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Interview with Suzanne Simons


Author of “Master of War - Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince & the Business of War”


On the occasion of the publication of her book Master of War: Blackwater USA’s Erik Prince and the Business of War, Suzanne Simons has granted me a written interview on the subject of Blackwater and Erik Prince. More information about the book and Ms. Simons can be found at the end of the interview.


Martin Ottmann, Webmaster


Blackwater & Erik Prince


Since you started your research on Blackwater, how has your picture of the organization changed? How did you view Blackwater before, how do you see it now?


I was very curious about the company and the people who ran it at first because of their refusal to let people in, and later because I wanted to understand why, if they really were as terrible as some writers and bloggers were portraying them, were they continuing to get massive government contracts? The biggest change is that now I understand a lot of the reasons why they were so secretive, as Erik Prince has never sought public exposure, at least not until things started going terribly wrong with the company. His personality dictated the culture of the entire company.


How would you characterize Erik Prince as an individual, as a business owner, as a political person and as a religious person?


Erik Prince is a very driven, very motivated man who, like his father, is almost obsessed with looking for business opportunities. I think he realizes now that mistakes were made when it came to running his business, and I know for a fact that others who were close to him are convinced that big mistakes were made. Politically and religiously he has strong beliefs, but I didn't see that those had an impact on the company in the way that some have alleged. From all of the people I talked with at all levels of the company, I don't believe that his religious beliefs made a big difference in how he ran his business, though his political friends certainly came in handy and certainly allowed him access that others might not have gotten.


Is Blackwater following a religious doctrine? In which way have Erik Prince's religious beliefs shaped Blackwater as an organization?


I don't believe that Blackwater followed a religious doctrine. I think that Prince may have had his own ideas about what he thinks is right/wrong, but it wasn't Prince's religious beliefs that shaped the company as much as his overall personality.


Mercenary troops have existed for centuries. When you look back in history, can you find an historic example for the kind of organization that can be compared to Blackwater? Which group or organization would come close to Blackwater in your opinion? Please explain you choice.


Nothing comes to mind, but yes, you're right, groups like this have existed for centuries. But this is the first time we've seen them used this extensively by the U.S. government. And it doesn't appear that the use of contractors will go away anytime soon.


What does the future hold for Blackwater/Xe in your opinion? What will become of the other mercenary groups within the next 50 years?


I think these groups are here to stay. Blackwater/Xe has a tough road ahead to be competitive among some of the larger companies now, mainly because of the loss of their work in Iraq. In general, as an industry, I hope that the US government is able to offer better oversight and hold contractors accountable for their actions. There are currently efforts underway to get us there. I hope they work.


The September 16 Killings


Does any estimation or internal statistic (within Blackwater) exist about the number of incidents, which involved Blackwater shooting and killing Iraqi civilians - since they came to Iraq?


To my understanding, the company is required to report every incident of the use of force. 


Court documents and press articles have stated that Blackwater operatives confiscated weapons of insurgents, made them their own and then finally used them in shootings with civilians or insurgents. Was this a standard practice? What was the reason for this practice? Do they do this in order to cover their tracks in advance?


I'm familiar with the allegations that the company was doing this. Prince has denied it. This allegation, like much of the reporting surrounding this company, comes down to he said/she said. The difficult part is finding proof.


After September 16, Blackwater tried to make disappear the weapons that they had used in the killings. Operatives also tampered with the trucks used in the killings. Do you know who ordered the cover-up? How high in the organization was it known that a cover-up took place?


Blackwater admits to repairing damaged vehicles before the investigation was over. They say they had the permission of the State Department to do so. The State Department offered no comment. There have certainly been incidents in the past when Blackwater contractors broke the rules, I detail them in my book.


Do you think that the US government will prosecute anyone from Blackwater for obstruction of justice with regards to the September 16-cover-up? Do you know if there is still an active investigation going on?


I don't believe there will be any charges stemming from September 16th against the company. Prosecutors made that pretty clear when they announced the charges against the former Blackwater employees (another guard who was there that day is cooperating with prosecutors in that investigation). I think if there will be charges against the company (and prosecutors won't comment on it) they would be more likely to stem from export violations.




According to two articles in the press, Blackwater operatives were involved in the smuggling of weapons into Iraq. Was this an widespread activity within Blackwater or were only a few individuals involved in the gunrunning? Is there a link between the exportation of insurgents' weapons into the US, as seen in the case of John Houston & Michael Henson, and the importation of US weapons into Iraq? Are these two activities interrelated?


There were individuals who were conducting illegal activity with weapons and they were fired from the company and prosecuted. I don't know of any widespread activity involving gunrunning.


Information on the author by HarperCollins:


Suzanne Simons is a veteran CNN producer and writer who managed to gain the cooperation of Erik Prince, Blackwater's founder and owner. She has spent many months interviewing Prince and his top lieutenants; traveling to the Middle East and Afghanistan with him; getting to know many of the company's contract employees and their families; and interviewing their government contacts and clients. The result is Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War - the first book written from the inside, showing how the company rose so meteorically during the Bush era; how it was managed by Prince and one top aide; and how, despite its dramatic fall from grace in Iraq, the company is still deeply involved in Afghanistan and many other countries around the world.



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