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The History of Blackwater USA

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Some folks in the backcountry of San Diego County may have never heard of Blackwater USA, the budding private military contractor that wants to build a training center in Potrero. But award-winning reporter Jeremy Scahill has studied the company for several years and has recently written a book on Blackwater activities. KPBS reporter Amita Sharma has the story.

Scahill says Blackwater has the most powerful mercenary army in the world. He started paying close attention to Blackwater in the spring of 2004 when four of the company's employees were ambushed, killed and dangled from a bridge in Falluja, Iraq. Scahill says the company didn't even exist a decade ago.

Scahill : Today it has three quarters of a billion dollars in state department contracts alone. Blackwater guards the U.S. Embassy in Iraq. It guards senior U.S. diplomats in the country, regional occupation offices. It guards congressional delegations that go in and out of the country. Blackwater is perhaps one of the most powerful private actors operating in the global war on terror. They have forces in nine countries around the world, among them Iraq, Afghanistan and Jordan.

Scahill says Blackwater is part of the Bush Administration's agenda to outsource military functions and even domestic law enforcement. Scahill says heavily armed Blackwater workers were sent to New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina to quote “confront criminals and stop looters.” Scahill says Blackwater's push to build a training center in Potrero is part of an effort to expand their domestic presence.

Scahill : Blackwater is strategically positioning itself where there is a large military force, where they can do training of state, federal, local law enforcement. I think it's interesting to note that it's near the U.S.-Mexico border and we see a privatization agenda with the Department of Homeland Security. I also think Blackwater is interested in doing disaster response in the state of California responding for instance to earthquakes or other natural disasters. This is a very lucrative market for these private security firms coming home looking at the domestic feeding trough.

Scahill empathizes with residents in Potrero who are opposed to Blackwater's plans for a training camp in their community.

Scahill : I think the obvious issue that you have is the rattle of the gunfire. I think that you have the issue of the impact it could potentially have on the environment but also what kind of a message does it send to the community when you have a company that has effectively declared itself above any effective laws operating in your community. I mean do you really want a private mercenary army in your backyard?

Additional Guests

  • Rob Davis of voiceofsandiego.org.
  • Bruce Bigelow, San Diego Union Tribune.
  • Roger Showley, San Diego Union Tribune.

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Photo of Amita Sharma

Amita Sharma
Investigative Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an investigative reporter for KPBS, I've helped expose political scandals and dug into intractable issues like sex trafficking. I've raised tough questions about how government treats foster kids. I've spotlighted the problem of pollution in poor neighborhoods. And I've chronicled corporate mistakes and how the public sometimes ends up paying for them.

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