Erik Prince can take his ‘have gun will travel’ schtick right back out the door
Last month, Rolling Stone reported that Erik Prince, co-founder of Blackwater Security — which was sold in late 2010 to a group of investors — wants to bring the mercenary group back to its “glory days” of the Bush era.
A full-page ad in the January/February 2019 edition of Recoil magazine featured the old school Blackwater bear-paw logo of the controversial private security firm below the words, “We are coming.” Some observers thought this suggested a resurgent Blackwater might contract with the government to carry out a privatized war in Afghanistan. Others thought it a clever “campaign to draw attention to Blackwater Ammunition, a fledgling joint venture between Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince and Italian gun and ammunition designer Nicola Bandini and James Fenech in Malta.”
One should at least consider the possibility that Prince is serious, because if the passage of time tells us anything it is that Prince, long known as the Energizer Bunny of the private military and security contracting, or PMSC industry, just keeps going and going and going.
So, the question to ponder is, if Prince does reassume control of Blackwater and once again focuses on providing security contractors for conflict zones — and offers his services to the U.S. government — should the government accept?
The answer is an emphatic no. Why not? Because Prince cannot be trusted, for reasons beyond the infamous Nisour Square massacre in which Blackwater mercenaries killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
Consider what happened to the four Blackwater contractors killed in the 2004 Fallujah ambush.
Eager to get business in Iraq, Blackwater reduced the prep and planning time for the security detail so some employees were sent out on their first day on the job, It was Blackwater that decided to send out a four man detail instead of six; it was Blackwater that decided to send the detail out in soft-skinned Mitsubishis instead of contract-mandated fully armored vehicles. It was Blackwater that decided not to give the detail the weapons required by contract.
Blackwater claimed, according to Congressional documents, that it “plays no role in the development or planning of the contractors’ security missions” and “has little if any knowledge regarding the location or activities of these independent contractors.” We know that is a lie because the investigation into the killing of the contractors revealed that Blackwater was intensely involved in the development or planning of the contractor’s security missions or the directions on implementing them.
If Prince had done something similar while he was a SEAL junior officer, he would likely have been court-martialed for gross negligence of duty. A man who is unwilling to properly equip and train the men he sends into a war zone is morally reprehensible.
This debacle marks the pattern of how Prince does business. He is a war profiteer who appears to want to do literally anything to make a buck.
Fallujah is hardly the only example of Prince’s ethical failings. In 2019, the House Intelligence Committee referred Prince to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution on perjury charges stemming from his deceptive account regarding his 2017 meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of Russia’s sovereign wealth fund, to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.
Empty Wheel recently reported that the Justice Department-released FBI report forms make it clear “that Prince walked into the meeting hoping to make a buck and denied to the FBI knowing that making a buck from Dmitriev would require lifting sanctions on Russia.”
Aside from his lack of ethics, a revitalized Blackwater under the control of Prince raises other troubling questions. Who exactly would Erik Prince work for?
Per a 2012 Deferred Prosecution Agreement, Prince was forced to sell Blackwater, renamed Academi, pay a massive $7.5 million fine, and reach a $42 million civil settlement with the State Department to avoid being charged with violations of the Arms Export Control Act. The agreement allowed him to keep ownership of 17 affiliated entities: Al Zulama Company, Apex Management Systems LLC, ARES Holdings, Inc., Back-Up Training, LLC, Greystone Ltd., Greystone SRL, GSD Manufacturing LLC, Guardian Flight Systems LLC, Paravant LLC, Pelagian Maritime, LLC, Prince Group, LLC, Salamis Aviation LLC, Samarus Co. LTD, Technical Defense, Inc., Terrorism Research Center, Inc., Total Intelligence Solutions LLC, and Xe Aviation LLC.
After this agreement, Prince said that he was done working for the U.S. government, claiming he had been stabbed in the back. After a hiatus in Abu Dhabi from 2010 to 2012, he returned to the U.S. to pitch the Trump administration on a number of projects. Among them: replacing U.S. troops in Afghanistan with a force of private security contractors for $3.5 billion. ITAR, or the International Traffic in Arms Regulations, forced him to use a proxy called “L6” to make the actual proposal to the Afghan government.
But let’s assume he refrains from U.S. government work. To who else could he turn? China, for one. He is already working for them as Executive Deputy Chairman of the Board of Frontier Services Group, which has ties to the CITIC Group, a state-run investment fund owned and controlled by the People’s Republic of China. CITIC is FSG’s largest shareholder. According to Rolling Stone, the role puts Prince “in the unsettling position of advancing the strategic agenda of the United States’ largest rival.”
Others put it less politely. According to Adam Silverman, “The important fact that everyone keeps missing is that Erik Prince’s operations are funded by the People’s Republic of China. He is now their asset…Prince’s financial backing from the PRC state-owned Chinese International Trust Investment Corporation or CITIC, their sovereign investment bank, means that Prince works for the PRC and does so only as long as he advances their interests.”
After FSG signed contracts to support China’s Belt and Road Initiative, Prince bragged about expansion into the Xinjiang province, which included supporting the construction and staffing of “re-education” camps. After the Chinese press release from FSG was discovered, Prince quickly denied knowledge of the deal.
The United Nations is currently investigating Prince’s involvement in what they call “Project Opus,” an assassination and military effort designed to provide support to Field Marshal Khalifa Haftar’s stalled attempt to dislodge the U.S and U.N. supported government of Libya. This is a blatant violation of the U.S. Neutrality Acts generally, and a violation of the U.N. arms embargo on Libya specifically. Not surprisingly, the mercenaries involved ended up fleeing for their lives in a rubber boat after the plan fell apart.
The Intercept reported that Prince is under FBI investigation for his 2015 attempt to modify two American-made crop-dusting planes into attack aircraft — a violation of arms trafficking regulation. It is thought that the FBI is preparing charges on at least two counts, including money laundering and providing weapons to Libya. Unless President Trump pressures Attorney General Barr, or uses the National Security Council to pressure the FBI to drop the investigation before Trump leaves office, it will likely continue in a Biden presidency.
In April, the Intercept reported that Prince “met earlier this year with a top official of Russia’s Wagner Group and offered his mercenary forces via Uganda-based Energia Raptor and Israeli drone companies to support Russia’s operations in Libya and Mozambique. It was clear that Wagner had come in to replace Prince’s own failed mercenary operations in both nations.
Now that the Trump presidency is soon to be over, the clock may have run out for Prince, a man who, based on investigations and his multiple op-eds and interviews, was angling to provide mercenaries and armed contractors to Afghanistan, Libya, Venezuela, Syria, Mozambique, and other venues. Official U.S. theaters of military operation will certainly be closed off to Prince under President Biden, pushing him back into the shadows, desperate for work from Middle Eastern dictators and African strongmen. And that means he will be even more willing to pursue dodgy deals in strife-torn countries.
The more dangerous aspect of Prince’s operations may not be mercenaries but his love of the dark arts. He has been linked to various disinformation and social media influence operations in the U.S. Prince is linked to the Wiener laptop scam where he falsely claimed there was child porn on Weiner’s laptop, and has links to Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica as well as Project Veritas, a right wing group infamous for concocting elaborate and illegally questionable “sting operations.” It was Prince who set up a meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Israeli Joel Zamel at Trump Tower in August of 2016 to create “Project Rome.” At the time Zamel was the owner of Psy-Group, a now defunct Israeli private intelligence organization which primarily employed ex-Mossad agents and other former Israeli government intelligence operatives and sported the slogan “Shape Reality” as its motto.”
So, while Erik may not be living his dream of being a mercenary, expect his malign activities to continue to threaten America and the world while Trump ponders his future and 2024.