criticism may sound strange from the former head of a private military contractor that earned around $US2 billion from Uncle Sam from 1997 to 2010 and maybe much more. On the other hand, his business got ugly with allegations of stolen guns, murder, and war profiteering, and in 2010 Prince sold his company, which is now called Academi.
Since the founding of Blackwater in 1997, Prince, a 44-year-old former Navy SEAL, has been a controversial figure. The company’s first major contract — supplying guards for CIA facilities in Afghanistan shortly after 9/11 — led to a number of no-bid security contracts that made it a global mercenary empire.
Despite Prince’s attempt to revise history, the company’s massive growth following the 2003 Iraq invasion was likely a much larger reason for its demise. Blackwater moved fast and didn’t worry about the details, according to insiders.
“That SEAL mentality of ‘let’s just get this done’ highly contributed to the early success of the company,” Matthew Devost told Bloomberg Businessweek.
That lack of bureaucracy helped the company grow quickly, but it came with deadly consequences. In 2004, a four-person Blackwater team was ambushed and killed near Fallujah — later leading to two major battles to thwart a growing insurgency. In 2007, Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad firefight.
Still, the contracts continued and Blackwater’s mostly special operations ranks swelled with contractors ill-prepared for the task at hand.
“Quite frankly some of the guys who were coming down had never been in combat armed, in the military, or possibly never even in a police force,” former Blackwater team leader Bart Kohler told Businessweek.
By 2009, the company was under attack from all sides, facing criminal charges, lawsuits, and federal investigations from the IRS and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. In August 2010, the company paid a $US42 million settlement with the State Department for hundreds of export-control violations.
Despite everything that happened, Prince refuses to accept any blame. From Bloomberg Businessweek:
Civilian Warriors is an angry book, and some of Prince’s contentions have made immediate headlines: He argues that ill-conceived State Department regulations led to Blackwater’s many firefights in Iraq; he has accused former CIA Director Leon Panetta of blowing his cover as an intelligence asset; and he contends that, had Blackwater still been providing security for America’s diplomats, Chris Stevens, the ambassador killed in Benghazi, would be alive today.
And more, from The Daily Beast:
Prince’s new book, Civilian Warriors, recounts in detail the battles Prince waged in the last decade over his company. He writes, for example, about a conversation at one point with his accountant, who claimed an IRS auditor told him that he was never under such pressure to get someone as he was in the case of Prince. He takes shots at the left-wing lawyers who brought civil suits related to the incident at Nisour Square, a traffic circle in Baghdad where Blackwater contractors killed 11 Iraqis. Prince says the evidence shows the incident was a firefight and not, as his critics alleged at the time, a massacre of an unarmed crowd. And he complains that the media coverage of Blackwater was biased and often wrong.
While clearing the name of Blackwater may be an impossible task, Prince is ready for a second act. He has been linked to a paramilitary force in the United Arab Emirates and is said to be investing in firms providing services to the oil and gas industry in Africa.
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