Blackwater USA is the most comprehensive professional military, law e nforcement, security, peacekeeping, and stability operations company in the world. We have established a global presence and provide train ing and operational solutions for the 21st century in support of secu rity and peace, and freedom and democracy everywhere.
Based in Moyock, North Carolina, close to Fort Bragg, the notoriously private company Blackwater USA bills itself as "the most comprehensi ve professional military, law enforcement, security, peacekeeping, an d stability operations company in the world." Founded by former Navy SEALs, Blackwater is comprised of five business units. The Blackwater Training Center, the company's original focus, is one of the best fa cilities of its kind in the world, located on some 6,000 acres of pri vate land. More than 50,000 law enforcement, military, and civilian p ersonnel have trained here since opening in 1998. The center includes a number of live fire shooting ranges and tactical training faciliti es, like mock-ups of urban settings, a high school, and naval ship. B lackwater Security Consulting provides vulnerability assessments and risk analysis and training services, and supplies clients with mobile security teams comprised of former members of U.S. military special operations units and foreign intelligence services. Blackwater Target Systems offers indoor and outdoor shooting range target systems. Bla ckwater K9 maintains two facilities used to train dogs for law enforc ement, the military, and commercial organizations in such areas as pa trolling and the detection of explosives. The final business unit is Raven Development Group, which was launched in 1997 to design and con struct the Blackwater training facility and now offers its services t o government and commercial clients, capable of building an office co mplex in the United States as well as secure facilities in Iraq. It w as in Iraq that Blackwater came to the attention of the general publi c after a number of its operators were killed in a pair of well publi cized incidents, which brought notice to the increasing reliance of t he U.S. military on professional security firms in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere in the world.
Private Military Companies Emerge in Early 1990s
Soldiers for hire have essentially been around since man first began forming armies. While the Geneva Convention held after World War II e xpressly banned the use of mercenaries, "soldiers of fortune" continu ed to show up at hot spots around the world. With the demise of the S oviet Union an opportunity was created for a new breed of professiona l security companies. "At that time," according to a 2004 New York Times' article, "many nations were sharply reducing their milita ry forces, leaving millions of soldiers without employment." Many of them went into business doing what they knew best: providing security or training others to do the same. The proliferation of ethnic confl icts and civil wars in places like the Balkans, Haiti and Liberia pro vided employment for the personnel of many new companies. The United States employed a small number of these private contractors with the 1991 Gulf War. When it was over Defense Secretary Richard Cheney hire d Halliburton subsidiary Brown & Root to study how private milita ry companies might support the military in combat zones.
Blackwater was one of dozens of a new breed of private military compa nies that sprung up in the 1990s in the United States and the United Kingdom. It was founded in 1997 by former Navy SEALs Gary Jackson and Erik Prince. It was Prince, one of the richest men to have ever serv ed in the U.S. military, who furnished the financial backing and busi ness acumen needed to launch Blackwater.
Prince was the son of Edgar D. Prince, a highly religious man who at the age of 33 in 1965 quit his job as chief engineer of a machine too ls company to start his own die cast business. In 1972 Prince Corp. b ranched into the auto parts industry by inventing the lighted vanity visor for front-seat passengers, first offered on the 1973 Cadillac. This led to the introduction of a multitude of other car interior com ponents and Prince Corp. enjoyed exceptional growth over the next 20 years. As he grew wealthy Edgar Prince became prominent in right wing politics, supporting like-minded candidates around the country. In 1 988 he helped Gary Bauer in the establishment of the "pro-family" lob bying group, the Family Research Council.
Erik Prince followed in his father's footsteps to a large degree: dev out in his religion, smart in business, and firm in his patriotism. I n the late 1980s he attended a small liberal arts school, Hillsdale C ollege, where he studied economics. He also got an education in polit ics, becoming one of the first interns at the Family Research Council in Washington, D.C. He then worked as a defense analyst for conserva tive republican Congressman Dana Rohrbacher, before becoming a White House intern for President George H.W. Bush. In a rare interview (his father scrupulously avoided the press), Prince told the Grand Rap ids Press in 1992, "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree w ith--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Cl ean Air Act, those kinds of bills. I think the administration has bee n indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns."
Prince returned to Hillsdale and became a member of the local volunte er fire department, attending classes with his emergency radio, and s ometimes startling classmates as he rushed off to fight a fire. Princ e transferred to the U.S. Naval Academy but resigned, preferring inst ead to join the Navy and earn a commission as a lieutenant. He then b ecame a Navy SEAL (the acronym drawn from the attack routes of sea, a ir, and land). According to a Special Forces officer quoted by Raleig h, North Carolina's News & Observer, "Prince was a first-c lass SEAL, he was the real deal." He would serve four years with Seal Team 8 in Norfolk, Virginia.
Erik Prince Inherits Fortune in Mid-1990s
In March 1995 Edgar Prince died of a massive heart attack, found on t he floor of an elevator shortly after leaving the executive dining ro om at Prince Corporation headquarters. By now the automotive industry was going global and the private company faced a crossroads. The Pri nce family decided to sell off the automotive unit, receiving $1. 35 billion from Johnson Controls Inc. A year later in 1996 Eric Princ e quit the NAVY and returned home to Michigan to run the remaining fa mily companies, which included the original die cast machine business , an airplane leasing operation, and a real estate development compan y. However, the 27-year-old soon found a venture that was more to his liking.
In 1997 Prince and Jackson went into business together to build a fir st class private military training center, believing there was an ope ning for such a facility as the military closed the doors on a number of its training centers. They bought a large section of farmland in Camden and Currituck counties in North Carolina, some 25 miles from F ort Bragg. Because the large amount of peat in the area turned the wa ter black in the drainage canals they called the company Blackwater U SA. For a logo they chose a bear claw, an allusion to the large brown and black bear population in the area.
Blackwater experienced some difficulty in gaining permission from Cur rituck County to build its training center because officials worried that the firing ranges might disturb residents in nearby Moyock, a gr owing community. Instead, Blackwater turned to Camden Country where i t found a more receptive hearing. What resulted would be a world clas s training complex. Writing for Handguns in 2000, Kathe rine Rauch took a three-day handgun course at Blackwater and offered a glimpse at the facilities: "There are steel movers and steel plates , steep Pepper Poppers and stationary steel, along with computerized pneumatic steel targets and automated paper targets. There's Simuniti ons complex of four buildings, with a live-fire 'Hogan's Alley' right across the 'street,' along with two all-steel shoot houses, a 1,200- yard range and a 7,000-square-foot schoolhouse dubbed 'R.U. Ready Hig h.'... All This, plus breakfast and lunch, along with a private room (by request) in the bunkhouse complex with its own little deck overlo oking one of the many ponds on the property."
The Blackwater training center was open for business in 1998, but in the early months had difficulty in drumming up much business. The com pany became adept, however, at keeping tabs on national and internati onal news, then adding facilities and training programs to meet perce ived needs. For example, R.U. Ready High School was built after the 1 999 shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado. It was essentially a two-story, 24-room, six-stairwell, all-steel building that allowed for the use of live gunfire inside and even the use of e xplosives for "dynamic entry" through the doors. R.U. Ready was used to teach law enforcement and military personnel special tactics. A ca twalk across the ceiling allowed instructors to monitor students as t hey made their way through the building. The facility found a ready m arket, clients included a number of police officers who paid for the training out of their own pockets
Another event that caught the attention of Blackwater was the 2000 bo mbing of the destroyer Cole in Yemen. In response, Blackwater constructed a realistic mockup of a Navy vessel. In the fall of 2002 the company won a $35.7 million, five-year contract with the Navy to conduct two-week training sessions for Navy personnel on topics t hat included sentry duty, weapons use aboard a ship, and how to board , seize, and search another ship.
2001 Terrorist Attacks: A Turning Point
What led to the most significant spike in business for Blackwater wer e the terrorist attacks on the United States on September 11, 2001, a nd the ensuing events. Not only would the training facilities find mo re use, the company would be called on to provide trained personnel t o corporations, the U.S. government, and the U.S. military. Blackwate r supplied independent contractors to Afghanistan and later to Iraq w hen the United States invaded the country in spring 2003. Among their tasks, Blackwater personnel served as the personal guard for Paul Br emer, the head of the civilian administration. The company mostly rec ruited by word of mouth, hiring from within the close-knit community of former SEALs, Green Berets, Army Rangers, and Delta Force Troops. As the war in Iraq settled into a long-term conflict, the demand for personnel increased and Blackwater had to branch out. Jackson told th e British newspaper The Guardian in 2004, "We scour the ends o f the earth to find professionals." The company also found recruits i n the Currituck County sheriff's office, where a number of deputies w ent to work for Blackwater overseas, making as much money in a single month as they did in a year at home. In 2004 Blackwater made news wh en it recruited 60 former commandos and other members of Chile's mili tary and flew them to North Carolina for training before deploying th em elsewhere.
Modern day "free lancers" were known in international security circle s as "operators." In 2004 The Virginian Pilot offered a glimps e of them in Iraq: "They are easy to spot in a landscape dominated by young, uniformed soldiers and the dark slender profiles of Iraqis. O perators tend to be muscled-up men in their 30s or 40s, wearing T-shi rts, ball caps and wrap-around sunglasses. An automatic weapon is eve r present, cradled in their beefy biceps." Operators tended to be lon ers who joined the military but grew bored with the regimen and frust rated by the bureaucracy and low pay. It was not the life for a marri ed man. According to the Virginian Pilot, "A military husband occasionally goes off to war, but an operator is always heading somew here dangerous. Turn down a job or two, and the phone stops ringing. Retirement and leave don't exist. ... Operators rarely discuss their families. ... More than just a soft spot to shield, families can doom a man in a war zone if he can't cut off his emotions."
The use of operators and the companies like Blackwater that supplied them were little known until March 4, 2004 when four Blackwater emplo yees were leading a convoy of trucks to pick up kitchen equipment. Ac cording to the company, they were assured by men they believed were m embers of the Iraqi Civil Defense Corps that they would have safe and quick passage through the dangerous city of Falluja. Instead, the ro ad was blocked, their escape route cut off, and the men were shot to death, burned, and mutilated. Their charred remains were dragged befo re cameras, the video broadcast around the world. In another well chr onicled incident, in April 2005 six Blackwater personnel were killed when the helicopter they were riding in was shot down, apparently by rocket-propelled grenades.
The Falluja incident led to a spike in employment applications for Bl ackwater, fueled in large part out of a sense of revenge, but it also brought the use of private security firms by the military into publi c view. To critics of the practice, Blackwater became the face of the entire industry, although in reality there were scores of similar co mpanies. Altogether they added about 15,000 men to the military force s stationed in Iraq. Critics charged that rapid growth in the private military industry was leading to inexperience and poorly trained uni ts. Moreover, the cost of using such forces could be hidden from the public, and the personnel were not subject to the same kind of accoun tability as U.S. soldiers. Miscreants were simply shipped home. Given that U.S. forces were stretched thin, however, the military had litt le choice but to continue to rely on private contractors. Following t he events in Falluja, according to Nation magazine, Blackwater "hired the Alexander Strategy Group, a PR firm with close ties to GO Pers like [House Majority Leader Tom] DeLay. By Mid-November the comp any was reporting 600 percent growth. In February 2005 the company hi red Ambassador Cofer Black, former coordinator for counterterrorism a t the State Department and former director of the CIA's Counterterror ism Center, as vice chairman."
Blackwater continued to see training as its core mission and made maj or upgrades to its North Carolina facilities. In 2004 the company rec eived permission from Currituck County to expand operations into that county, including firearms ranges, parachute landing zones, and expl osives training. Later in the year Blackwater began to build a roadwa y through 90 acres of its property that would be suitable for trainin g in high-speed chases (above 100 miles per hour) as well as motorcad e protection against terrorist attacks.
Blackwater was again in the news in the autumn of 2005 when about 150 Blackwater men were spotted in New Orleans during the aftermath of H urricane Katrina, which devastated the city. Not only did they--along with operators from other firms--secure government facilities, they guarded private businesses and homes. The company also lobbied in 200 5 for Homeland Security contracts to train 2,000 new Border Patrol ag ents. Jackson testified before Congress regarding the business and ma de a pitch for Blackwater as a one-stop shopping solution for the gov ernment. There was every reason to believe that because of military l imitations and the company's strong political ties Blackwater, despit e the notoriety it had received, was well positioned to prosper in th e years to come.
Principal Operating Units: Blackwater Training Center; Blackwa ter Security Consulting; Blackwater Canine; Blackwater Target Systems ; Raven Development Group.
Principal Competitors: Smith Consulting Group; Intercon Securi ty; DynCorp International Inc.; The Wackenhut Corporation.
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