The private military firm Blackwater Worldwide is seeking personnel that could possibly be deployed into areas affected by Hurricane Gustav. We speak with Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill, who first broke the story of armed guards working for the private security firm Blackwater being deployed in the streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: I want to go to Jeremy Scahill, who covered, of course, Hurricane Katrina in the aftermath, Democracy Now! correspondent, wrote Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Jeremy, what’s happening today?
Well, last Friday, Blackwater sent out an email. This, of course, is the famous mercenary company that not only has operated in Iraq and Afghanistan, but was actually in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and beyond, in 2005 made $70 million in federal money just off of its Hurricane Katrina contracts. Last Friday, Blackwater sent out an email to its network of independent contractors. The company boasts of having some 20,000-plus individuals that it can call out at a moment’s notice. And the contract was looking for personnel that would be interested in deploying in, what the email said, areas affected by Hurricane Gustav.
And the kinds of individuals that Blackwater was looking to hire for operations potentially in the hurricane zone were law enforcement officers who were sworn, currently sworn, and wanted the specification of their arms status, if they were allowed to use semi or auto, automatic weapons; individuals with arrest powers; armed security officers. And it said that all of the applicants must be US citizens. And so, Blackwater, as of last week, was already starting for this — toward this mobilization.
What we know from experience with Blackwater in the hurricane zone is that this is not a company that believes it needs orders from any government agency to deploy, armed, on the streets of an American city. Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater — I had this confirmed to me by a senior Blackwater executive — Blackwater’s owner Erik Prince simply decided in Hurricane Katrina to send over 180 men, armed, onto the streets of an American city. And when I interviewed them in New Orleans, they told me that they were there to confront criminals and stop looters.
Now, a week after Blackwater arrived in Hurricane Katrina on the streets of New Orleans, they were hired by the Bush administration through the Department of Homeland Security Federal Protective Service, and Blackwater billed the United States government $950 — nine-five-zero — $950 per man per day for its operations in the hurricane zone. At one point they had 600 men stretching from Texas through Mississippi and the Gulf. And Blackwater made, as I said, over $70 million just in its federal contracts. That’s doesn’t count the work that Blackwater picked up with wealthy individuals, private businesses, etc.
And finally, what I would say is that several of the men that I talked to were veterans of the Iraq occupation, had just been there two weeks earlier. Some of them were complaining that in New Orleans there wasn’t enough action for them. This is a company that is under multiple investigations, whose operatives are accused of killing civilians. The idea that they would once again be invited to deploy or allowed to deploy, armed on the streets of an American city, I think should be disturbing not just to residents of the Gulf but to all people in this country who are concerned about the fate of those residents of the Gulf right now.
Are they the only mercenary company in New Orleans?
Oh, absolutely not. In fact, what we saw last time with Hurricane Katrina — and this remained true after the flooding of the city and remains true to this day — is that you had a tremendous number of these private security companies that just descended on the Gulf. And it wasn’t just security. It was also the major war profiteers that have been operating in Iraq, like Bechtel, KBR, Fluor — the list went on and on and on. In the case of the Gulf, Dyncorp, which is another massive mercenary company, has had its operations there. A British company called ArmorGroup, one of the largest mercenary companies in the world, has deployed in the Gulf and had a sustained presence there. They really turn it into Baghdad on the Bayou. They go from war profiteering to disaster profiteering, and I fear that that’s what we’re seeing once again.
And the National Guard?
Well, the National Guard, they say that there are 1,500 to 2,000 National Guard’s people that are now just in the New Orleans area alone — 7,000 National Guard in the state of Louisiana — which is more than there were for Hurricane Katrina. And the reason that the National Guard was not there is because Bush had them somehow defending the state of Louisiana by occupying Iraq and Afghanistan. And so, now Mayor Nagin and others are saying that they’re better prepared than they were last time.
But what we’re seeing here in St. Paul, Amy — and you and I went to that press conference; we heard you asking those questions before —- is that these individuals who are now saying, expressing their dire concern for the people of the Gulf, who are talking about “We’re going to encourage our corporate sponsors to raise money, and we want people to open their wallets,” these are the people that were responsible for systematically failing to do anything effective to rescue or help the people of the Gulf, that ignored them. George Bush flies around in his plane and doesn’t hit the ground. These were the people that did the -—
AMY GOODMAN: Last time.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Last time in Hurricane Katrina. And now, all of a sudden, they seem to be making this hurricane a major part of their political campaign here in St. Paul. This isn’t just they learned a lesson. There’s a crass nature to this, I think, that’s playing out, where they’re actually using it in an attempt to gain political advantage right now.
Well, we’re going to leave it there, and I want to thank you very much, Jeremy Scahill, for being with us, Democracy Now! correspondent, bestselling author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. And we are certainly going to continue to cover what is unfolding as we speak right now. Hurricane Gustav, expected to make landfall today, it’s being called, at least at this point, a Category 3 storm. That’s what Katrina was.