Monday, June 30, 2008

Senator Webb Uses Blackwater As Excuse to Get Free Travel for Wife and Kid

Senator Jim Webb says he's holding up the nominations of four Pentagon officials because the Defense Department isn't giving him answers about Blackwater, but the real reason seems to be that he's cranked that DoD won't fly his wife and child to Southeast Asia at taxpayer expense.

Webb's third and current wife is a native of South Vietnam.

The Virginia Democrat's request for their free travel on a Senate junket is in violation of Senate rules and Defense Department policy.

"A Senate Republican aide said, 'Webb is suggesting that he is holding nominations as punishment for not getting answers back from questions relating to Blackwater, but in reality, it is leverage to get the Secretary to let his wife and eighteen month old both accompany him on this trip,'" Erick Erickson writes in Human Events.

"With the Secretary of Defense’s admonition to Senator Webb that 'Senate travel is governed by a memo signed by the Senate leadership dated March 9, 2007, specifically stating that relatives other than spouses are not permitted to travel with Senate delegations' and 'DoD Directive 4515.12 prescribes policy for DoD travel support for members of Congress' in a manner reflecting the Senate policy, Senator Webb has run out of legitimate reasons for his holds," Erickson reports.

Blackwater Helps USO Design Mobile Video Games for Troops

"The USO wants to entertain troops even to the ends of the Earth. So planners there have been working on ways to fit a portable projector and screen, and Xbox, DVDs, magazines, snacks and a global high-speed Internet hookup into a container about the size of an ammo box," Stars & Stripes reports. "They're still trying to figure out how to fit Guitar Hero controllers in there."

Blackwater, according to the troops' newspaper, is helping the United Services Organization (USO) design the mobile gaming system, dubbed "USO in a Box."

"We like to think we’ve become expeditionary with the military," USO President Edward Powell tells Stars & Stripes. "Instead of having a fixed base where we always work out of, now we have to go exactly where the servicemembers are when they need us."
The $5,000 systems, "developed with help from Blackwater," are designed to be dropped into small forward operating bases and other isolated posts with fewer than 50 troops. The first ones should be in the field by September or October.

USO plans to have mobile trailers jammed with TVs, computers, microwave ovens and gaming systems for larger places like Djibouti and Kandahar, Afghanistan.

Blackwater is a strategic partner with USO, in association with AT&T, Coca-Cola and other companies. The lead singer of a rock group has spoken about Blackwater flying them around to play for the troops.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

Prince Talks About Changes Since Nisoor Square

Erik Prince, the founder and CEO of Blackwater Worldwide, is on Defense News TV answering questions about his company. His wide-ranging comments include insights into the September 16, 2007 shootout at Nisoor Square, Baghdad.

"The FBI has issued no findings so they havent really suggested anything yet," Prince tells host Vago Muradian. "They're still in the information gathering mode."

"I don't believe the company is subject of that investigation any more. I think they'll find that we did exactly what we were hired to do, the recruiting, vetting, equipping, training," says Prince.

Changes resulting from the incident are things that Blackwater had asked of the US government for quite some time. "There were some changes that we had requested already back in 2005 that were finally implemented," Prince says. "There [are] video cameras now in each of the vehicles, there are some additional US government agents that ride with each of the motorcades, that's something we'd asked long before, even: 'Don't take our word for it, let the camera or the US government employee be that third-party arbiter.'"

The two-part interview aired on June 29, 2008 at To view it, go to the "Show Archives" section and scroll to June 29 on the "Choose" tab and click "Go."

Friday, June 27, 2008

ATF OK'ed Blackwater Weapons in 2005 - But Won't Comment Today

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) isn't talking after Blackwater said the company had invited ATF to search and inventory all weapons on its premises, including the controversial automatic weapons.

And the feds are saying NOTHING about the fact that Blackwater had alerted them in 2005 to the criminal activity of two employees who had operated the company's armory, fired the employees, and cooperated with federal prosecutors.

"When these guys were fired, we invited ATF in to do a full search of everything we possessed," Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell tells reporters. "They did a full audit, and those weapons were there at the time." ATF had no objection when Blackwater informed them about the arms, as it took no action. Blackwater says it is in full compliance with all firearms laws.

Now, after making the stink about the recent "raid," ATF and US Attorney George Holding aren't talking, according to the Associated Press. ATF has failed to return phone calls from reporters.

What are they trying to hide?

Blackwater Has Federal License to Sell, Manufacture, and Train With Automatic Weapons

What's the scandal about Blackwater storing licensed automatic weapons that it bought for the local sheriff? Probably not much, as Blackwater has long had permits to sell and manufacture automatic weapons, and to provide training on their proper use. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell tells ABC News,

"All aspects of our contract with a local Sherriff's Department are valid and lawful. Some of the same ATF agents involved in the current inquiry have long been aware of this arrangement as a result of visits to our facility and audits of our firearms programs at Blackwater's request. As a company that is fully licensed to sell, provide training on, or even manufacture weapons - including machine guns - we have worked closely with the ATF to ensure we are in compliance with all applicable federal firearms laws. We look forward to cooperating with the government to resolve this allegation."

Monday, June 23, 2008

Media Bias Hypes Assault Rifles

Several media outlets have reported that "Blackwater Worldwide has been able to keep 17 AK-47s at its armory under a deal that sidesteps federal laws prohibiting private parties from buying automatic weapons." The suggestion from headlines like "Blackwater Deal Allows Company to Keep AK-47s" is that the private security contractor is building some sort of private arsenal. Nothing could be farther from the truth.

"Blackwater financed the purchase of 17 Romanian AK-47s and 17 Bushmasters and gave ownership of the guns to the Camden County sheriff. Sheriff Tony Perry said his department has only used the AK-47s in shooting practice at Blackwater and that none of his 19 deputies are qualified to use them. The agreements [were] signed in the summer of 2005 with the sheriff's office."

So not only is this 'news' quite old, but the whole thrust implied by the taglines is wrong. In fact, Blackwater is helping to train local law enforcement, training which includes assault rifles. The weapons are owned by the sheriff's office, are strictly for training and are used strictly by the sheriff's office. Let's not make a bigger deal out of this than we ought.

Friday, June 20, 2008

New Republic Supports Blackwater in Darfur

The liberal New Republic, a sometime critic of Blackwater, has come out calling for the private security contractor to assume a role in ending the Darfur genocide.

"The best way to end the massacres of Africans," Marty Peretz writes, "is for a sizable (but not enormous) and armed soldiery with airplanes to take on the mission, not so much of rescue from this atrocity here and that atrocity there but of systematic interposition between the murderers and their designated victims." This is precisely the sort of logistics-intensive work at which Blackwater excels.

Which is why Mia Farrow, "one of the real heroes of the 'Save Darfur' movement" according to the New Republic, "has actually asked Blackwater to help. Some of you may smirk. But private security is better than no security at all for the Darfurians."

The real question now is whether the politicians care enough about the people of Darfur to get over their ideological hang-ups and allow someone to actually do something about the crisis there.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Activists Turn to Blackwater for Darfur Security

Talk of a role for Blackwater in Darfur has gotten considerably more serious, appearing in the sober-minded Financial Times. The British newspaper reports that actress and activist Mia Farrow, "frustrated by the stalled deployment of a United Nations peacekeeping force," has approached Blackwater's Erik Prince "to discuss whether a military role was either feasible or desirable."

“Ms Farrow, who represents Dream for Darfur, a human rights group, and other lobbyists this week lambasted the UN Security Council for its 'shameful' failure to halt killings in the Sudanese province.” Many critics of UN deployment to Sudan - not least the Chinese government, which has a guns-for-resources relationship with the regime which has backed the genocide - have expressed concern that the Sudanese government might not like to have peacekeepers in its backyard, be they UN, Blackwater or otherwise. “Did Adolf Hitler get to choose which troops should be deployed to end his genocide?” Ms. Farrow shot back at the Security Council. “How long will you continue to allow the government of Sudan to manipulate this body?”

As this blog has previously noted, Blackwater's greatest contribution would not be in supplying boots on the ground; African nations are willing and able to provide that. Where Blackwater could make a real difference is in organization, logistics, training and communications. Blackwater's extensive experience with both fixed- and rotary-wing aircraft, in some of the world's most inhospitable environments, would be a major force multiplier for any African-lead peacekeeping effort.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Gadfly Author Admits an Obama Administration Would Need Blackwater

Even a standard-bearer of the kook fringe admits that an Obama Administration would need Blackwater Worldwide and its services.

The admission from writer Jeremy Scahill comes as somewhat of a surprise. Scahill made a name for himself, as well as a tidy bit of cash, in his partially-true book on Blackwater, and his fans seemed to think of him as a latter-day David against the security provider. But as the most prolific of an embarrassingly tiny and ineffective group of anti-Blackwater protesters in San Diego recently, Scahill seems to have seen reality.

"Here is the cold, hard fact," he writes in the Los Angeles Times: "Blackwater knows its future is bright no matter who next takes up residence at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue."

It gets better. Scahill notes Blackwater President Gary Jackson's recent observation that despite all the controversy, the company has had its two best consecutive quarters in a row. The US has renewed its big diplomatic security contract with Blackwater in Iraq, despite the Iraqi government's objections after the Nisoor Square shootout last fall.

"Blackwater is also winning at home," writes Scahill. "The company recently fought back widespread local opposition to its plans for a new warfare training center in San Diego."
But wait - there's more: "Obama may want to draw down U.S. troops in Iraq, for instance, but 'diplomatic security' is where Blackwater's bread is lathered with golden butter. Obama has pledged to increase diplomatic activity in Iraq and to keep in place the Green Zone and the monstrous U.S. Embassy in Baghdad. Despite his criticism, Obama may have no choice but to use these private forces. His top advisors have painfully acknowledged Obama 'cannot rule [it] out.'

"Consider the numbers: At present, Blackwater has about two-thirds as many operatives in Baghdad as the US State Department has diplomatic security agents in the entire world, including Iraq. Although Obama has said he wants diplomatic security to be done by U.S. government employees, accountable under US law, the State Department estimates that it could take years to recruit, vet and train a force to take over Blackwater's work.

"In addition, Obama's rhetoric on Latin America strikes familiar 'drug war' chords, which bodes well for Blackwater, and he plans to send 7,000 more troops to Afghanistan, where the company is already firmly entrenched. . . .

"There is no question that a McCain White House would be preferred by Blackwater and its allies. The question is: Would a Democratic victory really be bad for business?"

Law Upheld in San Deigo

Federal District Court Judge Marilyn Huff ruled yesterday that the Blackwater facility in San Diego may continue to operate with the permits it currently has, the AP reports. What this means is that local political forces cannot make up new permit requirements just because its election season and they want to score points with certain voters. Finally, Blackwater can get on with the work of training US Navy personnel to defend their ships from terrorists.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Blackwater: Part of the Darfur Solution?

Benny Avni of the New York Sun has written a fascinating letter to Alain Le Roi, the new head of peacekeeping at the United Nations:

For help, you'd be wise to contact two people who come from two extreme ends of America's finest traditions. You probably remember Mia Farrow from the movies. Erik Prince's excellent corporation, Blackwater USA, is often vilified in your circles, so you've probably heard of him, as well. I spoke to both of them recently. She's very dot-org. He's all dot-com. She's a bleeding heart, an effective and fierce fighter against injustice. He's a successful businessman, whose business is peacemaking. I'm no matchmaker, but if opposites really do attract, this, for the suffering people of Darfur, would be a match made in heaven.

Mr. Avni goes on to explain that Erik Prince has previously mentioned his willingness to lend a hand in Darfur, should he be called upon to do so. Moreover, he notes that Blackwater need not be employed as trigger-pullers to change the situation on the ground. Simply by doing logistics and communications, "Blackwater can organize [the 9,000 African troops already deployed there] into a force to be reckoned with." Why? Because peacekeeping is about more than just toting guns. It requires high levels of technical competency.

You'll also need highly trained people on the ground. Mr. Prince's men are some of the best in the business. Your predecessor has traveled the world nonstop, begging donors for a few helicopters, which are necessary in the vast deserts of Darfur; Blackwater has helicopters. Blackwater, in short, can cut your costs and the loss of life.

Mr. Avni is quite aware that Blackwater has been in the news, and not always favorably. But he has few qualms about recommending them to the UN, noting that Blackwater "contracts are heavily regulated by the American government." His conclusion: "Go to [Mr. Prince and Ms. Farrow], secretly or in public, just for advice or to sign contracts, together or separately. Nongovernment types like Ms. Farrow, and organizations like Mr. Prince's have an interest in Darfur. They are your best bet there, and thus everywhere."

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Blackwater Seeks Rule of Law Over Local Political Biases

Though District Judge Marilyn Huff's decision to issue a temporary restraining order against the City of San Diego - seen as a landmark case for the rule of law - has allowed Blackwater Worldwide to begin training US Navy personnel to better defend their ships, the order was only temporary. Now Blackwater is making the full case that the operating permits should be made permanent, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports.

“In a legal document filed Friday, the company states: 'At the simplest level, Blackwater seeks the protection of the federal court system to avoid parochialism and local political bias.' Blackwater maintains its position that it was entitled to open the training center with its existing permits; that its civil rights to due process are being violated; and that failure to open on time would jeopardize its contract with the Navy.”

Put simply, Blackwater wants the rights granted to any other business in San Diego, which would in turn allow it to honor its US Navy contract and help keep American sailors safe. The company wants to stop local politics from subverting the rule of law. Is that too much to ask?

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Guess Who Trained the Afghans Who Just Made the World's Largest Drug Bust!

See those two big trenches full of burning hashish? They're part of what NATO says may be the world's biggest drug bust. Afghan counternarcotics commandos, working with the elite British Special Boat Service (SBS), made the bust this week, but not a word is in the press about who trained the local anti-drug forces.

The haul of hashish was so huge - 236.8 metric tons, or triple the previous world record for volume - that the SBS called in Harrier jump jets from Kandahar to bomb the cache, which was buried in huge covered trenches, the Associated Press reports (see photo). The hashish was worth an estimated $400 million on the wholesale world market. About $14 million of that would have gone to the Taliban.

We don't have any definitive knowledge of this case, but we do know that Blackwater runs a major program for the US Department of Defense (D0D) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) in Afghanistan to eradicate opium poppies and other narcotics. The Afghan national police entity under Blackwater's assistance is called the Narcotics Interdiction Unit (NIU). The approach is not to eradicate crops and thereby harm local farmers and force them into the arms of the Taliban, but to wait until the farmers are paid and the raw materials are initially processed for smuggling abroad, and then destroy the processed drugs.

Did Blackwater train the Afghan special police members behind the world record-setting raid? An enterprising journalist or congressman could find out easily if they wanted to.

Video Shows Blackwater's Pinpoint Air Drops in Afghanistan

Want to see one of the ways Blackwater is supporting the troops? Watch this video. As a temporary service to fill the Air Force's lack of small fixed-wing aircraft, Blackwater Worldwide has beeen providing front-line air drop services in Afghanistan. Its fleet of twin-engine C-212 cargo aircraft has been a vital resupply link for US and Coalition forces in remote areas of the country.

A recently posted video, apparently shot last winter at a US forward operating base (FOB) in Afghanistan, shows the precision of the Blackwater drops. To avoid enemy antiaircraft fire, the small unarmed planes fly in, nap-of-the-earth about 35-50 feet off the ground at about 160 knots, pop up high enough over the drop zone to release pallets of supplies by parachute, and escape before the Taliban can shoot them.

Each highly skilled contractor pilot performs these missions several times daily, delivering everything from mail, food and water to spare parts and ammunition. Our Special Forces could not function without them.

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince told Congress last fall that the military at present cannot perform the mission because Air Force fixed-wing aircraft cannot land on the short, unimproved, high-altitude airstrips in remote parts of Afghanistan, and that the planes are too large to carry out small missions.

In the above video, someone is heard saying that a Blackwater pilots are flying in the wrong way, but he soon eats his words. Two Blackwater planes then zoom in and drop the pallets exactly on-target. It's an instructive little video.

A unit of the 82nd Airborne based at the Salerno FOB in Khost made a video of similar Blackwater missions and put it to music. To view it, click here:

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Audit Proves Blackwater Critics are Wrong Again

An audit by the city of San Diego has proven that critics of Blackwater are wrong, and that the company honestly and fairly represented itself when it applied for permits to build an indoor firearms training range for the US Navy.

The San Diego Union-Tribune reports that opponents of the company tried to stop Blackwater from building the range after activists agitated against development of an outdoor training facility.

The opponents alleged - falsely - that Blackwater had misrepresented itself when applying for permits. Those false accusations led San Diego Mayor Jerry Sanders (pictured) to try to prevent the company from executing its training contract with the US Navy and keep the facility from opening.

According to the Union-Tribune, Mayor Sanders requested an audit of the company's permit application on May 5, and tried to block Blackwater from opening the Navy training facility on May 19. Blackwater appealed to a federal court, which ruled in its favor and blocked San Diego from obstructing the company. The city's internal auditor, Eduardo Luna, stated in a report last week that "we determined that Blackwater did not misrepresent their identity."

“I think the auditor's report is clear,” said Blackwater VP Brian Bonfiglio. “It basically exonerated us from being misleading or intentionally doing anything inappropriately or incorrectly.”

The next round in federal court is June 16, but the judge, according to the Union-Tribune, "has already indicated that Blackwater is likely to prevail."
"Peace" groups opposed to a US victory in Iraq have organized the local anti-Blackwater campaign.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Federal Court Decision a Victory for 'Rule of Law' Against 'Pandering Politicians'

The editors of the San Diego Union-Tribune wrote an excellent editorial piece praising a federal court's defense of Blackwater as a victory for the "rule of law" against "pandering politicians."

The newspaper praised US District Judge Marilyn Huff's decision to force the City of San Diego to issue the permits Blackwater had coming for its naval training facility. The editors contend that the recent decision "should put a damper on the political posturing and petty pandering over Blackwater Worldwide before it winds up costing San Diego taxpayers millions of dollars in a legal judgment."

Moreover, the Union-Tribune editorial board points out that "as a candidate for city attorney, City Councilman Scott Peters started the hullabaloo. Considering his distant third-place finish in the race last week, voters were not too impressed with his huffing and puffing over Blackwater's plans to open an anti-terrorism training center for Navy personnel." The editors conclude:
At times like this, thank heavens for the rule of law and the role of the courts in enforcing it in the face of countervailing political opinion. After Blackwater made a strong case that its rights to due process were being violated arbitrarily by pandering politicians, Judge Huff issued a temporary restraining order requiring Peters, Aguirre and Sanders to get out of the way and allow the project to proceed....

The opponents never had a case on land-use grounds. Their opposition was really rooted in Blackwater's unpopularity as a controversial military contractor in Iraq. Blackwater's political opponents are entitled to voice their opinions, but they are not allowed under the law to deny a valid land-use permit to Blackwater simply because of their political objections. Thank you, Judge Huff, for setting the politicians straight.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Blackwater Gets Go-Ahead for Navy Facility

Federal District Judge Marilyn Huff has ordered the City of San Diego to issue Blackwater Worldwide the permits to open its new training facility, the Associated Press reports. Blackwater sued after the city refused to issue the permits, in spite of the fact that the conditions had been met.

Huff found that other firing range operators in the city had not been required to undergo similar reviews.

Classes for Navy sailors will begin Thursday, according to Brian Bonfiglio, a Blackwater executive overseeing the project. They were originally set to begin at the center Monday but were suspended pending the judge's ruling.

The facility will be used strictly to train US Navy personnel in small arms, a growing concern to the Navy since the bombing of the USS Cole, diagrammed below.(Click the image to see a larger version)

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Report: Lula Approved Fighter Plane Sale to Blackwater

One of Brazil's leading newspapers is reporting that President Inacio "Lula" da Silva personally approved the sale of an Embraer fighter plane to Blackwater Worldwide.

The article in O Estado de Sao Paulo says that the Embraer Super Tucano 314-B1 fighter (pictured), popular in the Brazilian military, was sold to a Blackwater subsidiary for $4.5 million. According to AP, the plane is intended for training purposes in the United States. The Blackwater aircraft does not sport the standard-issue .50 caliber machineguns on the wings.

Blackwater has sought the inexpensive, propeller-driven fighter plane as an innovation in counterinsurgency training. The plane lacks most of the capabilities of jet fighters, but it's cheap and easy to maintain, and is just right for attacking insurgents, company experts have said. Colombia uses the plane effectively to battle FARC guerrillas and related drug smugglers.

Reuters reports that Blackwater has confirmed the successful purchase of the plane. Some of the news reports do not say that President da Silva personally approved the sale, but rather that he is likely to have approved it. The sale came after consultations with the US government.

In a separate move, the US government itself is looking to buy eight of the Embraer Super Tucanos for use in Iraq, Forbes reports, highlighting the effectiveness of the craft for this sort of work.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Judge to Decide Permit on Tuesday

US District Court Judge Marilyn L. Huff said she will decide until Tuesday whether to order officials of the City of San Diego to issue a permit that would allow Blackwater Worldwide to open a training center for the Navy, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

But in questions and comments to lawyers Huff indicated she was inclined to grant the company's request for a temporary restraining order, which would allow them to begin operations.

"Questions came hard and fast from U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Huff as the city laid out its claim that Blackwater misled officials about the nature of the facility, which includes indoor firing ranges and a multi-level mock ship bulkhead built out of cargo containers: Did Blackwater fail or skip any required inspections? (It did not.) Why hadn't other firing ranges undergone the same degree of scrutiny the city proposes for Blackwater? Did the city object to Blackwater itself?" the Union-Tribune writes in another article.

Moreover, the Union-Tribune points out that Huff's ruling will come on election day, depriving any city council candidates - either incumbents or challengers - of political fodder.