An investigation ordered by Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki into Blackwater’s September 16 shooting in Baghdad, in which 17 civilians were killed and another 24 were wounded, has determined that the company’s operators opened fired indiscriminately and without provocation. The official Iraqi report on the incident demands that the U.S. government pay $8 million in compensation to each of the victims’ families and sever all Iraq-based contracts with Blackwater within the next 6 months. It also demands that the Blackwater operators involved in the shootings be handed over to Iraqi authorities for possible prosecution in Iraqi courts.
It’s unclear if the U.S. government will comply and perhaps even more unclear if it could meet the Iraqi government’s demands even if it wanted to. Civilian employees of the State Department rely on Blackwater for protection. If the company were banished from Iraq, U.S. diplomatic operations would be paralyzed, at least until another private contractor could be hired for the job. Even if this were to happen, it’s doubtful that booting Blackwater would make much difference. More than likely, its operators would quickly find work with competitors like Triple Canopy and DynCorp, who would have to fill the Baghdad security void in Blackwater’s absence. The private security sector is a small one after all. Even Andrew Moonen, the Blackwater operator who got drunk in the Green Zone last Christmas Eve and murdered one of the Iraqi vice president’s security guards, found a new job with Combat Support Services Associates, which put him back to work in Kuwait just two months after the shooting.
So, will Blackwater survive this latest scandal? It’s impossible to know for sure, but there’s little reason to believe otherwise. The company, which started as a small-scale provider of firearms training in 1998, has grown into a billion-dollar Goliath, complete with an army of lobbyists and sympathetic politicians to press its agenda on Capitol Hill. Guided by its reclusive founder, Erik Prince, the company, over its short history, has deflected controversy with ease, all the while simultaneously expanding its reach into new markets and generating ever more profitable government contracts. What follows is a timeline that documents Blackwater’s rise and its history of misconduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.
June 6, 1969
Erik Prince is born.
Prince Corporation begins marketing the “lighted sun visor” to car companies, a wildly successful innovation that nets the company billions of dollars.
Erik Prince’s older sister Betsy marries Dick Devos, CEO of Amway and a billionaire contributor to the GOP and right-wing political causes. Devos was the Republican candidate for governor in Michigan in 2006.
Gary Bauer and James Dobson found the socially conservative Family Research Council, funded primarily by the Prince family. Erik Prince interns there, before moving on to an internship in President George H.W. Bush’s White House.
Erik Prince earns a commission in the U.S. Navy. He goes on to become a Navy SEAL and serves in Haiti, Bosnia, and the Middle East.
March 2, 1995
Edgar Prince dies of a heart attack.
July 22, 1996
Prince Corporation is sold for $1.35 billion. Erik Prince retires early from the U.S. military.
December 26, 1996
Erik Prince’s Blackwater Lodge and Training Center Inc. is incorporated in Delaware.
January 30, 1997
Blackwater purchases property in North Carolina.
Blackwater gets its first paying customer, a Navy SEAL team. The company specializes in firearms training, but soon receives requests from Spain to train presidential security details and from Brazil for counterterrorism instruction.
February 1, 2000
Blackwater wins its first federal contract and is entered into the General Services Administration contracting database for government-approved goods and services, enabling it to compete for larger, longer-term federal contracts.
October 12, 2000
After the bombing of the USS Cole in Yemen, Blackwater gets its first long-term federal contract to train sailors for the U.S. Navy.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $736,906.
September 11, 2001
Terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, DC.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $3.4 million.
Blackwater Security Consulting is founded, moving the company into the private security business.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $25 million.
March 20, 2003
The U.S. invades Iraq.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $48 million.
Blackwater announces it has won a contract to train Azerbaijani maritime commandos. The work is done with approval of the U.S. government, which looks to Azerbaijan as a crucial ally in the oil- and gas-rich Caspian region.
March 31, 2004
Four Blackwater operators are killed in Falluja, their burnt bodies dragged through the streets and hung from a bridge. The incident sparks a major battle in the Iraq War. The public takes notice of Blackwater for the first time.
April 1, 2004
Blackwater engages Alexander Strategy Group to do damage control. Within days, Erik Prince has private meetings with senior Republican members of Congress.
June 28, 2004
CPA Order 17 provides private contractors with immunity from Iraqi law.
Presidential Airways, a Blackwater-owned company, is awarded a $34.8 million contract to transport troops and supplies in Afghanistan.
November 27, 2004
A Presidential Airways plane crashes into a mountain in Afghanistan, killing three Blackwater operators and three U.S. military personnel. A subsequent investigation reveals that the pilots were joy riding in an uncharted area.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $352 million.
January 5, 2005
Families of the four Blackwater contractors killed in Falluja in March 2004 file a wrongful death suit against the company.
A Blackwater-owned company called Greystone Limited is incorporated in Barbados. Among other things, it offers “proactive engagement teams” to conduct “stabilization efforts, asset protection and recovery, and emergency personnel withdrawal.” Clients are also offered training in “defensive and offensive small group operations.”
June 25, 2005
A Blackwater team fatally shoots an Iraqi man along the side of a road in Hilla. Operators do not report the incident.
August 29, 2005
Hurricane Katrina strikes New Orleans. Blackwater operators arrive within hours with weapons and combat gear. It is the company’s first foray into the U.S. domestic security market.
November 28, 2005
A Blackwater convoy collides with 18 cars while driving to and from a meeting at the Iraqi Ministry of Oil. Investigations later determine that operators’ accounts of the incident were “invalid, inaccurate, and at best, dishonest reporting.” According to one Blackwater operator, the convoy’s tactical commander “openly admitted giving clear direction to primary driver to conduct these acts of random negligence for no apparent reason.” Two Blackwater employees are fired.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $593 million.
Blackwater announces plans for new combat training facilities in California and the Philippines.
February 6, 2006
Pentagon releases its Quadrennial Defense Review, classifying private contractors as a part of the Defense Department’s “Total Force.”
September 24, 2006
Blackwater convoy driving down the wrong side of the road (“counter flowing”) in al-Hillah strikes an oncoming car, propelling it into a telephone pole. The Iraqi car bursts into flames. Blackwater contractors leave the scene without offering help to the victim, who dies in the fire.
December 24, 2006
Drunken Blackwater operator Andrew Moonen shoots the Iraqi vice presidents’ security guard in the Green Zone. He is fired, fined, and flown back to the United States, but returns to Kuwait two months later with another private contracting firm.
Blackwater’s federal contracts total $1 billion.
February 7, 2007
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee holds hearings on the use of private security contractors in Iraq, focusing largely on Blackwater.
Blackwater abandons plans for its Philippines’ training center and instead opens a new facility in Illinois.
Blackwater operators fatally shoot an Iraqi man who strayed too close to their convoy outside the Iraqi Ministry of Interior. The incident leads to a tense standoff with Iraqi military and interior ministry guards. U.S. soldiers are forced to intervene.
September 16, 2007
Seventeen Iraqis are killed and 24 wounded when Blackwater operators open fire in a traffic circle in central Baghdad.