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Profile: Blackwater USA

a.k.a. Xe Services, Blackwater Worldwide

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Blackwater USA was a participant or observer in the following events:

Blackwater logo.Blackwater logo. [Source: Blackwater]In June 1997, three months after having been discharged from active duty, ex-Navy Seal Erik Prince incorporates the Blackwater Training Center. He purchases more than 4000 acres in Currituck County, North Carolina, for $756,000, and nearly one thousand acres in Camden County for $616,000. The new compound is built near the Great Dismal Swamp. The stated idea behind Blackwater was “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training.” In May 1998, Blackwater opens for business. It is suggested that the early years of Blackwater are slow going, but the volume of secret contracts makes that difficult to verify. [Scahill, 3/1/2007]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Erik Prince

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

A page of Zacarias Moussaoui’s notebook with a phone number for the security contractor Blackwater.A page of Zacarias Moussaoui’s notebook with a phone number for the security contractor Blackwater. [Source: US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria Division]Zacarias Moussaoui writes the phone number for the private security contractor Blackwater in his notebook. [US District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia, Alexandria District, 7/31/2006 pdf file] It is unclear why he writes the phone number down or whether he has any actual contact with Blackwater, but terrorism analyst J. M. Berger will later comment: “The discovery may best be taken with the proverbial grain of salt, and a large one at that. The phone number is publicly available and connects to a Blackwater training center in North Carolina. Moussaoui was researching physical and combat training options while he was in the United States. The simplest and most innocent explanation is quite possibly the correct one. Nevertheless, a glimpse of the controversial company’s contact information nestled among Moussaoui’s handwritten notes inspires the jaw to drop in a not-entirely unreasonable manner.” [Intelwire(.com), 8/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Zacarias Moussaoui, John M. Berger

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, 9/11 Timeline

2002: Blackwater Wins No-Bid CIA Contract

Blackwater wins a no-bid contract worth $5.4 million from the CIA. The nature of the contract is unknown, but it is reportedly obtained after Blackwater head Eric Prince telephones the CIA’s Executive Director A. B. “Buzzy” Krongard. [Harper's, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Blackwater USA, Central Intelligence Agency, Erik Prince

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). [New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A small team of contractors from the private security firm Blackwater is deployed inside Afghanistan, as a result of a $5 million contract between Blackwater and the CIA (see 2002 and 2002). The contractors provide security for the CIA at the agency’s station in Kabul and at “The Alamo,” a mud fortress in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In May, Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will fly to Afghanistan to help expand operations. The Kabul and Shkin deployments are the first in a long, profitable relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. The relationship stems from a long friendship between Prince and Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director. Prince formed another part of the Blackwater group, Blackwater Security Consulting, in early 2002 along with former CIA operative Jamie Smith; Krongard provided the firm with one of its first government contracts. In 2006, Krongard will explain: “Blackwater got a contract because they were the first people that could get people on the ground. The only concern we had was getting the best security for our people. If we thought Martians could provide it, I guess we would have gone after them.” The relationship between Krongard and Blackwater will deepen after the first Afghanistan deployment, with Krongard making repeated visits to the Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina and even bringing his children along to use Blackwater’s firing range. Prince was denied a position with the CIA, but will maintain a close relationship with the agency, and will receive “green badge” access to most CIA stations around the world. Krongard will join Blackwater’s board of directors in 2007. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jamie Smith, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Blackwater USA, Central Intelligence Agency, Erik Prince

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Time, 8/21/2009] Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” [Time, 8/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Leon Panetta, Erik Prince, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Compounding effect of multiple tiers of subcontractorsCompounding effect of multiple tiers of subcontractors [Source: News Observer] (click image to enlarge)Despite the fact that the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program (LOGCAP) contract explicitly prohibits Halliburton and its subcontractors from subcontracting security services, Halliburton subcontractor ESS hires the firm Blackwater USA to provide security through Regency Hotel, another subcontractor. Each of the subcontractors involved in this arrangement will charge a substantial mark-up for the security personnel. Blackwater pays its security guards $600 per day and charges Regency $815 per day plus overhead costs, while Regency charges ESS between $1200 and $1500 per day for each security guard. It is not known what ESS charges Halliburton or what the final bill is for the taxpayer. Halliburton refuses to disclose this information to Congress. Congressman Henry Waxman, in a letter to Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, will suggest that Halliburton’s invoice to the US government for these services was not legal and should not have been paid. [Regency Hotel & Hospital Company, 3/12/2004 pdf file; News & Observer, 10/24/2004; News & Observer, 10/28/2006; US Congress, 12/7/2006 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Regency Hotel, Halliburton, Inc., Blackwater USA, ESS

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate.The burned, mutilated corpses of two Blackwater contractors hang from a bridge outside Fallujah while Iraqi civilians celebrate. [Source: NoGW.com]Four employees of the private security firm Blackwater, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston and Michael Teague, are killed by small arms fire while driving through Fallujah. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007] Their bodies are then taken out of their convoy and mutilated by an angry mob. Images of two corpses of the contractors hanging from a bridge over the Euphrates River are sent all over the world. The families of the four slain men later file a lawsuit against Blackwater claiming that the company broke their contract by cutting corners on security costs in order to make a greater profit. The convoy that the Blackwater employees were driving lacked both armor for protection and a rear gunner, making it extremely easy for a few Iraqi gunmen to kill them. There also was an alternate path around Fallujah the men could have taken but did not know about because Blackwater did not conduct a “risk assessment,” which they were contractually obligated to do. [Nation, 5/8/2006] In July 2007, memos from another Blackwater team published in the media blame Blackwater’s Baghdad manager, Tom Powell, for sending the two teams into Fallujah undermanned, underarmed, and without maps (see June 8, 2007).

Entity Tags: Tom Powell, Wesley Batalona, Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Michael Teague, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Blackwater stops work on a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. Blackwater had been hired by the agency to work on the program at some time in 2004 (see 2004). However, according to the New York Times, its involvement ends “years before” Leon Panetta becomes CIA director in 2009 (see June 23, 2009). The reason for the termination is that CIA officials begin to question the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

Cofer Black, former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, joins Blackwater. He becomes the company’s vice chairman. [Boston Globe, 11/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Blackwater Worldwide, one of several Blackwater brand companies, deploys CS nerve gas on a crowded Green Zone checkpoint from both a helicopter and an armored vehicle. Army Captain Kincy Clark documents and reports the incident. Former Army lawyers will state that use of such riot control agents requires the approval of the military’s most senior commanders. Blackwater initially had a contract to provide security for American officials in Iraq with the Coalition Provisional Authority, an agreement which did not address the use of CS gas. When the contracts for Blackwater, DynCorp, and Triple Canopy are renewed after the incident, these contracts will forbid the use of CS gas. Commanders in the field will state that they fear the incident being used for propaganda by insurgents, who will say the US was using chemical weapons. [New York Times, 1/10/2008]

Entity Tags: Kincy Clark, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Rob Richer, formerly the deputy head of the CIA’s directorate of operations, joins the private military contractor Blackwater, becoming vice president of intelligence. Richer announced his resignation from the agency at the beginning of September (see September 2, 2005), but was still there later in the month (see September 21, 2005). According to Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein, Richer joins Blackwater “immediately” after leaving the agency. Richer is close to Jordan’s King Abdullah (see 1999) and, after being hired, helps Blackwater land a lucrative deal with the Jordanian government to provide the same sort of training offered by the CIA. Silverstein will comment, “Millions of dollars that the CIA ‘invested’ in Jordan walked out the door with Richer—if this were a movie, it would be a cross between Jerry Maguire and Syriana.” One of Silverstein’s sources will say: “People [at the agency] are pissed off. Abdullah still speaks with Richer regularly and he thinks that’s the same thing as talking to us. He thinks Richer is still the man.” [Harper's, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Abdullah II ibn al-Hussein, Blackwater USA, Ken Silverstein, Robert Richer

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black suggests that Blackwater troops be deployed to trouble spots around the world where there are humanitarian crises, such as the massacres in the Darfur region of Sudan. “Blackwater spends a lot of time thinking, ‘How can we contribute to the common good?’” Black tells the Special Operations Forces Exhibition in Jordan. He argues that big military operations tend to get mired in NATO’s bureaucracy and that Blackwater could easily send “a brigade-sized peacekeeping unit,” typically about 5,000 troops, “for a fraction of the cost of NATO operations.” [Boston Globe, 11/2/2007]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Cofer Black

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

A CIA source tells Harper’s journalist Ken Silverstein that Blackwater owner Erik Prince makes regular visits to CIA headquarters. According to Silverstein, Prince is “very tight” with top agency officials and has a green badge, a security pass for contractors who have access to CIA installations. “He’s over there [at CIA headquarters] regularly, probably once a month or so,” says the source. “He meets with senior people, especially in the [National Clandestine Service, formerly the directorate of operations].” [Harper's, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Erik Prince, Central Intelligence Agency, Ken Silverstein, Blackwater USA, National Clandestine Service

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

According to Harper’s magazine columnist Ken Silverstein, the private miltiary corporation Blackwater makes an “aggressive” attempt to recruit Jose Rodriguez, director of the CIA’s National Clandestine Service. Other CIA officers currently at Blackwater at this time include Enrique “Ric” Prado, with whom Rodriguez served in Latin America and who is currently Blackwater’s vice president of special programs, and Cofer Black, the company’s vice chairman, who, like Rodriguez, had been chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center. [Harper's, 9/12/2006]

Entity Tags: Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Blackwater USA, Cofer Black, Jose Rodriguez, Jr., Ken Silverstein, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Private contractors paid by US firms outnumber US troops in Iraq, according to newly released figures from the State and Defense departments. Over 180,000 civilians, including Americans, foreign citizens, and Iraqis, are working under US contracts in Iraq, compared to about 160,000 soldiers and several thousand civilian government employees stationed in Iraq. The Los Angeles Times reports, “The total number of private contractors, far higher than previously reported, shows how heavily the Bush administration has relied on corporations to carry out the occupation of Iraq—a mission criticized as being undermanned.” The Brookings Institute’s Peter Singer says, “These numbers are big. They illustrate better than anything that we went in without enough troops. This is not the coalition of the willing. It’s the coalition of the billing.” The numbers of contractors include:
bullet 21,000 Americans;
bullet 43,000 foreign contractors;
bullet about 118,000 Iraqis.
These numbers are not complete; private security contractors, hired to protect government officials and buildings, were not fully counted in the survey. According to some firms’ figures, about 30,000 security personnel work in Iraq, sometimes fighting alongside—or independent of—military forces. All these employees working for private contractors are paid with US tax dollars. Military officials say contractors cut costs while allowing troops to focus on fighting rather than on other tasks. “The only reason we have contractors is to support the war fighter,” says Gary Motsek, the assistant deputy undersecretary of defense who oversees contractors. “Fundamentally, they’re supporting the mission as required.” But some are critical, noting that the US government has relied far more heavily on contractors in the Iraq war than in any other conflict in American history. Critics note that troops and their missions can be jeopardized if contractors, functioning outside the military’s command and control, refuse to make deliveries of vital supplies under fire. Just such an occurrence happened in 2004, when US forces were forced to endure food rationing after delivery drivers refused to ferry supplies into a combat zone. And the government does not keep centralized track of the number or location of contractors operating in Iraq, though the US Central Command (CENTCOM) has recently bowed to pressure from Congress and begun a census of the number of contractors working on US and Iraqi bases to determine how much food, water, and shelter is needed. The corporation with the single largest presence in Iraq is KBR, which was the Halliburton Co. subsidiary Kellogg, Brown, and Root until early 2007. KBR provides logistical support to US and Iraqi troops, and holds the single biggest contract in Iraq, employing nearly 14,000 US workers. Other large employers of Americans in Iraq include L-3 Corporation, which provides translators to troops, and engineering firm ITT. The companies that have drawn the most attention are the private security firms such as Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and Erinys. Military policy experts say these contractors’ jobs should be done by servicemen, and point out the number of times security forces have engaged in firefights with Iraqi insurgents. “We don’t have control of all the coalition guns in Iraq. That’s dangerous for our country,” says William Nash, a retired Army general and reconstruction expert. The Pentagon “is hiring guns. You can rationalize it all you want, but that’s obscene.” Others point to the almost-complete lack of governmental accountability; the Times notes that “[a]lthough scores of troops have been prosecuted for serious crimes, only a handful of private security contractors have faced legal charges.” [Los Angeles Times, 4/7/2004] (See July 3, 2007 and July 5, 2007.)

Entity Tags: USAID, US Department of Labor, William Nash, Triple Canopy, ITT Corporation, Halliburton, Inc., Gary Motsek, Erinys, Blackwater USA, Kellogg, Brown and Root, US Department of Defense, US Department of State, L-3, Peter Singer

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Blackwater’s Bagdad manager gets the blame for the death of four Blackwater employees in Fallujah in 2004 (see March 31, 2004). Memos show that Blackwater sent two teams out, named Bravo 2 and November 1. Both were sent out with four men instead of the usual six. Bravo 2 protested that they weren’t ready for the mission, which was guarding empty flatbed trucks and picking up a food service company executive. They had no maps and had no time to prepare their weapons, but both teams were commanded to go anyway. Bravo 2 refused to follow their directions to drive through Fallujah, and instead drove around it and returned safely to Baghdad that evening. The four members of November 1 followed orders, went into Fallujah, and were massacred. Bravo 2 team memos blame Blackwater’s Baghdad site manager Tom Powell for giving these orders. For instance, team member Daniel Browne will later write in a memo that “we all want to kill him.” Memos about the incident will surface in mid-July 2007 after Congress opens an inquiry into Blackwater’s activities in Iraq. Like other private security firms, Blackwater has received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal contracts, with little or no oversight from Congress until 2007. Had a military officer sent four lightly armed soldiers into Fallujah and had them killed in such a brutal and public manner, that officer likely would have faced public scrutiny and a military inquiry. But Blackwater has never conducted such a public probe, and for years will refuse to provide documents such as the Bravo 2 memos to Congress. The families of the four members of November 1 have sued Blackwater in an effort to find out what happened. [The News Observer, 7/8/2007]

Entity Tags: Tom Powell, Blackwater USA, Daniel Browne

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

It is reported that over 1,000 civilian private contractors have died in Iraq and Afghanistan since the start of hostilities in those countries. An additional 13,000 have been wounded. The casualty figures come from the Department of Labor. Civilians work in a number of areas in Iraq, from providing security and servicing weapons systems, to more mundane tasks such as logistics, construction, truck driving, and maintenance (see April 4, 2007). [Reuters, 3/7/2004] Roughly one contractor dies for every four members of the armed forces. But despite the risks, Americans are lining up for jobs in the two war zones, lured by the prospects of high pay and, for some, adventure. As of the end of April 2007, 224 of the killed contractors were US citizens. [Reuters, 3/7/2004]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Aegis Defence Services, Vinnell Corporation, US Department of Labor

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

Former Afghan National Police (ANP) trained by US forces including the controversial American security contractor Blackwater are defecting to the Taliban, according to Al Jazeera. The channel reports that around 70 former police in the province of Herat have joined the Taliban in the past two months. Recruits featured in a video report carry weapons provided by the Afghan government and certificates for weapons training from the US. Some of the fighters openly display their Blackwater-issued IDs. One new Taliban recruit, Abdul Rahim, says he received training from Blackwater for 45 days. “I can use the training to save my life in these mountains and I can also use it to fight them,” he explains. The former members of the ANP tell Al Jazeera that they have joined the Taliban for ideological reasons and are using their weapons and training to fight the coalition. Another defector, Sulieman Ameri, along with 16 men under his command, were until a month ago enlisted in the ANP and patrolling the border with Iran. “Our soil is occupied by Americans and I want them to leave this country. That is my only goal,” he says. [Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008; Al Jazeera, 10/15/2008]

Entity Tags: Afghan National Police, Abdul Rahim, Taliban, Blackwater USA, Sulieman Ameri

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

January 28, 2009: Iraq Expels Blackwater

The Iraqi government informs the US Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s main security company. In effect, the decision forces Blackwater to cease operations within Iraq. Many Blackwater employees are accused of using excessive force while protecting US diplomats and State Department personnel. Those Blackwater employees not accused of improper conduct may continue working as private security contractors in Iraq, as long as they quit Blackwater and begin working for other firms. Blackwater must leave Iraq as soon as a joint US-Iraqi committee finalizes guidelines for the conduct and liability of private contractors under the new security agreement between the two countries. Under earlier agreements, Blackwater and other US contractors have been entirely immune from prosecution under Iraqi law. Iraqi Interior Ministry spokesman Major General Abdul-Karim Khalaf says, “When the work of this committee ends,” private security companies “will be under the authority of the Iraqi government, and those companies that don’t have licenses, such as Blackwater, should leave Iraq immediately.” US State Department spokesman Noel Clay says the department’s contractors will obey Iraqi law: “We will work with the government of Iraq and our contractors to address the implications of this decision in a way that minimizes any impact on safety and security of embassy Baghdad personnel.” A Blackwater spokeswoman says her firm is unaware of the Iraqi government’s decision. The Interior Ministry revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in Iraq in September 2007 and threatened to expel the firm’s employees, but US officials ignored the order and renewed the company’s contract. Blackwater contractors have been involved in around 200 shootings in Iraq since 2005, many involving Iraqi civilians. Five Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges for killing 17 Iraqi civilians in September 2007, the incident that prompted the Interior Ministry to try to expel the firm from the country. The widow of one of the 17 civilians, Umm Tahsin, says of Blackwater: “Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family.” [Washington Post, 1/28/2009]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Abdul-Karim Khalaf, Umm Tahsin, US Department of State, Noel Clay, Iraqi Ministry of the Interior

Timeline Tags: Iraq under US Occupation

The private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide announces that it is changing its name to Xe. In addition, other business units within the group are to change their names. Blackwater Airships, which offers surveillance services for intelligence gathering, becomes Guardian Flight Systems. Blackwater Target Systems, the unit that develops and builds targets, is now known as GSD Manufacturing. The best-known part of the business—Blackwater Lodge and Training Center—will now be called US Training Center. Spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell says the company spent over a year searching for a new name before choosing Xe, which is pronounced “zee.” According to Tyrrell, the idea behind the name change is “to define the company as what it is today and not what it used to be,” because, “We’ve taken the company to a place where it is no longer accurately described as Blackwater.” She adds that the new name has no meaning. “It was just a choice of a name,” she says. “We thought of it internally.” Xe is also the chemical symbol for the element xenon. In addition, company executives also take on new positions. For example, Gary Jackson, longtime president of Blackwater Lodge and Training, now becomes president of Xe. The name change follows a series of problems the company has had in Iraq and Afghanistan (see, for example January 28, 2009). National security expert R. J. Hillhouse comments that the company is “obviously trying to distance itself from their image as reckless cowboys that’s etched into the world’s mind from [an incident where company employees shot several bystanders in Iraq].” With a new name, “there are a lot of people who probably won’t connect the dots,” she says. “In a year or two, people won’t remember that’s Blackwater.” [Washington Post, 2/14/2009]

Entity Tags: Anne Tyrrell, Blackwater USA, Gary Jackson, Raelynn J. Hillhouse

Timeline Tags: Misc Entries

Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide.Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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