Blackwater/Academi settles weapons-smuggling charges

Blackwater/Academi headquartersBy 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. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #648

Academi HQ

►►IntelNews editor interviewed on RT. IntelNews senior editor, Dr Joseph Fitsanakis, was interviewed yesterday on the main news program of the popular international news channel RT. The interview, concerning the rebranding of private security company Xe Services (formerly Blackwater) to Academi, can be watched here (watch video at the bottom of the page).
►►Contractors making a killing working in UK cyberdefense. Britain has spent more than £100 million ($160 million) in the past year on consultants to combat cyber espionage and the growing use of the internet by terrorists. Now, members of Parliament are investigating the soaring costs of employing private contractors, some paid the equivalent of £150,000 a year, three times the average wage at GCHQ, the UK’s signals intelligence agency.
►►Japan launches second spy satellite. Japan’s space agency, JAXA, has launched an intelligence-gathering satellite, its second this year. Japan launched its first pair of spy satellites in 2003, prompted by concerns over North Korea’s missile program. It currently has four optical information-gathering satellites in orbit. Officials refused to provide details of the capabilities of the most recently launched satellite.

News you may have missed #509 (Blackwater edition)

News you may have missed #470

  • Blackwater still working for US despite denials. Reports that Blackwater is out of the US government’s private-security game appear to have been greatly exaggerated. A consigliore to the company’s new owners has said the firm still holds security contracts with the US State Department, and intends to seek more.
  • CIA gets spooky with new radio commercials. The CIA’s National Clandestine Service is continuing its recruitment drive with new radio commercials, complete with a spooky soundtrack of sawing violins and rising timpani –and something about “no one will ever know what you do”.
  • Iranian shah’s son found dead in Boston. Alireza Pahlavi, the youngest son of the late shah of Iran, has been found dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Boston’s South End. In June 2001, Alireza’s sister Leila was found dead in a London hotel room from an overdose of barbiturates. The late siblings’ father was overthrown in the 1979 Islamic revolution. He died in Egypt in 1980.

News you may have missed #387

  • Blackwater to ‘abandon US government market’. Erik Prince, occasional CIA operative and CEO of Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide, has said in an interview that he is tired of Congressional oversight regulations and plans to abandon US government business forever. Meanwhile, there are reports that Xe has just won a $100 million contract to guard CIA facilities in Afghanistan and elsewhere.
  • Congress won’t back down on CIA oversight battle. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is battling a veto threat by US President Barack Obama, as well as against the CIA and powerful House and Senate Democrats and Republicans, over Congressional oversight of US intelligence services.
  • Mossad chief to step down after eight years. Mossad Director Meir Dagan’s request to extend his term by another year has been denied, and he will step down in three months’ time, according to Israeli media reports. The chief of Dubai Police, which exposed a January 2010 Mossad assassination of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, said Dagan’s ousting is related to the botched operation.

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Recording of candid speech by Blackwater CEO leaked

Erik Prince

Erik Prince

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A recording of a relatively recent candid speech given by Erik Prince, the media-shy owner of Xe Services (formerly known as Blackwater), has been obtained by The Nation magazine. The extensive recording was made on January 14, during a private talk given by Prince at the University of Michigan before a sympathetic invitation-only audience consisting of military veterans, ROTC commanders and cadets, as well as business entrepreneurs. In his talk, Prince, who last December admitted having worked as a CIA asset, advocated for the employment of private contractors by the US Pentagon to combat insurgents and “Iranian influence” in countries such as Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Somalia. Writing for The Nation, Jeremy Scahill focuses on Princes views, as he conveyed them in his talk. Read more of this post

Reports of a possible rogue US DoD operation in Pakistan

Michael Furlong

Michael Furlong

By IAN ALLEN | intelNews.org |
A New York Times article published late yesterday alleges the existence of a clandestine intelligence network of private contractors, set up by a US Pentagon employee, possibly without supervision or approval by senior US Defense officials. The network, which appears to operate under the cover of an Internet-based research company, is actually used to gather intelligence on the activities and whereabouts of individuals on the CIA’s assassination list, claims the paper. What is more, the network coordinator, retired US Air Force officer Michael D. Furlong, is currently being investigated by the US Department of Defense for fraudulent dealings with private contractors. It is not clear whether these were the same contractors (mostly former CIA and US Special Forces operatives) who were employed in the undercover intelligence network uncovered by The New York Times. Read more of this post

Did Blackwater bribe Iraqi officials after 2007 shooting?

Blackwater logo

Blackwater logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The US-based private security company Blackwater is under investigation by the US State Department, which suspects the corporation of having bribed Iraqi officials, in order to gain permission to continue to operate in Iraq, after the 2007 Nisour Square massacre. The company’s license to operate in Iraq was revoked by the Iraqi government on September 17, 2007, a day after trigger-happy Blackwater guards indiscriminately opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing 17 civilians, including women and children. But information obtained by The New York Times shows that the company hired well-connected Iraqi lawyers, and may have tried to buy off Iraqi lawmakers, in order to regain the right to operate on Iraqi soil. Read more of this post

Comment: Is CIA Lying About its Blackwater Contacts?

Blackwater logo

Blackwater logo

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
After CIA director Leon Panetta revealed last summer that private contractor Blackwater was part of a covert CIA hit squad, tasked with summary killings and assassinations of al-Qaeda operatives, the CIA vowed to sever its contacts with the trigger-happy security firm. But did it do so? It doesn’t look like it. Last November, it became known that the company, (recently renamed Xe Services) remains part of a covert CIA program in Pakistan that includes planned assassinations and kidnappings of Taliban and al-Qaeda suspects. More recently, it was revealed that two of the seven Americans who died in the December 30 bomb attack at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan, were actually Blackwater employees subcontracted by the CIA.

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News of CIA/Blackwater hit squad upset German government

Mamoun Darkazanli

M. Darkazanli

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
German politicians have finally caught up with the startling revelations of Blackwater founder and CEO, Erik Prince, who last month told Vanity Fair that he worked as a CIA spy, carrying out secret missions with the help of a Blackwater hit squad. The Vanity Fair article revealed that, among other targets, the squad planned to assassinate Mamoun Darkazanli, an alleged al-Qaeda financier living in Hamburg, Germany. But did anyone in Washington think to ask the German government whether it was OK for a Blackwater/CIA assassination team to run around the country, planning extrajudicial murders of alleged al-Qaeda members? Apparently no, says German newsmagazine Der Spiegel, adding that the revelation has upset members of German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, as well as opposition Social Democrats and Greens, who are now demanding a special investigation into the matter. Read more of this post

News you may have missed #0222

  • UN investigates claims Iran using Taiwan as nuclear conduit. United Nations officials are investigating intelligence claims that Iran has established a smuggling network using front companies in Taiwan to acquire equipment that it could use to make nuclear weapons.
  • Blackwater tied to secret CIA raids, say employees. “There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency”, said one former top CIA officer. IntelNews regulars will remember that we described last summer’s revelations of Blackwater’s participation in US special operations as “just the tip of the iceberg”.

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Blackwater CEO admits he was CIA agent

Erik Prince

Erik Prince

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
The founder and CEO of private security company Blackwater has revealed he worked as a CIA spy and carried out a number of secret missions before being fired by the Obama administration. Erik Prince, who heads Blackwater Worldwide, recently renamed Xe, gave a rare interview to Vanity Fair magazine, in which he revealed that his relationship with the CIA was not only that of an operations contractor, but also that of an asset, that is, a spy. Prince’s revelation will not surprise seasoned intelligence observers; as I commented last August, it had become increasingly difficult to distinguish any operational demarcations between the CIA and the company formerly known as Blackwater. However, the mercenary company’s leading role in controversial CIA plans to assassinate high-level foreign officials was seen as a step too far by the new CIA leadership of Leon Panetta. Read more of this post

Comment: Blackwater’s role in CIA ops runs deep

Blackwater/Xe HQ

Blackwater/Xe

By JOSEPH FITSANAKIS | intelNews.org |
North Carolina-based military and intelligence contractor Xe had a major role in the CIA’s rumored post-9/11 assassination program and is active today in the Agency’s Predator drone strikes in Afghanistan and Pakistan. The New York Times and The Washington Post cited “government officials and current and former [Xe] employees” in revealing that the CIA worked briefly with Xe –formerly known as Blackwater– in the context of a top-secret program to locate and murder senior al-Qaeda leaders. According to The Washington Post, Blackwater’s role in the operation was far from consultative, and included “operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders [and awards worth] millions of dollars for training and weaponry”.  The New York Times alleges that Blackwater’s central role in the operation was “a major reason” in CIA director Leon Panetta’s decision last June to inform Congress about the program, which CIA had kept hidden from Congressional oversight for seven years. Read more of this post