The New York Times on Sunday night released a bombshell, revealing that the State Department ended an investigation into the private security firm Blackwater after one of its managers in Iraq threatened the government’s chief investigator. Since that event in 2007, the U.S. has awarded at least $242 million in contracts to the controversial company — including one as recently as May 2014.
Though the Times’ headline “Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater” — referring to the incident in which Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians — seemed anodyne, the story was nothing of the sort. In 2007, Blackwater was handling a substantial amount of security for civilians both in Afghanistan and Iraq, at a substantial cost to the government. The State Department deployed Jean Richter to Iraq to audit the firm’s actions, but he and his partner didn’t get very far. According to a memo Richter wrote in August 2007, Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, told Richter “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”
In the memo, which according to the Times was corroborated by his partner in a separate statement, Richter went on to describe the threat more fully (emphasis added):
“Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,” Mr. Richter stated in his memo. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.”
He added that he was especially alarmed because Mr. Carroll was Blackwater’s leader in Iraq, and “organizations take on the attitudes and mannerisms of their leader.”
The very next month, a group of Blackwater guards opened fire on a crowd of Iraqis in Nisour Square, killing more than a dozen and wounding many more. Despite that incident, the investigation was not only cancelled, but Blackwater saw its contract — estimated to be worth between one-third and half of the company’s business — renewed in 2008. It wasn’t until 2009, and the Obama administration taking over, that the Blackwater contract in Iraq was released, due to the contractor being unable to receive a license to operate from the Iraqi government.
That wasn’t the end, however, of the relationship between the U.S. government and the group founded by Erik Prince, though the name has changed several times since then. Prince changed the company’s name from “Blackwater Worldwide” to “Xe Services” in 2009, as the company was under intensified scrutiny for the 2007 shootings. It was under that name that they received a contract worth around $100 million from the Central Intelligence Agency in 2010. Prince then sold the company in 2010, when investors changed the name to “Academi” — it is under this name that most of the firm’s recent contracting with the Department of Defense has taken place. Earlier this month, the firm merged with one of its rivals — Triple Canopy — to form “Constellis Holdings.”
Given the the secrecy surrounding the amount of some of its classified contracts, ThinkProgress can not give an official ceiling on how much the company has earned from the government since the Nisour Square shootings. Based on publicly available information, however, between that incident and the time Prince ended his time with them, the company formerly known as Blackwater raked in at least $201,000,000.
Though Prince is no longer in the picture, the company still continues to obtain government contracts. In July 2012, the U.S. Army awarded Academi a contract to “provide for the life support services in Afghanistan” for $6,660,438. In May 2014, that contract was awarded an $8,801,172 modification, with the mission now reading that Academi will provide “camp integrity and life support and private security services.” Between 2012 and 2014, another $16 million in modifications were were added to the contract, making the total contract worth $31 million to date.