First it became a brand name in security for its work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it’s taking on intelligence.
The Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater Worldwide, has been building an operation that will sniff out intelligence about natural disasters, business-friendly governments, overseas regulations and global political developments for clients in industry and government.
The operation, Total Intelligence Solutions, has assembled a roster of former spooks — high-ranking figures from agencies such as the CIA and defense intelligence — that mirrors the slate of former military officials who run Blackwater. Its chairman is Cofer Black, the former head of counterterrorism at CIA known for his leading role in many of the agency’s more controversial programs, including the rendition and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisons overseas.
Its chief executive is Robert Richer, a former CIA associate deputy director of operations who was heavily involved in running the agency’s role in the Iraq war.
Total Intelligence Solutions is one of a growing number of companies that offer intelligence services such as risk analysis to companies and governments. Because of its roster and its ties to owner Erik Prince, the multimillionaire former Navy SEAL, the company’s thrust into this world highlights the blurring of lines between government, industry and activities formerly reserved for agents operating in the shadows.
Let’s be perfectly blunt here: Blackwater is a highly profitable mercenary corporation with contracts adding up to close to a billion dollars. They’re not just going to go away. Companies like this just don’t fold up their tents and slink away. Here is what Blackwater offers:
Erik Prince bounded up the stairs of a sand-colored building and paused on the flat roof, a high point of the 7,000-acre facility in North Carolina known as Blackwater Lodge and Training Center.
As owner of Blackwater, he has been the focus of intense scrutiny recently by Congress and critics because the company’s private security forces have at times operated with impunity in Iraq, including allegations that they murdered innocent civilians. But on a steamy afternoon this week, just days after testifying on Capitol Hill, Prince seemed like a king surveying his domain.
Below him was a complex he calls Little Baghdad, a collection of drab structures used to prepare security forces for urban warfare in Iraq and elsewhere. In the distance, a half-dozen battered cars raced around a track in a high-speed motorcade, kicking up dust as they practiced tactics with a role-playing assailant in pursuit.
Blackwater has an airstrip and hangar filled with gleaming helicopters, a manufacturing plant for assembling armored cars, a pound filled with bomb-sniffing dogs and a lake with mock ships for training sailors. An armory is stacked to the ceiling with rifles. Throughout the place are outdoor ranges where military, intelligence and law enforcement authorities from around the country practice shooting handguns and assault rifles at automated metal targets made by the firm. An incessant pop, pop, pop fills the air.
There’s no other place quite like Blackwater, at least not in private hands. The complex anchors a global training and security operation that is one of the government’s fastest-growing contractors and both a fixture and a flashpoint of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
In a decade, Blackwater’s revenue from federal government contracts has grown exponentially, from less than $100,000 to almost $600 million last year. In August, the company won its biggest deal ever, a five-year counternarcotics training contract worth up to $15 billion shared with four other companies.
So it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to foresee a future when Blackwater becomes the go-to company for a government that requires plausible deniability (nudge nudge…say no more) when it comes to outsourcing torture or, say, privatizing the School of Americas. Then, imagine if you will, a Third World country with an “insurgent problem” that can be sufficiently labeled as Communist or this Millennium’s flavor of the day: Islamofascist. For a price, Blackwater will be there to train your secret police in counter-intelligence operations, provide logistical support, weaponry, manpower, and yes, that special something that falls short of the level of death, organ failure, or the permanent impairment of a significant body function.
Blackwater is going to be the Wal-Mart of Death.