For one Michigan man, the War of Bush/Cheney/Haliburton Oil was his golden ticket to massive wealth and an extraordinary level of influence and menacing power. Meet Erik Prince, born and raised in Holland, Michigan, and one of the country's most dangerous men.
Ted Roelof of the Grand Rapids Press has an extensive look into the reclusive Prince and a life built on ultra-conservative tenets and money.
Prince, son of Holland industrialist Edgar Prince and an ex-Navy SEAL, tapped his inherited wealth in 1996 to found a little-noticed North Carolina security firm that would become Blackwater USA.
Family connections helped. As brother to former Michigan GOP chairwoman Betsy DeVos and brother-in-law to her husband, 2006 GOP gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos, Prince had access to Capitol Hill power brokers.
But his business plan did not crystallize until the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.
With the U.S. decision to go to war in Afghanistan and Iraq, a changing military looked to the private sector to complete a variety of missions.
Blackwater was in prime position to capitalize.
Roelof's Blackwater descriptor as a "security firm" is akin to calling Wal-Mart the mom and pop corner store. According to David Isenberg with the British American Security Information Council (BASIC), Blackwater is a private military company. Isenberg should know, he has been researching and writing on private military companies since the early 1990s.
George Washington University professor of political science Deborah Avant had this to say about Prince in Roelof's piece
"Blackwater is owned by one guy, who is very rich," Avant said. "He's very connected. He's very tied to the Christian right."
Prince's entire history is seeped in the ultra-conservative agenda, from political beliefs to campaign donations, Prince has been a stalwart of the Republican money machine.
In 1992, Erik Prince and his father split politically with his sister, Betsy DeVos, who was then 5th District GOP chairwoman. They backed Pat Buchanan for president. She supported President George H.W. Bush.
As a 22-year-old senior at Hillsdale, Prince explained his decision to The (Grand Rapids) Press.
"I interned with the Bush administration for six months," he said.
"I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with -- homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kind of bills. I think the administration has been indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns."
At age 19, Prince made his first political contribution: A $15,000 donation to the GOP. By 2006, his total contributions had swelled to more than $235,000 -- virtually all to Republican or conservative causes.
The real problem is with what he's turned Blackwater into, how the company is being used to our ridicule country's justice system and the careless way in which its employees are being treated.
According to BASIC's Isenberg, private military companies like Blackwater use political campaign contributions and lobbying firms to influence the government.
On the lobbying front it was reported that Washington, D.C.-based PR and lobbying firm Alexander Strategy Group is working on behalf of Blackwater USA. Though ASG recently announced it was shutting down because of its ties to disgraced lobbyist Jack Abramoff and former House majority leader Tom DeLay, who has been indicted on money-laundering charges.As if that's not bad enough, The Nation's Jeremy Scahill has done extensive research on Blackwater USA. Up till now, the facts have been kept quiet because they are so scary. Consider this from Scahill's August '06 report -
Government records recently obtained by The Nation reveal that the Bush Administration has paid Blackwater more than $320 million since June 2004 to provide "diplomatic security" services globally. The massive contract is the largest known to have been awarded to Blackwater to date and reveals how the Administration has elevated a once-fledgling security firm into a major profiteer in the "war on terror."With this surmounting evidence, it seems as if Blackwater is up to its eyeballs in questionable transactions and the whole thing reeks of collusion and conspiracy.
Blackwater was originally slated to be paid $229.5 million for five years, according to a State Department contract list. Yet as of June 30, just two years into the program, it had been paid a total of $321,715,794. When confronted with this apparent $100 million discrepancy, the State Department could not readily explain it. Blackwater's two years of WPPS (Worldwide Personal Protection Services, a little known State Department program) earnings exceed many estimates of the company's total government contracts, which the Virginian-Pilot recently put at $290 million combined since 2000. Six years ago the government paid Blackwater less than $250,000.
To date, according to SourceWatch, Blackwater USA has receieved no-bid government contracts in Iraq, Afghanistan, and post-Katrina New Orleans, all from George W. Bush's administration.
That's what was going on with Blackwater until that fateful day in Fallujah on March 31st, 2004. The world turned on their televisions and were met with a gruesome image of charred American bodies, burned and chopped up, hung in pieces to a bridge over the Euphrates River. The poor soldiers, everyone said. Jaws hit the floor when it was discovered that those poor men were not U.S. soldiers, they were Blackwater USA employees.
Even more stunning than the manner in which they died, is why they died. In a separate piece for The Nation, Scahill's Blood is Thicker than Blackwater reveals the truth.
According to former Blackwater officials, Blackwater, Regency and ESS were engaged in a classic war-profiteering scheme. Blackwater was paying its men $600 a day but billing Regency $815, according to the Raleigh News and Observer.When the facts of the case revealed themselves, the families of the murdered men were horrified. It was discovered that Scott Helveston and other Blackwater employees knew about the shortcuts and mistreatment, and attempted to bring it to Blackwater's attention. Their complaints were swept under the rug and the families would not find out about it until after that fateful day in Fallujah.
All this was shady enough--but the real danger for (murdered Blackwater employee Scott) Helvenston and the others lay in Blackwater's decision to cut corners to make even more money. The original contract between Blackwater/Regency and ESS, obtained by The Nation, recognized that "the current threat in the Iraqi theater of operations" would remain "consistent and dangerous," and called for a minimum of three men in each vehicle on security missions "with a minimum of two armored vehicles to support ESS movements." [Emphasis added.]
But on March 12, 2004, Blackwater and Regency signed a subcontract, which specified security provisions identical to the original except for one word: "armored." Blackwater deleted it from the contract."When they took that word 'armored' out, Blackwater was able to save $1.5 million in not buying armored vehicles, which they could then put in their pocket," says attorney Miles. "These men were told that they'd be operating in armored vehicles. Had they been, I sincerely believe that they'd be alive today. They were killed by insurgents literally walking up and shooting them with small-arms fire. This was not a roadside bomb, it was not any other explosive device. It was merely small-arms fire, which could have been repelled by armored vehicles."
Erik Prince and Blackwater played the role of grieving employer well, until the families wanted some answers.
After the killings, Katy Helvenston joined the families of Mike Teague, Jerko Zovko and Wesley Batalona in grieving and in seeking details about the incident. Blackwater founder Erik Prince personally delivered money to some of the families for funeral expenses, and the company moved to get the men's wives and children benefits under the government's Defense Base Act...
But then things started to get strange. Blackwater held a memorial service for the men at its compound. The families were gathered in a conference room, where they thought they would be told how the men had died. The Zovko family asked Blackwater to see the "After Action Report" detailing the incident. "We were actually told," recalls Zovko's mother, Danica, "that if we wanted to see the paperwork of how my son and his co-workers were killed that we'd have to sue them."
Thus began the legal battle between Blackwater and the dead men's families. In one of its few statements on the suit, Blackwater spokesperson Chris Bertelli said, "Blackwater hopes that the honor and dignity of our fallen comrades are not diminished by the use of the legal process."
Katy Helvenston calls that "total BS in my opinion," and says that the families decided to sue only after being stonewalled, misled and lied to by the company. "Blackwater seems to understand money. That's the only thing they understand," she says. "They have no values, they have no morals. They're whores. They're the whores of war."
Prince and Blackwater do seem to understand money quite well. They hired convicted lobbyist Jack Abramoff's former employer, Greenberg Traurig, the influential DC law firm as their lead counsel. With their vast financial resources, Blackwater's legal team has managed to delay the case for almost 3 years now with tricky moves and one fluff motion after another.
According to another article in The Nation, in early October 2006, Blackwater dumped Greenberg Traurig and hired former Whitewater investigator Kenneth Starr to file motions in front of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the suit.
There are undeniable benefits to having Starr, the US Solicitor General under President George H.W. Bush, represent Blackwater--a highly partisan GOP company--in front of a Supreme Court stacked with Bush appointees. Starr also has a personal connection to Blackwater. Starr and Joseph Schmitz, the general counsel and chief operating officer of Blackwater's parent company, the Prince Group, have both worked closely with the arch-conservative Washington Legal Foundation. Since 1993 Starr has served on the legal policy advisory board of the organization for which Schmitz has frequently acted as a spokesperson and attorney.The case is in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, and a decision is being awaited. U.S. Congressman Henry Waxman (D-California) chair of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding hearings into the allegations that Blackwater purposely shorted its employees of necessary equipment.
As the country awaits the two decisions, we need to stare the grim reality of this situation of corruption, greed, and complete disregard for American lives straight in the face and change the system. The ultimate tragedy will be if we, the People, turn a blind eye and allow people like Erik Prince and corporations like Blackwater to continue to make a farce out of our brave men and women and the laws that exist to protect them.