Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army reports for The Nation
on the shadowy Blackwater's growing foray into the world of private espionage.
The privatization of intelligence has grown dramatically under President Bush, with Washington paying $42 billion annually in private intelligence contracts, compared to just $17.5 billion in 2000. As Scahill points out, it means that 70% of the U.S. intelligence budget is going to private companies, which creates an interesting market for government operatives.
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, started Total Intelligence Solutions in April 2006 in order to capitalize on this growing demand for privatized intelligence services:
"Total Intel brings the...skills traditionally honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room," [Blackwater's vice chair Cofer] Black said when the company launched. "With a service like this, CEOs and their security personnel will be able to respond to threats quickly and confidently -- whether it's determining which city is safest to open a new plant in or working to keep employees out of harm's way after a terrorist attack."
As Scahill writes, Total Intel's leadership "reads like a Who's Who of the CIA 'war on terror'":
In addition to the twenty-eight-year CIA veteran Black, who is chair of Total Intelligence, the company's executives include CEO Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the agency's Directorate of Operations and the second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations.
From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division, where he ran clandestine operations throughout the Middle East and South Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA liaison with Jordan's King Abdullah, a key US ally and Blackwater client, and briefed George W. Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.
Scahill points out there are drawbacks to this kind of free-market approach to national security and intelligence:
In Iraq, Blackwater has banked on the idea that it is a sort of American Express card for the occupation. But for the future, Prince has a different corporate model, as he indicated in his speech. "When you send something overseas, do you use FedEx or the postal service?" he asked.
There are serious problems with this analogy. When you send something by FedEx, you can track your package and account for its whereabouts at all times. You can have your package insured against loss or damage. That has not been the case with Blackwater. The people who foot the sizable bill for its "services" almost never know, until it is too late, what Blackwater is doing, and there are apparently no consequences for Blackwater when things go lethally wrong. "We are essentially a robust temp agency," Prince told his fans in Michigan. He's right about that one. A temp agency serving the most radical privatization agenda in history.