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Is Erik Prince Threatening the U.S. Government?

Did Blackwater's owner speak to <i>Vanity Fair</i> to send a message to the Justice Department about government secrets he can reveal?

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Two sources familiar with the arrangement say that Prince's handlers obtained provisional operational approval from senior management to recruit Prince and later generated a "201 file," which would have put him on the agency's books as a vetted asset. It's not at all clear who was running whom, since Prince says that, unlike many other assets, he did much of his work on spec, claiming to have used personal funds to road-test the viability of certain operations...

Prince was developing unconventional means of penetrating "hard target" countries -- where the C.I.A. has great difficulty working either because there are no stations from which to operate or because local intelligence services have the wherewithal to frustrate the agency's designs. "I made no money whatsoever off this work," Prince contends. He is unwilling to specify the exact nature of his forays. "I'm painted as this war profiteer by Congress. Meanwhile I'm paying for all sorts of intelligence activities to support American national security, out of my own pocket."

"I think that [Prince] will use all of his information and his knowledge of these secret dealings in basically what is an extortion play: 'You come after me, and I'll spill the beans on everything,'" says Horton. "That's the essence of graymail and the Department of Justice will usually get its feathers all ruffled up and they'll say, 'You can't deal with the government like this. This is unfair and improper.' But in the end, it usually works."

In the Vanity Fair article, Prince alleges that he was outed -- by whom he does not say, but the implication is that CIA Director Leon Panetta named him in a closed door hearing of the Intelligence Committee last June, and then the name was leaked by one of the attendees of that hearing. Sloan, the former federal prosecutor, said that if what Prince says in the Vanity Fair article about his role in secret CIA programs is true, he has a case that laws were broken in revealing his identity. "I'm not his fan, but he's not wrong. For somebody to leak his identity as a CIA asset clearly merits a criminal investigation," Sloan said. "Whether they should have ever hired Erik Prince or made him into an asset is a separate question. Assuming he really was a CIA asset, basically a spy, an undercover operative, and somebody decided to leak that, that's not acceptable and that is a violation of the same law that leaking Valerie [Plame]'s identity was. If you can't leak one person, you can't leak any person, not just the people you like versus the people you don't like."

While much of the focus in the Vanity Fair story was on Prince's work with the CIA, the story also confirmed that Blackwater has an ongoing relationship with the US Special Forces, helping plan missions and providing air support. As The Nation reported, Blackwater has for years been working on a classified contract with the Joint Special Operations Command in a drone bombing campaign in Pakistan, as well as planning snatch-and-grab missions and targeted assassinations. Part of what may be happening behind closed doors is that the CIA is, to an extent, cutting Blackwater and Prince off. But, as sources have told The Nation , the company remains a central player in US Special Forces operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Prince's choice of Adam Ciralsky to tell his story is an interesting one as well. Ciralsky was a CIA lawyer who in 1997 was suspended under suspicion he was having unauthorized contacts with possible Israeli intelligence agents. Ciralsky vehemently denied the allegations, saying he was the victim of a "witch-hunt" at the Agency. In any case, there is no question that Prince would view Ciralsky through the lens of his own struggle against the CIA. "When I saw the article, the first thing that just leapt off the page was his name. I thought, 'My god, why would he go to Adam?'" said Horton. "And then I read the article and I thought, of course he'd go to Adam. There is this legal theme being developed in the article and Adam, as a lawyer who had dealt with the CIA, fully understands that. I mean I think he fully understood he was going to do a piece that would help Prince develop his legal defense and that's what this is. The amazing thing to me is that Vanity Fair printed it. Do the editors of Vanity Fair not understand what's going on here?"