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Democracy devolved: shrinking the public sphere: (the back story of Blackwater).

A secret government program assigned to a privately run company to assassinate people around the world sounds like science fiction. It might even be funny if it weren't so tragically real. As reported by The New York Times and The Washington Post in late August, the role of Blackwater Inc. has been expanding amidst ongoing scandals concerning its lawless activities. The latest revelations involve this private mercenary army spearheading a secret CIA assassination program, partaking in frequent CIA bombings in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and being privy to information deemed too sensitive for Congress.

In reality, the US government has become so hollow that it contracts out its basic competences to mayhem-making mercenaries and corporate crusaders; and, even when those crusaders engage in a pattern of criminal activity, the government expands their role. The ability of contractors like Blackwater to evade accountability for atrocities and to prosper in murky and wasteful ways is the front story (see Government Inc., Winter 2008 TNP). The back story is the breakdown of the social contract at the heart of constitutional democracy, as demonstrated by the growth of a government within the government--one shrouded in secrecy. Is growing corporate influence on politics unique to America? Can it be reversed?

THE PRINCE OF DARKNESS

Following the 9/11 attacks, Dick Cheney, who has been called Darth Vader by editorial writers, said of the US, "We need to work the dark side, if you will. Spend time in the shadows of the intelligence world." Cheney found an eager ally in Blackwater founder Erik Prince. Prince, like Cheney, has an extremist view of the world and believes to a moral certainty in pursuing his objectives by any means.

Erik Prince is a multimillionaire fundamentalist Christian from a powerful Republican family who inherited his wealth from his father. A major Republican campaign contributor, he served as a Navy SEAL from 1992-1995 and as an intern for George H.W. Bush in the early 1990s. On his experience in the White House, Prince told the Grand Rapids Press, "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills." He founded Blackwater Worldwide in 1997 with personal funds.

According to statements made under oath by former Blackwater employees, Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe." Prince is said to believe in "Christian supremacy" and to have "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." Prince's public comments about homosexuals suggest that he has the same attitude towards gays as Muslims. The sworn statements also allege that Prince used his private planes to smuggle weapons into Iraq and "generated substantial revenues from participating in the illegal arms trade."

On 3 August 2009, two former Blackwater employees submitted affidavits in US federal court, which claimed that Erik Prince arranged the murder of individuals cooperating in a federal investigation of the company, as well as his employees who were preparing to blow the whistle on his alleged criminal activities. The sworn statements also say that Prince and Blackwater executives had destroyed incriminating evidence, permitted the ongoing use of child prostitutes at Blackwater camps, and engaged in illegal arms dealing, money laundering and tax evasion, creating "a web of companies in order to obscure wrongdoing, fraud, and other crimes."

To date, two Blackwater employees have pled guilty to weapons smuggling charges and one to manslaughter; five have been indicted for manslaughter. A lawsuit filed against Prince and his companies by the Center for Constitutional Rights on behalf of Iraqi victims of the 16 September 2007 massacre at Nisour Square alleges that Prince is "equivalent to a top mafia boss who is responsible for all the day-to-day crimes committed at his direction and behest." According to emerging reports, the company may soon be implicated in the CIA's lawless extraordinary rendition program. And yet, the company remains on the US government's payroll.

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RAIDING AND SHRINKING THE PUBLIC SPHERE

In early 2007, Erik Prince hired George W. Bush's top-level personnel from the CIA's Directorate of Operations to create his own private CIA, Total Intelligence Solutions. The raid of top-CIA personnel included, amongst others: Buzzy Krongard, the CIA's former number three man who gave Blackwater its first CIA contract and then served on the company's board; Rob Richer, who resigned as CIA Associate Deputy Director of Operations and immediately took a job as Blackwater's vice president of intelligence; Eric Prado, a 24-year CIA veteran and former senior executive director of its Directorate of Operations who is now the CEO of Total Intelligence; and J. Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism unit. After leaving the CIA, Black became vice-chair of Blackwater and later ran its spin-off Total Intelligence Solutions.

Having raided the Agency's top human resources, Blackwater was now able to drive policy and profit from its CIA-derived information and contacts. So it should come as no surprise that the CIA's number of contract employees now exceeds its fulltime workforce, and that contractors now make up more than half the workforce of the CIA's National Clandestine Service (formerly the Directorate of Operations) which conducts covert operations and recruits spies abroad.

This trend in expanding privatization is not only wasteful, but also makes us less secure. Blackwater boasted to the CIA that it "could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support--all of the things you need to conduct an operation." But employing foreign recruits in the assassination program grants those individuals access to national security information which Cheney and other officials deemed too secret for Congress. If a foreign espionage service sought to penetrate US military and government secrets it would be much harder to gain access to official US government agencies than to private companies like Blackwater, SAIC, Booz Allen Hamilton, and CACI International, which the US government now relies upon.

Other negative consequences of such outsourcing include: the erosion of professionalism and morale in government agencies; the readiness of contractors to engage in illegal activities; the lack of effective oversight over activities carried out in the name of the American people; and the loss of the institutional memory of intelligence organizations. As investigative journalist Tim Shorrock writes, "so many former intelligence officers joined the private sector that, by the turn of the century, the institutional memory of the US intelligence community now resides in the private sector." This means that the CIA, DIA, NSA and other US intelligence communities have largely forgotten what they are supposed to do and how to go about it.

The hollowing of government, which dates back to 1980, received a big boost during the Clinton years when 360,000 jobs were cut from the federal payroll. By 2001, the government was spending 44 percent more on contractors than it had in 1993. The process then simply accelerated under G.W. Bush. (see Government Inc., Winter 2008 TNP). Investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill asserts that "Black and other Total Intelligence executives have turned their CIA careers, reputations, contacts and connections into business opportunities. What they once did for the US government, they now do for private interests."

The recently revealed secret assassination program raises a number of disturbing implications of illegality. Not only is the CIA forbidden from carrying out political assassinations pursuant to an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, but the CIA also seemingly broke the law by not informing Congress about the secret program when it began in 2001. More generally, according to the Project on Government Oversight, "intelligence and counter-intelligence operations fall squarely within the definition of an inherently government function, or activities that must be performed by government employees." Public record-keeping, preservation and disclosure laws are all rooted in this requirement that government employees carry out public functions. Outsourcing inherently governmental functions eviscerates these democratic safeguards. As David Walker, the Comptroller General of the GAO (the US Government Accountability Office), states, "War fighting, judicial, enforcement, regulatory, and policy-making functions should never be privatized."

According to Scahill, "Total Intelligence has been simultaneously employed by the US government, foreign governments and private companies, an arrangement that may have created conflicts of interest that the House and Senate intelligence committees are obliged to investigate." It would indeed appear that market traded intelligence information undermines national security. After all, the CIA bars its former employees from publishing books without the Agency's prior review and approval.

A REVOLVING DOOR OF WAR

A symbiotic relationship has grown between government contractors and public officials--a relationship that is cancerous to the common welfare of the country. As reported in The International Herald Tribune, "Without public debate or formal policy decision, contractors have become a virtual fourth branch of government." Blackwater Security Consulting began operating in early 2002 just as the post-9/11 invasion of Afghanistan was being planned. While war has long-served as an economic stimulus package of sorts, the boundary between public officials and private business has become increasingly blurred. So what?

As noted by US Comptroller General David Walker, "There's something civil servants have that the private sector doesn't, and that is the duty of loyalty to the greater good--the duty of loyalty to the collective best interest of all, rather than the interest of a few. Companies have duties of loyalty to their shareholders, not to the country." And so we find that today many public officials are motivated by a back-scratching relationship that has evolved from outsourcing services to private companies. As then CIA Director Michael Hayden noted in 2006, "In a situation like this, there are too many opportunities for people to scratch each others' backs." Back-scratching between public officials and businessmen is a euphemism for corruption, which erodes public confidence and participation in government.

The Los Angeles Times (20 & 21 August 2009) reports that after the 2004 secret agreement between the CIA and Blackwater, top CIA officials began to resign in order to take high-level positions within the company. J. Cofer Black, former head of counterterrorism for the CIA, joined Blackwater in early 2005, just three months after retiring from the government. The CIA mandates an 18-month cooling-off period during which agency employees may not join private firms operating in areas involving their prior public duties, but it seems there is no enforcement. Senator Diane Feinstein alleged that in violation of federal law, the CIA has been outsourcing activities that are "inherently governmental." Former CIA general counsel Jeffery Smith opined that the use of force is generally understood to be inherently governmental, adding that the use of lethal force by a contractor is clearly troublesome. According to The L.A. Times, the "CIA decision to hire contractors from Blackwater USA for a covert assassination program was part of a broader constellation of connections between the agency and the widely criticized security firm." The 2004 deal was just one part of what The Times called "a revolving-door relationship between the agency and the private security firm."

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Erik Prince reportedly makes regular visits to senior-level CIA meetings, especially at the Directorate of Operations which runs covert operations, and has a green badge security pass giving him access to CIA installations. As Ken Silverstein reported in Harpers, "Prince's visits are probably one reason that the revolving door to Blackwater keeps turning." When Rob Richer left the CIA for Blackwater, he helped the company land a lucrative deal with the Jordanian government to provide the same training which the CIA had provided. Silverstein notes that the CIA had spent millions of dollars training Jordan's intelligence service and those "[m]illions of dollars that the CIA 'invested' in Jordan walked out the door with Richer." ("Revolving Door at Blackwater Causes Alarm at CIA," Harpers, Sept. 2006).

The US now deploys more private forces (74,000) than uniformed soldiers (57,000) in Afghanistan. Armed Department of Defense (DoD) contractors in Afghanistan increased by 20 percent during the first half of 2009, and according to The Wall Street Journal, more than two-thirds of those contractors are Afghanis. Furthermore, at the end of 2008, the 150,000 contractors in Iraq outnumbered the US troops there. And as of September 2009, 70 percent of the US intelligence budget has been allotted to private companies.

Contractors fund campaigns and their lobbyists exert influence on budgeting and legislation. The power wielded in the partnership between contractors and public officials profoundly influences the "information" we receive, which in turn shapes public opinion and culture. Recall that the Pentagon orchestrated retired military officers to shill for the war effort in Iraq with the complicity of the pliant major television networks which misled their viewers by identifying the officers as independent expert military analysts (See David Barstow's reporting in The New York Times, 20 April 2008, "Behind Military Analysts, Pentagon's Hidden Hand," for which he received the Pulitzer Prize).

Illinois congresswoman Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, commented recently on the NYT and Post reports on the secret death squad program, "What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle of strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater."

CHANGE?

The relationship between Blackwater and the US government is symptomatic of a dynamic which President Eisenhower warned of in his 1961 farewell address to Americans--the growing influence of the military-industrial-complex on government policy. The past six decades have proven Eisenhower prescient. As Yogi Berra said, "It's like deja vu all over again." We keep fighting wars that resemble Vietnam. Why? Blackwater and similar instances of corrupt security contracting suggest that greed grossly distorts policy objectives and decision making, and that the influence of war profiteering is systemic.

After signing the Stop Outsourcing Security (S.O.S.) Act which sought to stop the use of armed mercenaries in US war zones, Hilary Clinton declared during her 2008 presidential campaign, "These private security contractors have been reckless and have compromised our mission in Iraq. The time to show these contractors the door is long past due. We need to stop filling the coffers of contractors in Iraq, and make sure that armed personnel in Iraq are fully accountable to the US government and follow the chain of command." As Secretary of State, Clinton now presides over a diplomatic security force in Iraq that will involve Blackwater in its operations for the "indefinite" future. Hmm? What exactly changed?

According to Congresswoman Schakowsky, "These contracts with Blackwater need to stop. There's already enough evidence of gross misconduct and serious additional allegations against the company and its owner to negate any possibility that this company should have a presence in Iraq, Afghanistan or any conflict zone--or any contract with the US government." Indeed. Why hasn't it happened? How can the US continue to deploy Blackwater in Iraq when the company was banned by the government of Iraq? What does that reveal about sovereignty?

Top-level agency officials acted and continue to act as if they are above the law. Yet the rule of law the US purports to uphold is based on the bedrock principle that a democratic nation must be ruled by law, not by men--law which applies to all equally.

Where are we today? We now know that every detail of the (mis)treatment of supposed high-value detainees at CIA secret prisons, Guantanamo Bay, and prisons in Iraq and Afghanistan was monitored and sanctioned by high-level officials. We know that Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld, Rice, Ashcroft and Gonzales were present when torture was discussed and sanctioned. Yet no high-level official has been punished or put in peril--not the president, his cabinet, Pentagon officers, commanding officers, or the government lawyers who twisted the law to sanction unlawful practices. Such impunity is antithetical to the rule of law.

We've heard much promise of change over the past two years, but in some fundamental ways the US political economy seems incapable of change. The Pentagon budget has continued to grow, the fighting front has shifted from Iraq to Afghanistan (to Pakistan?), the corrupting privatization of government (especially its burgeoning security industries) has continued unabated, the government has become more secretive, and the public has been lost in the spin. What else should we have expected when the country embarked on a campaign to fight two wars in a greater "war without end" in absence of a military draft or tax increases? Who did we think we were kidding?

Yet change has occurred in recent times, just not in favor of greater democracy. The privatization of public functions signals a profound change. "What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me," says former CIA field operator Jack Rice. "When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don't understand what's going on." Charles Faddis, a former department chief at the CIA's counter-terrorism center who retired in 2008, asks, "The question remains: why do we need Blackwater? I remain mystified. This [the 2004 secret plan to kill terrorists] is quintessential CIA work. You wonder what it means that the CIA has to rely on Blackwater? Why are we still funding the CIA?"

THE PAPER TIGER / CORPORATE CHAMELEON

When Blackwater changed its name to Xe earlier this year and began doing business as USTC, it capitalized on the advantages the law affords corporations as "paper persons." Like all corporations, Blackwater is granted the rights of natural persons including free speech, to own property, make contracts, file lawsuits, and receive equal protection of law. The company also benefits from protections denied real people such as limited liability, immunities, perpetual existence (unless corporate directors choose to "wind down" to erase corporate debts), the capacity for infinite rebirth, more generous bankruptcy protections, as well as tax and accounting advantages. Corporations are not mentioned anywhere in the US Constitution; the courts have created and expanded their rights over the last 150 years (see NYT op-ed "The Rights of Corporations," 21 Sept. 09). But for Blackwater even that is not enough.

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In response to the lawsuit filed by the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) on behalf of Iraqi victims of its alleged crimes, Blackwater filed a motion on 12 August, asking federal judge T.S. Lewis III to order that the United States replace the contractor as the case's defendant. In support of their motion, Blackwater's lawyers cite the 1988 Westfall Act which prohibits suits against government employees for their actions on behalf of the government and mandates that the government itself shall be liable. As Ralph Nadar notes, "The idea that the US government should accept liability for the unprovoked criminal manslaughter of 17 innocent Iraqis by Blackwater mercenaries, and place it on the back of taxpayers, is corporate animism run amok. If Blackwater wants to be treated like a person, then its latest mutation, USTC, should be prosecuted, convicted and given the equivalent penalty of corporate capital punishment by revoking its charter and terminating its corporate operations." Blackwater is attempting to use a statute designed to protect government employees to shield itself from any responsibility for its criminal conduct. Their motion should be denied because only natural persons can be employees. While using every procedural attempt to avoid liability, Blackwater's lawyers have not denied CCR's substantive allegations. The company is simply trying to evade accountability.

BLACKWATER'S ASCENT IN CONTEXT

The term corporatism, coined by the European intelligentsia in the nineteenth century, originally bore no relation to business corporations except for the shared Latin root corpus, meaning body. European corporatism, which developed as an alternative to socialism, emanated from Catholic teachings and Cartesian philosophy. Emphasizing individual fulfillment within the political community and the interdependence of individual and collective well-being, it provided a framework to achieve social justice while protecting private property. European corporatists believed government had an egalitarian role and should intervene in the economy in order to preserve social harmony.

Neo-corporatism and state corporatism are terms now used by theorists examining the influence of corporations on government decision-making, and the manner in which states may act in order to restrict public participation in the political process and limit the power of civil society. In 1815, Thomas Jefferson joined Tom Paine in warning against the "power of the moneyed aristocracy." Abraham Lincoln compared the evils of corporate power with those of slavery. And by the 1870s, Rutherford B. Hayes mourned a government "of, by and for the corporations." US corporations were originally chartered by the states and limited as to their business activities and locale--restrictions which began disappearing following the Civil War. Contemporary globalized corporations have become the most powerful institutions in human history.

Have governments become junior partners to corporations? Do they simply benefit one another? Using Blackwater and other companies to run the torture and assassination programs helps government agencies take covert, lethal operations even further away from congressional oversight. As well, Blackwater acts as a buffer shielding the executive branch, affording it more plausible deniability than if the CIA were acting directly. This conveys why so many of these agreements were "off the books" as informal understandings.

Yale professor David Bromwich writes that "The separate bookkeeping and accountability devised for Blackwater, DynCorp, Triple Canopy and similar outfits was part of a careful displacement of oversight from Congress to the vice-president and the stewards of his policies in various departments and agencies. To have much of the work parceled out to private companies who are unaccountable to army rules or military justice, meant, amongst its other advantages, that the cost of the war could be concealed beyond all detection." Scahill notes that "Blackwater is but one fruit of the poisonous tree of military outsourcing."

Blackwater is just the tip of the iceberg, albeit a prime case study of corporate lawlessness for its gross criminality and corruption. Influence-peddling and back-scratching between military contractors and politicians abounds in the world today. For instance, on 1 October Britain's Serious Fraud Office alleged that BAE Systems paid hundreds of millions of pounds in bribes as part of a global corruption scheme to secure arms deals, including the deal to lease Anglo-Swedish Gripen warplanes to the Czech government. BAE is Europe's largest defense contractor, Britain's biggest manufacturer, and a top Pentagon contractor. On the same day SFO announced it would seek a $1.6 billion penalty against BAE for overseas corruption the Pentagon awarded BAE a $313 million contract. BAE has long been accused of rampant corruption, but its business remains strong (see Black Money at pbs.org/frontline). Indeed the business of war is thriving on both sides of the Atlantic as the profits of weapons, prisons, security and intelligence contractors defy the economic downturn which has afflicted other industries.

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Stateside, John Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the US Joint Chief of Staff, sits on the board of directors of L-3, a giant military contractor that operates in Afghanistan, which recently posted on the website of its Intelligence Solutions Division that it has 2,300 employees at more than 28 sites worldwide. Armor-Group, the contractor chosen to protect the new US embassy in Kabul, is known to have engaged in a pattern of corruption and abuse, illustrating "how the government has become dependent on the private security companies that work in war zones, and has struggled to manage companies that themselves are sometimes loosely run and do not always play by the government's rules." ("Company Kept Kabul Security Contract Despite Record," NYT, 11 Sept. 2009). By building the world's largest embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan (as well as vastly expanding its embassy and the role of private security contractor DynCorp in Islamabad), not only are lucrative contracts secured at taxpayer expense, but future contracts are also essentially secured as well. Even if the troops leave, security firms will be needed to protect the hated behemoths of former occupiers; and as revenge is wrought, the probability of redeployment will rise.

CORPORATIST ELECTIONS? NO EXIT?

A political theorist and professor emeritus of Princeton University, Sheldon Wolin, writes: "The privatization of public services and functions manifests the steady evolution of corporate power into a political form, into an integral, even dominant, partner with the state. It marks the transformation of American politics and its political culture, from a system in which democratic practices and values were, if not defining, at least major contributory elements, to one where the remaining democratic elements and its populist programs are being systematically dismantled."

Free and fair elections are the core of democracy. Has "one person, one vote" become "one dollar, one vote"? Congressional gerrymandering has reduced competition/choice in elections, and recent judicial action may further undermine electoral integrity. While the judiciary is the most independent branch of government, the appointments made to the US Supreme Court by George W. Bush (replacing O'Connor and Rehnquist with Roberts and Alito) make the present Court perhaps the most corporatist Court ever with an activist pro-business approach based on an antiquated pre-globalization understanding of commerce (see Supreme Court Inc., The New York Times, 16 March 2008). On 21 September, the NYT stated that the Court "has been on a campaign to increase Corporations' legal rights." And now, in Citizens United v. FEC (the US Federal Election Commission) the Roberts Court appears ready to bring the gavel down on the public sphere.

In the 7 September 2009 editorial, "A Threat to Fair Elections," The New York Times opined that the Supreme Court appears set to "radically change politics by striking down the longstanding rule that says corporations cannot spend directly on federal elections. If the floodgates open, money from big business could overwhelm the electoral process as well as the making of laws on issues like tax policy and bank regulation." The NYT concludes that the Court is poised to "usher in an unprecedented age of special-interest politics. Corporations would have an enormous say in who wins federal elections. They would be able to use this influence to obtain subsidies, stimulus monies and tax loopholes, and to undo protections for investors, workers and consumers." According to Loyola law professor Richard Hasen, "We are moving toward a deregulated federal campaign finance system where money flows freely and perhaps only disclosure laws remain. It is a world in which those with more money use their considerable funds to elect candidates of their choice and to have a disproportionate influence over public policy. The unlevel playing field awaits." (NYT and ElectionLawBlog.org, 18 Sept. 2009).

The Supreme Court's decision to release an audio recording of the oral argument in Citizens United (aka the Hillary: The Movie case) on 9 September reveals the Court's recognition of public interest in the case. But an interesting dynamic is at play--while technology has increased the transparency of the Court, Congress, and the White House, their official business is increasingly a sideshow, as the real deals and decision-making occurs between politicians and their corporate friends in the back room. In the words of Bruce Springsteen, it's "one step up and two steps back." Will open-government webcasting be a charade?

Corruption is a major problem affecting all states, but neo-corporatism has taken root in the US more so than in Europe. It is difficult to imagine French unions, German pensioners, British health care patients or Danish consumers relinquishing their extensive social security protections. The deeply held tradition of the European social welfare state, rooted in nineteenth century European social democracy, serves as a bulwark against excessive state corporatism. But this is simply a matter of degree. Globalization is the name of the game for governments, and so from Russia to Mexico the rich are getting richer and the rest are being squeezed. In September, London papers reported that British government officials did not press Libya to compensate British victims of terrorism for fear of harming the trade deals of British oil companies. Corporations' share of national income has risen significantly from China to India to Europe to Australia to the Americas. Is this globalization? What will happen to consumer purchasing power? What is the corporatist state doing to the market that it needs to sustain itself? No longer can American consumers fuel global growth via debt financing. Sadly, warfighting may be the next bubble.

ABSURDISTAN REVISITED

The ongoing waste of warfighting is madness. As of 25 October, the US has spent more than $924 billion on the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001 (costofwar.com). And well over a million lives have been lost (informationclearinghouse.info). Towards what end? The long war, the war without end? Amongst its many themes, Russian novelist Gary Shteyngart's 2006 Absurdistan satires the influence of Halliburton, Bechtel and other military contractors, and the way they influence perceptions, incite conflict, and corrupt culture. The fictive oil-rich former Soviet Republic of Absurdistan and the all-too-real Blackwater evoke one another.

Are we becoming like Absurdistan? Are democracies devolving into "banana republics"? The power and impunity of companies like Blackwater suggest we are. Perhaps, as comedian Mel Brooks suggests, "We mock the things we are to be." For all the well-intentioned effort mobilized in Obama's ascension to power, forces beyond his control may have structurally neutered his administration. Witness the decimation of a US government-sponsored health care program by special interest groups, namely those corporations which reap huge profits from the current broken healthcare system and have spent hordes of cash to influence the health care debate.

The crux of the backlash against meaningful health care reform is fear of change and detestation of government (socialism!). Thus, private insurers represent the opposite of government (freedom!). Yet Dick Armey and other well-paid faux-populist puppet-masters who are spreading fear of the "public option" are themselves beneficiaries of quality government health coverage. Meanwhile, they are somehow making the case that offering this choice to the public threatens American freedom. Absurd indeed.

Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill pushed to establish the Commission on Wartime Contracting (CWC) in 2008 in order to study and make recommendations on the systemic problems of wartime contracting practices, including: identifying fraud, waste, and abuse, as well as finding ways to hold those responsible accountable. CWC has a big task. Rep. Schakowsky has called on Secretary of State Clinton and Defense Secretary Gates to stop awarding Blackwater contracts. At a minimum, the Obama administration should cancel and debar Blackwater's present and pending government contracts, otherwise corporate crimes, privileges and immunities will continue to pay and pay, and the heavy cost will continue to be borne by the public, in so many ways.

STRANGER THAN FICTION--A TRUE TIMELINE

1997--Blackwater founded by Erik Prince.

2002--Blackwater Security Consulting created and promptly awarded its first government contract to provide security guards at the Kabul CIA station.

2003--Blackwater given a $27 million no-bid contract to provide security for US staff in Iraq; expanded to a $100 million contract in 2004; reaching near $2 billion in government contracts as of October 2009.

2004--CIA hires Blackwater contractors as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate Al-Qaeda operatives. No contracts made, but rather informal agreements with top Blackwater executives. Blackwater given training and management responsibility for the program, which did not capture or kill any terror suspects.

2005--Blackwater personnel implicated in a worldwide network of extrajudicial abductions and detainee abuse, including torture and murder.

Feb. 2007--Prince opens Total Intelligence Solutions, Inc. for business and hires former key CIA officials.

Sept. 2007--Blackwater guards kill 17 Iraqi civilians with apparent impunity.

Dec. 2008--Federal prosecutors charge five Blackwater guards with manslaughter; high-level officials are shielded from investigation.

Oct. 2007--Blackwater reported to engage in systemic tax evasion.

Jan. 2008--State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard resigns amidst charges of perjury and obstruction of justice in impeding investigations of fraud by contractors in Iraq. His brother Alvin ("Buzzy") joins the Board of Blackwater WorldWide after leaving the CIA.

Jan./Feb. 2009--US officials say the government will not renew Blackwater's security license after the Iraqi government refuses to give it an operating license citing its inappropriate use of force. Blackwater abandons its tarnished brand name and assumes Xe Services.

March-Oct. 2009--The company continues to grow via its government contacts and contracts (some 90 percent of Blackwater's total revenues come from the US government). Blackwater given a leading role in drone missile attacks. In Afghanistan and Pakistan, Blackwater contractors assemble and load hellfire missiles and 500-pound-laser-guided bombs on Predator aircraft, work previously performed by the CIA.

Sept. 2, 2009--The New York Times (NYT) reports: "Underscoring its reliance on outside contractors, the State Department said Wednesday that it has extended a contract in Iraq with a subsidiary of the company formerly known as Blackwater, even though the business was denied an Iraqi government license to operate in the country."

Sept. 6, 2009--NYT reports: "Despite a recession that knocked down global arms sales last year, the United States expanded its role as the world's leading weapons supplier, increasing its share to more than two-thirds of all foreign armaments deals, according to a new Congressional study." Blackwater is reportedly active in Pakistan, Azerbaijan, the Philippines, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and is now doing business with the US government under the name US Training Center (USTC), its latest corporate identity.

SUGGESTED READING

Cohn, William A. "Government Inc." The New Presence. Vol. 11, No. 1, Winter 2008.

Frank, Thomas. The Wrecking Crew: How Conservatives Ruined Government. Henry Holt and Co., 2009.

Freeman, Jody and Martha Minow, eds. Government by Contract: Outsourcing and American Democracy, Harvard University, 2009.

Klein, Naomi, Susan Watkins and Bryan Mealer. No War: America's Real Business in Iraq, Gibson Square Books, Ltd., 2005.

Pelton, Robert Young. Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror. Crown Pub, 2006.

Scahill, Jeremy. Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Nation Books, 2007. And his subsequent reporting on Blackwater.

William A. Cohn, a member of the California and International Bar Associations, is a lecturer at the University of New York in Prague and a contributing writer to Pritomnost and TNP.
COPYRIGHT 2009 Martin Jan Stransky
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Title Annotation:SOCIALISM: DERIVATIVES AND ALTERNATIVES
Author:Cohn, William A.
Publication:The New Presence: The Prague Journal of Central European Affairs
Date:Sep 22, 2009
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