Erik Prince is Back: Former CEO of Blackwater Offering Services to the Trump Administration
Oakland Institute founder Anuradha Mittal says Prince may exercise considerable influence over Trump’s policy towards ISIS and push for the use of private contractors in national defense
SHARMINI PERIES: It’s The Real News Network. I’m Sharmini Peries, coming to you from Baltimore.
Remember Erik Prince, former Navy SEAL, and Blackwater CEO, who between 2001, to 2010, was awarded $600 million in classified contracts, by the CIA under the George W. Bush administration?
This is according to a new report published by the Oakland Institute. Prince fell from grace after the Nisour Square massacre, in which Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians.
Here is a clip of Representative Dennis Kucinich interrogating him in 2007, about the millions made from contracts with the government of the time.
DENNIS KUCINICH: In my opening remarks, I pointed out that if war is privatized, private contractors have a vested interest in keeping the war going. The longer the war goes on, the more money they make. I want to, for my time here, explore the questions regarding how Blackwater got its contracts. Mr. Prince, your company’s undergone a staggering growth, just over the past few years. Committee’s attention can be directed to the chart. In 2000, your company was bringing in only about $200,000 in government contracts. But since then, according to the Committee, you’ve skyrocketed to something in the nature of a billion dollars in government contracts.
The real increase in Blackwater’s contracts began with the Iraq War. In fact, if you look at the chart, you can see how, from 2004 on, the amount of taxpayer dollars Blackwater was awarded by the administration began to go through the roof, from about $48 million in 2004, to $350 million in 2005, to over $500 million last year. This is really an unprecedented rate of increase, and I want to understand how this happened, Mr. Prince.
SHARMINI PERIES: Since then, Erik Prince has been quietly providing services to other governments, like the United Arab Emirates, and developing new logistics services and businesses, with close ties to the Trump administration.
Joining us now to talk about Erik Prince, is Anuradha Mittal. She is the founder, and executive director, of the Oakland Institute, and is an internationally renowned expert on trade development, human rights, and agriculture issues. Thanks so much for joining us today, Anuradha.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Thanks for having me.
SHARMINI PERIES: So, Anuradha, give us a sense of what you found in doing this report on Erik Prince, and also tell us why you did it.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Sure. I think, you know, you started the program with a clip from Congressman Kucinich, and what he says paints a picture of these war profiteers. While innocent lives have been lost both at home, as well as overseas, there are individuals like Erik Prince that have profiteered from the killings, from this turning into CIA assets. We have thought about that, being a phenomena that occurred during the Bush years.
And as we started looking at the information that we had obtained, we were absolutely scandalized to see that Erik Prince — who fell from disgrace, sold Blackwater in 2010 — resurfaces as the presidential election campaign is gaining steam, and has suddenly become a foreign policy expert from the United States, who is the leading critic of Obama and Clinton policies in the Middle East, and a big favorite and a supporter of Trump.
So, the specter that we saw, through the information that we have, that we wanted to share with the world, that might we face again a conflict of interest between business and foreign policy agenda of the United States. That business interests, where money can be made through war, will that determine our foreign policy agenda with the return of Erik Prince, especially in the closest presidential circle of the Trump administration?
Secondly, we wanted to release this report for the U.S. citizens, and for us as policy-makers, to take account of the fact that there might be a possibility of privatization of war again, as we saw during the Bush era. And it raises serious questions about accountability, about possibility of public scrutiny, as well as conflict of interest. And we all know that privatized war has caused some of the most grim moments in U.S., and world history. It led to the killings of innocent civilians, as you mentioned in Iraq and Afghanistan, and not to mention it gave rise to anti-U.S. sentiments around the world.
So, are we headed back there? Or, we need to be vigilant and to be checking that given Erik Prince’s very close relationship with the higher-ups, and with the support of Trump’s foreign policy for the Middle East.
SHARMINI PERIES: And, Anuradha, before we talk about what he might be offering the new Trump administration, give us a sense of what Erik Prince has been up to. Now, I know he sold Blackwater, but what do we know… what more do we know?
ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, as I said, that he kind of went under the radar in 2010, after he sold Blackwater and moved to the UAE. But he has been very busy. On the one hand, he built up a private equity fund, which is known as Frontier Resource Group, which is investing in natural resources in Africa. For instance, building a petroleum pipeline in South Sudan, in the area where there’s civil war raging for years now. And to be able to do that, he’s also built up a logistics company, which is known as Frontier Services group.
Through that, he has been able to not just acquire assets all over Africa, but he has really been building up his quick deployable intelligence, security capacity. For instance, Frontier Service Group has purchased aviation companies in Kenya, in Malta; they own a trucking operation in the Democratic Republic of Congo. They have even a South African transport operation; where they provide freight across railroad, air. And as well as they have set up their outposts in the Mediterranean, in Africa.
They’re about to set up a presence in Central Asia. So, he has been very busy, kind of building up his security logistics capacity, and in fact, Frontier Services Group now openly, on their roster of activities offers intelligence and security consulting services. So, they have been very busy in building up a business which is, by the way, there has been a lot of revolving doors between people who worked for him in his previous businesses, such as Blackwater, so there is a good combination of former military and mercenaries, who have been rotating through Frontier Resource Group, and Frontier Services Group.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right, now, give us a sense of his ties, connections, to the Trump administration and what concerns you the most.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, we could start with the sister of Betsy DeVos, who is the Secretary of Education, and we saw the public uproar around that. But we have to look at his other connections as well, which we detail in our report. For instance, his connections with the Republicans, who attend the Grove Week, and talk about his connections with Mike Pence, Vice President, Mike Pence…
SHARMINI PERIES: Oh, that’s very interesting; tell us about his connections to Mike Pence.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Well, you know, there are two connections. One is, of course, they both share their belief in Christianity, and they’re ultra-right wing belief in one religion being successful. At the same time, they also had connections during the Bush years. Mike Pence was one of his biggest supporters, when Blackwater and Erik Prince was being investigated.
SHARMINI PERIES: And this must also be a connection to Dick Cheney then, because Dick Cheney -– the former Vice President under George W. Bush who authorized a lot of these missions and contracts –- and so on, and that Mike Pence holds near and dear, and says that he’s his role model. So, this circle comes back to us.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Yes, the report details a lot of those connections that range from Donald Rumsfeld, to Dick Cheney. These are close connections that never went away, and they’ve just resurfaced.
SHARMINI PERIES: Right. And then, what kind of services will Erik Prince, now well positioned within the Trump administration, be able to offer?
ANURADHA MITTAL: So, what we detail in our report is, that you have that the centerpiece of Trump’s foreign policy is the annihilation of ISIS. We also know that Erik Prince, when he has been serving as the U.S. foreign policy expert, he has put forward a three-point plan, in terms of how to get ISIS. He suggests that we should get ISIS on the ground, through small indigenous, or contracted force. The key word here is, “contracted force”.
Given his past, as a CIA asset, and a private contractor for Washington, if you start looking at the services that I described before, that he has been able to build upon, over the last few years with the Frontier Services Group. The ability to quickly deploy security intelligence capacity, and his suggestion to deal with ISIS through intelligence-led, and contractor-dominated forces, one would think that he is offering, or hoping to cater to U.S. defense needs again.
SHARMINI PERIES: All right. Interesting times. Anuradha, I thank you so much for joining us. We’ll put a link to the report below this interview, so people can have access to it. And finally, I’m hoping that you’d keep an eye on these developments, and let us know when we should cover this again.
ANURADHA MITTAL: Thank you very much.
SHARMINI PERIES: And thank you for joining us here on The Real News Network.