Blackwater/Academi settles weapons-smuggling charges
August 8, 2012 2 Comments
By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
In the eyes of many, the United States-based security firm formerly known as Blackwater is synonymous with ‘scandal’. Founded in 1997 by self-confessed CIA agent Erik Prince, the company was awarded hundreds of millions of dollars in non-competitive contract bids by the Bush administration, to provide wide-ranging security services in Iraq. But the company’s ‘shoot-first-ask-questions-later’ attitude resulted in numerous bloody incidents in the country, including the 2007 Nisur Square massacre, in which at least 14 Iraqi civilians were killed by trigger-happy Blackwater guards. In 2009, a frustrated US Department of State refused to renew the company’s governmental contracts, after which Blackwater terminated its partnership with the US government (or did it?). What is perhaps less known about the company, now renamed to Academi LLC, is that it has for years been the subject of several investigations by US authorities for a host of criminal offences, ranging from selling secret plans to foreign governments to illicit weapons trafficking. According to court documents unsealed yesterday at the United States District Court in New Bern, North Carolina, Academi has agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle some of these charges. Under the agreement, the company has owned up to 17 different criminal violations with which it was charged after a five-year multi-agency federal investigation led by the Department of Justice. The charges include possessing unregistered fully automatic weapons in the US, illegally exporting encrypted satellite-telephone hardware to Sudan, training foreign nationals without a license, giving classified documents to foreign governments, as well as selling weapons to the Kingdom of Jordan without US government authorization and then lying about it to US federal firearms officials. It is worth noting that yesterday’s settlement was in addition to a separate $42 million settlement agreed in 2010 with the US Department of State. The latter had charged Blackwater/Academi with violating the US Arms Export Control and the International Trafficking in Arms Regulations Acts. Interestingly, the attorney for the US government, Thomas G. Walker, chose his words carefully yesterday in speaking publicly about the case. He said that the proceedings concluded “a lengthy and complex investigation into a company which has provided valuable services to the United States government, but which, at times, and in many ways, failed to comply with important laws and regulations concerning how we, as a country, interact with our international allies and adversaries”. But some of the investigators who actually worked on the ground in the case were far less diplomatic in their court testimony. Jeannine A. Hammett, a Special Agent and Criminal Investigator with the Internal Revenue Service, accused Blackwater/Academi’s senior leadership of breaking the trust of the American public by committing crimes “to line their own pockets”. Another Special Agent, Chris Briese, of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, told the court that the private security company operated for “an extended period of time [...] in a manner which demonstrated systemic disregard for US government laws and regulations”. As for Academi’s response, don’t hold your breath: yesterday’s settlement prevents the company from commenting on the case in any way, shape or form, that challenges the conditions of the settlement. Quite convenient, one might conclude.