Monday, March 28, 2011

Blackwater: A Secret Private Army of Soldiers, Spies and Assassins

Over the past years Blackwater have performed intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, interrogations and assassinations for US and foreign governments.

Over the past several years, entities closely linked to the private security firm Blackwater (which now calls itself Xe Services) have performed security, training, intelligence, counterintelligence, counterterrorism, interrogations and assassinations for US and foreign governments as well as several multinational corporations, including Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines and banking giants Deutsche Bank and Barclays.

Blackwater's work for government agencies, including the CIA and SOD (Special Operations Division) was contracted using two companies owned by Blackwater's owner and founder, Erik Prince: Total Intelligence Solutions and the TRC (Terrorism Research Center). Sounds like something from the hit series, “24”, but better!

Blackwater Founder & CEO, Erik Prince
In April 2002, the CIA paid Blackwater more than $5 million to deploy a small team of men inside Afghanistan during the early stages of US operations in the country. A month later, Erik Prince, the company's owner, heir to a family fortune and a former Navy SEAL, flew to Afghanistan as part of the original twenty-man Blackwater contingent.

Blackwater worked for the CIA at its station in Kabul as well as in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they operated out of a mud fortress known as the Alamo. It was the beginning of a long relationship between Blackwater, Prince and the CIA. Sounds like something straight out of the series, “The Unit”, doesn’t it?

In 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater "as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda." According to the Times, "it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance."

The Times reports that "the CIA did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including Erik Prince. This was standard procedure, as to allow for deniability by the Agency and the US government in case something went wrong.

The Post reported that Blackwater "was given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry, but the program was canceled before any missions were conducted."

"What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me," said Jack Rice, a former CIA field operator who worked for the directorate of operations, which runs covert paramilitary activities for the CIA. "When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don't understand what's going on," Rice told The Nation. "What makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, 'It wasn't us, we weren't the ones making the decisions.' That's the best of both worlds. It's analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, 'We're not torturing people.'"

It is also still uncertain but probable, that Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to conceal an assassination program from Congress.

"What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration," Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence Committee told The Nation. "Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater."

As The Nation has reported, Blackwater continues to operate on the US government payroll in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it works for the State Department and the Defense Department. The CIA will not confirm whether Blackwater continues to work for the agency (or, for that matter, if it ever has).



Blackwater's work for the CIA was the result of meetings in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 between Prince and Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, then-executive director of the CIA, the agency's number-three man. Krongard and Prince, according to a former Blackwater executive interviewed by The Nation, "were good buddies."

The relationship between Blackwater and the CIA quickly evolved as the Blackwater owner focused on winning more business with government agencies, providing private soldiers for hire. In 2002 Prince, along with former CIA operative Jamie Smith, created Blackwater Security Consulting, which would put former Navy SEALs and other special ops on the market.

Blackwater also hired many senior Bush-era CIA officials. In July 2007 Buzzy Krongard joined the company's board; Prince offered him a $3,500 honorarium per meeting attended plus all expenses paid. At the time his brother, Howard "Cookie" Krongard, was the State Department inspector general responsible for overseeing Blackwater's work for the State Department.

In September 2007 California Democratic Representative Henry Waxman accused Cookie Krongard of impeding a Justice Department investigation into Blackwater over allegations the company was illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq.

Blackwater hired several other former CIA officials to run what amounted to their own private CIA. Most notable among these was J. Cofer Black, who was running the CIA's counterterrorism operations and leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden when Blackwater was initially hired by the CIA in 2002. Black left the government in 2005 and took a job at Blackwater running Prince's private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions.

While at the CIA, Black ran the "extraordinary rendition" program and coordinated the CIA "Jawbreaker" team sent into Afghanistan to kill or capture bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leaders. In the days immediately after 9/11, he told Bush that his men would aim to kill Al Qaeda operatives. "When we're through with them, they will have flies walking across their eyeballs," Black promised Bush. When Black told Bush the operation would not be bloodless, the president reportedly said, "Let's go. That's war. That's what we're here to win."

Before the CIA Jawbreaker team deployed on September 27, 2001, Black gave his men direct and macabre directions: "I don't want bin Laden and his thugs captured, I want them dead.... They must be killed. I want to see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden's head shipped back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden's head to the president. I promised him I would do that." According to CIA operative Gary Schroen, a member of the Jawbreaker team, it was the first time in his thirty-year career he had been ordered to assassinate an adversary rather than attempt a capture.

In September 2002, five months after Blackwater's first known contract with the CIA in Afghanistan, Black testified to Congress about the new "operational flexibility" employed in the "war on terror." "There was a before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11," Black said. "After 9/11 the gloves come off." Black outlined a "no-limits, aggressive, relentless, worldwide pursuit of any terrorist who threatens us," saying it "is the only way to go and is the bottom line." Black would later brag, in 2004, that "over 70 percent" of Al Qaeda's leadership had been arrested, detained or killed, and that "more than 3,400 of their operatives and supporters have also been detained and put out of an action." The Times reported however, that the Blackwater-CIA assassination program "did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects."

In addition to Black, Blackwater's Total Intelligence's executives include CEO Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA's Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations. From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division, where he ran covert operations in the Middle East and South Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA liaison with Jordan's King Abdullah, a key US ally and Blackwater client, and briefed George W. Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.

Former CIA Agent, Enrique "Ric" Prado
Total Intelligence's chief operating officer is Enrique "Ric" Prado, a twenty-four-year CIA veteran and former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. He spent more than a decade working in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and ten years with the CIA's "paramilitary" Special Operations Group. "Total Intel brings the...skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room," Black said.

Governmental recipients of intelligence services and counterterrorism training from Prince's companies include the Kingdom of Jordan, the Canadian military and the Netherlands police, as well as several US military bases, including Fort Bragg, home of the elite Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC), and Fort Huachuca, where military interrogators are trained, according to the documents. In addition, Blackwater worked through the companies for the Defense Intelligence Agency, the Defense Threat Reduction Agency and the US European Command.

On September 3, 2010, the New York Times reported that Blackwater had "created a web of more than 30 shell companies or subsidiaries in part to obtain millions of dollars in American government contracts after the security company came under intense criticism for reckless conduct in Iraq." The documents obtained by The Nation reveal previously unreported details of several such companies and open a rare window into the sensitive intelligence and security operations Blackwater performs for a range of powerful corporations and government agencies. The new evidence also sheds light on the key roles of several former top CIA officials who went on to work for Blackwater.

The coordinator of Blackwater's covert CIA business, former CIA paramilitary officer Enrique "Ric" Prado, set up a global network of foreign operatives, offering their "deniability" as a "big plus" for potential Blackwater customers, according to company documents. The CIA has long used proxy forces such as Blackwater, to carry out extralegal actions or to shield US government involvement in unsavory operations from scrutiny. In some cases, these "deniable" foreign forces don't even know who they are working for. Prado and Prince built up a network of such foreigners while Blackwater was at the center of the CIA's assassination program, beginning in 2004. They trained special missions units at one of Prince's properties in Virginia with the intent of hunting terrorism suspects globally, often working with foreign operatives. A former senior CIA official said the benefit of using Blackwater's foreign operatives in CIA operations was that "you wouldn't want to have American fingerprints on it."

While the network was originally established for use in CIA operations, documents show that Prado viewed it as potentially valuable to other government agencies. In an e-mail in October 2007 with the subject line "Possible Opportunity in DEA—Read and Delete," Prado wrote to a Total Intelligence executive with a pitch for the Drug Enforcement Administration. That executive was an eighteen-year DEA veteran with extensive government connections who had recently joined the firm. Prado explained that Blackwater had developed "a rapidly growing, worldwide network of folks that can do everything from surveillance to ground truth to disruption operations." He added, "These are all foreign nationals (except for a few cases where US persons are the conduit but no longer 'play' on the street), so deniability is built in and should be a big plus."

The executive wrote back and suggested there "may be an interest" in those services. The executive suggested that "one of the best places to start may be the Special Operations Division, (SOD) which is located in Chantilly, VA," telling Prado the name of the special agent in charge. The SOD is a secretive joint command within the Justice Department, run by the DEA. It serves as the command-and-control center for some of the most sensitive counternarcotics and law enforcement operations conducted by federal forces. The executive also told Prado that US attachés in Mexico; Bogotá, Colombia; and Bangkok, Thailand, would potentially be interested in Prado's network. Whether this network was activated, and for what customers, cannot be confirmed. A former Blackwater employee who worked on the company's CIA program declined to comment on Prado's work for the company, citing its classified status.



In November 2007 officials from Prince's companies developed a pricing structure for security and intelligence services for private companies and wealthy individuals. One official wrote that Prado had the capacity to "develop infrastructures" and "conduct ground-truth and security activities." According to the pricing chart, potential customers could hire Prado and other Blackwater officials to operate in the United States and globally: in Latin America, North Africa, the Middle East, Europe, China, Russia, Japan, and Central and Southeast Asia. A four-man team headed by Prado for countersurveillance in the United States cost $33,600 weekly, while "safehouses" could be established for $250,000, plus operational costs. Identical services were offered globally. For $5,000 a day, clients could hire Prado or former senior CIA officials Cofer Black and Robert Richer for "representation" to national "decision-makers." Before joining Blackwater, Black, a twenty-eight-year CIA veteran, ran the agency's counterterrorism center, while Richer was the agency's deputy director of operations. (Neither Black nor Richer currently works for the company.)

As Blackwater became embroiled in controversy following the Nisour Square massacre, Prado set up his own company, Constellation Consulting Group (CCG), apparently taking some of Blackwater's covert CIA work with him, though he maintained close ties to his former employer. In an e-mail to a Total Intelligence executive in February 2008, Prado wrote that he "recently had major success in developing capabilities in Mali [Africa] that are of extreme interest to our major sponsor and which will soon launch a substantial effort via my small shop." He requested Total Intelligence's help in analyzing the "North Mali/Niger terrorist problem."

In October 2009 Blackwater executives faced a crisis when they could not account for their government-issued Secure Telephone Unit, which is used by the CIA, the National Security Agency and other military and intelligence services for secure communications. A flurry of e-mails were sent around as personnel from various Blackwater entities tried to locate the device. One former Blackwater official wrote that because he had left the company it was "not really my problem," while another declared, "I have no 'dog in this fight.'" Eventually, Prado stepped in, e-mailing the Blackwater officials to "pass my number" to the "OGA POC," meaning the Other Government Agency (parlance for CIA) Point of Contact.

Representative Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. "The presidential 'findings' authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced," says Ray McGovern, a retired twenty-seven-year CIA analyst who once served as George H.W. Bush's national security briefer. "They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths."

In August of 2009 Blackwater and the State Department reached a $42 million settlement for hundreds of violations of US export control regulations. Among the violations cited was the unauthorized export of technical data to the Canadian military. Meanwhile, Blackwater's dealings with Jordanian officials are the subject of a federal criminal prosecution of five former top Blackwater executives. The Jordanian government paid Total Intelligence more than $1.6 million in 2009.

This past summer Erik Prince put Blackwater up for sale and moved to Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates. But he doesn't seem to be leaving the shadowy world of security and intelligence. He says he moved to Abu Dhabi because of its "great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics," adding that it has "a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labor unions. It's pro-business and opportunity." It also has no extradition treaty with the United States.

USTC Holdings, an investor consortium led by private equity firms Forte Capital Advisors and Manhattan Partners said Friday, December 17th, 2010, it will acquire Xe, formerly known as Blackwater, and its core operating subsidiaries, but did not disclose the price or terms of the agreement in a statement.

Eric Price will sell his entire stake in the company and "will not be involved in the management or operation of the company," USTC Holdings said, though I strongly suspect that its operations will continue as before.

As Blackwater’s former owner, Prince is currently facing allegations of war crimes, extra-judicial killings and assault and battery over the Baghdad's Nisour Square Massacre of September 16, 2007, when seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed.

Edited By: Tom Retterbush


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