Erik Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL, best known for founding the world’s largest private military company, Blackwater USA, in 1997. He served as its CEO until 2009 and later as chairman until Blackwater Worldwide was sold in 2010 to a group of investors. Prince currently lives in the United Arab Emirates.
Prince credits the Rwandan genocide with his decision to start Blackwater. He told an audience in his native Holland, Michigan, “It really bothered me. It made me realize you can’t sit back and pontificate. You have to act.”
Since 1997, the firm has been awarded more than $1.6 billion in unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work. It became the largest of the State Department’s three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad.
Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates. The Barack Obama administration awarded the company a $120 million United States Department of State security contract and about $100 million in new CIA work in 2010.
Prince, according to Robert Young Pelton reportedly thinks of Blackwater’s relationship to the military as something similar to FedEx’s relationship to the U.S. Post Office “an efficient, privatized solution to sclerotic and wasteful government bureaucracy.” He credits his father’s competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.
In recent years Blackwater has come under criticism, but Prince believes that much of this criticism stems from politics. “I put myself and my company at the CIA’s disposal for some very risky missions,” Prince told Vanity Fair for its January 2010 issue. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.”
Prince resigned as CEO of Blackwater on March 2, 2009 and remained as chairman of the board until he sold the company in late 2010 to a group of investors.
Disclosure as part of a covert CIA task force
Prince was part of a secret CIA task force created to kill terrorists. The House intelligence congressional committee leaked his name to the press. Prince compared himself to the target of the similar government leak of Valerie Plame: “Valerie Plame’s identity was compromised for political reasons. A special prosecutor [was even] appointed. Well, what happened to me was worse. People acting for political reasons disclosed not only the existence of a very sensitive program but my name along with it.”
Academi—previously known as Xe Services LLC, Blackwater USA and Blackwater Worldwide—is a private military company founded in 1997 by Erik Prince and Al Clark Academi. Academia is currently the largest of the U.S. State Department’s three private security contractors. Academi provided diplomatic security services in Iraq to the United States federal government on a contractual basis. Academi also has a research and development wing that was responsible for developing the Grizzly APC along with other military technology. The company’s headquarters is located in Arlington County, Virginia.