Posts Tagged Blackwater

Books: My Review Of Civilian Warriors

I finally got a chance to read this book and I was not disappointed. Much of the book went over material that I was already familiar with because I have been blogging about this industry for quite awhile now. But it is cool to finally hear Erik Prince’s version of events and his thoughts on the industry.

So what I did with the book is make footnotes on things that I thought were interesting that I was not aware of. Like did you know that the guy that threw a shoe at President Bush during a press meeting, was tackled by a Blackwater guy and not the Secret Service? Or that it was BW that rescued Vice President Joe Biden, Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel and Secretary of State John Kerry on a snowy mountain top in Afghanistan? That is crazy, and it is stuff like that, that I will bring up in my notes. I will also mention the books that Prince was influenced by or thought important enough to mention in his book.

The first book mentioned by Prince that inspired him for building Blackwater was called Entrepreneurs Are Made, Not Born–By Lloyd Shefsky. Prince read this book while posted on the ship USS America, and the ideas that came from this book helped him to formulate a plan on what he wanted to do when got out of the Navy. He was a businessman/entrepreneur at heart, just like his father, and he wanted to be closer to his family–hence why he wanted out of the Navy. This is where he got the idea for building a world class training facility that could fill a need for the government, and especially his Navy SEALs, whom were constantly on the road for training. What Prince wanted to do was get a centralized training facility in Moyock, North Carolina for multiple government and private clients that would have everything they needed to train. The courage and drive to take the risk to do this, came from the motivation Prince got from reading this book.

As to the name of the company, did you know that the original names being thrown around were the ‘Tidewater Institute for Tactical Shooting’ or the ‘Hampton Roads Tactical Shooting Center’? They went with Blackwater because as they built the ranges on their new property, they were constantly slogging through the peat stained black water mud. It had a better ring and meaning for them at the time I guess.

In the beginning of their business, training was not their big money maker. It was their targets they constructed and they used a tougher steel combined with a pop up mechanism to make targets that folks all over the US wanted. These targets accounted for 50 percent of their revenue in the early days of the company.

He also makes mention of the pride he had in his contractors and employees. One story he mentioned was about a wounded contractor in his company that I did not know about, but thought was really cool. His name is Derrick and his blog is called Small Victories, and it is about the process he has gone through as a severely wounded contractor.

The second book mentioned was Unrestricted Warfare, written by a couple of Chinese colonels back in 1999. This book documented the coming future of terrorism, and it is what woke up defense insiders–to include Prince, as to what was coming. What happened on 9/11 was not surprising to those who foresaw this type of unrestricted warfare or terrorism.

Prince made mention of Frank Gallagher as the first detail leader BW assigned for the task of guarding Bremmer in Iraq. That 36 man detail later grew to a massive operation protecting a multitude of DoS folks in Iraq and later Afghanistan. What is interesting though is that Frank and company were the guys making the innovations on the ground in Iraq when it came to close protection in war zones. (Frank is also coming out with a book)

Frank’s group were so good that their protection schemes would later be adopted by the US Government for protecting it’s highest risk personnel. Not only that, but Osama Bin Laden at the time was extremely frustrated that none of his clowns were able to get a shot at Bremmer. So OBL fired up some offense industry, and put a bounty out on Bremmer and his protective detail. Bremmer was worth 22 pounds of gold, and anyone on the PSD team was worth $30,000 dollars according to the book.

Another interesting aspect of the way Prince did business was in order to show capability, he would build it first with the hopes that clients would see how useful or important it is, and then contract it out. Prince would put his own money down on the venture as well.

A good example of this is Presidential Airways and the advent of using smaller scale paracargo in Afghanistan. In the early days of the war, the Air Force did not have a small scale paracargo capability. They would use large aircraft to drop 600 lb pallets, and do it way too high up in the air. It was Presidential Airways that recognized a deficiency–that the military needed small scale paracargo, and lots of it in order to meet the demand out there. They would go on to do a proof of concept and supply outposts, and then the government later set up a contract to continue using this service. This would later be called LCLA or Low Cost, Low Altitude and I have talked about this on the blog in the past. Thanks to Presidential Airways, I am sure many outposts received life saving ammunition supply drops or food drops. (Cofer Black’s son was actually resupplied by Presidential Airways when he was at an outpost, serving in the military in Afghanistan)

Then there are the other projects that Prince funded that did not get off the ground. Like the armored vehicle called the Grizzly or their blimp. Or the 1700 man peace keeping force called Greystone.

According to Prince, Greystone would have had it’s own air force, helicopters, cargo ships, aerial surveillance, medical supply chain, and combat group. It was Prince’s alternative to the ineffectual UN peacekeepers that we continue to see deployed all over the world. I remember he was wanting to send these guys to Darfur, Sudan if DoS was ok with it. They were not, and this project never got off the ground.

According to the book, Prince spent about 100 million dollars on various BW projects that never went anywhere. He had the attitude of if you build it, they will come. With his creations, he felt eventually someone in the government or in private industry would want this stuff, and he mentioned that if he threw enough darts at the board, they were bound to hit the bull’s eye. He said this is the price of continually innovating. Whatever the government needed, or what they might suddenly realize they needed, Prince would provide it. (kind of reminds me of Steve Jobs with his drive to create products that people didn’t know they wanted, but when made, they absolutely wanted and needed them)

And really, this is at the heart of what he was all about. His father was the same way, and I kind of got the impression that Prince was constantly trying to live up to what his father was all about. His father was very successful and had the same attitude of seeing a need or potential need, and filling it. He is the one that invented lighted mirrors in vehicle sun visors. But his father also had a lot of failures before that lighted mirror took off as a viable concept. Both men were visionaries and risk takers, and that is what you need in order to create something new. To create something that people want, or didn’t know they wanted, but do now.

In the book, Prince also talked about Executive Outcomes and how successful they were. So EO was an inspiration and it is always cool to hear about visionaries getting inspired by other visionaries and their creations.

Prince also made mention of his Libertarian roots and his ideas on contracting and free markets. He was a big fan of fixed cost contracts, versus cost-based or cost-plus. He felt that a contractor should be able to put their money where their mouth is when they say they can deliver something for a certain price. With cost based or cost plus, you are basically giving a contractor an open check to spend whatever they want to get the job done.

You see this theme throughout the book, and that Prince was all about funding a project in order to show proof of concept and viability, or that BW was interested in providing a good value for the tax payer’s dollar.

Speaking of which, BW funded their own rescue operation of folks off of roofs during the Katrina Hurricane disaster back in 2005!  BW also went on to provide effective security in the region after that disaster.

Another business unit that Prince mentioned was Total Intelligence Solutions. TIS was BW’s private intelligence firm that offered services to not only the government, but to private institutions. The Walt Disney Company was mentioned as one of those institutions.

TIS also had Cofer Black in it, and he was very much impressed with the way it operated compared to the government. Black mentioned that ‘every mid-level government official should spend a two-year sabbatical there to learn about efficiency and effectiveness’. My opinion on that is duh, private industry can be very efficient and effective compared to the government.

The third book mentioned was On War by Carl von Clausewitz. Prince’s father was the one that recommended this book to him before he joined the Navy. As to what lessons he learned from this book is hard to say. He mentioned a Clausewitz quote on courage and that is about it.

Moving along through the book, he mentioned stuff about the An Najaf attack. Travis Haley was mentioned multiple times in regards to this attack and it is cool getting some info on what happened during that deal. Travis was brought in by little bird after the attack began, and he was definitely a force multiplier during the fight. The video he and his team posted of the event has received many views over the years. One thing mentioned that I did not know is that his team did receive mortar fire that day. Accurate mortar fire, as we saw with the Benghazzi attack, can be very bad for the defense.

It is also interesting that General Sanchez did not want to acknowledge that Blackwater was so heavily involved with the defense of this facility. The reality is that if it wasn’t for the actions of BW, they would have lost that consulate in An Najaf. It would have been very embarrassing to Sanchez’s command, for it to get out that a contractor did so well, and in his AO.  Or that the US military was not in a position to defend it because it had so many other things going on at the time. This incident was also unique because there were military folks there, but BW was running the show.

It was interesting to find out how much WPS made for BW. Prince quoted well over a billion dollars. At the peak, BW had over a thousand men on the ground in Iraq performing the WPS mission. I am sure Frank Gallagher and others were pretty amazed at how big this thing got.

There was mention of BW’s perfect record of protection, and the most significant injury of a principal at the time was a ruptured ear drum. BW used Mamba armored vehicles in Iraq, which were manufactured in South Africa. An EFP was used by the enemy against one of BW’s Mambas, and everyone survived, to include that principal mentioned. A BW guy lost his arm in the deal as well. I have to say that is some serious luck and EFPs are no joke. I actually drove these same vehicles in Iraq and I can attest to the protective qualities of it–and that is awesome that these guys actually survived an EFP.

Prince also wrote a lot about the CPA’s Order 17, which was the 16 page document that outlined the rules and laws that folks were to follow in Iraq. In absence of a working country, the CPA had to come up with some rules to operate by until Iraq got itself in order. Contractors were often charged with having immunity in Iraq or not having any accountability for their actions because of what was in Order 17. Prince argues just the opposite, and that Order 17 did provide legal accountability.

Many critics of BW pointed to this so called lack of accountability, and because of the non-disclosure agreements BW signed with DoS and other clients, that they could not defend their position or correct the record. So Prince dedicated some space in this book to explaining why they were legally accountable.

The myth of pay rates was also dispelled in the book. You often heard about this $1,000 dollar a day contractor pay that everyone was getting in the company, in various books and articles. But that was not true with this company. According to Prince, the pay ranged from $450 a day to $650 a day, and averaged about $500 per day across the entire contractor force. He also goes on to compare the military’s ‘total military benefit’, which adds up to about $99,000 dollars a year for an enlisted member. The point here was to compare the compensation of soldiers versus contractors, and I have seen the same CBO stuff that he is talking about. Matter of fact, I blogged about it awhile back.

After the Nisour Square deal, Prince had to do a congressional hearing and that thing is floating around on youtube. What is interesting is that according to the book, Prince actually got advice from Oliver North on the whole process. North had to go through 45 hearings back in the day during the Iran Contra deal.

Prince made mention of the company’s process for growth. Gary Jackson was quoted as saying that they were always searching for the 80 percent solution now, as opposed to the 100 percent solution later. This is interesting to me because it is about being faster to market than the other guy. Get it out now and own that business, despite it not being perfect. Then work to continuously improve it later. Or something like that. Jackson was actually named by Harvard Business Review and Fast Company for his leadership and for the growth of the company. The 80/100 solution scheme is part of the reason for that rise.

Finally, at the end of the book Prince talked about the future of the industry, which I really liked. He also talked about another inspirational book that is significant for a number of reasons.

The book’s name is The Machine That Changed The World, By James Womack, Daniel Jones, and Daniel Roos. Prince was very much inspired by this book and he was in awe of Toyota’s managerial system of lean production. He referred to BW as a sort of factory that produced security specialists, much like how factories produced cars. The client requests ‘X’ amount of contractors, and the BW factory provides that amount just in time. Their ability to get the job done and deliver that product–be it a human or weapon or aircraft, to where the client needed it, and on time, was what made them successful.

Which is cool because I too am heavily influenced by Toyota and it’s concepts. I have a category called Kaizen, in honor of the continuous improvement principals that Toyota was so famous for. Kaizen is also mentioned in my Jundism page.

All in all, I really enjoyed the book and highly recommend it. My one take away with this is that Prince was a visionary and had the courage to go forth and make Blackwater happen. It is also a tragic story, because he basically had to let go of that in which he built and loved so much–all because of politics… Check it out and you will find his book in my book store on Amazon here. –Matt

Edit: 04/04/2014- Travis Haley just wrote about his experiences during the Battle of Najaf and you can read this story over at OAF Nation. Pretty cool and it expands upon what was said in Prince’s book. Especially the part about General Sanchez not sending a relief force to help, and how Ambassador Bremmer instructed Frank Gallagher to assemble a relief force to come to the rescue. Here is a quote from Travis’ story.

There was heated discussion between Ambassador Bremmer and General Sanchez, Commander of Coalition Ground Forces in Iraq. In the end, the Army was unwilling to dispatch a relief force to the Najaf compound. Bremmer then instructed Frank, “I am authorizing you, by any means necessary, to get our people out.”  With that, Frank sent me to round up the air team and to start pulling together weapons and munitions to bring on the flight. I hit the ready room and started pulling kit. My M4, magazines and a CS Rifle. The Counter Sniper Rifle was more of a moment of opportunity thing than a plan and Terry, one of our detail’s Counter Snipers, quickly fished through his gear to give me his dope card as I headed down to the air strip where the Little Birds were spooling up.

Edit: 04/07/2014- A blog named CIMSEC did a podcast with Prince that was interesting. Prince mentioned two more books that he has read recently and recommends. The first is Invisible Armies by Max Boot. The other is To Dare And To Conquer by Derek Leebaert.

 

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Cool Stuff: Hagel, Biden And Kerry Rescued By Security Contractors In Afghanistan, 2008

This is awesome. A big hat tip to Will for putting this one up on his site. In this photo below, it shows Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, Vice President Joe Biden and on the far right, Secretary of State John Kerry, which back then they were all Senators. The back story of this photo is that all three of these men were in a helicopter in Afghanistan during winter. During the flight, the snow got really bad and the helicopters were forced to land on some mountain top in Afghanistan.

They put out a distress call and the military was not in a position to rescue them. So security contractors or what I assume were WPS folks were called in, and they came over land to rescue them. Here is the quote in the article.

With the rapidly worsening weather, there was no way to evacuate the senators to safety by air. The U.S. military didn’t have the necessary people and vehicles nearby to rescue the senators via ground transport before the storm hit.

So the U.S. Embassy asked the men of Blackwater USA to go in by land and evacuate them to Bagram. They did the job, and the senators knew who came to their rescue mountainside when the military could not.

One of the points of Will’s post is that none of these men would acknowledge that they were rescued by contractors, or they outright lied and said it was American troops that rescued them. Here is what then Senator Kerry had to say.

“After several hours, the senators were evacuated by American troops and returned overland to Bagram Air Base, and left for their next scheduled stop in Ankara, Turkey,” a statement from Kerry’s office said. “Sen. Kerry thanks the American troops, who were terrific as always and who continue to do an incredible job in Afghanistan.”

Nope, you were not rescued by American troops– you were rescued by civilians or security contractors…..

Oh well, but at least I can help to correct the record on this blog and give it some more attention. This is just one example of many, where security contractors were the ‘cavalry’ and yet their actions were ignored or barely given a mention. If folks have any photos of the convoy that rolled up to rescue them, I would gladly make the edit and add it to this post. Good job to that team for making this rescue! –Matt

Edit: 09/24/2014–If you check out the comments below, you will see that there was a military convoy that went up to rescue these folks, but there were also contractors in vehicles that went with this convoy. So to clarify, both military and contractors were involved in this rescue operation. At the time of writing this post, I was only going with the information that was available or what was coming in via comments and email. I wasn’t there.  I also said I would make an edit if new information came in, so hopefully this helps. Keep checking the comments and the full story will present itself. Thanks to all for correcting the record and contributing to the story.

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Industry Talk: Xe Services Announces Name Change To ACADEMI

Plato’s Akademia, established in the third century B.C., was an institution that produced the best thinkers and warriors alike. These were elite individuals capable of facing the challenges of the time thanks to a strong foundation in training, strategy and strength, both mental and physical.

Interesting news. I am wondering if this will help things at all for future contracts?  In interviews, CEO Ted Wright said they plan on pursuing contracts in Iraq again, and that would be quite the thing.  Here is a quote from CNN’s interview with him:

“The day I’m allowed to do business in Iraq will be success,” said Wright. “If the government of Iraq let’s us do business there again, you know we’ve been successful.”

As to the new business focus of ACADEMI, here was a little hint as to what they are thinking:

Wright would like to double the training side of the business. His company boasts one of the country’s largest, most well-equipped training facilities, located in Moyock, in sparsely populated northeastern North Carolina. He’s also exploring new business opportunities when it comes to certifying bodyguards for high net-worth individuals, such as celebrities or executives. He’d also like to expand the company’s number of commercial clients such as oil and gas companies, and insurers who do business in dangerous parts of the world.

“Hopefully we can reduce insurance rates for their clients so that they can bring us on as an offering to say, ‘Hey listen, go use these people, they’re gonna come and do an assessment for you and they’re gonna improve your security environment and your insurance rates will go down,” said Wright.

Now that is cool. Maybe they might get into the maritime security game again?  That industry needs quality folks and those shipping companies would benefit greatly from reduced insurance rates based on using the services of a company like ACADEMI. Even if they do not get into that game, the energy sector is still a massive market. Things are also getting more dangerous and unstable, and the world is highly dependent on the free flow of oil. Security is a crucial element of the free flow. –Matt

 

 

Leading Training and Security Services Provider Xe Services Announces Name Change to ACADEMI
New name draws on company legacy while building on new leadership, governance and strategy.
Dec 12, 2011
USTC Holdings, LLC, the investor consortium that acquired Xe Services, LLC, including its main holding U.S. Training Center, Inc. in December 2010, today announced ACADEMI as the new name and brand for Xe Services. The name ACADEMI (pronounced “academy”) was selected to better communicate the new company’s focus on future growth.
“We have had a year of extraordinary changes that have resulted in a new, better company,” President and CEO Ted Wright said in a statement. The ACADEMI name communicates both our legacy and where we are going as a company in the future. This is more than a simple name change,” Wright continued. “Rather it is a reflection of the changes we have made while retaining those elements that made us who we are today — the best in our industry.”
The announcement of ACADEMI is the culmination of a year of change as part of the company’s new chapter of growth. Upon acquiring Xe Services and its core operating subsidiaries in December 2010, USTC Holdings, LLC indicated that it would form a new Board of Directors, including independent unaffiliated directors, to manage the company and enhance its governance and oversight capabilities.

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Games: Erik Prince On His Entry Into The Video Game Business

This is cool and I totally agree with Prince on this one. There is an incredible amount of money being made in the video game industry, and all of the big money making video games involve some form of combat and the use of guns in various types of environments throughout the world. Not only that, but they are drawing from historical battles or modern war fighting for ideas. So with that said, it makes total sense for him to enter such a market.

Here are some statistics that support what I am talking about. As of June of 2011, the gaming industry global revenue forecast was about 65 billion dollars. There were 10 million Kinect motion sensors sold, and 55 million Xbox’s sold. The top game was a first person shooter called Call of Duty, like the interview mentioned. With those numbers, it is no wonder that Prince would want to get into this market.

Anyway, this is a cool little interview below. I have not played the Kinect Blackwater game so I have nothing to add on the game itself. I would be interested in any gamer feedback on this thing though? –Matt

 

Blackwater founder Erik Prince enters video game business
By John Gaudiosi
September 12, 2011
More and more, today’s video game business is driven by huge military shooters like Activision’s “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” and Electronic Arts’ “Battlefield 3.”
Now, Erik Prince, the founder of a controversial, real-world military group, is stepping into the virtual war zone with a new first-person shooter, “Blackwater.”
Designed exclusively for Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox 360, “Blackwater” was developed by Zombie Studios and overseen by Prince, a former Navy SEAL.
The shooter is set in a fictional North African town overrun by warlords and opposing militia forces. Players enter the fray as team members of Blackwater, the mercenaries-for-hire company that Prince founded in 1997.
Featuring licensed real-world weapons, the game can be played with a traditional controller. But it has been crafted to take advantage of Kinect’s motion controls. Gamers will be able to aim, crouch, and interact with the on-screen action using only body gestures and moves to take out enemies through a series of action-packed missions.
The game has already courted controversy, since Blackwater employees were linked to the deaths of numerous noncombatants and civilians in the Middle East while employed by the U.S. government.
Critics have complained about the game because Blackwater employees take on missions for money, while U.S. soldiers, the focal point of games like “Modern Warfare 3” and “Battlefield 3,” fight for their country.
Following inquiries by Congress into Blackwater actions in Iraq and Afghanistan, including a shootout that led to the deaths of 17 Iraqis, Prince changed the company’s name to Xe and, in 2009, resigned as CEO. He sold the company last year.

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Legal News: Justin Cannon Sentenced To 30 Months In Prison

Of course the family is still in the process of appeals. If you would like to show your disgust with this ruling, by all means contact Senator Carl Levin.  That is what the family is recommending.

As to my thoughts on the matter? I think DOJ wants a win with this one, just because they are getting beaten up in other areas where they have stumbled. These guys have also been on a Xe witch hunt for quite some time, even though the US government has been rewarding Xe with contracts. (an odd way to show your appreciation?) They want MEJA to have some precedent as well so they can say ‘look, contractors can be held accountable’.

I agree that this industry needs accountability, but on the other hand, I hate seeing contractors becoming scapegoats to create that precedent.

These men were in a war zone, they acted out of self preservation, and they ‘interpreted’ the oncoming vehicle as a threat.  That should have ended the case right there, because these men did not act maliciously. They were also firearms instructors and trained military veterans, and yet here we are, punishing these men for their decision in a war zone.

The fear I have here is that cases like this will actually reduce the security posture of security contractors. Because if you ‘fire’ your weapon out of self defense, or defense of your client, that you will be punished or worse, go to jail. Do we want to instill this kind of mindset into the minds of armed security contractors working in highly complex and extremely dangerous war zones? Worse yet, are we setting ourselves up to where even an enemy combatant, or the family of an enemy combatant, could file charges against a security contractor?

These are the things that must be considered as we go down this path of contractor accountability. It applies to military accountability as well, and some have even coined this as ‘lawfare’.

To me, all laws that a nation creates must be geared towards giving it advantage during times of war, and at the same time giving disadvantage to the enemy. Because what sense is it if you lose your country to a stronger enemy, all because of your self-imposed and highly restrictive laws? If MEJA, or whatever laws we create are the path we follow, they must be viewed in this type of legal filter, or we will have lost a strategic and tactical advantage. (and yes, contractors are a strategic asset of a nation, despite what some might say…) –Matt

Department of Justice
Office of Public Affairs
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Monday, June 27, 2011
Contractor Sentenced to 30 Months in Prison for Death of Afghan National in Kabul, Afghanistan
Justin Cannon, 29, of Corpus Christi, Texas, was sentenced today to 30 months in prison for his role in shooting and killing an Afghan national while on an unauthorized convoy in Kabul, Afghanistan, on May 5, 2009, announced Assistant Attorney General Lanny A. Breuer of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Neil H. MacBride of the Eastern District of Virginia and James W. McJunkin, Assistant Director in Charge of the FBI’s Washington Field Office.   U.S. District Judge Robert G. Doumar also ordered Cannon to serve two years of supervised release following his prison term.

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Games: A Walkthrough For The Kinect Game ‘Blackwater’

Thanks to a reader for sending me this. What is interesting about this game is how physical it is. That the player must move, shoot, and communicate, as well as take cover as much as possible using ‘their body’ in order to advance. Imagine playing this game while wearing full kit and using your issued weapon (with attachments to interface with the game). And to do all of this for time? Pretty cool and I hope it sells. Check it out. –Matt

 

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