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A Faerie's Farthing

Flitting through the internets looking for sparkly bits. All content mine and not to be reproduced without permission.

Location: All Material Copyrighted, United States

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Blackwater = Pinkertons = Strike Breakers?

Blackwater = Pinkertons = Strike Breakers?

Yeah, okay, it's been over a week now since Congress held hearings on the role of Blackwater in security operations in Iraq; what can I say...I'm a slackard. But I've finally gotten around to diarying it, because some of the questioning definitely deserves a much wider audience. If you missed the testimony, I must say it was damn fascinating. I transcribed my favorite exchanges from the hearing and present them here to you.

There were quite a few highlights, e.g., "I'm not a lawyer" is the new "I can't recall." But it wasn't all fun and snark. Let's jump straight to the testimony that gave me this diary's title. Representative Jim Cooper (D - TN) brought up some very compelling points about just what Blackwater might and might not do within their business model.

Rep. Jim Rep. Jim Cooper: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. Mr. Prince: in the charter, or by-laws, of your corporation, either the holding company or Blackwater, does it say explicitly that it will only work for the United States of America or its entities?

Prince: No; it doesn't. If I could clarify: anything we do for any foreign government - any training of anything, from law-enforcement training to any kind of aviation training, tactical flying, any of that stuff, all of that is licensed back through the State Department, another part of the State Department.

Rep. Jim Cooper: But you're the owner of the company, the CEO. If limitations like this are not in the charter and by-laws, isn't there a risk, should something happen to you, that different management, in order to maximize profits, might seek contracts from any number of other foreign countries? Like if Vladimir Putin offered a lot of money, why would you want to turn that down as a business entity?

Prince: Because you'd be violating federal law and the whole place could be shut down very very quickly.

Rep. Jim Cooper: But you're assuming a state department license would apply.

Prince: It does

Rep. Jim Cooper: But you're a regular, private company; you can...

Prince: No; no, Sir. I'm sorry; we have to have a license to train...

Rep. Jim Cooper: I'm not talking about training other people's private police. Say you took some of your former, people who are former navy seals, special forces, whatever, and they're working for hire; what prevents you in your current company charter or by-laws prevent hiring out those people to foreign governments?

Prince: U.S. Federal law does.

Rep. Jim Cooper: Which law?

Prince: Defense Trade Controls Act. Any training, any security services, any export of any weapons, any equipment you'd use to do that kind of job, requires a license. On top of that, this idea that we have this private army in the wings is just not accurate. The people we employ are former U.S. military and law enforcement people. People that have sworn the oath to support and defend the constitution against all enemies, foreign and domestic; they bleed red, white and blue. So the idea that they're going to suddenly switch, after having served, honorably for the U.S. military and go play for the other team? Not likely.

Rep. Jim Cooper: But these independent contractors are employees; they're supposed to do what they're told and is your omission of this key bit of information from the charter and by-laws only due to the fact that it would be redundant? If it's assumed, why don't you go ahead and put it in the charter and by-laws that these people, this company, will only work for the United States of America and its entities? Why wouldn't that be a nice addition to the charter and by laws?

Prince: That wouldn't make any sense, because we have NATO allies helping in Afghanistan, helping the United States' mission there, and there might be opportunities for us to support, provide them with training, or aviation support, or logistics or construction or a lot of other things that allies need. Especially as the U.S. is trying to build capacity around the world, there's a lot of countries that need help building up their police departments, giving them more counter-terrorism capability...

Rep. Jim Cooper: There are 26 NATO allies, so you could work for any of them?

Prince: 26 NATO allies, but more and more the U.S. Government is doing "FID" missions; Foreign Internal Defense. We’ve done a number of successful programs for them, working for the U.S. Government, where they hire us, we go in and we build that capacity. We train them and provide the equipment. All of which is licensed by the State Department. When we apply for that license, it goes to the State Department and they farm it out to the relevant part of the DoD to control and authorize that licensing. What's the curriculum going to be, what tactics, even down to which individual in which country is going to be trained so they can do a check on them. So that is all controlled by the U.S. Government already, Sir.

Rep. Jim Cooper: On your website, it says you were contracted to enhance the Azerbaijan naval sea commando's maritime interdiction capability. Is Azerbaijan a member of NATO?

Prince: No; but that was paid for by the U.S. Government.

Rep. Jim Cooper: Let me ask another question.

Prince: It's part of their regional engagement policy; I don't make that policy, Sir.

Rep. Jim Cooper: Wouldn't it be nice to put in your charter and by-laws that you only work for U.S., or U.S.-approved entities? Why would that be harmful to your company?

Prince: We would be happy to do that, but it's absolutely redundant because we can't work for someone that's not U.S.-approved.

Rep. Jim Cooper: Redundancy is a small objection to making sure that you're a loyal U.S. company. Let me ask another question: what if a large company inside the United States of America wanted to hire your company for services, say to break a strike or other purposes like that. Is that allowed in your charter and by-laws?

Prince: That's not something we've even explored.

Rep. Jim Cooper: But it would be permissible under your current company charter? It's a new line of business, possibly, that might be very profitable.

Prince: That's not something we're looking at, not part of our strategic plan at all, Sir.

Rep. Jim Cooper: I know, but you're a mortal human being. Your company would allow it according to its current charter and by-laws?

Prince: Well, I have five boys that I'm raising; so one of them perhaps will take over some day.

Rep. Jim Cooper: Why not put it in the charter and by-laws? Thank you, Mr. Chairman. I see that my time has expired.

Kinda breathtaking when you stop to think about it. I don't know if Prince was being obtuse or what. But he was awfully reluctant to come right out and say he would rule out the possibility of Blackwater being hired out as local goons. To be used against American citizens on American soil. He wouldn't rule it out; instead we got flippant comments about how one of his sons might eventually take over. Reassuring...NOT!

Equally damning was this exchange with Rep. Bruce Braley, highlighting the very loosely defined accountability structure in which Blackwater operates:

Rep. Bruce Braley: I want to start by asking you about a statement you made on page three of your written statement you shared with the committee where you wrote the company and its personnel are already accountable under, and subject to, numerous statutes, treaties and regulations of the United States. And then you went on and attached to your statement a list of existing laws, regulations and treaties that apply to contractors and their personnel. Is that the document that I'm holding up in my hands?

Prince: Yes, Sir.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Is it your testimony, today, under oath, that all Blackwater employees working in Iraq and Afghanistan are subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act and the War Crimes Act?

Prince: It is my understanding that is the case; yes, Sir.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Let's look at this document. I want to ask you: this document, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, applies in the time of declared war. You would agree that there has been no declared war on Iraq or Afghanistan?

Prince: No; but I believe it's been amended to include contingency operations.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Is it your understanding that a "contingency operation" would apply to what's going on Iraq and Afghanistan?

Prince: I'm not a lawyer, but my layman's understanding is yes.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Alright. And then it says "to persons serving with or accompanying an armed force in the field." Do you see that?

Prince: Well, I don't have that in front of me, but if you're reading from it...

Rep. Bruce Braley: I'm just reading from the document you provided to us. If that's what the Uniform Code of Military Justice provides, you would agree, based upon your own description of the activities of your company, there are times when your employees are not serving with or accompanying armed forces in the field?

Prince: There are times when U.S. Military units are actually embedded in our motorcades.

Rep. Bruce Braley: But to answer my question, there are times when your employees are not serving with or accompanying armed forces in the field, isn't that correct?

Prince: Sir; I'm not a lawyer, so I'm not going to give you that level of detail. If you want a clear written statement as to the company opinion. I'm sure the State Department can answer what their opinion is on that. But we've looked at it and we feel comfortable that our guys could be brought under investigation with those ruling legal authorities over their heads.

Rep. Bruce Braley: And then let's look at the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, Section 3261 - criminal offenses committed by certain members of the armed forces and by persons employed by, or accompanied by, the armed forces outside the United States. You would agree that there are circumstances where your employees would not meet that definition based upon their service in Iraq and Afghanistan?

Prince: I believe that was changed, yet again, to include any U.S.-funded contract.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Well, that's the definition that applies to U.S.-funded contracts from the statue.

Prince: Again, I'm not a lawyer, Sir. I'm sorry.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Then let's look at the War Crimes Act of 1996, which applies if the perpetrator is a U.S. national or a member of U.S. Armed forces. You would agree, based upon your testimony today, that there would be circumstances when some of your employees would not meet the definition of "perpetrator" to be covered by the War Crimes Act?

Prince: Again, I'm not sure, Sir.

Rep. Bruce Braley: Well, you testified that you hire some third-country nationals. They would not be U.S. nationals, would they?

Prince: Yes; correct.

Rep. Bruce Braley: And they would not be members of the U.S. armed forces.

Prince: But they are serving in a U.S. DoD contingency operation.

Earlier in the testimony, someone had asked about these third-party nationals and Prince replied that they only did guardwork and never left those stationary posts. Guard work, huh? Like guarding prisoners, the Oil Ministry, what? Do people on guard detail not occasionally misfire and maybe kill civilians? Of course they do.

The overarching point of the hearings, imho, was the question of accountability and whether or not Blackwater's obvious lack of it is helping or hurting our cause in Iraq. The obvious answer, of course, is "hurting it" which, thankfully, then begs the question of why our soldiers, who have been pulling guard and security details since time immemorial and are unquestionably accountable for their behavior, aren't doing these jobs we're hiring Blackwater to do. This is when I fell in love with Representative Diane Watson of California:

Rep. Diane Watson: Let me say this: I am really concerned when it comes to privatizing the various struggles that we are having in a war zone.

And I'm looking at a book here that says, "Blackwater: The rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army." That is really disturbing to me, because I feel that every young man and woman...every man and woman in the military ought to be paid for their service. And I think you're making a good argument for the amount of money that you have been paid, your organization. And I think...my question is: do you feel that we ought to continue on with privatizing the kinds of duties that our military should be trained to execute?

Prince: Ma'am, the United States Military is the finest, most powerful military in the world.

Rep. Diane Watson: Absolutely.

Prince: Bar none.

Rep. Diane Watson: And they should be paid accordingly.

Prince: It's designed for large-scale conventional operations, what they did to Saddam in '91, and then again in 2002.

Rep. Diane Watson: Well, then there's something wrong with the design and that's my point. I think you responded and I hear you clearly. You are providing a service and I commend you; let me just continue on. You are providing a service and those little voids, Mr. Chairman and committee members, ought to be filled by the young... the people who volunteer.

We have no draft; these are volunteers. And why should they put their lives on the line for this country and not be compensated so their families back at home don't have to go on welfare and are living in housing that is substandard? And I am just infuriated, not with you, but with the fact that our State Department and our Department of Defense cannot see their way...and they talk about "we don't have the money, saving money." This war is costing us a trillion dollars. You have been paid over a billion dollars and will continue to be paid so that you can buy the helicopters that are shot down.

And so my question to you: are we going to have to continue to privatize because we are not training to do what you do and would it not be better to hire you to train our military to do the kind of guarding of VIP personnel; whenever there's a coterie, you have to guard them. When people from the State Department come, you have to guard them because we say that our military is not prepared and not trained to do that.

Prince: Well, Ma'am. I'm happy to say that we do a significant amount of training for the U.S. military every day at our couple of facilities that we have around the country.

Rep. Diane Watson: But you're saying that you fill in a specialty area.

Prince: It's a specialty gap, a high-end [indiscernible] security

Rep. Diane Watson: And my question that I throw out to all of us is why can't we train these people who are willing, who have courage to go into the military, but then we have to bring on a private firm to do the job they should be trained to do and pay them 3 or 4 times more than we pay those who choose to serve their country by fighting in-theater?

Prince: The military could do that, but the U.S. military can't be all things to all people all the time.

Rep. Diane Watson: Why not?

Prince: The tyranny of shortage of time and distance. You can't have an anti-air missile guy also be doing PSD missions and knowing how to be an aviation mechanic; it’s too broad of a base of skill requirement.

Rep. Diane Watson: So, they need more people?

When she piped up with "Why not?" I was done for. And I just loved the exceptionally subtle way she established that our "all-volunteer" army needs more people; why would we need Blackwater otherwise?

Believe it or not, there was even cause for a celebration on the R side of the aisle. No; Issa was the same, bloviating asshat he's always been and always will be. And McHenry is the same old laughingstock. Nor did Westmoreland say anything with more intellectual gravitas than your average 2nd grader's essay. But Rep. John Duncan (R -TN) may have just proven himself the last proper conservative in Congress:

Rep. John Duncan: Our committee memorandum says using Blackwater instead of U.S. troops to protect embassy officials is expensive. That's putting it lightly; Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day for the services of a private military contractor. This is equivalent to $445,000 per year - over 6 times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier.

This war has produced some of the most lavish, most fiscally excessive, most exorbitantly profitable contracts in the history of the world. And it seems to me that fiscal conservatives should be under no, feel no obligation to defend this type of contract. In fact, it seems to me that fiscal conservatives should be the ones most horrified by this. And I notice in the table that Blackwater's contracting has gone from 25 million in 2003 to 48 million 2004, to 593 million in 2006. If we are going to be there another 10 years, as some have said, I surely hope that we're not going to continue to see these types of ridiculously excessive increases in the contracts that are being handed out.

I also notice that Blackwater is a subsidiary of the Prince Group, of Prince Group Holdings, and that another one of the holdings of that firm is Presidential Airways, an aviation company that has held a contract with the U.S. Air Force Air Mobility Command. Mr. Prince, can you tell me what percentage of Prince Group Holdings comes from federal contracts of all or any types?

Prince asks him to repeat the question.

Rep. John Duncan: Can you tell me...I don't know what all companies are in...I don't know all the companies that are in your Prince Group Holdings. Apparently, there is a Presidential Airways. I don't know how many other companies there are. What I'm wondering about is how much of Prince Group Holdings comes from federal contracts of any and all types.

Prince: Most of Prince Group Holdings come from federal contracts. blather blather blather

Rep. John Duncan: When you said most; does that mean 100%? Rough guess: what percentage?

Prince: Rough guess? 90%

Rep. John Duncan: Do you still have a contract with Presidential Airways with Air Force Mobility Command?

Prince: Yes, Sir.

Rep. John Duncan: And rough guess: how much is that contract each year?

Prince: I don't know what the exact number is, Sir. It's for 8 aircraft right now; I don't know what they price out at.

Rep. John Duncan: What other companies are in Prince Group Holdings?

Prince: There's a long list; I've got a manufacturing business that has nothing to do with federal stuff. Appliances, parts, etc.

Prince was, naturally, very defensive of Blackwater's work, citing umpteen cost matrices that'd been worked out to justify their "competitively bid" prices. But the question remained: why can't we just pay our military to do these things? Dare we hope that rummy's Faerieland Strike Force army has finally been declared a disastrous experiment?

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