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Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Founder Creating Private Army of 'Christian Crusaders' in the Persian Gulf

The United Arab Emirates has secretly signed a $529 million contract with Erik Prince’s new company to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign mercenaries.

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And when he moved to the United Arab Emirates, he said he did so because it was a free society and a country that respected the free market. Well, it didn’t take long for him to get down to business with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, and essentially hatched a plot to build up a mercenary army within the borders of the UAE, relying on labor from Colombia. Blackwater has a long history of working with Colombians. In fact, Blackwater paid Colombians $34 a day to operate in Iraq. And when the Colombians protested their payment, saying that they were getting less than the Bulgarians or the others that were working for Blackwater, the white soldiers, Blackwater threatened them, according to the Colombians, and wouldn’t give them their passports back and said, you know, "We’re just going to release you onto the streets of Baghdad." And eventually the Colombians left, and they went and they assassinated the recruiter that had hired them for Blackwater. So it’s ironic that Prince is using the Colombians. Now their pay has been increased to something like $150 a day.

And the purpose of this force, as stated in the corporate documents and in the New York Times, is to deal primarily with the internal situation in the United Arab Emirates. Anyone who’s been to the UAE knows that the economy is entirely fueled by migrant workers, people from the Philippines or from Pakistan or Bangladesh. And they live in these camps, and their conditions are not good, to say the least. So, one of the concerns seemed to be that unrest could spread in those camps, and they didn’t want to use UAE forces to quell those rebellions, but instead send in Erik Prince’s.

The other thing, Amy, that I think is significant about this—and we reported on this on Democracy Now! a year ago—Erik Prince gave a speech in late 2009 in which he talked about the rising influence of Iran in the Middle East and talking about how the Iranians were fanning the flames of Shia revolt. The regime in Bahrain has used the justification to crack down on protesters that they’re agents of Iran or that they’re being influenced or supported by Iran. And Prince essentially came up with a plan, in front of this military audience, for the United States to advocate quietly sending in—this is in late 2009—quietly sending in private forces, run by Americans or other Westerners, into countries in that region with the express purpose of confronting Iranian influence. We now know that part of the UAE’s arrangement with Erik Prince was aimed precisely at that. So this seems like it’s been something in the works for some time.

I spoke to Representative Jan Schakowsky earlier this week, who of course is on the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence and has been the most ferocious congressional critic of Blackwater. And she’s raising some very serious questions about whether Erik Prince obtained the necessary license to export these types of services to a foreign country. You have to have a license, what’s called an ITAR license, from the State Department that says, hey, this former Navy SEAL, who has had access to top-secret information from the United States, actually is authorized to conduct these services. Blackwater has been fined in the past millions and millions of dollars by the Justice Department for not obtaining those kinds of licenses. So, it could be, if he didn’t obtain these licenses, that he is actually breaking U.S. law in providing these services to the UAE.

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