Sunday, September 30, 2007

Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill

THE WORLD was a very different place on September 10, 2001, when Donald Rumsfeld stepped to the podium at the Pentagon to deliver one of his first major addresses as Defense Secretary under President George W. Bush. For most Americans, there was no such thing as Al Qaeda, and Saddam Hussein was still the president of Iraq. Rumsfeld had served in the post once before—under President Gerald Ford from 1975 to 1977—and he returned to the job in 2001 with ambitious visions. That September day in the first year of the Bush administration, Rumsfeld addressed the Pentagon officials in charge of overseeing the high-stakes business of defense contracting—managing the Halliburton’s, DynCorp’s, and Bechtel’s. The Secretary stood before a gaggle of former corporate executives from Enron, Northrop Grumman, General Dynamics, and Aerospace Corporation whom he had tapped as his top deputies at the Department of Defense, and he issued a declaration of war.

“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the United States of America,” Rumsfeld thundered. “This adversary is one of the world’s last bastions of central planning. It governs by dictating five-year plans. From a single capital, it attempts to impose its demands across time zones, continents, oceans, and beyond. With brutal consistency, it stifles free thought and crushes new ideas. It disrupts the defense of the United States and places the lives of men and women in uniform at risk.” Pausing briefly for dramatic effect, Rumsfeld—himself a veteran Cold Warrior—told his new staff, “Perhaps this adversary sounds like the former Soviet Union, but that enemy is gone: our foes are more subtle and implacable today. You may think I’m describing one of the last decrepit dictators of the world. But their day, too, is almost past, and they cannot match the strength and size of this adversary. The adversary’s closer to home. It’s the Pentagon bureaucracy.” Rumsfeld called for a wholesale shift in the running of the Pentagon, supplanting the old DOD bureaucracy with a new model, one based on the private sector. The problem, Rumsfeld said, was that unlike businesses, “governments can’t die, so we need to find other incentives for bureaucracy to adapt and improve.” The stakes, he declared, were dire—”a matter of life and death, ultimately, every American’s.” That day, Rumsfeld announced a major initiative to streamline the use of the private sector in the waging of America’s wars and predicted his initiative would meet fierce resistance. “Some might ask, how in the world could the Secretary of Defense attack the Pentagon in front of its people?” Rumsfeld told his audience. “To them I reply I have no desire to attack the Pentagon; I want to liberate it. We need to save it from itself.”

The next morning, the Pentagon would literally be attacked as American Airlines Flight 77—a Boeing 757—smashed into its western wall. Rumsfeld would famously assist rescue workers in pulling bodies from the rubble. But it didn’t take long for Rumsfeld, the chess master of militarism, to seize the almost unthinkable opportunity presented by 9/11to put his personal war— laid out just a day before—on the fast track. The world had irreversibly changed, and in an instant the future of the world’s mightiest military force had become a blank canvas on which Rumsfeld and his allies could paint their masterpiece. The new Pentagon policy would draw heavily on the private sector; emphasize covert actions, sophisticated weapons systems, and greater use of Special Forces and contractors. It became known as the Rumsfeld Doctrine. “We must promote a more entrepreneurial approach: one that encourages people to be proactive, not reactive, and to behave less like bureaucrats and more like venture capitalists,” Rumsfeld wrote in the summer of 2002 in an article for Foreign Affairs titled “Transforming the Military.” Rumsfeld’s “small footprint” approach opened the door for one of the most significant developments in modern warfare—the widespread use of private contractors in every aspect of war, including in combat. Among those to receive early calls from the administration to join a “global war on terror” that would be fought according to the Rumsfeld Doctrine was a little-known firm operating out of a private military training camp near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. Its name was Blackwater USA. Almost overnight following the great tragedy of September 11, a company that had barely existed a few years earlier would become a central player in a global war waged by the mightiest empire in history. “I’ve been operating in the training business now for four years and was starting to get a little cynical on how seriously people took security,” Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince told Fox News host Bill O’Reilly shortly after 9/11. “The phone is ringing off the hook now.”

But the story of Blackwater doesn’t begin on 9/11 or even with its executives or its founding. In many ways, it encapsulates the history of modern warfare. Most of all, it represents the realization of the life’s work of the officials who formed the core of the Bush administration’s war team.

During the 1991 Gulf War, Dick Cheney—Rumsfeld’s close ally—was Secretary of Defense. One in ten people deployed in the war zone at that time was a private contractor, a ratio Cheney was doggedly determined to ratchet up. Before he departed in 1993, Cheney commissioned a study from a division of the company he would eventually head, Halliburton, on how to quickly privatize the military bureaucracy. Almost overnight, Halliburton would create an industry for itself servicing U.S. military operations abroad with seemingly infinite profit potential. The more aggressively the U.S. expanded its military reach, the better for Halliburton’s business. It was the prototype for the future. In the ensuing eight years of governance by Bill Clinton, Cheney worked at the influential neoconservative think tank the American Enterprise Institute, which led the charge for an accelerated privatization of the government and military. By 1995, Cheney was at the helm of Halliburton building what would become the U.S. government’s single largest defense contractor. President Clinton largely embraced the privatization agenda and Cheney’s company—along with other contractors—was given lucrative contracts during the Balkans conflict in the 1990s and the 1999 Kosovo war. One military consulting firm, the Virginia-based Military Professional Resources Incorporated, staffed by retired senior military officials, was authorized by the Clinton administration in the mid-1990s to train the Croatian military in its secessionist war against Serb-dominated Yugoslavia, a contract that ultimately tipped the balance of that conflict. That contract was a foreshadowing of the kind of private-sector involvement in war that would become standard in the war on terror. But privatization was only part of the broader agenda. Cheney and Rumsfeld were key members of the Project for a New American Century, initiated in 1997 by neoconservative activist William Kristol. The group pressed Clinton to enact regime change in Iraq, and its principles, which advocated “a policy of military strength and moral clarity,” would form the basis for much of the Bush administration’s international agenda.

In September 2000, just months before its members would form the core of the Bush White House; the Project for a New American Century released a report called Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century. In laying out PNAC’s vision for overhauling the U.S. war machine, the report recognized that “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event—like a new Pearl Harbor.” A year to the month later, the 9/11 attacks would provide that catalyst: an unprecedented justification to forge ahead with this radical agenda molded by a small cadre of neoconservative operatives who had just taken official power.

The often-overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is the outsourcing and privatization they have entailed. From the moment the Bush team took power, the Pentagon was stacked with ideologues like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Stephen Cambone and with former corporate executives—many from large weapons manufacturers— like Under Secretary of Defense Pete Aldridge (Aerospace Corporation), Army Secretary Thomas White (Enron), Navy Secretary Gordon England (General Dynamics), and Air Force Secretary James Roche (Northrop Grumman). The new civilian leadership at the Pentagon came into power with two major goals: regime change in strategic nations and the enactment of the most sweeping privatization and outsourcing operation in U.S. military history—a revolution in military affairs. After 9/11 this campaign became unstoppable.

The swift defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan emboldened Rumsfeld and the administration as they began planning for the centerpiece of the neoconservative crusade: Iraq. From the moment the U.S. troop buildup began in advance of the invasion, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the U.S. gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, behind closed doors Halliburton was being prepped for its largest operation in history. When U.S. tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in a war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq—an almost one to- one ratio to active-duty U.S. soldiers.To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld stepped down, he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the U.S. war machine. In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a “roadmap for change” at the DOD, which he said had started in 2001. It defined the “Department’s Total Force” as “its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors—constitut[ing] its war fighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions.”

Coming as it did in the midst of an open-ended, loosely defined global war, this formal designation represented a radical rebuke of the ominous warnings laid out by President Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation decades earlier during which he envisioned the “grave implications” of the rise of “the military-industrial complex.” In 1961, Eisenhower declared, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” What has unfolded in the ensuing years and particularly under the Bush administration is nothing less than the very scenario Eisenhower darkly prophesied.

While the war on terror and the Iraq occupation have given birth to scores of companies, few if any have experienced the meteoric rise to power, profit, and prominence that Blackwater has. In less than a decade, it has risen out of a swamp in North Carolina to become a sort of Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration’s “global war on terror.” Today, Blackwater has more than 2,300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, including inside the United States. It maintains a database of 21,000 former Special Forces troops, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents on whom it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater has a private fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a surveillance blimp division. Its 7,000-acre headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina, is the world’s largest private military facility. It trains tens of thousands of federal and local law enforcement agents a year and troops from “friendly foreign nations. The company operates its own intelligence division and counts among its executives senior ex-military and intelligence officials. It recently began constructing new facilities in California (“Blackwater West”) and Illinois (“Blackwater North”), as well as a jungle training facility in the Philippines. Blackwater has more than $500 million in government contracts—and that does not include its secret “black” budget operations for U.S. intelligence agencies or private corporations/individuals and foreign governments. As one U.S. Congress member observed, in strictly military terms, Blackwater could overthrow many of the world’s governments.

Blackwater is a private army, and it is controlled by one person: Erik Prince, a radical right-wing Christian mega-millionaire who has served as a major bankroller not only of President Bush’s campaigns but of the broader Christian-right agenda. In fact, as of this writing Prince has never given a penny to a Democratic candidate—certainly his right, but an unusual pattern for the head of such a powerful war-servicing corporation, and one that speaks volumes about the sincerity of his ideological commitment. Blackwater has been one of the most effective battalions in Rumsfeld’s war on the Pentagon, and Prince speaks boldly about the role his company is playing in the radical transformation of the U.S. military. “When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx?” Prince recently asked during a panel discussion with military officials. “Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.”

Perhaps the most telling sign that such a transformation had taken place came when the White House outsourced the job of protecting America’s most senior officials in Iraq to Blackwater beginning in 2003. As L. Paul Bremer, Bush’s envoy in the first year of the occupation, hunkered down in Baghdad to implement the Bush agenda, he was protected by Blackwater, as every successive U.S. Ambassador there has been. In contrast to active-duty soldiers who are poorly paid, Blackwater’s guards were given six-figure salaries. “Standard wages for PSD (personal security detail) pros [in Iraq] were previously running about $300 [per man] a day,” Fortune reported at the time. “Once Blackwater started recruiting for its first big job, guarding Paul Bremer, the rate shot up to $600 a day.”With almost no public debate, the Bush administration has outsourced to the private sector many of the functions historically handled by the military. In turn, these private companies are largely unaccountable to the U.S. taxpayers from whom they draw their profits. Some began comparing the mercenary market in Iraq to the Alaskan Gold Rush and the O.K. Corral. As The Times of London put it at the time, “In Iraq, the postwar business boom is not oil. It is security.”

As this unprecedented private force expanded in Iraq, Bremer’s last act before skulking out of Baghdad on June 28, 2004, was to issue a decree known as Order 17, immunizing contractors in Iraq from prosecution. It was a significant move in a sea of policies (and absence of policies) governing the occupation of Iraq, and one that emboldened private forces. While U.S. soldiers have been prosecuted for killings and torture in Iraq, the Pentagon has not held its vast private forces to the same standards. That point was driven home during one of the rare Congressional hearings on contractors in Iraq, which took place in June 2006. Blackwater represented the industry at the hearing, which also included several government officials. Representative Dennis Kucinich questioned Shay Assad, the Pentagon’s director of defense procurement and acquisition, the department in the DOD responsible for contractors. Kucinich pointed out that U.S. troops are subjected to enforceable rules of engagement and have been prosecuted for violations in Iraq, while contractors were not. He said that as of the date of the hearing, “no security contractor has been prosecuted” for crimes in Iraq.He then directly asked Assad, “Would the Department of Defense be prepared to see a prosecution proffered against any private contractor who is demonstrated to have unlawfully killed a civilian?”

“Sir, I can’t answer that question,” Assad replied.

“Wow,” Kucinich shot back. “Think about what that means. These private contractors can get away with murder.” Contractors, Kucinich said, “do not appear to be subject to any laws at all and so therefore they have more of a license to be able to take the law into their own hands.” Blackwater has openly declared its forces above the law. While resisting attempts to subject its private soldiers to the Pentagon’s Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ)—insisting they are civilians—Blackwater has simultaneously claimed immunity from civilian litigation in the United States, saying its forces are a part of the U.S. Total Force. Blackwater has argued in legal briefs that if U.S. courts allow the company to be sued for wrongful death of its workers, that could threaten the nation’s war-fighting capacity: “In order for responsible federal contractors to accompany the U.S. Armed Forces on the battlefield, it is essential that their immunity from liability for casualties be federally protected and uniformly upheld by federal courts. Nothing could be more destructive of the all-volunteer, Total Force concept underlying U.S. military manpower doctrine than to expose the private components to the tort liability systems of fifty states, transported overseas to foreign battlefields. . . . How the President oversees and commands these military operations, including his decisions through the chain of command concerning the training, deployment, armament, missions, composition, planning, analysis, management and supervision of private military contractors and their missions, falls outside the role of [the courts].” Instead, Blackwater claims that its forces operate under the legally impotent and unenforceable code of conduct written by its own trade association, ironically named the International Peace Operations Association. Erik Prince says his forces are “accountable to our country." As though declarations of loyalty to the flag are evidence of just motives or activities or somehow a substitute for an independent legal framework.

This logic is encouraged not only by the virtual immunity already extended to contractors but also by the Pentagon’s failure to oversee this massive private force that is now officially recognized as part of the U.S. war machine. Private contractors largely operate in a legal gray zone that leaves the door for abuses wide open. In late 2006, a one-line amendment was quietly slipped into Congress’s massive 2007 defense-spending bill, signed by President Bush, that could subject contractors in war zones to the Pentagon’s UCMJ, also known as the court martial system. But the military has enough trouble policing its own massive force and could scarcely be expected to effectively monitor an additional 100,000 private personnel. While the five-word insert hardly establishes a system of independent oversight, experts still predict it will be fiercely resisted by the private war industry. Despite the unprecedented reliance on contractors deployed in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, the government has failed to even count them, let alone police them. A Government Accountability Office report released in December 2006 found that the military had no effective system of oversight and that “officials were unable to determine how many contractors were deployed to bases in Iraq.” The Army and Air Force were unable to provide the GAO investigators “the number of contractors they were using at deployed locations or the services those contractors were providing to U.S. forces.” The GAO concluded “problems with management and oversight of contractors have negatively impacted military operations and unit morale and hindered DOD’s ability to obtain reasonable assurance that contractors are effectively meeting their contract requirements in the most cost-efficient manner.”

A week after Donald Rumsfeld’s rule at the Pentagon ended, U.S. forces had been stretched so thin by the war on terror that former Secretary of State Gen. Colin Powell declared “the active Army is about broken.”Rather than rethinking such aggressive policies and wars of conquest, the Bush administration and the Pentagon talked of the need to expand the size of the military. Prince had already offered up a proposal of his own: the creation of what he called a “contractor brigade” to supplement the conventional U.S. military. “There’s consternation in the DOD about increasing the permanent size of the Army,” he said. “We want to add 30,000 people, and they talked about costs of anywhere from $3.6 billion to $4 billion to do that. Well, by my math, that comes out to about $135,000 per soldier. . . . We could do it certainly cheaper.”It was an extraordinary declaration that could only come from a man in control of his own army. Prince likes to position Blackwater as a patriotic extension of the U.S. military, and in September 2005 he issued a company-wide memorandum requiring all company employees and contractors to swear the same oath of loyalty to the U.S. Constitution as Blackwater’s “National Security-related clients (i.e. Pentagon, State Department and intelligence agencies)” to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic. . . . So help me God.”

But despite the portrayal of Blackwater as an all-American operation seeking to defend the defenseless, some of its most ambitious and secretive projects reveal a very different and frightening reality. In May 2004, Blackwater quietly registered a new division, Greystone Limited, in the U.S. government’s Central Contracting office. But instead of incorporating the company in North Carolina or Virginia or Delaware, like Blackwater’s other divisions, Greystone was registered offshore in the Caribbean island-nation of Barbados. It was duly classified by the U.S. government as a “tax-exempt” “corporate entity.”Greystone’s promotional literature offered prospective clients “Proactive Engagement Teams” that could be hired “to meet emergent or existing security requirements for client needs overseas. Our teams are ready to conduct stabilization efforts, asset protection and recovery, and emergency personnel withdrawal.” It also offered a wide range of training services, including in “defensive and offensive small group operations.” Greystone boasted that it “maintains and trains a workforce drawn from a diverse base of former special operations, defense, intelligence, and law enforcement professionals’ ready on a moment’s notice for global deployment.” The countries from which Greystone claimed to draw recruits were: the Philippines, Chile, Nepal, Colombia, Ecuador, El Salvador, Honduras, Panama, and Peru, many of whose forces have human rights records that are questionable at best. It asked applicants to check off their qualifications in weapons: AK-47 rifle, Glock 19, M-16 series rifle, M-4 carbine rifle, machine gun, mortar, and shoulder-fired weapons (RPG, LAAW). Among the qualifications the application sought: sniper, marksman, door gunner, explosive ordnance, counter-assault team. In Iraq, Blackwater has deployed scores of Chilean mercenaries, some of whom trained and served under the brutal regime of Augusto Pinochet. “We scour the ends of the earth to find professionals,” said Blackwater president Gary Jackson. “The Chilean commandos are very, very professional and they fit within the Blackwater system.”

With domestic armed forces stretched to the limit—and a draft off the table for political reasons— the U.S. government is left to struggle to find nation-state allies willing to staff the occupations of its “global war on terror.” If the national armies of other states will not join a “coalition of the willing,” Blackwater and its allies offer a different sort of solution: an alternative internationalization of the force achieved by recruiting private soldiers from across the globe. If foreign governments are not on board, foreign soldiers—many of whose home countries oppose the U.S. wars— can still be enlisted, at a price. This process, critics allege, is nothing short of a subversion of the very existence of the nation-state and of principles of sovereignty and self-determination. “The increasing use of contractors, private forces or as some would say ‘mercenaries’ makes wars easier to begin and to fight—it just takes money and not the citizenry,” says Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, whose organization has sued private contractors for alleged human rights violations in Iraq.“To the extent a population is called upon to go to war, there is resistance, a necessary resistance to prevent wars of self-aggrandizement, foolish wars and in the case of the United States, hegemonic imperialist wars. Private forces are almost a necessity for a United States bent on retaining its declining empire. Think about Rome and its increasing need for mercenaries. Likewise, here at home in the United States. Controlling an angry, abused population with a police force bound to obey the Constitution can be difficult—private forces can solve this ‘problem.’”

As with Halliburton, the Pentagon’s largest contractor, Blackwater is set apart from simple war profiteers by the defining characteristic of its executives’ very long view. They have not just seized a profitable moment along with many of their competitors but have set out to carve a permanent niche for themselves for decades to come. Blackwater’s aspirations are not limited to international wars, however. Its forces beat most federal agencies to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina hit in 2005, as hundreds of heavily armed Blackwater mercenaries—some fresh from deployment in Iraq—fanned out into the disaster zone. Within a week, they were officially hired by the Department of Homeland Security to operate in the U.S. Gulf, billing the federal government $950 a day per Blackwater soldier. In less than a year, the company had raked in more than $70 million in federal hurricane related contracts—about $243,000 a day.The company saw Katrina as another moment of great opportunity and soon began applying for permits to contract its forces out to local governments in all fifty states. Blackwater executives have met with California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger about deploying there in the aftermath of an earthquake or another disaster. “Look, none of us loves the idea that devastation became a business opportunity,” said the Blackwater official heading up its new domestic operations division formed after Katrina. “It’s a distasteful fact, but it is what it is. Doctors, lawyers, funeral directors, even newspapers—they all make a living off of bad things happening. So do we, because somebody’s got to handle it.” But critics see the deployment of Blackwater’s forces domestically as a dangerous precedent that could undermine U.S. democracy. “Their actions may not be subject to constitutional limitations that apply to both federal and state officials and employees—including First Amendment and Fourth Amendment rights to be free from illegal searches and seizures. Unlike police officers, they are not trained in protecting constitutional rights,” says CCR’s Michael Ratner. “These kind of paramilitary groups bring to mind Nazi Party brown shirts, functioning as an extrajudicial enforcement mechanism that can and does operate outside the law. The use of these paramilitary groups is an extremely dangerous threat to our rights.”

What is particularly scary about Blackwater’s role in a war that President Bush labeled a “crusade” is that the company’s leading executives are dedicated to a Christian-supremacist agenda. Erik Prince and his family have provided generous funding to the religious right’s war against secularism and for expanding the presence of Christianity in the public sphere

Prince is a close friend and benefactor to some of the country’s most hard right Christian evangelists, such as former Watergate conspirator Chuck Colson, who went on to become an adviser to President Bush and a pioneer of “faith-based prisons,” and Christian conservative leader Gary Bauer, an original signer of the Project for a New American Century’s “Statement of Principles,” whom Prince has worked alongside since his youth and who was a close friend of Prince’s father. Some Blackwater executives even boast of their membership in the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia formed in the eleventh century, before the first Crusades, with the mission of defending “territories that the Crusaders had conquered from the Moslems.”The Order today boasts of being “a sovereign subject of international law, with its own constitution, passports, stamps, and public institutions” and “diplomatic relations with 94 countries.”The outsourcing of U.S. military operations in Muslim countries and in secular societies to such neo-crusaders reinforces the greatest fears of many in the Arab world and other opponents of the administration’s wars.

Most of the world first heard of “private military companies” after the infamous March 31, 2004, ambush of four Blackwater soldiers in Fallujah, Iraq—a gruesome mob murder that marked the moment the war turned and the Iraqi resistance exploded. Many of the media reports at the time (and today) refer to these shadowy forces as “civilian contractors” or “foreign reconstruction workers” as though they were engineers, construction workers, humanitarians, or water specialists. The term “mercenary” was almost never used to describe them. That is no accident. Indeed, it is part of a very sophisticated rebranding campaign organized by the mercenary industry itself and increasingly embraced by policy-makers, bureaucrats, and other powerful decision makers in Washington and other Western capitals. Those men who died at Fallujah were members of Washington’s largest partner in the coalition of the willing in Iraq—bigger than Britain’s total deployment—and yet most of the world had not a clue they were there. The ambush resulted in Blackwater being positioned in a key role to affect the regulations that would oversee (or not) the rapidly expanding industry, of which Blackwater was the new leader. Three months later, the company was handed one of the U.S. government’s most valuable international security contracts: to protect diplomats and U.S. facilities. The highly publicized deaths of four of its private soldiers would prove to be the spark that set Blackwater on a path to success for years to come.

The story of Blackwater’s rise is an epic one in the history of the military industrial complex. The company is the living embodiment of the changes wrought by the revolution in military affairs and the privatization agenda radically expanded by the Bush administration under the guise of the war on terror. But more fundamentally, it is a story about the future of war, democracy, and governance. This story goes from the company’s beginnings in 1996, with visionary Blackwater executives opening a private military training camp in order “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training,” to its contract boom following 9/11, to the blood-soaked streets of Fallujah, where the corpses of its mercenaries were left to dangle from a bridge. It includes a rooftop firefight in Muqtada al-Sadr’s stronghold of Najaf; an expedition to the oil-rich Caspian Sea, where the administration sent Blackwater to set up a military base just miles from the Iranian border; a foray into New Orleans’s hurricane- ravaged streets; and many hours in the chambers of power in Washington, D.C., where Blackwater executives are welcomed as new heroes in the war on terror. But the rise of the world’s most powerful mercenary army began far away from the current battlefields, in the sleepy town of Holland, Michigan, where Erik Prince was born into a right-wing Christian dynasty. It was the Prince family that laid the groundwork, spending millions of dollars over many decades to bring to power the very forces that would enable Blackwater’s meteoric ascent

Watch News

An initial State Department report on a Sept. 16 shootout in Baghdad involving Blackwater USA says the private security contractors were "ambushed near the traffic circle and returned fire before fleeing the scene," a depiction of events that contradicts Iraqi findings. Separately, State has confirmed that Blackwater personnel have been involved in 56 shootings while guarding U.S. officials this past year.

The State Department has said that "the first American oil contract in Iraq," between the Hunt Oil Company and the Kurdistan Regional Government," is counterproductive towards the U.S. goal of "strengthening the country's central government."

"Fourteen "high-value" terrorism suspects who were transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, from secret CIA prisons last year have been formally offered the right to request lawyers, a move that could allow them to join other detainees in challenging their status as enemy combatants in a U.S. appellate court."

"It's a lonely U.S. Senate for Larry Craig, whose uncertain status has upset his social and political standing in the clubby chamber." McClatchy newspapers observed Craig's interactions with his colleagues: "[He] mostly moved stiffly through their ranks without engaging much in the easy jocularity and bipartisan banter that go on throughout the day."

Dennis Kucinich For President

Dennis Kucinich will not be the nominee of the Democratic party in 2008. That reality will have nothing to do with his intellect, morality, or leadership capabilities. It will have everything to do with money, fame and stature. Fortunately, Dennis’s greatness and value to this country will not be measured by his winning or losing a presidential election. It will be measured by his acute reasoning, political philosophy and honest perspective on what America can truly be. On that playing field, Dennis Kucinich is already a winner.

Dennis Kucinich's vision for America embodies the truest sense of America’s greatness and potential. A country where justice, fairness, humanity and the needs of working people triumph over corporate greed and international arrogance. Where telling the truth and standing up to power can mean something in America once again.

Dennis Kucinich is the only candidate for President who has voted against authorizing the war in Iraq and against funding its continuation.

Dennis Kucinich is so concerned about what he sees as the Bush administration's push for a war with Iran that he is considering using a parliamentary measure to force the House of Representatives to vote on impeaching Vice President Dick Cheney. "We're preparing for another war, and they're going to destroy America," the Ohio Democrat said Thursday on the Ed Schultz show. "We have a government in place right now that...

Click here to read the story

Dennis Kucinich knows that health care in the US is too expensive and leaves 46 million Americans without insurance and millions more underinsured. He believes in a Universal, Single-Payer, Not-for-Profit health care system.

Dennis Kucinich believes in ending America's participation in NAFTA and the WTO. Huge, multi-national corporations ship American jobs overseas, turn a blind eye to human rights abuses and hide behind their lobbyists in Washington.

A champion of working families, Dennis Kucinich believes in universal health care, restoring our schools, strengthening Social Security and protections for private pensions.

Dennis knows that The USA Patriot Act and secret strategy meetings to set policy tear into the very concept of We the People. He believes in protecting individual liberties and privacy and restoring balance and fairness in America's electoral system.

We could all learn a great deal from a man with such clear vision and humanity.

Friday, September 28, 2007

Money Changes Everything

Bloomberg highlights a potentially huge story as Q3 fundraising winds down: Sen. Hillary Clinton "may blunt one of rival Barack Obama's few advantages in the race for the Democratic presidential nomination: money."

"As the campaigns press donors with predictions that their candidate is losing the fund-raising race, both Clinton and Obama are set to report about $20 million in donations during the third quarter, which ends Sept. 30, according to campaign officials and fund-raisers."

"A failure to out-raise Clinton would deprive Obama of the momentum he needs to overcome his rival's significant leads in national and key state polls."

Meanwhile, the New York Times points out a key factor to watch: "The third quarter of the year, July through September, is traditionally the most difficult fund-raising period because contributors pay less attention to the race in the summer, and many main donors have been tapped out."

Primary Ad Spending to Top $100 Million

"Presidential candidates, the political parties and interest groups will spend at least twice as much as they did in 2003-04 on TV ads before nominees are chosen, campaign advertising experts say," USA Today reports.

"A record $100 million or more will likely be paid to put campaign ads on the air by the time the Republican and Democratic races are effectively over, likely some time in February. And the allure of posting ads for free on YouTube and at campaign websites won't replace broadcast TV because that "old media" is better suited for reaching voters, the experts say."

Thompson Fails to Impress Religious Right

Fred Thompson "is failing to meet expectations that he would rally widespread support from Christian conservatives, and he almost certainly will not receive a joint endorsement from the loose coalition of 'pro-family' organizations," reports The Politico.

"It is Thompson's stance on gay marriage that is likely to deny him any unified backing from the organizations that comprise the Arlington Group, the umbrella coalition of almost every major social conservative group in the GOP constellation."

Meanwhile, the Examiner notes Thompson will be at the same conference with one of conservative Christian leader and fellow InfoCision client, Dr. James Dobson of Focus On The Family, who earlier this year questioned whether the former Tennnessee senator was even a Christian, let alone a conservative.

Quote of the Day

"I'm not beholden to any particular group for getting me into this race or for getting me elected. My family, that's the only one I'm really beholden to, they're the ones who let their inheritance slip away, dollar by dollar."

-- Mitt Romney, quoted by the AP on donating millions of his own money to his campaign.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

LA Times did not mention that GOP is behind CA electoral-vote initiative

A September 26 Los Angeles Times article reported that a "newly created Missouri company has made the first public donation to date -- $175,000 -- to a proposed California initiative that would alter how the state allocates its electoral votes," referring to a controversial proposal to award California's electoral votes by congressional district. The article continued: "The donation arrived Sept. 11, one day after Missouri attorney Charles Hurth III created the company, TIA Take Initiative America." However, the Times did not note that the initiative was proposed by a lawyer with ties to the California Republican Party and was endorsed by the party's state convention. Nor did the article report that Hurth has donated to the campaign of GOP presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani. Indeed, the word "Republican" appears nowhere in the article.

By contrast, a September 25 Sacramento Bee article on Hurth's donation noted that the ballot measure was "written by prominent Sacramento GOP attorney Tom Hiltachk." The Bee also reported that "Hurth is not a major political donor but gave Republican presidential candidate Rudy Giuliani $2,000 in March." Indeed, this information is publicly available.

Hiltachk, who submitted the ballot measure to the California attorney general's office on July 17, is managing partner of Bell, McAndrews & Hiltachk and formerly served as legal counsel to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA), as Media Matters for America has documented. Further, Bell, McAndrews senior partner Charles H. Bell Jr. is general counsel to the California Republican Party.

Hiltachk has played a role in several Republican campaigns to pass ballot initiatives that would benefit that party. He served as counsel to Ted Costa, the former chairman of the Sacramento County Republican Central Committee who filed the petition seeking the 2003 recall of Gov. Gray Davis (D). Hiltachk also represented and served as a spokesman for Rescue California, a ballot-measure committee that spent $3.6 million promoting the recall initiative. The Bee reported in a July 1, 2004, article that Rescue California "gathered 1.3 million of the signatures that got the measure on the October 2003 ballot." On October 7, 2003, Davis was recalled from office and replaced by Schwarzenegger. Hiltachk also served as treasurer of Governor Schwarzenegger's California Recovery Team, a ballot-initiative committee that supported measures to mandaterequire employee consent for the use of union dues for political purposes. judicial redistricting of California's congressional districts and

Further, the September 26 Times article reported that "Kevin Eckery, a spokesman for the ballot measure, said he was not sure who was behind the donation," but did not note, as the Times did in an August 6 article, that Eckery is a "Republican consultant."

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

CNN's Costello failed to ask NRA's LaPierre about Ted Nugent's slurs against Obama, Clinton, Feinstein

On the September 21 edition of CNN's The Situation Room, contributor and guest host Carol Costello interviewed National Rifle Association (NRA) executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, but she did not ask LaPierre about controversial remarks made by musician Ted Nugent -- an NRA board member -- during an August concert at Anaheim's House of Blues. As Media Matters for America noted, in video footage from the concert, Nugent held what appeared to be two assault rifles and boasted that he told Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) "to suck on my machine gun" and said that he told Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton (D-NY) "you might want to ride one of these into the sunset." Also during the concert, Nugent called Obama a "piece of shit," referred to Clinton as a "worthless bitch," and called Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) a "worthless whore." Portions of Nugent's remarks were aired on the August 28 and 30 editions of CNN Headline News' Glenn Beck.

LaPierre and Costello discussed live remarks by former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani (R) and taped remarks by Gov. Bill Richardson (D-NM) to the NRA's "Celebration of American Values" conference.

The National Rifle Association listed Nugent as a member of its board of directors whose term would expire in 2007. As Media Matters noted, according to Nugent's biography on his personal website, he has been a member of the National Rifle Association's board of directors from "1995-present." In addition, Nugent frequently performs at the NRA's annual convention. The AP quoted Nugent speaking at the NRA's annual convention in 2005, urging National Rifle Association members to be "hardcore, radical extremists demanding the right to self defense."

Wal-Mart Heart USA

Wal-Mart's labor relations remain poor after a Human Rights Watch report asserted that Wal-Mart's "aggressive efforts to keep out labor unions often violated federal law and infringed on its worker's rights". The violations included "eavesdropping on workers, training surveillance cameras on them and firing those who favored unions". [New York Times, 5/1/2007]

Monday, September 24, 2007

Watchdogs Gone Wild

The Inspector General Act of 1978 states Inspectors General (IG) are appointed within the federal government to "conduct, supervise, and coordinate audit and investigations" for "the purpose of preventing and detecting fraud and abuse." Yesterday, House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) wrote to State Department Inspector General (IG) Howard Krongard to highlight allegations from seven employees that the IG "has repeatedly interfered with on-going investigations to protect the State Department and the White House from political embarrassment." In an extensive letter, Waxman detailed how Krongard helped exonerate a contractor accused of labor trafficking in the U.S. Embassy in Iraq, interfered with incriminating investigations, and censored reports to avoid disclosure to Congress. Unfortunately, Krongard's case has become representative of the supposed "watchdogs" in the Bush administration. As Beth Daley of the Project on Government Oversight observed, "If they're breaking all the rules they're supposed to be enforcing, then obviously we've got a problem." Legislation offered by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is making its way through Congress to strengthen IG offices and protect against corruption.

RAMPANT WASTE AND DODGING ACCOUNTABILITY: Whistleblowers within the U.S. Postal Service in 2003 found that former IG Karla Corcoran presided over millions of dollars spent for "corporate retreats, thousands to make videos of employees dancing, building gingerbread houses, and other activities many employees found humiliating." In June, Commerce Department IG Johnnie Frazier resigned amidst "allegations ranging from fraud and abuse" to "egregious violations" of the federal law that protects whistle-blowers, demoting two employees who investigated his spending practices. Earlier this year, acting Environmental Protection Agency IG Bill Roderick was investigated by a congressional committee for allegedly launching a plan in June 2006 to cut 60 investigators and auditors from his staff and "give himself a $15,000 raise."

As a former Pentagon IG, Joseph Schmitz "refused congressional entreaties to declassify a report detailing how the administration was providing inadequate training and protective gear to troops in the event of a bio-chemical attack." Former Health and Human Services IG Janet Rehnquist -- daughter of former Supreme Court Justice William Rehnquist -- resigned in 2003 while the target of "three federal investigations," including one from the Government Accountability Office as to whether Rehnquist delayed an audit of Florida's pension fund just as Gov. Jeb Bush (R) faced a "tight race for re-election." Rehnquist had also been accused of "using her office for personal gain and leading a bloodletting of senior staffers who disagreed with her methods." Furthermore, an April 2007 report by the Integrity Committee found that NASA IG Robert Cobb "routinely tipped off department officials to internal investigations and quashed a report related to the Columbia shuttle explosion to avoid embarrassing the agency." Cobb currently remains the NASA IG.

While IG abuse is present, many watchdogs still play an exemplary role in providing a source of accountability within the federal government. Justice Department IG Glenn Fine recently uncovered excessive spending at Department events, including $13,000 spent on "cookies and brownies" for over 1,500 people at a conference. Fine has also vowed to investigate outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales's misleading testimony on the Terrorist Surveillance Program and the improper hiring and firing of U.S. attorneys. Additionally, Fine looked into whether Monica Goodling's "uncomfortable" conversation with Gonzales prior to testifying to Congress constituted obstruction of justice. Recently, the CIA IG revealed that former Director George Tenet "failed to marshal sufficient resources and provide the strategic planning" prior to 9/11. Despite being a former Bush campaign aide, Stuart Bowen, the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction, has "repeatedly embarrassed the Bush administration" for its reconstruction efforts in Iraq and has become a leading figure in exposing fraud and corruption. His efforts at restoring accountability have been so successful that he has made himself a target of the administration and congressional conservatives.

Internal Revenue Service Ends Investigation of Anti War Sermon

The Internal Revenue Service has told a prominent Pasadena church that it has ended its lengthy investigation into a 2004 antiwar sermon, church leaders said Sunday.

But the agency wrote in its letter to All Saints Episcopal Church that officials still considered the sermon to have been illegal, prompting the church to seek clarification, a corrected record and an apology from the IRS, the church’s rector told standing-room-only crowds of parishioners at Sunday’s services.

The church also has asked the Treasury Department, which oversees the IRS, to investigate allegations that officials from the Justice Department had become involved in the matter, raising concerns that the investigation was politically motivated.

“To be sure, we are pleased that the IRS exam is over,” the Rev. J. Edwin Bacon Jr. said in his 9 a.m. sermon, which was interrupted several times by applause. “However, the main issue of protecting the freedom of this church and other religious communities to worship according to the dictates of their conscience and core values is far from accomplished.”

Bacon predicted that the vague, mixed message from the IRS after its nearly two-year investigation of the All Saints case would have a continued “chilling effect” on the freedom of clerics from all faiths to preach about moral values and significant social issues such as war and poverty.

Although the church no longer faces the imminent loss of its tax-exempt status, All Saints has “no more guidance about the IRS rules now than when we started this process,” the rector said. He said the church would continue its struggle with the IRS, which he said so far had cost the 3,500-member congregation about $200,000.

One of Southern California’s largest and most liberal congregations, All Saints came under IRS scrutiny after a sermon two days before the 2004 presidential election by a guest speaker, the Rev. George F. Regas. In his sermon, Regas, the church’s former rector, imagined Jesus participating in a political debate with then-presidential candidates George W. Bush and John F. Kerry.

Regas did not endorse either candidate, saying that “good people of profound faith” could support either one. But he strongly criticized the war in Iraq and said that Jesus would have told Bush that his preemptive war strategy in Iraq “has led to disaster.”

A letter from the IRS arrived in June 2005 stating that the church’s tax-exempt status was in jeopardy. Federal law prohibits tax-exempt organizations, including churches, from intervening in political campaigns and elections.

The letter said the agency’s concerns were based on a Nov. 1, 2004, article in the Los Angeles Times, which included three paragraphs about Regas’ sermon in a lengthy national roundup of rhetoric from the pulpit on the Sunday before the election.

In its latest letter to All Saints, dated Sept. 10, the IRS said the church continues to qualify for tax-exempt status, but said that Regas’ sermon did amount to intervention in the 2004 presidential race. The letter offered no details or explanation for either conclusion.

An IRS spokesman said Sunday that in keeping with the law, the agency could not comment on specific investigations. However, a top IRS official later issued a statement in response to questions about the All Saints case.

“The IRS is committed to ensuring that tax-exempt organizations understand and comply with the law,” said Steven T. Miller, commissioner of the agency’s Tax Exempt and Government Entities Division. “We will continue to work with charities and churches during the 2008 political season about the federal law’s guidelines on political activity. Our goal is to ensure that charities meet their responsibilities under the law and avoid becoming involved in campaign activity.”

Along with its requests to the IRS, All Saints has asked a top Treasury Department official to investigate what the church called a series of procedural and substantive errors in the case, including allegedly inappropriate conversations between IRS and Justice Department officials about the investigation.

Those conversations, documented in e-mails obtained by the church through Freedom of Information Act requests, appear to show that Justice Department officials were involved in the All Saints case before the IRS made any formal referral of it for possible prosecution, an attorney for the church said. The discussions raise concerns that the IRS’ investigation was politically motivated, church officials said. One e-mail, for example, appears to show coordination between IRS and Justice Department officials about a request to the church for documents. Others discuss the timing of the request and news coverage about the case.

“In view of the fact that recent congressional inquiries have revealed extensive politicization of [the Department of Justice], my client is very concerned that the close coordination undertaken by the IRS allowed partisan political concerns to direct the course of the All Saints examination,” attorney Marcus S. Owens wrote in a letter Friday requesting an investigation.

Owens, a former director of the IRS division that handles tax-exempt organizations, said that although liberal and conservative congregations and other nonprofits had been investigated by the IRS in recent years, its examination of All Saints was “highly unusual” in a number of ways, not only in its seemingly contradictory conclusions.

Among other things, he said the agency had never allowed the church the chance that all taxpayers are typically granted when audited to explain and discuss the issues of concern. “There’s always an opportunity to do that, to sort of push back,” Owens said.

Ellen Aprill, a law professor at Loyola Law School and a tax law specialist, also called the unclear outcome of the case “puzzling” and said it underlined the need for the IRS to explain which activities violate the rules against intervening in a political campaign.

Meanwhile, at the church Sunday, parishioners expressed overwhelming support for the decision to pursue an apology and clarification from the IRS, and an explanation from the Justice Department. But some also expressed concerns about possible costs to All Saints, both financial and otherwise.

“It’s so important for this church to be speaking truth to power, and I applaud that,” said Sharon Fane of Burbank, who said she had joined All Saints largely because of its IRS battle. “But I have some fear for us too. What will this cost?”

The church’s top lay leader, senior warden Rich Llewellyn, said the decision to push for answers from the IRS was clear, given the significance of the issues and the church’s long history of social activism. “We really need clarity from the IRS,” he said. “Otherwise, it’s a very scary prospect to think that these agencies are looking over our shoulders at what our pastors can preach in church.”

Support for the church also came Sunday from leaders of other faiths and Christian denominations, many of whom attended the day’s services and a news conference afterward.

“The nature of the pulpit is about freedom, freedom to express belief,” said Maher Hathout, a leader at the Islamic Center of Southern California and a partner of Bacon’s in interfaith efforts. “We need to work together to prevent intimidation.”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) also expressed support. Schiff, who in 2005 unsuccessfully sought a Government Accountability Office investigation into the IRS’ scrutiny of churches and other nonprofits, including All Saints, said he still would like to know whether the probes were politically motivated.

“The real message from today is that the IRS picked on the wrong church,” said Schiff, whose district includes Pasadena. “They thought that All Saints would fold up the tent and admit it was wrong . . . but instead they found a church that would stand up for itself.”

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