A Texas businessman who has worked extensively in Iraq claims that Blackwater paid him to purchase steroids and other drugs for its operatives in Baghdad, as well as more than 100 AK47s and massive amounts of ammunition on Baghdad’s black market. Howard Lowry, who worked in Iraq from 2003-2009, also claims that he personally attended Blackwater parties where company personnel had large amounts of cocaine and blocks of hashish and would run around naked. At some of these parties, Lowry alleges, Blackwater operatives would randomly fire automatic weapons from their balconies into buildings full of Iraqi civilians. Lowry described the events as a "frat party gone wild" where "drug use was rampant." Lowry says he was told by Blackwater personnel that some of the men using the steroids he purchased were on the security detail of L. Paul Bremer, the original head of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA). Lowry also claims that Blackwater’s owner, Erik Prince, tried to enlist his help to win contracts for Blackwater with the Iraqi government using an off-shore security company, Greystone, which Prince owns. The purpose, Lowry says, was to conceal Greystone’s relationship to Blackwater.
Lowry made his statements in a deposition on September 10 as part of a whistleblower lawsuit brought by two former Blackwater employees. The suit was filed in 2008 by former employees Brad and Melan Davis. They allege that Blackwater tried to bill the US government for a prostitute for its men in Afghanistan and for strippers in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. The lawsuit claims that Prince personally benefitted from alleged fraud. The Nation obtained Lowry’s deposition from publicly available court filings.
Blackwater, Lowry alleges, paid for the steroids using company funds and the purchases were coordinated by Blackwater’s Iraq country manager. "Not only did I purchase the pharmaceuticals," Lowry said in his deposition, "but I was also given money and asked to acquire syringes and other forms or modes of injection as well." Lowry said that Blackwater used him to purchase the drugs and other devices because, unlike Blackwater personnel, he could move freely and discreetly around Baghdad. Lowry says he personally witnessed several Blackwater operatives injecting themselves with steroids.
Lowry says in the deposition that he was a close friend of Jerry Zovko, one of the four Blackwater men killed in the infamous ambush in Fallujah, Iraq in March 2004. Zovko, Lowry says, "provided me tremendous insight into the company and confirmed that the use of steroids and human growth hormone, testosterone, were pretty endemic to them and almost companywide." Lowry said that it was a "wide-ranging problem, and this included individuals that were on [L. Paul] Bremer’s personal detail." Bremer was guarded by Blackwater when he ran the CPA from 2003-2004. Lowry says he would purchase the drugs for Blackwater "by the case," adding, "It was as large a quantity as I could get, which was usually a case." He said that the "volume I was being asked to purchase on a daily basis was going up substantially as time went on."
Lowry also claims that he purchased a wide variety of weapons, ammunition and armor for Blackwater on the black market in Baghdad. "I purchased no less than a hundred AK47s for Blackwater personnel to keep them safe," Lowry says. Such purchases, he says he believed, were necessary because Blackwater was not adequately arming its personnel.
Lowry also describes instances of Blackwater personnel firing randomly at Iraqi pedestrians and into buildings for no apparent reason. He details one night where several Blackwater operatives were at his hotel drinking until 5am. When they left, Lowry says, they fired their weapons at random as they drove off. Lowry describes parties that he says some Blackwater personnel would throw at the al Hamra hotel in Baghdad that he says were like "a frat party" with rampant drug use:
One of the suites would be absolutely packed with gentlemen running around with either no clothes on, no shirt on. It was like a frat party gone wild. Drug use was rampant. There was cocaine all on the tables. There were blocks of hash, and you could smell it in the air…walking up to the door.
Lowry described one party where "there was a pile of cocaine that one Blackwater person had estimated to be over an ounce of coke." Lowry said, "to me, considering the job that these gentlemen are doing…at that time [they] were protecting the US ambassador, Ambassador Bremer, seemed a little bit out—well, beyond out of control. And these parties were a weekly ritual." Lowry alleges that at these parties on several occasions Blackwater personnel would pull out AK47s and go out onto the balcony and "would just spray the building next door, which housed Iraqi civilians."
Lowry also says that he had several meetings with Erik Prince where Prince asked him for assistance in winning contracts with the Iraqi government for an off-shore company Prince owns called Greystone. It is registered in Barbados. Lowry, who says he knew the Iraqi Interior and Defense Ministers "very well," claims Prince wanted to offer the Iraqi government Greystone’s training and security services. Lowry says that Prince stated "very clearly" to him that Greystone was "set up to deflect any liability, future liability, that he may have with respect to any weapons sales or any bodily harm or anything else, contract issues with both the US and the Iraqi governments." Lowry claims the Iraqis were aware of Greystone’s connection to Blackwater and "detested" the companies.
Lawyers representing the self-exiled Blackwater owner have asked a federal judge in Virginia for a protective order against the tenacious lawyer who took Lowry’s deposition. For years, attorney Susan Burke has pursued Prince and Blackwater with a string of civil lawsuits. In August, Burke flew to Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, where Prince and his family have relocated, to conduct a seven-hour deposition of Prince in connection to the whistleblower claim she filed on behalf of the former Blackwater employees. After the deposition ended on August 23, according to Burke, Prince threatened to "come after" her.
Soon thereafter, Prince’s lawyers declared the entirety of the transcript of Prince’s deposition to be confidential material and asserted that it should be sealed. Prince’s attorneys filed papers in the case asking the judge to allow Prince and his lawyers to classify any information or documents Prince provides or any information or documents Burke obtains from Prince or Blackwater as "confidential" and therefore barred from public dissemination. Prince’s lawyers have also asked that all documents they provide in the case be destroyed or returned within 120 days of the conclusion of the case.
Prince’s lawyers have alleged that Burke intends to use the media to embarrass Prince and to litigate her case outside of court and have asked for a "gag order" against her and the other attorneys litigating the case. Burke, in her court filing, points out that the actions of Prince and his companies have generated tremendous publicity and attention. Burke writes:
Defendant Prince and his companies create the media stir by their own actions. Indeed, their misconduct has led to a series of indictments, charging letters from the State Department, and criminal trials. Indeed, Defendant Prince seeks publicity that serves his own ends. He voluntarily participated in a Vanity Fair interview, pressing his view that anyone who criticizes his misconduct must have a "political agenda." Defendant Prince voluntarily cooperated with a book about his life, called Master of War. In the book, he voluntarily revealed, among other things, that he fathered a child out of wedlock and cheated on his wife who was dying of cancer.
On September 22, Burke filed a motion opposing the gag order and what she sees as Prince’s attempt to "seal everything." In her motion, Burke reveals that she provided the US State Department with a transcript of the deposition for review of potentially classified material. A State Department contracting official wrote, "As contracting officer I do not require any redactions to the subject transcript of the Erk Prince deposition before it is made publicly available."
In arguing against a gag order, Burke writes that media coverage results in witnesses coming forward who will "be helpful in showing the jury that [her clients’] claims of widespread fraud and misconduct have merit." To support her argument, Burke cited Howard Lowry, whom she says contacted her after seeing media reports on Prince and Blackwater.
Lowry says he contacted Burke "because I believe there is a tremendous lack of moral and business ethics on behalf of the owner of the company and, I believe, companywide." He added, "Because of that, I feel that numerous families of individuals of Blackwater employees that have been killed on the job are not getting the true story."