Pull the Plug on the Mercenary War
Consider the case of Blackwater USA.
A decade ago, the company barely existed; and yet, its "diplomatic security" contracts since mid-2004, with the State Department alone, total more than $750 million. Today, Blackwater has become nothing short of the Bush administration's well-paid Praetorian Guard. It protects the US ambassador and other senior officials in Iraq as well as visiting Congressional delegations; it trains Afghan security forces and was deployed in the oil-rich Caspian Sea region, setting up a "command and control" center just miles from the Iranian border. The company was also hired to protect FEMA operations and facilities in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina, where it raked in $240,000 a day from the American taxpayer, billing $950 a day per Blackwater contractor.
Since September 11, 2001, the company has invested its lucrative government payouts in building an impressive private army. At present, it has forces deployed in nine countries and boasts a database of 21,000 additional troops at the ready, a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gun-ships, and the world's largest private military facility--a 7,000 acre compound near the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina. It recently opened a new facility in Illinois ("Blackwater North") and is fighting local opposition to a third planned domestic facility near San Diego ("Blackwater West") by the Mexican border. It is also manufacturing an armored vehicle (nicknamed the "Grizzly") and surveillance blimps.
The man behind this empire is Erik Prince, a secretive, conservative Christian, ex-Navy SEAL multimillionaire who bankrolls the President and his allies with major campaign contributions. Among Blackwater's senior executives are Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism at the CIA; Robert Richer, former Deputy Director of Operations at the CIA; Joseph Schmitz, former Pentagon Inspector General; and an impressive array of other retired military and intelligence officials. Company executives recently announced the creation of a new private intelligence company, "Total Intelligence," to be headed by Black and Richer.
For years, Blackwater's operations have been shrouded in secrecy. Emboldened by the culture of impunity enjoyed by the private sector in the Bush administration's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, Blackwater's founder has talked of creating a "contractor brigade" to support US military operations and fancies his forces the "FedEx" of the "national security apparatus."
As the country debates an Iraq withdrawal, Congress owes it to the public to take down the curtain of secrecy surrounding these shadow forces that undergird the US public deployment in Iraq. The President likes to say that defunding the war would undercut the troops. Here's the truth of the matter: Continued funding of the Iraq war ensures tremendous profits for politically-connected war contractors. If Congress is serious about ending the occupation, it needs to rein in the unaccountable companies that make it possible and only stand to profit from its escalation.