Just because Erik Prince recently sold off Blackwater, the infamous security company he founded, doesn’t mean he’s out of the private-security game. He may have put up seed money for a different firm to form militias in Somalia to battle pirates and Islamists. The New York Times cites a confidential African Union report claiming Prince […]
Just because Erik Prince recently sold off Blackwater, the infamous security company he founded, doesn’t mean he’s out of the private-security game. He may have put up seed money for a different firm to form militias in Somalia to battle pirates and Islamists.
The New York Times cites a confidential African Union report claiming Prince is “at the top of the management chain” of Saracen International, a South African security company that’s trying to work with both the embattled Somali government and the breakaway region of Puntland. In Puntland, Saracen is putting together a 1050-strong anti-pirate militia, something the international community has greeted with caution. And in Mogadishu, it wants to do what western militaries don’t: protect government officials, train the rump Somali army to fight the Qaeda-aligned al-Shebaab insurgency — and maybe do a little Shebaab-fighting of their own.
If true, it would be a remarkable turn of events. In December, Prince sold Blackwater to a team of investors (including a longtime family adviser) in a deal reportedly worth $200 million. While the firm’s new owners intend to continue seeking U.S. government security contracts, Prince indicated in the media that he was sick of the enterprise. *Vanity Fair *described Prince in a January 2010 profile as exhausted with leading an “overseas Praetorian guard for C.I.A. and State Department officials.” Prince told conflict journo Robert Young Pelton, “I’m getting out of the government contracting business” before leaving for Abu Dhabi.
That was a business that made Prince a lot of money — Blackwater earned over $1.5 billion in the last decade — but also made Prince its most controversial face. Blackwater guards shot civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan; downed steroids and narcotics; and used the names of South Park characters to take rifles from the U.S. military intended for the Afghan police. Blackwater set up shell companiesto win government contracts while avoiding the P.R. taint of its name. And it worked with the CIA on a never-quite-launched effort to assassinate terrorists.
If Prince really is involved in the Saracen deal, it would update an earlier Blackwater effort to battle pirates off the Somali coast. In 2008, Blackwater announced it was “ready to assist the shipping industry,” with a .50-cal-equipped pirate-hunting ship fashioned out of anoceanographic research boat. Alas, those plans got knocked off course as crewmembers began suing the company for discrimination. Did Prince want one more shot at the pirates and the terrorists — and the government paychecks?
*Updated, 4:30 p.m.: *Prince spokesman Mark Corallo tells the AP that Prince has “no financial role” in the anti-piracy effort but wants to “help Somalia overcome the scourge of piracy.” But the AP confidently reports that Prince is involved in standing up the militia, which will “also go after a warlord linked to Islamist insurgents.”