Blackwater’s once-reclusive Erik Prince has launched a PR offensive, bringing the press to the private-security firm’s Moyock, N.C. compound and showing up on TV chat shows. (More on that in a moment.) The strategy is clear enough: Prince wants to debunk Blackwater’s image as out-of-control mercenaries in the wake of the Nisour Square shootings. And that’s because Prince is prepping his company for even more lucrative contracts than the billion dollars Blackwater has received from the U.S. government since 9/11. As The Wall Street Journal reports today, Prince is looking to take on the biggest defense contractors in the country.
According to the Blackwater founder and CEO, private security — guarding U.S. personnel in war-torn countries, as Blackwater does in Iraq — shouldn’t be what defines the company. “We see the security market diminishing,” he told the paper. Instead, Blackwater wants to grow its training and logistics work, placing Blackwater in the center of what the WSJ terms “missions to which the [U.S. military] won’t commit American forces.” For example, Blackwater recently outbid Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and Raytheon for a five-year, $15 billion contract to “fight terrorists with drug ties.” Get ready to see a lot of Blackwater in Colombia.
Signs of Blackwater’s expansion — even amidst the Nisour Square controversy — are evident, the paper reports:
The company has a fleet of 40 aircraft, including small turboprop cargo planes that can land on runways too small or rough for the Air Force. The company’s aviation unit has done repeat business with the Defense Department in Central Asia, flying small loads of cargo between bases.
Also in the North Carolina compound: an armored-car production line that Mr. Prince says will be able to build 1,000 of the brutish-looking Grizzly vehicles a year. The project arose out of a need for Blackwater to protect its security convoys in Iraq. Drawing on Mr. Prince’s family history in the automotive industry, Blackwater made sure that the vehicles are legal to drive on U.S. highways.
Mr. Prince bought a 183-foot civilian vessel that Blackwater has modified for potential paramilitary use. Mr. Prince sees the ship as a possible step into worlds such as search-and-rescue, peacekeeping and maritime training.
It’s not clear whether Blackwater would seek, or get, private-security roles in its Defense Department contracts akin to those it has from the State Department in Iraq. Nor is it clear how exactly Blackwater managed to beat such established defense giants for the narco-terrorism contract.
But it is looking more like Blackwater might actually be kicked out of Iraq. For the first time since the shootings on September 16, U.S. and Iraqi officials are seriously negotiating the company’s expulsion. Evidently, Prince is preparing for such a loss by fighting Blackwater’s reputation in the court of public opinion — and then laying the ground for much, much bigger things.