Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Washington Post Misconstrues Grand Jury

Not surprisingly, the Washington Post is twisting the truth again. Never mind that they reported Blackwater as being headquartered in Virgina - operations are actually run out of Moyock, North Carolina; their reporting of a grand jury investigating the events of 16 September in Nissor Square last year show a clear bias.

"At least three Iraqis appeared yesterday before a federal grand jury hearing evidence in the September shootings in Baghdad by Blackwater Worldwide security guards that left 17 Iraqis dead," writes the Post in its opening line. Five paragraphs later they finally get around to admitting that the grand jury is a little more balanced than the post: "The grand jury has also heard testimony from Blackwater personnel and U.S. officials."

Moreover, what the Post never comes out at admits is what is implicit in the holding of a grand jury: the truth about the events of 16 September remain unclear. If everything were as obvious as the Post makes it out to be, we wouldn't be holding a grand jury.

In addition, the Post claims that after last September's firefight "Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice imposed new rules on the contractors after the incident, placing video cameras in their vehicles and ordering that State Department Diplomatic Security Service agents accompany all contractor security convoys." As this blog has vigorously pointed out, the "new rules" were not so novel and the cameras were something Blackwater had asked for years before.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

City of San Diego Obstructs Navy Contract

Blackwater has asked a federal judge to help it meet the terms of US Navy contract by removing obstacles placed by the City of San Diego. The private security contractor's deal with the Navy requires them to open a training facility by June 2, but city officials have politicized the process and gone back on their word regarding permits. So now Blackwater is petitioning the federal judiciary to order the city to issue the due certification.

In a lawsuit filed Friday, the North Carolina-based company noted that city clerks and inspectors already had signed off on permits for turning the warehouse into classrooms and an indoor firing range when Mayor Jerry Sanders, City Attorney Michael Aguirre and other city officials voiced concerns. Blackwater said its training center was being scrutinized more intensely than similar facilities that previously won the city's approval. The company also said that politics was playing a role in the dispute, noting that both Sanders and Aguirre face re-election votes on June 3.... “We have met all of the permitting requirements, and withholding the certificate of occupancy is in violation of law,” said Michael Neil, a San Diego attorney who represents Blackwater in the suit.

A spokesman for Mayor Sanders said his office would not comment on the litigation.

The facility in question will be used to teach sailors will marksmanship, weapons assembly and disassembly, basic arrest and apprehension techniques and how to safely handle the latest weapons. Blackwater, which has never attempted to hide the nature of the facility or the company's role in training US Navy personnel, has already spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on renovating the facility.

Rocker Tells of Air Force, USO and Blackwater Tour with Troops

Members of the Boston punk rock band Lansdowne talk about playing for American troops in Afghanistan and elsewhere in the Middle East and Central Asia. The emerging band won an audition last year with Armed Forces Network and recently signed an arrangement with USO to tour the war theater in support of military personnel.

Blackwater - recently a USO partner - flew the rockers to forward operating bases in Afghanistan to entertain the troops.

"It's kind of a blur now," lead singer Jon Ricci tells the Boston Herald. "Being flown around on C-17s, which are like the biggest planes you can think of, and by Blackwater to and from bases, it was all pretty amazing."

Congress Targets PSCs, Potentially Ruins Iraq Efforts

Congress may be on its way to hamstringing our efforts in Iraq, the Politico reports. A new bill shepherded through the Senate Armed Services Committee by Chairman Carl Levin (D-MI, pictured left) would could allow Congress to cut off existing contracts made by the executive and would also allow the government and private security contractors to be sued. And that, the Politico argues, could do serious damage to the government's attempts to stabilize the region.

"Interpreted broadly, the measure could slash the number of private security contractors now operating legally in Iraq.... Even if getting rid of the security contractors in Iraq would fix a problem of adequate oversight, it would widen personnel gaps at the State Department and the Pentagon. The agencies don't have enough personnel to take over the security for officials, installations and reconstruction zones that contractors currently provide.... In a recent Senate hearing, P. Jackson Bell, the Pentagon's deputy under secretary for logistics and materiel readiness [pictured right], said a broad policy against private security contractors could affect up to 9,000 individuals. Replacing that many contractors would require even more soldiers and Marines, due to a demanding rotation schedule."

Part of the problem with the new legislation is its use of some ambiguous terms, such as "inherently governmental function" and "highly hazardous." Would mundane missions such as guarding mail fall into this category?

A Pentagon official familiar with the issue reiterated these concerns about unclear terminology: "Contractors are not supposed to do things like combat," the official said. "So the question comes in, 'What is combat?' And there is no easy answer to that."

"Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president and counsel of the Professional Services Council," which represents a number of government service contractors, including Blackwater, "said that the security industry is not averse to regulations but that the regulations need to be clear. For example, if Congress wants to prohibit contractors from firing the first shot, it should spell that out. Bogging down regulations with catchphrases can create more confusion, Chvotkin said."

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Blackwater Unveils Joint Light Tactical Vehicle

Blackwater and Raytheon unveiled their much anticipated prototype six-passenger Joint Light Tactical Vehicle (JLTV) at the US Special Operations Industry Conference in Tampa yesterday, Defense News reports.

"Our vehicle will go faster and carry more weight safely than any other JLTV," said Blackwater Vice President Bill Mathews. "With Raytheon being the integrator for so many ground vehicles for C4ISR [command, control, communications, computers, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance], our JLTV will have the technological equivalent of an F-18 cockpit."

"The Blackwater-Raytheon partnership," writes Defense News, "aims to combine the fast, off-road vehicle expertise with the systems integration and C4ISR abilities of Raytheon. Made by Ares Systems Group, its appliqué armor uses add-on composite materials designed to provide more protection at lower weight than traditional materials."

"The integral armor packages are exceptional, and the appliqué makes this one really tough, capable vehicle," said Mathews. "We will be providing protection that is on par with MRAPs [Mine Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles] in a package that is mobile."

Defense News reports that "in the coming weeks, the Blackwater-Raytheon JLTV prototype will be tested with gunfire, high temperatures and other combat conditions.... The Army plans to award three 27-month JLTV development contracts at the end of June."

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Blackwater Founder Addresses Grand Rapids Club

Erik Prince, founder and CEO of Blackwater, once again returned to his West Michigan roots and addressed the Economic Club of Grand Rapids, the Chicago Tribune reports.

He pointed out that in over 18,000 security detail operations, Blackwater has not once lost a client. "No one under our care has been killed or injured," Prince told an audience. But the popular image that this has been done through the heavy and excessive use of firepower is totally wrong. In less than half of one percent of those 18,000 missions were firearms even discharged.

Prince also discussed the history of private security contractors in the United States, tracing them back to the American Revolution.

In discussing the founding of Blackwater and its 7,000-acre training facility, Prince expressed disappointment with some of the small sites at which he had to train during his years as a Navy SEAL. "No one had ever done it on an industrial scale," he said.

Small Town Supports Blackwater Guard

The town of Dickens, Texas is located in a vast swath of openness between Lubbock, Wichita Falls and Abilene. At the 2000 census it reported a population of 332. This town might not make the evening news too often, but it's standing by one of its native sons, Blackwater contractor Paul Slough.

Last September, while part of a Blackwater diplomatic security convoy, Slough and his companions came under fire at Nisoor Square in Baghdad. Some in the liberal media have called the Blackwater guards murderers for returning the enemy fire. But the folks of Dickens would never make such a claim.

"Most of Dickens considers Slough a patriot and a hero," writes Lubbock Online. "We are all very proud of him," said Dickens County Sheriff Ken Brendle. "That boy was always a leader. He's not a murderer."

"We're proud of PJ," said Andy Zarate, whose son Michael was good friends with Slough during high school. "We stand behind him 100 percent."

Slough played football, was active in Future Farmers of America and served on the student council while at Patton Springs High. After graduating from high school he joined the Army, participated in several deployments - including to Boznia - and was honorably discharged. He then served in Iraq with the Texas National Guard. Having completed his military service, Slough joined Blackwater's security operations.

Paul Slough is the only member of the Blackwater convoy to have his name released to the public. All the documents released by the FBI, other government entities and Blackwater have referred to the participants in the events by anonymous numbers. But the New York Times felt the need to leak Turret Gunner Number 3's identity. So now Slough, having come under the physical fire of insurgents, is now coming under the metaphorical fire of anti-war elements.

Tookie Cash, who recently retired as Dickens County clerk and knew Slough when he was growing up, said, "It's a shame. Our boys are putting their lives on the line and this is what they get in return."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Entrepreneurial Culture Keeps Blackwater Growing

TradingMarkets.Com carried a very balanced and interesting article on Blackwater, discussing the company's history and ethos. “Blackwater is thriving because of its aggressive and entrepreneurial business culture and a strong network of… connections,” they write. “The company has hired extensively from the top levels of the CIA, Defense Department and State Department, and named the former No. 2 official at the CIA to its Board of Advisors.” Looking back to the early days of the company, they explain:

Blackwater Lodge and Training Center was the brainchild of Al Clark, a Navy SEAL and instructor. Dissatisfied with the Navy's rented training grounds, Clark told colleagues he would open his own when he left the service. Clark hooked up with Erik Prince, a young Navy SEAL who shared his interest in training.... When the two broke ground on Blackwater Lodge and Training Center in Currituck and Camden counties in northeast North Carolina in 1997, the timing was good. The military had closed and consolidated bases after the Cold War and neglected training facilities. Blackwater built the largest shooting facility in the country, with indoor ranges, mock urban landscapes, a 1,200-yard firing range, driving tracks and a lake for naval training. Blackwater boasted it could design any sort of training a client might want. The location was excellent, within four hours of the Pentagon in Washington, and Fort Bragg and Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. The country's biggest naval base in Norfolk, Va., was less than an hour away.

But Blackwater's service really began after the terrorist attacks of 9/11 and the launching of the Global War on Terror:

The CIA was stretched thin in the aftermath of Sept. 11 and the invasion of Afghanistan. Blackwater landed a… contract to provide security at CIA stations in Afghanistan…. The contract was not a big one; it called for 16 Blackwater security personnel, plus dozens of Afghan guards hired locally.... In August 2003, Blackwater won a… contract to guard Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority and probably the top assassination target of insurgents. The contract called for helicopters to fly Bremer around Iraq. Blackwater was well positioned for that; the company had bought a Florida aviation company four months earlier.

Blackwater's patriotism and business acumen converge when it comes to identifying new threats to the United States and pouncing on them. “They are very good and very savvy at identifying market needs and pushing hard to enter into those markets, even before clients have recognized the need,” Peter Singer, an expert on private military contractors said.

For all the controversy, Blackwater has an unblemished record on its main task in Iraq: None of the diplomats in the company's care have been killed or wounded. Undersecretary of State Patrick Kennedy recently told The New York Times that the diplomats could not function in Iraq without Blackwater: “If the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq.”

Friday, May 16, 2008

State Department Installs Cameras on Blackwater Vehicles - Three Years Late

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice recently ordered federal agents accompanying Blackwater security convoys to install video cameras in the contractor's vehicles. Some news outlets are trying to pretend that this is news. And in a sense, it is. But not in the way you think.

Three years ago Blackwater requested cameras for its vehicles, a request the State Department refused (as this blog has previously pointed out). Blackwater trusts the conduct of its employees enough that it wanted a record of all their actions, believing that the video record would bear them out in the case of any incidents.

Well, the boys at State didn't think the cameras would be necessary and now - after the events of 16 September in Nisoor Square - we're left wishing those cameras had been there. Don't blame Blackwater; blame the State Department.

Secretary Rice, way to do the right thing - three years late.

Blackwater Aids USO

Blackwater Worldwide, the American private security contractor, has pledged $2 million to USO to support entertainment and service programs for US troops, WBTV reports.

Blackwater President Gary Jackson points out that Blackwater is staffed almost entirely by military veterans, and therefore understands the importance of USO's mission to support the troops.

Blackwater will provide the money over the next four years. In addition, seven other companies have made similar pledges.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Blackwater a 'Strategic Partner' with USO

The United Services Organization (USO) has announced that Blackwater Worldwide has joined AT&T, Coca-Cola and other companies as a strategic partner to fund morale-boosting support to American troops and their families.

According to a USO news release, "Blackwater Worldwide has joined the USO as its newest Worldwide Strategic Partner. Blackwater, a global leader in advanced law enforcement and military peacekeeping training, has committed $2 million over four years to support USO programs and services for the troops, including homecoming celebrations and logistical support for USO entertainment tours.

"'We welcome Blackwater Worldwide to the list of corporations who demonstrate their commitment to supporting American service members and their families by partnering with the USO,' said Edward A. Powell, USO president and CEO. 'This partnership will help the USO to continue its vital work Until Every One Comes Home.'

"'We are honored to partner with such a fine organization,' said Blackwater President Gary Jackson. 'Blackwater is a company that is owned, managed, and staffed almost entirely by military veterans, and we look forward to expanding the support we can offer to Americans serving overseas.'

"As a private, nonprofit organization, the work of the USO and its centers is made possible by the support of the American public. Corporate in-kind donations and sponsorships, along with volunteer hours and monetary donations, help the USO continue improving the lives of America’s men and women in uniform and their families. For more information on the USO’s programs and services, and how to help, visit"

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Polish Ambassador Praises Blackwater

Yesterday the Polish ambassador to Iraq, Lt. Gen. Edward Pietrzyk (pictured), gave an address at the American Enterprise Institute in Washington where he praised Blackwater, the private security contractor that rescued him after a terrorist attack last October.

The Polish government has already bestowed the Bronze and Silver Star awards upon Blackwater employees - the first awards given by the Poles to foreigners since World War II.

Video of the rescue can be found on this blog, while video of the AEI lecture can be found on their website. (Just click on the "Video" option in the upper right corner.)

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Blackwater Unlikely to Face Charges

The Associated Press reports that Blackwater Worldwide, the private security contractor, is not expected to face criminal charges stemming from the firefight at Nisoor Square last September.

The seven-month-old Justice Department investigation is focused on as few as three or four Blackwater guards who could be indicted in the... shootings, according to interviews with a half-dozen people close to the investigation.... Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said, "If it is determined that there are any individuals who need to be held accountable, we support that."

However, it appears unlikely that Blackwater, as a corporation, will be charged. "Companies are sometimes charged for the wrongdoing of their employees, but the standard is high. Prosecutors must prove that the corporation — not just the employees — intended to break the law."

In any case, "the final decision on any charges will not be made until late summer at the earliest, a law enforcement official said." So don't get too bent out of shape about rumors you hear between now and then.

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Blackwater Developing Light Strike Vehicle

"The US military is looking for light, high-speed four-wheelers that can zip troops around battlezones," Wired reports. Always ready to serve, Blackwater is coming out with a new prototype, the Light Strike Vehicle.

In recent years, military vehicles have become increasingly heavy. The current incarnation of the Humvee, the M1151, weighs more than twice the original model, the M998. All that additional armor and equipment is great, but it means the vehicle can no longer accomplish all the missions for which it was originally designed. Moreover, the extra weight is putting extra strain on the helicopters that have to ferry these things around.

That's where the Light Strike Vehicle comes in. "Still in the prototype stage, the 3,000-pound vehicle will have a 500-horsepower engine, 41-inch tires and a 2,500-pound payload." And under the right conditions, it can do 100mph.

“A vehicle with outstanding off­road capability and high axle articu­lation requires a compliant and loose suspension with maximum travel,” said Marty Strong, Blackwa­ter USA vice president of communi­cations. “These are the opposite characteristics required of a high­speed platform. Our suspension de­sign spans both worlds by offering high articulation and extreme off­road performance, while still main­taining great manners when travel­ing at speeds approaching 100 mph.

Pictures of Blackwater's Light Strike Vehicle prototype are not yet avaliable, so what you see above is a similar vehicle from Chenoweth, deployed during the first Gulf War.

This is not, of course, Blackwater's first vehicle project; the Grizzly is an armored personnel carrier (APC) on the heavier side of the spectrum, a vehicle which received critical acclaim from those that would have to use it. One military blogger praised it for its "attention to detail" and its design to "deflect the effect of roadside bombs and mines."

Thursday, May 1, 2008

Idaho Gives Blackwater Show of Support

Certain elements of the media would like to brand Blackwater and other private security contractors as pariahs. But reality tells another story. Just today the Associated Press reported that Blackwater will be entering into an agreement with the Idaho Peace Officer Standards & Training Academy (POST).

Blackwater will be entering into agreement with the state of Idaho to build a training facility, Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell told the Coeur d'Alene Press. In this agreement, Idaho POST would be a tenant. There would be other law enforcement agencies from the surrounding areas.

The complex would include an emergency vehicle operation course, shooting ranges, classrooms, dormitories for at least 80 people, a cafeteria and administration buildings, she said.

Like law enforcement agencies around the country, those in northern Idaho understand that Blackwater is a company of talented and patriotic experts in their field who can provide hard-to-find services.

"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."