Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater | The Nation


Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater

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Scott Helvenston was a walking ad for the military. He came from a proud family of Republicans; his great-great-uncle, Elihu Root, was once US Secretary of War and the 1912 Nobel Peace Prize-winner. Scott was tall, tan and chiseled and, by all accounts, a model soldier and athlete. At 17 he made history by becoming the youngest person ever to complete the rigorous Navy SEAL program. He spent twelve years in the SEALs, four of them as an instructor, and then tried his luck with Hollywood. He trained Demi Moore for her film G.I. Jane and did a few stints on reality television. In one, Man vs. Beast, he was the only contestant to defeat the beast, outmaneuvering a chimpanzee in an obstacle course. Once the cover boy on a Navy calendar, he also had several workout videos.

About the Author

Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater...

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If it had been up to Katy Helvenston, her son wouldn't have been in Iraq at all. "We had argued about him going over there," she recalls. "I believe that we should have gone into Afghanistan, but I never believed we should have gone into Iraq, and Scott bought the whole story about Saddam Hussein being involved with Al Qaeda and all that. He believed in what he was doing." He also had a financial motivation. In early 2004 Helvenston was between jobs and was eking out a living with the stints on reality TV, the movie consulting and the fitness videos. "It was good money, but it was never enough," his mother remembers. He was divorced but continued to support his ex-wife and two children. His mother says he took the job with Blackwater because the company offered short-term, two-month contracts, and Scott viewed it as an opportunity to turn his life around. "He said, 'I'm gonna go over there, make some money, maybe make a difference. I'll only be away from my kids for a couple of months.' That's why he chose Blackwater," she recalls.

Helvenston arrived for training at Blackwater's North Carolina campus around March 1, 2004. The man heading the training was Justin McQuown, nicknamed Shrek, after the green ogre movie cartoon character. According to the suit, McQuown lacked the credentials of Helvenston and other ex-SEALs. "During training, McQuown would often improperly instruct the class or provide erroneous information, tactics or techniques," the suit alleges. "On occasion, Helvenston would attempt to politely assist McQuown by offering his expertise on the correct manner of the particular training exercise. The fact that [McQuown]...was being exposed infuriated him." Scott's mother believes, based on Scott's e-mails and conversations with contractors who served with her son, that McQuown feared that Scott might replace him at the company.

After the training session, Helvenston got on a plane to Kuwait, where he touched down on March 18. It seemed like an ideal situation for him, as two of his friends from his days on the reality TV show Combat Missions were helping to run the Blackwater operations: John and Kathy Potter. When Helvenston set off for the Middle East, his family thought he was going to be working on Blackwater's high-profile job of guarding the head of the US occupation, Paul Bremer. At $21 million, it represented the company's biggest contract in Iraq. As it turned out, Helvenston was slated to carry out a far less glamorous task. John Potter had recently teamed Blackwater up with a Kuwaiti business called Regency Hotel and Hospital Company, and together the firms won a security contract with Eurest Support Services (ESS), guarding convoys transporting kitchen equipment to the US military. Blackwater and Regency had essentially wrestled the ESS contract from another security firm, Control Risk Group, and were eager to win more lucrative contracts from ESS in its other division servicing construction projects in Iraq. Unbeknownst to Helvenston, this goal would drive a series of events that would ultimately lead to his death.

According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer. "In addition," the paper reports, "Blackwater billed Regency separately for all its overhead and costs in Iraq." Regency would then bill ESS an unknown amount for these services. Kathy Potter told the News and Observer that Regency would "quote ESS a price, say $1,500 per man per day, and then tell Blackwater that it had quoted ESS $1,200." ESS then contracted with Halliburton subsidiary KBR, which in turn billed the government an unknown amount of money for the same security services, according to the paper. KBR/Halliburton refuses to discuss the matter and will not confirm any relationship with ESS.

All this was shady enough--but the real danger for Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater's decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions "with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]

But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract.

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