Interview: Greystone's Christopher Burgess

An interview with Greystone's Christopher Burgess

| Thu Mar. 20, 2008 3:00 AM EDT

Christopher Burgess, the 40-year-old managing director of Greystone Limited, is a former Navy SEAL and adventure-sports enthusiast who has competed in endurance races around the world. He met Blackwater founder Erik Prince while both men were in training for the Navy's elite Special Forces unit, and years later Prince brought him on board to found Blackwater's sister company, Greystone. Burgess declined to be interviewed in person or by phone for our story but agreed to answer written questions by email under the condition that his responses be reprinted in full on Mother Jones' website; through Blackwater's spokeswoman, he also requested that Greystone be permitted to cross-post his answers to its website. The question/answer transcript follows, along with several questions that we submitted to Burgess, but which he chose not to respond to.

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Mother Jones: On Greystone's website, the company notes, "It is more difficult than ever for an organization to successfully protect its interest against diverse and complicated threats in today's grey world where the solutions to your security concerns are no longer black and white." Please elaborate on why today's security concerns are no longer black or white and the specific types of security solutions this environment requires. Did this contribute to the firm being named "Greystone?"

Christopher Burgess: Today’s security concerns are no longer black and white because threats are constantly changing, requiring evolving solutions to meet the needs of various environments. Every security situation is unique and requires a tailored, culturally sensitive and well thought security package to meet the specific requirements of a customer.

No. The company was named "Greystone" because it was formed as a sister company to "Blackwater" and the names complimented each other well.

MJ: It's been suggested to us that Greystone's triangular logo is a reference to the CIA triad, whose tenets include confidentiality, integrity, and availability. Is this the case?

CB: No. The triangular logo was designed by a web designer and is intended to very generally look like a "stone," or mountain.

MJ: How does Greystone differentiate itself from other companies working in the private security sector? What makes it unique? What does it offer that others do not?

CB: Like Blackwater, Greystone has the tools to provide turn-key security solutions. As an international provider, we try very hard to be sensitive to each unique environment and to create a solution that is appropriate. A critical factor is understanding the desires of foreign customers and working with them, and the tools we have, to create the best solution for them.

MJ: What are the key differences between Greystone and Blackwater?

CB: Blackwater focuses mainly on United States Government contracts, whereas Greystone focuses on foreign governments and foreign commercial business.

MJ: Why was Greystone incorporated in Barbados?

CB: Barbados is a well known business center with established business practices and banking systems.

MJ: We understand that Greystone relies on a large number of third country nationals. We've been told that it has recruited from Chile, Colombia, El Salvador, Jordan, Turkey, Fiji, Croatia, Iraq, the Philippines, and Pakistan. Is this an accurate picture? From what other countries has the company recruited security contractors?

CB: Out of concern for operational security we would rather not specify where we have recruited from. However, we have never recruited from some of the countries mentioned in this question.

MJ: How many contractors and employees does Greystone employ and how many of these are third country nationals?

CB: The company employs roughly two hundred, including both employees and independent contractors.

MJ: Specifically, what's the process for vetting these foreign personnel?

CB: The vetting process is specifically outlined by specific contracts, but it typically involves a criminal background check, review of military records (if applicable) and a requirement of having the equivalent of an honorable discharge, drug testing, physical fitness test, medical and dental examinations.

MJ: We understand that Greystone is co-located with Blackwater. To what extent do the companies share resources and personnel?

CB: While Greystone and Blackwater do share some physical facilities, we are a separate company with our own autonomous administrative and operational systems and staff. If a potential customer calls us with a need we see as better suited for Blackwater, we refer that potential customer to Blackwater. Blackwater does the same for us.

MJ: Given the range of services described on Greystone's website, what specific types of work has Greystone actually undertaken?

CB: Static security, K-9, assessments, aviation maintenance and management, and training.

MJ: Beyond Iraq, in what countries has Greystone operated for governments, private entities, or both?

CB: Greystone has worked in various Middle Eastern countries. We do not divulge the specific locations due to operational security concerns and the desires of our customers.

MJ: We understand that Greystone often works on subcontract for Blackwater. Is it the prime contractor on any U.S. government contracts? Is it the prime contractor for contracts issued by other governments or private entities?

CB: No and yes, respectively.

MJ: Has Greystone ever been contracted by anyone other than the U.S. government? If so, can you provide examples of who, in general terms, the contracting party was and what type of services Greystone provided?

CB: Yes. Greystone has been contracted by foreign governments and private sector clients to provide static security, K-9 support, assessments, aviation maintenance and management, and training. Because we have US citizens working for the company and because the company is American-owned, we seek State Department licensure for all security services overseas, as well as complying with other federal trade controls and restrictions, such as ATF rules, Commerce export requirements or OFAC regulations.

MJ: Greystone has registered as a UN vendor. Has it secured any UN contracts and, if so, what services was it contracted to supply? If not, what role does Greystone hope to play in the peacekeeping and humanitarian sector?

CB: No. Greystone hopes it can bring to the UN superior training, human resources and logistic support.

MJ: We understand that Mr. Burgess is a former Navy SEAL. Did he serve with Erik Prince, and what was his other professional experience before becoming Greystone's managing director?

CB: Mr. Prince and I met while in training for the SEALs but never served on a team together. I worked in corporate America and then went to business school before coming to Greystone.

MJ: Jose Miguel Pizarro, whose company recruited for Blackwater in Chile, says that at some point his Blackwater contracts were shifted over to Greystone. If true, what was the reason for this? Does Greystone handle all of Blackwater's TCN contracts?

CB: Blackwater made the decision to concentrate on providing US Personnel to US Government contracts.

MJ: Pizarro says that he stopped working for Greystone/Blackwater in 2006 because his recruits had become too expensive as private security firms began to find lower paid recruits in other Latin American countries. Is this an accurate description of what transpired with Pizarro? If not, why?

CB: No, that is not correct. Greystone has always paid personnel according to market demands. Greystone ended that relationship over business differences.

MJ: Greystone attempted to lease land in the Philippines through a company called Satelles Solutions. What was Greystone's business relationship with Satelles? And why specifically did it seek to lease this property?

CB: Greystone started to create an entity, Satelles Solutions, to lease land in the Philippines to be used as a training facility, but the concept was terminated before it got past the planning stage.

The following questions went unanswered:

Blackwater has referred to Greystone as its "international affiliate." What does this mean in practice?

We understand that Greystone representatives traveled to El Salvador in 2005 to review potential contractors recruited by Central America Professional Services (CAPROS). What was/is Greystone's relationship with CAPROS? We understand that Greystone provided funds to the company. What was the reason for this?

Did Greystone ever deploy any contractors recruited by CAPROS?

Does Greystone have similar relationships with other Latin American recruiting firms, for example a Colombian company called ID Systems?

Has Greystone taken part in training Iraqi military or intelligence officers? If so, what type of training was provided?

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