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  December 14, 2017

Prince of Darkness: Ex-Blackwater CEO Wants to Launch a Private Spy Network

Former Blackwater CEO and Trump crony Erik Prince is pushing for a global, private spy network that could circumvent official agencies and have even less public scrutiny and accountability than the notoriously shadowy CIA
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Anuradha Mittal, founder and executive director of the Oakland Institute, is an internationally renowned expert on trade, development, human rights and agriculture issues. Recipient of several awards, Anuradha Mittal was named as the Most Valuable Thinker in 2008 by the Nation magazine.


SHARMINI PERIES: It's The Real News Network. I'm Sharmini Peries coming to you from Baltimore. In a recent article in The Intercept written by Matthew Cole and Jeremy Scahill. It warns of efforts to establish a private spy organization to compete with the CIA answerable directly to the CIA head, Mike Pompeo. The article is titled Trump White House Weighing Plans for Private Spies to Counter Deep State Enemies. According to the report, the man organizing the new spy agency is Erik Prince, former head of Blackwater. Prince is well connected with the Trump White House and is the brother of Betsy DeVos, the Secretary of Education. To discuss this development, I'm now being joined by Anuradha Mittal.

She is the executive director and co-founder of the Oakland Institute, the institute that authored the report, The Return of Erik Prince Trump's Knight in America's New Crusade. Anuradha, thank you so much for joining us today.

ANURADHA MITTAL: Thank you so much for having me.

SHARMINI PERIES: Anuradha, The Intercept says the sources tell them the plans have been pitched to the White House, this plan to develop a new spy agency within a spy agency is a means of countering the deep state enemies in the intelligence community seeking to undermine the Trump presidency. Do we have any reason to believe that this is actually going on?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, I think when you look at the news that was put out, it definitely calls for an investigation because given you have an agency like CIA, which has been a history mired with lack of transparency and accountability and lack of public scrutiny. If these plans were really underway, it calls for true vigilance because a lot is at stake. The other thing is the person who's mentioned behind it, which is Erik Prince. As you mentioned, his close connections with the Trump Administration, with Mike Pence, with the Republicans in the past and the role Erik Prince has played in privatizing warfare during the Bush regime. This calls for vigilance to be looked into it that we are not worsening an agency, CIA, which already has a history that is beleaguered with all kind of atrocities that we need to look into.

SHARMINI PERIES: This recommendation to establish a new intelligence organization for the US was described by The Independent and actually in The Intercept as a way to circumvent the deep state structures and that the bureaucracy of the CIA. What is the problem of the current administration with the CIA in particular and the bureaucracy in the White House that this kind of thing has become necessary?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, I think we have to be really honest that we have Trump in the White House who believes not in actually engaging in security briefings with the CIA and the rest. He is trying, it would appear to set up a cabal of people who are close to him in political ideology and a vested interest, rather than representing people who would be best suited for the jobs. Whether you look at the pick for EPA, whether you look for his pick for any of the key positions, they are not bringing the necessary experience that would make America and the rest of the world safe, but in fact they are putting us on this path which is leading to more conflict and danger. So, I'm not sure if it's really about conflict with CIA and it's bureaucracy or it is a desire to prevent public scrutiny and accountability. I say this acknowledging the CIA already lacks public scrutiny and accountability.

SHARMINI PERIES: Right. Then, why is it important that Erik Prince who's the former CEO of Blackwater is the person involved in this? Does this mean that Pompeo is looking to privatize the US intelligence operations and he, himself, doesn't trust the agency to deliver on what he needs?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, it's a little bit unnerving that the person appointed Pompeo to head up the CIA does not trust the agency that he is the head of. But in terms of Erik Prince, this is an individual whose career has been building up quickly deployable logistics, security and intelligence services. His latest endeavor, which is a created outpost in central Asia and Africa and Mediterranean with the Frontier Services Group is basically an intelligence and security company. At the time of the presidential campaign, as the campaign was heating up during late 2015, Erik Prince was back after his notorious career as the head of Blackwater, becoming an expert on foreign policy. He has been pushing for his strategy, for instance, to deal with ISIS, which is to privatize contractual indigenous small groups to get ISIS on the ground.

Given the vested interest, one would not be surprised and given his relationships that you mentioned, with Betsy DeVos and others, he is very close to the Trump Administration and would be the man would be the pick or as we said in our report, he would be Trump's knight to carry out the foreign policy.

SHARMINI PERIES: Anuradha, after 9/11, the Bush Administration ordered the creation of an assassination unit of the CIA which was kept in secret from Congress. Eventually, it was revealed by Leon Panetta in 2009. Now, although this unit has apparently not actually assassinated anyone as far as we know, Erik Prince is now calling on reviving the Vietnam era Phoenix Program and calls to assassinate funders of terrorism in the Middle East. Are we now seeing a new development or is this simply the constant element of US security policy here?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, it is hard to say, but we all know that again our foreign policy and our so called security logistics have... projects fly in the face of international nonsense standards and conflict resolution and human rights principles. In terms of rendition, we are very well aware of what rendition programs of the United States, the kind of horrors they have unleashed on innocent citizens of Canada and elsewhere, just because they were Muslim or whatever. Given that, on one hand, we cannot say that all that is happening or might be being proposed is new. But what I'm really concerned about is that if you start thinking of other countries, whether it is Venezuela or Iraq or Iran or tomorrow, North Korea, would you deploy the same tactics of having these units that would carry out assassinations of people, individuals that are seen as threats?

We would be calling that terrorism. That is why in the light of what has happened in the past, what continues to happen... being proposed, it becomes essential that public scrutiny is called upon because this is not going to make America safe. We know that the privatized warfare in Afghanistan and in Iraq are some of the most grim moments in our own history as well as the world's history and it also fueled this anti US sentiment. If you want to stall that and if you really want to make America safe, it is going to be very important that these men who are running around acting like these little boys play of spies network and the rest is really brought to public scrutiny to ensure that their democratic values and international human rights are being followed.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. I guess the crux of the issue here is, of course, scrutiny but also accountability. When you take espionage, by definition the activity taking place is in secret and with anonymity. So then, does it matter if it is being conducted by spies on government rolls, such as the CIA operatives or privates spies in the payroll of private intelligence companies, such as Erik Prince's and various companies that they employ? Does it really matter?

ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, I think you're asking a very important question. We do have a history from Osama bin Laden to Erik Prince have been on the payrolls or sometimes not on payroll but carrying out a strategic interest or dirty wars. Given that, I think we have to learn from those lessons. In fact, we have an individual in the White House who through fake news and fear mongering, it poses a real threat to democracy. It poses a real threat not just to the democracy within the United States but to international peace, so it becomes essential that we need to learn from the past and ensure that we do not go down the path of in the name of security, in the name of national security and safety that we adopt principles that we would be unable to untie from in future.

More importantly, we would be sending a signal across the world that everyone can behave like a rogue state. What is being proposed, which according to The Intercept article is being proposed, this is really about creating a rogue state with no international standards, no accountability is followed and it's free for all. This needs to be checked and ingrained in before we embark on new wars and further conflicts, which would be disastrous for us as Americans as well as for the rest of the world.

SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Anuradha, I thank you so much for joining us. This feels like we've just cracked open something that we need to continue to watch, keep an eye on. and report on the developments. And I hope you join us for that. Thank you so much.

ANURADHA MITTAL: I look forward to that. Thank you.

SHARMINI PERIES: Thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.


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