|Type||Private military security firm|
|Industry||Private military and security contractor|
|Headquarters||Moyock, North Carolina, USA|
|Products||law enforcement training, logistics, Close quarter training, and security services|
|Services||Security management, full-service risk management consulting|
Xe Services LLC (pronounced /ˈziː/ zee) is a private military company founded as Blackwater USA in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. The company has a wide array of business divisions, subsidiaries, and spin-off corporations but the organization as a whole has aroused significant controversy. The Iraq War documents leak showed that Blackwater employees committed serious abuses in Iraq, including killing civilians. Altogether, the documents reveal fourteen separate shooting incidents involving Blackwater forces, which resulted in the deaths of ten civilians and the wounding of seven others, not including the Nisoor Square massacre that killed seventeen civilians. A third of the shootings occurred while Blackwater forces were guarding US diplomats.
In October 2007, Blackwater USA was renamed Blackwater Worldwide. It announced on February 13, 2009 that it would operate under the new name "Xe." In a memo sent to employees, President Gary Jackson wrote that the new name "reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security." A spokesperson for the company stated that it feels the Blackwater name is too closely associated with the company's work in the occupation of Iraq. Spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said there was no meaning in the new name, which the company took over a year to arrive at in an internal search.
Xe is currently the largest of the U.S. State Department's three private security contractors. Of the 987 contractors Xe provides, 744 are U.S. citizens. At least 90% of the company's revenue comes from government contracts. Xe provided security services in Iraq to the United States federal government, particularly the Central Intelligence Agency on a contractual basis. They no longer have a license to operate in Iraq: the new Iraqi government made multiple attempts to expel them from the country, and denied their application for an operating license in January 2009. However, the company is still under contract with the State Department and some Xe personnel were working legally in Iraq at least until September 2009.
|Both logos, side by side. Note the original below, with the curved Blackwater wordmark.|
Blackwater USA was formed in 1997, by Erik Prince in North Carolina, to provide training support to military and law enforcement organizations. He spent part of his inherited wealth to purchase about 6,000 acres (24 km2) (from Dow Jones Executive, Sean Trotter) of the Great Dismal Swamp, a vast swamp on the North Carolina/Virginia border, now mostly a National Wildlife Refuge. There he created his state-of-the-art private training facility, and his contracting company, Blackwater, which he named for the peat-colored water of the swamp. In 2002 Blackwater Security Consulting (BSC) was formed. It was one of several private security firms employed following the U.S. invasion of Afghanistan. BSC is one of over 60 private security firms employed during the Iraq War to guard officials and installations, train Iraq's new army and police, and provide other support for occupation forces. Blackwater was also hired during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina by the United States Department of Homeland Security, as well as by private clients, including communications, petrochemical and insurance companies. Overall, the company has received over $1 billion USD in U.S. government contracts. Blackwater consists of nine divisions, and a subsidiary, Blackwater Vehicles.
|Erik Prince, Blackwater founder|
Xe is a privately held company and does not publish much information about internal affairs. Xe's founder and former CEO Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, attended the Naval Academy, graduated from Hillsdale College, and was an intern in George H. W. Bush's White House. Prince is a major financial supporter of Republican Party causes and candidates. Xe's president, Gary Jackson, is also a former Navy SEAL.
Cofer Black, the company's vice-chairman from 2006 through 2008, was director of the CIA's Counterterrorist Center (CTC) at the time of the September 11 attacks in 2001. He was the United States Department of State coordinator for counterterrorism with the rank of ambassador at large from December 2002 to November 2004. After leaving public service, Black became chairman of the privately owned intelligence gathering company Total Intelligence Solutions, Inc., as well as vice chairman for Xe. Robert Richer was vice president of intelligence until January 2007, when he formed Total Intelligence Solutions. He was formerly the head of the CIA's Near East Division. Black was senior advisor for counterterrorism and national security issues for the 2008 Presidential election bid of Mitt Romney.
Xe's primary training facility opened by Jonathan Elliott and Nic Norment in 2001 is located on 7,000 acres (28 km2) in northeastern North Carolina, comprises several ranges: indoor, outdoor, urban reproductions; an artificial lake; and a driving track in Camden and Currituck counties. Company literature claims that it is the largest training facility in the country. In November 2006 Blackwater USA announced it recently acquired an 80-acre (30 ha) facility 150 miles (240 km) west of Chicago in Mount Carroll, Illinois to be called Blackwater North. This facility is also known as "The Site". This Xe facility has been operational since April 2007 and serves law enforcement agencies throughout the Midwest. Xe is also trying to open an 824-acre (3.33 km2) training facility three miles north of Potrero, a small town in rural east San Diego County, California located 45 miles (72 km) east of San Diego, for military and law enforcement training. The opening has faced heavy opposition from local residents, residents of nearby San Diego, local Congressmember Bob Filner, and environmentalist and anti-war organizations. Opposition focused on a potential for wildfire increases, the proposed facility's proximity to the Cleveland National Forest, noise pollution, and opposition to the actions of Blackwater in Iraq. In response, Brian Bonfiglio, project manager for Blackwater West, said "There will be no explosives training and no tracer ammunition. Lead bullets don't start fires." In October 2007, when wildfires swept through the area, Xe made at least three deliveries of food, water, personal hygiene products and generator fuel to 300 residents near the proposed training site, many of whom had been trapped for days without supplies. They also set up a "tent city" for evacuees. On March 7, 2008, Blackwater withdrew its application to set up a facility in San Diego County.
In October 2007, Blackwater USA began a process of altering its name to Blackwater Worldwide, and unveiled a new logo. A Blackwater representative stated that the decision to change the logo was made before the September 16, 2007, Nisoor Square shootings, but was not changed officially until after. Many referred to the change as having eliminated the previous "cross hair" theme, replaced by a reticle instead.
On July 21, 2008, Blackwater Worldwide stated that they would shift resources away from security contracting because of extensive risk in that sector. "The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk," company founder and CEO Erik Prince told The Associated Press during a daylong visit to the company's North Carolina compound.
Prince announced his resignation as CEO on March 2, 2009. Prince will remain as chairman of the board but will no longer be involved in day-to-day operations. Joseph Yorio was named as the new president and CEO, replacing Gary Jackson as president and Prince as CEO. Danielle Esposito was named the new chief operating officer and executive vice president.
In 2009, Prince announced that he would relinquish involvement in the company's day-to-day business and in December of that year that he plans to give up some of his ownership rights with Xe and is considering becoming a teacher.
In June 2010, it was reported that Xe (Blackwater) was being put up for sale and that Prince may be planning to move to the United Arab Emirates. The Nation magazine story said that the move, if it happened, would make it difficult for the US to extradite Prince if he were to face US criminal charges for his and his firm's past dealings with the US government. The UAE and US do not have an extradition treaty.
This section's factual accuracy may be compromised because of out-of-date information. Please help improve the article by updating it. There may be additional information on the talk page. (February 2010)
Xe consists of nine business units:
United States Training Center
United States Training Center (USTC, formerly Blackwater Training Center) offers tactics and weapons training to military, government, and law enforcement agencies. USTC also offers several open-enrollment courses periodically throughout the year, from hand to hand combat (executive course) to precision rifle marksmanship. They also offer courses in tactical and off road driving.
USTC's primary training facility, located on 7,000 acres (28 km2) in northeastern North Carolina, comprises several ranges, indoor, outdoor, urban reproductions, a man-made lake, and a driving track in Camden and Currituck counties. Company literature says that it is the largest training facility in the country. In November 2006 Blackwater USA announced it acquired an 80-acre (30 ha) facility 150 miles (240 km) west of Chicago, in Mount Carroll, Illinois to be called Blackwater North. That facility has been operational since April 2007 and serves law enforcement agencies throughout the Midwest.
Blackwater Target Systems
This division provides and maintains target range steel targets and a "shoothouse" system.
Blackwater MD-530F over Republican Palace, Baghdad
Blackwater Security Consulting
Blackwater Security Consulting (BSC) was formed in 2001, and based in Moyock, North Carolina. BSC is one of the private security firms employed during the Iraq War to guard officials and installations, train Iraq's new Army and Police, and provide other support for Coalition Forces.
Its primary public contract is from the U.S. State Department under the Bureau of Diplomatic Security's Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) and WPPS II umbrella contracts, along with DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, Inc. for protective services in Iraq, Afghanistan, Bosnia, and Israel. Blackwater's responsibilities include the United States embassy in Iraq.
Blackwater Security is also now pursuing domestic work as disaster relief workers, following their Katrina response. Blackwater officials have met with Arnold Schwarzenegger to discuss earthquake response services.
Training canines to work in patrol capacities as war dogs, explosives and drug detection, and various other roles for military and law enforcement duties.
Blackwater Airships, LLC
Blackwater Airships LLC was established in January 2006, to build a remotely piloted airship vehicle (RPAV).
Blackwater armored vehicle
Blackwater recently introduced its own armored personnel carrier, the Grizzly APC.
Blackwater Maritime Solutions
Blackwater Maritime Security Services offers tactical training for maritime force protection units. In the past it has trained Greek security forces for the 2004 Olympics, Azerbaijan Naval Sea Commandos, and Afghanistan's Ministry of Interior.Blackwater's facilities include a manmade lake, with stacked containers simulating the hull and deck of a ship for maritime assaults. Blackwater received a contract to train United States Navy sailors following the attack on the USS Cole.
It also purchased a 183-foot (56 m) vessel, McArthur, which has been outfitted for disaster response and training. According to Blackwater USA, it features "state of the art navigation systems, full GMDSS communications, SEATEL Broadband, dedicated command and control bays, helicopter decks, hospital and multiple support vessel capabilities." McArthur was built in 1966 by the Norfolk Shipbuilding and Drydock Company and served as the survey ship USC&GS McArthur (MSS 22) for the United States Coast and Geodetic Survey from 1966 to 1970 and as NOAAS McArthur (S 330) for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration from 1970 until her decommissioning in 2003. The ship is home-ported in Norfolk, Virginia.
Raven Development Group
The Raven Development Group is a construction management and management subsidiary. It was established in 1999 to design and build Blackwater Worldwide's training facility in North Carolina.
Aviation Worldwide Services
Presidential Airways (charter)
Aviation Worldwide Services (AWS) was founded by Richard Pere and Tim Childrey, and is based at Melbourne, Florida, USA. It owns and operates three subsidiaries: STI Aviation, Inc. Air Quest, Inc. and Presidential Airways, Inc. In April 2003 it was acquired by Blackwater USA.
Presidential Airways (PAW) is a Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) Regulations Part 135 charter cargo and passenger airline based at Melbourne International Airport. It operates aircraft owned by AWS. Presidential Airways holds a Secret Facility Clearance from the U.S. Department of Defense. It operates several CASA 212 aircraft in addition to a Boeing 767. Several of the MD-530 helicopters used by Blackwater Security Consulting in Iraq are also operated through AWS.
AWS also appears to provide services to the United States Central Intelligence Agency, as three of its aircraft, with tail numbers N962BW, N964BW, and N968BW, have flown into its Camp Peary facility. Its aircraft have also been used in the CIA's extraordinary rendition programs. Blackwater also operates an airport at its Moyock, North Carolina facility, called Blackwater Airstrip Airport (NC61). The listed owner is E&J Holdings LLC.
A CASA 212 aircraft, tail number N960BW, operated by Presidential Airways crashed on November 27, 2004, in Afghanistan; it had been a contract flight for the United States Air Force en route from Bagram to Farah. All aboard, three soldiers and three civilian crew members, were killed. Several of their surviving kin filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Presidential in October 2005.
In late September 2007, Presidential Airways received a $92m contract from the Department of Defense for air transportation in Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan.
STI Aviation focuses on aircraft maintenance, and is a FAA/JAA 145 repair station. They specialize in Short 360, EMB 120, Saab 340, and CASA 212 maintenance. As of January 2008, STI Aviation appears to have been folded into AWS, along with Air Quest.
Many of Blackwater's tactical and training aircraft are registered to Blackwater affiliate EP Aviation LLC, named for Blackwater's owner, Erik Prince. These aircraft include fourteen Bell 412 helicopters, three Hughes/MD 369 "Little Bird" helicopters, four Bell 214ST medium-lift helicopters, three Fairchild Swearingen Merlin IIIC turboprop airliners, nine Aérospatiale Puma utility helicopters, a Maule Air MT-7-235 STOL aircraft, an Embraer EMB 314 Super Tucano counterinsurgency aircraft, and a Mooney M20E fixed wing aircraft.
A private security service, Greystone is registered in Barbados, and employs third country nationals for offshore security work through its affiliate Satelles Solutions, Inc. Their web site advertises their ability to provide "personnel from the best militaries throughout the world" for worldwide deployment. Tasks can be from very small scale up major operations to "facilitate large scale stability operations requiring large numbers of people to assist in securing a region".
Greystone had planned to open a training facility on the grounds of the Subic Bay U.S. Naval Base, but those plans were later abandoned.
Iraq War involvement
See also: 31 March 2004 Fallujah ambush, Andrew J. Moonen, and Blackwater Baghdad shootings
Paul Bremer escorted by Blackwater Security.
Blackwater Worldwide has played a substantial role during the Iraq War as a contractor for the United States government. In 2003, Blackwater attained its first high-profile contract when it received a $21 million no-bid contract for guarding the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority, L. Paul Bremer.
On March 31, 2004, four Blackwater Security Consulting (BSC) employees were ambushed and killed in Fallujah, and their bodies were hung on bridges.
Since June 2004, Blackwater has been paid more than $320 million out of a $1 billion, five-year State Department budget for the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which protects U.S. officials and some foreign officials in conflict zones.
In 2006, Blackwater won the remunerative contract to protect diplomats for the U.S. embassy in Iraq, the largest American embassy in the world. It is estimated by the Pentagon and company representatives that there are 20,000 to 30,000 armed security contractors working in Iraq, and some estimates are as high as 100,000, though no official figures exist. Of the State Department's dependence on private contractors like Blackwater for security purposes, U.S. ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker told the U.S. Senate: "There is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq. There is no alternative except through contracts."
In November 2008, the U.S. State Department prepared to issue a multi-million-dollar fine to Blackwater for shipping hundreds of automatic firearms to Iraq without the necessary permits and without paying the proper tariffs. Some of the weapons were believed to have ended up on the country’s black market.
For work in Iraq, Xe has drawn contractors from their international pool of professionals, a database containing "21,000 former Special Forces operatives, soldiers, and retired law enforcement agents," overall. For instance, Gary Jackson, the firm's president, has confirmed that Bosnians, Filipinos, and Chileans "have been hired for tasks ranging from airport security to protecting Paul Bremer, the head of the Coalition Provisional Authority." Between 2005 and September 2007, Blackwater security staff were involved in 195 shooting incidents; in 163 of those cases, Blackwater personnel fired first. 25 members of staff have been fired for violations of Xe's drug and alcohol policy and 28 more for weapons-related incidents.
Fallujah and Al Najaf
31 March 2004 Fallujah ambush
A Blackwater Security Company MD-530F helicopter aids in securing the site of a car bomb explosion in Baghdad, Iraq, December, 2004, during Operation Iraqi Freedom.
On March 31, 2004, Iraqi insurgents in Fallujah attacked a convoy containing four American private military contractors from Blackwater USA who were conducting delivery for food caterers ESS. The four contractors, Scott Helvenston, Jerry Zovko, Wesley Batalona and Michael Teague, were attacked and killed with grenades and small arms fire. Their bodies were hung from a bridge crossing the Euphrates. This event was one of the causes of the U.S. military attack on the city in the First Battle of Fallujah. In the fall of 2007, a congressional report by the House Oversight Committee found that Blackwater intentionally "delayed and impeded" investigations into the contractors' deaths.
In April 2004, a few days after the Fallujah bridge hanging, a small team of Blackwater contractors, along with a fire team of U.S. Marines and El Salvadorian troops, fired upon 400 Iraqi civilians protesting outside the Coalition Provisional Authority headquarters in Al Najaf, Iraq. The headquarters, occupying the former Kufa University campus, was the last area in the city that remained in coalition control. During the protest, as supplies and ammunition ran low, a team of Blackwater contractors 70 miles (113 km) away flew to the compound to resupply and bring an injured U.S. Marine back to safety outside of the city. In April 2005 six Blackwater independent contractors were killed in Iraq when their Mi-8 helicopter was shot down. Also killed were three Bulgarian crewmembers and two Fijian gunners. Initial reports indicate the helicopter was shot down by rocket propelled grenades. In 2006 a car accident occurred in the Baghdad Green Zone when an SUV driven by Blackwater operatives crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee. Blackwater guards allegedly disarmed the Army soldiers and forced them to lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle their SUV from the wreck.
On February 16, 2005, four Blackwater guards escorting a U.S. State Department convoy fired 70 rounds into an Iraqi's car. The guards stated that they felt threatened by the car's approach. The fate of the car's driver was unknown because the convoy did not stop after the shooting. An investigation by the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service concluded that the shooting was not justified and that the Blackwater employees provided false statements to investigators. The false statements claimed that the one of the Blackwater vehicles had been hit by insurgent gunfire, but the investigation found that one of the Blackwater guards had actually fired into his own vehicle. John Frese, the U.S. embassy in Iraq's top security official, declined to punish Blackwater or the security guards, stating that "any disciplinary actions would be deemed as lowering the morale" of the Blackwater contractors.
On Christmas Eve 2006, a security guard of the Iraqi vice president, Adel Abdul Mahdi, was shot and killed while on duty outside the Iraqi prime minister's compound. The Iraqi government has accused Andrew J. Moonen, at the time an employee of Blackwater USA, of murdering him while drunk. Moonen was subsequently fired by Blackwater for "violating alcohol and firearm policy", and travelled from Iraq to the United States days after the incident. United States Attorneys are currently investigating. The United States State Department and Blackwater USA had attempted to keep his identity secret. Despite the Blackwater incident, Moonen found subsequent employment. From February to August 2007, he was employed by U.S. Defense Department contractor Combat Support Associates (CSA) in Kuwait. In April 2007, the U.S. Department of Defense tried to call him back to active duty, but cancelled the request because Moonen was overseas.
Blackwater Security guarding U.S. State Department employees
Five Blackwater contractors were killed on January 23, 2007, in Iraq when their Hughes H-6 helicopter was shot down on Baghdad's Haifa Street. The crash site was secured by a personal security detail, callsign "Jester" from 1/26 Infantry, 1st Infantry Division. Three insurgencies claimed to be responsible for shooting down the helicopter, although such has not been confirmed by the United States. A U.S. defense official has confirmed that four of the five killed were shot execution style in the back of the head, but did not know whether the four had survived the crash.
In late May 2007, Blackwater contractors opened fire on the streets of Baghdad twice in two days, one of the incidents provoking a standoff between the security contractors and Iraqi Interior Ministry commandos, according to U.S. and Iraqi officials. On May 30, 2007, Blackwater employees shot an Iraqi civilian deemed to have been "driving too close" to a State Department convoy that was being escorted by Blackwater contractors. Other private security contractors, such as Aegis Defence Services have been accused of similar actions. Doug Brooks, the president of the International Peace Operations Association ("IPOA"), a trade group representing Blackwater and other military contractors, said that in his view military law would not apply to Blackwater employees working for the State Department. In October 2007, Blackwater USA announced that the company was taking a "hiatus" from membership in IPOA.
A sniper employed by Blackwater Worldwide opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry, killing three guards working for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network on February 6, 2006. According to the 13 witnesses who were present, the guards had not fired on the Justice Ministry. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as "an act of terrorism" and said Blackwater "caused the incident." Iraqi Media Network concluded that the guards were killed "without any provocation." The U.S. State Department, based on information obtained from Blackwater guards, who said they were fired upon, concluded that the team's actions "fell within approved rules governing the use of force."
Legal status and oversight
The Iraqi Government revoked Blackwater's license to operate in Iraq on September 17, 2007, because of a highly controversial incident that occurred the previous day. In that incident, seventeen (initially reported as eleven) Iraqis were killed.The fatalities occurred while a Blackwater Private Security Detail (PSD) was escorting a convoy of U.S. State Department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad with United States Agency for International Development officials. The U.S. State Department has said that "innocent life was lost." An anonymous U.S. military official was quoted as saying that Blackwater's guards opened fire without provocation and used excessive force. The incident sparked at least five investigations, and an FBI probe found that Blackwater Employees used lethal force recklessly. Blackwater helicopters were dispatched to evacuate the Polish ambassador following an insurgent assassination attempt on October 3, 2007. The license was reinstated by the American government in April 2008, but the Iraqis announced that they have refused to extend that license in early 2009.
On October 2, 2007, Erik Prince attended a congressional hearing conducted by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform following the controversy related to Blackwater's conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan. Blackwater hired the public relations firm BKSH & Associates Worldwide, a subsidiary of Burson-Marsteller, to help Prince prepare for his testimony at the hearing. Robert Tappan, a former U.S. State Department official who worked for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad, was one of the executives handling the account. Burson-Marsteller was brought aboard by the Washington law firms representing Blackwater – McDermott Will & Emery and Crowell & Moring. BKSH, a self-described "bipartisan" firm (Hillary Rodham Clinton, when pursuing the Democratic presidential nomination, was also a client), is headed by Charlie Black, a prominent Republican political strategist and former chief spokesman for the Republican National Committee, and Scott Pastrick, former treasurer of the Democratic National Committee.
In his testimony before Congress, Prince said his company has a lack of remedies to deal with employee misdeeds. When asked why an employee involved in the killing of a vice-presidential guard incident had been "whisked out of the country" he replied, "We can't flog him, we can't incarcerate him." Asked by a member of Congress for financial information about his company, Prince declined to provide it. "We're a private company, and there's a key word there — private," he answered. Later he stated that the company could provide it at a future date if questions were submitted in writing. When the term "mercenaries" was used to describe Blackwater employees, Prince objected, characterizing them as "loyal Americans."
A Committee on Oversight and Government Reform staff report, based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents, describes Blackwater as "being staffed with reckless, shoot-first guards who were not always sober and did not always stop to see who or what was hit by their bullets." A staff report compiled by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on behalf of Representative Waxman questioned the cost-effectiveness of using Blackwater forces instead of U.S. troops. Blackwater charges the government $1,222 per day per guard, "equivalent to $445,000 per year, or six times more than the cost of an equivalent U.S. soldier," the report alleged. During his testimony on Capitol Hill, Erik Prince disputed this figure, saying that it costs money for the government to train a soldier, to house and feed them, they don't just come prepared to fight. "That sergeant doesn't show up naked and untrained." Prince stated.
In the wake of Prince's testimony before Congress, the US House passed a bill in October 2007 that would make all private contractors working in Iraq and other combat zones subject to prosecution by U.S. courts, and Senate Democratic leaders have said they plan to send similar legislation to President Bush as soon as possible. The legal status of Xe and other security firms in Iraq is a subject of contention. Two days before he left Iraq, L. Paul Bremer signed "Order 17" giving all Americans associated with the CPA and the American government immunity from Iraqi law. A July 2007 report from the American Congressional Research Service indicates that the Iraqi government still has no authority over private security firms contracted by the U.S. government. On October 5, 2007, the State Department announced new rules for Blackwater's armed guards operating in Iraq. Under the new guidelines, State Department security agents will accompany all Blackwater units operating in and around Baghdad. The State Department will also install video surveillance equipment in all Blackwater armored vehicles, and will keep recordings of all radio communications between Blackwater convoys in Iraq and the military and civilian agencies that supervise their activities.
In December 2008 a US State Department panel recommended that Xe should be dropped as the main private security contractor for U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
On Jan 30, 2009, The U.S. State Department told Blackwater Worldwide that it will not renew its contract in Iraq.
Iraqi courts and legal action
On September 23, 2007, the Iraqi government said that it expects to refer criminal charges to its courts in connection with a shooting involving Blackwater guards. However, on October 29, 2007, immunity from prosecution was granted by the U.S. State Department, delaying a criminal inquiry into the September 16 shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians. Immediately afterwards, the Iraqi government approved a draft law to end any and all immunity for foreign military contractors in Iraq, to overturn Order 17. The U.S. Department of Justice also said any immunity deals offered to Blackwater employees were invalid, as the department that issued them had no authority to do so. It is unclear what legal status Blackwater Worldwide operates under in the U.S. and other countries, or what protection the U.S. extends to Blackwater Worldwide's operations globally.
Legal specialists say that the U.S. government is unlikely to allow a trial in the Iraqi courts, because there is little confidence that trials would be fair. Contractors accused of crimes abroad could be tried in the United States under either military or civilian law; however, the applicable military law, the Uniform Code of Military Justice, was changed in 2006, and appears to now exempt State Department contractors that provide security escorts for a civilian agency. Prosecution under civilian law would be through the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, which allows the extension of federal law to civilians supporting military operations; however, according to the deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's criminal division, Robert Litt, trying a criminal case in federal court would require a secure chain of evidence, with police securing the crime scene immediately, while evidence gathered by Iraqi investigators would be regarded as suspect.
A number of Iraqi families with killed relatives are taking Blackwater to court over alleged "random killings committed by private Blackwater guards".
On January 31, 2010, three current and former U.S. government officials confirmed the Justice Department is investigating whether officials of Blackwater Worldwide tried to bribe Iraqi government officials in hopes of retaining the firm’s security work in Iraq after the shooting in Nisour Square in Baghdad, which left 17 Iraqis dead and stoked bitter resentment against the United States. The officials said that the Justice Department’s fraud section opened the inquiry late in 2009 to determine whether Blackwater employees violated a federal law banning American corporations from paying bribes to foreign officials.
Indictment on Federal Weapons Charges
On April 16, 2010, five officials at Xe, including former CEO Gary Jackson, Blackwater’s former president were indicted on felony weapons charges. The indictment alleged that officials falsified documents to hide gifts of weapons to King Abdullah II of Jordan. The indictment sprang from a 2008 raid, in which 22 weapons were seized, including 17 AK 47s.
Fines for hundreds of alleged violations of US law
Court documents made public reveal that Blackwater/Xe violated federal law hundreds of times according to allegations by the federal government. In August 2010, the company agreed to pay a $42 million fine to settle allegations that it unlawfully provided armaments, military equipment and know-how overseas. The settlement and fine conclude a U.S. State Department investigation that began in 2007. Most of the 288 violations of export control laws involved alleged by the State Department were violations of US arms control laws, that is Blackwater/Xe providing military or security training to foreign nationals or failing to vet adequately the backgrounds of those it was training. Such laws are in place to make sure that enemies of the U.S. do not benefit from American weapons or training.
Blackwater provided military training to security forces in numerous countries, often without authorization from the U.S. government, according to the federal government allegations. Blackwater/Xe also allegedly violated firearms regulations on numerous occasions. In one case, the company diverted weapons intended for use in supporting U.S. military operations in Iraq to the company's own private contracts. Also, the company "did not fully cooperate" with the State Department investigation, and made several false statements to federal authorities.
Blackwater CASA 212 over Afghanistan dropping supplies to U.S. Army troops
According to a company press release, Blackwater provided airlift, security, logistics, and transportation services, as well as humanitarian support. It was reported that the company also acted as law enforcement in the disaster-stricken areas, for example securing neighborhoods and confronting criminals. Blackwater moved about 200 personnel into the area hit by Hurricane Katrina, most of whom (164 employees) were working under a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to protect government facilities, but the company held contracts with private clients as well. Overall, Blackwater had a "visible, and financially lucrative, presence in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the use of the company contractors cost U.S. taxpayers $240,000 a day."
Xe is one of five companies picked by the Department of Defense Counter-Narcotics Technology Program Office in a five-year contract for equipment, material and services in support of counter-narcotics activities. The contract is worth up to $15 billion. The other companies picked are Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, OHI, and Arinc Inc. Blackwater USA has also been contracted by various foreign governments. The DEA and DoD counternarcotics program is supported by Blackwater Worldwide in Afghanistan as well. “Blackwater is involved on DoD side” of the counter-narcotics program in Afghanistan says Jeff Gibson, vice president for international training at Blackwater. “We interdict. The NIU surgically goes after shipments going to Iran or Pakistan. We provide training to set up roadblocks, identify where drug lords are, and act so as not to impact the community.” About 16 Blackwater personnel are in Afghanistan at any given time to support DoD and DEA efforts at training facilities around the country. Blackwater is also involved in mentoring Afghan officials in drug interdiction and counter narcotics. As Richard Douglas, a deputy assistant secretary of defense, explained, "The fact is, we use Blackwater to do a lot of our training of counternarcotics police in Afghanistan. I have to say that Blackwater has done a very good job."
In 2005, it worked to train the Naval Sea Commando regiment of Azerbaijan, enhancing their interdiction capabilities on the Caspian Sea. In Asia, Blackwater has contracts in Japan guarding AN/TPY-2 radar systems.
Helvenston et al. v. Blackwater Security
Xe is currently being sued by the families of four contractors killed in Fallujah in March 2004. The families say they are suing not for financial damages, but for the details of their sons' and husbands' deaths, saying Xe has refused to supply these details, and that in its "zeal to exploit this unexpected market for private security men," the company "showed a callous disregard for the safety of its employees." On February 7, 2007, four family members testified in front of the House Government Reform Committee. They asked that Xe be held accountable for future negligence of employees' lives, and that federal legislation be drawn up to govern contracts between the Department of Defense and defense contractors. Xe has counter-sued the lawyer representing the empty estates of the deceased for $10 million on the grounds the lawsuit was contractually prohibited from ever being filed.
On November 27, 2004, an army report says that a Blackwater airplane, "in violation of numerous government regulations and contract requirements," crashed into a mountainside in Afghanistan, killing all six passengers on board. Several U.S. military personnel were on board because there was space on the cargo plane. It is alleged that Blackwater staff made a series of errors leading to the plane crash, including failing to file a flight plan and failing to use oxygen masks, which may have caused the pilot to succumb to high-altitude euphoria. The families of the three soldiers killed—Lt. Col. Michael McMahon, Chief Warrant Officer Travis Grogan and Spec. Harley Miller—filed a wrongful death suit against Blackwater, alleging negligence. Presidential Airways, a division of Blackwater, questioned the validity of the Army's report, stating that it "contains numerous errors, misstatements, and unfounded assumptions."
Litigation over actions in Iraq
See also: Blackwater Baghdad shootings
On October 11, 2007, the Center for Constitutional Rights filed suit against Blackwater under the Alien Tort Claims Act on behalf of an injured Iraqi and the families of three of the 17 Iraqis killed by Blackwater employees during the September 16, 2007, Blackwater Baghdad shootings.
In June 2009, an amended lawsuit was filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Virginia, alleging that Blackwater employees shot and killed three members of an Iraqi family, including a nine-year-old boy, who were traveling from the Baghdad airport to Baghdad on July 1, 2007. The suit also alleges that Blackwater employees used three company aircraft to kidnap Iraqi citizens from Iraq and further accuses the company of engaging in weapons smuggling, money laundering, tax evasion, child prostitution, illegal drug use and destruction of evidence. The child prostitution charge refers to young Iraqi girls allegedly being brought to the Blackwater compound in Baghdad's fortified Green Zone, identified in the lawsuit as the "Blackwater Man Camp," to provide oral sex to contractors for $1. If the court rules against Xe on the racketeering account, it could dissolve the company.
The Justice Department was originally not expected to bring criminal charges against any employees of the corporation; however, in December 2008, the Justice Department announced they were charging five Blackwater employees. On December 31, 2009 Judge Ricardo Urbina threw out the criminal case against the five guards under indictment. In announcing the dismissal, Urbina said that the prosecutors violated the guards' Fifth Amendment rights by using the statements they gave to the State Department as evidence. Urbina said that the guards would have lost their jobs had they not given the statements, thus making the statements inadmissible. The Iraqi government has asked the US Justice Department to appeal the decision, and also plans to sue the five guards accused of killing civilians.
See also: Blackwater Worldwide arms smuggling allegations
Critics consider Xe's self-description as a private military company to be a euphemism for mercenary activities.Jeremy Scahill points out that Chilean nationals, mostly former soldiers, whose country of origin does not participate in hostilities in Iraq, work for Xe in that country; thus, those Chileans meet the definition of "mercenary." Author Chris Hedges wrote about the establishment of mercenary armies, referring to Blackwater as an example of such a force, asserting its existence as a threat to democracy and a step towards the creation of a modern day Praetorian Guard in a June 3, 2007, article in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
On November 27, 2004 an aircraft operated by Presidential Airways and owned by its sister company, Blackwater AWS, crashed in Afghanistan; it had been a contract flight for the United States Air Force en route from Bagram to Farah. All aboard, three soldiers and three civilian crew members, were killed. Several of their survivors filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Presidential in October 2005.
In March 2006, Cofer Black, vice chairman of Blackwater USA, allegedly suggested at an international conference in Amman, Jordan, that the company was ready to move towards providing security professionals up to brigade size (3,000–5,000) for humanitarian efforts and low-intensity conflicts. Critics have suggested this may be going too far in putting political decisions in the hands of privately owned corporations. The company denies this was ever said.
On September 22, 2007, U.S. federal prosecutors announced an investigation into allegations that Blackwater employees may have smuggled weapons into Iraq, and that these weapons may have been later transferred to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist group designated a terrorist organization by the United States, NATO and the EU. The U.S. government was investigating Blackwater for these alleged crimes. On October 4, 2007, the FBI took over the investigation.
Prince claimed in September 2007 that there was a “rush to judgment” about Blackwater, due to "inaccurate information".
Xe, which had been operating in Iraq without an Iraqi government license, applied for one for the first time, but the request was denied by Iraqi officials in January 2009. The Iraqi government announced that Xe must leave Iraq as soon as a joint Iraqi–US committee finishes drafting the new guidelines on private contractors under the current Iraqi–US security agreement. Umm Tahsin, widow of one of the men killed by Xe employees in the Nisoor Square shooting, said of the denial, "Those people are a group of criminals. What they did was a massacre. Pushing them out is the best solution. They destroyed our family." On January 31, 2009, the U.S. State Department notified Blackwater that the agency would not renew its security contract with the company. The Washington Times reported on March 17, 2009, that the U.S. State Department had extended its Iraq security contract with Xe's air operations arm, Presidential Airways, to September 3, 2009, for a cost of $22.2 million.
On April 1, 2009, the U.S. State Department announced that Triple Canopy, Inc. would replace Xe/Blackwater as the department's security contractor in Iraq. The contract, for $977 million, was awarded on March 31, 2009, and took effect on May 7, 2009. The Iraqi government has speculated that Blackwater/Xe may still be able to profit from the deal because Triple Canopy may subcontract a portion of its Iraq contract to the Falcon Group, an Iraqi company rumored to have financial ties to Blackwater. A Blackwater spokeswoman, Anne Tyrell, denied that Blackwater had a relationship with Falcon Group. In spite of the ban on Blackwater in Iraq, the State Department issued a task order for Blackwater to provide security for diplomats in Hillah, Najaf, and Karbalah until August 4, 2009.
Mark Manzetti, writing in the New York Times on August 19, 2009, reported that the CIA had hired Blackwater "as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda." Newly appointed CIA director Leon Panetta had recently acknowledged a planned secret targeted killing program, one withheld from Congressional oversight. Manzetti's sources, which tied the program to Blackwater, declined to have their names made public. The CIA was acting on a 2001 presidential legal pronouncement, known as a finding, which authorized the CIA to pursue such efforts. Several million dollars were spent on planning and training, but it was never operationalized and no militants were caught or captured. Jeremy Scahill reported in The Nation in November 2009 that Blackwater operate alongside the CIA in Pakistan in "snatch and grab" operations targeting senior members of the Taliban and Al Qaeda. The report cited an unnamed source who has worked on covert US military programs, who revealed that senior members of the Obama administration may not be aware that Blackwater is operating under a US contract in Pakistan. A former Blackwater executive confirmed that they operate covertly in Pakistan. A spokesman for Blackwater denied the claims, stating that they have "only one employee in Pakistan." In December 2009, the CIA canceled their contract with Blackwater to load bombs onto drone aircraft in Afghanistan and Pakistan.