Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo
A private contractor gestures to his colleagues flying over-head in a helicopter as they secure the scene of a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq. A federal judge dismissed all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007.
A private contractor gestures to his colleagues flying over-head in a helicopter as they secure the scene of a roadside bomb attack in Baghdad, Iraq. A federal judge dismissed all charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security guards accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians in a crowded Baghdad intersection in 2007. Khalid Mohammed/AP Photo
After nearly a decade of working overtly and covertly for the US government across the globe, the infamous mercenary firm Blackwater is apparently for sale. The company made the announcement in a brief statement Monday followed by an even briefer statement from the company's owner, Erik Prince. "Performance doesn't matter in Washington, just politics," Prince said.
Blackwater's statement does not make clear if all of Blackwater's various entities are up for sale or just its security and training business, which currently operates under the names Xe Services and the US Training Center. Prince also owns a private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions, an offshore mercenary operation, Greystone Limited, a construction company, Raven Development and Paravant, which has been used as a shell company to win training contracts in Afghanistan. Prince sold his aviation division earlier this year for $200 million.
In announcing Blackwater was for sale, the company stated Monday: "Xe's new management team has made significant changes and improvements to the company over the last 15 months, which have enabled the company to better serve the US government and other customers, and will deliver additional value to a purchaser."
The most interesting aspect of this story is what will happen to Blackwater's clandestine/covert work for the CIA and the Joint Special Operations Command. The OGA (Other Government Agency) division of Blackwater has gone by different names over the years. Among these are: Blackwater SELECT, Blackwater PTC and, most recently XPG. It was this division of the company that Blackwater used for its role in the US drone bombing campaign. XPG holds a classified contract to provide security at seven US Special Forces sites along the Afghan/Pakistan border, for which Blackwater is paid $17,000 a day. Additionally, Prince has boasted that Blackwater controls four Forward Operating Bases in Afghanistan, including the closest US facility to Pakistan's border. Prince has also bragged that Blackwater runs a counter-narcotics force that has called in NATO air strikes in Afghanistan against suspected drug sites.
After 9-11, Prince set up what amounted to small CIA assassination teams that operated in various countries across the globe, including in Germany. In some cases, Prince says he personally bankrolled the operations, giving the Bush administration an ultimate plausible deniability machine. Evidence of Blackwater's ongoing involvement with, and access to, highly sensitive US operations was clear when two Blackwater operatives were killed in December 2009 when the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, was bombed by a Jordanian double agent. The CIA believed that its personnel were meeting with a "golden goose" of intelligence who had recently met with Al Qaeda's number-two man, Ayman al Zawahiri.
I have heard from sources that over the past two years, Prince has shifted some of Blackwater's clandestine work to companies he does not own but which are run by former Blackwater executives or allies. Among these are Blackbird Technologies, which now employs former Blackwater executive J. Cofer Black (former head of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center) and Constellation Consulting, which is run by former Blackwater executive Enrique "Ric" Prado, a veteran of the CIA's paramilitary division, the Special Operations Group. Prado was instrumental in setting up the Blackwater-CIA assassination program.
There is no doubt Erik Prince maintains deep contacts within the US military and intelligence community, but the Blackwater name is mud. Despite the rebranding efforts, Blackwater has remained Blackwater. The sale of the company would undoubtedly represent the end of an era. But Blackwater did not rise to prominence in a vacuum and it did not create the demand for the kinds of forces and services it offers. Even if Erik Prince leaves the mercenary game, Blackwater will continue on—almost certainly under a different name and, it seems, new ownership. The type of clandestine operations and top-tier special forces operators Blackwater has provided to the US government and military will be in increasing demand in the years ahead, particularly as the Obama administration expands the operations of US special forces globally. The bottom line is that there are a finite number of top-level operators and Blackwater employed a lot of them.
I have heard from Congressional sources that the Obama administration is not enthusiastic about its ongoing relationship with Blackwater, but that the company provides services and personnel the White House has determined it cannot live without—particularly in Afghanistan. In that way, the sale of Blackwater would benefit the Obama administration.