Blackwater Worldwide

Blackwater Logo

The private security firm Blackwater is attempting to reconstruct its image, re-branding themselves Blackwater Worldwide this October. The US State Department’s largest security contractor had its operating license revoked by the Iraqi government this September after its involvement in the killing of 17 Iraqi civilians. Yet they continue to operate there and are expanding operations even further. I’ll leave it to Jeremy Scahill to fill you in on the details:

Blackwater Bu$ine$$ (from The Nation)

Gunning down seventeen Iraqi civilians in an incident the military has labeled “criminal.” Multiple Congressional investigations. A federal grand jury. Allegations of illegal arms smuggling. Wrongful death lawsuits brought by families of dead employees and US soldiers. A federal lawsuit alleging war crimes. Charges of steroid use by trigger-happy mercenaries. Allegations of “significant tax evasion.” The US-installed government in Iraq labeling its forces “murderers.” With a new scandal breaking practically every day, one would think Blackwater security would be on the ropes, facing a corporate meltdown or even a total wipeout. But it seems that business for the company has never been better, as it continues to pull in major federal contracts. And its public demeanor grows bolder and cockier by the day.

Rather than hiding out and hoping for the scandals to fade, the Bush Administration’s preferred mercenary company has launched a major rebranding campaign, changing its name to Blackwater Worldwide and softening its logo: once a bear paw in the site of a sniper scope, it’s now a bear claw wrapped in two half ovals–sort of like the outline of a globe with a United Nations feel. Its website boasts of a corporate vision “guided by integrity, innovation, and a desire for a safer world.” Blackwater mercenaries are now referred to as “global stabilization professionals.” Blackwater’s 38-year-old owner, Erik Prince, was No. 11 in Details magazine’s “Power 50,” the men “who control your viewing patterns, your buying habits, your anxieties, your lust…. the people who have taken over the space in your head.”

In one of the company’s most bizarre recent actions, on December 1 Blackwater paratroopers staged a dramatic aerial landing, complete with Blackwater flags and parachutes–not in Baghdad or Kabul but in San Diego at Qualcomm Stadium during the halftime show at the San Diego State/BYU football game. The location was interesting, given that Blackwater is fighting fierce local opposition to its attempt to open a new camp–Blackwater West–on 824 acres in the small rural community of Potrero, just outside San Diego. Blackwater’s parachute squad plans to land at the Armed Forces Bowl in Texas this month and the Virginia Gold Cup in May. The company recently sponsored a NASCAR racer, and it has teamed up with gun manufacturer Sig Sauer to create a Blackwater Special Edition full-sized 9-millimeter pistol with the company logo on the grip. It comes with a Limited Lifetime Warranty. For $18, parents can purchase infant onesies with the company logo.

In recent weeks, Blackwater has indicated it might quit Iraq. “We see the security market diminishing,” Prince told the Wall Street Journal in October. Yet on December 3 Blackwater posted job listings for “security specialists” and snipers as a result of its State Department diplomatic security “contract expansion.” While its name may be mud in the human rights world, Blackwater has not only made big money in Iraq (about $1 billion in State Department contracts); it has secured a reputation as a company that keeps US officials alive by any means necessary. The dirty open secret in Washington is that Blackwater has done its job in Iraq, even if it has done so by valuing the lives of Iraqis much lower than those of US VIPs. That badass image will serve it well as it expands globally.

Prince promises that Blackwater “is going to be more of a full spectrum” operation. Amid the cornucopia of scandals, Blackwater is bidding for a share of a five-year, $15 billion contract with the Pentagon to “fight terrorists with drug-trade ties.” Perhaps the firm will join the mercenary giant DynCorp in Colombia or Bolivia or be sent into Mexico on a “training” mission. This “war on drugs” contract would put Blackwater in the arena with the godfathers of the war business, including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.

In addition to its robust business in law enforcement, military and homeland security training, Blackwater is branching out. Here are some of its current projects and initiatives:

§ Blackwater affiliate Greystone Ltd., registered offshore in Barbados, is an old-fashioned mercenary operation offering “personnel from the best militaries throughout the world” for hire by governments and private organizations. It also boasts of a “multi-national peacekeeping program,” with forces “specializing in crowd control and less than lethal techniques and military personnel for the less stable areas of operation.”

§ Prince’s Total Intelligence Solutions, headed by three CIA veterans (among them Blackwater’s number two, Cofer Black), puts CIA-type services on the open market for hire by corporations or governments.

§ Blackwater is launching an armored vehicle called the Grizzly, which the company characterizes as the most versatile in history. Blackwater intends to modify it to be legal for use on US highways.

§ Blackwater’s aviation division has some forty aircraft, including turboprop planes that can be used for unorthodox landings. It has ordered a Super Tucano paramilitary plane from Brazil, which can be used in counterinsurgency operations. In August the aviation division won a $92 million contract with the Pentagon to operate flights in Central Asia.

§ It recently flight-tested the unmanned Polar 400 airship, which may be marketed to the Department of Homeland Security for use in monitoring the US-Mexico border and to “military, law enforcement, and non-government customers.”

§ A fast-growing maritime division has a new, 184-foot vessel that has been fitted for potential paramilitary use.

Meanwhile, Blackwater is deep in the camp of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Cofer Black is Romney’s senior adviser on counterterrorism. At the recent CNN/YouTube debate, when Romney refused to call waterboarding torture, he said, “I’m not going to specify the specific means of what is and what is not torture so that the people that we capture will know what things we’re able to do and what things we’re not able to do. And I get that advice from Cofer Black, who is a person who was responsible for counterterrorism in the CIA for some thirty-five years.” That was an exaggeration of Black’s career at the CIA (he was there twenty-eight years and head of counterterrorism for only three), but a Romney presidency could make Blackwater’s business under Bush look like a church bake sale.

In short, Blackwater is moving ahead at full steam. Individual scandals clearly aren’t enough to slow it down. The company’s critics in the Democratic-controlled Congress must confront the root of the problem: the government is in the midst of its most radical privatization in history, and companies like Blackwater are becoming ever more deeply embedded in the war apparatus. Until this system is brought down, the world’s the limit for Blackwater Worldwide–and as its rebranding campaign shows, Blackwater knows it.

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Mid-week Roundup 12/5

Here are some headlines rounded up from this week:

Is “Save Darfur” a PR Scam?

Drug giant Pfizer will boost outsourcing to Asia; also their Celebrex expert testifies in court without a license.

Private Contractors look to profit from domestic spying.

Hillary is quite tied up with Big Oil and defense contractors.

Guiliani’s ties to a terror shiek

Virginia primaries will demand oath of loyalty from Republican voters.

Bush Justice Department is okay with kidnapping.

100 Students walk out on former Attorney General John Ashcroft.

Guantanamo heading to the Supreme Court.

The human costs of the Iraq Occupation.

Join the military, go to college… The Pentagon’s education recruitment pitch is a scam?

Iraq Vet is punished for seeking help.

US War Vets to speak publicly about war crimes this March.

Bush and Maliki agree to long-term US troop presence in Iraq.

Also, John Pilger has a new book called ‘Freedom Next Time,’ and here is a speech he gave in Chicago concerning media journalism…if you have 45 minutes to spare.

Media Cheerleaders

It is always best to look at things objectively and honestly in order to understand the true nature of things. Doing so will allow us to approach our problems with the proper mindset. But how do we view our own country? It is not as simple as looking in the mirror. Instead, the window through which the mass of society views their country is the media: television, radio, newspapers, etc.

In the United States, the media is made up of a group of large, multinational, conglomerate corporations, including AOL Time Warner (CNN), CBS/Viacom, Disney (ABC), News Corp.(FOX), and General Electric (NBC). Together, just a handful of corporations own over 90% of US media outlets: television, newspapers, book publishers, magazines, radio, music, and film…nearly everything you see, hear, or read is a product of these corporations.

They function with the sole purpose of any other corporation: to maximize profits for the shareholder. Take it from former Disney CEO Michael Eisner: “We have no obligation to make history. We have no obligation to make art. We have no obligation to make a statement. To make money is our only objective.”

Wealthy business elites sit on the boards of these corporations, each with financial interests and business contacts in other corporations. For instance, GE and Westinghouse are enormous companies heavily involved in weapons manufacturing and nuclear power; they are owned by the same people as network TV stations NBC and CBS (respectively). There is a severe conflict of interest when the companies you trust for information are the exact same companies that are being awarded millions of dollars in contracts for manufacturing bombs and fighter jets to fight battles abroad.

For a real democracy to function properly, it is absolutely essential that its citizens are well-informed and that its leaders are ruthlessly held to account; in this respect, our media has failed. Most of the mass media serves as a diversion from issues that truly matter. Think of the last news program you happened to see; consider the time devoted to local stories, professional sports, or celebrity gossip.

Topics that fill the news hour are often trivial, blurring information and entertainment in order to boost ratings. The reporting on real issues is often a repetition of government press releases with little independent investigation. To ensure access to top-level government officials, journalists are pressured to accommodate the administration by reporting favorably and not asking tough questions.

Judith Miller’s front page articles in the New York Times relayed misinformation from government sources, and played a critical role in the lead-up to the illegal invasion of Iraq. She claimed: “My job isn’t to assess the government’s information and be an independent intelligence analyst myself. My job is to tell readers of the New York Times what the government thought about Iraq’s arsenal.” Funny, I thought the specific function of a journalist was to independently assess information, question their sources and evaluate material before reporting it.

Her critical journalistic mistakes have since led to the selling of a war that has already resulted in nearly 4,000 American deaths (more than occurred on 9-11) plus 30,000 wounded, a cost of over half a trillion dollars to US taxpayers, the deaths of approximately one million Iraqis, and the departure of another two million Iraqis.

On one end US taxpayers have financed the cost of the military invasion and occupation, but on the other we are also funding government contracts for the rebuilding of Iraq, awarded to private corporations with ties to the administration and the media.

So keep in mind that the bulk of information you see, hear, or read in our country has been processed through the filter of a corporate media. Do you think we can trust the benefactors of war to provide us with objective information?

Richard Nixon had it right when he wrote: “Short of changing human nature, therefore, the only way to achieve a practical, livable peace in a world of competing nations is to take the profit out of war.”