Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute and the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
"Blackwater’s Black Ops" — that’s the title of an explosive new article in The Nation magazine that reveals how entities closely linked with the private security firm Blackwater have provided security and intelligence services to a range of powerful corporations over the past several years. The companies include Monsanto, Chevron, Deutsche Bank and others. Blackwater has also provided intelligence and training services to foreign governments, including Jordan, the Canadian military and the Dutch police. We speak with investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. [includes rush transcript]
AMY GOODMAN: "Blackwater’s Black Ops" — that’s the title of an explosive new article in The Nation magazine that reveals how entities closely linked with the private security firm Blackwater have provided security and intelligence services to a range of powerful corporations over the past several years. The companies include Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Deutsche Bank, Barclays and Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines.
Blackwater has also provided intelligence and training services to foreign governments, including the Kingdom of Jordan, the Canadian military and the Dutch police. In 2007, former Pakistani Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto worked with Blackwater when she returned to Pakistan to campaign for the general elections. Bhutto was assassinated in December of 2007.
The new revelations come from documents obtained by The Nation. They show that Blackwater’s work for corporations and government agencies was contracted using two companies: Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center. Both companies are owned by Blackwater’s owner and founder, Erik Prince.
Today also marks the third anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre, when Blackwater guards gunned down seventeen Iraqi civilians and wounded twenty in a fifteen-minute shooting spree in Baghdad.
For more, we’re joined now from New York by investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill. He’s a Puffin Foundation writing fellow at the Nation Institute. He’s a Democracy Now! correspondent and author of the book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. His new article in online at thenation.com.
Jeremy, welcome to Democracy Now! How did you get a hold of these documents?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, Amy, as you know, journalists who do this kind of sensitive work have an obligation to protect their sources, so I’m not going to go into any detail about where these documents came from because of ethical obligations that I have as an investigative journalist to protect my sources. And we’re living in a climate right now where there is really a war against whistleblowers and others, so I prefer to leave it at that.
AMY GOODMAN: Tell us what you found. Tell us how many documents you got and what’s in them.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I was provided with an extensive array of documents that included internal company emails from various entities controlled by Erik Prince, including Total Intelligence Solutions, the Terrorism Research Center, Blackwater itself, documents that not only relate to these corporations that you mentioned — Monsanto, Disney, Chevron and the rest — but also documents that relate to some very powerful people that were veteran CIA operatives that worked on lethal CIA programs before coming to Blackwater.
Among them was Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center, the man who after 9/11 told Congress that the gloves had come off, in terms of the tactics that the United States was using in the so-called war on terror. Another figure was Rob Richer, who is the former deputy director of operations at the CIA, and Enrique "Ric" Prado, who is a twenty-four-year CIA veteran and was a veteran paramilitary operative in the CIA’s Special Operations Group, the most lethal of the CIA entities.
And in terms of Ric Prado, what is significant about him is that Prado and Erik Prince were the two figures that set up the CIA assassination program that Blackwater was at the center of. And what the documents that I obtained show is that Ric Prado, beginning in 2007, took the network of foreign operatives that Blackwater had developed for the CIA’s assassination program, operatives that Ric Prado describes in the documents I obtained as "deniable," and therefore a "big plus" to clients that would want to hire them, and attempted to offer this network of deniable assets around the world to the Drug Enforcement Administration. And in fact, he emailed an eighteen-year veteran of the DEA who had recently come to work for Erik Prince and asked that executive if the DEA would be interested in such a network. And this eighteen-year DEA agent, who now was working for the Blackwater network of companies, told Prado that there could be interest in that and actually gave him the name of the special agent in charge of the Special Operations Division, which is a very secretive entity within the Department of Justice that’s controlled by the DEA. And this executive also suggested that attachés for the DEA in Mexico, in Colombia, in Thailand and elsewhere may also be interested. Now, I haven’t been able to confirm whether or not this network was activated and, if it was, for what purpose, but this is very, very explosive.
The other thing, Amy, that I think is really important on this CIA angle is that at one point, in one of the documents I obtained, we find that Blackwater set up a pricing chart for its services to hire people like Enrique "Ric" Prado or Cofer Black or Rob Richer to work for your private corporation or if you’re a wealthy individual. And among the services, you could pay more than $33,000 to have Ric Prado set up a — lead a four-man countersurveillance team or counterintelligence team in the United States. You could pay $250,000 to have Prado set up a safehouse for you, plus expenses. And these services were also offered in places around the globe, in North Africa, in China, Japan, Russia, throughout Latin America. So essentially what you had is CIA-type services literally being offered at a price tag, a specific price tag, being put on them. And perhaps the most interesting among them is that for $5,000 a day you could hire Cofer Black, Rob Richer or Ric Prado to represent your interests in front of national decision makers.
AMY GOODMAN: You also write, Jeremy Scahill, about what happened on this — well, three years ago — this is the third anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre — what Blackwater did in response, the Blackwater operatives who opened fire and killed seventeen Iraqis.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, the Nisoor Square massacre was the single greatest massacre of Iraqi civilians that we know about that was committed by a US force in Iraq. And what happened is that after the Nisoor Square massacre, Blackwater engaged in a rebranding campaign, where they attempted to shake the Blackwater name. They now call themselves Xe Services or the US Training Center.
And what I think was most fascinating, in terms of this rebranding, as far as the documents I obtained, was — is that in January of 2008, Cofer Black, who was the vice chair of Blackwater and the chairman of Total Intelligence Solutions, Blackwater’s CIA, flew to Zürich, Switzerland, and he met with Kevin Wilson, who was the head of global security for Monsanto. And I actually talked to Kevin Wilson. I called him on the phone and reached him, and he seemed pretty surprised that I knew about the meeting, but he did confirm, ultimately, that he met with Cofer Black. And he told me that Cofer Black had informed him that Blackwater and Total Intelligence were totally separate entities. But if you see the email that Cofer Black sent after meeting with Kevin Wilson, he sent it to Erik Prince at Prince’s Blackwater email address and to Ric Prado at his Blackwater email address, and he told them that he had discussed with Kevin Wilson Blackwater becoming the intel arm, the intelligence arm, of Monsanto and that they had discussed using Blackwater/Total Intelligence operatives to infiltrate animal rights groups. Of course, Monsanto is at the center of many protests globally by farmers’ organizations, by animal rights activists, by environmental rights activists. You discussed earlier in the headlines this issue of hiring companies to spy in the state of Pennsylvania. So when I asked Monsanto about that, they said that no such discussion took place, but they did acknowledge that they hired Total Intelligence Solutions beginning in '08 and all the way up — working for Monsanto all the way up until earlier this year, in 2010. And they said that one of the things that they were doing for them was to monitor activists' blogs and websites on behalf of Monsanto.
The Disney corporation hired Blackwater to scout movie locations in Morocco. And in that case, Rob Richer, former senior CIA officer, and Cofer Black, both of them reactivated their contacts in Morocco from their CIA days and used those sources as a way to build a sort of report for Disney.
Deutsche Bank had them prepare — had Blackwater/Total Intelligence and the Terrorism Research Center prepare a report on countersurveillance tactics in China. And the Blackwater network of companies advised Deutsche Bank that they should not be — that they should not bring any electronic equipment when they go into China and that their executives should beware of female Chinese agents trying to get too close to them. And at one point, the analyst for Blackwater says, "If women aren’t coming onto you in the United States and they start coming onto you in China, well, then, you know something is suspicious."
Perhaps what is going to be most eye-raising for some in Pakistan about what I’ve reported is the idea that Benazir Bhutto worked with Blackwater in the months leading up to her death. There’s an email that I obtained from Rob Richer, the former deputy director of operations at CIA working for Blackwater at the time, where it is revealed that American security has been hired by Bhutto. And richer writes back — and I think it’s important to quote this exactly as he said it — he writes to the other analysts for Blackwater and Total Intelligence Solutions, and he says, "We need to watch this carefully from a number of angles. If our name surfaces, the Pakistani press reaction will be very important. How that plays through the Muslim world will also need tracking." Richer wrote, quote, "We should be prepared to [sic] a communique from an affiliate of Al-Qaida if our name surfaces," meaning Blackwater. "That will impact the security [profile]." There’s a word missing there, or there’s a typo. "We should be prepared to" — what — "a communique." It’s unclear. And the missing word or the typo there will dictate, of course, the full meaning of that message, because Benazir Bhutto was assassinated two months later. So I’m sure that this bears much further scrutiny by the Bhutto family and the Pakistani government. This really needs to be investigated, what role Blackwater had in Benazir Bhutto’s security operations.
AMY GOODMAN: You also mention Blackwater working for Chevron Corporation, a company we’ve both investigated together, Jeremy.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, it looks like Chevron was a subscriber, in some form, to the intelligence services provided by Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center. Blackwater — or, excuse me, Chevron is listed on one of the documents that I obtained that shows the list of top ten vendors for the Total Intelligence Solutions and Terrorism Research Center for their client base. But there were no specifics about what the company — the companies, Blackwater-affiliated companies, did for Chevron. That’s also the case with some of the other companies on there. And I think one of the reasons why I wanted to put this out is that I’m hoping that other journalists are going to follow up on this and really press the issue — just exactly what was Blackwater doing, particularly after the Nisoor Square massacre, for all of these powerful multinational corporations?
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to go to break and come back. Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill is our guest. He has an explosive piece at thenation.com. It’s called "Blackwater’s Black Ops." Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re finishing up with our guest Jeremy Scahill, independent journalist, and the piece in The Nation magazine, "Blackwater’s Black Ops." As we wrap up on this third anniversary of the Nisoor Square massacre, Jeremy, I wanted to go back to Ric Prado and the losing the secure phone line.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. There was a flurry of emails at one point in October of 2009. Clearly, someone from the CIA had contacted Blackwater and was asking them to account for their secure telephone unit. These are telephone units that are encrypted and allow conversations that cannot be penetrated or eavesdropped on, and they’re used regularly, the more current version of it — they’re called STEs — are used regularly by the NSA or the CIA, by the President himself. And, you know, clearly, the — Blackwater had been issued one of these telephones because of its covert work for the CIA, of course, the CIA assassination program, that lasted at least from '04 to ’06 involving Blackwater. And various Blackwater officials are emailing around, and they can't account for it. And people are saying, "I have no dog in this fight. I’ve left the company."
And then Ric Prado, who had left Blackwater and started his own covert operations shop called Constellation Security Group, Constellation Security Consulting — Ric Prado emails, finally, to kind of say, "Well, I’ll take care of this." And he says, "Have the OGA point of contact contact me." OGA, of course, is parlance for the CIA. It means "other government agency." Prado’s company, I think, Constellation, needs to be investigated, because he writes in these documents that he carried out operations in Mali, in North Africa, potentially involving Chad and Congo. We know, of course, that there’s increased CIA and Joint Special Operations Command activity happening on the African continent. And the role of this company, of this man who is a twenty-four-year veteran of the CIA, a paramilitary for the CIA, his company, his new company, needs to be investigated because it appears as though he’s taken some of Blackwater’s covert CIA business with him into his new company that he himself has started and now runs.
AMY GOODMAN: And, Jeremy, you’re talking about Constellation Consulting Group, or CCG. We want to thank you very much for being with us, Jeremy Scahill. The piece is explosive. It’s at thenation.com. Interesting you raise the issue of Blackwater spying for Monsanto, because tomorrow on Democracy Now! from here in Bonn, we’re going to speak with Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, who took on Blackwater in a big way.
PERCY SCHMEISER: The Parliament in Cape Town of South Africa, and coming out of the Assembly, one of Monsanto’s representatives from Johannesburg ran face-to-face into us, and he lost his cool, and he said to my wife and myself — and he shook his fist in our face and said, "Nobody stands up to Monsanto. We are going to get both of you, somehow, some day, and destroy you both." Phone calls my wife would receive: "You better watch it. We’re going to get you." They would come into our driveway and watch what my wife would be doing all day. They would use their vehicles and sit on the roads alongside of our farmland, watch us all day long, to try and intimidate us and to put fear into us.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Canadian farmer Percy Schmeiser, took on Monsanto Corporation in a big way. You’ll hear his story tomorrow here on Democracy Now!, as we continue to broadcast from Bonn, Germany, where the thirtieth anniversary of the Right Livelihood Awards is being held.