Eli Lake in The Daily Beast interviews the usually elusive head of Blackwater, Erik Prince, and details the fact that the private mercenary force was and may well remain an invaluable extension of the CIA:
Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, heir to an auto-parts family fortune, Blackwater had proved especially useful to the CIA in the early 2000s. “You have to remember where the CIA was after 9/11,” says retired Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who served as the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 to 2006 and later as the ranking member of the committee. “They were gutted in the 1990s. They were sending raw recruits into Afghanistan and other dangerous places. They were looking for skills and capabilities, and they had to go to outside contractors like Blackwater to make sure they could accomplish their mission.”
But according to the documents Blackwater submitted in its defense—as well as an email exchange I had recently with Prince—the contractor’s relationship with the CIA was far deeper than most observers thought. “Blackwater’s work with the CIA began when we provided specialized instructors and facilities that the Agency lacked,” Prince told me recently, in response to written questions. “In the years that followed, the company became a virtual extension of the CIA because we were asked time and again to carry out dangerous missions, which the Agency either could not or would not do in-house.”
One document submitted by the defense names Jose Rodriguez, the former CIA chief of the Directorate of Operations, and Buzzy Krongard, the agency’s former executive director, as among those CIA officers who had direct knowledge of Blackwater’s activities, in a section that is still partially redacted. This document is the closest Blackwater has come to acknowledging that Prince himself was a CIA asset, something first reported in 2010 by Vanity Fair. One of the names on the list of CIA officers with knowledge of Blackwater’s work in the document is “Erik P”—with the remaining letters whited out.
This document made Blackwater’s defense clear: “the CIA routinely used Blackwater in missions throughout the world,” it said. “These efforts were made under written and unwritten contracts and through informal requests. On many occasions the CIA paid Blackwater nothing for its assistance. Blackwater also employed CIA officers and agents, and provided cover to CIA agents and officers operating in covert and clandestine assignments. In many respects, Blackwater, or at least portions of Blackwater, was an extension of the CIA.”
When I asked Prince why Blackwater would often work for free, he responded, “I agreed to provide some services gratis because, in the wake of 9/11, I felt it my patriotic duty. I knew that I had the tools and resources to help my country.”
Moreover, according to still-sealed testimony described to The Daily Beast, the agency had its own secure telephone line and a facility for handling classified information within Blackwater’s North Carolina headquarters. CIA officers trained there and used an area—fully shielded from view inside the rest of the Blackwater compound by 20-foot berms—to coordinate operations.