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Blackwater Down

[from the October 10, 2005 issue]

The men from Blackwater USA arrived in New Orleans right
after Katrina hit. The company known for its private
security work guarding senior US diplomats in Iraq beat
the federal government and most aid organizations to the
scene in another devastated Gulf. About 150 heavily
armed Blackwater troops dressed in full battle gear
spread out into the chaos of New Orleans. Officially,
the company boasted of its forces "join[ing] the
hurricane relief effort." But its men on the ground told
a different story.

Some patrolled the streets in SUVs with tinted windows
and the Blackwater logo splashed on the back; others
sped around the French Quarter in an unmarked car with
no license plates. They congregated on the corner of St.
James and Bourbon in front of a bar called 711, where
Blackwater was establishing a makeshift headquarters.
>From the balcony above the bar, several Blackwater guys
cleared out what had apparently been someone's
apartment. They threw mattresses, clothes, shoes and
other household items from the balcony to the street
below. They draped an American flag from the balcony's
railing. More than a dozen troops from the 82nd Airborne
Division stood in formation on the street watching the

Armed men shuffled in and out of the building as a
handful told stories of their past experiences in Iraq.
"I worked the security detail of both Bremer and
Negroponte," said one of the Blackwater guys, referring
to the former head of the US occupation, L. Paul Bremer,
and former US Ambassador to Iraq John Negroponte.
Another complained, while talking on his cell phone,
that he was getting only $350 a day plus his per diem.
"When they told me New Orleans, I said, 'What country is
that in?'" he said. He wore his company ID around his
neck in a case with the phrase Operation Iraqi Freedom
printed on it.

In an hourlong conversation I had with four Blackwater
men, they characterized their work in New Orleans as
"securing neighborhoods" and "confronting criminals."
They all carried automatic assault weapons and had guns
strapped to their legs. Their flak jackets were covered
with pouches for extra ammunition.

When asked what authority they were operating under, one
guy said, "We're on contract with the Department of
Homeland Security." Then, pointing to one of his
comrades, he said, "He was even deputized by the
governor of the state of Louisiana. We can make arrests
and use lethal force if we deem it necessary." The man
then held up the gold Louisiana law enforcement badge he
wore around his neck. Blackwater spokesperson Anne Duke
also said the company has a letter from Louisiana
officials authorizing its forces to carry loaded

"This vigilantism demonstrates the utter breakdown of
the government," says Michael Ratner, president of the
Center for Constitutional Rights. "These private
security forces have behaved brutally, with impunity, in
Iraq. To have them now on the streets of New Orleans is
frightening and possibly illegal."

Blackwater is not alone. As business leaders and
government officials talk openly of changing the
demographics of what was one of the most culturally
vibrant of America's cities, mercenaries from companies
like DynCorp, Intercon, American Security Group,
Blackhawk, Wackenhut and an Israeli company called
Instinctive Shooting International (ISI) are fanning out
to guard private businesses and homes, as well as
government projects and institutions. Within two weeks
of the hurricane, the number of private security
companies registered in Louisiana jumped from 185 to
235. Some, like Blackwater, are under federal contract.
Others have been hired by the wealthy elite, like F.
Patrick Quinn III, who brought in private security to
guard his $3 million private estate and his luxury
hotels, which are under consideration for a lucrative
federal contract to house FEMA workers.

A possibly deadly incident involving Quinn's hired guns
underscores the dangers of private forces policing
American streets. On his second night in New Orleans,
Quinn's security chief, Michael Montgomery, who said he
worked for an Alabama company called Bodyguard and
Tactical Security (BATS), was with a heavily armed
security detail en route to pick up one of Quinn's
associates and escort him through the chaotic city.
Montgomery told me they came under fire from "black
gangbangers" on an overpass near the poor Ninth Ward
neighborhood. "At the time, I was on the phone with my
business partner," he recalls. "I dropped the phone and
returned fire."

Montgomery says he and his men were armed with AR-15s
and Glocks and that they unleashed a barrage of bullets
in the general direction of the alleged shooters on the
overpass. "After that, all I heard was moaning and
screaming, and the shooting stopped. That was it. Enough

Then, Montgomery says, "the Army showed up, yelling at
us and thinking we were the enemy. We explained to them
that we were security. I told them what had happened and
they didn't even care. They just left." Five minutes
later, Montgomery says, Louisiana state troopers arrived
on the scene, inquired about the incident and then asked
him for directions on "how they could get out of the
city." Montgomery says that no one ever asked him for
any details of the incident and no report was ever made.
"One thing about security," Montgomery says, "is that we
all coordinate with each other--one family." That co-
ordination doesn't include the offices of the
Secretaries of State in Louisiana and Alabama, which
have no record of a BATS company.

A few miles away from the French Quarter, another
wealthy New Orleans businessman, James Reiss, who serves
in Mayor Ray Nagin's administration as chairman of the
city's Regional Transit Authority, brought in some heavy
guns to guard the elite gated community of Audubon
Place: Israeli mercenaries dressed in black and armed
with M-16s. Two Israelis patrolling the gates outside
Audubon told me they had served as professional soldiers
in the Israeli military, and one boasted of having
participated in the invasion of Lebanon. "We have been
fighting the Palestinians all day, every day, our whole
lives," one of them tells me. "Here in New Orleans, we
are not guarding from terrorists." Then, tapping on his
machine gun, he says, "Most Americans, when they see
these things, that's enough to scare them."

The men work for ISI, which describes its employees as
"veterans of the Israeli special task forces from the
following Israeli government bodies: Israel Defense
Force (IDF), Israel National Police Counter Terrorism
units, Instructors of Israel National Police Counter
Terrorism units, General Security Service (GSS or 'Shin
Beit'), Other restricted intelligence agencies." The
company was formed in 1993. Its website profile says:
"Our up-to-date services meet the challenging needs for
Homeland Security preparedness and overseas combat
procedures and readiness. ISI is currently an approved
vendor by the US Government to supply Homeland Security

Unlike ISI or BATS, Blackwater is operating under a
federal contract to provide 164 armed guards for FEMA
reconstruction projects in Louisiana. That contract was
announced just days after Homeland Security Department
spokesperson Russ Knocke told the Washington Post he
knew of no federal plans to hire Blackwater or other
private security firms. "We believe we've got the right
mix of personnel in law enforcement for the federal
government to meet the demands of public safety," he
said. Before the contract was announced, the Blackwater
men told me, they were already on contract with DHS and
that they were sleeping in camps organized by the
federal agency.

One might ask, given the enormous presence in New
Orleans of National Guard, US Army, US Border Patrol,
local police from around the country and practically
every other government agency with badges, why private
security companies are needed, particularly to guard
federal projects. "It strikes me...that that may not be
the best use of money," said Illinois Senator Barack

Blackwater's success in procuring federal contracts
could well be explained by major-league contributions
and family connections to the GOP. According to election
records, Blackwater's CEO and co-founder, billionaire
Erik Prince, has given tens of thousands to Republicans,
including more than $80,000 to the Republican National
Committee the month before Bush's victory in 2000. This
past June, he gave $2,100 to Senator Rick Santorum's re-
election campaign. He has also given to House majority
leader Tom DeLay and a slew of other Republican
candidates, including Bush/Cheney in 2004. As a young
man, Prince interned with President George H.W. Bush,
though he complained at the time that he "saw a lot of
things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being
invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act,
those kind of bills. I think the Administration has been
indifferent to a lot of conservative concerns."

Prince, a staunch right-wing Christian, comes from a
powerful Michigan Republican family, and his father,
Edgar, was a close friend of former Republican
presidential candidate and antichoice leader Gary Bauer.
In 1988 the elder Prince helped Bauer start the Family
Research Council. Erik Prince's sister, Betsy, once
chaired the Michigan Republican Party and is married to
Dick DeVos, whose father, billionaire Richard DeVos, is
co-founder of the major Republican benefactor Amway.
Dick DeVos is also a big-time contributor to the
Republican Party and will likely be the GOP candidate
for Michigan governor in 2006. Another Blackwater
founder, president Gary Jackson, is also a major
contributor to Republican campaigns.

After the killing of four Blackwater mercenaries in
Falluja in March 2004, Erik Prince hired the Alexander
Strategy Group, a PR firm with close ties to GOPers like
DeLay. By mid-November the company was reporting 600
percent growth. In February 2005 the company hired
Ambassador Cofer Black, former coordinator for
counterterrorism at the State Department and former
director of the CIA's Counterterrorism Center, as vice
chairman. Just as the hurricane was hitting,
Blackwater's parent company, the Prince Group, named
Joseph Schmitz, who had just resigned as the Pentagon's
Inspector General, as the group's chief operating
officer and general counsel.

While juicing up the firm's political connections,
Prince has been advocating greater use of private
security in international operations, arguing at a
symposium at the National Defense Industrial Association
earlier this year that firms like his are more efficient
than the military. In May Blackwater's Jackson testified
before Congress in an effort to gain lucrative Homeland
Security contracts to train 2,000 new Border Patrol
agents, saying Blackwater understands "the value to the
government of one-stop shopping." With President Bush
using the Katrina disaster to try to repeal Posse
Comitatus (the ban on using US troops in domestic law
enforcement) and Blackwater and other security firms
clearly initiating a push to install their
paramilitaries on US soil, the war is coming home in yet
another ominous way. As one Blackwater mercenary said,
"This is a trend. You're going to see a lot more guys
like us in these situations."


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Even if regular troops can't be used to suppress the local populace, there are plenty of corporate substitutes available -- for their usual thirty (very big) pieces of silver, of course. Unfettered corporate enterprise really is a truly wonderful thing.

That's assuming the AIPAC-PNAC gang actually give a damn about any such law in the first place -- a highly doubtful supposition.

I have been flummoxed at the gun happy responce of our law enforcment since Katrina.

People dying of thirst and hunger in the dome and convention center in New Orleans and a tent city is errected for a mercinary army!!!!

It appears that corporate interests and government both expect the citizenry to revolt. So there must be something totally horrific going on.

It just makes since for us to be very observant and on guard over the rebuilding of New Orleans.

It just smackes of corruption, and a threat against our liberty.

It's just more dress rehearsal for the clampdown. IMPEACH NOW... before it's too late!!!!

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