If HR4088 is passed, the bill calls for a significant increase in the number of Contractors used "to carry out the Integrated and Automated Surveillance Program" to supplement the Border Patrol and Border Security.
Who will provide this Contracted military support? It may be Blackwater Worldwide.
Blackwater Worldwide is a self-described private military company founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark. It has alternatively been referred to as a security contractor or a mercenary organization.
Of its own volition, Blackwater moved about 200 personnel into the area hit by Hurricane Katrina. Most of the 164 employees eventually were working under a contract with the Department of Homeland Security to protect government facilities, but the company held contracts with private clients as well. Overall, Blackwater had a "visible, and financially lucrative, presence in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as the use of the company contractors cost U.S. taxpayers $240,000 a day." There has been much dispute surrounding governmental contracts in post-Katrina New Orleans, especially no-bid contracts such as the one Blackwater was awarded. Blackwater's heavily-armed presence in the city was also the subject of much confusion and criticism.
Missions conducted by Blackwater Security Consulting have raised significant controversy both through casualties suffered and inflicted by their employees. Blackwater Worldwide is currently contracted by the United States government to provide security services in the Iraq War.
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater contractors, during a complex confrontation in downtown Baghdad, shot and killed Iraqis in the crowded Nisour Square. The FBI and State Department are currently investigating the incident, yet it further sheds light upon a growing private sector security force in Iraq and elsewhere, that many fear has not been held accountable to the same degree as have US military officials.
According to THE NEW YORK TIMES, there are between 160,000 and 180,000 private contractors in Iraq, including about 30,000 armed security forces. Blackwater employees represent about 1000 of these armed contractors. There were only about 9,200 total private contractors during the Persian Gulf War. Few Americans had even heard of Blackwater before March 31, 2004, when four of its contractors were ambushed and brutally killed in Falluja, and days later, a US siege of the region began. It was "what would be one of the most brutal and sustained US operations of the occupation," explains Scahill, who believes the US Military response to the killings sets a dangerous precedent.
Before the September 16, 2007 confrontation, Blackwater employees had been implicated in similar incidents involving questionable force, including in December 2006, when a drunk Blackwater contractor allegedly shot and killed a bodyguard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. The contractor was subsequently fired by Blackwater, yet was sent back in the region with another private firm. "[State Department] officials said that Blackwater's incident rate was at least twice that recorded by employees of DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the two other United States-based security firms that have been contracted by the State Department to provide security for diplomats and other senior civilians in Iraq," writes THE NEW YORK TIMES.
(Please see this excellent PBS Bill Moyers video showing Blackwater CEO Erik Prince making the rounds defending his company, from Congress to the talk shows, journalist and Blackwater expert Jeremy Scahill helps separate the spin from the reality.)
Still, as Blackwater's founder Eric Prince reminded Congress a few weeks ago, "Blackwater personnel are subject to regular attacks by terrorists and other nefarious forces within Iraq." As the WALL STREET JOURNAL reports, "The company has said it has done 16,000 missions for the State Department since June 2005, using its weapons just 1% of the time." And recently two Blackwater helicopters helped evacuate the Polish Ambassador to Iraq after his convoy was attacked. But questions about accountability still abound: when mistakes are made, to which rule of law should contractors answer, military or US criminal law? Officials in the State and Defense Departments are currently debating this very question. Blackwater's State Department contract expires next May, and according to the AP, officials in the Department intend to "ease out" Blackwater since many share "a mutual feeling that the Sept. 16 shooting deaths mean the company cannot continue in its current role." Yet according to the WALL STREET JOURNAL, even if Blackwater was forced to leave Iraq, they would simply be replaced by another private security firm, since the State Department does not have the personnel available to step in: "'There's just no way our system could handle trying to get hundreds of new people trained and sent to Iraq,' said a State Department official. 'That would be a multiyear process.'"
Erik D. Prince is the founder and sole owner of Blackwater Worldwide. Since 1998, Prince has personally donated over $200,000 to Republican causes. Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards has characterized Prince as one of George W. Bush's "political cronies." Prince has denied using family clout to obtain contracts for Blackwater.