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The Energizer Bunny temporarily runs out of juice

Erik Prince is America’s poster child for our current stereotype of a war profiteer, wannabe mercenary, and perhaps the E.F. Hutton of all warmongers.

Analysis | Global Crises

One thing about endless wars is that they don’t happen out of the blue. They are not a natural phenomenon. They need to be created, nurtured, and sustained to achieve that perfect sense of hopelessness and despair. Much of that nurturing comes from nation-states, but individuals also play a part in creating and prolonging these conflicts. Such people, who have found a way to profit and benefit from low intensity nightmares by providing just enough fuel to keep them lit, can be called endless warmongers. And some warmongers are more consequential than others.

For example, trigger happy Blackwater guards in Iraq, badly aimed drones in Libya, Colombian mercenaries in Yemen, South Africans firing at chemical tankers off the coast of Somalia from helicopters all have one thing in common: Erik Prince.

Despite his brief time as a U.S. Navy SEAL, Erik Prince never served in or fought in a war. But he has visited plenty on business. He is America’s poster child for our current stereotype of a war profiteer, wannabe mercenary, and perhaps the E.F. Hutton of all warmongers. If there is a war, we are confident that he has a business plan for it. Mali, South Sudan, Somalia, Libya, Afghanistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and even tiny UAE all have been pitched by Prince in his effort to skim a profit on endless wars.

That brings us to the recent news that the Justice Department, nearly ten months after U.S. House of Representatives Permanent Select Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) Chairman Adam Schiff referred the case to it, is finally getting around to reviewing allegations that Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater and the Energizer Bunny of the private security contracting industry, repeatedly provided false testimony to Congress in Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

In its referral, the Intelligence Committee noted:

As the Report makes clear, evidence obtained by the Special Counsel, including testimony provided to the Special Counsel by both Mr. Prince and Mr. Nader, differs materially from Mr. Prince’s testimony, under oath, before the Committee on November 30, 2017. The Report reveals that Mr. Prince’s testimony before the Committee was replete with manifest and substantial falsehoods that materially impaired the Committee’s investigation.  In particular, Mr. Prince’s testimony about his January 11, 2017 meeting in the Seychelles with Kirill Dmitriev, the chief executive officer of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, differs from the Report... .

Prince would deny all the above and insist he is just in the “security” business. If called to explain his line of work, he would insist he is just a harmless tourist, traveling to exotic places like the Seychelles on a whim and bumping into boring people like Dmitriev by sheer happenstance. A chance meeting that lasted only one beer, according to Prince in his sworn testimony in front of the HPSCI. Later when Prince would cut a proffer deal to avoid prosecution and testify under oath for Mueller’s investigation, it would appear that he was lying not just a little…but a lot.

Schiff’s referral is worth reading because it lays out in excruciating detail how much effort Prince took to deceive the panel.

It seems unlikely that the Justice Department under Iran Contra pardon advisor William Barr is going to conduct an impartial investigation into a fervent Trump supporter like Erik Prince, especially after the recent impeachment trial. The new restrictions that Barr just issued on opening investigations into politically sensitive individuals or entities, including a requirement he and the FBI approve any inquiry into a presidential candidate or campaign, makes this even less likely. Still, the news presents an opportunity to review Prince’s well-documented history of lying, and his past efforts to make a profit off many of the more savage conflicts, past and present, raging in the world.

Politico, which broke the news that DOJ was finally starting its investigation, noted that one of Schiff’s examples of Prince’s lies was “Prince’s meeting, in the Seychelles in January 2017, with a Russian banker who is reportedly close to President Vladimir Putin of Russia, an encounter Prince later told congressional officials took place purely by chance.”

This turned out to be laughable. The March 2019 final report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller definitively debunked it. Consider these excerpts:

Immediately after the November 8 election, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new administration. The most senior levels of the Russian government encouraged these efforts. The Russian Embassy made contact hours after the election to congratulate the President-Elect and to arrange a call with President Putin. Several Russian businessmen picked up the effort from there. Kirill Dmitriev, [who reports directly to Putin] the chief executive officer of Russia's sovereign wealth fund, was among the Russians who tried to make contact with the incoming administration. In early December, a business associate steered Dmitriev to Erik Prince, a supporter of the Trump Campaign and an associate of senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon. Dmitriev and Prince later met face-to-face in January 2017 in the Seychelles and discussed U.S.-Russia relations.

Contrary to Prince’s later testimony to the Intelligence Committee, that meeting in the Seychelles did not happen by accident. The Mueller report wrote, “Dmitriev asked a close business associate who worked for the United Arab Emirates (UAE) royal court, George Nader [repeat convicted sex offender and former Blackwater hire], to introduce him to Trump transition officials, and Nader eventually arranged a meeting in the Seychelles between Dmitriev and Erik Prince, a Trump Campaign supporter and an associate of Steve Bannon.” The report continues:

Nader traveled to New York in early January 2017 and had lunchtime and dinner meetings with Erik Prince on January 3, 2017. Nader and Prince discussed Dmitriev. Nader informed Prince that the Russians were looking to build a link with the incoming Trump Administration… he told Prince that Dmitriev had been pushing Nader to introduce him to someone from the incoming Administration. Nader suggested, in light of Prince' s and Dmitriev meet to discuss issues of mutual concern.

Of course, Prince had congressional help back when Rep. Schiff was trying to uncover the truth about him. On May 23, 2018 Rep. Schiff sent a letter to Rep. Devin Nunes, the then-chairman of the Intelligence Committee and former member of the Trump transition team, asking that the committee hand over to Mueller the transcripts of all the interviews it conducted during the Russia probe. Nunes had shut down the committee’s investigation in March. Perhaps that is why Prince was dismissive and rude towards the committee.

Schiff later confirmed in an interview with Mother Jones that Nunes would not commit to sharing this material with Mueller. The committee did not release transcripts of select testimony until the fall of 2018. In at least two instances the committee failed to follow up on false testimony from Erik Prince.

Prince’s testimony about his Seychelles meeting is not his only lie.

On March 15, 2019 Al Jazeera’s Mehdi Hassan, invited Prince to the posh Oxford Club for an interview on his program Head to Head. Prince thought he was there to expound on his libertarian worldview, on how he can fix everything if only given enough money. But Hasan, with surgical precision, forced him to acknowledge that he deliberately omitted an explosive meeting at Trump Tower in New York City in 2016, before Trump’s election, in which Prince had presented Project Rome — a disinformation campaign designed to help Trump get elected that was paid for by George Nader, who was channeling UAE money to an Israeli psyops firm.

Prince had omitted that meeting because it was illegal. That meeting was attended by Donald Trump Jr.; Stephen Miller, then a senior adviser to the Trump campaign; George Nader, convicted pedophile and an adviser to the United Arab Emirates; and Joel Zamel, an Australian-Israeli social media expert.

Here is Hasan’s account of the moment of truth:

But why didn’t Prince tell members of Congress about his other secret meeting, in Trump Tower in August 2016? Especially if it was about a sensitive foreign policy issue like Iran?

“I don’t believe I was asked that question,” he replied.

Not true. I reminded him that he had been asked by a member of the House Intelligence Committee whether he had any “formal communications or contact with the campaign.”

The Blackwater founder then switched tack. He “did” inform the committee about the meeting, Prince told me. Why wasn’t it in the transcript of the hearing then, I countered? “I don’t know if they got the transcript wrong,” he said. Later in the interview, in response to a question from the audience, he doubled down: “Not all the discussion that day was transcribed, and that’s a fact.”

Got that? First, he said he wasn’t asked; then he said he told them about it; then he claimed that they made a mistake with the transcript; then he claimed that it was said off the record.

So, what of endless wars and the violence mongering of Erik Prince that sustains them? The Justice Department may choose to conduct a narrow, limited investigation into whether Prince committed perjury in his congressional testimony. But considering Prince’s record to date, if he were found guilty, it would be the equivalent of convicting Al Capone on income tax evasion.

We now know that America is eager to sell weapons to Saudi Arabia and the UAE, monarchial dictatorships that are up to their elbows in endless wars in Yemen and Libya. We know that Trump is eager to “protect the oil” in places like Syria that we didn’t even know we had to protect. We know that a single phone call to an aging warlord and Prince customer, like rebel commander Khalifa Haftar in Libya, can signal America's complete indifference to the continuation of yet another endless war.

Why does Prince endlessly pitch private spy networks, crop dusters that can kill people, low rent third world veterans that can murder Arabs, and all manner of bizarre low grade violence that mimics a Bucket ‘O Soldiers at discount? Because we live in an 18th century transactional world in which President Trump has clearly signaled his only real concern in matters of war and peace is in whether he can profit from them, as in his $8 billion dollar arms deal with Saudi Arabia. And now in the impunity of unilateral executive theory, and Barr’s disinterest in pursuing justice, Erik Prince — like the mythical Phoenix — has finally found his niche.

Blackwater USA Chief Executive Erik Prince swears in before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington October 2, 2007. REUTERS/Larry Downing (UNITED STATES)
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