THE WORLD was a very different place on
“The topic today is an adversary that poses a threat, a serious threat, to the security of the
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
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
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
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
The swift defeat of the Taliban in
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
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
Perhaps the most telling sign that such a transformation had taken place came when the White House outsourced the job of protecting
As this unprecedented private force expanded in
“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
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
A week after Donald Rumsfeld’s rule at the Pentagon ended,
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
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
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
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
Most of the world first heard of “private military companies” after the infamous
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