On his new blog at The Nation, Jeremy Scahill continues his relentless tracking of Blackwater Worldwide (now Xe Services LLC) and its owner, automotive-parts heir Erik Prince. Recently he reported on Prince’s speech at the University of Michigan, “Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear.” The entire account is fascinating, and it tallies largely with the culture of lawlessness and ethnocentrism, if not racism, that some former executives of Blackwater have portrayed in affidavits filed in recent litigation. Prince also seems surprisingly talkative about some of the Defense Department’s and intelligence community’s most closely held secrets: in particular, as I noted in recent remarks at NYU, that they are relying heavily on at least a half dozen private security contractors to carry out sensitive operations on the territory of Pakistan, particularly in the old Northwest Frontier Province. Much of this is intelligence gathering and processing connected directly to the large-scale drone warfare that is being carried out there.
The Pakistani government insists that Blackwater is not in the country. Secretary Gates has ritually confirmed the denial, although he once acknowledged Blackwater’s Pakistan operations in a broadcast interview, in a gaffe that gave Pakistani officials dyspepsia. But in Michigan Prince openly acknowledged it:
Prince scornfully dismissed the debate on whether armed individuals working for Blackwater could be classified as “unlawful combatants” who are ineligible for protection under the Geneva Convention. “You know, people ask me that all the time, ‘Aren’t you concerned that you folks aren’t covered under the Geneva Convention in [operating] in the likes of Iraq or Afghanistan or Pakistan? And I say, ‘Absolutely not,’ because these people, they crawled out of the sewer and they have a 1200 AD mentality. They’re barbarians. They don’t know where Geneva is, let alone that there was a convention there.”
He goes on to talk about Blackwater’s equally “secret” forward-operating bases (FOBs) located in Afghanistan, many right on the Pakistani frontier:
“We built four bases and we staffed them and we run them,” Prince said, referring to them as Forward Operating Bases (FOBs). He described them as being in the north, south, east and west of Afghanistan. “Spin Boldak in the south, which is the major drug trans-shipment area, in the east at a place called FOB Lonestar, which is right at the foothills of Tora Bora mountain. In fact if you ski off Tora Bora mountain, you can ski down to our firebase,” Prince said, adding that Blackwater also has a base near Herat and another location. FOB Lonestar is approximately 15 miles from the Pakistan border. “Who else has built a [Forward Operating Base] along the main infiltration route for the Taliban and the last known location for Osama bin Laden?” Prince said earlier this year.
The United States has strained since the last years of the Bush presidency to make Afghanistan into a NATO operation that fully engages long-established alliances. But Prince apparently has his own foreign policy, too.
Prince spoke disparagingly of some unnamed NATO countries with troops in Afghanistan, saying they do not have the will for the fight. “Some of them do and a lot of them don’t,” he said. “It is such a patchwork of different international commitments as to what some can do and what some can’t. A lot of them should just pack it in and go home.”
The full scope of Blackwater’s involvement on the Afghanistan-Pakistan frontier remains to be fully clarified. But I wonder, when I hear of General Stanley McChrystal’s recent public airing of complaints about contractors, whether he had Blackwater and its fellow security contractors in mind.