Blackwater: Be Very Afraid


On the Bill Maher show this past weekend (which is absolute must-see TV), Jeremy Scahill appeared via satellite to talk about his book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. I used to think about Blackwater mainly the way I think about Halliburton or other corrupt government contractors tied to President Bush–basically inept and wasteful–which is bad enough.

After seeing Scahill’s segment, I’m newly awakened to the terrifying reality of this unaccountable archconservative evangelical private mercenary army operating today within the borders of the U.S., and representing our nation in trouble spots all over the world. It’s also got its tentacles into the U.S. military budget, impacting morale and draining resources from badly needed reforms and improvements to the official military.

In addition, Blackwater has smelled the cash available in the ill-conceived U.S. drug-war, and may now be assuming roles alongside and even superceding the efforts of the jackboots at the DEA. That’s all we need, another private constituency like the prison industry addicted to the fat profits earned from the sadistic and shameful treatment of drug “offenders” in this country.

Blackwater has made numerous blunders that we’re aware of, as far back as the Fallujah battle, the 2004 crash of a plane with U.S. military servicemen onboard into a sheer rock wall in Afghanistan, and the September 2007 shooting of 17 unarmed Iraqi citizens. There are doubtless many other incidents which have not been reported, or have been covered up, including killings which have been tied to reprisals against U.S. troops in Iraq–where people view Blackwater personnel as simply a part of the U.S. military.

Read, and be very afraid:

MAHER: …All right, let’s bring on our satellite guest. He is an investigative reporter for The Nation magazine, whose recent book is Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Jeremy Scahill. Jeremy, how you doin’? [applause]

JEREMY SCAHILL [via satellite]: Good. Good to be with you, Bill.

MAHER: So, the term “Blackwater” always sounds to me like it’s a Creedence Clearwater Revival cover band. [laughter] All right. Next question. [laughter]

SCAHILL: No, no, no. You know what’s funny – what’s funny about – about the term “Blackwater” is a lot of people think it’s this Navy SEAL terms or a covert ops terms. It’s actually named for the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina where Blackwater’s 7,500-acre, private military base is situated. So it’s sort of a tip of the hat to the dark waters of the swamp.

MAHER: I have to tell you, your book is so scary and so illuminating. Even what I read in the paper didn’t really touch what you have educated me about this group, because I knew that we had private security contractors in Iraq. I didn’t realize that they were really some sort of a parallel national security apparatus with their own air force, their own tanks, their own intelligence agency. Could these people stage a coup?

SCAHILL: Well, it’s an interesting question. I mean, Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince, says that he wants to do for the U.S. national security apparatus what Federal Express did for the Post Office. And, in fact, he’s built up a sort of parallel structure. He has his own private intelligence company called “Total Intelligence Solutions” which is headed by a CIA veteran named Cofer Black.

He has an aviation division, 20,000 troops that he can call on at a moment’s notice. They have a maritime division. Now, they just a big – part of a big $15 billion contract to operate in the so-called “war on drugs.” They have operations in nine countries around the world. They, of course, deployed in Hurricane Katrina and the aftermath of the flooding there.

So, certainly this is raising very serious civil liberties questions at home, as Blackwater expands well into California now. They’re trying to open up a new base just above the Mexican border in a little town called Potrero, California.

MAHER: And, if they did stage a coup and took over from the Bush Administration, how would we know? [laughter] [applause]

SCAHILL: Well, you know it would be…

MAHER: What telltale signs could you, as an expert – no, I’m kidding.

SCAHILL: Well, the Blackwater – the Blackwater pro shop would be situated on, and, you, too, could buy “Blackheart” the Blackwater teddy bear. [laughter]

MAHER: Yeah, they do have a teddy bear.

SCAHILL: Putting the “mercy” back in “mercenary.” [laughter]

MAHER: You know military people, I mean, people who are actually in the army that we don’t pay. Isn’t Blackwater a terrible insult to them? Because it seems like they do the same jobs, or better jobs, at 12 times the pay.

SCAHILL: Right. I mean, the reality is – the reality is right now that in Iraq you have kids that joined up with the Pennsylvania National Guard to fight floods; they find themselves in the middle of Baquba, pulling in $40,000 a year. They’re wearing the American flag on their shoulder. And then the Blackwater mercenaries whiz by. They have better vehicles. They actually have body armor that’s not from the Vietnam era, and they’re pulling in $600-$650 a day to be in the exact same war zone. And so, I think a lot of soldiers resent them.

And we’ve been hearing recently from senior military folks that it’s really hurting morale of the troops. And, some senior military commanders have actually said that Blackwater is hurting the U.S. counter-insurgency effort in Iraq, because they commit crimes, they shoot up a bunch of Iraqis; the Iraqis then attack the U.S. military in response, because they seem them all as part of the occupation. Not, well, there’s these mercenaries and then there’s the soldiers. They see them all as the Americans.

MAHER: And I remember a lot of times when Bin Laden would release a tape or something, he would refer to the Americans, the Zionists and “the crusaders.”


MAHER: Which, apparently, is a bad word to them, since there was Crusades.

SCAHILL: Right, I mean—

MAHER: [overlapping] But, this guy, Erik Prince, the head of Blackwater, he’s kind of a crusader, isn’t he? I mean, he’s a Christian – would you call him a “Christian supremist”?

SCAHILL: I would call him a “Christian supremacist.” I mean, the reality is that we’re in the midst of a—

MAHER: [overlapping] And what is that?

SCAHILL: [overlapping]—we’re in the midst of a war right now that President Bush himself has described as a “crusade.” Erik Prince comes from a powerhouse, conservative Christian family that bankrolled the rise of the religious right in this country, groups like Family Research Council, of Gary Bauer, Focus on the Family. I mean, Erik Prince is deeply connected to Chuck Colson, the first person to go to jail for Watergate, who has now remade himself as an evangelical minister and an advisor to President Bush.

I mean, one of Blackwater’s senior executives is an active member of the Knights of Malta, which is a Christian militia dating back to the Crusades. Erik Prince himself has served on the board of evangelical Christian missionary organizations with a conversion agenda. I mean, to have these kinds of forces operating, armed and dangerous, in a Muslim country, I think, is very disturbing.

MAHER: A conversion agenda. I remember, after 9/11, Ann Coulter said her solution to the problem was, go over to the Middle East, kill their leaders and convert them to Christianity.

SCAHILL: Right, let’s look at the—

MAHER: [overlapping] Do you think that’s what they really want to do? Blackwater?

SCAHILL: Well, I mean, look, Erik Prince, who is the sole owner of Blackwater, gave $500,000 to Chuck Colson through his personal foundation to run a faith-based prison in Sugarland, Texas, the former district of then House Majority Leader Tom DeLay. Chuck Colson said that the night before Muhammad wrote the Koran, he had one too many tamales. [a smattering of laughter]

MAHER: I’m not going to touch that, because I want to live to see tomorrow. [laughter] Thank you very much, Jeremy. [applause] I appreciate your work here. I mean, your work, what you do, and being here on our show.

SCAHILL: My pleasure.

It’s clear that the arch-conservative evangelicals have found a major inroad into our government. And worse, this private army operates all over the country in separate bases, supported at taxpayer expense but without a properly accountable chain of command. It’s also become another self-sustaining special interest group complete with highly paid lobbyists, supporting their paymasters’ feeding at the public trough in times of spiraling deficits.

The rise of Blackwater dashes any near-term hopes for transparency and political oversight of U.S. combat operations. That the kinds of gross incompetencies they have demonstrated have been tolerated and even rewarded is a tragic hallmark of Bush Administration mismanagement. Blackwater’s presence on the scene worsens the impact and implications of the already disastrous Iraq debacle–itself the result of a cynically created culture of corruption and cronyism, which represents an increasingly powerful cancer on the future of American democracy.

Blackwater must be opposed at every turn, exposed, and dismantled. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

Comments (8 comments)

EvilPoet / November 5th, 2007, 6:54 pm / #1

Indeed. Let’s hope it’s not too late.

(09-14-04) Conquering by Stealth and Deception: How the Dominionists Are Succeeding in Their Quest for National Control and World Power: Americans and the main-stream media have been very slow in catching on to the fact that we are in a war—a war that is cultural, religious and political–a war that uses stealth and deception and the rules of engagement written by the enemies to representative democracy. Unless Americans wake up–we could lose that war. Continued here…

John Evo-Mid / November 7th, 2007, 12:04 am / #2

You are so right – both about Blackwater and about Real Time with Bill Maher. I don’t record many TV shows, but his is one of them.

Also, excellent interview with Valerie Plame and Joe Wilson at the beginning of last week’s show.

Jeff / November 7th, 2007, 10:26 am / #3

Yeah, Bill Maher’s a hero of mine. But I trust that when Hillary and Bill get in office with Dem majorities in the House and Senate, the shit will hit at least a small, desk-sized fan.

IMO, Bill Clinton is a genius. Sure, he/she has to thread the needle of stupid and religious Americans as far as what he/she can accomplish (he/she couldn’t end the war on drugs even if they wanted to, for instance), but he/she does it best. Quite simply, IMO, Rudy vs. Hillary could be the defining moment of our country’s history in the 21st century. Rudy’s an aspiring dictator and a certified nut case. Bush/Cheney have laid the groundwork for such a man.

Hell's Handmaidne / November 13th, 2007, 12:28 pm / #4

I knew Blackwater was frightening but… amazing. I wish I’d caught that episode of Maher.

BlackSun / November 13th, 2007, 4:58 pm / #5

Hell’s Handmaiden,

Yeah, $15 billion buys an awful lot of broken lives in the drug war. And to think it’s basically going to a Dominionist organization.

justsaynotochrist / November 14th, 2007, 9:01 am / #6

Thanks for bringing this up Sean!

I am VERY afraid! And what is even scarier is that most the people I work with and others I have talked to around here in VA still believe this idea that republicans are pro military and anti-taxes and that demacrats are pro welfare and pro taxes. People here hate taxes and “lazy unwed mothers” and those are the only things they know about the government. They have no clue what is really going on and most of the people I work with are pro choice, pro gay, anti big busines and yet still vote republican and support Bush. WTF? I feel like I am in a bad twilight zone episode! How can so many people be so unaware??? Our freaking military is at risk of being privatised and employed by the church. It is sad that so many grown voting adults can’t see what a 12 year old little girl can see as clear as the nose on her face, that religion makes us repeat history over and over again. the church ran our military before and it wasnt pretty!!!


Gotweirdness / November 15th, 2007, 6:04 pm / #7

I saw this segment on Bill Maher when it aired a couple of weeks ago. I figured the “security contractors” like Blackwater, Triple Canopy, and DynCorp weren’t located in West Virginia by coincidence since it is only a stone’s throw away from Washington D.C. Obviously, its very easy for them to secure military and political connections to obtain contracts as well access to military or political personnel who want to leave the public sector for the private one.

Mercenaries work for pay not necessarily for ideals such as defending one’s home, loved ones, etc. They may use an organization system influenced by the military one since many mercenaries will hail from the military, but they are not constrained by military regulations. Basically, they can do whatever they want then have someone cover up the incident later.

Now, the information that Blackwater was run by a guy who had ties to the religious conservative right was new to me. I was aware that the mercenary groups such as Blackwater tend to better equip their guys better than the troops in the armed forces. At the beginning of Iraq, troops were sent out lacking any sort of body armor which they ended up having to purchase themselves only recently getting reimbursed for it then these mercenaries go by with flak vests, it just seems like a really sick joke.

Mim Rose / January 22nd, 2013, 2:29 pm / #8

The amount of money our country has put into the hands of contracting companies such as this, not limited to this one is staggering. Had the same tax dollars been circulated through our own economy, even if we had supported the Iraq war and used those dollars to fund our own military rather than to fund internationally based contracting firms our country would be in a very different fiscal situation today. At the time when this was aired, I watched it perceiving a potential minor problem, while not comprehending how huge this concern was in perspective of the larger picture.. in retrospect one can see that the trend toward funneling dollars into foreign contracting firms has bankrupted our nation and strengthened the military power of potential foes.. it could not be possible to miss the serious security concern here, years later, looking back over the policy decisions of the past decade, whatever one's political allegiances and views may be.

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