Privatize the Wars: Erik Prince Is On the Move
December 17, 2017
Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash @ TruthOut & Charles Pierce / Esquire
Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater (now known as Academi) private army that wreaked havoc during the Bush-era military adventures in Iraq, the chair of Frontier Services Group, an aviation, logistics, and security firm, brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, and close friend to Steve Bannon, is not letting any grass grow under his mercenary and entrepreneurial feet. Prince is looking to franchise FSG operations in China.
Privatize the Wars, Franchise in China: Erik Prince Is On the Move
Bill Berkowitz / Buzzflash & TruthOut
(December 11, 2017) -- Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater (now known as Academi) private army that wreaked havoc during the Bush-era military adventures in Iraq, the chairman of Frontier Services Group, an aviation, logistics, and security firm, brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, and close friend to Steve Bannon, is not letting any grass grow under his mercenary and entrepreneurial feet.
In addition to his proposals to the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan and mine the country's valuable minerals, Prince is also looking to franchise FSG operations in China.
First Afghanistan: According to BuzzFeed News' Aram Roston, Prince, who recently testified to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, "briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his [Afghan privatization] plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it.
He patterned the strategy he's pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain's empire in India. "An East India Company approach," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal Wall, "would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support."
Perhaps the key element of Prince's pitch to Trump officials is his envisioning of the US "get[ting] access to Afghanistan's rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and 'rare earth elements,' critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion."
Prince expects the purloined minerals to fund the Afghan privatization project, and, by the way, provide some jobs for Afghanis. "What is laid out in the slides is a model of an affordable way for the US to stabilize a failed state where we are presently wasting AmErikan youth and tens of billions of dollars annually," a Prince spokesperson emailed BuzzFeed News.
Then there's China: According to the Financial Times' Charles Clover and Don Weinland, Prince is "working with the US's main geopolitical competitor, China. . . . to sell logistics and security to support Beijing's 'Silk Road' strategy, which is seen as an effort to promote Chinese political influence across the Eurasian land mass using roughly $900bn of foreign investment."
According to Prince, Frontier Services Group (FSG) -- which is listed in Hong Kong and partly owned (20 percent) by China's Citic conglomerate -- "We're not serving Chinese foreign policy goals, we're helping increase trade," he said in the interview in Hong Kong earlier this year.
He called the Silk Road policy a "fantastic initiative," adding: "China trading with its neighbors and building infrastructure brings only benefits." But he denies that his overtures are "a Chinese version of Blackwater."
Blackwater made close to $2 billion in contracts with the US after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Financial Times pointed out.
Prince maintained that FSG "is a logistics company, . . . not a security company": "None of our people have been or will be armed. But security management is certainly part of the logistics process."
A December 2016 FSG press release stated that the company "is adjusting its corporate strategy to better capitalize on the opportunities available from China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) development initiative. The updated strategic focus will enable FSG to offer its customers improved access to the challenging markets surrounding China's borders."
Dr. Dongyi Hua, FSG CEO, commented: "FSG is that truly unique corporation -- a hybrid between China and the West, bringing the best of both worlds to the benefit our international clients. One Belt, One Road provides FSG with an exciting opportunity to support firms with their secure logistics and transportation needs from Asia to Africa".
The press release also talked about creating "forward operating bases" in two Chinese provinces — Yunnan in the southwest and Xinjiang in the west. J David Whittingham, head of business development and investor relations, insisted that the term "forward operating bases" was a poorly stated phrase.
Interestingly, as BuzzFeed's Rostin pointed out, "in his pitch to AmErika's policymakers, he plays the US against China. One slide, devoted to 'market manipulation in rare earth elements,' presents China as dominating the market for the valuable minerals."
Nevertheless, Prince plans to get his Frontier Services Group involved in the Afghanistan project by "provid[ing] logistics support to the extractive firms with secure transportation and camp support."
How Prince's Afghanistan project and China work pan out is anybody's guess. However, if there is anything that can be said about Prince is that there is no end to him "pitching one crackpot idea after another" to the Trump administration as Salon's Heather Digby Parton recently reported.
"According to numerous sources -- and accompanied by official denials from the White House -- the Trump administration is considering creating a private spy network to be run by Prince, legendary Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and a right-wing clandestine agent from the Reagan administration named John Maguire," Parton reported. "Its goal would be to go around the intelligence community and gather information on its own for CIA Director Mike Pompeo and President Trump."
This Erik Prince Transcript Is Unbelievable
Charles Pierce / Esquire
WASHINGTON, DC (December 9, 2017) – Take a seat.
It has been a terrific week for what used to be called contempt of Congress, back when we had a Congress run by people less worthy of contempt. There was a time, and not so long ago, when, if someone had run the rap that Donald Trump, Jr. tried to run before the House Intelligence Committee the other day -- that his conversation with his father were subject to attorney-client privilege, apparently because there was a lawyer somewhere within the 202 area code -- that person would have left Capitol Hill in handcuffs.
But this is the present Congress with the present Republican majorities running things, so Junior walked away to prevaricate another day.
The day before Junior's appearance, a friendly member of Congress not unfamiliar with the shebeen gave me a heads-up. Wait until the transcript of Erik Prince's testimony is released, this friendly person said. You won't believe it. It was the considered opinion that Prince possibly was the most arrogant jackass ever to appear before a congressional committee.
The transcript was released on Thursday and it will be hard to trust my pal again, considering how far he low-balled Prince's attitude. The witness did everything except drop trou and moon the committee.
There was a time, and not so long ago, when a person who treated a congressional committee like a group of not-very-competent valet parking attendants would have been introduced to institutional dining for a few months, But this is the present Congress with the present Republican majorities, so Prince looked up from the witness table and saw what he perceived to be a gathering of ambulatory doormats.
As you may know, Prince got rich running Blackwater, a mercenary military contracting force that fell apart after going renegade in the aftermath of the invasion of Iraq. Prince went on to a lucrative career as a gun-and-spook for hire and moved his operation to the friendlier climes of Abu Dhabi.
He got involved with the Trump campaign, so, naturally, given his profession, he became entangled in that campaign's prolonged slow dance with connected Russian oligarchs and other international grifters.
Most recently, he has been in the news when it was reported that he proposed to develop a private military and intelligence force that would operate under the direct supervision of the White House.
(Of course, Prince's sister, Betsy DeVos, is presently the Secretary of Education, where she has been tasked to do to the public schools what her brother did for the country's image in Iraq.)
Of interest to the House Intelligence Committee, of course, was Prince's role as an alleged go-between, a bridge between the Trump campaign and Russian bankers, particularly a meeting with the chief executive of a state-run Russian investment bank over dinner in the Seychelles Islands, a meeting arranged by Prince's influential friends in the United Arab Emirates. Prince met with Steve Bannon prior to this meeting, something that Democrats on the committee found piquant as well.
The meeting, Prince insisted was no big deal. But he was far more concerned about how the world had heard about it. (The Washington Post broke the story last April, claiming that Prince had met with the Russian to develop a backchannel between the Trump people and Moscow.) Barack Obama, he told the committee, lifting himself and his dudgeon on high, was trying to destroy him.
"What I would hope the intelligence committee is doing is questioning why Americans were caught up in waves of signals intelligence. Why on earth would the Washington Post be running an article on any meeting that a private citizen, me, was having in a foreign country? That's illegal.
That is a political abuse of the intelligence infrastructure. And that is really dangerous, especially as this committee and the Congress thinks about reauthorizing very wide-ranging intelligence authorities to dig into private Americans' electronic communications of any sort; that's what I have an issue with."
That distraction dispensed with, Prince went on to describe the Seychelles meeting in generalized, foggy terms. It had nothing to do with no back-channeling. No, sir. They were just talking about bauxite, and about how Barack Obama had screwed things up so badly in the Middle East by not listening to the guidance provided by people like Erik Prince.
But it was as the day ground on that Prince's true contempt for civilian authority and the rule of law came to full flower. When Democratic Congressman Joaquin Castro asked Prince about whether or not he had any moles in the New York Police Department who might have leaked to him what the New York FBI office was doing regarding Hillary Rodham Clinton's emails, Prince reacted as though Castro had asked him for the nuclear launch codes.
Castro: So I guess why were you quoted in that story as saying someone in the NYPD was telling you stuff.
Prince: How is this germane to this fishing expedition?
But it was when he was being questioned for the second time by Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the committee, Prince emptied both barrels.
Prince: Now, listen, it's 5:30. I haven't been home in a week. I flew in this morning from Africa and I've had about enough of this. So, thank you.
Schiff: Are you refusing to testify any further, Mr. Prince?
Prince: I'd say the extent of your questions is so far outside the scope of what you're actually looking for that I'm not here to indulge your fishing expedition any longer . . . Look, it's not even the nature of the questioning.
The fact is that I have been here for . . . three hours, actually. And I haven't been home in a week. I came back from Africa, arrived this morning to indulge you here and I think I have indulged you enough. You have the document production you have asked for and there is nothing else to see or hear.
Schiff: Are you refusing to finish the hearing, Mr. Prince?
Prince: I'm refusing to waste anyone else's time.
So the hearing left it that Prince flew halfway around the world to meet some people from the UAE and, lo and behold, there was this influential Russian banker there, too. Erik Prince lives a life of great coincidence, and you have no right to know what he's up to, you groveling insect, with your Congress and everything.
Prince: OK, we will go to six o'clock and then we'll be done.
Only the best people.
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