Sunday, November 04, 2007

Blackwater Prince Creates Intell Start-up with Cofer Black

The Washington Post reports breathlessly that "Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire" in a colossal instance of hyping a lede. Turns out that Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has spun off a company that, well, can be hyped as follows:
The Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater Worldwide, has been building an operation that will sniff out intelligence about natural disasters, business-friendly governments, overseas regulations and global political developments for clients in industry and government.

The operation, Total Intelligence Solutions, has assembled a roster of former spooks -- high-ranking figures from agencies such as the CIA and defense intelligence -- that mirrors the slate of former military officials who run Blackwater. Its chairman is Cofer Black, the former head of counterterrorism at CIA known for his leading role in many of the agency's more controversial programs, including the rendition and interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisons overseas. Its chief executive is Robert Richer, a former CIA associate deputy director of operations who was heavily involved in running the agency's role in the Iraq war.

Total Intelligence Solutions is one of a growing number of companies that offer intelligence services such as risk analysis to companies and governments. Because of its roster and its ties to owner Erik Prince, the multimillionaire former Navy SEAL, the company's thrust into this world highlights the blurring of lines between government, industry and activities formerly reserved for agents operating in the shadows.

Ooooo..... What a concept!

Trouble is, this sort of integrated analytical/operational multitask firm has been around for decades. I worked for a year for IRIS [Int'l Reporting Info Systems] in '82-83 which was started by Anthony Stout, National Journal owner, and some investors including Ted Heath, Robert McNamara, and other international heavyweights of the day. The idea was roughly the same as described above, and I worked directly for the Editor of the International Herald Tribune, who reported to the former Station Chief in Moscow, who in turn reported to the former Station Chief in Athens. Senior State, CIA, and other agency officials, some on Sabbatical from their home government jobs, populated the senior levels, and run-of-the-mill "regional experts." news reporters and ex-diplomats formed the heart of the working cadre.

IRIS was looking for the gazillion dollar client, and my Middle Eastern chops gave me access to the marketing side of the venture as well as churning out ad hoc intelligence analyses. The working level was crammed with Brit journalists fleeing the Thatcher regime's Reagan-lite reforms of the UK, and they were as a rule Bolshie as any Soviet nomenklatura wannabe. I met and became friends with Tony Hodges, Helena Cobban, and many other UK refugees, including Christopher Hitchens, who had fetched up at The Nation. We all drank like fish and partied til dawn.

Soon, Tony Stout's epicurean tastes and massive spending on frills like a French kitchen and walk-in humidor sank the IRIS operation, along with the inability to sign long-term clients as opposed to one-off contracts.

Similar operations followed, and more traditional firms like Kroll branched into sleuthing out origins of pelf and plunder looted from capital-flight countries. Pakistanis and ASEAN countries provided many contracts, as did oil countries like Nigeria and Indonesia. I myself workied with Denis Neal on Jordan, Pakistan, Sudan, and bits and pieces of other contracts. Indeed, I worked with Charlie Wilson at one remove through Denis, and had a behind-the-scenes role in founding a PAC which ended up raising money to pay Senator John Kerry for his Senatorial National Compaign Committee. I took the check for $40,000 personally to Kerry's assistant at the DNC in '88, I believe, just in time for the fall elections and a vote in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on military aid to Pakistan. I found all the details during Neal's Christmas Party later when Denis and Charlie and I celebrated with others the success of our operations in the Neal & Co. Capitol Hill offices.

I can't wait to see how Hollywood distorts the events in "Charlie Wilson's War." One thing they won't point out in the movie is how Kerry & Dodd voted with the Republicans to send $450 million in military assistance to Pakistan, which Denis told me my $40,000 check had helped expedite ["along with other considerations," Denis added!] Nice leverage any way you look at it. But the movie will print the legend.

Probably just like the WaPo article cited above.

No comments :