Meet the American mercenaries of Blackwater, who fight outside of the law and take direction from the radical Christian right
In September 2000, just months before its members would form the core of the Bush White House, the Project for a New American Century released a report called Rebuilding America’s Defenses: Strategy, Forces and Resources for a New Century. In laying out PNAC’s vision for overhauling the US war machine, the report recognized that “the process of transformation, even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic and catalyzing event — like a new Pearl Harbor.” A year to the month later, the 9/11 attacks would provide that catalyst: an unprecedented justification to forge ahead with this radical agenda molded by a small cadre of neoconservative operatives who had just taken official power.
The often-overlooked subplot of the wars of the post-9/11 period is the outsourcing and privatization they have entailed. From the moment the Bush team took power, the Pentagon was stacked with ideologues like Paul Wolfowitz, Douglas Feith, Zalmay Khalilzad, and Stephen Cambone, and with former corporate executives — many from large weapons manufacturers — like Under Secretary of Defense Pete Aldridge (Aerospace Corporation), Army Secretary Thomas White (Enron), Navy Secretary Gordon England (General Dynamics), and Air Force Secretary James Roche (Northrop Grumman). The new civilian leadership at the Pentagon came into power with two major goals: regime change in strategic nations and the enactment of the most sweeping privatization and outsourcing operation in US military history — a revolution in military affairs. After 9/11 this campaign became unstoppable.
The swift defeat of the Taliban in Afghanistan emboldened Rumsfeld and the administration as they began planning for the centerpiece of the neoconservative crusade: Iraq. From the moment the US troop buildup began in advance of the invasion, the Pentagon made private contractors an integral part of the operations. Even as the US gave the public appearance of attempting diplomacy, behind closed doors Halliburton was being prepped for its largest operation in history. When US tanks rolled into Baghdad in March 2003, they brought with them the largest army of private contractors ever deployed in a war. By the end of Rumsfeld’s tenure, there were an estimated 100,000 private contractors on the ground in Iraq — an almost one-to-one ratio to active-duty US soldiers. To the great satisfaction of the war industry, before Rumsfeld stepped down, he took the extraordinary step of classifying private contractors as an official part of the US war machine. In the Pentagon’s 2006 Quadrennial Review, Rumsfeld outlined what he called a “roadmap for change” at the DoD [Department of Defense], which he said had started in 2001. It defined the “Department’s Total Force” as “its active and reserve military components, its civil servants, and its contractors — constitut[ing] its warfighting capability and capacity. Members of the Total Force serve in thousands of locations around the world, performing a vast array of duties to accomplish critical missions.”
Coming as it did in the midst of an open-ended, loosely defined global war, this formal designation represented a radical rebuke of the ominous warnings laid out by President Eisenhower in his farewell address to the nation decades earlier during which he envisioned the “grave implications” of the rise of “the military-industrial complex.” In 1961, Eisenhower declared, “The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists and will persist. We must never let the weight of this combination endanger our liberties or democratic processes. We should take nothing for granted. Only an alert and knowledgeable citizenry can compel the proper meshing of the huge industrial and military machinery of defense with our peaceful methods and goals, so that security and liberty may prosper together.” What has unfolded in the ensuing years and particularly under the Bush administration is nothing less than the very scenario Eisenhower darkly prophesied.
Up from the swamp
This excerpt published with permission from Nation Books, an imprint of Avalon Publishing Group, Inc. Copyright © 2007 by Jeremy Scahill.
While the war on terror and the Iraq occupation have given birth to scores of companies, few if any have experienced the meteoric rise to power, profit, and prominence that Blackwater has. In less than a decade, it has risen out of a swamp in North Carolina to become a sort of Praetorian Guard for the Bush administration’s “global war on terror.” Today, Blackwater has more than 2300 private soldiers deployed in nine countries, including inside the United States. It maintains a database of 21,000 former Special Forces troops, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents on whom it could call at a moment’s notice. Blackwater has a private fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a surveillance blimp division. Its 7000-acre headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina, is the world’s largest private military facility. It trains tens of thousands of federal and local law enforcement agents a year and troops from “friendly” foreign nations. The company operates its own intelligence division and counts among its executives senior ex-military and intelligence officials. It recently began constructing new facilities in California (“Blackwater West”) and Illinois (“Blackwater North”), as well as a jungle training facility in the Philippines. Blackwater has more than $500 million in government contracts — and that does not include its secret “black” budget operations for US intelligence agencies or private corporations/individuals and foreign governments. As one US Congressmember observed, in strictly military terms, Blackwater could overthrow many of the world’s governments.
Blackwater is a private army, and it is controlled by one person: Erik Prince, a radical right-wing Christian mega-millionaire who has served as a major bankroller not only of President Bush’s campaigns but of the broader Christian-right agenda. In fact, as of this writing Prince has never given a penny to a Democratic candidate — certainly his right, but an unusual pattern for the head of such a powerful war-servicing corporation, and one that speaks volumes about the sincerity of his ideological commitment. Blackwater has been one of the most effective battalions in Rumsfeld’s war on the Pentagon, and Prince speaks boldly about the role his company is playing in the radical transformation of the US military. “When you ship overnight, do you use the postal service or do you use FedEx?” Prince recently asked during a panel discussion with military officials. “Our corporate goal is to do for the national security apparatus what FedEx did to the postal service.”