NBC Blackwater Report
The Following Is A Transcript Of A Report Broadcast Aug. 9, 2007 On KNBC (NBC4 Los Angeles):
They say they are not a mercenary outfit, but Blackwater USA has one of the most profitable private armies in the world, with outposts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now they're coming to California, and one Los Angeles activist is gearing up to take them on.
PAUL MOYER: They're unforgettable...horrific images from Iraq in March 2004...the bodies of four American civilians burned and strung up by an Iraqi mob. Few of us knew at the time that the victims were employees of a company called Blackwater, one of the fastest-growing private security outfits in the world
RICK JACOBS: They are former seals and former highly trained army personnel. They have helicopters. They have tanks. They report to no one.
MOYER: Rick Jacobs first learned about Blackwater while making this documentary about the 180,000 private contractors, including Blackwater's own, who work in the war zone outnumbering even American troops.
JACOBS: We told the story of Blackwater as probably the most egregious of the private contractors that have really privatized the war in Iraq.
MOYER: Now Rick is worried about another aspect of Blackwater's agenda – its plans to create a massive training base in a desert east of San Diego.
JACOBS: Blackwater arguably is on its way to becoming auxiliary policemen in this state.
MOYER: Jacobs, an LA-based political activist, has organized a grass-roots crusade to keep Blackwater out of California -- and he's attracted some powerful allies, like Congressman Bob Filner of San Diego.
BOB FILNER: The same group that is training for foreign mercenary groups can be used in domestic situations whether it's a riot or some other a disaster. That worries me that we don't have any way of knowing what they're doing really.
MOYER: Why does Blackwater inspire such intense emotion? Speaking broadly, it's just a private company doing business here and abroad.
BRIAN BONFIGLIO, Blackwater West: We're not a mercenary army.
Blackwater as a whole, as a company, does not engage in offensive operations. Never have, never will. And we've never worked for any other state than the United States of America. So mercenary doesn't apply.
MOYER: And he says the company is accountable – to the law and whoever contracts its services. Not everyone is reassured.
JEREMY SCAHILL, Author Of Book Blackwater: Out of the rubble of 9-11 it has risen to become one of the most powerful private actors operating in the so-called war on terror.
Blackwater operates the largest private military base in the world in North Carolina. It has operatives deployed in nine countries around the world. They boast of having 20,000 troops at the ready that could be deployed at a moment's notice.
MOYER: After the Faluja disaster, says Scahill, Blackwater took legal action to keep the families of its own slain operatives from questioning its policies in open court. And, he says, it got more government contracts from the conservative friends of its billionaire founder Eric Prince.
SCAHILL: It is a company that is operated in secrecy and is largely protected by the uber-secretive administration of George Bush. They don't appear to be accountable to the elected officials of the US Congress or the taxpayers who foot the bill.
MOYER: Gradually, says Scahill, Blackwater has begun to move in a new direction.
SCAHILL: This is a company that increasingly has its sights on domestic deployments inside the United States.
MOYER: During the Katrina disaster, says Scahill, he spotted armed Blackwater operatives in New Orleans… initially looking for work…finally hired as protection by FEMA and private citizens.
SCAHILL: Where I think it gets terribly disturbing is when you have the prospect of wealthy individuals hiring what is essentially a militia to quote unquote protect their private property.
MOYER: Last April a top Blackwater official, Cofer Black, became senior adviser to GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney, thus expanding the company's political potential. Meantime, Blackwater has set up shop at various locales across the country – a development that particularly troubles Rick Jacobs.
JACOBS: Blackwater's objective is to have a base of operations in just about every geographic area of the US. They have one in Chicago, they have one in North Carolina.
MOYER: And now, he says, they're looking to snap up this patch of territory near San Diego
JACOBS: This one's close to the Mexico border. Some people argue that Blackwater's attempt to be near the Mexican border is a way to militarize that border with private security people… with mercenaries so that the federal government doesn't have to get its hands dirty
MOYER: Jacobs says Blackwater wooed local officials into green-lighting the project.
JACOBS: Their facilities consist of, and in this case they have advertised will consist of a driving range of 10 football fields in length, several firing ranges, about 350 people there at any given time.
MOYER: It's a picture confirmed by Brian Bonfiglio of Blackwater West.
BONFIGLIO: A lot of if not a majority of this facility will be leased by law enforcement organizations, and the same holds true for the military.
MOYER: Publicly the proposed facility is touted as a training base for police and security personnel.
BONFIGLIO: They'll have their unit instructors come out with units prior to deployments, conduct their training and then go back to their bases. Small arms training, no explosives taking place out here, no artillery, no tanks.
MOYER: Whatever the training, says Jacobs, if the police or military are involved, this gives Blackwater a relationship with them it could exploit in an emergency.
JACOBS: Imagine that organization just loose in this state, not answering to any one.
MOYER: Sound far-fetched? Jacobs points out that a former spokesman for Blackwater, Chris Bertelli, has, until recently, been working for Governor Schwarzenegger's homeland security committee and is still attached to his administration
JACOBS: Governor Schwarzenegger comes out of a certain heroic film background. You can imagine him in various roles where he saves the day. And Governor Schwarzenegger may have a very good heart about all of this. He really probably does want to save the day, if there's ever a reason to do so. Now he has a guy next to him whose history and background is hiring guns.
MOYER: Bertelli declined to be interviewed, and Brian Bonfiglio of Blackwater West says he's had no dealings with the former company official. But he does confirm Blackwater is hoping to get into Border Patrol work.
BONFIGLIO: I do believe that augmenting much needed force here on the border, whether it be on the Mexican border or the Canadian border is something that we'd potentially look at.
MOYER: Some people who live near the proposed Backwater facility support it.
LOCAL CITIZEN: Anything that can seal or tighten that border is for the good.
LOCAL CITIZEN: The engineers have come up with a computer model for the noise that indicated that the community would not hear any noise coming.
MOYER: Other locals are opposed.
LOCAL CITIZEN: The fire danger will be enormous from their armory. The noise will be intolerable for people who live within five or six miles. The traffic will be enormous.
LOCAL CITIZEN: We love the beauty of the place and want to keep it that way.
MOYER: Jacobs says his campaign against the proposed facility is gaining support and Congressman Filner is planning to sponsor legislation to bring private security outfits like Blackwater under tighter Federal control.
FILNER: We have seen democracies undermined by mercenary armies. This is something that all Americans need to watch very carefully.
MOYER: Blackwater emphasizes in a written statement that it supports enforcement of all US and international laws. The California Office of Emergency Services tells us in writing it is unlikely to contract from the private sector in an emergency.
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