The New Pinkertons:
Blackwater Vigilantism Under Global Corporate Rule
Eddie J. Girdner
Department of International Relations, Izmir University, Izmir, Turkey ([email protected])
“We are not simply a ‘private security company,’ we are a professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability cost-effective means of affecting the strategic balance in support of security and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.” (Statement on Blackwater Worldwide website)
“Even if a private security guard committed cold-blooded murder, there may be no legal basis for prosecuting the guard in U.S. courts under current law.” (Patrick Kennedy, U.S. State Department)
“Total Intel is bringing the skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room.” (Cofer Black, Blackwater)
“We’ve outsourced nearly everything.” (Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of staff to Colin Powell)
Oh why does a vigilante man,
Why does a vigilante man,
Carry that sawed-off shotgun in his hand?
Would he shoot his brother and sister down?
(From one of the “Dust Bowl Ballads” of Woody Guthrie)
Blackwater has become the symbol of an entire era, the US War on Terrorism. This article discusses the explosion of private military contracting under the US occupation of Iraq and the war in Afghanistan as part of the rapid turnover of functions of the U.S. Government to the private corporate sector. Particularly, we focus upon the firm, Blackwater Worldwide (renamed Xe in 2009), which became notorious for killings of unarmed civilians in Iraq during the US occupation. The most notorious case was the killing of 17 civilians in Nisour Square in Baghdad on September 16, 2007. Efforts to hold the company responsible for the massacre of civilians in Iraq in a number of incidents have yielded slim results. On December 4, 2008, five former Blackwater guards were indicted on manslaughter charges to await trial in 2010. On the last day of the year, 2009, however, the case against the guards was dismissed in a US federal district court. Private firms, in practice, operate largely outside the law in Iraq and Afghanistan. Moreover, there is much evidence that the U.S. Government, including the US Justice Department, acted to protect private security companies operating in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This article suggests that the explosion of private contracting, as a colossal expansion of the military-industrial congressional complex, is ushering in an era when private corporations participate more directly in global imperialist rule. Blackwater, and its subsidiaries, have now become absorbed as a part of US multinational corporate complex profiting on providing security to its capital around the globe. The state extracts taxes from the people as private corporations are guaranteed profits and capitalist accumulation by the state. This may be ushering in an era of de facto private corporate dictatorship, albeit with a fictitious democratic gloss which hides the reality. Corporate America no longer sees the US as a democracy, but a “plutonomy” in which only one percent of the population rules. The political economic polity of the United States, has made great strides in this direction already, and is poised to anoint itself as the shining example for other countries to follow.
American Capitalism in Crises:
In the wake of the collapse of major banks and insurance companies, such as Lehman Brothers and American International Group (AIG) in the financial crisis of 2008-2009, the federal government, Department of the Treasury, under Treasury Secretary Tim Geitner and Federal Reserve Chief, Ben Bernanke, moved to increase government regulation of major companies which were seen as “too large to fail.” This seemed to be a huge power grab by the state and alarmed conservative members of Congress. On the other hand, the Federal Government was engaged in the act of pulling out all stops to bail out companies by infusing massive amounts of cash into failing firms and buying up the “toxic assets” of banks. The trillions of dollars of quantitative easing to save the commanding heights of the capitalist economy dwarfed the help forwarded by the government to help the people. The reaction of the stock market was positive. The people were angry. These moves showed the commitment of the government to the capitalist system, and would perhaps greatly increase the power of capital, in league with the government, rather than restrict its power. After all, the history of government regulatory agencies has been that they are generally captured and controlled by the private entities they are supposed to regulate. Indeed, this happened massively in contributing to the risky and speculative ventures built up by the financial sector before the 2008 collapse.
In the twilight of the dying George W. Bush Administration in the late summer of 2008, many American intellectuals looked forward to the return of a sane US approach to dealing with the world. It was widely acknowledged that the neoconservatives had broken new ground in their reckless sabotage of post World War II global order. The US, under George W. Bush became the most feared nation on the face of the earth and possibly in history by the vast bulk of mankind, which was revealed in numerous polls. As a candidate for President, Barack Obama, spoke of restoring America’s image around the world, which was comforting to those who worried about the forward American rush to illegal invasions, “pre-emptive war,” secret prisons, torture of al-Qaeda suspects, disappearing individuals from any point on earth, “accidental” bombings of wedding parties in Afghanistan and Iraq, domestic government spying on citizens, and support of the illegal policies of Israel in Gaza and the West Bank. The George W. Bush neoconservative revolutionaries turned American into an outlaw nation, a rogue state, demonstrating a whole range of the characteristics of a “failed state.”
On the domestic front, America’s version of late capitalism, which economic pundits seriously promoted as a model for the rest of the world, was resulting in at least three million American families losing their homes, some 1000 a day at one point, and long lines of Americans attempting to get their savings out of banks gone belly up. The U.S. economy was in a recession and the American dollar at record lows against other major global currencies. Middle-class Americans, for the most part, gave up the idea of vacationing in Europe with the high exchange value of the Euro.
Many Americans hoped that the country would turn over a new leaf. Perhaps America could not be the shining example of a city on the hill, but at least, it could return to being somewhat more decent, less hated, and stop fueling the incentives of terrorists who resented American policies.
What these admirable and idealistic hopes of decent Americans with a spark of humanity for the downtrodden of the world overlooked, perhaps, was that the Bush wrecking-ball approach to international relations had generated greater profits for American and sometimes other global corporations than any government in history. There is a rather hard and fast rule in the way things have come to be run in America. If a way cannot be found to make a public policy generate profits for the private sector, then it is probably dead on arrival. Perhaps the most obscene is the principle that health care in America, almost exclusively, is based upon the profit motive. War-profiteering, which this chapter is about, has made great strides since the year 2000. The Bush Administration was able to bring about institutional change which locked capitalist profits with waging war even more tightly. The immoral and dangerous malady which Eisenhower warned about, the military-industrial complex, became even more institutionalized with mad “doctor” Cheney pulling the strings for his former company Halliburton. This was eminently predictable. More disturbing was the surge in the market for vigilante violence under the rubric of “security” in the wake of nine-eleven terrorism. Security, some would say terrorism, emerged as never before in history in the emergence and establishment of private security companies. This development was bolstered by extreme right wing trends promoted by the neoconservatives, such as right-wing Christian political ideology, right-wing capitalist ideology, warning about the evils of state spending and the glories and miracles of private enterprise, and the constant harping on the “war on terror.”
It can be noted that from the perspective of Wall Street, it really does not matter if a war is won or lost; it is the bottom line that counts. The Vietnam War was “lost” but nevertheless, “won” from a corporate perspective. Private security firms emerge as the big winners in the so-called “war on terror” and the emerging champion was the firm of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe. The trick was to embed the private security armies so deeply into the government that whatever happened, the government could not operate without them. The government would be absolutely dependent upon private capital. It would be a huge leap forward in the establishment of the dictatorship of the corporate boardroom under the name of liberal democracy.
The Rise of the US Mercenary Military:
The US invasion and occupation of Iraq was different from any other war in history. The Bush Administration doubled the amount of money going to private contractors to $400 billion. The number of private mercenaries employed by the United States and Great Britain was roughly equivalent to that of government soldiers. The corporate press adopted the convention of referring to such forces as “private contractors,” which numbered around 190,000 in 2008. US and coalition soldiers numbered around 180,000 at the time. Those in Iraq working for private security companies were involved in security, intelligence, road building, financial systems, transport and supplies. Some 137,000 “contractors” were working under US Defense Department contracts while others were under contracts from the US State Department, and US Agency for International Development (USAID), as well as other government agencies. It was clear, as pointed out by US Representative David Price, that these contractors were “being used to mask the true extent” of US “involvement in Iraq.” The situation is similar in Afghanistan as this war has been escalated by the Barack Obama Administration and sets the precedent for future US imperialist ventures.
Historically, reliance upon military contractors in WWII, the Korean War and Vietnam was about 5 percent of force strength. In the Gulf War, the share of the total force from civilian contract employees increased to about 10 percent. But in the Iraq occupation, it reached 50 percent. The spending by the State Department on private contractors rose about 80 percent from l997 to 2007. In fact, given the wide range of activities which the US Government took upon itself, the occupation essentially constituted de facto colonization of the country. The pretense that Iraq had been sovereign since the end of the Provisional Coalition Authority, in June 2004, was a thinly veiled lie. In an interview on the program Inside Iraq, on al-Jazeera, on July 12, 2008, US Ambassador Ryan Crocker talked about “restoring complete sovereignty” to Iraq. This was a clear admission that the US had not considered Iraq sovereign after June 2004.
The political Right-Wing in the United States portrayed the rise of such private security companies as Blackwater Worldwide/Xe, at Moyock, North Carolina, Dyncorp, in Falls Church, Virginia, Triple Canopy, in Herndon, Virginia, and many other private military companies, as the cutting edge of market efficiency and professionalism and a giant leap forward. In fact, the system of outsourcing military contracts to private industry has traditionally been at the cutting edge of government waste and private plunder. It should be observed that the occupation of Iraq has broken new ground in this tried and true mechanism of plundering the pockets of American taxpayers to swell capitalist profits and capitalist accumulation even beyond their wildest boardroom fantasies. Driven by former Vice President, Dick Cheney, the occupation of Iraq and “War on Terror” revved up this orgy of banditry from the American citizens to previously unheard of summits. Moreover, these private security firms employed former combat personnel from such countries as Chile and South Africa for deployment in Iraq. These mercenaries had worked for the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile, the Israeli Defense Forces, the South African Defense Force, South African Police, and other militaries around the world, which are often known for their brutality and abuse of human rights. Other personnel have come from Fiji, Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Ukraine, Bosnia, the Philippines, Nepal, and Serbia. Boomed by the war on terror, private military companies “may be the fastest growing industry in the global economy.”
Blackwater Worldwide, renamed Xe in 2009, was a part of The Prince Group, a holding company owning some two dozen businesses, more later, before some were sold. According to Sourcewatch Encyclopedia, “Xe will be a one-stop shopping source for world-class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics.” The company was founded in l997 by Erik Prince and Gary Jackson, who were former US Navy Seals. The company was owned by Erik Prince, a billionaire from his father’s company, a right-wing fundamentalist Christian, a major supporter of the Republican Party, and part of a powerful Michigan Republican family. Prince worked as an intern in the George H.W. Bush White House and campaigned for conservative Presidential candidate Pat Buchanan in l992. Prince’s sister, Betsy has served as the chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and is married to Richard Devos, who is notable for being the founder of the company, Amway, which has been involved in promoting conservative causes. These families have contributed heavily to Bush presidential campaigns. Over 10 years, until 2007, the family gave more than $325,000 to Republican candidates. Prince resigned as head of the company in March 2009. The company has now been sold to a consortium of investors.
The main training facility of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe is located on a 7000 acre sight in Moyock, North Carolina, now renamed as US Training Center. The company has another 824 acre facility at Potrero, California, near San Diego. The Midwest sight is located in Mt. Carroll, Illinois, near Chicago. Another western sight was planned in Idaho for police training. The firm also has offices in Kuwait City. Blackwater/Xe claimed to operate in nine countries, but the actual number seems to be much larger. Trainees are former military and police personnel and pay $20,000 for an 8-week course. The facility in North Carolina has a 65,000 square feet (5980 square meters) headquarters with 300 rooms, used for classrooms and so on. The training involves such skills as learning to crash cars, shoot targets, board ships, storm schools, break down doors, and rescue hostages. The company logo was changed in 2009 to an eagle head, getting rid of the bear paw and cross hairs. By 2009, the company was training police departments all across the US and had trained over 50,000 military and law enforcement personnel.
In Currituck County, North Carolina, where part of the facility is located, residents complained about bombs exploding in the night, shaking their houses, and claimed that the gun ranges were illegal. The Internal Revenue Service has ruled that Blackwater violated federal tax laws by treating an armed guard as an “independent contractor.” This would allow the company to avoid paying social security, medicare, unemployment and related taxes.
In 2009, top officials in the company included Gary Jackson, as head of the company, after the resignation of Erik Prince and J. Cofer Black, as Vice Chairman. Black is a major figure in the world of private military and intelligence companies. Black spent 28 years in the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) at the Directorate of Operations. At the end of his career, he worked as the former head of counterterrorism at the CIA. Leaving the CIA, he became the Coordinator for Counterterrorism at the US State Department from 2002 to 2004. By 2005, he was running his own intelligence company, The Black Group was merged with two others to join the Prince Group of companies as Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by J. Cofer Black. Black served as the advisor to Presidential Republican candidate, Mitt Romney, in 2007. The purpose of Total Intelligence Solutions is said to be to “bring CIA-style intelligence to fortune 500 companies.” The also spy on private citizens on behalf of the companies.
Another officer of Blackwater Worldwide/Xe was Robert Richer, Vice-President for Intelligence. He is also former employee of the CIA, being the former Deputy Director of Operations, the CIA station chief in Amman, and head of the Near East Division.
J. Cofer Black was also responsible for building the Extraordinary Rendition Program under President Bill Clinton. A senior executive, Joseph Schmitz, was the Pentagon Inspector General under Donald Rumsfeld. About 75 percent of the approximately 1000 Blackwater employees working in Iraq until May 2009 were Americans.
Kenneth Star, who investigated President Bill Clinton in the Monica Lewinsky affair has served as counsel for Blackwater. He served as Solicitor General under President George H.W. Bush.
Blackwater Worldwide/Xe expanded rapidly as a private military firm into the areas of US border security, homeland security, intelligence operations, the war on drugs, flight operations for the Pentagon, and production of new equipment for military, security and police operations. The family of companies included Aviation Worldwide Services, Greystone Ltd., Presidential Airways, Inc., Guardian Flight Systems, and GSD Manufacturing. Other shell companies were set up to hide the Blackwater identity. In 2009, the company claimed to be shifting away from private security to operating training facilities around the world. Contracts with the US Government have brought Blackwater some $1.5 billion since 2000.
After the Sept. 16, 2007 shootings in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed, and which tarnished the company’s image, the company re-branded itself as “Xe,” billed itself as working in “peacekeeping operations,” and relabeled its employees as “global stabilization professionals.” But actually