Friday, June 13, 2008

Mercenary company breaks into the spy biz

What could prove to be one of Blackwater's most profitable and enduring enterprises is one of the company's most secretive initiatives -- a move into the world of privatized intelligence services. In April 2006, Prince quietly began building Total Intelligence Solutions, which boasts that it "brings CIA-style" services to the open market for Fortune 500 companies. Among its offerings are "surveillance and countersurveillance, deployed intelligence collection, and rapid safeguarding of employees or other key assets."

As the United States finds itself in the midst of the most radical privatization agenda in its history, few areas have seen as dramatic a transformation to privatized services as the world of intelligence. "This is the magnet now. Everything is being attracted to these private companies in terms of individuals and expertise and functions that were normally done by the intelligence community," says former CIA division chief and senior analyst Melvin Goodman. "My major concern is the lack of accountability, the lack of responsibility. The entire industry is essentially out of control. It's outrageous."

Last year R.J. Hillhouse, a blogger who investigates the clandestine world of private contractors and US intelligence, obtained documents from the office of the Directorate of National Intelligence (DNI) showing that Washington spends some $42 billion annually on private intelligence contractors, up from $17.5 billion in 2000. That means 70 percent of the US intelligence budget is going to private companies. Perhaps it is no surprise, then, that the head of DNI is Mike McConnell, the former chair of the board of the Intelligence and National Security Alliance, the private intelligence industry's trade association.

Total Intelligence, which opened for business in February 2007, is a fusion of three entities bought up by Prince: the Terrorism Research Center, Technical Defense and The Black Group -- Blackwater vice chair Cofer Black's consulting agency. The company's leadership reads like a Who's Who of the CIA's "war on terror" operations after 9/11. In addition to the twenty-eight-year CIA veteran Black, who is chair of Total Intelligence, the company's executives include CEO Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the agency's Directorate of Operations and the second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations. From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA's Near East and South Asia Division, where he ran clandestine operations throughout the Middle East and South Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA liaison with Jordan's King Abdullah, a key US ally and Blackwater client, and briefed George W. Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.

Total Intelligence's chief operating officer is Enrique "Ric" Prado, a twenty-four-year CIA veteran and former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. He spent more than a decade working in the CIA's Counterterrorist Center and ten years with the CIA's "paramilitary" Special Operations Group. Prado and Black worked closely at the CIA. Prado also served in Latin America with Jose Rodriguez, who gained infamy late last year after it was revealed that as director of the National Clandestine Service at the CIA he was allegedly responsible for destroying videotapes of interrogations of prisoners, during which "enhanced interrogation techniques," including waterboarding, were reportedly used. Richer told the New York Times he recalled many conversations with Rodriguez, about the tapes. "He would always say, 'I'm not going to let my people get nailed for something they were ordered to do,'" Richer said of his former boss. Before the scandal, there were reports that Blackwater had been "aggressively recruiting" Rodriguez. He has since retired from the CIA.
Found over at Coffee House Studio. Call it "your tax dollars at work." Blackwater already has an ugly reputation due to the behavior of its hired goons in Iraq. One can imagine what it will be like as a CIA/KGB for hire.

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