Blackwater founder Erik Prince building American-led army of revolution-crushing mercenaries in UAE


Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater (now rebranded "Xe") is building a stealth, American-led mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates "with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom." The business plan, at least in part, appears to be to help autocratic regimes crush popular democratic uprisings—a response to "Arab Spring." Oh, this will turn out well. Snip from the New York Times' exclusive:

Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.

The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest or were challenged by pro-democracy demonstrations in its crowded labor camps or democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year. The U.A.E.'s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country's biggest foe, the former employees said.

Read the rest of the story here.

The New York Times also published a copy of the executed contract. (PDF)


Here is a Google Maps link for the Blackwater UAE compound (via Kurt Brown).


Jeremy Scahill on Twitter, cryptically: "The breaking Blackwater story in NYT is, in part, a limited hangout. Follow the Libyan road."

(Photo: In 2007, Blackwater Chief Executive Erik Prince testified before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on security contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan on Capitol Hill in Washington. At the time, Prince's company was under investigation over deadly incidents in Iraq, and lawmakers took aim at the company's actions in a shooting in which 11 Iraqis were killed.)


  1. So, um, how long before we start contracting out our extraconstitutional detention and torture to these guys?

  2. put down internal revolts

    So, I guess Eric Prince with Blackwater (Xe) will help the oppressive regime squash protests like we saw in Egypt and elsewhere.

    Eric Prince and Blackwater (Xe)… just as evil as ever, how nice.

  3. “Blackwater” has always made me chuckle. From wikipedia:

    “Blackwater is a term dating to at least the 1970s used to describe wastewater containing fecal matter and urine. It is also known as brown water, foul water, or sewage. It is distinct from greywater or sullage, the residues of washing processes.”

    Seems appropriate.

  4. Using his $ to create an Army of shock troops for a Muslim country….. didn’t we just kill this guy in Pakistan recently?

    Seriously, how is this guy not a traitor to America, and a terrorist?

  5. “Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

    The UAE are doomed!

  6. With all due respect to BoingBoing, why is this post tagged “Muslim”? There is nothing remotely Islamic about purchasing the services of mercenaries, and religion in no way factors into this story unless you are somehow implying that the content of the document, the Middle Eastern protests, or disgustingly rich oil sheikhs is religious.

      1. Oh no, everything about this is objectionable and makes me grind my teeth. I just figured I’d leave that commentary to other BoingBoing’ers and point out that either the tag is incorrect or BB is making the kind of implication that Qur’an burners and xenophobes do; namely, that Islam and violence are synonymous.

        1. I think that Boing Boing used that tag because Islam is synonymous with the U.A.E. .. not violence

        2. Like I said, THAT is what bothers you enough to comment on while your teeth grind?


          If you were offered free ice cream, and had the option of getting chocolate pieces but didn’t want them because your doctor said chocolate was really really bad for you – would you REALLY complain to the management about those toppings being on offer to others?

          because that’s what you just did. and YOU ARE AWESOME FOR THAT.

          The ice cream is free. Life is choices. Don’t eat it if it leaves you so unsettled. And don’t tell people how to run their website.

  7. Blackwater is the anti-Wikileaks.

    How does this not qualify as a “training camp” as has been used as an epithet for the past couple of decades?

  8. So the world will consider them American-trained and American-led troops if they gun down the next set of demonstrators. Eric Prince is going to get the profits, and everyone here is going to get the blowback.

  9. I’ve worked as a consultant to several global security outfits, mostly in Kenya for Greystone, and Blackwater are pretty universally reviled as incompetent morons but they have a great PR arm.

  10. So this question comes to mind: If in the future some unforeseen consequence finds American troops or Special Ops teams working inside the UAE with interests counter to the government of the UAE, and the UAE’s Blackwater army is called upon to defend those interests…would American Blackwater agents fire on American troops? Would American troops fire on American Blackwater agents?
    What a mess.

    1. Yep — some have floated that scenario already. Last year, a certain US military officer (won’t mention his name) got into a little bit of hot water for suggesting that we may have to prepare for the possibility that US military personnel would have to face off against Xe or similar companies. Might be wise to talk about this theoretical scenario a little bit more.

      And is anybody else getting sort of a Handmaid’s Tale vibe off of reading about this story, or is it just me?

  11. Several years ago, Blackwater had a training camp set up in the desert area here in San Diego (Portrero). They were shut down. Last night our local CBS affiliate had a report of police responding to illegal machine gun fire in the desert again. I immediately wondered if Blackwater had succeeded–as they’ve threatened/promised–to establish a facility in the northern reaches of the county again.

    1. Blackwater had a training camp set up in the desert area here in San Diego

      Shit, if the DINO’s and Republicans have their way, Blackwater (Xe) will end up being our privatized police force in the USA. At that point, any cop with Blackwater (Xe) that pulls many Americans over might as well start shooting, because I know many of us are not going to have any of those treasonous, corrupt bastards give us a ticket while we’re still alive, that’s for sure.

      Maybe we should send the marines into the UAE to shut Blackwater (Xe) down. Hopefully Prince will resist capture and they’ll give him enhanced treatment. One can only hope.

  12. “He is currently living abroad in Abu Dhabi and working on his memoir. In June 2010, he put Xe up for sale.The company was purchased on December 17, 2010 by USTC Holdings, an investment group. Prince will no longer have an equity stake in or involvement in the management or operation of Xe.”

    This is from Prince’s Wiki page. Seems like he doesn’t manage that company anymore…strange.

  13. I’m sorry, I haven’t RTFA or the comments yet. (I WILL!) Just the headline and looked at the photo. I know this is very wrong, but I would like to smush his face in and then drop him off a tall building. Not that would help anything, but that’s my first impulse.

    Back later with some more civilized commentary.

    Again, sorry.

  14. Eric Prince… the guy who’s head looks like a giant dick, is such a symptom of how the world is gonna go down in flames. Soon.

    I’m scared. Really. When is Jesus coming back again? I think I’ll start praying, so that when the shit hits the fan, maybe I’ll go to the happy place.

  15. The culmination of nearly 40 years of armchair warriors’ wet dreams:
    Add 1 part Mack Bolan,
    1 part James Bond,
    1 part French Foreign Legion,
    A dash of “plausible deniability”,

    Then stir until you wind up with a semi-private (privately owned, governmentally directed) task
    force able to do everything your entire special operations units can do without all of the messy
    publicity or flag-draped coffins.

    Think “Iran-Contra” budgets moving through BCCI-like international money networks to fund
    “Operation Bayonet”-type operations anywhere The Powers That Be direct them. Get your war on
    without all of the political fallout.

    A few examples:

    * Usama & his “stash” could have been handled (mostly) discretely, removed to one of the “black
    hole prison” sites in Eastern Europe, interrogated & analyzed, and have it all kept out of the
    papers. At some later date, say shortly before November 2012, a White House press conference
    announces an “October Surprise” with “justice is served” and that is that.

    * Demonstrators finally begin to stand up to the Saudi Royal Family with demands well beyond what
    is allowed. Rather than call on Peninsula Shield troops, “an unknown outside group” swoops in out
    of the desert, convinces them they really shouldn’t upset the current order of things, and
    disappear back into the sands.

    To quote a famous technocrat with his own private arm(or)y: “I did ya a big favor…I have
    successfully privatized world peace!”

    History is repeating itself, again.

  16. I’ve read that the French Foreign Legion is now harder to get into – it used to be the refuge of exiled foreign criminals and the like that didn’t ask questions when you joined, and a well-respected fighting force, but not any more.

    I’m guessing these mercenary groups recruit a lot of guys who in the past might have joined the Foreign Legion. A less romantic, and much more disreputable place to go, but for some people it’s one of only very few options they’ve got.

    I’d be interested in knowing if the mercenaries portrayed in The Hurt Locker were realistic; they were hard-core dudes but lacked professionalism and, under pressure, it was clear they lacked the training necessary to persist (the same problems the US soldiers in the film had, to be fair). I guess in reality there’s a wide range of mercenaries.

    1. “Babylon by Bus” by Ray LeMoine and Jeff Neumann has some candid observations of mercenaries immediately post-invasion.

    1. They’re working for other people. Don’t worry, they’re still military contractors when they work for us!

  17. I’ll bet anybody here one hundred American dollars that he’ll be US Secretary of Defense within thirty years.

    1. I wouldn’t touch that bet with a 100 foot pole. Wouldn’t be surprised at all. Alarmed and angry, but not at all surprised.

      1. “He understands the landscape.” Yea, because he helped create it!

        P.S. to Oldboy, What is the most prevalent religion in the U.A.E.? Is it the professed religion of both those who hired the guns AND those who will be at the receiving end of said guns??

        P.P.S. Listing to War Pigs/Luke’s Wall by Black Sabbath from Paranoid, too weird

    2. Sorry, I’ll pass that bet.

      Besides, what would I do with a cup of coffee in 30 years?

    3. Prince should know (ask Bin Laden–heh) any power crazed whacko can get dirtnapped when they finally cross the wrong people for unseemly reasons.

  18. Also, what the fuck is up with his mouth? If you do a GIS for him, it seems to be stuck in that ‘aw shucks’, shit-eating moue.

  19. I’ll take that bet.

    First, I don’t see the millionaire taking that kind of pay cut just to run the parent organization when he can stay in the sand and play “Eric of Arabia”.

    Second, ego aside, it’s hard to run a shadowy global merc unit under the glare of the world’s media. The UAE affords protection against scrutiny, among other things.

    Finally, the “Arab Spring” is still in flux and will continue to be so for a number of years more, possibly even a full generation. If everyone is focused on what happens next, vis-a-via oil, what better “power behind the throne” position than in the heart of the Middle East “advising” whomever takes over how best to get their way. What if OPEC decides they have need of their own enforcement arm now and again? How does this improve the position of Ahmadinejad or Chávez?

    Like the man said: “The Spice must flow!”

  20. The tactic of bringing in outsiders to quell insurrection is ancient, it goes back as far as the Assyrian king Sancherev, it is why there are ten missing tribes of Israel.
    These American/Anglo Mercs when properly screened will mostly care less about some sand-N***** and will happily gun down the untermensch if required by their employer.
    The Soviets, Chinese, and their satellites are famous for using out of town troops especially ones who speak a different language to beat down uppity districts and engage in punitive/corrective massacres.

  21. First, I don’t see the millionaire taking that kind of pay cut just to run the parent organization when he can stay in the sand and play “Eric of Arabia”.

    See Dick Cheney and Halliburton.

    Second, ego aside, it’s hard to run a shadowy global merc unit under the glare of the world’s media. The UAE affords protection against scrutiny, among other things.

    See Dick Cheney and Halliburton.

    1. In spite of my previous snark and movie quotations, it is clearly a serious issue with serious ramifications for the Middle East’s trajectory should they actually go live. At this late hour I find myself at a loss to draw any better parallel than cliche: your comparison of Prince (ironic give the other comment regarding Machiavelli) to Cheney is flawed by the simple fact that Eric wants to be Han Solo, while Dick wants to be Darth Vader.

      Prince, our swashbuckling hero, cares nothing for ruling over some larger empire…stay on the good side of Power so that your indiscretions might be overlooked from time to time, but it doesn’t make for a good story at dinner parties to say “…and then, after destroying the Denebian Star System I was crowned Galactic Emperor…”. Better to start every story with “So there I was, surrounded by Space Pirates…”.

      Cheney, on the other hand, has had his heart (metaphorically speaking) set on being the Power Behind the Throne since he was a wee shaver. That kind of ambition can only grow darker and darker as it is cultivated. For all the flak Karl Rove has gotten over the years, he’s a piker compared to Cheney…merely a humble student learning at the feet of the master.

      Prince likes to the be guy you see in poorly lit photographs, blurry and hard to make out, with a knowing smile hiding a trove of secrets that would drive anyone else to drink themselves to death. He doesn’t see himself as the villain of this piece — no one thinks they’re the bad guy in their own life’s narrative — just a savvy businessman with a unique skill set that turns out to be in demand by people with lots and lots of cash to burn.

      This ends with a civil war or two, a prison sentence or a fiery death, and a tell-all memoir/movie that tries to set the record straight as to his place in it. Ever it was thus…

  22. “Eric Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater is building a stealth, American-led mercenary army in the United Arab Emirates”

    That read’s like a blurb introducing a new villain to a comic book. This guy is just missing a green and purple (villain colors) suit of armor as he already has the money and henchmen.

  23. Definition

    [Show phonetics]
    noun [C]
    a soldier who fights for a foreign country or group for pay

    [Show phonetics]
    interested only in the money that can be obtained from a situation
    I don’t trust his motives — he’s too mercenary.

  24. That guy could change his legal name to Commander Cobra, or Destro…
    …where are the G.I.joes when you need them?

  25. He who lives by the sword, dies by the sword.

    This will not turn out will for Mr. Prince.

  26. The counter-revolution will be privatised.
    What more proof could there be that the people engineering the Iraq War never gave a damn about spreading democracy to the Arab world? Where are the bleeding-heart neo-con freedom lovers now?
    Working for Blackwater/XE as DC lobbyists, I’d imagine.

  27. MAkes me think of the actions of some former UK officers in the 50s or there about.

  28. Mercenaries are useless, disunited, unfaithful.
    They have nothing more to keep them in a battle other than a meager wage.
    Which is just about enough to make them wanna kill for you.
    But never enough to make them wanna die for ya.
    – John Cale

    Viva la morte…Viva la guerre….Viva le sacre Mercenaire

    1. Not sure how many enlisted are motivated these days either, seems many of them enlist as a last resort.

    2. That’s pretty funny. You can’t spell
      America without mercs.

      US soldiers: paid to kill, sometimes motivated by consumerist-patriotism,
      usually by not being able to find work.

      Real soldiers: fighting for their land or their religion enough to die for it,
      eg kamikazes or martyrs.

      Hopefully NATO will decide to Libya this little encampment… run to the streets, wave your hands, save us Sarkozy!

  29. Few things in this world would delight me more than to see several SEAL and Ranger teams move in and take these soulless pretenders out of the picture. Reveal these bastards as nothing more than the hired killers they actually are. “Cut off the head, and the body dies…”

    1. It’s somewhat unlikely, given that XE is in part composed of “retired” members of those same special forces. The US has produced an awful lot of individuals without substantial civilian job skills and then left them without much in the way of support or benefits. That’s not to excuse Prince’s schemes, but it’s unrealistic to see them as anything but symbiotic with the US military.

      Also, this has somewhat been done before, recently – look at what became of the “elite” squads from South Africa, after Mandela and the ANC came to power – look up Sandline and Executive Outcomes. The terminology then changed from “private military contractor” to “private security contractor,” but XE / Blackwater’s always been just on the edge.

      Oh, and re: Libya / Arab Spring -> I think Gaddafi’s too cheap to have sprung for the high-end rentboys, but he definitely trucked in a lot of cheap help from the rest of Africa when things started to go south – where the real interesting “guns for hire” angle is was back in Tunisia, with the foreign brute squad that was use in the first wave of crackdowns-gone-awry that sparked things off.

  30. Just so you know he’s actually there to help build and keep order for the people who believe 2012 is a serious event. And yes I’m very serious…

  31. Accountability is the first casualty (again).

    Re the muslim tag, the article says they wouldn’t hire muslims, who they would not trust to fire on other muslims.

  32. Suppose you are a leader of a country poised on the precipice of some sort of internal uprising. You really want to put the kibosh on the rebellion with brute, merciless force, but you fear the possible intervention of the international community, including the wholesale bombing of your command center/living room. Here’s where my company, “Lil’ Shield”, comes in.We hire hundreds of out of work child actors. You, the dictator on the defensive, decide to film an on location “movie” in your homeland that just so happens to require the acting services of a couple scores of american (or any western nation really, depends on how deep your pockets are. american kids will fetch top dollar, of course). We contract with you to provide the child actors to work on your “film”. You (despot) then house the actors at various “hospitality suites” strategically placed in and around various sensitive locations vital to maintaining your stranglehold on power. In fact, you could even have some bunk right in your very own domicile, now that’s hospitality!

    It’s win/win. You get peace of mind knowing that you are inoculated from those pesky late night ordinance showers, and Timmy’s parents get a shot at Timmy’s big break and a chance to finally climb out of crippling debt.

  33. Make no mistake, this guy is one giant asshole, but he’s a very dangerous one as well.
    Get your hands on everything that Jeremy Scahill has worked on about him, Blackwater and XE. Scary stuff.
    Mr. Scahill is one of the finest journalists working right now along with Matt Taibbi.

  34. In the hierarchy of pedantry, shouldn’t complaints about this write-up’s tags take second place to misspelling the man’s name? It’s Erik Prince. And since BBers love to gnaw a bone until the marrow squeaks, don’t forget to make this a family affair — a little googling of anti-Prop 8 funding source will get you started….

  35. “Mercenaries and auxiliaries are useless and dangerous; and if one holds his state based on these arms, he will stand neither firm nor safe; for they are disunited, ambitious and without discipline, unfaithful, valiant before friends, cowardly before enemies; they have neither the fear of God nor fidelity to men, and destruction is deferred only so long as the attack is; for in peace one is robbed by them, and in war by the enemy.”

    You realize that the Continental Army used Prussian mercenaries to great effect. British used Ghurkas in the far East. The French have the Foreign Legion. These organizations–all mercenaries, have been relevant and have changed the outcomes of conflicts.

  36. The most disgusting thing about Eric Prince is his claim of being a “born-again Christian”! This is certainly in keeping with the current trend of self-proclaimed “born-again’s” espousing decidedly non-Christian behavior and values. I’m an atheist, but I have a strong feeling that Eric Prince may be the Anti-Christ. And what a coincidence that he’s settled in the Middle East.

  37. Isn’t it illegal to be part of a foreign military? This guy should lose his American citizenship if he wants to do this.

  38. I think this might be a little over-dramatic. Mercenaries do stuff like this. It is their purpose for existing. The fact that they are Americans does not mean this is a government operation fully endorsed by the government of America. It just means those guys are from America. And y’know, the guys in charge in the UAE, they don’t see themselves as evil cackling dictators, just as we in America have government organizations that are also intended to crack down on revolutions.

    I have absolutely zero love for Blackwater, Xe, or whatever they might be calling themselves today but I understand that they are mercenaries. There are mercenaries in this world and this is what they do.

  39. I never understood the blackwater training areas in california … while machine guns are technically legal in CA, provided you have the normal NFA paperwork from BATFE _and_ a special letter from the CA attorney general, that’s a lot of work that you would have to go through _per gun_ that you would not have to do in other states, like Nevada.

    But further, suppressors/silencers are completely, totally banned in CA – there are no loopholes, no way, no how – and how would you have a full-service spec ops training center with the inability to use such common, standard equipment ?

    It’s puzzling.

  40. I’m curious how this group is legally differentiated from a terrorist organization? If you arm and train a private militia with the goal of killing civilians for religious or political reasons, then you’re a terrorist group and the US army drops bombs on you. But if you do the EXACT SAME THING for money instead, you get a pass?

    By that logic, al-quida just has to start issuing paychecks to its members and we can bring all our troops home from Afghanistan.

  41. So is Scahill intimating that Xe is helping Gaddafi? Amongst the “African mercenaries”?

  42. In his cyberpunk fiction William Gibson predicted private armies and special operation forces to be fighting the wars of corporations. This is the next step. Now, african countries operate like corproation with little incorporated branches within the country, everyone essentially reporting to the board of directors (government) and the CEO – president.

    Next thing is Xe offering services to General Eletric for bill collection, The World Bank for debt collection. And a few other corporations will respond with their own Sepcial Black Ops.

    Start small in a sanbox at a rich african country, then challenge the rest of the market if the project succeeds.

    Funny how yet again science fiction was a precise prediction of the future to actually come.

    1. “Funny how yet again science fiction was a precise prediction of the future to actually come.”

      I guess anything labeled “science fiction” must be taken as infallible prophecy. Oh wait, that’s something else.

  43. Personal security is the wave of the future. Those who have taken advantage of the people will have to hire people to protect their ill gotten gain. I just hope that when they do the people they hire will, after they come to rely on the protection, be gouged to death by the protectors. It is a story as old as the hills, ill gotten gain can’t be kept. Like drug addicts people just can’t break the destructive habit.

    These people hired for protection sound perfect for the job. They will cancel each other out.

  44. The bigger problem is that we have been (and still are) handing over intelligence and clandestine operations over to this mercenary corporation, who now clearly sells it’s services and knowledge to the highest bidder.

    Bush/Cheney and their NeoCon flunkies had some kind fantasy where these guys would act as the Republican Praetorian Guard, immune to oversight and answerable only to the emperor..errr…President. They could send them anywhere to muscle anyone that got in our way, be it in Yemen or Germany, and they would be wholly unaccountable since they are a “private contractor.” They thought Prince’s ultra-nationalism and religious zealotry would keep him as a loyal lapdog, but clearly when it came down to it, money and staying out of prison was a stronger motivator. Now he is in the position to hand over ultra-secret national intelligence he was foolishly trusted with to anyone, and there is little we can do about it…

  45. When I was in the UAE several years ago I was told that the police and the armed forces were almost 100% foreigners, except for the officers, and even some of them were not citizens. Of course, there were only something like 400,000 citizens at the time yet the population of the country was several million, so it wasn’t too surprising.

  46. Um, when the protesters notice this news he has to know they will hunt him down, right?

  47. It’s named after Blackwater Creek, a nearby natural body of water dubbed so by the locals several centuries ago. Black water (TWO words) refers to waste water.

Comments are closed.