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

No comments: