Sunday, October 07, 2007

NBC Blackwater Report: This is a company that increasingly has its sights on domestic deployments...

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, it wants to come to San Diego County, and one SoCal activist is gearing up to take them on.

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.

This editing of the NBC news story was posted at:

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