Blackwater CEO's CIA Paycheck Unravels Key Mysteries

Erik Prince is reportedly a CIA asset, which could help explain Blackwater's power and influence

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Erik Prince is the just-resigned CEO of Blackwater, a private military firm with $1 billion in contracts--from guarding Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Afghanistan to running drone strike programs--and an infamous reputation for the controversial killings of Iraqi civilians. How did it get so powerful? The answer may lie in Prince's other job, reported this week by Vanity Fair: CIA asset. From Adam Ciralsky's blockbuster story in Vanity Fair:

But the truth about Prince may be orders of magnitude stranger than fiction. For the past six years, he appears to have led an astonishing double life. Publicly, he has served as Blackwater's C.E.O. and chairman. Privately, and secretly, he has been doing the C.I.A.'s bidding, helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into "denied areas"--places U.S. intelligence has trouble penetrating--to assembling hit teams targeting al-Qaeda members and their allies. Prince, according to sources with knowledge of his activities, has been working as a C.I.A. asset: in a word, as a spy. While his company was busy gleaning more than $1.5 billion in government contracts between 2001 and 2009--by acting, among other things, as an overseas Praetorian guard for C.I.A. and State Department officials--Prince became a Mr. Fix-It in the war on terror. His access to paramilitary forces, weapons, and aircraft, and his indefatigable ambition--the very attributes that have galvanized his critics--also made him extremely valuable, some say, to U.S. intelligence.

This revelation could explain several long-unanswered questions about Blackwater and Prince, as well as raise new questions.

  • Blackwater Explained Spencer Ackerman marvels. "[H]ow does a law-enforcement services company go from zero to a billion-dollar government contractor inside barely a decade; how does it keep its contracts with the diplomatic entity of the United States government after its operatives kill 17 unarmed foreign civilians; how does it perform counterterrorism-support operations of the highest sensitivity; how does it hire and affiliate with top-flight CIA talent like Cofer Black, Buzzy Krongard, Rob Richer-Oh. Erik Prince is a CIA asset."
  • Who Set Up CIA With Prince? Politico's Laura Rozen wonders. "And who sanctified the alleged relationship? Worth considering that the CIA executive director appointed by Porter Goss in 2004, Kyle Dusty Foggo, is now serving a prison term for throwing CIA contracts to his friend contractor Brent Wilkes. Among the contracts he tried to throw Wilkes? One for covert air operations."
  • 'Ultimate Deniability' For CIA Preeminent Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill of the Nation tweets, "Prince confirms what I have long said: He did a bunch of CIA work free on spec--ultimate deniability: rich fundamentalist w private army. Prince confirms what my military intel source says: Blackwater works w Special Forces to locate 'targets.' Harrison Ford should publicly reject Erik Prince attempt to compare self to Indiana Jones. Sir, you are no Indy."
  • Why's Prince Burning CIA? Marcy Wheeler writes, "It's either an attempt to fully burn one cover, in an attempt to sustain another cover. It's an attempt to strike back in a game of leaking turf battle. Or it's an attempt to distract away from the really sensitive parts of his business." She adds, "he's revealing only those details purportedly contracted via CIA (though, again, the Ghadiyah operation involved Special Forces). He's not revealing what he's been doing with JSOC. And he's sure as hell not describing what he's been doing for the Pakistani government."
  • CIA/Blackwater in Germany and Iran? The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder muses. "According to Prince, the Blackwater team traveled to Germany, surveilled Al Qaeda financier Mamoun Darkazanli, and prepared to assassinate him. The CIA did not inform its own station chief that the team was in the country, and they did not inform the host country. What Prince describes is a serious violation of NATO intelligence sharing arrangements," he writes. "As recently as two months ago, Prince and a team were overseeing intelligence missions in one of the Axis of Evil countries -- Iran, probably -- from a location inside the United States."
  • CIA Assassination Program Mother Jones's Daniel Schulman reminds us that the program Prince says he helped the CIA with was, according to the CIA itself, never operational. "If this account is correct, it raises a host of questions. Among them is whether CIA director Leon Panetta, who reportedly shut down the program immediately after learning of it and promplty briefed Congress, misinformed lawmkers about the nature of this effort, its targets, and just how operational it actually was. If, as Prince claims, he helped tee up a target for special forces to take out, then the agency's assertions that the assassination program never got off the ground are simply untrue."
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.