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POLICE STATE / MILITARY -
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Blackwater: Parts 1 and 2

Posted in the database on Monday, July 24th, 2006 @ 17:03:55 MST (7124 views)
by Joanne Kimberlin and Bill Sizemore    The Virginian-Pilot  

Untitled Document

Part One: Inside America's Private Army


Private military companies are becoming a critical part of 21st century warfare, and Blackwater USA is on the leading edge. The company offers an academy that turns out corporate warriors who work in hot spots around the world. Above, trainee Gregory Collier screams for team members to evacuate the area during an executive protection drill. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Today's after-lunch lesson: How to break a man's arm with your bare hands.

The students pay close attention. On a patch of grass under a powder-blue sky, they pair off to practice the moves - like the steps to some merciless dance:

Hold here. Pivot there. Trap arm. Bend. And snap.

Slavko Ilic circles the grappling forms, darting in to shout encouragement or correct a technique. He's an extra-large martial arts expert. He sports a shaved head, chiseled arms and the look of a man who does not back down.

"Again!" Ilic barks. "Do it again!"

Getting it right in class now could be the difference between life and death later. Graduates are, most likely, headed to the messy battlefields of the war on terrorism - a fitful conflict with no front lines.

These men are not soldiers, at least not anymore. All have military experience, but in order to join a new breed of warriors - private security contractors - they must pass this eight-week, $20,000 course.

To get here, they've sold possessions, quit jobs and left behind families. To stay here, they must measure up. Eight have already washed out; the 11 survivors have little time for sympathy.

Sweat darkens their camo-green jumpsuits. They've moved on to the next session. Two-by-two, they wrestle for possession of a pistol - one trying to snatch the weapon, the other trying to keep it. Muscles strain. Joints pop. Arms wipe impatiently at bloody lips.

Ilic steps in to demonstrate the tactics again. One fluid move later, his opponent is eating turf.

"Don't worry," Ilic says calmly to the helpless form trapped in his hold. "I'll bring flowers to your funeral."

Just a half-hour's drive from downtown Norfolk, Mow-yock, as the locals call it, is an unassuming cluster of mom-and-pop shops, weathered grain tanks and quick marts.

For most drivers, it's just a blip on the blacktop heading to the Outer Banks. There is no clue that this tiny border town is the home of anything big enough to make news around the globe.

But it's here all right, just off the main drag, down sissy-sounding Puddin Ridge Road. Cruise past a neighborhood of modest homes, beyond an arc of table-flat farms. Three miles in is the bear paw logo, on a sign, all by itself - a no-words-needed, top-of-the-food-chain message.

A little farther is the end of the road - for the public, that is - and a gate that separates two vastly different worlds.

On the other side is Blackwater USA, a booming private military company that's helping put a new face on 21st century warfare.

Only the authorized get past the gate. A buzz-cut guard sees to that, a handgun strapped to his thigh. Inside, a winding road leads to the heart of the 7,000-acre compound - a bigger spread than any military base in South Hampton Roads.

Heavy equipment scurries to and fro, moving mountains of dirt. Over here, a 6,000-foot runway is taking shape for an air wing coming up from Florida. Over there, a 1-acre hangar will shelter the company's state-of-the-art blimp project.

Just past a 15-acre lake is the new nerve center: a 65,000-square-foot headquarters with 300 rooms. Opened this spring, it is the largest building in Camden County. Machine-gun barrels serve as handles on the heavy front doors. A receptionist sits behind a desk fashioned from armor plating.

An image of strength is vital in this muscle-bound business, and Blackwater is a top dog in its field. In a decade, the company has grown from a sketch on a scrap of paper to a superstar in the rapidly expanding universe of the private military industry.

It's a controversial arena, deeply divided by an international debate over the growing use of hired guns. Blackwater has been a lightning rod in the middle of it all since March 31, 2004, when the company's name became linked with the grisly image of charred American corpses hanging from a bridge in Fallujah.

None of that has hurt the bottom line. On any given day, Blackwater has as many as 3,000 security contractors working in far-flung hot spots and some 500 paying clients in Moyock - learning to crash cars, shoot targets, board ships, storm schools, rescue hostages, bust down doors.

At Blackwater, one thing is perfectly clear:

There is big money to be made in a world full of bad news.

Privatizing the battlefield ...


Blackwater Academy trainee Morgan Murphy is pinned by a classmate during a grappling exercise . Classes have up to 30 students, selected from a pool of 200 to 300 applicants. Almost all of the men have military experience. The eight-week course costs $20,000. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

The battlefield used to belong to the uniforms. Not anymore.

The trend toward privatizing military tasks has extended to the guys with the weapons. It's estimated that 180 security companies now operate in Iraq alone, with nearly 50,000 workers toting guns, according to government counts.

A host of factors set this stage: a shrinking military, a lingering cold sweat from 9/11, a growing distaste for the bloody sacrifice of America's sons and daughters in uniform.

But privatization has created a new set of unnerving realities: massive firepower falling outside the military chain of command. Companies making huge profits from war. Billions of taxpayer dollars fueling those profits.

Since 2000, Blackwater alone has claimed more than half a billion dollars in federal contracts - most of it no-bid. And that's just what shows up in public records. The nature of the industry ensures considerable privacy. Contracts are often classified, clients confidential, compounds off-limits.

Blackwater's image may be even more secretive than most, due in part to the company's reclusive founder, Erik Prince, a wealthy former Navy SEAL who is rarely interviewed or photographed.

So just who is this outfit in Hampton Roads' backyard?

On the surface, it's a company wrapped in the flag, steeped in conservative politics and stocked with can-do.

Inside, it's a business like few others. Blackwater has more than a dozen vice presidents, but they're not run-of-the-mill desk jockeys. An assault rifle leans in the corner of one office. In another, body armor is stacked in a chair. Frogman gear dampens the carpet behind a door.

Much of the new headquarters, however, echoes with emptiness. Huge rooms are crammed with fully equipped cubicles, but the seats are usually vacant. The work stations exist to support one of Blackwater's greatest assets, an ability the company calls "surge."

Surge occurs when trouble erupts and Blackwater responds. Managers flock to the cubicles, working the phones to tap the company's database of more than 14,000 independent contractors. A full-throttle surge can ramp up the ranks at warp speed.

Training, however, is the bread and butter. It goes on every day of the year at an array of gun ranges, prefab classrooms, plywood sets and a 3-mile tactical driving track. Customized courses draw military personnel, law enforcement officers, federal agents, private bodyguards and adventurous civilians. The bap-bap-bap of gunfire is an ever-present soundtrack.

Weapons come from the company armory. A system of ceiling-high rolling racks occupies most of one room, storing row after row of handguns, shotguns, M-4 assault rifles and the occasional AK-47.

Company officials won't say exactly how many guns are stockpiled in the armory - only that the total is more than 1,000.

Legally, Blackwater can have as many as it wants.

Ilic, 39, is one of about 100 instructors on the company's staff. His niche is Blackwater Academy, a course geared toward producing security contractors.

Not all Blackwater contractors go through the academy. Men with the right resume can go straight to work. For others, the academy is a place to learn new skills and polish old ones. It's also a proving ground - a chance to show Blackwater that they've got the right stuff.

A native of Poland, Ilic has a heavy background in special warfare and black belts in four types of martial arts.

His primary goal now is to keep his students from joining the hundreds of civilian contractors who have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan; Blackwater has lost 25 men.

Thomas Pogue, 25, is trying to master one of Ilic's moves. Pogue is pretending he has been captured. His hands are up. A rifle barrel jabs his back.

"Please don't shoot me!" he begs with convincing panic. "I give up!"

The plea startles his captor, causing a split-second hesitation that is Pogue's best chance.

He spins, one arm sweeping the barrel aside just as the trigger is pulled. A quarter-sized spot of orange paint blossoms on Pogue's shoulder - proof that he needs to move faster.

"Whoa," Pogue says later. "That stings pretty good."

It's supposed to, explains Bill Go, the retired Marine lieutenant colonel who heads Blackwater Academy: "Believe it or not, that sting helps them get over the fear of getting shot."

No one shrinks from the pain. Graduates sign a two-year contract with the company, but reputations forged in Moyock will affect the kind of jobs they're offered. Courage and cool heads get the big dollar "high speed" work - like keeping a target for assassination alive in Iraq.

Pogue is a former SEAL. He's from Chesapeake, a graduate of Old Dominion University and the only student in the class from Hampton Roads. His look is poster-boy All-American, what military types call "squared away" - trim frame, strong jaw, confident eyes.

"I got out of the military to do this," Pogue says. "Yes, the money is better, but it's more than that. With a company like this, I can serve my country and still control my destiny."

Trainees say they can turn down assignments they don't want and can surround themselves with gung-ho guys.

"Everybody working for the company wants to be here," says Joey Billiott, a student from Louisiana. "In the military, you work with a lot of people who are only there because they're stuck."

Another common thread:

"I tried several jobs after I got out of the Marines," says Phillip West, 28, from Indiana. "I even tried going back to college, but nothing worked out. Everything bored me. I finally realized, I'm just better at this kind of work than anything else. I feel at home here."

Adds Billiott: "My dad, my brothers, they all think I'm insane. I don't know what makes me so different than them. I just am."

So far, no women have attended the academy.

"Women can come if they can handle the physical demands," Go says. "That's the way it's got to be, because the real world isn't politically correct. The guy shooting at you doesn't go easy because you're a woman."

Suicide bombers, IEDs on agenda ...


Camaraderie is important at Blackwater because a student’s grade depends, in part, on a series of ratings by his classmates. Each evaluation ends with the same question: “Would you go downrange with this guy?” CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Downtime is scarce during the two-month academy. Classes are held six or seven days a week.

Suicide bombers, surveillance detection and IEDs are on the agenda. The men need to be experts with a map and compass, know the fastest way to wrestle a car out of a ditch, understand which part of a vehicle blocks bullets best.

The day starts at 6:30 a.m. with a 3- to 7-mile run. Trainees set the distance and pace. There is no reveille and no red-faced drill sergeant. Even Ilic peppers his orders with "Hey dude, you know I love ya."

Says Go: "This is not boot camp. If we have to yell at them, they don't belong here."

When push-ups are demanded for mistakes, restitution is delivered quietly on the sidelines, with no oversight.

"They know they owe it," Go says. "They're trusted to do the right thing."

To graduate, students must have a near-perfect score on the gun range - twice. They have to perform well in numerous high-stress scenarios and pass three benchmark physical tests that get ever tougher. By the end, among other requirements, they get two minutes to crank out 75 push-ups and another two for the same number of sit-ups.

They also grade each other - three appraisals over two months spent eating, sleeping and learning together.

"A guy can do really well on the other things," Go says, "but it's no good if everybody hates him. We're not looking for loners."

Those who fail to finish get a discount on the $20,000 tuition - a tab most trainees cover by signing promissory notes to Blackwater. For graduates, payback is deducted from future earnings. For the first two years, they are forbidden to work for Blackwater competitors.

First posts with the company are usually "static," as they say in the industry - relatively safe jobs on the lower end of the pay scale, like guard duty at a gate somewhere overseas. Those who do well will be in line for the more dangerous, more lucrative assignments.

The trainees accept that they have chosen a profession that offers no health insurance, no paid vacations and plenty of chances to die. Billiott figures it's too late to look back now anyway.

"I sold my truck and put everything in storage," he says. "If I don't make it here, I'm screwed."

Private soldiering is an ancient occupation, but the modern version is so new that the rules - and the labels - are still being sorted out.

Outsiders often refer to contractors as "mercenaries," a name that raises hackles among insiders, who say they don't fit such a cold-blooded definition.

"We prefer 'security professionals,'" said Chris Taylor, Blackwater's vice president for strategic initiatives.

Indeed, for the most part, contractors play defense - providing security for diplomats, escorting shipments, guarding gates. But the lines can shift fast in a war zone, thrusting contractors into a pivotal role, where they can influence the outcome of combat, or even instigate it. Rules and accountability become cloudy.

Contractors and soldiers also can get in each other's way. There have been episodes of friendly fire and missions that don't mesh.

Another point of tension: The military talent drain. Hefty paychecks available at companies like Blackwater are luring some of the best and brightest away from the service while creating friction with those still in uniform.

Issues like these have prompted a number of politicians to push for greater regulation of the private military industry. They want established standards and better oversight.

The spotlight fell on Blackwater in March, when Vice Chairman Cofer Black announced at a conference in Jordan that his company was ready to provide peacekeeping brigades to foreign governments and international bodies. News accounts of his speech raised the specter of a private army for rent to the highest bidder. The company insists Black never said any such thing.

It was hardly Blackwater's first time on the front page. Its contractors have shown up repeatedly in war zone photographs - a muscular wall of men in mirrored sunglasses, bristling with firepower, guarding VIPs. Those images helped make Blackwater an icon for its industry.

Then there was Fallujah, which put the company's name on everyone's TV screen - and changed the course of the war. After four Blackwater contractors were killed there, Marines were ordered to pound the city - a shift in strategy that fanned the flames of insurgency across Iraq.

Last fall, Blackwater boots turned up on American soil, some of the first on the ground after Hurricane Katrina hammered the Gulf Coast. Heads swiveled at the sight of heavily armed civilian soldiers dressed in black, but the company's quick response - and foot-dragging by government officials - led to millions of dollars worth of work in the area.

With each move, and each headline, Blackwater intensifies the debate about the role of private soldiers in today's world:

Is it truly cheaper to farm out so much of the war? Is it right to give civilian soldiers a license to use armed force? Who do they answer to if they fall short, or go too far? Is there a risk of private armies turning rogue?

Just 10 years ago, those questions didn't exist.

Neither did Blackwater.

Part Two: Profitable Patriotism


Blackwater USA President Gary Jackson, a former SEAL, exudes a can-do spirit that radiates through the company. MORT FRYMAN / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

Not many companies can point to a 598-pound stuffed black bear in the lobby and say it was shot right on the corporate grounds.

Then again, not many have a 7,000-acre headquarters on the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp.

Right paw raised high, jaws frozen open, the bear is the star attraction in “the lodge,” a rustic log building in the heart of the Blackwater USA complex. The bear was shot in 2000 by a worker hunting on the property.

That was a bad year for the bear, but a big one for Blackwater. The company had spent its first three years struggling for an identity, paying staff with an executive’s credit card and begging for customers.

But in 2000, in the fallout from the terrorist attack on the destroyer Cole, Blackwater found its future: providing security in an increasingly insecure world.

There is nothing humble about the company today. In March, Fast Company business magazine, under the heading “Private Army,” named Blackwater President Gary Jackson No. 11 in its annual “Fast 50” list of leaders who are “writing the history of the next 10 years.” It made special note of the company’s estimated 600 percent revenue growth between 2002 and 2005.

Blackwater has rocketed from obscurity to the big time in less than a decade. Peter Singer, author of “Corporate Warriors” and a scholar at the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank, says that although Blackwater might not be the biggest player in the private military industry, “they’ve certainly gained the biggest profile.”

They’ve done it with deep-pocket backing, high-powered political connections and an uncanny knack for capitalizing on the violent milestones of a turbulent time.

The way Jackson sees it, there are two kinds of people in the world:

“Talkers and doers,” he said, with a heavy emphasis on the D-word.

It’s easy to guess which one Jackson is – and, for that matter, just about everyone else at Blackwater.

“That’s what stands special operations out in the U.S. military,” said Jackson, a former Navy SEAL. “Those guys are doing stuff every single day. … And that’s where we come from. We are about doing.”

Special ops is most definitely where Blackwater comes from. The founders were all SEALs, including Al Clark, one of the first to envision the place.

In the early 1990s, Clark was a SEALs trainer based in Virginia Beach. He was frustrated by the lack of training sites for the elite sailors. The shortage forced the SEALs to borrow a patchwork of facilities from other military services.

Clark decided that once his Navy hitch was over, he wanted to open “a place where everything was together … kind of like one-stop shopping.”

In 1995, Clark mentioned his idea to a baby-faced sailor he was training at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base: Erik Prince.

Prince, it turned out, had been thinking along the same lines.

As his SEAL career took him to Haiti, the Middle East and the Mediterranean, Prince said, he realized the men were not getting “the cutting-edge training they needed to ensure success.”

“In a letter home while I was deployed, I outlined the vision that is today Blackwater,” the media-shy Prince said in a rare e-mail interview last week.

Prince and Clark mapped out plans for more than a year.

“Finally I asked him, 'Well, who’s going to pay for all this?’” Clark said. “He said, 'The Prince Group.’ I’m like, 'Who’s the Prince Group?’”

That’s when Clark discovered Prince was no ordinary SEAL. He was a SEAL with money – heir to a Michigan auto parts fortune.

Prince’s father had recently died. “I was in the unusual position after the sale of the family business to self-fund this endeavor,” Prince said.

Clark recalled asking Prince how much it would take.

“He said, 'Let’s start with a million and see where it takes us,’” Clark said. “All I could think was, 'Wow. Cool.’”

The two began scouting for a location, settling on northeastern North Carolina because it offered ample land relatively close to three major military centers: Hampton Roads, Washington and Fort Bragg, N.C.

As they zeroed in on specific parcels near the Great Dismal Swamp, Clark noticed something.


Blackwater’s new headquarters building anchors a sprawling compound half the size of Manhattan. The complex includes 40 gun ranges, two mock ships and a small make-believe town. There are plans to build a 30-acre mock city that can be configured to mimic any urban area. CHRIS CURRY / THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

''All the water looked black" ...

“All the water on the property looked black,” he recalled. “It’s colored by the peat.”

And the company name was born. On Dec. 26, 1996, Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. was formed.

A month later, the company bought land in Currituck and Camden counties. Plans called for the major construction to occur on the Currituck side of the line, but local opposition sent the growth in the other direction, to the west.

Small and rural, Camden welcomed the development. Maj. John Worthington, a chief deputy with the Camden County Sheriff’s Office, was chairman of the county’s zoning board at the time.

“I was skeptical at first,” said Worthington, who is also a part-time instructor at Blackwater now. “So were a lot of people. We just didn’t know what they were. There was some worry that they might be some militant group, like that Randy Weaver guy in Idaho.”

But Worthington said Prince and the Blackwater people won over Camden County officials.

“Currituck really missed the boat on this one,” Worthington said.

Blackwater is now easily Camden County’s biggest taxpayer and employer, with a compound half the size of Manhattan and 450 permanent employees – not counting its database of more than 14,000 independent contractors.

Not everyone is thrilled with the company’s growth. Neighbors have complained about noise, traffic and proximity to firing ranges.

For the past two years, Susan Zimmerman has lived in a neighborhood just off Puddin Ridge Road, which leads to Blackwater’s main entrance.

“There is so much traffic going in and out of there now,” she said. “And if you think about the munitions going up and down our residential road, it’s pretty frightening.”

Zimmerman said she also hears more noise from the compound these days.

“You hear what sounds like big bombs going off,” she said. “It scares the bejeebers out of you.”

When Jackson got wind of the plans for Blackwater, he was nearing the end of a 23-year Navy career.

At the time, he was officer in charge of a counter-drug platoon in the Bahamas. He had been priming himself for civilian life by learning to write computer code and create Web pages.

“So I wrote a Web site and mailed it to Erik Prince on a 3½-inch disk,” he said. “We still have that disk, by the way. It’s terrible. But this was nine years ago, and they loved it.

“They hired me basically as a jack of all trades. I transitioned to the civilian world in about 24 hours.”

Jackson would eventually rise through the ranks, all the way to president. With CEO Prince choosing to stay out of the public eye, Jackson often plays the role of top-ranking spokesman for Blackwater.

The lean and lanky Jackson is the ultimate “doer,” swimming two miles most mornings in the lake in front of the headquarters and jogging on lunch breaks. His intensity ripples through the organization, setting a full-tilt pace for others to follow.

Joining Jackson on his daily swims and runs are Blackwater executive vice president Bill Mathews and vice president Chris Taylor. Other company executives frequently come along. Mathews says Jackson revels in their occasional “1-percenter days.”

“When we finish a run on a 100-degree day,” Mathews said, “he’ll say something like, 'We just did something that only 1 percent of the population would do.’”

Jackson has been known to offer a $1,000 bounty to Blackwater employees who will quit smoking for a year.

He recalls the early, rocky days at Blackwater. At first, its founders envisioned a training center serving a 50-50 split of military and civilians.

SET YOUR SIGHTS ON ADVENTURE, an early billboard screamed in fluorescent green letters, aimed at weekend warriors seeking fun with guns.

“We tried everything trying to make this business go forward,” Jackson said. “We started building our own target systems because the commercial stuff that we bought off the shelf was not holding up. For years two and three, that was really the major cash flow that was coming in here.”

Even with the luxury of Prince’s financial backing, “we were a very small business in the beginning,” Jackson said. “We counted our pennies.”

Initially working out of an office on Laskin Road in Virginia Beach, Jackson remembers times when he paid the staff with his American Express card while waiting for the next advance from the home office.

“We did the Motel 6 thing,” he said. “I personally drove tens of thousands of miles dragging stuff up and down the eastern seaboard. I got kicked out of trade shows because I couldn’t afford to pay for a table but I was in there guerrilla marketing.”

Ultimately, Blackwater’s struggle to forge its identity resulted in a parting of the ways between Prince and his early collaborator Clark, who left the company in 2000.

“Just call it philosophical differences,” Clark said, declining to elaborate.

Cole bombing was turning point ...


Blackwater is all about the bear – from its logo to this specimen shot on company grounds in 2000. The nearly 600-pounder greets visitors in the lobby of “the lodge” in the heart of the Blackwater compound. Bears still roam the 7,000-acre property – only 500 of which are developed. CHRIS CURRY/THE VIRGINIAN-PILOT

The turning point for Blackwater came with the October 2000 suicide bombing of the Norfolk-based Cole. The al-Qaida terrorist attack, in the port of Aden, Yemen, killed 17 sailors.

“Osama bin Laden turned Blackwater into what it is today,” Clark said.

The Cole bombing settled the company’s internal debate: Blackwater would quit foraging for civilian business and start going for federal contracts in a big way.

“We were at about 20-something employees,” Jackson said. “The Cole was bombed, and the Navy did a bottom-up review and looked at their processes, their procedures, their tactics, and they found out that there were some glaring holes. The young sailor was not getting the training with live firearms.”

The Navy, along with the other services, had been downsized in anticipation of a post-Cold War “peace dividend.”

“They lost most of their firearms instructors,” Jackson said. “So they called us up and asked us, could we train up to 20,000 students in a prescribed amount of time … and I said, 'Sure.’ And we did it.”

Blackwater trained 50,000 sailors under that five-year contract. Today, it trains more than 40,000 people a year from a variety of agencies – including all the military services – at its Moyock compound, which it says is the largest tactical training facility in the world. At least 90 percent of its revenue comes from government contracts.

While the company had struggled early on, its timing was excellent. Several forces had created a perfect storm for the rise of the private military industry.

Instead of peace, the end of the Cold War created a power vacuum and a chaotic world order, putting millions of former soldiers out on the market. At the same time, there was a growing trend toward privatization of government functions. The result: a $100 billion-a-year global business.

Most of the work is mundane, supporting troops in the field by cooking the meals, doing the laundry and driving the trucks. Blackwater’s sliver of the industry – accounting for roughly 5 percent of total revenues – provides tactical military services. Other major players in that field include DynCorp International and Triple Canopy in the United States and ArmorGroup International and Aegis Defense Services in Britain.

In the lingo of military wonks, Blackwater and its competitors are at the “tip of the spear.”

When al-Qaida upped the stakes with the attacks on New York and Washington on Sept. 11, 2001, Blackwater’s business model shifted again.

In the year since the Cole attack, training had dominated the company’s mission. After 9/11, the focus began to veer toward on-the-ground security services.

January 2002 brought the start-up of a new division, Blackwater Security Consulting, which quickly landed its first assignment, a classified contract still in force today. The company won’t talk about who the client is or what the work entails.

It is known that Blackwater security teams have been dispatched to the Middle East, Asia, South America and Africa.

Contacts can help pave the way for work. Private military companies often pepper their ranks with influential names, and Blackwater plays that game as well as anyone. Last year Prince, a major Republican campaign contributor, snagged two heavyweights as they came through Washington’s revolving doors.

Cofer Black, a career CIA and State Department official, is now Blackwater’s vice chairman. Joseph Schmitz, a former inspector general at the Pentagon, is the Prince Group’s chief operating officer and general counsel.

Connections are desirable at any level. Blackwater employee Gloria Shytles recently won a Republican primary for a seat on Currituck County’s Board of Commissioners. Shytles is one of the company’s “lead detailers,” responsible for matching contractors with missions.

As Blackwater’s federal contracts have soared into the hundreds of millions, its revenues and profits can only be guessed at, since the company is privately held.

But Blackwater says it’s more about patriotism than profit.

“We’re a force for good,” said Taylor, a beefy former Marine who has been with the company four years. “We are working in support of freedom and democracy around the world.

“It’s intoxicating. This is the best place to work in the world.”

It got even better in March 2003, when President Bush expanded the “global war on terror” to Iraq, providing yet more fuel for Blackwater’s meteoric rise.

It also got more complicated

Staff writer Jeff Hampton contributed to this report.

News researcher Jakon Hays contributed to this report.

Reach Joanne Kimberlin at (757) 446-2338 or joanne.kimberlin@pilotonline.com.

Reach Bill Sizemore at (757) 446-2276 or bill.sizemore@pilotonline.com.

___________________________________

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Blackwater Threatens to Sue Journalist



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