Category Archives: Blackwater

>Blackwater to seek profits from chaos elsewhere

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By Jill Holslin

Late yesterday, Erik Prince of Blackwater announced his intention to shift its business away from security contracting and focus instead on military training, aviation and logistics. Kudos to Matt Apuzzo and Mike Baker of the Associated Press for getting an exclusive interview with Erik Prince, complete with photos of the Blackwater founder at his headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina no less.

Yet, a little critical distance might have been warranted under the circumstances: Prince rarely allows himself to be photographed, averse to press and public scrutiny, adopting an agenda of secrecy that has served Blackwater’s bottom line well. Blackwater has won over $1 billion in security contracts since 2001. After an Iraqi videotape and a US military investigation of the Nisour Square massacre on September 16, 2007 concurred that Blackwater’s agents acted recklessly, opening fire without provocation and killing 17 Iraqi civilians, the US State Department announced in April plans to renew Blackwater’s lucrative security contract for another year. Prince conveyed his announcement to the public through this puff piece produced by Matt Apuzzo and Mike Baker for the AP, seizing the occasion to reframe Blackwater’s mission in now-familiar terms, as a responsible, patriotic company ready and willing to serve, but unfairly targeted by anti-war activists and a hostile media. “If you could get it right, we might stay in the business,” Prince retorts in the interview, his resentment undermining his own carefully crafted ethos.

Indeed, for a company whose profits depend upon the perpetual flow of no-bid government contracts and immunity from the rule of law, the cooperation of a right-minded media is an essential feature of the business plan. Yet, the Washington Post, New York Times, and LA Times have continued to report on the defense department’s attempts at oversight of a now massive industry of war profiteering.

In October 2007 after the Nisour Square massacre, the Washington Post reported on a Pentagon press conference in which Secretary of Defense Robert Gates pointed out the conflict of interest between the practices of private security contractors and the mission of stabilizing Iraq. Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell is quoted in the same report, suggesting contractors like Blackwater may have to consider functioning more consistently with the military’s notion of its “total force”, “changing their MO, the way in which they operate, how they drive, how they handle busy traffic circles” in order to “pay greater consideration to the larger mission.” That same month, the LA Times published an opinion piece by former U.S. official Janessa Gans, who had enjoyed the protective services of Blackwater during her two year stay in Iraq. Titled “I survived Blackwater,” Gans’ piece recounts her wild rides in Blackwater vehicles through the streets of Baghdad, careening into oncoming traffic, riding up over road dividers, often racing at speeds exceeding 100 mph.

Just this month, Robert Gates sent a memo on July 10 to the Pentagon’s top military officer, Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Adm. Mike Mullen, prompted by an investigation and some tough questions from Virginia Senator Jim Webb about the new training facility Blackwater opened in June in Otay Mesa, San Diego, California. Gates must have rented the Robert Greenwald film that came out last year, “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers,” and finally realized that these are questions that he might put to those higher ups who have been in charge of giving away the store for the past seven years. The truth about Blackwater has been hard to come by in Washington.

While we might be tempted by these events to breathe a sigh of relief, imagining that our system of checks and balances has now righted itself, let’s look again. Anyone familiar with public statements made by Blackwater executives knows that the veil of fine sentiments about of duty and service to country is often used to obscure their own culpability in actions that would merit the court-martial of genuine military personnel. Yet Blackwater execs use another representational strategy which may prove to be somewhat more transparently self-serving: as faithful servants of market imperatives, market imperatives which pushed them into massive profits against their will. As they back away having made millions from the lucrative business of private security, Prince and Jackson now claim that making money in the security business was never their intention. As Apuzzo and Baker report, company president Gary Jackson stresses, “Security was not part of the master plan, ever,” and Prince expresses hope that he can somehow rein in his wildly successful business: “If I could get it down to 2 percent or 1 percent, I would go there,” he said.

And certainly the market in Iraqi chaos may be drying up soon, according to Bush’s announcement Friday, July 18, to set a “general time horizon” for troop cuts in Iraq. In fact, Prince saw the handwriting on the wall last year. In an October 15, 2007 interview with August Cole of the Wall Street Journal, Prince noted preciently, “We see the security market diminishing,” and indicated his intention to move into more palatable services–the delivery of humanitarian aid and response to natural disasters.

Wisely, Prince neglected to mention the most lucrative contract that now looms on the horizon for Blackwater: a opportunity to profit handily from the insecurity and chaos on the US-Mexico border. On September 14, 2007, just days before the Nisour Square massacre, The Army Times released a report that Blackwater and four other contractors landed a series of contracts for the Counter-Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office at the Pentagon that could total $15 billion. According to a report by Solomon Moore of the New York Times, Marty Strong, Blackwater’s vice president for communications, revealed that Blackwater’s new mission to fight narcoterrorism led them to seek out properties in San Diego County to build new facilities. Strong further explained in the report that the proximity of military installations, borders, ports, and several of the nation’s local law enforcement agencies made San Diego an ideal market for Blackwater. A report by Goverment Executive.com outlining more details of the project suggests that in spite of Blackwater’s insistence to the contrary, their intentions in opening a new facility in Otay Mesa include reaping massive profits from the increased militarization of the US-Mexico border.

The American people might be willing to agree with the obfuscations of Bill O’Reilly and others that a few casualities here and there are the price we must pay for our national security. But it remains to be seen whether we will be as willing to indulge Blackwater’s war profiteering when the price we must pay is stability and security on the borders of our own city.

Photo Credit: Gerry Broome/Associated Press

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Blackwater’s Bright Future: LA Times Opinion

From the LA Times  June 16, 2008

Blackwater’s Bright Future By Jeremy Scahill 

Scahill considers the question: would an Obama White House put the brakes on an “unaccountable private war industry?”

>Killing Fucking Rocks!

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Wired Magazine is staging a contest to help Blackwater design new motivational posters to help improve its image here in America. Check it out . . .

And just a thought about Blackwater’s training potential. Maybe we should bring them into our public schools to help spice things up a little in the classroom. According to its promo materials, Mercenaries “is dense with explosive content that satisfies on a fundamental level.” While the game guide explains that “war is hell,” PS2 gamemakers go on to note that “luckily, it’s also pretty damn profitable.” Now there’s a solution to our education budget woes.

>Mike Aguirre argues City of San Diego’s Case Against Blackwater

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On Tuesday, June 17 at 10:30 AM, City Attorney Mike Aguirre argued the case for the city in Blackwater Lodge and Training Center vs. Kelly Broughton/City of San Diego before Judge Marilyn Huff. On June 4, Huff granted Blackwater a restraining order against the City in order to ensure that it would be able to open its Otay Mesa training facility without further delay.

Today, Huff granted an injunction to Blackwater Worldwide, rejecting City Attorney Mike Aguirre’s legal arguments, and allowing the company to continue operating the training facility.

The transcript of the May 30 Federal District Court hearing shows that Blackwater claims the permits and applications made their intention to build an indoor firing range clear from the beginning and that “there are indications everywhere that this is a Blackwater facility.” Indeed, an internal audit by the city determined that Blackwater had not misrepresented its identity in the permits and applications. The audit was requested by Mayor Jerry Sanders on May 5 after concerns were raised about the city’s grant of permits to Blackwater without prior public hearings on the issue. Given the level of opposition to a similar proposed facility in Potrero, these citizen concerns come as no surprise.

What’s at stake in this case is local control over land-use and neighborhood planning in the City of San Diego. Aguirre’s legal arguments called for a review of the project by the city to determine whether the company’s military training deviates from existing land-use regulations. It is widely argued that the Blackwater shooting range and paramilitary facility does not belong in Otay Mesa, near schools, businesses and residential areas, and only a stone’s throw from the US-Mexico border. Aguirre contends that the City Council should have the right to make land-use decisions in the city. “Obviously, if the federal courts intervene in standard land-use matters then I think there’s a risk that every time somebody doesn’t like ea process, they can go to federal court.” Marilyn Huff, an appointee of George H.W. Bush, supported Blackwater’s claims that they were victims of discrimination on the part of the city. Brian Bonfiglio, a Blackwater VP and one of the company’s more visible spokespersons, has demonstrated animosity throughout this process against local citizens of Potrero and San Diego, and has argued that such Aguirre’s legal attempt to protect the city’s interests was a “terrific waste of time and money.” Claiming that as an “out-of-town-company,” they needed protection from discriminatory locals, Bonfiglio argued that it is the role of federal courts to enable companies like Blackwater to overstep local control. “Federal Courts were designed and developed to protect the rights of those who in this case aren’t from San Diego.”

Aguirre will appeal the decision to 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

Citizens of San Diego gathered in front of the Federal Courthouse downtown at 10 AM Tuesday morning for a demonstration.

Photo credit: Peace Resource Center

>Author Jeremy Scahill joins San Diegans in Fight Against Blackwater

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On June 11, enveloped in the golden brown desert habitat and bright blue skies of Otay Mesa, California, investigative journalist and author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Nation Books, 2007) Jeremy Scahill joined over 100 San Diegans in a demonstration against the private military contractor Blackwater. Just one week earlier, Blackwater opened its 61,000 sq. ft. military training facility in an industrial park on 7685 Siempre Viva Rd, San Diego, CA 92154. Blackwater started a training class for the Navy on June 5, after being granted a restraining order against the City of San Diego who tried to block Blackwater’s certificate of occupancy in late May. Blackwater claims to have a $400 million contract with the US Navy for specialized anti-terrorist training.

San Diego citizens were out in force with shouts of “We are the people! You can’t ignore us! Blackwater must go!” Various local groups and leaders were present to voice their opposition to the facility’s opening, including City Attorney Mike Aguirre, Pedro Rios of the American Friends Service Committee, John Fanestil of the San Diego Foundation for Change, Carol Jankow of the Peace Resource Center, Ray Lutz, Potrero activist and director of Citizens’ Oversight Projects.org. Many argue that the opening of the Blackwater facility was accomplished through a secretive and questionable permitting process, with no public hearings, and a lack of transparency and accountability. John Fanestil, Executive Director of the San Diego Foundation for Change, warned against the growing “culture of the covert operation” which authorizes and legitimizes the secretive appropriation of land and public resources, treating community groups with suspicion and cutting out local stakeholders and elected officials from the traditional processes of debate and discussion which enable community self-determination in a democracy. District 8 City Councilman Ben Hueso pointed out in a recent editorial in the San Diego Union-Tribune (No: Facility is inconsistent with community) that had it not been for a tip from a concerned citizen, the Blackwater facility would have opened with little fanfare or public knowledge of its existence.

Scahill’s study of Blackwater provides rigorous and well-researched support for the concerns of many San Diego leaders who fear the erosion of the processes of public accountability, transparency and democratic process that the recent opening of the Blackwater Otay Mesa training facility represents. Scahill’s book stresses the rapid transformation of private-public enterprises and the unique access to public monies and political power that military contractors enjoy today. While military contractors have always been hired to perform specialist operations in foreign wars, Scahill argues that the increasing privatization of traditional government and military functions sets Blackwater apart: “We are in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in U.S. history.”

What is unique here, and uniquely threatening to democracy and the rule of law, are the historical and economic conditions under which this massive transfer of public tax dollars to private corporations is taking place. Scahill rejects the facile name-calling or moralistic arguments against Blackwater that would lead some to call them “fascists” or to offer up conspiracy theories to explain the success of these companies. Rather, Scahill points to the political economy of security in the post-9/11 period as the driving force behind the rapid expansion of companies like DynCorp, Titan, as well as Blackwater. “Blackwater operates in a demand-based industry—demand for aggressive wars of conquest” that are the driving force for the massive wealth transfer from the American people to private corporations.

Following the Bush Administration playbook, Blackwater spokesmen regularly stay on message in attempts to frame their expansion in the most limited terms possible. They regularly claim that it is “pure coincidence” that Blackwater West is building facilities on the US-Mexico border. In a May 23 editorial in the San Diego Union Tribune, Blackwater President Gary Jackson argued vociferously that Blackwater will limit its role to “provide essential preventative training” to a seriously underfunded military. “The proposed training facility has one purpose: to prepare our military and law enforcement personnel to deal wtih potential threats. [. . .] While critics have floated a wide range of wild theories concerning the ‘real purpose’ of our presence in San Diego, it really is that simple. There is no other agenda.”

In spite of repeated public statements to the contrary, Blackwater is clearly situating itself to capitalize on potentially lucrative contracts to provide border security and engage in anti-drug efforts, work which is currently being performed by military contractors in Colombia. When questioned by East County activist and candidate for 77th Assembly district, Ray Lutz, about Blackwater’s future plans to involve itself in border security, Blackwater VP Brian Bonfiglio readily admitted that Blackwater would accept any contracts that might come its way.

Last summer Blackwater entered into a $15 billion contract to fight “terrorists with drug trade ties,” according to Scahill. In addition, Blackwater runs another subsidiary company called “Total Intelligence Solutions,”overseen by J. Cofer Black, Robert Richer and Enrique “Ric” Prado, which Scahill has referred to as “Blackwater’s private CIA.” Currently in the US, 70% of the total US intelligence budget is in the hands of private intelligence corporations.”

Blackwater spokesmen’s own words confirm John Fanestil’s
analysis that this expansion is driven by a culture of covert operation. Gary Jackson argues against public hearings that might threaten the unimpeded expansion of their corporate enterprise: “Debate over U.S. foreign policy has a place – in Congress, in presidential campaigns, and indeed in American public discourse – but political debate should not affect permitting processes or encumber our military and law enforcement’s essential need to prepare for potential attacks.” In a response to the widespread public response to Potrero citizen groups’ opposition to Blackwater’s proposed facility there, Brian Bonfiglio rejected the legitimate role of elected leaders and citizen groups in public debate, accusing Congressman Bob Filner and the East County Democratic Club of having “inserted themselves into the process . . . to make a political statement about the war in Iraq.” (posted on 8 January 2008 on the voiceofsandiego.org blog Cafe San Diego–link disabled)

In fact, the widespread opposition of local elected leaders has nothing to do with opposition to the Iraq war. Congressman Bob Filner and City Councilman Ben Hueso have each made it clear that they oppose Blackwater because of the inherent conflicts of interest involved. In his May 23 editorial in response to Blackwater President Gary Jackson, Hueso pointed to the “very apparent conflict of interest of a for-profit corporation that profits from insecurity at the border.”

At an April 25 press conference in front of the proposed Otay Mesa facility, US Congressman Bob Filner pointed out a few of the dangers inherent in the use of mercenary forces in military roles: “The use of civilian-defense contractors is irresponsible, and should be stopped immediately. Not only are they unaccountable to the Military, the State Department and Congress; they are civilians serving in combat and combat-training. Many have been wounded or have wounded others, and yet, they are not veterans; there is no safety net when they come home. It is criminal to ask civilian men and women to perform the role of the military when they lack the support necessary to return to their civilian lives.”

In her statement at the same press conference, Senator Denise Moreno Ducheny, California Senate District 40, explained that local opposition is a legitimate part of any process of public debate: “There were environmental issues when Blackwater tried to locate in Potrero and now they want to site a facility in an industrial area within the footprint of the proposed cross-border terminal. Given the controversial nature of this corporation, residents and stakeholders in Otay Mesa should have been informed of a proposed training facility for mercenaries near their community. Their views on this matter need to be taken into account whether this facility is compatible to Otay Mesa’s residents and businesses.”

On Tuesday, June 17, the public debate will continue as City Attorney Mike Aguirre argues the City of San Diego’s case against the opening of the Otay Mesa facility in Federal Court. Meanwhile, local activists have planned to continue public demonstrations in front of the Blackwater facility.

>Blackwater’s Motion to be Heard in Federal Court, Fri, May 30

>Blackwater’s motion for a temporary restraining order against the City of San Diego will be heard today, Friday, May 30, in Federal Court in the courtroom of the Honorable Marilyn L. Huff, at 1:30. The TRO motion was filed on behalf of Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, Inc. vs. Broughton et. al.

Following upon an investigation of their facility in Otay Mesa, the City of San Diego halted the issue of final permit for occupancy pending further hearings and review. Lawyers for the City argue that Blackwater failed to file for the proper permits to convert the 61,000-square-foot warehouse in Otay Mesa into a military training center for a Navy counterterrorism program. The facility is only a few blocks from the US-Mexico border, and is located near Brown Field Municipal Airport, schools and homes. The Tijuana International Airport is just over one mile to the south of the site. Permits were filed under the names of subsidiary companies Southwestern Law Enforcement and Raven Development Group, both subsidiaries of a shell company named E & J Holdings, a real estate firm based in Puerto Rico. In their permit applications, Blackwater did not include pertinent information about plans to install a battleship simulator and a shooting range inside the building.

Today’s motion is apparently an attempt by Blackwater to force the city to approve the permit for occupancy of the Otay Mesa facility. Blackwater claims that they stand to lose a $400 million contract with the Navy if they do not begin the training course on Monday, June 2.

Local citizens plan to meet at the Federal Court House downtown at Front & Broadway at 12:30 PM, Friday, to demonstrate.

>Blackwater to sue City of San Diego in Federal Court

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At the San Diego City Council Meeting this morning (May 27) 8th District Councilmember Ben Hueso addressed a throng of citizens in attendance to register their protest against the Blackwater facility in Otay Mesa. Hueso announced that Blackwater now intends to sue the City of San Diego in Federal Court.

Hueso provided no further information, but this latest salvo follows upon a recent torrent of letters, memos, legal opinions and public statements from Blackwater West VP Brian Bonfiglio and Blackwater’s attorneys, from Kelly Broughton, whose Development Services Department issued the initial permit to Blackwater, and from City Attorney Mike Aguirre.

In a letter issued to Bonfiglio last Monday, May 19, Kelly Broughton notified Blackwater of the city’s denial of a certificate of occupancy for Blackwater’s intended purpose, to house a shooting range and military training center. Broughton’s letter references an investigation and report by City Attorney Mike Aguirre prompted by requests in early May by Mayor Jerry Sanders and Congressman Bob Filner. May 16, City Attorney Mike Aguirre produced a memorandum recommending the city issue a stop-work order and withhold the certificate of occupancy for the Blackwater facility at 7685 Siempre Viva Road San Diego, CA 92154. In response to Broughton’s letter and the city attorney’s memo, Blackwater attorneys Neil, Dymott, Frank, McFall & Trexler fired back on May 20 with a letter claiming that the memorandum of City Attorney Aguirre was “fatally flawed,” outlining “salient facts” and demanding that the city issue the certificate of occupancy. In the letter, the firm threatened to take “other steps to enforce and protect Blackwater’s rights” if the city were to fail to respond by Friday (May 23). This morning’s announcement of the impending lawsuit is, apparently, the next step referred to in this letter.

The recent public scrutiny of Blackwater West (largely brought on by their own lawlessness ) is at least in part due to the efforts of Potrero citizens who, over the past year, successfully blocked the development of a proposed 824-acre Blackwater military training center in Potrero, California, 45 miles east of San Diego and a stone’s throw from the US-Mexico border. After a protracted battle with local Potrero residents, Blackwater withdrew its application for the Potrero site on March 7, 2008.

Investigation into the Otay Mesa facility was prompted in late April when Raymond Lutz, local organizer and director of CitizensOversight.org and StopBlackwater.net , received a tip that the facility in Otay Mesa was not as harmless as it appeared. Since then, events have proceeded rapidly and coverage has been widespread by local activist groups like the San Diego Coalition for Peace & Justice and in local and west coast media. The news prompted a public rally and press conference outside the facility on April 25 and calls for Mayor Sanders to respond with investigations into the permits, filed by Blackwater under names of subsidiary companies Southwest Law Enforcement and Raven Development Group. On May 2, Ray Lutz and Congressman Bob Filner were interviewed by Amy Goodman on Democracy Now! The story was picked up by the LA Times on May 15.

As Blackwater proceeds with the lawsuit against the City of San Diego, they may succeed in bringing this case to national attention.

Click here for a report by Amita Sharma of KPBS, San Diego