Comment: Why did US Government Take Blackwater to Court?

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | |
Last week I gave a live television interview to the main news program of RT, about the company formerly known as Blackwater. As intelNews reported on August 8, the private military outfit, which rebranded itself to Academi in late 2011, agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle no fewer than 17 violations of United States federal laws, including several charges of illegal weapons exports. This was hardly the first time that the scandal-prone company made headlines for breaking the law. Last week’s settlement followed 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 International Trafficking in Arms Regulations Acts. Those familiar with the murky world of private military contractors are aware that these companies are often hired by governments precisely because they are willing and able to break the law in pursuit of tactical directives. In fact, the main difference between Blackwater/Academi and other private military contractors is not its disregard for legal boundaries, but the lack of discretion with which it keeps breaking the law. This is precisely the reason why it regularly finds itself charged with a host of different criminal violations.

Now, there is little doubt that the services Blackwater/Academi provided to the US government in Iraq and Afghanistan far exceeded things such as VIP protection or tactical training. In one typical case, the company was found to have illegally shipped to Iraq weapon silencers, hidden among sacks of dog food intended for its K-9 unit. As I told RT news, one does not have to be an expert on the operational side of intelligence to realize that there is really only one thing you need gun silencers for —and it’s not VIP protection.

But if Blackwater/Academi resorted to breaking the law in order to assist the US government’s military or intelligence objectives in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere, why was it taken to court by that very government? The answer, as I told RT, has to do with the fact that governments —including America’s— are not monolithic. They are complex amalgamations of actors, often with competing interests, who fight for bureaucratic dominance as often as they collaborate in pursuit of common goals.

Blackwater/Academi is a case in point: the company has for over a decade had a very cozy relationship with certain elements of the US government apparatus, notably the CIA, the George W. Bush White House, and some offices in the State Department. But other governmental interest groups, including parts of the Pentagon, the Internal Revenue Service, as well as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, have been skeptical about Blackwater/Academi’s operations since even before 9/11. It is not surprising, therefore, that government agencies like the IRS or the FBI examine Blackwater/Academi’s role with reference to their own, narrow administrative goals, while disregarding the broader strategic benefits that others in the US government may attribute to these very operations. It is plausible, for instance, that by presenting the King of Jordan with a birthday present consisting of a case of state-of-the-art fully automatic weapons, Blackwater/Academi was acting as a conduit for the US Department of State or the CIA. The FBI, which has always considered Blackwater/Academi as a band of mercenary cowboys, could care less about the relationship between the Royal House of Jordan and the State Department. It therefore takes the company to court, and as in fact it did, for illegally exporting weapons to a foreign country.

In reading some of the testimonies of the FBI and IRS special agents who investigated Blackwater/Academi’s most blatant criminal violations, one is left with no doubt that, if it were up to them, the company’s senior executives would have been given prison sentences. This, of course, is not what happened. The lawsuit was led by the US Department of Justice, which eventually decided to let the company off the hook with a nominal slap on the wrist, as illustrated by the negligible settlement fine. Like the lawsuit itself, the settlement too was an outcome of intense negotiations between different power-brokers within the government. The most successful corporations have learned to take advantage of such intra-governmental discord in order to get away with breaking the law. Blackwater/Academi has mastered this art to the full, and is now looking forward to new adventures in the murky world of security contracting.

About intelNews
Expert news and commentary on intelligence, espionage, spies and spying, by Dr. Joseph Fitsanakis and Ian Allen.

5 Responses to Comment: Why did US Government Take Blackwater to Court?

  1. maestro says:

    Nothing is going to happen:

  2. Ryan says:

    I think the general trend for most states is moving towards the utilization of privatized military outfits to achieve foreign policy aims. With regard to the USA, there is much less oversight from Congress, and it is much simpler to pay a ‘Blackwater’ to get the dirty work done rather than have entities like the US Senate Armed Services Committee wanting to know why the US military is doing ‘this’ and ‘that.’ Every time I read about such firms like Blackwater, I think Niccolò Machiavelli is spinning in his grave, especially since he said the employment of mercenaries in warfare will only lead to problems a ‘state’ or the “sovereign” would prefer to avoid.

  3. intelNews says:

    @Ryan: You hit the nail on the head. There is no question that deregulation has had a direct effect on the rise of the private security sector in the United States. Ironically, it all began in the mid-1990s, during the Clinton Administration’s National Partnership for Reinventing Government (Al Gore’s pet project before he set out to save the planet). Did he ever imagine that his efforts would lead to the rise of firms like Blackwater? I doubt it. But the genie is now out of the box, and it’s almost impossible to put it back inside. Thanks for commenting. [JF]

  4. Laurice says:

    Wow! What a great way to re-coup the tax money paid to these people. Hire them to do a job – then charge them with violating the law – fine them – and “walla,” instant money in the Treasury. If a private business were to do this it would be a RICO, violation. My hat off to who ever thought this one up. Great idea.

  5. Advisa says:

    The use of Private Military Contractors (PMC) will continue to rise and for a good reason: Efficiency (you need 8 to 10 support personnel to field one soldier); Scalable (send only what you need, when you need it); Cost-effective (use them when they are needed… try that with a defense contractor); Mission specific (get in and get it done); and, Plausible deniability (be it DOD, State Department or US Armed Forces).

    Whether it’s private security, mission specific, as a military force or providing security to some refuge camp in a third world location, there will continue to be a need and reason to employ them. I have no doubt, that over time… the US communities will find greater need to use PMCs for sensitive projects and on occasion, the delicate work necessary, without the need or scrutiny of some Congressional Committee. Like it or not… they are here to stay.

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