Saturday, October 13, 2007

Remarkable Washington Post story shows Blackwater as it is

In an article that departs sharply from the Washington Post's heavily biased coverage about Blackwater, Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Dana Hedgpath penned a remarkable cover story about the training and security company and its people.

The page-one feature, headlined "Building Blackwater: Founder Seeks 'Better, Smarter, Faster' Security as History, Iraq Shape Firm's Fortunes," is far from a puff piece but tells readers a lot about the inside of a company that has been the subject of a lot of really inaccurate reporting.

"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 . . . .

"Some law enforcement officials trained by Blackwater consider the firm a resounding success.
'They're the Cadillac of training services,' said J. Adler, national executive vice president of the Federal Law Enforcement Officers Association. 'You've got the best of the best teaching close-quarter-combat tactics.' . . .

"The organization most people think of as Blackwater is actually a collection of companies with Prince and his McLean-based holding company, the Prince Group, at the top. Prince, a former Navy Seal and heir to an industrial fortune, owns everything.

"Blackwater Maritime has a 183-foot long ship for naval training. Two aviation-services businesses operate more than 50 planes and helicopters. Blackwater Manufacturing makes special armored cars the firm hopes to market to the military, as well as moving metal targets for training. Total Intelligence Solutions is led by former CIA officials, including Blackwater executive Cofer Black, who worked on counterterrorism at the CIA and State Department. . . .

"More than 100,000 people in the military and in local, state and federal law enforcement agencies, including those in Virginia and Maryland, have taken the center's courses. So have thousands of special operations personnel from the Navy, Army and other federal agencies. Before the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the training center hosted up to 50 people a day. Now the number of students on a given day is 500, sometimes higher. The company has more than 550 full-time employees and 1,400 contractors, who operate in nine countries, including Jordan, Azerbaijan and Burkina Faso. . . ."

It's a huge story, spanning from the Post's front page to a two-page spread inside, and illustrated with charts and photographs. All in all an interesting and informative piece, despite an occasional cheap shot likely added, we're sure, by an overzealous copy editor.

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