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Southern California Residents Gear Up for New Fight to Stop Secretive Expansion by Military Firm Blackwater

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Just two months after local opposition thwarted its effort to build a massive outdoor training facility near San Diego, the private military company Blackwater USA is being accused of secretly trying to build a new one just blocks from the US-Mexico border. Blackwater received approval for the 61,000 square-foot indoor facility in Otay Mesa, California, by filing for permits using the names of two subsidiaries. [includes rush transcript]

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re on the road in San Diego. The private security company Blackwater USA is being accused of trying to secretly build a military training facility in San Diego, right here, just blocks from the US-Mexican border. Blackwater received approval for the 61,000 square-foot indoor facility in Otay Mesa, California, by filing for permits using the names of two subsidiaries. It was only last week when San Diego officials learned Blackwater was behind the project.

The news comes just two months after local residents successfully blocked Blackwater from opening an 824-acre military complex known as Blackwater West in the rural hamlet of Potrero, California.

Opposition is now growing to Blackwater’s plans in Otay Mesa. Last week, Democratic Congressmember Bob Filner led a protest at the site of Blackwater’s future facility. Several local officials question how Blackwater’s presence will affect US-Mexican relations. The site is located just three blocks from the international border.

Joining me here in San Diego in the PBS station KPBS is Raymond Lutz. He is a local resident who has fought Blackwater’s expansion into the San Diego region. He runs the websites stopblackwater.net and citizensoversight.org.
We’re also joined on the telephone by Democratic Congressmember Bob Filner. He joins us from Washington, D.C.

We did invite Blackwater to join us on the program, but the spokesperson Anne Tyrrell said no one from the company was available.

Ray Lutz, lay out the story right now.

RAYMOND LUTZ: Well, I got the tip from an anonymous like yahoo.com email address person who said he was an ex-friend of a former Blackwater employee. He told me that this site was being put in and was ready to open. I drove down to check it out, and indeed I could see the ventilation equipment out the back of the building, which is apparently necessary for the indoor shooting range that they’re intending to put in. I went down to — and I checked all the news media at the time and everyone I could find. No one had heard anything about this.

They had secretly started this last September, about a month before our big rally out in Potrero. So the rally really had an effect. In other words, at that time, they were saying, “We’re throwing in the towel” on this other thing, but they weren’t letting the cat out of the bag, when in the process of filing these permits under the names Raven Development and Southwest Law Enforcement. And then, I understand that’s under a shell company out in Puerto Rico.

They went in calling this a vocational school. None of the permits, which I just saw last — yesterday at the Department of Planning of the City of San Diego, had any real notation on it about the fact that this is going to be — have an indoor shooting range and have firearms and so forth inside.

But after I received the tip, I went down, and sure enough, everything panned out that the guy was telling me. I talked to the news media, and they confirmed with Brian Bonfiglio, the VP of Blackwater, that they were trying to put that in.

And so, that’s when I contacted Filner. He has been very helpful with this, putting these things together. And this time, unlike out in Potrero, we got very little traction with the officials. The San Diego City Council members, Ben Hueso, who is the Eighth District representative, and City Council President Scott Peters came down, as well as the other activists and the person with the border project, California-Mexican border project — his name’s Pedro Rios. Ben Hueso, who represents that area, he’s been working for the last six years, he said, to try to stabilize things. He just got done with a meeting with people south of the border, saying how clean and regular everything was north of the border, and he says, “I just can’t face these guys now that Blackwater has come in.”

His point was very well stated, is that putting a profiteering, a profit-oriented company to handle border security, which they obviously are interested in — this is two doors down from the Border Patrol Otay Mesa office. It’s only a stone’s throw from the border.

I’ve seen in the media that they’re taking part in the $1.4 billion south of the border drug interdiction, drug warrior, what used to be called “Las Zetas,” which is where the Mexican military used to be in drug interdiction, and they switched places. They became the drug cartels. So people south of the border are used to the swapping roles.

Anyway, this new facility that went in was absolutely under the radar. If we hadn’t been told about it, we wouldn’t have found out about it. I don’t know how many other places are going into across the nation, because it’s very hard to track them. They’re not using their real name.

AMY GOODMAN: Last September, our guest Raymond Lutz questioned the vice president of Blackwater West, Brian Bonfiglio, about Blackwater’s plans to work on the US-Mexican border.

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: Yes, sir.

    RAYMOND LUTZ: Raymond Lutz, Citizens’ Oversight. One of the questions that people are asking me frequently is about the border and if Blackwater is thinking about taking part in some contracts with the federal government to monitor the border and maybe use around Potrero Valley as a base station for the Blackwater soldiers that will be deployed to monitor the — and maybe even use those blimps or the planes that you bought from Brazil?

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: If we were asked by our government to help out and manage whatever security was needed on the border, I don’t think there’s one person in this room who wouldn’t want the borders tightened up. And what is wrong with that? I have to question [inaudible]

    RAYMOND LUTZ: I’m asking the question to you —-


    RAYMOND LUTZ: — if you’re going to do it. No, I’m asking you the question.

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: I have — right now, there’s no contracts with Blackwater to secure either border.

    RAYMOND LUTZ: Would you entertain a contract, and would you think about using that valley as your base?

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: Would I entertain —

    RAYMOND LUTZ: Would Blackwater entertain a contract for monitoring the border, yes or no?

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: We would entertain any approach from our government to help secure either border, absolutely.

    RAYMOND LUTZ: In those cases, the valley might be used as a station for deployment?

    BRIAN BONFIGLIO: Actually, we’ve offered it up as a substation to Border Patrol and US Customs right now. We’d love to see them there.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Ray Lutz questioning the vice president of Blackwater West, Brian Bonfiglio. Ray Lutz, before we go to Congressman Filner, can you flesh out what happened there and what you’re planning to do now?

RAYMOND LUTZ: Yes. Well, of course, there I was talking about the Potrero Valley. We didn’t know about this new secret facility that they’re planning right now. We looked back, and we said that the — really, the — I just wanted to mention the three big things that we had successes on, which was the recall election — huge. By the time this recall election was in process, they were already backing out, even though they weren’t publicly saying it. That big rally apparently was a big deal, too, because a month before that, they had already put in their permits. And, of course, the intense cooperation on the internet and on our list on this other project, so that we did get them to pull out there.

But the problem is, is that, of course, having a profiteering-type company along the border, we know that they have border contracts that they’ve taken, although we don’t know the details of those. That’s something that perhaps Bob Filner can help us with. And across the nation, activists should take a look and see how many other places they’re going into without — maybe it’s, you know, along the border region. It’s an unknown, if they’re going to use all these different pseudonyms.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Ray Lutz, I want to thank you for joining us, runs the websites stopblackwater.net and citizensoversight.org. When we come back from break, we’ll be joined by Congressmember Bob Filner. Then we’ll find out about the longshoremen’s strike that happened from border to border, from Mexico up to Canada, and we’ll be speaking with two secretaries of state live here in our studio at the PBS station KPBS. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: People across the country were participating in May Day protests. We’re going to go to that in a minute, but first we’re joined on the phone by Congressmember Bob Filner, who took on Blackwater, helped to stop them building a facility in Potrero, California. Now, it’s just been learned they’re building one on the Mexico-California border.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Congressmember Filner.

REP. BOB FILNER: Good morning. And it’s great to hear Raymond Lutz, who shows that citizen activism is still — can still have impact, as he put together a great coalition of community members, peace movement, environment. And, you know, we stood up against Blackwater, and we won at that point.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, can you talk about your Congress member activism? What are you doing right now? And what — under what laws does Blackwater operate when it comes to having a facility on the border with Mexico, since we know of the serious questions about what laws they operate under in Iraq?

REP. BOB FILNER: Apparently, you know, they don’t like to operate under any laws, as we know in Iraq. And, you know, they shoot first and ask questions later. And people — parents of family members have had great trouble getting any truth about what went on there. And that’s what we’re concerned about.

Anybody who is training private armies or mercenary soldiers is a real danger to democracy. We know that from history. So this is not a company that we trust, that we like, that is doing — they claim that they’re doing vocational education to pull a permit now, which we’re going to challenge.

They have operated in this situation with great secrecy, with — under different subsidiaries and shell corporations, and we don’t know exactly what they’re really doing or where other permits may have been pulled under different names. So, they got a permit under very so-called ministerial kinds of rules. That is, there was no vote by any elected body. They went to the Planning Department, again, under a different name and said they were going to do what the zoning allowed. We’re going to investigate that with the help of the city council and the city attorney, and we’re going to see that [inaudible] grounds for revoking that permit.

What we’re really worried about, clearly they want to establish a presence on the border between Mexico and the United States. The first site was a few miles. This one is a few blocks. This is not a place where you want private soldiers. We know when the Minutemen have come there, they are a danger to real law and order, and we think the same is true, except even more so, with a trained mercenary force like Blackwater.

It’s a very fragile area, the border. You don’t know who’s illegal or who’s legal just by looking at them. I mean, we have people who are — have been in this country for centuries, generations, who are Mexican American, and there’s no way you could tell the difference between a person who is here for that time versus someone who’s here illegally. So we don’t want a mercenary band controlling — patrolling the border. It’s a recipe for disaster.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Bob Filner, I want to thank you very much for joining us, Congress member from here in the San Diego area, as we talk about Blackwater building a facility on the border.

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