In a new Vanity Fair article, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince fashions himself as a swashbuckling Wild Bill Donovan recruited by the CIA to pull off the toughest, most clandestine operations. He comes off as vain and insecure. But if his account is correct, it rips open a closed package of secrets.
Prince offers details on the targeted assassination program that CIA Director Leon Panetta terminated earlier this year. He reveals something long-rumored but kept secret, even from the journalists who leaked details of the program. 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 -- and certainly provides an example of why the CIA's association with Blackwater became so controversial within the agency. It would also contradict what CIA Director Leon Panetta and others have told Congress, namely, that the program was never operational. 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.
Prince, accused of orchestrating all kinds of malfeasance and misconduct as the company's CEO, claims he was a CIA asset, recruited by the agency's domestic division in 2004. He even had a "201 File" in the CIA's central registry, meaning that he was designated an intelligence asset. (BTW: is it legal for a CIA asset to out him or herself?). After 2001, Prince tried to join the CIA but was rejected, he says.
Marc Ambinder is an Atlantic contributing editor. He is also a senior contributor at Defense One, a contributing editor at GQ, and a regular contributor at The Week.