Blackwater’s protective web

By Laurie Bennett

September 22, 2007 at 7:05am

Blackwater USA, the State Department’s largest private security contractor, is under siege on several fronts.

Iraq’s state minister for national security affairs announced today that the firm would face criminal charges for the fatal shootings of Iraqi citizens. Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., is also under investigation on the home front.

But a tight web of political and business connections helps shield the company from the most formidable of attacks.

Erik Prince, the former Navy SEAL who founded Blackwater in 1996, is a major contributor to the GOP. Federal Election Commission records show that he has given more than $200,000 to Republican committees and candidates in the last decade.

His sister, Betsy DeVos, is the former chair of the Michigan Republican Party and wife of Amway co-founder Dick DeVos, unsuccessful candidate for governor.

Prince is also on the board of Christian Freedom International, a nonprofit whose aim is to help persecuted Christians around the world. Fellow board members include former U.S. Sen. Don Nickles and former Swiss ambassador Faith Whittlesey.

The group’s president, Jim Jacobson, was a policy analyst with the Reagan White House. Its vice chairman, Paul Behrends, was a partner in the once-powerful lobbyist firm, Alexander Strategy Group, which represented Blackwater. The group closed shop in January 2006, citing unfavorable publicity from its ties to Jack Abramoff.

Blackwater’s vice chairman, Cofer Black, is former director of counterterrorism for the CIA and also a top adviser to the Mitt Romney presidential campaign.

Officers of Blackwater’s parent company, Prince Group, include Joseph Schmitz, former inspector general of the Defense Department and the son of a congressman. (An irrelevant but interesting connection here: Schmitz’s sister is Mary Kay LeTourneau, the former school teacher who was prosecuted and imprisoned for having sex with an underaged student. The two were married after her release in 2004.)

Blackwater resumed guarding American diplomatic convoys in Iraq on Friday, after Iraqi officials backed away from plans to expel the company. The Iraq ministry said Blackwater guards had fired on a Baghdad square without provocation, killing 11 people.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered a review of security practices in the wake of the shootings. Federal prosecutors also are investigating whether company employees illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq.

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