It was with great surprise that I woke up a few months ago and discovered that security units associated with Blackwater International are stationed here in my hometown of Juneau, Alaska. It’s not like we’re a terrorist hot-spot; it’s been ages since the mayor felt compelled to go blasting down Front Street in an up-armored humvee. We 30,000 souls are surrounded by vast icefields on one side and the cold North Pacific on the other, unconnected to any road system. In fact, the Department of Homeland Security rated Juneau dead last for risk of terrorism among 132 urban areas. Yet the presence of Blackwater in Juneau says a lot about America today and, if we’re not vigilant and active, a very dark America of tomorrow.
Most readers know Blackwater as the go-to guys for mercenary firepower. Their business model is to recruit elite soldiers trained by the US military and rent them back to Uncle Sam at a premium. But Blackwater is a diverse company, and their aspirations go far beyond the present wars. They provide corporate security and training for law-enforcement officers. They hire mercenaries and trainers out to foreign governments such as Azerbaijan and Japan, and to corporations of their choosing. While the US Marines used to guard our embassies around the world, Blackwater guards are now manning many of those posts. Recently, Blackwater has recruited highly placed ex-government officials, such as former CIA Director of Counterterrorism Cofer Black, to head up a private intelligence agency. Blackwater, like others of its ilk, is penetrating every aspect of our military and intelligence services.
So, what’s this global operation doing in tiny Juneau, Alaska?
Blackwater is here to guard a radar station for tests of the National Missile Defense system now officially deployed and operational here in Alaska. Don’t let the words “deployed” and “operational” mislead you: the system can’t really shoot down hostile missiles. It can barely shoot down a single test missile when provided with its exact take-off time and trajectory, let alone detect and destroy a surprise attack by multiple missiles. Unbiased experts, including the Union of Concerned Scientists, assert that because the system can be so easily and cheaply defeated by countermeasures such as decoys, or overwhelmed by the complexity of a real attack, that it will never be a practical defense. Nevertheless, our government continues to divert billions of dollars into the pockets of defense contractors on this wildly expensive high-tech version of France’s Maginot Line, so gleefully outflanked by the Germans in 1940. This is more than just a constellation of pork barrel projects and misguided priorities. It’s theft on a massive scale
However, that sort of corruption has been around for a long time, and this is the Bush era, where a trip to the public piggy bank isn’t considered complete unless you take plenty of friends with you. The Blackwater guards here are nominally employed by Chenega, an Alaska Native corporation associated with the Alaskan coastal village of Chenega Bay, population 86. Alaska Senator Ted Stevens, architect of the “Bridge to Nowhere” and now on trial for bribery, is one of the principal proponents of the anti-missile system and was also instrumental in writing laws which help secure government contracts for Alaska Native Corporations. Senator Stevens didn’t invent these affirmative-action type laws: I remember my father grumbling about them in his plumbing business back in the Sixties. In this case, though, they’ve been refined and corporatized: Chenega gets contracts through the Small Business Administration, rakes off a percentage, then lets giant Blackwater provide the actual services. Since 2000 Chenega has received over $1.1 billion in sole-source or non-compete bids from the Army, Air Force and Department of Homeland Security.
The Bush Administration has turned over an unprecedented amount of government functions to its cronies in private industry, always at a big premium to the taxpayers. More deeply disturbing, though, they have surrendered elements of the military and intelligence services that for two hundred years have been considered the sole prerogative of the People’s government. Where once we had soldiers and spies loyal only to our government, we now have mercenaries and corporate spooks loyal to . . . well, I’m not really sure. Their CEO? Whatever political party gives them the fattest contracts? Soldiers and policemen follow orders, and when things get shaky, the question of who is giving the orders can take on a whole new importance. It took a while for this new face of corporate government to get all the way to my home town, but it finally has. It’s here, it’s armed and it’s wearing a Blackwater uniform.