This story has been all over the internet this week, but I’ve yet to see anyone in the corporate media touch it. It’s not the kind of thing the access crowd wants to bring up – the people they kiss up to might not like them anymore:
SHARIF ABDEL KOUDDOUS: Welcome to all of our listeners and viewers. Erik Prince doesn’t like being in the media spotlight. The reclusive owner of the private military firm known as Blackwater is scheduled to give the keynote address tomorrow at the Tulip Time Festival in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. True to form, Prince told the event’s organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. But journalists and media associations in Michigan protested the move and on Monday, the organizers reversed their position and said the media would be allowed to attend with one caveat: no video or audio recording devices are allowed inside. Despite Prince’s attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, investigative journalist and DEMOCRACY NOW! correspondent Jeremy Scahill obtained a rare audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience in January. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. Jeremy’s article on the recording of Erik Prince’s speech was published on his new blog for TheNation.com.
AMY GOODMAN: The audio the speech has never before been broadcast. Today, we’ll air excerpts in a DEMOCRACY NOW! exclusive. But first, Jeremy Scahill joins us here in our DEMOCRACY NOW! studio. He is an award winning independent journalist, Puffin Foundation writing fellow at The Nation Institute, and the author of the international bestseller “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” Jeremy is also scheduled to speak tomorrow in Holland, Michigan, just hours after Erik Prince, at a separate event organized by the Interfaith Congregation of Holland. Jeremy Scahill, welcome to DEMOCRACY NOW!.
JEREMY SCHAHILL: Nice to be here.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about this tape. How’d you get it?
JEREMY SCHAHILL: Well, Erik Prince has been in the media at times because he has had to respond when its forces killed 17 innocent Iraqis in Nisour Square, he made the rounds on CNN and 60 Minutes and other places. And he generally goes into a very controlled environment. He doesn’t often give speeches, he doesn’t lecture on the university circuit, and when he does give talks, he makes it very clear to the event organizers that there are to be no recording devices and journalists are not allowed. And so I had contact with someone who had the opportunity to go to this private event that was hosted by the Young Presidents Organization and Erik Prince was giving a speech in front of all these entrepreneurs.
It was a private gathering. And they had ROTC cadets from the University of Michigan- the commanders of ROTC there. And in fact, at one point during his speech, Erik Prince stops after he had been bashing some NATO countries and saying that some of the U.S. allies in Afghanistan should pack up their bags and get out of the country, he singled-out about Canada as a positive example of a force that was doing a good job in Afghanistan, he stopped and he said, “I just want to make it clear everything I’m saying here is off the record in case any journalists slipped into the room. Let’s remember this is a man whose company does ninety percent of its business with the federal government.
Taxpayers fund this man’s corporation. We have a right to know what he’s up to. We have a right to know, when you can’t get documents on Blackwater, what the owner of this company is saying. So I revealed the details of this tape in the interest of the first amendment freedom of the press, but also because I believe the American people have a right. So someone contacted me, said they weren’t going to be going to this and I asked that individual, “Do you think you could record it?” And so what happened was that this person went into the event and clandestinely recorded Erik Prince speaking. And what he said was really incredible.
There are a number of key points to focus on. One is that Erik Prince said that the United States should send armed mercenaries, he doesn’t use the term, but that’s what they are, armed mercenaries, into Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, and Nigeria. With the exception of Nigeria, he talked about Yemen and Somalia and Saudi Arabia facing Iranian threats and the Iranians were, as he put it, at the dead center of badness in the world. And he said that by sending in private contractors, armed contractors, instead of the military, you solve the political problems of sending a large U.S. force, and said that the private sector can do this in a much smaller footprint way and it also would be politically expedient because there would essentially be plausible deniability on the part of the government.
In the case of Nigeria, of course we’ve seen an increase in resistance movements and indigenous movements that are protesting against multinational oil corporations polluting, doing what they perceive to be stealing of Nigeria’s most valuable resources, oil-rich African nation. Erik Prince talked about these Nigerian groups as stealing oil from the multi-national oil corporations and suggested without providing any evidence whatsoever that revenue from this theft, by Nigerian groups, of the oil was being used to fund terrorist operations.
I talked to some military sources that I have that have extensive experience with U.S. Special Forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, Pakistan, and what they found most disturbing about what Prince said was that Prince told a story of July 2009 where his narcotics interdiction unit, a 200-person strike force in Afghanistan that I had never heard of this force before, they actually were operating near the Pakistan border, they came across with a said was a massive hashish and heroin operation and Blackwater forces actually called-in air strikes that then came in and destroyed this facility. The idea that a private company is individually calling-in air strikes raises serious questions about the chain of command issue in Afghanistan. How is it that a private force is able to simply can get on the phone and within moments call-in air strikes that take out anything?
The other story that disturbs military folks that I’ve talked to is that Erik Prince tells a story of how his Blackwater forces resupply a U.S. military unit with ammunition when they’re running low. And he says that the reason that Blackwater did it is because there was too much lawyering involved with the official military doing it. So Blackwater was contacted he said, by this military unit, and they brought in the resupply, the ammunition. Again, chain of command issues.
How is it that Blackwater is able to just unilaterally work with individual units fo the U.S. military? Or, in the case of the so-called drug bust that they’re actually calling-in air strikes. Prince, Amy, also said that Blackwater took down Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes the President Bush and Prince called the Secret Service “flatfooted.” And said that he’s going to be publishing a book in the fall, Erik Prince is. It’s going to be like, you know, “Chicken Soup for the Mercenary Soul.” And he said he’s going to publish a photo of the Blackwater guy taking down the man that Prince called the “Iraqi shoe bomber.” I’ve never heard an allegation there was a bomb there but- when Erik Prince is speaking in front of the media, you get one version of the story. When he’s talking in front of business leaders and the military, you hear a very different side of things and I think it’s very revealing.
The Pentagon should be asking serious questions right now of Erik Prince about what exactly his forces are doing in Afghanistan. He also said he controls four forward operating bases inside of Afghanistan and including one at the base of the mountains of Tora Bora, which is the closest U.S. base and it’s operated, in Erik Prince’s terms, by Blackwater, to the Pakistan border. But he described having these in different strategic locations around Afghanistan. This was not a speech by a man who seems like he’s concerned that he’s going out of business anytime soon. He seems to be doing quite well and very much of the center of things in Afghanistan.