Monday, October 29, 2007

Blackwater Brings Relief to California Fire Victims

The media doesn't often mention this, but relief work is a key part of Blackwater's mission, both as a business and as a service-oriented American company. (Yes, they continue to think of themselves as such, in spite of all the mud that's been thrown at them.) Because the company seldom issued press releases until recently, it hasn't told the public of its humanitarian work around the world and here at home.

The company's hometown newspaper, the Virginian-Pilot, reported this weekend that Blackwater has started to help deliver food and supplies to victims of the wild fires in southern California.

So far, according to the report, "Blackwater has made three deliveries of food, water, personal hygiene products and generator fuel to 300 area residents, many of whom have been trapped for days without supplies." No doubt the effort will grow in the coming days.

Friday, October 26, 2007

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part III)

(Click here for Part I)

Even a well-planned operation can backfire; the leaders of the Boston Tea Party were careful to avoid these. If someone within the political warfare campaign is diluting or contradicting the desired message, that person needs to be brought into line or otherwise neutralized before they do serious harm. In the case of the Tea Party, those who tried to save some of the tea for themselves were stripped naked, coated in mud and given a severe bruising.

Likewise, any political warfare should be carefully calibrated to send the desired message while avoiding collateral damage, be it metaphorical or – in the case of the Boston Tea Party – literal. Such unintended consequences can provide the opposition with ammunition. By making sure that nothing aside from the tea and tea chests were damaged, the Bostonians limited the possible negative side effects of their actions.

Poor operational security can also plague an otherwise well-planned campaign. Secrets – be they the identities of certain people, future plans or other matters – must be carefully maintained; leaks can make for terribly unpleasant surprises. One of the participants in the Boston Tea Party explained that afterwards they “quietly retired to our several places of residence, without having any conversation with each other, or taking any measures to discover who were our associates.”

Any time an action is nominally undertaken by a third party, the political warrior must be careful to make the denial of his involvement sufficiently plausible. While covering up proof of that involvement – the negative approach – is helpful, actively creating alibis – the positive approach – is likely to be even more successful. Samuel Adams and those involved in addressing the pre-Tea Party meeting made a point of remaining conspicuously behind in the Old South Meeting House. It was not a perfect alibi, but in the case of legal or other such action against them, it could have formed the first line of defense. Which may explain part of the reason that the governor never bothered to bring such charges.

Samuel Adams prepared an account of events the day after the Tea Party and Paul Revere (pictured above) immediately rode south with the news. A great speech or daring maneuver that gets no press coverage is of very limited value to the political warrior. Rather than simply hoping the media will pick up a story, or even encouraging it to do so, the story should be actively cultivated and disseminated. Controlling the message in this way ensures that the proper conclusions will be drawn.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part II)

(Click here for Part I)

A good political warfare campaign is not carried out in isolation, but in the context of a broader effort. An obvious element of such an effort is the utilization of political leverage in the traditional ways: passing resolutions, winning elections, etc. Even if victories in this area are not immediately attainable or are of little obvious effect, used in conjunction with other tools, political leveraging can highlight an issue and put pressure on certain parties. In the case of the Tea Party, the Boston Town Meeting and other political fora were utilized to demand the tea consignees' resignations.

This would be an example of propaganda of the deed. Other forms of propaganda are just as essential: a media blitz before the centerpiece of a campaign can focus attention and positively incline the public to receive the desired message. Sam Adams and his committee of correspondence were masters of cranking out letter, articles and speeches.

Finally, potential problems should be identified and neutralized before a major effort is undertaken. When Governor Hutchison of Massachusetts ordered the colonel of the cadet corps, a certain John Hancock, to prepare for action, Hancock refused. The British still had soldiers at their command, of course, but Hancock's action limited Hutchison's options and reduced the danger to the patriot cause.

Which leads us to one of the great lessons of political warfare: create uncomfortable dilemmas for the enemy. Like a good move in chess, this bit of political warfare leaves the opposition with options all of which play into the political warrior’s hands. The day before the tea was scheduled to be landed in Boston, the Dartmouth’s owner rode through the rain and cold to obtain permission from the governor not to land; Hutchison could either concede or look like a jerk. (In the event, he chose the latter, which did nothing to help his plunging popularity with the people of Boston.) The very Tea Party itself created a similar dilemma: the British could escalate or back down, but either way, they played into the patriots’ hands.

(Click here for Part III)

What Will They Come Up With Next?

If the public discussion of Blackwater, the private security contractor, has not become absurd enough, the Portland Independent Media Center and other news outlets are circulating the story that Blackwater started the brush fires currently raging in California. Meanwhile, Richmond Indy Media contends that Blackwater blew the levees in New Orleans as Hurricane Katrina came through. Apparently its all part of a secret Nazi agenda.

In the face of accusations that irrational, what can you possibly say?

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

How Quickly We Forget...

The Washington Times reported today that when Blackwater asked the State Department for on-board cameras for its vehicles in Iraq, State Department lawyers refused.

Blackwater says it asked for the cameras on 17 May, 2005, "in response to a false accusation against one of our teams in Baghdad." A State Department Diplomatic Security agent in Baghdad, David Brackins, agreed to the request, but the next day, State Department official Paul Nassen called Blackwater and told the company to "stand down" because lawyers had "legal issues" and would not allow the company to incorporate the cameras.

Had it been me I might have told the lawyers where to put their "legal issues," but Blackwater, bound by its 1,000-page contract to comply with all State Department specifications, did as it was told. The lessons to be drawn from this debacle are many:

(1) Congress has no will or ability to consider facts more than a month or two old. Especially those that are uncomfortable for certain crusading congressmen.

(2) The State Department does not want to give its own contractors the benefit of a video record for their own defense and failed to anticipate the (fairly obvious) desire of the Congress and the media to have better documentation of what goes on in Iraq.

(3) Following State Department directives, per your contract, is perhaps more dangerous than following the contract. Only a man as honorable as Erik Prince would stick by his word in a situation like that. Somehow, I doubt Congressman Henry Waxman would...

The Boston Tea Party: A Model of Political Warfare (Part I)

Any political warfare campaign – be it an attempt to remove a member of the local school board or an effort to foment rebellion in a foreign country – requires a variety of people, all of which the Boston Tea Party had, in its own way. Leaders from the political classes provide access to and familiarity with the traditional levers of political power; even if these cannot be fully utilized, political leadership may at least be able to neutralize them. In the case of the Tea Party, this leadership came from the North End Caucus, a sort of local political club.

Most acts of political warfare require that someone actually do something, be it knocking on doors and promoting a candidate or throwing tea off a ship; these sorts of things can require large numbers of people, often people with skills or experiences differing from those of the political leadership. Tying together the Boston longshoremen and the North End Caucus were middle class Bostonians who had social and familial ties to the world of the wharf. These men were networkers – people with a variety of connections who are able to speak to different audiences – and every political warfare campaign needs them to hold together various elements.

Whatever strata of society they come from or whatever role they play in the campaign, those with something to lose are obvious participants; they have a real stake in the outcome. For the Boston Tea Party it was the "smuggling fraternity" that had such stake and they proved willing cooperators with Samuel Adams (pictured above) and the other patriot leaders.

Finally, allies outside the immediate area of concern can be very helpful, providing moral or material support in times of difficulty; in addition, gathering allies before the opposition does prevents him from gaining any advantage by widening the conflict. Boston's Committee of Correspondence was instrumental in keeping the merchants of Philadelphia and New York in touch with and supportive of the patriot cause.

(Click here for Part II)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Stephen Colbert: Political Warrior?

The more I watch this man's presidential campaign, the more I'm intrigued. Many people would be tempted to dismiss Stephen Colbert, host of The Colbert Report, as a late-night comedian pulling a publicity stunt. And maybe he is. But is a presidential campaign really that different from a publicity stunt?

He makes innovative use of online and television media; he ridicules his rivals and the system in which he's running, saying the things the rest of us have long been thinking; and he's fun to watch! While the campaign as a whole can probably not be taken seriously, individual lessons in reaching and mobilizing a base abound. Political warriors of the world: take note.

Saturday, October 20, 2007

NYT Hunts for Contractors

Already one of the leading newspapers critical of Blackwater, the New York Times has extended its front to other contractors in Iraq. An incident last Thursday near Kirkuk that implicated security guards for British company Erinys International highlighted this.

The last statement in an interview with one of the three Iraqis injured by Erinys, emphasized (in a lone paragraph) that the guards involved are “savages and criminals and killers.” Paraphrasing the interview, the NYT reported that the “guards then drove away without offering medical help…”

With such biased language against security contractors, one cannot help but notice the empathy card that the NYT is trying to put on the Iraqis involved. This goes against the fact that their car approached “at a high rate of speed” and failed to respond to warnings from contractors, thus prompting engagement.

As a side note, the other half of the (rather large) Friday article continues not on contractors, but on Kurdish responses to Turkey and Iraqi reservations about executing former officials of Saddam’s government. At first glance, the article’s length implies a rather extensive expose on security contractors, but instead detours to other matters.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Those Pesky Little Details...

Andy Smith, a former Blackwater employee now with the State Department, pointed out an interesting little detail that was picked up in the Star-Gazette. One picture of the aftermath of the 16 September shooting in Nisoor Square in Iraq, showed piles of shell casings being swept up. Just further proof that Blackwater guards are trigger happy, right? Actually, no. As Smith explains, those were AK-47 rounds. Blackwater doesn't use AKs.

So what does this picture really tell us? First, the Blackwater convoy came under very heavy fire. Second, someone felt the need to sweep up the evidence. Before the Iraqi government conducted its investigation? Wouldn't surprise me. Explains why several reports found only American ammunition was found laying around the scene when the investigators showed up.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Anti-Blackwater Attorneys Slammed

"A legal group with a four-decade record of aiding and abetting terrorists, spies and cop-killers is suing" Blackwater for the September 16 Nisoor Square tragedy in Baghdad, according to an op-ed in the New York Post. "Joining it is an Egyptian attorney who has been representing what the US Treasury Department calls a fund-raising operation for al Qaeda."

That's some pretty shady stuff...

The column, by Center for Security Policy Vice President Michael Waller, takes a look at the checkered past of the Center for Constitutional Rights and its president, Michael Ratner, to show their decades-long efforts on behalf of terrorists, murderers of FBI agents and police officers, and Communist spies.

The column also links pro-terrorist attorney Ratner to Jeremy Scahill, author of an inflammatory if partially accurate book about Blackwater, showing how the lawyer and writer worked together to try to keep Serbian war criminal Slobodan Milosevic in power. For folks who claim to be interested in human rights, that's an odd line to take...

Monday, October 15, 2007

Prince Discusses Blackwater Personnel

Tonight Erik Prince explained to Charlie Rose some of the process that goes into recruiting and training Blackwater personnel. Contrary to popular mythology, not just any Joe off the street makes the cut. In fact, the Blackwater contract with the State Department, called the Worldwide Personal Protective Services Contract (WPPS), details in nearly a thousand pages of minute detail how Blackwater is to conduct itself, including how it recruits and trains. As Prince explains,
[This document covers in] very exhaustive detail of the kind of person we have to hire, the resume requirements, the military experience or law enforcement, the psychological checks, the criminal background checks, medical/dental screening, additional training, 160 plus hours in driving, firearms, use of force, cultural sensitivity, full range of training. We have to do an exhaustive training program for each of those persons, so we do the recruiting, vetting, equipping, training, deploying, all back to a State Department standard. It's observed by the State Department. They send their people to observe our training, go through the resumes of the instructors, and we deploy that person, and then they come under the operational control of the US government, in this case, of the State Department.

Why don't you ever hear the media talking about the WPPS? Or would researching their material be too much trouble...?

Making the Move to the Private Sector

A common criticism of private military contractors is that their employees - typically former Marines, SEALs, Rangers or other special forces - receive extensive training from the government, only to then move to the private sector where they can make more money. But a recent Washington Post article explains that Blackwater trains not only trains US law enforcement authorities, but also Army and Navy personnel. So it turns out that the folks moving to the private sector received their training... in the private sector. Go figure.

Perhaps more to the point, the critics of private security contractors fail to realize the nature of these men. In the special operations community, men usually stay operational for a small duration after which the command assigns them to staff work. Instead of languishing at a desk, many soldiers and sailors retire from the military not just to make more money, but also to return to the battlefield: the place they've been trained to be, the place were they belong.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Prince Appears on 60 Minutes

Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the Blackwater private security contractor, talked with 60 Minutes' Lara Logan. His reception was hardly a welcome one, with Logan claiming that “a Blackwater convoy opened fire without provocation,” after having just described a “massive car bomb” attack.

In spite of this, Logan had to admit that the Iraqi government's criticism of Blackwater may not be well founded. She asked:

When you hear the Iraqi government complete an investigation in record time, I think–a matter of days – and pronounce you 100% guilty, what’s your reaction to that?
Prince answered:
I take it all with a grain of salt. Three of our fully-armored State Department trucks had bullet pockmarkets in them and one of them was even disabled from the enemy small-arms fire.

Regarding the Department of Justice' investigation of his company, Prince explained:
I’m glad the FBI’s investigating; I’m glad they can be a neutral party and if there’s further investigation or prosecution even needed – if someone really did wrong and meant badly – I’m all supportive because… we want justice done. We want more oversight. We want more accountability.

Prince said one of the things he's most proud of is the way Blackwater has gone beyond its contracts to help others, as in the case of the rescue of the Polish ambassador earlier this month, a feat of considerable technical skill.

The Truth About Order 17

The Washington Post recently claimed that "when [L. Paul] Bremer left his post, he signed an order exempting U.S. contractors such as Blackwater from being prosecuted under Iraqi law." This is a common misconception and it's sad to see a major publication like the Washington Post getting this wrong.

The order in question is Order 17, which stipulates that "Contractors shall be immune from Iraqi legal process with respect to acts performed by them pursuant to the terms and conditions of a Contract or any sub-contract thereto." In other words, contractors getting drunk and causing trouble in their spare time get no immunity. This is quite different from national military forces, which are unequivocally "immune from Iraqi legal process." In this regard, private security contractors are actually more accountable than the US military.

Playing the Numbers Game

Lots of folks like to point out that there are as many contractors in Iraq as their are US soldiers. However, a recent Washington Post article points out that this is misleading. Though "the estimated 160,000 contractors of all stripes working in Iraq equal the number of war fighters," of those, "security contractors number about 48,000," or less than one third of the total number of contractors. This is not a secret army; most of these guys are truck drivers, cooks, translators and other support personnel aiding the US military. But you won't hear critics of the war or the Bush administration clarifying these sorts of details...

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Is Clinton Responsible for Blackwater?

This morning the Washington Post, not normally one of my favorite newspapers, ran an interesting article on Blackwater and its founder, Erik Prince. The article notes that:
Blackwater's extraordinary rise would not have been possible without a swirl of historic forces, including sharp cuts in military and security staffing in the 1990s.... Over the past seven years, federal agencies have used changes in contracting rules launched during the Clinton administration to outsource an unprecedented amount of government business, including life-and-death duties once the domain of the military.
So while Bush the Younger usually gets most of the credit for the privitization of US military operations, in fact the opportunity to do so only came about as a result of the massive military cuts made by two Clinton administrations. Or did it?...

A host of public-private partnerships existed during World War II, from intelligence analysis to weapons development to language training for counterintelligence personnel. But America's use of what today would be termed 'contractors' in fact goes back much farther. Captain Myles Standish, of Pilgrim fame, was a hired security contractor, as were many figures in the early days of American settlement. This is not really surprising, since public-private partnerships were common in the Anglo-American tradition at least as far back as Elizabethan England. Sir Francis Walsingham, Sir Francis Drake, Sir John Hawkins, Christopher Marlowe, William Shakespeare and the other men the Elizabeth employed probably worried little about the precise nature of their work with the government. They were serving Queen and country, and that was what mattered.

Friday, October 12, 2007

The Merchant of Death

While there’s no shortage of books on international terrorism, drug cartels and genocide, the international weapons trade has received less attention. Journalists [Douglas] Farah and [Stephen] Braun center their absorbing exposé of this source of global misery on its most successful practitioner, the Russian dealer Victor Bout (pictured, in the Congo). Throughout the Cold War, they show, the Kremlin supplied arms to oppressive regimes and insurgent groups, keeping close tabs on customers; after the USSR collapsed, the floodgates opened in the 1990s. With weapons factories starved for customers, Soviet-era air transports lying idle and rusting, and dictators, warlords and insurgents throughout the world clamoring for arms, entrepreneurs and organized criminals saw fortunes to be made. The authors paint a depressing picture of an avalanche of war-making material pouring into poor, violence-wracked nations despite well-publicized UN embargoes. America denounces this trade, but turns a blind eye if recipients proclaim they are fighting terrorism, they say. Ruthless people who shun publicity make poor biographical subjects, and Bout is no exception. The authors’ energetic research reveals that rivals dislike him, colleagues admire him, enemies condemn him, and Bout describes himself as a much-maligned but honest businessman. Although an unsatisfactory portrait, the book surrounds it with an engrossing, detailed description of this wildly destructive traffic.

-Publishers Weekley

A fascinating interview with Merchant of Death author Douglas Farah on Al Jazeera's English service. Includes a phone conversation with Richard Chichakli, a close associate of the elusive Mr. Bout.

Monday, October 8, 2007

Washington Post obscures truth on Blackwater

The front page of today's Express, the free daily put out by the Washington Post, carries an AP story which misleads the reader about the Blackwater private security contractor. The tagline proclaims: "Investigation finds security guards fired first in shootings."

Whose investigation? The Iraqi government's. The same Iraqi government that the Washington Post and its ilk was lambasting not so long ago because it failed to meet the US standards for transparency, accountability and other such Western nicities. But apparently we now trust it to conduct investigations about our own citizens. Never mind those allegations that Blackwater refused to pay the bribe the Iraqi Interior Ministry demanded of it, resulting in having its license pulled. Never mind that the Iraqi government has tried to wiggle its way out of a joint US-Iraqi probe, to avoid a full investigation. Never mind that Iraqi Defense Minister Abdul Qader Mohammed Jassim admitted to the International Herald Tribune that his investigation was one-sided...

Is the Post really interested in the truth?

Blackwater Stays - With New Rules

The New York Times reports:
The State Department, seeking to retain its relationship with Blackwater USA while trying to bring the company’s armed guards under tighter control, said Friday that it would now send its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad.

In addition, the department says it will install video cameras in Blackwater vehicles and will save recordings of all radio transmissions between Blackwater convoys and military and civilian agencies.

What does all this mean? The knee-jerk answer is that Blackwater has been reigned in and punished in some way. This is true so far as it goes, but it misses a key underlying point: the State Department wants Blackwater to stay in Iraq. And why? Because without Blackwater protection, US diplomats would have to pull up stakes and come home. The situation is simply too dangerous to operate without protection. The Department of Defense is too busy fighting insurgents and State Department guards are inadequate for the task.

The most alarming part of this story is that the anti-war camp knows just how important Blackwater is ensuring that US diplomats are able to provide a political dimension to US efforts in Iraq. Without the diplomats, the military component alone cannot win the war. And the anti-war camp knows this. That's why they want Blackwater out. The anti-war camp's not interested in the safety of Iraqi civilians or US government personnel; they just want to see us out now. And they're willing to resort to dirty politics and frivolous lawsuits to do it.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

US Captures al-Qaeda Propagandists

For all the failures that my have occurred in Iraq, US officials have realized the importance of the political dimension of the war. USA Today reported that a half dozen al-Qaeda media centers have recently been captured, with twenty propagandists arrested. The insurgents understand the crucial role of the media in this fight and have used it to strong effect. In 2005, Ayman al-Zawahiri (pictured), Osama bin Laden's deputy, said that most "of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media."

USA Today reports that these "new offensives [are] aimed at al-Qaeda sanctuaries and [have] an emphasis on blunting the terrorist group's extensive propaganda operations." Air Force Col. Donald Bacon explains that "one of our goals is to target these propaganda networks, and we've had more success over the past three months." These seizures have sharply reduced the quantity of videos and other items posted to the internet.

New Magazine Takes a New Look

A new magazine titled Serviam (Latin for "I will serve") has just been launched, and it takes an interesting new look at the role of private institutions in international stability. The magazine describes its mission thus:
To provide accurate and actionable information about private sector solutions to promote global stability. We address users and consumers of private goods and services in the humanitarian relief, national development, security and military sectors; government and private providers of such goods and services; and government entities involved in decisions that determine or influence trends in this growing industry.

While Blackwater and the International Red Cross might strike some as strange bedfellows, they actually have a surprising amount in common. Not only are both private institutions engaged in the international scene, but security is a prerequisite for humanitarian aid and reconstruction. Without security, aid is all but impossible; without a humanitarian motive, security is pointless.

So keep an eye out for interesting, innovative and enlightening articles from Serviam and its editor, J. Michael Waller.

Thursday, October 4, 2007

Blackwater Rescues Polish Diplomat

This just in from the Associated Press:
A daring ambush of bombs and gunfire left Poland's ambassador [to Iraq] pinned down in a burning vehicle Wednesday before being pulled to safety and airlifted in a rescue mission by the embattled security firm Blackwater USA.

Though Blackwater was not involved in the protection of the Polish convoy, the State Department dispatched the private security contractor for a rescue mission when news of the attack came in.

The AP reports that "American authorities confiscated an AP Television News videotape that contained scenes of the wounded being evacuated. US military spokesman Lt. Col. Scott Bleichwehl told AP that Iraqi law make it illegal to photograph or videotape the aftermath of bombings or other attacks." However, videos have shown up on YouTube, only to be pulled for various reasons. Statecraft & Security will keep looking until we can find you one.