A Brand New Blackwater: Erik Prince Renames Mercenary Firm

April 22nd, 2009 - by admin

Human Rights Now & Bruce Falconer / Mother Jones – 2009-04-22 08:40:02


Much Ado About Blackwater Part II:
Xe (the Next Generation?)

Human Rights Now blog / Amnesty International

(March 3, 2009) — Just as it seemed everyone knew about Blackwater and its laundry list of scandals, the company pulled an all-too-common move of ducking a public-relations battering and organization-level accountability by changing it’s name. Poof. No more “Blackwater”, no more problem. Now, there’s just Xe (the company’s new name) and the “US Training Center”.

I, for one, think we should instead refer to the firm as the “company formerly known as Blackwater”, at least until there’s evidence of real changes in its way of operating. And, by real changes, I don’t just mean that Erik Prince isn’t CEO anymore. Will the company formerly known as Blackwater, for example, adopt a human rights policy? Will it introduce stricter (any) guidelines on training and vetting of employees/contractors?

Will it do anything to give the world any kind of assurance that it can be trusted — particularly to train African military troops and/or in peacekeeping missions — areas of work it has been seeking agressively, perhaps in an attempt to stay more behind the scenes than their US Diplomatic Security contract allowed.

Mr. Prince, the former CEO of the company fomerly known as Blackwater, told the Wall Street Journal that he was “a little worn out by the whole thing, the politics of it all”. Frankly, I’m a little worn out of companies getting away with murder and then doing a quick costume change and thinking that solves the problem.

Prince also told the Journal that the company’s new name, Xe, is an abbreviation for Xenon, ”an inert, non-combustible gas.” But nations and private sector clients already know that the company formerly known as Blackwater is not inert — it’s moving quickly to soak up new contracts, and if history repeats itself and the company does not make real changes to its modus operandi, it will prove combustible once again.

A Brand New Blackwater! Erik Prince Renames Mercenary Firm
Bruce Falconer / Mother Jones

(February 13, 2009) — What’s in a name? A lot, particularly if you’re a company accused of misdeeds. The best way out, as has been shown time and again, is simply to discard your name, adopt a new identity, and start again. It’s a veritable capitalist tradition.

Just ask the budget airline ValueJet, which, after one of its planes nosedived into the Florida Everglades in May 1996, killing everyone aboard, quietly became AirTran. Even cereal executives know the score: the breakfast favorite “Sugar Pops” became “Corn Pops” as health conscious mothers awoke to the idea that feeding sugar to their kids each morning was not a great idea.

What about repeated, questionable shootings of Iraqis? That, too, demands a blank slate… or so Blackwater has decided. Buried in the news Friday was Erik Prince’s decision to rebrand his network of military contracting firms from Blackwater to “Xe,” pronouned like the letter “z.” Seems pretty lame at first blush, but perhaps it’s a stroke of genius. Could it be that reporters’ fascination with the Blackwater flows, at least in part, from the perfect symmetry of shady dealings and an ominous, Bond-villainish name?

For its part, Blackwater says that the name change is not an attempt to escape its past; rather it’s meant to signify the company’s bright new future—a future that will deemphasize what has until now been the firm’s bread and butter: personal protection. Rumors of Blackwater’s desire to get out of the protecton game have been circulating for a while. See Dan Schulman’s post on the subject.

But even Anne Tyrrell, Blackwater’s spokesperson (not a job anyone should envy), admits that the decision wasn’t entirely forward-looking. “It’s not a direct result of a loss of contract, but certainly that is an aspect of our work that we feel we were defined by,” she told the AP, referring to the State Department’s decision not to renew Blackwater’s Iraq contract.

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