Bill Moyers Journal (2007-10-19) Bill Moyers
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October 19, 2007
Bill Moyers talks journalist Jeremy Scahill, Part 1
Welcome to the Journal.
You could not miss Erik Prince this week. The founder and top gun of
Blackwater usually keeps a low media profile. But there he was all over
the place, in a carefully orchestrated campaign to put the best face on
a bad situation. Erik Prince is the man who assembled a private army in
Iraq with tax dollars, provided by the U.S. Government--you. Earlier
this month, after some of his soldiers of fortune gunned down 17
innocent Iraqis and wounded 27 others in what the army first called an
unprovoked attack, Prince was called before Congress to give an
accounting. Here's one of the exchanges.
REP. DANNY K. DAVIS (D-IL): You do admit that Blackwater personnel
have shot and killed innocent civilians, don't you?
MR. PRINCE: No, sir. I disagree with that. I think there's been times
when guys are using defensive force to protect themselves, to protect
the packages, trying to get away from danger, there could be ricochets,
there are traffic accidents, yes.
REP. D. DAVIS: According to a document we obtained from the State
Department, on June 25th, 2005, Blackwater guards shot and killed an
innocent man who was standing by the side of the street. His death left
six children alone with no one to provide them support. Are you familiar
with this incident?
MR. PRINCE: I'm somewhat familiar with that incident. I believe what
happened, that was a car bomb -- or a potential car bomb had rapidly
approached our convoy. I believe our guys shot rounds at the car, not at
the driver, to warn them off.
REP. D. DAVIS: State Department described the death as, and I quote,
"the random death of an innocent Iraqi." Do you know why Blackwater
officials failed to report this shooting and later tried to cover it up?
MR. PRINCE: I can clarify that fully, sir. Thanks for asking that
question. There was no cover-up.
Soon after Prince had ducked and weaved his way out of
the Congressional line of fire, Iraqi officials were calling for
Blackwater to leave their country. Prince's P.R. advisers then launched
a round of press interviews where Prince, armed with this video of his
men rescuing a polish diplomat in Baghdad, could make his case on his terms.
ERIK PRINCE: "I'm an American working for America. Anything we do is
to support U.S. Policy. You know the definition of a mercenary is a
professional soldier that works in the pay of a foreign army. I'm an
American working for America...."
Lara Logan frequently puts herself in harm's way, covering the war in
Iraq. Erik Prince proves as elusive as the insurgents.
LARA LOGAN: So why is it so wrong then? Why is there this perception
that exists about Blackwater?
ERIK PRINCE: General misunderstanding because we haven't been able to
communicate what we do and don't do these last few years.
CHARLIE ROSE: Do you think there has been knee-jerk reporting about
what happened on September 16?
ERIK PRINCE: Absolutely.
As the press was helping him spin his story, he was
blaming the press.
ERIK PRINCE: I don't know that the media has given them due process
the last couple of weeks...You know that when the guys get it right 99
times out of 100...
Prince stuck to his well-rehearsed talking points, no
matter where he showed up.
ERIK PRINCE: You have to understand, bad things in Iraq generally
don't happen by themselves... Bad things don't usually happen by
themselves in Iraq...In hundreds of other attacks against us, bad things
generally don't happen by themselves...
In the game of spin, repetition is the winner...
LARA LOGAN: You want more oversight...
ERIK PRINCE: We absolutely want more oversight. We welcome the
accountability... We support accountability as long as there is due
process. I don't know that the media has granted -
One subject he evaded time and again was his close ties
to people in high places who hand out the government contracts that pay
for his private army.
CHARLIE ROSE: You give a lot of money to the Republican Party, fair
ERIK PRINCE: Relative to a lot, not very much but -
CHARLIE ROSE: "This is America. You are allowed to do and support
whoever you want to. Your sister, her husband ran for governor of
Michigan. Your mother is a very enthusiastic supporter of causes as well
as, I assume, the Republican Party as well. Your sister supported George
Bush 41. And you supported Pat Buchanan. Why was there that split?
ERIK PRINCE: You know, I was at -- I was at Hillsdale College as an
economics major, very much a free market guy. And I would say it was
mostly a disagreement over taxes.
So what was and wasn't said in this spectacle of spin?
For some answers we turn to a one-man truth squad who has been reporting
on Blackwater and Erik Prince's influence. Jeremy Scahill is an
independent investigative journalist who wrote this recent bestselling
book: Blackwater: The Rise Of The World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
Jeremy Scahill is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation
Institute. He's reported from Iraq, the Balkans and Nigeria, among other
places, he's a co-winner of the George Polk Award For Investigative
Reporting. .. Good to see you.
From watching the interviews, what was the message that
you think Prince was trying to get out?
Well, let's remember, this is a guy who prior to the
September 16th shooting in Baghdad had only done one television
interview ever. And it was right after 9/11 on Fox News with Bill
O'Reilly. And during that interview, he said that after 9/11, the
phone's been ringing off the hook at Blackwater. Other than that, this
is a guy who hasn't really appeared in public. So, it was unusual to see
him, A, appear before the Congress. And B, do this blitzkrieg of
interviews. I think the message was very clear. He was trying to say
we're a patriotic American company. That we're Americans protecting
Americans. We want accountability for our industry. But there is also
something that sort of reminded me of Jack Nicholson in A Few Good Men
where he's talking about I eat my cereal, you know, meters away from
Cubans who want to kill me. Where Erik Prince uses terms like the bad
guys and our blood runs-- runs red, white and blue.
And nobody talks like that in normal life do they - our
blood runs red, white and blue.
Right. It's almost-- I think part of the-- the point
here was to say, look, you don't understand really, American people,
what we're doing for you. While you're enjoying comfort here in the
United States, we're over there protecting our-- the men in women in
uniform, our diplomats. I think that there's a way that he wants to
increase the mystique about the company and the operations of Blackwater.
But do you think he was motivated and his PR firm was
motivated in part because he didn't do that well before Congress at the
recent hearings into this investi-- into this shooting?
I think that Blackwater has made a-- a very serious
strategic error in how they've handled their publicity for years. And
now, we're seeing the company go on the offensive. I think Erik Prince
held his own in front of the Congress. And I-- and I attribute it
largely to the fact that it appeared as though the Democrats didn't
really do their homework on him. I mean, here you have the man who owns
the company providing the largest private army on the US government
payroll in Iraq. A billion dollars in contracts. Twenty-seven of his men
killed in Iraq. We don't know how many people he killed. No private
actor in the occupation of Iraq has had more of a devastating impact on
events in Iraq than Blackwater. And I just felt watching that hearing--
and I went down for it-- that many of the Democrats hadn't done their
Well, they-- well, they were reading the report at the
time that he was testifying, right?
Right. And you see them flipping through the pages.
And it appeared as though a lot of the members were just sort of paging
through it while Erik Prince was testifying.
If you go to the CBS News website reporting on Lara
Logan's interview with-- with him, what the headline says is "Blackwater
chief welcomes extra oversight". Could that have been the message? Hey,
look, this was a terrible thing that happened over there. But we really
want you, the State Department, government, military, to hold us more
Right. But I mean, there's a very Orwellian vibe to
all of this. I mean-- let's remember here, Blackwater says they're not a
mercenary company. Erik Prince calls that a slanderous term. And they're
not even in the private military company business. They're in the peace
and stability industry. We're in the business of peace because peace
Peace and stability. Is this how the industry promotes
Oh, yeah. The mercenary trade association, Blackwater
recent left it. But they've been a leading member and funder of it. It's
called the International Peace Operations Association. And their logo is
a cartoon sleeping lion. I mean, it's so incredibly Orwellian. And I
think this idea that they want accountability, this has been a line
they've been pushing for years. I mean, Erik Prince said it was
excellent that the democratic legislation passed through the House that
was allegedly about contract or oversight. And the reason why Blackwater
endorses it is because it looks great on paper. There are gonna be laws
that govern the use of private military companies. But in reality, it's
Well, the-- the idea behind it is that US civilian
law is going to apply to contractors on the battlefield. And the
democratic plan says, let's send an FBI field office over in Baghdad
monitoring 180,000 contractors. I mean, there are more contractors in
Iraq right now than there are US soldiers. And so the idea is that the
FBI is gonna go around Iraq. They're gonna be investigating crimes of
contractors. Interviewing witnesses, presumably in very dangerous
places. And then, they're going to arrest the individual in question.
Bring them back to the United States. And then, prosecute them in a US
civilian court. All of this coming from the Bush justice department. I
mean, I've never heard a more insane plan. And-- and so, what that bill
will give Erik Prince and other mercenary companies the opportunity to
do is to sit down and say, there are laws that govern us. We're
accountable under US law. But they know well that it only exists on
paper. And that there will be a few token prosecutions. It's impossible
to monitor the activities of 180,000 personnel.
We're gonna have to pause a moment and say right
here... As you talk, I realized just how much you have studied this
group and it's in your book very well posed. But what got you interested
in this as a journalist?
Well, I had gone-- I started going to Iraq in 1998.
And I went in in the weeks leading up to the Clinton administration's
attack on Baghdad in December of-- of '98. And I had actually spent a
fair bit of time in the city of Fallujah. In fact, I had camped out
there in the desert just outside of Fallujah in the summer of 2002 was
the last time I'd been in the city. And it was a-- a place that I knew
well. And-- and on March 31st, 2004 when four Blackwater operatives were
ambushed and-- and killed in Fallujah, their bodies dragged through the
streets, burned, strung up from a bridge.
I remember seeing those and they're horrifying. And the
American public recoiled.
Right. And I mean, and initial reports on it were
that civilian contractors had been killed. And the-- the image that was
portrayed was that these were sort of like water specialists or
engineers that were being dragged through the streets. And then, it
emerged that in fact they were these mercenaries working for a-- a
private company called Blackwater USA. And-- and we watched as the Bush
administration then began to escalate the rhetoric. And it became clear
that they were gonna lay siege to the city of Fallujah And what happened
in the aftermath is well known. The-- the US military was ordered to
destroy the city. Hundreds of Iraqi civilians were killed. A number of
US troops. And I began from a very simple question. How on earth were
the lives of four corporate personnel-- not US soldiers, not
humanitarian workers. But how were the lives of these four corporate
personnel worth the death of an entire Iraqi city? That siege had an
incredibly devastating impact on events on the ground in Iraq. It gave
rise to the Iraqi resistance. Fueled it. Attacks escalated against US
forces. And it was-- it was really the moment that the war turned over
the deaths of these four Blackwater guys.
Now, how would our diplomats be protected if it weren't
for the private security contractors? The army is stretched thin. Isn't
there a role for these people?
Well, I think-- I think that the fact is that the US
military has not historically done the job that Blackwater is doing.
That was done through diplomatic security. And the-- the role for these
companies is envisioned as-- as protecting diplomats in-- in all these
countries around the world. But in Iraq, you're talking about an
occupation of a country. And without these private sector forces,
without companies like as Blackwater, Triple Canopy and Dyncorp, the
occupation wouldn't be tenable.
Well, right now in Iraq, there are 180,000
contractors operating alongside 170,000 US troops. So it's effectively a
doubling or more than doubling of the occupation force. What this does
is it subverts the citizenry in the United States. You no longer have to
have a draft. You don't have to depend on your own citizens to fight
your wars. You can simply hire up the poor of the world to work for
American and British companies occupying another country.
What do these private contractors, their guys, make
compared to American soldiers on the ground?
Well it varies widely depending on the company,
depending on their role, depending on their nationality. If you're a
former Navy Seal or a Delta Force guy working for Blackwater, you can
make about 600 dollars a day for your work in Iraq. I mean, we're
talking six figure salaries. Some of these guys working for private
military companies make as much as-- as General Petreyas if not more.
He makes about $180,000 a year. Average troops in the
ground, some of these kids are being paid forty thousand dollars a year
to be in the exact same war zone as Erik Prince's men from Blackwater.
And they're wearing the American flag on their shoulder, not the
Didn't I read somewhere that one of our generals said
we couldn't be here without Blackwater and these other companies? We
couldn't be occupying. Or something to that effect?
Yeah. I mean, well, General Petraeus himself has been
guarded by private contractors in Iraq. I mean, what message did that
send when the general who's overseeing the surge in Iraq is guarded at
times not by the US military, but by private forces.
What message does that send?
Well, I think it sends a message that the United
States military is essentially a subservient player to a corporate army
I don't read that. I read it that Blackwater is the
corollary to the-- complement to the essential lode star for the military.
Well, Erik Prince likes to describe Blackwater as the
sort of Federal Express of the national security apparatus. He says if
you want a package to get somewhere, do you send it through the post
office or do you send it through Fed Ex
? But the fact is, the US military
is the junior partner in the coalition that's occupying Iraq to these
private companies. There are over 170 mercenary companies like
Blackwater operating in Iraq right now. That's almost as many nations as
are registered at the UN. And I think this isn't just about Iraq. It's
also looting the US treasury.
What does it say that this industry has become so
essential, this peace and stability industry-- these mercenaries as you
call them. .
Right. Well, I think we're in the midst of the most
radical privatization agenda in our nation's history. We of course see
it in schools. We see it in the health care system, in prisons. And now,
we're seeing it full blown in the war machine. What I ultimately see as
the real threat here is that the system of the very existence of the
nation state I think is at stake here. Because you have companies now
that have been funded with billions of dollars in public money using
that money to then build up the infrastructure of private armies some of
which could take out a small national military. And the old model used
to be if a company wants to go into Nigeria for instance and exploit
oil, they have to work with the juntas forces in order to do that. Now,
you can just bring in your own private military force
Is it conceivable to you that these private contractors
could be-- could wind up fighting the war against drugs in Columbia?
Fighting the terrorists--
They already are.
There's the-- Dyncorps for years, which is a
massively publicly traded mercenary outfit, has been in Columbia for
years. They've been in the Balkans. They're all over the place.
Under contract to...?
Under contract with the US government. The Columbian
government receives 630 million dollars a year to fight the so-called
war on drugs. Of that 630 million dollars, half of it goes to US war
contractors. They're in Bolivia. They're in Ecuador. They're in
Columbia. Blackwater recently won a fifteen billion dollar contract that
it's gonna share with four other companies to fight terrorists with drug
Look, these-- the journalists we saw, all good
journalists, some of them my friends. I admire them. But I was struck
that no one confronted Prince about the specifics of his private army.
How do you explain that?
Well, I'm-- I'm not sure why they didn't do it. I
feel like some of these interviews that have been done with him would
make the barons of the Soviet media empire blush with embarrassment for
how this was handled. I mean, this is a man who is building up nothing
short of a parallel national security apparatus. He not only has his
Blackwater Security which is what's deployed in Iraq. He has a maritime
division, an aviation division. He recently started his own privatized
intelligence company called Total Intelligence Solutions that-- that's
headed by a thirty year veteran of the CIA, the man who led the hunt for
Osama Bin Laden, Colfer Black, who oversaw the extraordinary rendition
program. This is the man who promised President Bush that he was gonna
have his operative in Afghanistan chop off Osama Bin Laden's head, place
it in a box with dry ice and then have it hand delivered to President
Bush. He's now the number two man at Blackwater USA.
He's the vice chairman of the company. And he's heading up this private
intelligence company called Total Intelligence Solutions. Blackwater has
just won a 92 million dollar contract from the Pentagon to operate
flights throughout central Asia. This is a company that is manufacturing
surveillance blimps and marketing them to the Department of Homeland
Security. Their own armored vehicle called the Grizzly. I mean,
Blackwater's gonna be around for a very long time.
And yet, Prince told Charlie, in effect, you know,
we're just a very robust temp-agency. Sort of like Kelly girls.
I really don't know what to say to that. I mean what, are
they just answering phones somewhere? These are guys that have worked
inside of Afghanistan. They've been responsible for so much death and
destruction in Iraq. And it's sort of-- it's the sanitizing of the role
Well, I mean, Erik Prince likes to portray Blackwater
as this sort of apple pie operation, all-American operation. And yet,
his company has recruited soldiers from all around the world and
deployed them in Iraq. Chilean commandos some of whom trained and served
under Augusto Pinochet.
The dictator of Chile, were hired up by Blackwater.
They worked with a recruiter who had been-- a Chilean recruiter who had
been in Pinochet's military. And they hired up scores of Chileans,
brought them to North Carolina for evaluation and then sent them over to
Iraq. Chile was opposed to the occupation of Iraq. Was a rotating member
of the security council at the time of the invasion opposing it. It said
no. We won't join the coalition of the willing. And so, Blackwater goes
in and hires up soldiers from a country who's home government is opposed
to the war. And deploys them in Iraq. That's a subversion of the
sovereignty of the nation of Chile. Blackwater has hired Colombian
soldiers and paid them 34 dollars a day to be in Iraq as well. They've
hired Bulgarians, Fijians, Poles. So, I'm not quite certain what-- what
Erik Prince is talking about. In fact, his very definition of mercenary
describes Blackwater, which is a professional soldier serving a foreign
power. That's the definition Prince provides.
: But he objects to that term, mercenary, doesn't he?
He says its slanderous.
I was intrigued to learn that the PR-agency that is
handling Prince, Busrton Marsteller, is also the guy who heads - the CEO
is also Hillary Clinton's top strategist, Mark Penn.
Mark Penn. Sort of-- he's been called Hillary's Rove.
What-- I know something about how this system works. How a PR company
comes to you and says hey I've got this client that would like to be on
air here. Here's how we'd like to do it. And then, you see the same
thing in being repeated from show to show to show-- like Hillary Clinton
was on all five of the Sunday morning talk shows recently. What-- what
have you learned about how the system works between the political and
Well, I mean, PR-companies are also mercenaries and I
know oftentimes work for the highest bidder. I think it's interesting that--
They're not shooting people though.
No, no, no. But they're mercenaries in the sense that
they'll-- they'll rent their services out to anyone. And once you're
defending Erik Prince, you're working for him, then you become part of
his sort of mercenary operation. I also think that it was a strategic
choice to go with the company with Mark Penn because-- because of his
connection with the democrats and Hillary Clinton. But let's, lets
remember here we're talking about Blackwater right now because we have a
Republican administration. For so many years, we had a Republican
dominated Congress. Blackwater is certainly the beneficiary of the-- the
Republican monopoly in government. But this system has been bi-partisan
for a very long time. When Hillary Clinton's husband was in the White
House, he was an aggressive supporter of the privatization of the war
machine. Bill Clinton used mercenary forces in the Balkans. Who do we
think gave Dick Cheney's company all of those contracts during the
Nineties? We talk about Halliburton. It was Clinton. It was the Clinton
administration. And and, Blackwater may be a-- an extraordinary
Republican company. But they're gonna be around when there's a Democrat
None of these-- none of my colleagues seem to want to
press Prince on his, deeply on his political connections. What can you
tell us about those connections?
Well, there are two things at play here. There's the
funding of congressional candidates. And Erik Prince has given over a
quarter of a million dollars to Republican candidates. He's also given
money to the green party to defeat Democratic candidates in the 2006
election cycle. So, he's a pretty committed supporter of the Republican
party. But what I think is more interesting is Erik Prince's connection
to radical religious right organizations. I mean, he comes from a family
where his father built up a very successful manufacturing empire called
Prince Manufacturing. And the invention that they were best known for is
the now ubiquitous lighted sun visors. You pull down the visor in your
car and it lights up. You have a bit of Blackwater history riding around
in your vehicle. And so, Prince grows up in this household where he
watches his father using that business as a cash generating engine to
fuel and fund the rise not only of the Republican revolution of 1994,
but also of several of the core groups that make up the radical
religious right. His dad gave the seed money to Gary Bauer to start the
family research council. They were very close to James Dobson and his
Focus on the Family Prayer Warrior Network. Erik Prince was in the first
team of interns that Gary Bauer took on in Washington at the Family
Research Council. And Erik Prince's sister Betsy married Dick Devos,
heir to the Amway Corporation fortune, the owners of the Orlando Magic
basketball team. And together, these two families merged in a kind of
marriage that was commonplace in the monarchies of old Europe. And
together, they formed this formidable behind the scenes power player in
radical right wing politics in this country. And Erik Prince as a young
man goes down, he interns in George H. W. Bush's White House but
complains it's not conservative enough for him. And so, he backs Pat
Buchanan in his insurgency campaign in 1992. So, these are sort of the
people that peppered the landscape of young Erik Prince's life. He also
interned for Dana Rauerbacher, a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan.
Now a congressman from California.
And now a congressman from California. In fact,
what's interesting is Rauerbacher issued a defense of Erik Prince after
his congressional testimony and said that Erik Prince is gonna go down
in history as a hero, just like Oliver North.
October 19, 2007
Bill Moyers talks with journalist Jeremy Scahill - Part 2
You say in your book, what is particularly scary, you
acknowledge that the Democrats play this game, too, Clinton and so
forth. But you write, "What is particularly scary about Blackwater's
role in a war that President Bush labeled a crusade is that the
company's leading executives are dedicated to a Christian supremacist
agenda." Now, you go on and off with the evidence for that in the book.
But when I read that, I thought, is that just a coincidence? I mean,
Blackwater is not the result of his Christian or religious impulses. I
mean, it's a business operation, isn't it?
Well, I mean, I believe that Erik Prince is an
ideological foot soldier. And I do believe that he's a Christian
supremacist. And I think it's very easy to explain that. I mean, look,
this is the guy who gave a half a million dollars to Chuck Colson, the
first person to go to jail for Watergate who's now becoming a very
prominent evangelical minister and an advisor to President Bush, one of
the people behind the safe face initiatives.
And Chuck Colson has said things like when Mohammed wrote the Koran, he
had had too many tamales the night before. Also one of the leading
executives of Blackwater, Joseph Schmidt is an active member of the
Military Order of Malta, a Christian militia dating back to the
Crusades. And I believe that these men do have an agenda that very
closely reflects adherence to a sort of Crusader doctrine.
You just mentioned something that was obvious as I read
your book. I mean, this is the revolving door. Cofer Black, head of
counter intelligence at the CIA leaves the government, goes to work as
the number two man at Blackwater. Guys leave the Pentagon go to work for
It's not a revolving door. It's a bridge. They go
back and forth.
I mean, it's not unique? This is true of so many of
these companies, right?
Right. But Blackwater has emerged sort of as the--
it's almost like an armed wing of the administration in Iraq. Because it
doesn't work for the Pentagon. It works for the State Department. And
the fact that Blackwater is such a politically connected company I think
explains why you see this big push back. Because if I was Ambassador
Ryan Crocker, I wouldn't want to come within ten countries of the
Blackwater body guards. I mean, when your body guards become more of a
target than you, maybe it's time to get a different security detail. So,
why is it so important to the US government that they keep Blackwater on
the job in Iraq? I think part of it is an institutional loyalty.
Blackwater is very fond of saying we've never lost a principle. No US
diplomat has died under our watch.
He said that over and over on these interviews.
Oh, yeah. Yeah. And of course, and, you know, the
Republicans in Congress during the hearings said that's the statistic
that's most important. But the question needs to be asked, at what
price? When you ride into a village and you shoot at cars that come too
close to you, that has a ricochet effect that where, the people whose
vehicle you shot at now have a perception of what happens when US
diplomats come around. And then, they go and they tell someone else.
And maybe you're one of the families of a victim of the Nasoor Square
shooting where 17 people were killed and over 25 others were wounded.
So, yes, Blackwater can walk around bragging about how they haven't lost
a single principle. All of their nouns have been kept alive, as they
call it. But at what price? And at what price to the US soldiers in
Iraq? You know, I've heard from so many soldiers, veterans who say, you
know, we're in a village somewhere. And things are going fine with the
Iraqis. And we've reached the point where they're not attacking us
anymore. And we feel like there's some good will that's been generated.'
And in fact, this is an exact story that a translator attached to a
special forces unit told me in an e-mail recently. And he said, you
know, and then the PSD guys, the personal security detail guys, they
come whizzing through with their VIP and they shoot up the town. And the
Iraqis in town don't understand that there's a difference between the
private forces and the military. And then they conduct revenge attacks
against us. And so, it's having a blow-back effect on the active duty
military. The misconduct of these forces.
Isn't it also true that some of our soldiers in Iraq
are, quote, going Blackwater?
Yeah. I mean, that's, I learned recently that that's
the slang. Even if you're going to work for Triple Canopy or Dyncorps,
Other companies, right?
Right. You've got other companies operating in Iraq.
The slang of the day is going Blackwater.
Which means that you're jumping from the active duty
military to the private sector. You know, you're gonna be in the same
war zone, but you're gonna make a lot more money. And, you know, the
troops I talked to also say that these guys are sort of like the rock
stars of the war zone. They've got better equipment than us. They have
better body armor. I mean, I talk to these kids. And some of them say,
you know, I was in Ramadia at the worst time in 2004. And I never
stepped foot in an armored vehicle. And we're bolting steel plates and
putting down sand bags on the ground to protect against IADs. And we
know it's not gonna really do anything, but we need it for our
psychology. And then, they see the Blackwater guys or others whiz by
with their six figure salaries and their bulging arms and their wrap
around sunglasses. And they're the ones sort of bossing around military
officials. And there's two reactions. They either resent them and they
say, what message is my country sending me when I'm sitting over here,
forty thousand dollars. My mom's back home trying to raise money to buy
me some real body armor. And then, I see these guys whiz by with their
six figure salary wearing the corporate logo instead of the American
flag. Or the other reaction is, I want to be like that. I don't want to
be over here working for, you know, the third infantry division. I want
to go and work for Blackwater or Triple Canopy.
You know, I had a scary thought during the night as I
was thinking about talking to you. And I know some people--
That happens to me a lot. (LAUGHTER)
The thought was, you know, suppose we had a national
emergency. Suppose the terrorists struck again. And a President,
President Hillary Clinton, or President Barack Obama declared marshal
law in order to try to deal with this threat. And there was a private
army of twenty thousand soldiers that I could call upon to throw a ring
around the capital and make sure that the Congress didn't leave town or
didn't get back to the capital if-- how far fetched is that?
Well, I mean, I was in New Orleans in the aftermath
of Hurricane Katrina. And I think we saw a real window into the possible
future. You know, I was standing on a street corner in the French
quarter on Bourbon Street. And I was talking to two New York City police
officer who had come down to help. And this is just a couple of days
after the hurricane had hit. And this car speeds up next to us. No
license plates on it, a compact car. And three massive guys get out of
it. And they have M-4 assault rifles, bullet proof vests, wearing
khakis, wrap around sunglasses, baseball caps on. And they come up and
they say to the cops, "Where are the rest of the Blackwater guys?" And
my head sort of started, you know, I didn't even hear the answer. I
couldn't believe what I was hearing. Where are the rest of the
Blackwater guys? So, they get back in their vehicle and they speed off.
And I said to this cop, Blackwater? You mean the guys in Iraq and
Afghanistan? They said, oh, yeah. They're all over the place down here.
And so, I said, well, I'd like to talk to them. Where are they? And they
said, you can go either way on the street, implying that they're
everywhere. So, I walked a little bit deeper into the French quarter.
And sure enough, I encountered some Blackwater guys. And when I talked
to them, they said that they were down there to confront criminals and
Who called them in?
And-- well, this is an interesting story. Erik Prince
sent them in there with no contract initially. About 180 Blackwater guys
were sent into the Gulf. They got there before FEMA. I don't even know
if FEMA's there yet. But they got there before FEMA, before there was
any kind of a serious operation in the city at all.
On Prince's own decision?
Well, so Prince sends them in. Within a week,
Blackwater was given a contract from the Department of Homeland Security
Federal Protective Service to engage in security operations inside of
New Orleans. At one point, Blackwater had six hundred men deployed down
there stretching from Mississippi through-- from Texas through
Mississippi and the Gulf. They were pulling in $240,000 a day. Some of
these guys though had just been in Iraq two weeks earlier guarding the
US ambassador. Now, they're in New Orleans. They say, oh, we do this
sort of as a vacation. One was complaining to me that there wasn't
enough action down here. And when I talked to them, they told me they
were getting paid 350 dollars a day, plus a per diem.
By homeland security?
Well, they were being paid by Blackwater. When I got
Blackwater's contract with the Department of Homeland Security, it turns
out that Blackwater billed US taxpayers 950 dollars per man per day in
the hurricane zone.
A profit margin of 600 dollars.
Well, I mean, the math on this stuff is always
complicated. And Erik Prince and his men are very good at drawing up
charts and sort of, you know, just saying, well, there's this detail and
this detail. The Department of Homeland Security then did an internal
review and they determined that it was the best value to the taxpayer,
at a time when the poor residents of New Orleans were being chastised
for how they used their two thousand dollar debit cards that often
didn't work, the ones provided by FEMA. But what was even scarier than
seeing the Blackwater operatives on the streets of New Orleans was, I
encountered two Israeli commandos who had been brought in by a wealthy
businessman in New Orleans and set up an armed checkpoint outside of his
gated community. And they were from a company called Instinctive
Shooting International. ISI, which is an Israeli company. I mean, and I
went up and I talked to them. And they tapped on their automatic weapons
and said, you know, over in our country, when the Palestinians see this,
they're not so afraid because they're used to it. But you people, you
see it, and you're very afraid. They were almost proud of the fact that
I was sort of in awe seeing Israeli commandos patrolling a US street,
operating in fact an armed check point.
I mean, once upon a time, companies and others hired
Pinkerton guards, private guards. But never on this scale, right?
No. I mean, you know, it was like Baghdad on the
bayou down there in New Orleans. And-- I mean, this is the point I'm
making. The poor drowned. They are left without food. They're called
looters when they take perishable goods out of a store when they've been
systematically neglected. The rich bring in their mercenaries to guard
their properties or their businesses or their hotel chains. And I think
it's a window into what happens in a national emergency. And in this
country, the poor are left to suffer and die and the rich bring in their
Just the other day, THE WALL STREET JOURNAL had a big
story that said Erik Prince is laying plans for an expansion that would
put his gunmen in hot spots around the world doing far more than guard
duty. What, how do you read that?
They view themselves as peace keepers. They call
themselves the peace and stability issue. They certainly have intimated
that they would be willing or want to go into Darfur. But they've been
pushing this for a while. And I think this is a gateway. And Blackwater
executives said, "You send us in, and it'll be Janjaweed be gone."
But suppose they could go in there as mercenaries and
bring an end to that conflict. And get food in for those refugees in a
way that the United States government can't do.
Well, what does that say though about the structure
of the world? What does it say about nation states and international
institutions? I mean, the Bush administration has so maligned the United
Nations and rendered it irrelevant and pulled the rug out from under it
in so many ways. And I think that the last thing that is needed in
Darfur is more private guns. I mean, who's to say that's what would
happen if Blackwater gets sent into Darfur in the first place? I mean,
who's gonna be monitoring them and overseeing them? I don't buy that the
mercenaries are the solution to the crisis in Darfur. I--
But Erik Prince told all of these-- journalists, "We
want more accountability. We welcome it."
This is one thing that I find fascinating. When
Blackwater was sued-- for wrongful death from the four guys killed in
Fallujah in March of '04 and then Afghanistan plane crash, the legal
argument that Blackwater put forward is quite an interesting one. "We
can't be sued." What they said is, "We should enjoy the same immunity
from civilian litigation that's enjoyed by the U.S. military." At the
same time, their lobbyists and spokespeople are waxing poetic in the
media about how it would be inappropriate to apply the uniform code of
military justice, the court marshal system, to Blackwater because we're
civilians. So, when it's convenient, we're part of the U.S. total force,
part of the war machine, and should be treated like the military. And
when it's convenient, oh, we can't be subjected to military law. Because
we're actually civilians.
But to whom are they accountable? Who can hold them to
Well, no one apparently has held them to any kind of
accountability thus far. Not a single one of them has ever been charged
with any crimes whatsoever.
Isn't there something in the contract?
In fact, when Erik Prince-- well, they talk about--
"Oh, there's contracts overseeing this way. And they go through our
papers and we're audited." But on life or death issues, not a single
thing has ever happened to a Blackwater contractor, except what Erik
Prince said. They're given a choice, window seat or aisle seat. And
that's, and they're fired. Look, one of the really disturbing stories
that's come out of Iraq in the last year involving Blackwater was that
last Christmas Eve inside of the heavily fortified green zone, a
drunken, off-duty Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed a
bodyguard for the Iraqi Vice President, Adel Abdul-Mahdi.
In the aftermath of that shooting, this individual was whisked out of
Iraq, within 36 hours after that shooting. And then he actually returned
back to the region working in Kuwait for another contractor with the
Pentagon. The killing happened, December 24th 2006. February of 2007,
this individual is back in the Middle East working for another U.S.
military contractor and worked there until August. He hasn't been
charged with any crime whatsoever. We understand now that the Justice
Department is investigating it. The Iraqis clearly labeled it a murder.
And it created a major rift between Baghdad and Washington. Imagine if
an Iraqi bodyguard shot and killed a bodyguard for Dick Cheney and then
the Iraqis just whisked him out of the United States. I mean, what would
happen? What message does this send? What does it say that in four years
of occupation, hundreds of thousands of contractors, not a single one of
them has been prosecuted? Ether we have tens of thousands of--
mercenaries in Iraq who are actually Boy Scouts, or something is
fundamentally rotten with that system.
What about these suits that had been filed by some of
the loved ones of the four contractors who were killed in Fallujah,
before Fallujah? What about those lawsuits? Where are they going?
You know, when I read the 60 Minutes transcript and
they mentioned the four men who the killed at Fallujah and then they
said well-- Blackwater has a memorial for them on the compound, I was
waiting for them to say, "And the four families of the men are suing
Blackwater for wrongful death." I mean, thi-- this--
That wasn't in the piece though, was it?
It was not in the piece.
No. I mean, I saw that Lara Logan and Erik Prince were
walking by that memorial-
--in North Carolina I think on their home base. And
nothing was said about the fact that this suit is happening.
And I, you know, I've gotten to know those four
families very well-- over these years of working on this story. And
they're interesting. They're military families. They consider themselves
to be very patriotic. Some of them are pretty conservative Republicans.
And these men were all-- veterans of the U.S. Military, Navy SEAL. Scott
Helvenston was one of the youngest people ever to complete the Navy SEAL
BUDs training program. He was one of the guys killed there. And, you
know, what happened after that, these guys were killed on March 31st,
2004. The families of these men didn't presume any malice on the part of
Blackwater. They thought that it was a patriotic American company and
that their loved ones were continuing their military service, but doing
it through the private sector in Iraq. And some of them disagreed with
the war. Some of them supported it. So, when they were killed, they
wanted answers as to what happened. And they began calling Blackwater.
And they say that the vibe was creepy. That it seemed as though somebody
was hiding something, that they weren't being straight with them. And
they asked, some of the families asked to see a copy of Blackwater's
incident report, the company's investigation of that incident. And Donna
Zovko the mother of Jerry Zovko -- they're Croatian immigrants she sat
down with Blackwater executives at their compound in North Carolina.
And when she asked to get that document and look at it, she claims that
a Blackwater representative stood up at the table and told her it's a
classified document and you'll have to sue us if you wanna see it. And
so, Donna Zovko, whose son Jerry was killed in Fallujah, starts becoming
close friends with Katie Helvenston, whose son Scott was killed in
Fallujah. And the two of them begin comparing notes. And there's
scouring media reports. And then they start to look at the photos. And
they realize they weren't really in armored vehicles there. They start
to put together pieces. And what emerged was a lawsuit.
In January of 2005, the families of those four men-- Wesley Batalona,
Michael Teague, Jerry Zovko, and Scott Helvenston, filed a
groundbreaking wrongful death lawsuit against Blackwater, charging that
the company had sent those men into what was arguably the most dangerous
city in the world at the time in unarmored vehicles, short two men,
without heavy weaponry and without the opportunity to do a 24-hour risk
assessment, all of which they said were in the contract governing their
mission that day. And so, Blackwater fought back ferociously. Fred
Fielding was one of the original lawyers on the case, more rec--
He had served Richard Nixon's White House. And he's now
the counsel to President Bush, right?
That's correct. They've had many law firms. And
they've-- they've tried to have the case thrown out. They've appealed
all the way to the Supreme Court. And-- twice, the Supreme Court
rejected Ken Starr's appeals. And the case is sort of caught up in a
little bit of legal limbo right now. But it's being watched very closely
by all of the other war companies. Because it's like the tobacco
litigation of the '90s. If that one domino goes down, it starts off a
chain reaction. And so, a lot of people are paying very close attention
Doesn't Erik Prince as a businessman have to worry about
finding new markets? Because the State Department has said when his
contract outside the green zone in Iraq expires next May, Blackwater's
not likely to be a-- a contestant for a new contract. I mean, there
seems to be a tacit understanding between Blackwater and the government
that given the shootings in September and all the controversy that's
been created, they'd just sort of quietly slip away.
You know what though? In the midst of all of this
chaos and crisis and the sort of crisis of image for Blackwater, the
company continues to win very lucrative government contracts. The
business in Iraq, it can come and go for Blackwater.I don't even think
it represents the most lucrative aspects of the company's business. It's
just the highest profile. Blackwater also has an affiliate company that
they started called Greystone which was registered offshore in Barbados.
And that's sort of being portrayed as an actual sort of traditional
mercenary outfit. And they're pushing their services to Fortune 500
companies. I mean, that's the target market of their intelligence division.
Fortune 500 companies
Sure. Absolutely. I mean, you look at the guest list
of the kickoff ceremony for Greystone, this affiliate of Blackwater that
Erik Prince owned. And it's like all of these governments: Croatia,
Uzbekistan. It's governments. It's International Monetary Fund. It's
corporations. I mean, I think yes. The government business for
Blackwater is tremendously important. They do an enormous volume of
business in training, of law enforcement, of the military. And they
certainly have been involved with training foreign forces as well.
They've trained Jordanian attack helicopters. They've been deployed in
Azerbaijan. But corporate to corporate, I think the business to business
is gonna be a major part of Blackwater's future.
You're a reporter, not a prophet. But what does this
foreshadow for our world?
I think it's really scary. I mean, I think that the
U.S. government right now is in the midst of its most radical
privatization agenda. Seventy percent of the national intelligence
budget is farmed out to the private sector. We have more contractors
than soldiers occupying Iraq. I think that what this does is it takes--
it sanitizes it also for the American people. There's not a draft.
There's been, you know, almost 4,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Iraq; we
don't know how many private contractors. But that's a relatively small
number compared to Vietnam, for instance, where we talked about 65,000
body bags coming home. And already, people are outraged at it. And I see
this as a real subversion of democratic processes in this country and a
subversion of sovereignty of nations around the world.
But isn't it a way to keep protest at home against the
war in Iraq and other wars from rising to the level of--
Absolutely. Oh, absolutely. I mean, it masks the
human cost or the human toll of the war in terms of American lives.
Because the contractor deaths are not counted in the official tolls nor
are the injuries of them.
And it also masks the true extent of the occupation when over half of
your occupation force comes from the private sector. Bush almost never
talks about it. He doesn't have to own it in front of the American
people. He's having enough trouble owning the 170,000 troops that are
over there right now. And the story is starting to slip out. But you're
absolutely right. It keeps the death toll down-- in terms of what's
being reported. And it keeps protests down as well.
What I see in the bigger picture here is what the
real revolution is in terms of U.S. politics is that they're taking
billions of dollars in public money. And they're privatizing it.
You know, the Pentagon can't give campaign contributions. The State
Department can't give campaign contributions. Blackwater's executives
can give contributions. Dyn Core
's, Ratheon, Northrop Grumman. And so
what they're doing is, they're taking billions of dollars. And it's
making its way back into the campaign coffers of the very politicians
that make the meteoric ascent of these companies possible. I really view
this through the lens of it tearing away at the fabric of American
democracy as well.
Jeremy Scahill, thank you very much for joining me and
for writing BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY
My pleasure, Bill.
Press Release prior to the event
PBS Bill Moyers Journal
October 19, 2007
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater contractors, during a complex confrontation
in downtown Baghdad, shot and killed Iraqis in the crowded Nisour Square.
The FBI and State Department are currently investigating the incident, yet it
further sheds light upon a growing private sector security force in Iraq and
elsewhere, that many fear has not been held accountable to the same degree as
have US military officials.
has been covering Blackwater for The Nation
publications for more than three years. He is a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at
The Nation Institute, and is the author of BLACKWATER: THE RISE OF THE WORLD'S
MOST POWERFUL MERCENARY ARMY, published by Nation Books. He is also an
award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for Democracy Now
According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, there are between 160,000 and 180,000
private contractors in Iraq, including about 30,000 armed security forces.
Blackwater employees represent about 1000 of these armed contractors. There were only
about 9,200 total private contractors during the Persian Gulf War.
Few Americans had even heard of Blackwater before March 31, 2004, when four
of its contractors were ambushed and brutally killed in Falluja, and days
later, a US siege of the region began. It was "what would be one of the most brutal
and sustained US operations of the occupation," explains Scahill, who
believes the US Military response to the killings sets a dangerous precedent.
Before the September 16, 2007 confrontation, Blackwater employees had been
implicated in similar incidents involving questionable force, including in
December 2006, when a drunk Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed a
bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. The contractor was
subsequently fired by Blackwater, yet was sent back in the region with another private
"[State Department] officials said that Blackwater's incident rate was at
least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp
International and Triple
Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted
by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior
civilians in Iraq," writes THE NEW YORK TIMES.
Still, as Blackwater's founder Eric Prince reminded Congress a few weeks ago,
"Blackwater personnel are subject to regular attacks by terrorists and other
nefarious forces within Iraq." As the WALL STREET JOURNAL reports, "The
company has said it has done 16,000 missions for the State Department since June
2005, using its weapons just 1% of the time." And recently two Blackwater
helicopters helped evacuate the Polish Ambassador to Iraq after his convoy was
But questions about accountability still abound: when mistakes are made, to
which rule of law should contractors answer, military or US criminal law?
Officials in the State and Defense Departments are currently debating this very
Blackwater's State Department contract expires next May, and according to the
AP, officials in the Department intend to "ease out" Blackwater since many
share "a mutual feeling that the Sept. 16 shooting deaths mean the company
cannot continue in its current role." Yet according to the WALL STREET JOURNAL,
even if Blackwater was forced to leave Iraq, they would simply be replaced by
another private security firm, since the State Department does not have the
personnel available to step in:
"'There's just no way our system could handle trying to get hundreds of new
people trained and sent to Iraq,' said a State Department official. 'That would
be a multiyear process.'"
Published on October 19, 2007
The Moyers Clip File: Loose Change
Who is keeping track of the billions we're spending in Iraq? Under the radar
news you need to know.
The Moyers Clip File: Iraq Stories
Bill Moyers examines underreported stories about the Iraq war.
State Department Contracted Security Firms in Iraq:
- DynCorp International
- Blackwater USA
- Triple Canopy
Blackwater Reporting by Jeremy Scahill:
- Iraqis Sue Blackwater for Baghdad Killings, The Nation, October 11, 2007
- Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater, The Nation, April 19, 2006
- Our Mercenaries in Iraq, LOS ANGELES TIMES, January 25, 2007
- From Whitewater to Blackwater, also by Garrett Ordower, The Nation, October 26, 2006
- Mercenary Jackpot, The Nation, August 10, 2006
- Blackwater Down, The Nation, September 21, 2005
- Bush's Shadow Army, The Nation, March 15, 2007
- Testimony of Scahill before the Senate Democratic Policy Committee, The Nation, September 21, 2007
Blackwater CEO, Erik Prince, on CHARLIE ROSE, October 15, 2007
60 MINUTES: Lara Logan interviews Erik Prince, October 14, 2007
NPR: Melissa Block interviews Erik Prince on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED, October 18, 2007
Blackwater Tops Firms in Iraq in Shooting Rate
By John M. Broder and James Risen, THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 27, 2007
"The American security contractor Blackwater USA has been involved in a far
higher rate of shootings while guarding American diplomats in Iraq than other
security firms providing similar services to the State Department, according to
Bush administration officials and industry officials."
House Oversight Committee: Private Security Contracting in Iraq and
Watch the Congressional hearing from October 2, 2007 that discusses
Blackwater and the recent civilian killings on Sept. 16. Read Erik Prince's testimony
Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, March 20, 2007
Revolving Door to Blackwater Causes Alarm at CIA
By Ken Silverstein, HARPERS, September 12, 2006
"How did Blackwater rise so high, so fast? The 'war on terrorism' got the
ball rolling for the firm, but one suspects that political connections played a
big part as well."
Blackwater: Inside America's Private Army
Explore this Pulitzer Prize Finalist series from THE VIRGINIAN PILOT about
State Dept. Intercedes in Blackwater probe
By Peter Spiegel, LA TIMES, September 26, 2007
"A House panel reveals a letter telling the firm not to disclose information
about its Iraq operations without the administration's OK."
U.S. Military and Iraqis Say They Are Shut Out of Inquiry
By Richard A. Oppel Jr. and Michael R. Gordon, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October
"Nearly four weeks after the deadly shootings at a central Baghdad square
involving the Blackwater USA private security firm, American military officials
and Iraqi investigators say the F.B.I. and State Department are refusing to
share information with them on their investigation into the killings."
TPM Muckraker: Posts on Contractors
Josh Marshall and his team have been following the contractors story and here
are many of the recent posts from their investigative reporting blog, TPM
NEW YORK TIMES: Blackwater Navigator
A list of resources about Blackwater USA as selected by researchers and
editors of THE NEW YORK TIMES.
By Robert O'Harrow Jr. and Dana Hedgpeth, WASHINGTON POST, October 13, 2007
"Founder Seeks 'Better, Smarter, Faster' Security As History, Iraq Shape the
OP-ED COLUMNIST; Hired Gun Fetish
By Paul Krugman, THE NEW YORK TIMES, September 27, 2007
"Yes, the so-called private security contractors are mercenaries. They're
heavily armed. They carry out military missions, but they're private employees
who don't answer to military discipline. On the other hand, they don't seem to
be accountable to Iraqi or U.S. law, either. And they behave accordingly."
House Bill Would Allow Prosecution of Contractors
By David M. Herszenhorn, THE NEW YORK TIMES, October 4, 2007
"With the armed security force Blackwater USA and other private contractors
in Iraq facing tighter scrutiny, the House overwhelmingly approved a bill today
that would bring all United States government contractors in the Iraq war
zone under the jurisdiction of American criminal law."
FRONTLINE: Private Warriors | PBS | June 21, 2005
"What are the Dangers in bringing in the private sector to prosecute the war?