Blackwater, the notorious US security firm whose trigger-happy mercenaries were involved in civilian killings in Iraq and elsewhere, is expanding its lucrative business pitch into UN peacekeeping missions, hiding behind a mystique, off-shore affiliate called Greystone.
“In his most ambitious moments, [founder and owner Erik] Prince has set out a vision in which his companies would act as for-profit peacekeepers, working with the UN and other international organizations in conflict areas around the world,” the US magazine Mother Jones reveals in its March/April issue.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL, is repositioning his mercenaries as peacekeepers and relief forces.
(Book on the subject: Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army)
After his South Carolina-based security firm gained world notoriety over involvement in dozens of unprovoked civilian killings, Prince, a former Navy SEAL, created a new subsidiary, Greystone Ltd., and registered it in Barbados.
The new affiliate registered with the UN’s procurement division, allowing it to compete for international peacekeeping contracts.
The company has also been quietly seeking to win peacekeeping and security work from aid organizations and foreign governments.
Greystone’s managing director Christopher Burgess, a 40-year-old ex-seal who was Prince’s colleague in the Navy’s elite unit, told the magazine his company has been hired directly by “foreign governments and private sector clients.”
He didn’t specify clients “due to operational security concerns,” except to say that Greystone has worked “in various Middle Eastern countries.”
Established 10 years ago by Prince, a right-wing son of a multi-millionaire, the security consulting firm has grown into what US investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill describes as the “world’s most powerful mercenary army.”
Riding machine-gun mounted utility vehicles, Blackwater’s armed contractors have gained notoriety for shooting first and not bothering to ask questions later.
Last December, 17 Iraqis were killed when Blackwater mercenaries opened fire in a crowded Baghdad neighborhood.
An ensuing US congressional report discovered Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005, mostly unprovoked.
With such a bad public image Blackwater would not have been able to move into new territories and hence came the need for Greystone, a mystique company quietly founded in 2004 as the firm’s “international affiliate.”
“Blackwater has a sexy name and people pay attention to it,” Chris Taylor, a former Marine Recon soldier who until May was Blackwater’s vice president for strategic initiatives, told the Mother Jones magazine.
He admitted such a high profile “may not fit the proposed mission.”
While nearly all of Prince’s 20 or more companies are US based, Greystone was incorporated in the Caribbean tax haven of Barbados.
“As far as I know, they were the same company with different names,” said security contractor who worked for Blackwater in Iraq.
Though being managed from Blackwater’s headquarters in North Carolina, Greystone has managed to keep a low-profile and stay out of the public limelight.
It remains a mystery even to industry insiders.
According to one contractor who saw Greystone managers arrive to claim their office space at Blackwater’s Baghdad headquarters, they were a different breed from Blackwater’s “yee-haw cowboys” trademark.
“They didn’t talk to the other Americans,” he recalled.
“They had different bodies, different mentalities, and used different language. They had a different professional attitude.”
According to its website, Greystone offers clients full protective details staffed by special operations, law enforcement, and intelligence personnel “for any threat scenario around the world.”
It is prepared to train indigenous forces “in developing a capability to conduct defensive and offensive small group operations.”
Blackwater has tried to train south Sudanese forces who have long engaged in a conflict with the Khartoum government.
Last year, the Sudanese ambassador to Lebanon said Blackwater had sought permission to enter Sudan under “a different name”-Greystone.
In addition to prospecting for contracts in new fields, Greystone has become Blackwater’s primary recruiter.
On its website, Greystone says its operators are drawn “from the best militaries throughout the world” and represent “numerous nationalities.”
Blackwater and Greystone have built recruitment networks reaching deep into the paramilitary milieus of the Third World, especially Latin American and Asian countries such as Chile, the Philippines, Nepal, Colombia, Panama and Peru.
Applicants, favorably those of military background, are asked to check off their qualifications in weapons such as rifles, machine guns, and shoulder-fired weapons as well as skills in specialties like sniper and door gunner.
Blackwater and Greystone are maintain a small fleet of aircraft, including Little Bird helicopters, commonly used in Special Forces operations.
Blackwater has also sought to acquire at least one Embraer Super Tucano fighter-a lightweight plane used by several Latin American governments for counterinsurgency, pilot training, and monitoring.
“They have the ability to do whatever tickles your pickle,” one private-security contractor told Mother Jones magazine.
“They have services literally from A to Z. Aviation. Special operations. Rescue. Ransom. You name it. If you got the money, they got the honey,” he added.
“You can hire 17 James Bonds with Arnold Schwarzenegger in charge.”
Publication time: 26 March 2008, 15:22