Thursday, March 31, 2011

Jeremy Scahill: Secret Erik Prince Tape Exposed

Secret Erik Prince Tape Exposed
by Jeremy Scahill
The Nation

Erik Prince, the reclusive owner of the Blackwater empire, rarely gives public speeches and when he does he attempts to ban journalists from attending and forbids recording or videotaping of his remarks. On May 5, that is exactly what Prince is trying to do when he speaks at DeVos Fieldhouse as the keynote speaker for the "Tulip Time Festival" in his hometown of Holland, Michigan. He told the event's organizers no news reporting could be done on his speech and they consented to the ban. Journalists and media associations in Michigan are protesting this attempt to bar reporting on his remarks.

Despite Prince's attempts to shield his speeches from public scrutiny, The Nation magazine has obtained an audio recording of a recent, private speech delivered by Prince to a friendly audience. The speech, which Prince attempted to keep from public consumption, provides a stunning glimpse into his views and future plans and reveals details of previously undisclosed activities of Blackwater. The people of the United States have a right to media coverage of events featuring the owner of a company that generates 90% of its revenue from the United States government.

In the speech, Prince proposed that the US government deploy armed private contractors to fight "terrorists" in Nigeria, Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia, specifically to target Iranian influence. He expressed disdain for the Geneva Convention and described Blackwater's secretive operations at four Forward Operating Bases he controls in Afghanistan. He called those fighting the US in Afghanistan, Iraq and Pakistan "barbarians" who "crawled out of the sewer." Prince also revealed details of a July 2009 operation he claims Blackwater forces coordinated in Afghanistan to take down a narcotrafficking facility, saying that Blackwater "call[ed] in multiple air strikes," blowing up the facility. Prince boasted that his forces had carried out the "largest hashish bust in counter-narcotics history." He characterized the work of some NATO countries' forces in Afghanistan as ineffectual, suggesting that some coalition nations "should just pack it in and go home." Prince spoke of Blackwater working in Pakistan, which appears to contradict the official, public Blackwater and US government line that Blackwater is not in Pakistan.

Prince also claimed that a Blackwater operative took down the Iraqi journalist who threw his shoes at President George W Bush in Baghdad and criticized the Secret Service for being "flat-footed." He bragged that Blackwater forces "beat the Louisiana National Guard to the scene" during Katrina and claimed that lawsuits, "tens of millions of dollars in lawyer bills" and political attacks prevented him from deploying a humanitarian ship that could have responded to the earthquake in Haiti or the tsunami that hit Indonesia.

Several times during the speech, Prince appeared to demean Afghans his company is training in Afghanistan, saying Blackwater had to teach them "Intro to Toilet Use" and to do jumping jacks. At the same time, he bragged that US generals told him the Afghans Blackwater trains "are the most effective fighting force in Afghanistan." Prince also revealed that he is writing a book, scheduled to be released this fall.

The speech was delivered January 14 at the University of Michigan in front of an audience of entrepreneurs, ROTC commanders and cadets, businesspeople and military veterans. The speech was titled "Overcoming Adversity: Leadership at the Tip of the Spear" and was sponsored by the Young Presidents' Association (YPO), a business networking association primarily made up of corporate executives. "Ripped from the headlines and described by Vanity Fair magazine, as a Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier and Spy, Erik Prince brings all that and more to our exclusive YPO speaking engagement," read the event's program, also obtained by The Nation. It proclaimed that Prince's speech was an "amazing don't miss opportunity from a man who has 'been there and done that' with a group of Cadets and Midshipmen who are months away from serving on the 'tip of the spear.'" Here are some of the highlights from Erik Prince's speech:

Send the Mercs into Somalia, Yemen, Saudi Arabia and Nigeria

Prince painted a global picture in which Iran is "at the absolute dead center... of badness." The Iranians, he said, "want that nuke so that it is again a Persian Gulf and they very much have an attitude of when Darius ran most of the Middle East back in 1000 BC. That's very much what the Iranians are after." [NOTE: Darius of Persia actually ruled from 522 BC-486 BC]. Iran, Prince charged, has a "master plan to stir up and organize a Shia revolt through the whole region." Prince proposed that armed private soldiers from companies like Blackwater be deployed in countries throughout the region to target Iranian influence, specifically in Yemen, Somalia and Saudi Arabia. "The Iranians have a very sinister hand in these places," Prince said. "You're not going to solve it by putting a lot of uniformed soldiers in all these countries. It's way too politically sensitive. The private sector can operate there with a very, very small, very light footprint." In addition to concerns of political expediency, Prince suggested that using private contractors to conduct such operations would be cost-effective. "The overall defense budget is going to have to be cut and they're going to look for ways, they're going to have to have ways to become more efficient," he said. "And there's a lot of ways that the private sector can operate with a much smaller, much lighter footprint."

Prince also proposed using private armed contractors in the oil-rich African nation of Nigeria. Prince said that guerilla groups in the country are dramatically slowing oil production and extraction and stealing oil. "There's more than a half million barrels a day stolen there, which is stolen and organized by very large criminal syndicates. There's even some evidence it's going to fund terrorist organizations," Prince alleged. "These guerilla groups attack the pipeline, attack the pump house to knock it offline, which makes the pressure of the pipeline go soft. they cut that pipeline and they weld in their own patch with their own valves and they back a barge up into it. Ten thousand barrels at a time, take that oil, drive that 10,000 barrels out to sea and at $80 a barrel, that's $800,000. That's not a bad take for organized crime." Prince made no mention of the nonviolent indigenous opposition to oil extraction and pollution, nor did he mention the notorious human rights abuses connected to multinational oil corporations in Nigeria that have sparked much of the resistance.

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