Category Archives: Mercenaries

2nd ex-Blackwater contractor gets 30 months for manslaughter

Virginian-Pilot | Jun 28, 2011

By Bill Sizemore

A second former Blackwater contractor was sentenced to prison for involuntary manslaughter Monday in the 2009 shooting death of a civilian in Afghanistan.

Justin Cannon of Corpus Christi, Texas, was sentenced to 30 months by U.S. District Judge Robert Doumar.

A Virginia Beach man, Christopher Drotleff, received a 37-month sentence earlier this month for his actions in the same incident.

The two were charged with murder and convicted of the lesser charge in March after an earlier trial ended in a hung jury. They are the first contractors for the Moyock, N.C.-based security company now known as Xe Services to get prison time for killing a civilian in a war zone.

Rejecting defense attorneys’ plea for a lesser punishment, Doumar said the sentence was meant to send a message – especially to Xe.

“They have a responsibility to hire individuals who they feel are capable of following orders and not going off on some tear,” he said.


Doumar said he was unmoved by the defendants’ argument that their behavior should be excused because they were operating under dangerous conditions in a war zone.

“They tried to paint their victims as aggressors, and they weren’t aggressors,” the judge said. “They were just victims.”

Cannon and Drotleff were working for a Blackwater subsidiary providing weapons training to the Afghan army under a Defense Department subcontract.

The victim, Romal Mohammad Naiem, was a passenger in a Toyota Corolla that approached the scene after a two-vehicle Blackwater convoy was involved in a traffic accident in Kabul, the Afghan capital, on May 5, 2009.

The two contractors fired some 30 rounds of ammunition into the rear of the Corolla as it drove away from the scene, according to testimony – Drotleff with a 9 mm pistol and Cannon with an AK-47 assault rifle.

Their attorneys argued that they feared for their lives and fired in self-defense.

A second Afghan civilian, who was walking along the road with a friend and a dog, was also killed in the incident, and the driver of the Corolla suffered disabling injuries. Drotleff and Cannon were acquitted of charges related to the pedestrian’s death and the driver’s injuries.

Cannon’s sentence is within the recommended range according to federal sentencing guidelines. Prosecutors argued against any sentence reduction, saying Cannon behaved recklessly, failed to report the incident promptly and told an Afghan interpreter to lie about his alleged drinking earlier in the evening.

Cannon came to court asking for concern and compassion, “but he offered none of that to his victims,” said Robert McGovern, one of the prosecutors.

They also cited his military record. Cannon, 29, was discharged from the Army in 2005 after being absent without leave and testing positive for cocaine use, according to court papers.

Federal public defender Larry Dash, one of Cannon’s attorneys, said Cannon has been declared 80 percent disabled by post-traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury resulting from his military service.

“Justin Cannon was placed in a situation that maybe was out of his league,” Dash said. “Maybe Blackwater hired some people they shouldn’t have hired. But we can’t undo their mistakes.”

Unlike Drotleff, who made an emotional appeal for leniency at his sentencing, Cannon made no statement.

His nearly nine months of pretrial detention will count against his sentence. He remains free on bond pending an appeal.

Four more former Blackwater contractors face manslaughter charges stemming from a 2007 shooting incident in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.

Real-Life Mercenaries to Star in Blackwater, the Videogame | Jun 7, 2011  

By Owen Good

Blackwater Worldwide, the real-life mercenary team linked to the killing of civilians and noncombatants in Iraq during U.S. operations there, will be the subject of a Kinect-supported videogame coming to the Xbox 360 later this year.

Published by 505 Games and titled, simply, Blackwater, the game is being produced in consultation with the private security contractor’s founder, the former Navy SEAL Erik Prince.

A news release called it “an intense, cinematic shooter experience,” set in a fictional North African town, in which players, as Blackwater operatives, battle two warlords’ factions to protect the city.

“This game and its immersive Kinect-based approach will give players the chance to experience what it is like to be on a Blackwater team on a mission without being dropped into a real combat situation,” Prince said in a statement issued by 505. The game was developed with in conjunction with former Blackwater members “to ensure accuracy of moves, gestures and gameplay,” the 505 release said. “The game also features a selection of officially-licensed weapons for your soldier to choose from.”

The game may also be played using a standard controller.

Blackwater, renamed to Xe Services LLC, was contracted by the U.S. government to provide training and diplomatic security, most notably in the Middle East, for much of the last decade. Its presence alongside U.S. diplomatic and military personnel came under scrutiny after several incidents resulting in the deaths either of civilians or Blackwater employees themselves.

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Jeremy Scahill on Blackwater Founder Erik Prince’s Private Army of “Christian Crusaders” in the UAE | May 18, 2011

The United Arab Emirates has confirmed hiring a company headed by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of the military firm Blackwater. According to the New York Times, the UAE secretly signed a $529 million contract with Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign mercenaries. The troops could be deployed if foreign guest workers stage revolts in labor camps, or if the UAE regime were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world. Prince has one rule about the new force: no Muslims. We speak to investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill and Samer Muscati of Human Rights Watch. [includes rush transcript]

AMY GOODMAN: The United Arab Emirates has confirmed hiring a company headed by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater. According to the New York Times, the UAE secretly signed a $529 million contract with Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, or R2, to put together an 800-member battalion of mercenaries.

Documents show the force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from attacks, and put down internal revolts. The troops could be deployed if foreign guest workers stage revolts in labor camps, or if the UAE regime were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world. One contract document describes, quote, “crowd-control operations” where the crowd “is not armed with firearms but does pose a risk using improvised weapons (clubs and stones).”

The UAE is a close ally with the United States, and it appears the deal has received the Obama administration’s support. One U.S. official told the Times, quote, “The gulf countries, and the U.A.E. in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help. They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”

News of the deal also comes just weeks after the UAE’s Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, visited President Barack Obama at the White House late last month. A White House statement said Obama and the Crown Prince would discuss, quote, “the strong ties between the United States and the U.A.E. and our common strategic interests in the region.”

A number of U.S. citizens, including former Blackwater employees, have occupied senior positions in the operation. Legal experts have questioned whether those involved might be breaking federal laws prohibiting U.S. citizens from training foreign troops if they did not secure a license from the U.S. Department of State. The force is reportedly made up of Colombians, South Africans and other foreign troops. Prince reportedly has a strict rule against hiring any Muslims because he’s worried they could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.

Prince himself now lives in the United Arab Emirates after moving their last year under a cloud of legal controversy here in the United States. The UAE deal is the first to emerge publicly since Prince sold Blackwater and suggested he would leave the private military business behind.

For more, we’re joined by independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, Nation writer, Jeremy Scahill, author of the award-winning bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Jeremy was the first journalist to report on Prince’s move to the United Arab Emirates, two months before it was publicly confirmed.

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Erik Prince, You’re No Indiana Jones

“If you have connections to the royal families, then the law doesn’t really apply to you.” | May 16, 2011  

by Jeremy Scahill

When Erik Prince, founder of the infamous mercenary company Blackwater, claimed in early 2010 he was leaving the soldier of fortune business, he said he’d decided to pursue a less dangerous and controversial line of work. “I’m going to teach high school,” he said, straight-faced, in an interview with Vanity Fair. “History and economics. I may even coach wrestling. Hey, Indiana Jones taught school, too.” It was an interesting comment. As fans of Indiana Jones will recall, the whip-wielding archaeologist was indeed a professor. But what he did on the side—traveling the globe in search of potentially history-altering artifacts—was his real passion. In one confrontation with his arch-nemesis, archaeologist René Emile Belloq, who is working for the Nazis, Jones threatens to blow up the Ark of the Covenant with an RPG. “You’re going to give mercenaries a bad name,” Belloq tells him.

Erik Prince did leave the US, but he isn’t teaching high school and is certainly not out of the mercenary business. In fact, far from emerging as a neo-Indiana Jones, the antithesis of a mercenary, Prince is more like Belloq, offering his services to the highest bidder. Over the weekend, The New York Times revealed that Prince was leading an effort to build an army of mercenaries, 800 strong—including scores from Colombia—in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates. They would be trained by US, European and South African Special Forces veterans. Prince’s new company, Reflex Responses, also known as R2, was bankrolled to the tune of $529 million from “the oil-soaked sheikdom,” according to the Times, adding that Prince was “hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi” Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Erik Prince is not mentioned by name in corporate documents outlining the deal, but is instead referred to as “Kingfish.”

The contract between R2 and the UAE kicked in last June and is slated to run through May 2015. According to corporate documents on the private army Prince is building in the UAE, its potential roles include “crowd-control operations,” defending oil pipelines from potential terrorist attacks and special operations missions inside and outside the UAE “to destroy enemy personnel and equipment.” Other sources said the Emiratis wanted to potentially use the force to quell potential rebellions in the country’s massive labor camps that house the Filipinos, Pakistanis and other imported laborers that fuel the country’s work force. Prince also has plans to build a massive training base, modeled after the 7,000 acre private military base Blackwater built in Moyock, North Carolina.

The US government is aware of the arrangement. “The gulf countries, and the UAE in particular, don’t have a lot of military experience. It would make sense if they looked outside their borders for help,” one Obama administration official “who knew of the operation” told the Times. “They might want to show that they are not to be messed with.”

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat who serves on the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence told The Nation she is launching an investigation into Prince’s work in the UAE. “The man who brought us Blackwater, a company whose name has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been hired to put together a mercenary army that could be used to suppress a revolt or attack pro-democracy protesters,” Schakowsky said. “I will be pursuing the question of whether Mr. Prince obtained the necessary licenses to conduct the training of foreign troops and whether his actions in UAE have broken any U.S. laws.  Regardless, I do not believe private US citizens should be providing mercenary forces for foreign governments.”

While much of the focus on R2’s arrangement with the UAE has detailed its work within the Emirates, an official statement from General Juma Ali Khalaf Al Hamiri, of the UAE military, suggested that the services of R2 and other Western firms have helped the UAE “to make meaningful and significant contributions in theatres of operations such as Kosovo, Iraq, Afghanistan and most recently Libya.”

The Times reports that part of the UAE’s motivation in getting into bed with Prince was the hope that his “troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran,” adding: “Some security consultants believe that Mr. Prince’s efforts to bolster the Emirates’ defenses against an Iranian threat might yield some benefits for the American government, which shares the U.A.E.’s concern about creeping Iranian influence in the region. ‘As much as Erik Prince is a pariah in the United States, he may be just what the doctor ordered in the U.A.E.,’ said an American security consultant with knowledge of R2’s work.”

In a speech Prince delivered in late 2009, a copy of which was obtained by The Nation, Prince spoke of the need to confront Iranian influence in the Middle East, charging that Iran has a “master plan to stir up and organize a Shia revolt through the whole region.” At the time, Prince proposed that armed private soldiers from companies like Blackwater be deployed in countries throughout the region to target Iranian influence. “The Iranians have a very sinister hand in these places,” Prince said. “You’re not going to solve it by putting a lot of uniformed soldiers in all these countries. It’s way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint.” In addition to concerns of political expediency, Prince suggested that using private contractors to conduct such operations would be cost-effective. “The overall defense budget is going to have to be cut and they’re going to look for ways, they’re going to have to have ways to become more efficient,” he said.

Former employees of R2 “said that in recruiting the Colombians and others from halfway around the world, Mr. Prince’s subordinates were following his strict rule: hire no Muslims,” according to the Times. “Muslim soldiers, Mr. Prince warned, could not be counted on to kill fellow Muslims.” One of the Colombians who worked for Prince in the UAE told the Times, “We were practically an army for the Emirates,” adding: “They wanted people who had a lot of experience in countries with conflicts, like Colombia.”

This particular choice is interesting given the past treatment of Colombians by Prince’s companies. In 2006, thirty-five former Colombian troops on contract in Iraq with Blackwater claimed that the firm had defrauded them and was paying them just $34 a day for a job that earned exponentially more for their US and European counterparts. The Colombians said they were originally promised $4000 a month but learned of their greatly reduced pay only after arriving in Iraq. When they protested and demanded to leave Baghdad, Blackwater officials reportedly “threatened to remove us from the base and leave us in the street in Baghdad, where one is vulnerable to being killed, or, at best, kidnapped.” Eventually the Colombians were repatriated. In 2007, one of the Colombian recruiters who had hired the men for Blackwater, was gunned down in Bogotá. This time around, the Colombians were reportedly paid about $150 a day and were recruited by a Caribbean-based company called Thor Global Enterprises. The Colombians were issued visas by the UAE’s military intelligence branch, allowing them to breeze through customs without being questioned.

An American who runs another security company in the UAE told The Nation that news of Prince’s company is “a fricking PR disaster” for the UAE, adding that it will mean “some of the other Sheikhs will want answers about what a private Christian army was intended for.” Prince’s name has also surfaced in connection with another mercenary company, Saracen, in Somalia. The United Nations has suggested that the company violated a UN arms embargo.

Among the other Americans working closely with Prince on building the private army in the UAE is a former FBI Agent named Ricky “CT” Chambers. He recently ran Blackwater’s training program in Afghanistan that was registered under the shell company name of Paravant. That arrangement remains the subject of multiple Congressional and federal investigations in the US and two former Paravant operatives were convicted in March of the manslaughter of two Afghan civilians. Chambers is being paid about $300,000 a year, while US contractors, with experience in Iraq and Afghanistan, are being offered pay packages worth up to $200,000 a year to work for Prince in the UAE.

When Prince moved to the UAE last summer, he said he chose Abu Dhabi because of its “great proximity to potential opportunities across the entire Middle East, and great logistics,” adding that it has “a friendly business climate, low to no taxes, free trade and no out of control trial lawyers or labor unions. It’s pro-business and opportunity.”

The timing of Prince’s move was auspicious to say the least. It came just month after five of Prince’s top deputies were hit with a fifteen-count indictment by a federal grand jury on conspiracy, weapons and obstruction of justice charges. Among those indicted were Prince’s longtime number-two man, former Blackwater president Gary Jackson, former vice presidents William Matthews and Ana Bundy, and Prince’s former legal counsel, Andrew Howell.  The UAE does not have an extradition treaty with the United States. “If Prince were not living in the US, it would be far more complicated for US prosecutors to commence an action against him,” said Scott Horton, a Columbia University Law lecturer and international law expert who has long tracked Blackwater. “There is a long history of people thwarting prosecutors simply by living overseas.” The UAE, Horton told me when I first learned Prince was moving to the UAE last summer, is “definitely a jurisdiction where Prince could count on it not being simple for the US to pursue him legally.” The UAE is made up of seven states, the most powerful among them being Dubai and Abu Dhabi. Since 9/11, they have emerged as hubs for the US war industry. “Global service providers” account for some three-quarters of Dubai’s GDP, while oil represents only 3 percent. “They have established themselves as the premiere location in the Middle East for offshore banking and professional services,” said Horton, who has legal experience in the UAE. “If you have connections to the royal families, then the law doesn’t really apply to you.”

Former owner of Blackwater ‘training private foreign legion’

United States government lawyers are investigating reports that the former owner of a controversial private security firm has been hired to form a mercenary army for the rulers of the United Arab Emirates.

Telegraph | May 15, 2011

By Richard Spencer, Dubai

Erik Prince, the former owner of Blackwater Worldwide, which was accused of multiple killings of civilians in Iraq, has signed a deal to train Colombian and other recruits in a private “foreign legion” to take part in special operations at home and even abroad.

Among its potential tasks are to defend the UAE from uprisings and terror attacks and if necessary to take part in any conflict with Iran, according to the New York Times.

Mr Prince was hired by the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who oversees most of the country’s security policies and is a close American ally. He is also one of the Gulf’s most hawkish leaders on relations with the Islamic Republic across the narrow waters of the Gulf.

According to the report, the 580-strong battalion has been established in Zayed Military City, just off the main road linking Abu Dhabi to Dubai, alongside Emirati troops, and provided by Mr Prince with trainers, mostly veterans of the American, British and German armies and special forces.

No Muslims have been recruited, for fear that they would be unwilling to kill fellow Muslims, the report said, though it did not explain how that squared with the policy of many Gulf regimes including the UAE to recruit members of their police and armed forces from poorer Arab countries across the region.

The US government is understood to be examining whether laws which require American citizens to be licensed before providing training to foreign forces have been broken. But the contract is being managed through a firm called Reflex Responses which is said to have 51 per cent Emirati ownership.

Blackwater Worldwide faced prosecution over the deaths of 14 civilians in Baghdad in 2007, in an incident which brought accusations that the many private contractors operating in Iraq, in many cases former American and British soldiers, were operating outside legal controls.

Mr Prince renamed his company Xe after the incident, and after selling it eventually moved to Abu Dhabi, an oasis of security in a region which has provided profitable contracts for private security firms. He is said to have organised protection for shipping from Somali pirates, and to be preparing a standing freelance militia which could be hired out to countries facing a security crisis.

Both the UAE government spokesman and the American Embassy said they had no comment on the report.

US appeals court revives Iraq Blackwater mass shooting case

A helicopter belonging to the US private security company Blackwater flies over Baghdad in 2004.

AFP | Apr 25, 2011

WASHINGTON — A US appeals court has reopened the prosecution of four former Blackwater security guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in 2007, documents obtained by AFP Sunday showed.

The decision overturns a 2009 ruling by a district judge that cleared the Blackwater guards of the allegedly unprovoked attack saying prosecutors had broken State Department immunity rules.

“The district court made a number of systemic errors based on an erroneous legal analysis,” the three-judge panel wrote in Friday’s unanimous decision.

Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki welcomed the move.

“This confirms the ability of the US justice system to make right and achieve justice, and we are confident that the families of the victims will receive their rights and the criminals will be punished,” Maliki’s spokesman, Ali al-Mussawi, told AFP.

The 2009 ruling had outraged the Baghdad government, which maintains 17 people were killed. Twenty people were also wounded.

The Nisoor Square case was among the most sensational that sought to hold Blackwater employees accountable for what was seen as a culture of lawlessness and lack of accountability in the company’s Iraqi operations.

Blackwater was then the largest private security firm employed by the Americans in Iraq, but it pulled out of the country in May 2009 after the government refused to renew its contracts.

It has always maintained that its guards opened fire in self-defense.

A fifth security guard has been cleared over the Nisoor Square incident while a sixth employee of Blackwater, which is now known as Xe, pleaded guilty in December to attempted homicide.

Seymour Hersh targeted: Matthew Phelan writes on the fallout from his exposure of the Knights of Malta conspiracy

James Jesus Angleton (L), chief of the CIA’s counter-intelligence staff from 1954-1975, and Reagan-era CIA Director William Casey (R) were both members of the Knights of Malta.

Pulitzer Prize Winner Seymour Hersh And The Men Who Want Him Committed

By Matthew Phelan on | Feb 23, 2011


It seems unusual for a staid, respected publication (one that has received three National Magazine Awards in just this past decade) to start treating a celebrated journalist (who himself has won two National Magazine Awards in just this past decade) as if he were nothing more than a paranoid crank.

It seems unusual, but it’s exactly what the staff of Foreign Policy has done to Seymour Hersh, following a lecture the venerated reporter gave at Georgetown University’s campus in Doha, Qatar.

Hersh “delivered a rambling, conspiracy-laden diatribe here Monday,” Blake Hounshell reported on the magazine’s Passport blog. His delusional fantasia: The existence of ties between the U.S. Military’s Joint Special Operations Command and a secretive Catholic order called the Knights of Malta.

Let’s do the same.

Just how “off-base and conspiratorial” are Hersh’s claims? Who are the Knights of Malta, exactly, and what has been previously reported of their ‘special operations’ and government ties?

Known formally as the “Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta,” the Knights of Malta is a Roman Catholic order founded in roughly 1048. Though the Knights operated as a military order during the First Crusade, today their approximately 12,500 members, 80,000 volunteers and 20,000 medical professionals work “in the field of medical and social care and humanitarian aid.”

So far, so good. In fact, Foreign Policy’s description of the Knights cribs heavily from the Order’s own benevolent self-description. Josh Keating’s ‘explainer’ piece accounts for the litany of paranoid theories surrounding them as merely a by-product of the Knights’ “secretive proceedings, unique political status, and association with the Crusades.” Former CIA Directors William Casey and John McCone, Chrysler Chairman Lee Iacocca, and GOP fixture Pat Buchanan have all been “alleged members,” he claims, “though none have ever acknowledged membership.”

Keating’s use of ‘alleged’ here is curious, given that the membership of Reagan-era CIA Director Bill Casey in the Knights of Malta has been a fact widely reported in the press and never denied by Casey himself. Historian Joseph E. Persico, a former Republican speechwriter for Vice President Nelson Rockefeller and the co-author of Colin Powell’s autobiography, includes Casey’s membership in a routine list of charitable accomplishments, in his sympathetic biography Casey: from the OSS to the CIA (Penguin 1990). (Casey’s membership is asserted on page 105 of the paperback.)

Years earlier, Casey was listed publicly as a member in both Mother Jones (07/1983) and The Washington Post (12/27/1984). The implications of Casey’s membership are even alluded to in Bob Woodward’s Veil: The Secret Wars of the CIA, 1981-1987, in which Casey’s deep Catholicism and the Catholic Church’s opposition to Nicaragua’s left-leaning Sandinista government are both recurring topics. In short: Casey’s membership has been undisputed for so long and across such a broad cross-section of the political spectrum that it raises serious questions about Foreign Policy’s standards for ‘facts’ and ‘allegations.’

In addition to Casey and McCone, the Knights of Malta also counted among their members former CIA counterintelligence chief James Jesus Angleton—a fortuitous alliance as Angleton led the postwar intelligence efforts to subvert Italy’s 1948 elections. His success partnering with organized crime, right-leaning former fascists and the Vatican not only marginalized Italy’s homegrown Communist Party, it also encouraged Congress in the creation of the Central Intelligence Agency.

…with their unusual status as a recognized sovereign state without territory, the Knights of Malta enjoy full diplomatic rights in many countries—including the ability to bypass customs inspectors by secreting items across borders via ‘diplomatic pouch.’

Conservative luminary and National Review founder William F. Buckley—who spent two years after college as a CIA ‘political action specialist’ in Mexico City—was also a Knight, as was none other than William “Wild Bill” Donovan, the head of the CIA’s precursor organization, the Office of Strategic Services (OSS). From 1970 to 1981, France’s intelligence agency was also headed by a member of the Order, Alexandre de Marenches. De Marenches would go on to be a co-founder of the Saudi-funded private intelligence group the Safari Club—one of  George H. W. Bush’s many end-runs around congressional oversight of the American intelligence establishment and the locus of many of the worst features of the mammoth BCCI scandal.

So, while crackpot speculations about this particular Catholic order are legion, its ties to intelligence organizations in the U.S. and Western Europe are well-documented. It’s also perfectly understandable: with their unusual status as a recognized sovereign state without territory, the Knights of Malta enjoy full diplomatic rights in many countries—including the ability to bypass customs inspectors by secreting items across borders via “diplomatic pouch.”

With “medical missions in more than 120 countries,” as Keating points out, a teeming network of government spooks operating under the diplomatic protection afforded the Knights of Malta would certainly have plenty of breathing room to operate unnoticed. And yet, Keating instead positions the Order’s charitable work as evidence that the Knights have left their old military function behind—pointedly ignoring years of charitable work tied to U.S. strategic goals and covert activities during the heady days of the Reagan/Bush era.

AmeriCares In Its Own Way

Beginning in 1982, The Knights of Malta began an intensely collaborative partnership with the international aid organization AmeriCares—a charity group unique in its selective disaster relief to countries friendly to both U.S. business investment and foreign policy objectives. Literally billing itself as “The humanitarian arm of corporate America,” AmeriCares was founded and headed until 2002 by Robert Macauley: a college roommate of George H. W. Bush, a paper mill millionaire and a self-described (then self-denied) agent in the CIA’s WWII-era precursor, the OSS. Macauley was also the first non-Catholic to receive the coveted Cross of the Commander of the Order of Malta.

AmeriCares and the Order held off on relief to an economically crippled Panama in 1989 for six whole months, shuttling $2.5 million worth of medical supplies only after the conclusion of Bush Sr.’s lightning war against (former ally) Manuel Noriega.

In Guatemala, AmeriCares and Knights of Malta joint activities were handled by the wealthy, right-wing paramilitary figure, Roberto Alejos Arzu, whose plantation had served as a training ground for the CIA’s bungled “Bay of Pigs” invasion of Cuba.

Seymour Hersh and the Silent Crusade

Seymour Hersh is in the middle of researching and writing a lengthy book on America’s wars and occupations in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has something of a history of playing looser with his facts in speeches than in print—partially to preserve his scoops pre-publication—and his speech in Doha hewed close to that tradition. In addition to the Knights, for example, he also made claims regarding Opus Dei, another secretive far right Catholic group steeped in just as much rumor and conspiracy theory. However, Hersh is a five-time Polk winner and recipient of the 2004 George Orwell Award—a reporter with a record that is well-burnished and nearly sterling.

Given the late 20th Century history of the “Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta,” how strange would it really be to find members of the Order, in and out of the military, collaborating on a new silent crusade with their old Cold War allies?

Until Hersh’s book-length treatment of the subject is published, at least we can all agree with Foreign Policy’s Joshua Keating that the Knights of Malta have been “an anomalous presence in international politics and have provoked their share of conspiracy theories.”

This time around, they’ve practically goaded us into it.

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As troops leave, U.S. to double contractors in Iraq

The employment of contractors has caused anger in Iraq, particularly after a U.S. court dismissed charges against Blackwater Worldwide guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Reuters | Aug 19, 2010

By Andrew Quinn

WASHINGTON, Aug 19 (Reuters) – With the United States drawing down troops in Iraq, the State Department plans to double the number of private security contractors it uses to ensure the safety of the huge civilian development effort, officials said on Thursday.

State Department spokesman P.J. Crowley said the plan would bring to some 7,000 the total security contractors employed by the government in Iraq, where since the 2003 U.S. invasion private security firms have often been accused of acting above the law.

Crowley said the U.S. military’s plan to cut troop numbers to 50,000 by the end of August — down from 176,000 at the peak of the deployment — left a security gap contractors would have to fill.

“We will still have our own security needs to make sure that our diplomats and development experts are well protected,” Crowley told a news briefing.

“We have very specific plans to increase our security … as the military is leaving. This will be expensive. this is not a cheap proposition,” he said, although he added the costs to the U.S. taxpayer would still be far less than those incurred by the military deployment.

The employment of contractors has caused anger in Iraq, particularly after a U.S. court dismissed charges against Blackwater Worldwide guards accused of killing 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007.

Contractors’ immunity from prosecution was lifted last year under a U.S.-Iraqi security pact that gave Iraq back its sovereignty.

Security contractors have also spurred outrage in Afghanistan, where President Hamid Karzai issued a decree this week ordering private security firms to disband within four months as part of his ambitious plan for the government to take responsibility for all security in the country from 2014.

A senior U.S. official conceded contractors had caused problems in Iraq in the past, but said the administration was confident these could be avoided for what he described as a “short duration security requirement.”

“We’ve had tragic issues involving contractors in the past. We have worked this issue very closely with the Iraqi government. There have been changes over the past couple of years to improve oversight and accountability for contractors in Iraq,” the official said.

“We believe we can have the kind of accountability and oversight that is necessary,” he said.

The United States is turning over much of future development work in Iraq to the State Department, which has asked for between $2-3 billion annually to help fund everything from new consulates to training Iraqi police.

The rise in contractor numbers in Iraq comes despite Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s own hopes to reduce U.S. government dependence on outside companies for a big chunk of its overseas security and development work.

Crowley said the decision to employ more contractors was seen as the most practical in Iraq, giving the government flexibility to increase security for now and then pull back if, as officials hope, the overall security situation improves. (Editing by Jerry Norton)

U.S. ponders gun charges against military contractor Blackwater

Washington investigating former top officials of the Blackwater Worldwide private security company over allegations they illegally stockpiled automatic rifles at the company’s North Carolina headquarters

Associated Press | Mar 23, 2010

Devlin Barrett and Mike Baker

Federal prosecutors are considering filing weapons charges against former top officials of the Blackwater Worldwide private security company over allegations they illegally stockpiled automatic rifles at the company’s North Carolina headquarters, The Associated Press has learned.

Senior Justice Department officials are reviewing a draft indictment against former president Gary Jackson, former Blackwater lawyer Andrew Howell, and a third man who used to work at the firm’s armoury, people close to the case told the AP. A decision is not expected until at least next month.

Any indictment, even of former executives, would be unwelcome news at a company beleaguered since a 2007 shooting involving Blackwater guards in Baghdad left 17 people dead. Under a new name, Xe, the firm is trying to win Defense Department approval to train police in Afghanistan. The contract could be worth up to $1-billion (U.S.) but has drawn the ire of some in Congress.

The potential charges stem from a raid conducted by federal agents in 2008 that seized 22 weapons, among them 17 AK-47s.

Multiple law enforcement officials familiar with the case said investigators are trying to determine if Blackwater obtained the official letterhead of a local sheriff to create a false justification for buying the guns. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the investigation.

Federal law prohibits private parties from buying fully automatic weapons registered after 1986, but does let law enforcement agencies have them.

Xe spokesman Mark Corallo said the company has “fully co-operated with this investigation and we will have no further comment.”

Mr. Jackson said during a brief phone conversation Monday that he wouldn’t be able to talk about federal charges and didn’t know anything about any that might be looming.

“I haven’t heard a single, solitary word,” Mr. Jackson said before ending the phone call. Attempts to reach Howell for comment Monday were not successful.

In a 2008 interview with the AP, Mr. Jackson and other Blackwater executives said the company provided the local Camden County sheriff’s office a place to store weapons, calling the gesture a “professional courtesy.”

“We gave them a big safe so that they can store their own guns,” Mr. Jackson said at the time.

Company officials, including both Mr. Jackson and Mr. Howell, downplayed the raid during the interview. Mr. Jackson said some of the 16 uniformed officers who came to serve the warrant were embarrassed by the event and said agents had to stop at Blackwater’s front gate to get passes to come onto the company’s sprawling campus in northeastern North Carolina.

“As a hypothetical, one would think that, if you were going on a raid, you’d take your Kevlar and your weapon,” Mr. Howell said to laughter from other executives.

Blackwater, headquartered in Moyock, N.C., changed its name to Xe Services after its security guards were accused of killing unarmed Iraqi civilians more than two years ago. Those charges were later thrown out of court after a judge found prosecutors mishandled evidence.

In the 2008 North Carolina raid, agents with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives searched the armoury and seized 22 guns from a vault dedicated to county authorities.

The company signed agreements in 2005 in which Blackwater financed the purchase of 34 automatic weapons for the Camden County sheriff’s office. Sheriff Tony Perry became the official owner of the weapons, but Blackwater was allowed to keep most of the guns at its armoury.

One of the 2005 agreements viewed later by the AP says the weapons will be kept under “lock and key” and doesn’t describe whether Blackwater would use the guns.

At the time of the raid, Blackwater said federal authorities knew about the weapons for years and said investigators got a complete look at the company’s cache in 2005 after two employees were fired.

The company also said it was not unusual to store automatic weapons because the company is licensed to sell, provide training on or even manufacture firearms.

The 2005 agreements give the sheriff’s office unlimited access to the weapons, including 17 Romanian AK-47s. Perry said at the time that his department only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies were qualified to use them.

When things go boom in the night, Pakistanis blame Blackwater

Members of the US private security company Blackwater patrol over Baghdad in January 2007. Many Pakistanis believe that the company is operating inside Pakistan, a rumor that the US government denies. Patrick Baz/AFP/Newscom/File

The US says it doesn’t work with the security firm Blackwater in Pakistan, and the Pakistani government insists no Blackwater employees are working in the country. But many Pakistanis doubt those assertions.

CS Monitor | Feb 19, 2010

By Carol Huang

Armed Americans are driving around in unmarked cars, getting caught, and mysteriously released. Who are they? Blackwater, running covert ops for the United States in Pakistan.

Or at least that’s what large numbers of Pakistanis appear to believe.

It sounds like textbook conspiracy theory. But in a country that’s already highly suspicious of the US and the notorious security firm, rumors that germinated in small circles have spread nationwide and taken root among mainstream journalists and intellectuals.

For many Pakistanis, the tales confirm that America at best cannot be trusted. For the US, they create another wall of resistance to convincing Pakistanis the US is an ally, one that desperately needs their help fighting the Taliban and Al Qaeda.

These days “any embassy vehicle that’s got men who are in good shape seem to be Blackwater,” says US Embassy spokesman Richard Snelsire. “It certainly makes getting our message across more challenging.”


Building a High-Tech ‘Crusader Castle’ in Pakistan

Mr. Snelshire says he fields as many as 20 calls a day when especially scandalous reports about Blackwater (which has rebranded itself as Xe) hit newsstands. He says the embassy only employs security contractors from a different firm, DynCorp, and only to train Pakistanis as security guards.

When asked if Blackwater or Xe worked for any other branch of the US or Pakistani government, he writes in an e-mail, “I would refer you to Ambassador [Anne] Patterson’s statement that ‘we do not use Blackwater or Xe in Pakistan.’ On the question of whether or not Blackwater or Xe have any private contracts or contracts with the Government of Pakistan I would refer you to Blackwater/XE.”

Three calls to the company were not returned.

History of distrust

Many of the stories circulating about Blackwater are far from substantiated. Even Awab Alvi, an early adopter of the rumors who tracks the topic on his blog, says that “there’s no concrete evidence” and that “of the 50 reports that come through, maybe one or two are right.” Many accounts come from the Pakistani paper The Nation, which last year drew criticism for calling an American journalist a spy, forcing him to leave the country.

But like many Pakistanis, Dr. Alvi can tick off decades’ worth of reasons not to give the US the benefit of the doubt – and why rumors of secret US-backed operations might find a receptive audience.

In the 1980s, the narrative goes, the US propped up dictator Gen. Zia ul-Haq as an ally against the Soviets in Afghanistan. After the war ended, the US withdrew, leaving Pakistanis to cope with the guns, drugs, and refugees that spilled into their territory.

In recent years, Blackwater gained notoriety over allegations of recklessness and excessive, often lethal, force in Iraq and Afghanistan. On Feb. 11, the Iraq government expelled more than 200 current and former foreign security contractors in connection with a 2007 shooting by Blackwater guards in Baghdad that left 17 civilians dead. In December, a US court dismissed charges of manslaughter against five Blackwater employees, a decision Vice President Joe Biden said the US would appeal. Two former Blackwater contractors based in Kabul are facing charges of second-degree murder over the deaths of two Afghans who were allegedly shot in a traffic accident last May.

The buildup of distrust and swirl of rumors have left Pakistanis to imagine the worst about US intentions, fueling already intense anti-Americanism: Blackwater is here to kill and “disappear” people, or seize Pakistan’s nuclear weapons if the country falls apart. The US is arming and funding not only the Pakistani Army but also the Taliban, to kill off both sides and take over the country. Most Taliban must be foreigners, because Pakistanis would never kill civilians, as the suicide bombers here do, the theory goes.

The Taliban have exploited these beliefs, warning of Blackwater attacks in the northwest. Last November, the Taliban accused the firm of carrying out a suicide bombing to “malign” the insurgency, which “does not believe in the killing of innocent civilians.”

Blow to national pride

The idea of American security contractors let loose in the country reflects Pakistani frustrations with the US but also with their own government. Already many see their leaders as kowtowing to the US by fighting militants at its behest and allowing drone attacks on Pakistani territory. Protesters have demonstrated against Blackwater in Peshawar, Lahore, and Karachi.

“If there’s a good reason” for the firm to operate here, “on occasion they should explain it,” says Cyril Almeida, assistant editor of the Dawn, a leading Pakistani daily.

“You don’t have to tell me so-and-so Blackwater official is in so-and-so compound doing whatever covert operation,” he says. “But give a clear understanding. What kind of personnel have you got inside the country, and on the military side, what are they doing?… Is it legal?… Is it desirable?”

But even on military cooperation, the US and Pakistan tend to downplay their partnership to avoid inflaming anti-Americanism. A counterinsurgency training program run by US forces in northwestern Pakistan – spotlighted this month when three American soldiers were killed in a suicide bomb – had been acknowledged but not advertised.

Even as US drone attacks on Pakistani soil have become an open secret, US officials continue to refer to them indirectly. When the airstrikes first ramped up a few years ago, both governments denied knowledge of them.

“I have a problem with the government constantly lying about these things,” says Asif Akhtar, a blogger based in Lahore, adding that it has undermined its credibility.

When US Defense Secretary Robert Gates visited Islamabad in January, Pakistani media seized on what appeared to be an admission that Blackwater was indeed operating here. In response the Defense Department issued a statement saying it “does not use Blackwater in Pakistan.”

Pakistan’s government denies any Blackwater presence, as Prime Minister Yousef Raza Gilani reiterated last week. Interior Minister Rehman Malik famously vowed last November to resign if proved wrong. The speculation has spiraled to the point that “anybody traveling with white skin is considered to be Blackwater,” he told Dawn last week.
‘A lot of evidence’

Repeated denials, however, have not stemmed rumors of policemen pulling over carloads of Americans with weapons, nor quashed speculation that these people are Blackwater. Instead, the belief has gained currency as Western media have reported that Blackwater is working for the CIA in Pakistan.

In August, The New York Times said the firm was operating on secret bases in the country to load bombs onto the drones fired at the tribal areas – a contract the CIA acknowledged in December by saying it had been canceled.

In an interview with Vanity Fair, Blackwater head Erik Prince detailed his firm’s partnerships with the CIA, including training agents to assassinate Pakistani nuclear scientist AQ Khan. A November report in the American publication The Nation claimed that Blackwater employees were plotting assassinations from a base in Karachi and training Pakistani forces, and sometimes conducting raids with them, in the northwest.

“There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that Blackwater was operating in Pakistan under a different name,” says Rifaat Hussain, a security analyst at the Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad who is frequently cited in Western media.

Mr. Hussain says he is 100 percent sure Blackwater is operating in Pakistan. “Even when the CIA says they have terminated contracts with them, there is no guarantee that these guys will not resurface,” he says. “What has appeared in public is only the tip of the iceberg.”