Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blackwater's run for the border

Students, something else is brewing that's significant. This is a mercenary group that has been outsourced in Iraq by the U.S. Government to fight its war. Check out this chilling video on Blackwater on Youtube.

According to Wikipedia News, Blackwater mercenaries used in New Orleans, they were also contracted in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans "to secure petrochemical facilities and provide security services for the federal government."

This is part of a more general privatization of the U.S.-Mexican border that should concern us all.

-Dra. Valenzuela

October 23, 2007

Blackwater's run for the border

The notorious security contractor has plans for a
military-style complex near the U.S.-Mexico border.
Critics worry the firm's "mercenary soldiers" could
join the U.S. Border Patrol.

By Eilene Zimmerman

There are signs that Blackwater USA, the private
security firm that came under intense scrutiny after
its employees killed 17 civilians in Iraq in September,
is positioning itself for direct involvement in U.S.
border security. The company is poised to construct a
major new training facility in California, just eight
miles from the U.S.-Mexico border. While contracts for
U.S. war efforts overseas may no longer be a growth
industry for the company, Blackwater executives have
lobbied the U.S. government since at least 2005 to help
train and even deploy manpower for patrolling America's

Blackwater is planning to build an 824-acre military-
style training complex in Potrero, Calif., a rural
hamlet 45 miles east of San Diego. The company's
proposal, which was approved last December by the
Potrero Community Planning Group and has drawn protest
from within the Potrero community, will turn a former
chicken ranch into "Blackwater West," the company's
second-largest facility in the country. It will include
a multitude of weapons firing ranges, a tactical
driving track, a helipad, a 33,000-square-foot urban
simulation training area, an armory for storing guns
and ammunition, and dorms and classrooms. And it will
be located in the heart one of the most active regions
in the United States for illegal border crossings.

While some residents of Potrero have welcomed the plan,
others have raised fears about encroachment on
protected lands and what they see as an intimidating
force of mercenaries coming into their backyard. The
specter of Blackwater West and the rising interest in
privatizing border security have also alarmed
Democratic Rep. Bob Filner, whose congressional
district includes Potrero. Filner says he believes it's
a good possibility that Blackwater is positioning
itself for border security contracts and is opposed to
the new complex. "You have to be very wary of mercenary
soldiers in a democracy, which is more fragile than
people think," Rep. Filner told Salon. "You don't want
armies around who will sell out to the highest bidder.
We already have vigilantes on the border, the
Minutemen, and this would just add to [the problem],"
Filner said, referring to the Minuteman Project, a
conservative group that has organized civilian posses
to assist the U.S. Border Patrol in the past. Filner is
backing legislation to block establishment of what he
calls "mercenary training centers" anywhere in the U.S.
outside of military bases. "The border is a sensitive
area," he said, "and if Blackwater operates the way
they do in Iraq -- shoot first and ask questions later
-- my constituents are at risk."

A spokesman for the U.S. Customs and Border Protection
denied there are any specific plans to work directly
with Blackwater. And Blackwater officials say the
complex would be used only for training active-duty
military and law enforcement officials, work for which
the company has contracted with the U.S. government.

But statements and lobbying activity by Blackwater
officials, and the location for the new complex,
strongly suggest plans to get involved in border
security, with potential contracts worth hundreds of
millions of dollars. Moreover, Blackwater enjoys
support from powerful Republican congressmen who
advocate hard-line border policies, including calls for
deploying private agents to beef up the ranks of the
U.S. Border Patrol. Lawmakers supporting Blackwater
include California Rep. and presidential candidate
Duncan Hunter -- who met last year with company
officials seeking his advice on the proposal for
Blackwater West -- and Rep. Mike Rogers of Alabama, who
is sponsoring a bill to allow private contractors such
as Blackwater to help secure U.S. borders.

When questioned at a public hearing with the Potrero
planning group on Sept. 13 about Blackwater West, Brian
Bonfiglio, a Blackwater spokesman, said, "I don't think
there's anyone in this room who wouldn't like to see
the border tightened up." Blackwater currently had no
contracts to help with border security, Bonfiglio said,
but he emphasized that "we would entertain any approach
from our government to help secure either border,
absolutely." Bonfiglio was responding to questions from
Raymond Lutz, a local organizer who opposes the new
complex. (Lutz recorded the exchange and posted video
of it on Oct. 12 at Lutz also
asked Bonfiglio if Blackwater West would be used as a
base for deployment of Border Patrol agents. "Actually,
we've offered it up as a substation to Border Patrol
and U.S. Customs right now," Bonfiglio replied. "We'd
love to see them there."

Ramon Rivera, a spokesman for the U.S. Customs and
Border Protection in Washington, denied Bonfiglio's
claim that the agency is entertaining an offer to use
Blackwater West as a substation. "I think that's just
Blackwater trying to sell themselves," Rivera said.

In fact, Blackwater has been selling itself for direct
involvement in border security at least since May 2005,
when the company's then president, Gary Jackson,
testified before a House subcommittee. Jackson's
testimony focused on Blackwater's helping to train U.S.
Border Patrol agents and included discussion of
contracts theoretically worth $80 million to $200
million, for thousands of personnel. Asked by one
lawmaker if his company saw a market opportunity in
border security, Jackson replied: "I can put as many
men together as you need, trained and on the borders."

The company has turned to powerful allies on Capitol
Hill for support, including Hunter, the ranking
Republican on the House Armed Services Committee and a
longtime proponent of tougher border security. Joe
Kasper, a spokesman for Hunter, confirmed to Salon that
Blackwater officials sought guidance from Hunter on
getting Blackwater West approved for Potrero. Hunter
met with Blackwater officials in May 2006, at which
time Hunter recommended the firm contact Dianne Jacob,
the county supervisor responsible for Potrero and one
of five supervisors who would vote on countywide
approval for Blackwater West. Blackwater officials then
met with Jacob in May, and in June the company
submitted its proposal to the county, where it now must
go through an approval process.

Rep. Filner says Potrero residents have complained to
him that Hunter also brought pressure locally for
Blackwater West. "People in the area told me he called
the landowner [of the proposed site] to urge him to
sell [to Blackwater]. I don't know that he did, but it
wouldn't surprise me," says Filner. "That's what people
in the area are saying." (Hunter has ties to Potrero,
which used to be part of his congressional district;
after a redestricting in 2001, Potrero became part of
Filner's district, which borders Hunter's district.)

Spokesman Kasper denied that Hunter called the
landowner, whose identity remains unclear. But Kasper
also said that Hunter "supports Blackwater and other
private security contractors in Iraq, and he supports
the training facility in Potrero."

One specific concern Potrero residents have raised with
relation to Blackwater West is the high risk of
wildfires in their part of the county -- a danger on
display the last two days as Potrero has been ravaged
by fire along with other parts of Southern California.
Blackwater has in fact pushed as a selling point that
the complex would be a "defensible location" during
wildfires. But opponents, including Jan Hedlun, the
only member of the Potrero Planning Group opposed to
Blackwater West, foresee danger rather than a safe
haven. As Hedlun wrote in a recent editorial in the San
Diego Union-Tribune, "residents state they would not
flee to a box canyon with one access point and an
armory filled with ammunition and/or explosives."

Ever since illegal immigration became a top issue for
the Bush administration and lawmakers on Capitol Hill,
there have been growing calls for the U.S. to bring
private security companies into border enforcement. In
September 2006, the conservative Heritage Foundation in
Washington released a policy paper titled "Better,
Faster, and Cheaper Border Security," which urged
Congress and the president to beef up forces as fast as
possible. "In particular," the report said, "private
contractors could play an important role in recruiting
and training Border Patrol agents and providing
personnel to secure the border." Late last month, one
of the report's authors hosted a symposium in
Washington for an updated discussion on the topic, for
which Rep. Rogers -- a proponent of both Blackwater and
DynCorp International, another private security
contractor with personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan --
was the keynote speaker.

On June 19 of this year, during a House subcommittee
meeting titled "Ensuring We Have Well-Trained Boots on
the Ground at the Border," Rep. Christopher Carney, a
Democrat from Pennsylvania, acknowledged "it's no
secret that CPB [Customs and Border Protection] as a
whole lacks the manpower to fulfill its crucial
mission." Robert B. Rosenkranz, president of the
government services division of DynCorp, presented a
plan for putting 1,000 DynCorp employees at the border
in 13 months, at a cost of $197 million.

In May 2006, the Bush administration had called for a
sharp increase in manpower, at least with the existing
federal force. President Bush then signed a bill into
law on Oct. 4, 2006, to boost the number of U.S.
Customs and Border Patrol agents on the ground by
nearly 50 percent, from approximately 12,300 to
approximately 18,300, by the end of 2008.

But even such an ambitious increase would do little to
stop the flow of illegal immigrants, says T.J. Bonner,
president of the National Border Patrol Council, which
represents most U.S. Border Patrol agents. Bonner,
himself a field agent in east San Diego County, told
the House subcommittee in June, "Realistically, there
is no magic number of Border Patrol agents required to
secure our borders and even if there were, it would
certainly be much higher than the 18,000 proposed by
the administration."

Scott Borgerson, a fellow at the Council on Foreign
Relations who specializes in homeland security, says it
makes sense that U.S. companies would try to position
themselves to fill gaps in national security with
lucrative private-sector solutions. "If I was running a
company doing private security, it's definitely what I
would do," he says of Blackwater's plan to locate near
the border.

In an Oct. 15 article in the Wall Street Journal,
Blackwater CEO Erik Prince said that the company now
sees the market diminishing for the kind of security
work its employees have done in Iraq. He said that
going forward the company's focus "is going to be more
of a full spectrum," ranging from delivering
humanitarian aid to responding to natural disasters.
But priorities for the Bush administration, including
immigration and border security, could also figure into
Blackwater's plans -- as Salon reported recently, the
company's skyrocketing revenues during Bush's
presidency are accompanied by the firm's close ties
with influential Republicans and top Bush officials.

Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said that the
notion of Blackwater vying for lucrative border
security contracts is "merely speculation," and noted
that the location for Blackwater West is close to San
Diego's military bases, a major training market for the
company. "But hypothetically," Tyrrell added, "if the
government came to us and needed assistance with border
security, we'd be honored."

Borgerson says there is a role for private contractors
in helping keep the United States safe. "But certain
jobs belong to trained U.S. government officials -- men
and women in uniform who have a flag on their sleeves,"
says Borgerson, who was a Coast Guard officer for 10
years. "You recite an oath that says you will defend --
not Congress, not the president, not even the people --
but the Constitution. You don't sign that oath when you
go to work for Blackwater."

Bonner, of the U.S. Border Patrol, remains skeptical
about Blackwater getting involved, and he says others
in the upper ranks of the Border Patrol are opposed to
private contractors working alongside them. He sees
potential problems with both training and patrolling.
The much higher pay likely offered to private agents,
for example, would threaten an already difficult-to-
retain federal force. "It will entice people to jump
over to the other side," he says, "especially if they
don't have a long-term career in mind." Bonner also
says it is crucial to have a single training
curriculum, and a single chain of command, to help
ensure effective and lawful operations. "This is a bad
idea from so many perspectives," he says of potentially
privatizing the force.

The issue may be linked to broader problems the U.S. is
currently facing with national security. "If we weren't
allocating a tremendous amount of our resources in
Iraq, we wouldn't have to outsource to companies like
Blackwater," Borgerson says. While securing the U.S.
borders is an important priority, he adds, "I feel we
shouldn't outsource our sovereignty."
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