October 19, 2007
Welcome to the JOURNAL.
You could not miss Erik Prince this week. The founder and top gun of Blackwater usually keeps a low media profile. But there he was all over the place, in a
carefully orchestrated campaign to put the best face on a bad situation.
Erik Prince is the man who assembled a private army in Iraq with tax dollars, provided
by the U.S. Government you. Earlier this month, after some of his soldiers of fortune gunned down 17 innocent Iraqis and wounded 27 others in what the Army
first called an unprovoked attack, Prince was called before Congress to give an accounting. Here's one of the exchanges.
REP. DANNY K. DAVIS (D-IL):
You do admit that Blackwater personnel have shot and killed innocent civilians, don't you?
No, sir. I disagree with that. I think there's been times when guys are using defensive force to protect themselves, to protect the packages, trying to get away from danger, there could be ricochets, there are traffic accidents, yes.
REP. D. DAVIS:
According to a document we obtained from the State Department, on June 25th, 2005, Blackwater guards shot and killed an innocent man who was standing by the side of the street. His death left six children alone with no one to provide them support. Are you familiar with this incident?
I'm somewhat familiar with that incident. I believe what happened, that was a car bomb or a potential car bomb had rapidly approached our convoy. I believe our guys shot rounds at the car, not at the driver, to warn them off.
REP. D. DAVIS:
State Department described the death as, and I quote, "the random death of an innocent Iraqi." Do you know why Blackwater officials failed to report this shooting and later tried to cover it up?
I can clarify that fully, sir. Thanks for asking that question. There was no cover-up.
Soon after Prince had ducked and weaved his way out of the Congressional line of fire, Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater to leave their country. Prince's P.R. advisers then launched a round of press interviews where Prince, armed with this video of his men rescuing a Polish diplomat in Baghdad, could make his case on his terms.
"I'm an American working for America. Anything we do is to support U.S. Policy. You know the definition of a mercenary is a professional soldier that works in the pay of a foreign army. I'm an American working for America...."
Lara Logan frequently puts herself in harm's way, covering the war in Iraq. Erik Prince proves as elusive as the insurgents.
So why is it so wrong then? Why is there this perception that exists about Blackwater?
General misunderstanding because we've not been able to communicate what we do and don't do these last few years.
Do you think there has been knee-jerk reporting about what happened on September 16?
As he was spinning the story to the press, he was also blaming the press.
I don't know that the media has given them due process the last couple of weeks...You know that when the guys get it right 99 times out of 100...
Prince stuck to his well-rehearsed talking points, no matter where he showed up.
You have to understand, bad things in Iraq generally don't happen by themselves... Bad things don't usually happen by themselves in Iraq...In hundreds of other attacks against us, bad things generally don't happen by themselves...
In the game of spin, repetition is the winner...
You want more oversight...
We absolutely want more oversight. We welcome the accountability... We support accountability as long as there is due process.
One subject he evaded time and again was his close ties to people in high places who hand out the government contracts that pay for his private army.
You give a lot of money to the Republican Party, fair amount.
Relative to a lot, not very much but -
"This is America. You are allowed to do and support whoever you want to. Your sister, her husband ran for governor of Michigan. Your mother is a very enthusiastic supporter of causes as well as, I assume, the Republican Party as well. Your sister supported George Bush 41. And you supported Pat Buchanan. Why was there that split?
You know, I was at Hillsdale College as an economics major, very much a free market guy. And I would say it was mostly a disagreement over taxes.
So what was and wasn't said in this spectacle of spin? For some answers we turn to a one-man truth squad who has been reporting on Blackwater and Erik Prince's influence. Jeremy Scahill is an independent investigative journalist who wrote this recent bestselling book: BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY.
Jeremy Scahill is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. He's reported from Iraq, the Balkans and Nigeria, among other places, he's a co-winner of the George Polk Award For Investigative Reporting. Good to see you.
From watching the interviews, what was the message that you think Prince was trying to get out?
Well, let's remember, this is a guy who prior to the September 16th shooting in Baghdad had only done one television interview ever. And it was right after 9/11 on Fox News with Bill O'Reilly. And during that interview, he said that after 9/11, the phone's been ringing off the hook at Blackwater.
Other than that, this is a guy who hasn't really appeared in public. So, it was unusual to see him, A, appear before the Congress. And B, do this blitzkrieg of interviews. I think the message was very clear. He was trying to say we're a patriotic American company. That we're Americans protecting Americans. We want accountability for our industry.
But there is also something that sort of reminded me of Jack Nicholson in A FEW GOOD MEN where he's talking about 'I eat my cereal, you know, meters away from Cubans who want to kill me.' Where Erik Prince uses terms like the bad guys and our blood runs-- runs red, white and blue.
And nobody talks like that in normal life do they our blood runs red, white and blue.
Right. It's almost I think part of the point here was to say, look, you don't understand really, American people, what we're doing for you. While you're enjoying comfort here in the United States, we're over there protecting our-- men in women in uniform, our diplomats. I think that there's a way that he wants to increase the mystique about the company and the operations of Blackwater.
But do you think he was motivated and his PR firm was motivated in part because he didn't do that well before Congress at the recent hearings into this investi-- into this shooting?
I think that Blackwater has made a very serious strategic error in how they've handled their publicity for years. And now, we're seeing the company go on the offensive. I think Erik Prince held his own in front of the Congress. And I attribute it largely to the fact that it appeared as though the Democrats didn't really do their homework on him.
I mean, here you have the man who owns the company providing the largest private army on the US government payroll in Iraq. A billion dollars in contracts. Twenty-seven of his men killed in Iraq. We don't know how many people he killed. No private actor in the occupation of Iraq has had more of a devastating impact on events in Iraq than Blackwater. And I just felt watching that hearing, and I went down for it, that many of the Democrats hadn't done their homework.
Well, they-- well, they were reading the report at the time that he was testifying, right?
Right. And you see them flipping through the pages. And it appeared as though a lot of the members were just sort of paging through it while Erik Prince was testifying.
If you go to the CBS News Web site reporting on Lara Logan's interview with him, what the headline says is "Blackwater chief welcomes extra oversight". Could that have been the message? Hey, look, this was a terrible thing that happened over there. But we really want you, the State Department, government, military, to hold us more accountable.
Right. But I mean, there's a very Orwellian vibe to all of this. I mean-- let's remember here, Blackwater says they're not a mercenary company. They're in the peace and stability industry. We're in the business of peace because peace matters.
Peace and stability. Is this how the industry promotes itself?
Oh, yeah. The mercenary trade association, Blackwater recent left it. But they've been a leading member and funder of it. It's called the International Peace Operations Association. And their logo is a cartoon sleeping lion. I mean, it's so incredibly Orwellian.
And I think this idea that they want accountability, this has been a line they've been pushing for years. I mean, Erik Prince said it was excellent that the democratic legislation passed through the House that was allegedly about contractor oversight.
And the reason why Blackwater endorses it is because it looks great on paper. There are gonna be laws that govern the use of private military companies. But in reality, it's totally unenforceable.
Well, the idea behind it is that US civilian law is going to apply to contractors on the battlefield. And the Democratic plan says, let's send an FBI field office over in Baghdad monitoring 180,000 contractors.
I mean, there are more contractors in Iraq right now than there are US soldiers. And so the idea is that the FBI is gonna go around Iraq. They're gonna be investigating crimes of contractors. Interviewing witnesses, presumably in very dangerous places.
And then, they're going to arrest the individual in question. Bring them back to the United States. And then, prosecute them in a US civilian court. All of this coming from the Bush Justice Department.
I mean, I've never heard a more insane plan. And so, what that bill will give Erik Prince and other mercenary companies the opportunity to do is to sit down and say, there are laws that govern us. We're accountable under US law.
But they know well that it only exists on paper. And that there will be a few token prosecutions. It's impossible to monitor the activities of 180,000 personnel.
BILL MOYERS: Prince says he welcomes the investigation the investigate by the State Department and the FBI. But Blackwater has guarded, is guarding the State Department and has guarded the FBI. How can they--
Well Bill, listen. when Nancy Pelosi goes over to Iraq, she's guarded by Blackwater. I mean, Blackwater's guarded, I think, 90 Congressional delegations -- when they go over there. And so, if you wanna go over and you wanna investigate a company as a member of Congress and you wanna look into the role of these companies and you're being guarded by them, what is that gonna do to the integrity of your operation?
We're gonna have to pause a moment and say right here... As you talk, I realized just how much you have studied this group and it's in your book very well posed. But what got you interested in this as a journalist?
Well, I had gone-- I started going to Iraq in 1998. And I went in in the weeks leading up to the Clinton administration's attack on Baghdad in December of '98. And I had actually spent a fair bit of time in the city of Fallujah.
In fact, I had camped out there in the desert just outside of Fallujah in the summer of 2002 was the last time I'd been in the city. And it was a place that I knew well. And-- and on March 31st, 2004 when four Blackwater operatives were ambushed and killed in Fallujah, their bodies dragged through the streets, burned, strung up from a bridge.
I remember seeing those and they're horrifying. And the American public recoiled.
Right. And I mean, and initial reports on it were that civilian contractors had been killed. And the image that was portrayed was that these were sort of like water specialists or engineers that were being dragged through the streets.
And then, it emerged that in fact they were these mercenaries working for a private company called Blackwater USA. And we watched as the Bush administration then began to escalate the rhetoric. And it became clear that they were gonna lay siege to the city of Fallujah
And what happened in the aftermath is well known. The US military was ordered to destroy the city. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. A number of US troops. And I began from a very simple question.
How on earth were the lives of four corporate personnel not US soldiers, not humanitarian workers. But how were the lives of these four corporate personnel worth the death of an entire Iraqi city? That siege had an incredibly devastating impact on events on the ground in Iraq. It gave rise to the Iraqi resistance. Fueled it. Attacks escalated against US forces. And it was-- it was really the moment that the war turned over the deaths of these four Blackwater guys.
Now, how would our diplomats be protected if it weren't for the private security contractors? The army is stretched thin. Isn't there a role for these people?
Well, I think that the fact is that the US military has not historically done the job that Blackwater is doing. That was done through diplomatic security. And the role for these companies is envisioned as protecting diplomats in all these countries around the world.
But in Iraq, you're talking about an occupation of a country. And without these private sector forces, without companies like as Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Dyncorp, the occupation wouldn't be tenable.
Well, right now in Iraq, there are 180,000 contractors operating alongside 170,000 US troops. So it's effectively a doubling or more than doubling of the occupation force.
What this does is it subverts the citizenry in the United States. You no longer have to have a draft. You don't have to depend on your own citizens to fight your wars. You can simply hire up the poor of the world to work for American and British companies occupying another country.
What do these private contractors, their guys, make compared to American soldiers on the ground?
Well it varies widely depending on the company, depending on their role, depending on their nationality.
If you're a former Navy Seal or a Delta Force guy working for Blackwater, you can make about 600 dollars a day for your work in Iraq. I mean, we're talking six figure salaries. Some of these guys working for private military companies make as much as General Petraeus if not more.
He makes about $180,000 a year. Average troops in the ground, some of these kids are being paid forty thousand dollars a year to be in the exact same war zone as Erik Prince's men from Blackwater. And they're wearing the American flag on their shoulder, not the Blackwater logo.
Didn't I read somewhere that one of our generals said we couldn't be here without Blackwater and these other companies? We couldn't be occupying. Or something to that effect?
Yeah. I mean, well, General Petraeus himself has been guarded by private contractors in Iraq. I mean, what message did that send when the general who's overseeing the surge in Iraq is guarded at times not by the US military, but by private forces.
What message does that send?
Well, I think it sends a message that the United States military is essentially a subservient player to a corporate army in Iraq.
I don't read that. I read it that Blackwater is the corollary to the-- complement to the the military.
Well, Erik Prince likes to describe Blackwater as the sort of Federal Express of the national security apparatus. He says if you want a package to get somewhere, do you send it through the post office or do you send it through FedEx?
But the fact is, the US military is the junior partner in the coalition that's occupying Iraq to these private companies. There are over 170 mercenary companies like Blackwater operating in Iraq right now. That's almost as many nations as are registered at the UN. And I think this isn't just about Iraq. It's also looting the US treasury.
What does it say that this industry has become so essential, this peace and stability industry these mercenaries as you call them.
Right. Well, I think we're in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in our nation's history. We of course see it in schools. We see it in the health care system, in prisons. And now, we're seeing it full blown in the war machine. What I ultimately see as the real threat here is that the system of the very existence of the nation state I think is at stake here. Because you have companies now that have been funded with billions of dollars in public money using that money to then build up the infrastructure of private armies some of which could take out a small national military. And the old model used to be if a company wants to go into Nigeria for instance and exploit oil, they have to work with the juntas forces in order to do that. Now, you can just bring in your own private military force.
Is it conceivable to you that these private contractors could be-- could wind up fighting the war against drugs in Columbia? Fighting the terrorists--
They already are.
Dyncorps for years, which is a massively publicly traded mercenary outfit, has been in Colombia for years. They've been in the Balkans. They're all over the place.
Under contract to...?
Under contract with the US government. The Colombian government receives 630 million dollars a year to fight the so-called war on drugs. Of that 630 million dollars, half of it goes to US war contractors.
They're in Bolivia. They're in Ecuador. They're in Colombia. Blackwater recently won a fifteen billion dollar contract that it's gonna share with four other companies to fight terrorists with drug ties.
Look, these-- the journalists we saw, all good journalists, some of them my friends. I admire them. But I was struck that no one confronted Prince about the specifics of his private army. How do you explain that?
Well, I'm not sure why they didn't do it. I feel like some of these interviews that have been done with him would make the barons of the Soviet media empire blush with embarrassment for how this was handled.
I mean, this is a man who is building up nothing short of a parallel national security apparatus. He not only has his Blackwater Security which is what's deployed in Iraq. He has a maritime division, an aviation division. He recently started his own privatized intelligence company called Total Intelligence Solutions that's headed by a thirty year veteran of the CIA, the man who led the hunt for Osama Bin Laden, Cofer Black, who oversaw the extraordinary rendition program. This is the man who promised President Bush that he was gonna have his operative in Afghanistan chop off Osama Bin Laden's head, place it in a box with dry ice and then have it hand delivered to President Bush. He's now the number two man at Blackwater USA. He's the vice chairman of the company.
Blackwater has just won a 92 million dollar contract from the Pentagon to operate flights throughout central Asia. This is a company that is manufacturing surveillance blimps and marketing them to the Department of Homeland Security. Their own armored vehicle called the Grizzly. I mean, Blackwater's gonna be around for a very long time.
And yet, Prince told Charlie, in effect, you know, we're just a very robust temp-agency. Sort of like Kelly girls.
I really don't know what to say to that. I mean what, are they just answering phones somewhere? No, these are guys that have worked inside of Afghanistan. They've been responsible for so much death and destruction in Iraq. And it's sort of-- it's the sanitizing of the role of Blackwater.
Well, I mean, Erik Prince likes to portray Blackwater as this sort of apple pie operation, all-American operation. And yet, his company has recruited soldiers from all around the world and deployed them in Iraq. Chilean commandos some of whom trained and served under Augusto Pinochet.
The dictator of Chile, were hired up by Blackwater. They worked with a recruiter who had been-- a Chilean recruiter who had been in Pinochet's military. And they hired up scores of Chileans, brought them to North Carolina for evaluation and then sent them over to Iraq. Chile was opposed to the occupation of Iraq. Was a rotating member of the security council at the time of the invasion opposing it. It said no. We won't join the coalition of the willing. And so, Blackwater goes in and hires up soldiers from a country who's home government is opposed to the war. And deploys them in Iraq. That's a subversion of the sovereignty of the nation of Chile. Blackwater has hired Colombian soldiers and paid them 34 dollars a day to be in Iraq as well. They've hired Bulgarians, Fijians, Poles. So, I'm not quite certain what Erik Prince is talking about. In fact, his very definition of mercenary describes Blackwater, which is a professional soldier serving a foreign power. That's the definition Prince provides.
But he objects to that term, mercenary, doesn't he?
He says its slanderous.
I was intrigued to learn that the PR-agency that is handling Prince, Burson-Marsteller , is also the guy who heads - the CEO is also Hillary Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn.
Mark Penn. Sort of-- he's been called Hillary's Rove. What-- I know something about how this system works. How a PR company comes to you and says hey I've got this client that would like to be on air here. Here's how we'd like to do it.
And then, you see the same thing in being repeated from show to show to show like Hillary Clinton was on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows recently. What have you learned about how the system works between the political and media elites?
Well, I mean, PR-companies are also mercenaries and I know oftentimes work for the highest bidder. I think it's interesting that--
They're not shooting people though.
No, no, no. But they're mercenaries in the sense that they'll rent their services out to anyone. And once you're defending Erik Prince, you're working for him, then you become part of his sort of mercenary operation. I also think that it was a strategic choice to go with the company with Mark Penn because of his connection with the democrats and Hillary Clinton.
But let's, lets remember here we're talking about Blackwater right now because we have a Republican administration. For so many years, we had a Republican dominated Congress. Blackwater is certainly the beneficiary of the Republican monopoly in government. But this system has been bi-partisan for a very long time.
When Hillary Clinton's husband was in the White House, he was an aggressive supporter of the privatization of the war machine. Bill Clinton used mercenary forces in the Balkans. Who do we think gave Dick Cheney's company all of those contracts during the Nineties? We talk about Halliburton. It was Clinton. It was the Clinton administration. And and, Blackwater may be an extraordinary Republican company. But they're gonna be around when there's a Democrat in office.
None of these-- none of my colleagues seem to want to press Prince on his, deeply on his political connections. What can you tell us about those connections?
Well, there are two things at play here. There's the funding of congressional candidates. And Erik Prince has given over a quarter of a million dollars to Republican candidates. He's also given money to the Green Party to defeat Democratic candidates in the 2006 election cycle. So, he's a pretty committed supporter of the Republican party.
But what I think is more interesting is Erik Prince's connection to radical religious right organizations. I mean, he comes from a family where his father built up a very successful manufacturing empire called Prince Manufacturing. And the invention that they were best known for is the now ubiquitous lighted sun visor. You pull down the visor in your car and it lights up. You have a bit of Blackwater history riding around in your vehicle. And so, Prince grows up in this household where he watches his father using that business as a cash generating engine to fuel and fund the rise not only of the Republican revolution of 1994, but also of several of the core groups that make up the radical religious right.
His dad gave the seed money to Gary Bauer to start the Family Research Council. They were very close to James Dobson and his Focus on the Family Prayer Warrior Network. Erik Prince was in the first team of interns that Gary Bauer took on in Washington at the Family Research Council. And Erik Prince's sister Betsy married Dick Devos, heir to the Amway Corporation fortune, the owners of the Orlando Magic basketball team. And together, these two families merged in a kind of marriage that was commonplace in the monarchies of old Europe. And together, they formed this formidable behind the scenes power player in radical right wing politics in this country.
And Erik Prince as a young man goes down, he interns in George H. W. Bush's White House but complains it's not conservative enough for him. And so, he backs Pat Buchanan in his insurgency campaign in 1992. So, these are sort of the people that peppered the landscape of young Erik Prince's life. He also interned for Dana Rohrabacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan.
Now a congressman from California.
And now a congressman from California. In fact, what's interesting is Rohrabacher issued a defense of Erik Prince after his congressional testimony and said that Erik Prince is gonna go down in history as a hero, just like Oliver North.
BILL MOYERS: You say in your book, what is particularly scary, you acknowledge that the Democrats play this game, too, Clinton and so forth. But you
write, "What is particularly scary about Blackwater's role in a war that President Bush labeled a crusade is that the company's leading executives are dedicated
to a Christian supremacist agenda." Now, you go on and off with the evidence for that in the book. But when I read that, I thought, is that just a coincidence? I
mean, Blackwater is not the result of his Christian or religious impulses. I mean, it's a business operation, isn't it?
Well, I mean, I believe that Erik Prince is an ideological foot soldier. And I do believe that he's a Christian supremacist. And I think it's very easy to
explain that. I mean, look, this is the guy who gave a half a million dollars to Chuck Colson, the first person to go to jail for Watergate who's now becoming a
very prominent evangelical minister and an advisor to President Bush, one of the people behind the safe face initiatives.
And Chuck Colson has said things like when Mohammed wrote the Koran, he had had too many tamales the night before. Also one of the leading executives of
Blackwater, Joseph Schnitz is an active member of the Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia dating back to the Crusades. And I believe that these men do
have an agenda that very closely reflects adherence to a sort of Crusader doctrine.
You just mentioned something that was obvious as I read your book. I mean, this is the revolving door. Cofer Black, head of counter intelligence at the CIA
leaves the government, goes to work as the number two man at Blackwater. Guys leave the Pentagon go to work for him.
It's not a revolving door. It's a bridge. They go back and forth.
I mean, it's not unique? This is true of so many of these companies, right?
Right. But Blackwater has emerged sort of as the-- it's almost like an armed wing of the administration in Iraq. Because it doesn't work for the Pentagon. It
works for the State Department. And the fact that Blackwater is such a politically connected company I think explains why you see this big push back. Because if
I was Ambassador Ryan Crocker, I wouldn't want to come within ten countries of the Blackwater body guards. I mean, when your body guards become more of a target
than you, maybe it's time to get a different security detail. So, why is it so important to the US government that they keep Blackwater on the job in Iraq? I
think part of it is an institutional loyalty. Blackwater is very fond of saying we've never lost a principle. No US diplomat has died under our watch.
He said that over and over on these interviews.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And of course, and, you know, the Republicans in Congress during the hearings said that's the statistic that's most important. But the question
needs to be asked, at what price? When you ride into a village and you shoot at cars that come too close to you, that has a ricochet effect that where, the
people whose vehicle you shot at now have a perception of what happens when US diplomats come around. And then, they go and they tell someone else.
And maybe you're one of the families of a victim of the Nisour Square shooting where 17 people were killed and over 25 others were wounded. So, yes, Blackwater
can walk around bragging about how they haven't lost a single principle. All of their nouns have been kept alive, as they call it. But at what price? And at what
price to the US soldiers in Iraq? You know, I've heard from so many soldiers, veterans who say, you know, we're in a village somewhere. And things are going
fine with the Iraqis. And we've reached the point where they're not attacking us anymore. And we feel like there's some good will that's been generated.' And in
fact, this is an exact story that a translator attached to a special forces unit told me in an e-mail recently. And he said, you know, and then the PSD guys,
the personal security detail guys, they come whizzing through with their VIP and they shoot up the town. And the Iraqis in town don't understand that there's a
difference between the private forces and the military. And then they conduct revenge attacks against us. And so, it's having a blow-back effect on the active
duty military. The misconduct of these forces.
Isn't it also true that some of our soldiers in Iraq are, quote, going Blackwater?
Yeah. I mean, that's, I learned recently that that's the slang. Even if you're going to work for Triple Canopy or Dyncorps, any company-
Other companies, right?
Right. You've got other companies operating in Iraq. The slang of the day is going Blackwater.
Which means that you're jumping from the active duty military to the private sector. You know, you're gonna be in the same war zone, but you're gonna make a lot
more money. And, you know, the troops I talked to also say that these guys are sort of like the rock stars of the war zone. They've got better equipment than us.
They have better body armor. I mean, I talk to these kids. And some of them say, you know, I was in Ramadia at the worst time in 2004. And I never stepped foot
in an armored vehicle. And we're bolting steel plates and putting down sand bags on the ground to protect against IADs. And we know it's not gonna really do
anything, but we need it for our psychology. And then, they see the Blackwater guys or others whiz by with their six figure salaries and their bulging arms and
their wrap around sunglasses. And they're the ones sort of bossing around military officials. And there's two reactions. They either resent them and they say,
what message is my country sending me when I'm sitting over here, forty thousand dollars. My mom's back home trying to raise money to buy me some real body
armor. And then, I see these guys whiz by with their six figure salary wearing the corporate logo instead of the American flag. Or the other reaction is, I want
to be like that. I don't want to be over here working for, you know, the third infantry division. I want to go and work for Blackwater or Triple Canopy.
You know, I had a scary thought during the night as I was thinking about talking to you. And I know some people--
That happens to me a lot. (LAUGHTER)
The thought was, you know, suppose we had a national emergency. Suppose the terrorists struck again. And a President, President Hillary Clinton, or President
Barack Obama declared marshal law in order to try to deal with this threat. And there was a private army of twenty thousand soldiers that I could call upon to
throw a ring around the capital and make sure that the Congress didn't leave town or didn't get back to the capital if-- how far fetched is that?
Well, I mean, I was in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. And I think we saw a real window into the possible future. You know, I was standing on
a street corner in the French quarter on Bourbon Street. And I was talking to two New York City police officer who had come down to help. And this is just a
couple of days after the hurricane had hit. And this car speeds up next to us. No license plates on it, a compact car. And three massive guys get out of it. And
they have M-4 assault rifles, bullet proof vests, wearing khakis, wrap around sunglasses, baseball caps on. And they come up and they say to the cops, "Where are
the rest of the Blackwater guys?" And my head sort of started, you know, I didn't even hear the answer. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Where are the rest
of the Blackwater guys? So, they get back in their vehicle and they speed off. And I said to this cop, Blackwater? You mean the guys in Iraq and Afghanistan?
They said, oh, yeah. They're all over the place down here. And so, I said, well, I'd like to talk to them. Where are they? And they said, you can go either way
on the street, implying that they're everywhere. So, I walked a little bit deeper into the French quarter. And sure enough, I encountered some Blackwater guys.
And when I talked to them, they said that they were down there to confront criminals and stop looters.
Who called them in?
And-- well, this is an interesting story. Erik Prince sent them in there with no contract initially. About 180 Blackwater guys were sent into the Gulf.
They got there before FEMA. I don't even know if FEMA's there yet. But they got there before FEMA, before there was any kind of a serious operation in the city
On Prince's own decision?
Well, so Prince sends them in. Within a week, Blackwater was given a contract from the Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service to engage in
security operations inside of New Orleans. At one point, Blackwater had six hundred men deployed down there stretching from Mississippi through-- from Texas through
Mississippi and the Gulf. They were pulling in $240,000 a day. Some of these guys though had just been in Iraq two weeks earlier guarding the US ambassador. Now,
they're in New Orleans. They say, oh, we do this sort of as a vacation. One was complaining to me that there wasn't enough action down here. And when I talked to
them, they told me they were getting paid 350 dollars a day, plus a per diem.
By homeland security?
Well, they were being paid by Blackwater. When I got Blackwater's contract with the Department of Homeland Security, it turns out that Blackwater billed US
taxpayers 950 dollars per man per day in the hurricane zone.
A profit margin of 600 dollars.
Well, I mean, the math on this stuff is always complicated. And Erik Prince and his men are very good at drawing up charts and sort of, you know, just saying,
well, there's this detail and this detail. The Department of Homeland Security then did an internal review and they determined that it was the best value to the
taxpayer, at a time when the poor residents of New Orleans were being chastised for how they used their two thousand dollar debit cards that often didn't work,
the ones provided by FEMA. But what was even scarier than seeing the Blackwater operatives on the streets of New Orleans was, I encountered two Israeli commandos
who had been brought in by a wealthy businessman in New Orleans and set up an armed checkpoint outside of his gated community. And they were from a company
called Instinctive Shooting International. ISI, which is an Israeli company. I mean, and I went up and I talked to them. And they tapped on their automatic
weapons and said, you know, over in our country, when the Palestinians see this, they're not so afraid because they're used to it. But you people, you see it,
and you're very afraid. They were almost proud of the fact that I was sort of in awe seeing Israeli commandos patrolling a US street, operating in fact an armed
I mean, once upon a time, companies and others hired Pinkerton guards, private guards. But never on this scale, right?
No. I mean, you know, it was like Baghdad on the bayou down there in New Orleans. And-- I mean, this is the point I'm making. The poor drowned. They are left
without food. They're called looters when they take perishable goods out of a store when they've been systematically neglected. The rich bring in their
mercenaries to guard their properties or their businesses or their hotel chains. And I think it's a window into what happens in a national emergency. And in this
country, the poor are left to suffer and die and the rich bring in their mercenaries.
Just the other day, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL had a big story that said Erik Prince is laying plans for an expansion that would put his gunmen in hot spots around
the world doing far more than guard duty. What, how do you read that?
They view themselves as peace keepers. They call themselves the peace and stability issue. They certainly have intimated that they would be willing or want to go
into Darfur. But they've been pushing this for a while. And I think this is a gateway. And Blackwater executives said, "You send us in, and it'll be Janjaweed be gone."
But suppose they could go in there as mercenaries and bring an end to that conflict. And get food in for those refugees in a way that the United States
government can't do.
Well, what does that say though about the structure of the world? What does it say about nation states and international institutions? I mean, the Bush
administration has so maligned the United Nations and rendered it irrelevant and pulled the rug out from under it in so many ways. And I think that the last
thing that is needed in Darfur is more private guns. I mean, who's to say that's what would happen if Blackwater gets sent into Darfur in the first place? I
mean, who's gonna be monitoring them and overseeing them? I don't buy that the mercenaries are the solution to the crisis in Darfur. I--
But Erik Prince told all of these-- journalists, "We want more accountability. We welcome it."
This is one thing that I find fascinating. When Blackwater was sued-- for wrongful death from the four guys killed in Fallujah in March of '04 and then
Afghanistan plane crash, the legal argument that Blackwater put forward is quite an interesting one. "We can't be sued." What they said is, "We should enjoy the
same immunity from civilian litigation that's enjoyed by the U.S. military." At the same time, their lobbyists and spokespeople are waxing poetic in the media
about how it would be inappropriate to apply the uniform code of military justice, the court marshal system, to Blackwater because we're civilians. So, when it's
convenient, we're part of the U.S. total force, part of the war machine, and should be treated like the military. And when it's convenient, oh, we can't be
subjected to military law. Because we're actually civilians.
But to whom are they accountable? Who can hold them to judge them?
Well, no one apparently has held them to any kind of accountability thus far. Not a single one of them has ever been charged with any crimes whatsoever.
Isn't there something in the contract?
In fact, when Erik Prince-- well, they talk about-- "Oh, there's contracts overseeing this way. And they go through our papers and we're audited." But on life or
death issues, not a single thing has ever happened to a Blackwater contractor, except what Erik Prince said. They're given a choice, window seat or aisle seat.
And that's, and they're fired. Look, one of the really disturbing stories that's come out of Iraq in the last year involving Blackwater was
that last Christmas Eve inside of the heavily fortified green zone, a drunken, off-duty Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for the Iraqi
Vice President, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
In the aftermath of that shooting, this individual was whisked out of Iraq, within 36 hours after that shooting. And then he actually returned back to
the region working in Kuwait for another contractor with the Pentagon. The killing happened, December 24th 2006. February of 2007, this individual is
back in the Middle East working for another U.S. military contractor and worked there until August. He hasn't been charged with any crime whatsoever. We
understand now that the Justice Department is investigating it. The Iraqis clearly labeled it a murder. And it created a major rift between Baghdad and
Washington. Imagine if an Iraqi bodyguard shot and killed a bodyguard for Dick Cheney and then the Iraqis just whisked him out of the United States. I mean, what
would happen? What message does this send? What does it say that in four years of occupation, hundreds of thousands of contractors, not a single one of them has
been prosecuted? Ether we have tens of thousands of-- mercenaries in Iraq who are actually Boy Scouts, or something is fundamentally rotten with that system.
What about these suits that had been filed by some of the loved ones of the four contractors who were killed in Fallujah, before
Fallujah? What about those lawsuits? Where are they going?
You know, when I read the 60 Minutes transcript and they mentioned the four men who the killed at Fallujah and then
they said well-- Blackwater has a memorial for them on the compound, I was waiting for them to say, "And the four families of the men are suing
Blackwater for wrongful death." I mean, thi-- this--
That wasn't in the piece though, was it?
It was not in the piece.
No. I mean, I saw that Lara Logan and Erik Prince were walking by that memorial-
--in North Carolina I think on their home base. And nothing was said about the fact that this suit is happening.
And I, you know, I've gotten to know those four families very well-- over these years of working on this story. And they're interesting. They're military
families. They consider themselves to be very patriotic. Some of them are pretty conservative Republicans. And these men were all-- veterans of the U.S.
Military, Navy SEAL. Scott Helvenston was one of the youngest people ever to complete the Navy SEAL BUDs training program. He was one of the guys killed there.
And, you know, what happened after that, these guys were killed on March 31st, 2004. The families of these men didn't presume any malice on the part of
Blackwater. They thought that it was a patriotic American company and that their loved ones were continuing their military service, but doing it through the
private sector in Iraq. And some of them disagreed with the war. Some of them supported it. So, when they were killed, they wanted answers as to what happened.
And they began calling Blackwater. And they say that the vibe was creepy. That it seemed as though somebody was hiding something, that they weren't being
straight with them. And they asked, some of the families asked to see a copy of Blackwater's incident report, the company's investigation of that
incident. And Donna Zovko the mother of Jerry Zovko -- they're Croatian immigrants she sat down with Blackwater executives at their compound in North Carolina.
And when she asked to get that document and look at it, she claims that a Blackwater representative stood up at the table and told her it's a classified document
and you'll have to sue us if you wanna see it. And so, Donna Zovko, whose son Jerry was killed in Fallujah, starts becoming close friends with Kathy Heluenston,
whose son Scott was killed in Fallujah. And the two of them begin comparing notes. And there's scouring media reports. And then they start to look at the photos.
And they realize they weren't really in armored vehicles there. They start to put together pieces. And what emerged was a lawsuit.
In January of 2005, the families of those four men-- Wesley Batalona, Michael Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Scott Helvenston, filed a groundbreaking wrongful death
lawsuit against Blackwater, charging that the company had sent those men into what was arguably the most dangerous city in the world at the time in unarmored
vehicles, short two men, without heavy weaponry and without the opportunity to do a 24-hour risk assessment, all of which they said were in the contract
governing their mission that day. And so, Blackwater fought back ferociously. Fred Fielding was one of the original lawyers on the case, more rec--
He had served Richard Nixon's White House. And he's now the counsel to President Bush, right?
That's correct. They've had many law firms. And they've-- they've tried to have the case thrown out. They've appealed all the way to the Supreme Court. And--
twice, the Supreme Court rejected Ken Starr's appeals. And the case is sort of caught up in a little bit of legal limbo right now. But it's being watched
very closely by all of the other war companies. Because it's like the tobacco litigation of the '90s. If that one domino goes down, it starts off a chain
reaction. And so, a lot of people are paying very close attention to this.
Doesn't Erik Prince as a businessman have to worry about finding new markets? Because the State Department has said when his contract outside the green zone
in Iraq expires next May, Blackwater's not likely to be a-- a contestant for a new contract. I mean, there seems to be a tacit understanding between Blackwater
and the government that given the shootings in September and all the controversy that's been created, they'd just sort of quietly slip away.
You know what though? In the midst of all of this chaos and crisis and the sort of crisis of image for Blackwater, the company continues to win very lucrative
government contracts. The business in Iraq, it can come and go for Blackwater.I don't even think it represents the most lucrative aspects of the company's
business. It's just the highest profile. Blackwater also has an affiliate company that they started called Greystone which was registered offshore in Barbados.
And that's sort of being portrayed as an actual sort of traditional mercenary outfit. And they're pushing their services to Fortune 500 companies. I
mean, that's the target market of their intelligence division.
Fortune 500 companies
JEREMY SCAHILL: Sure. Absolutely. I mean, you look at the guest list of the kickoff ceremony for Greystone, this affiliate of Blackwater that Erik
Prince owned. And it's like all of these governments: Croatia, Uzbekistan. It's governments. It's International Monetary Fund. It's corporations. I mean, I think
yes. The government business for Blackwater is tremendously important. They do an enormous volume of business in training, of law enforcement, of the military.
And they certainly have been involved with training foreign forces as well. They've trained Jordanian attack helicopters. They've been deployed in Azerbaijan.
But corporate to corporate, I think the business to business is gonna be a major part of Blackwater's future.
You're a reporter, not a prophet. But what does this foreshadow for our world?
I think it's really scary. I mean, I think that the U.S. government right now is in the midst of its most radical privatization agenda. Seventy percent of the
national intelligence budget is farmed out to the private sector. We have more contractors than soldiers occupying Iraq. I think that what this does is it
takes-- it sanitizes it also for the American people. There's not a draft.
There's been, you know, almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; we don't know how many private contractors. But that's a relatively small number compared to
Vietnam, for instance, where we talked about 65,000 body bags coming home. And already, people are outraged at it. And I see this as a real subversion of
democratic processes in this country and a subversion of sovereignty of nations around the world.
But isn't it a way to keep protest at home against the war in Iraq and other wars from rising to the level of--
Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. I mean, it masks the human cost or the human toll of the war in terms of American lives. Because the contractor deaths are not
counted in the official tolls nor are the injuries of them.
And it also masks the true extent of the occupation when over half of your occupation force comes from the private sector. Bush almost never talks about it. He
doesn't have to own it in front of the American people. He's having enough trouble owning the 170,000 troops that are over there right now. And the story is
starting to slip out. But you're absolutely right. It keeps the death toll down-- in terms of what's being reported. And it keeps protests down as well.
What I see in the bigger picture here is what the real revolution is in terms of U.S. politics is that they're taking billions of dollars in public money. And
they're privatizing it.
You know, the Pentagon can't give campaign contributions. The State Department can't give campaign contributions. Blackwater's executives can give contributions.
DynCore's, Ratheon, Northrop Grumman. And so what they're doing is, they're taking billions of dollars. And it's making its way back into the campaign coffers of
the very politicians that make the meteoric ascent of these companies possible. I really view this through the lens of it tearing away at the fabric of
American democracy as well.
Jeremy Scahill, thank you very much for joining me and for writing BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY.
My pleasure, Bill.
When President Bush came into office in 2001 the U.S. had trade agreements in force with three countries. Now the number is fourteen. Like Bill Clinton before
him this president is an evangelist for the gospel of free trade. A true believer.
But the congregation is growing restless. Increasing numbers of Americans have come to believe that free trade is not fair trade. So the President's having to
make many more pitches to try to sell some trade agreements he wants with Latin American countries. He's been out like a Methodist circuit rider trying to win
He was in Miami last week making the case.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Members of both parties in Congress should view these trade agreements for what they are: an historic opportunity to strengthen our economy at home and advance
democracy and prosperity through out our hemisphere.
On Saturday he followed up in his weekly radio broadcast.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
Congress now has an opportunity to increase America's access to markets in our hemisphere by passing three more free trade agreements in Latin America with Peru,
Colombia, and Panama. I know many Americans feel uneasy about new competition and worry that trade will cost jobs. So the federal government is providing
substantial funding for trade adjustment assistance that helps Americans make the transition from one job to the next.
Critics say that reference to federal funding for worker displacement was a tacit admission by the President that free trade indeed robs many Americans of their
jobs. These critics also say free trade is driving down the American standard of living. One of those critics is head of the teamsters union James Hoffa.
BILL MOYERS: Quote: "When President Bush says the economy benefits from trade deals he must mean the part of the economy he cares about-the top one percent. The
purpose of trade deals is to make Wall Street richer and to make the average working man and woman poorer."
Hoffa pointed to a decline in average income between 2000 and 2005, as the President has multiplied the number of trade agreements. Studies show that the richest
Americans now have the biggest share of income since the roaring twenties.
But labor leaders are also troubled for other reasons by the Latin American trade agreements being pushed by the President. For one they consider Colombia the
most dangerous country in the world for trade unionists. Death squads there have long targeted union organizers killing thousands of them over the years.
Some of their remains were uncovered as a result of investigations by the crusading Colombian television journalist Hollman Morris.
Death, drugs and violence have become a way of life in the largest supplier of cocaine in the world. The United States has poured billions of dollars into trying
to wipe out the crops, but cocaine is cheaper and purer than ever. To win support for the free trade deal, Colombia's president Alvaro Uribe has been trying to
crack down on drug trafficking and violence. Supporters say he's making progress. Critics scoff, predicting that once the free trade agreement passes, it will be
business as usual all over again.
That agreement has its critics in Colombia as well. When indigenous peasants organized against it, Uribe insinuated they were
terrorists. But instead of blowing up the place the people went to the polls and voted 98% against the free trade agreement. In one country after another you'll
hear local citizens make similar arguments against these treaties their governments have negotiated with the Bush Administration. They argue the agreements give
too much power over their laws, environment and economy to corporations. That's one of the grievances against the proposed trade agreement with Peru. The
President is pushing it through Congress on the fast track, meaning members of congress will have to vote it up or down...no amendments allowed.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
The free trade agreement would immediately eliminate most of Peru's industrial tariffs, as well as many of its barriers to U.S. agriculture exports, and make
American products more affordable and more competitive in that country.
But critics say the agreement favors big corporations like Citibank. The multinational financial giant is a powerhouse in Peru, where it invested heavily in the
country's privatized social security. But privatization is souring, and should Peru decide once again to nationalize the system the trade agreement would give
Citibank the right to sue the country for profits it has yet to earn from privatization
In Costa Rica opposition to the Bush trade proposal brought over one hundred thousand people to the streets in a single day in September as the country prepared
to vote on it. The Bush administration pushed hard for the agreement, prompting allegations of media manipulation, intimidation and undue interference on the
part of the American ambassador. In the end the Costa Ricans approved the agreement by a narrow margin, but the vote is being contested. Then there's Panama.
PRESIDENT GEORGE W. BUSH:
This agreement will immediately eliminate tariffs on 88 percent of our industrial and consumer goods exports to panama. It will increase access for American
farmers and ranchers. And it will open opportunities for American businesses to participate in the multi-billion dollar project to expand the Panama Canal.
So cut and dry was the argument in Washington that the treaty with panama was expected to sail through Congress. But the newly elected president of Panama's
national assembly is wanted by the FBI for the killing of a U.S. soldier. So Congress is having second thoughts.
Now the watchdog group Tax Justice Network has released a study showing that most American goods already flow into Panama with low tariffs, and that Panama's
manufacturing zone is already tax and tariff free. So what's the big deal? The big deal is Panama is a corporate tax haven. Companies can hide their books to
avoid paying taxes - no questions asked; they don't even have to disclose who really owns the company. The watchdog group is asking Congress : "...what U.S.
interests are being served by agreeing to a free trade agreement with a country that harbors tax cheats, refuses to cooperate with international tax authorities,
and encourages u.s. corporations to move profits offshore?"
For certain more and more Americans doubt that free trade is fair trade. According to the Pew
Research Center, five years ago 78 percent of the public thought trade good for America. That's now down to 59 percent. And THE WASHINGTON POST reported last
week public opinion polls showing rising bipartisan discontent with globalization in general. Remember Democrats won back control of Congress last fall in no
small part because many of their constituents were fed up with so-called free trade. Democratic leaders have been saying they won't approve the three latin
american agreements unless they include safeguards for the environment and organized labor.
REPRESENTATIVE NANCY PELOSI:
Free trade must be fair trade; for that reason, we could only go forward because of the inclusion of basic internationally-recognized labor and environmental
standards in our trade agreements that have been a long-standing democratic priority.
Now look what's happening to Republican voters. The Wall Street Journal reports that by a margin of nearly two to one they think free-trade is hurting the
country. Maybe it's the loss of those millions of manufacturing jobs that has hit home...or the stagnation of real wages that the teamster's Hoffa and others
have been talking about. So some Republicans seem to be channeling Teddy Roosevelt, the greatest Republican this side of Abraham Lincoln. The old Bull Moose
said: "Thank god I am not a free trader. In this country pernicious indulgence in the doctrine of free trade seems inevitably to produce fatty degeneration of
the moral fibre."
In this recent Republican debate in economically stricken Michigan, the spirit of T.R. seemed to have found a voice:
So this is also a security issue. You know, in Willow Run, just a couple of miles away, we made a bomber every 60 minutes during World War II. We made tens of thousands of tanks in Michigan. Today, we could not do that because we've fractured the great industrial base of this country and we pushed it offshore with bad trade deals.
But the front runners weren't listening.
We can't say, because these agreements weren't perfect, because they have problems, because they have issues, we're going to turn our back on free trade.
SENATOR JOHN MCCAIN:
Free trade has been the engine of our economy in the last half of this year; it will continue to be. And free trade should be the continuing principle that guides this nation's economy.
Even with voters growing dubious, the heart of the administration belongs not to Teddy Roosevelt but to Wall Street.
SECRETARY OF STATE CONDOLEEZA RICE:
Our neighbors want to trade freely with us and this should focus our Congress on it's responsibility to fulfill our promises to Peru to Colombia and to Panama.
And there was the Secretary of State, ringing the bell to start another trading day on the New York Stock Exchange....making the case for......you guessed it...free trade.
That's it for the Journal. We'll be back next week. Until then, you can ask Jeremy Scahill questions on the blog at pbs.org. I'm Bill Moyers.