Erik Prince

Erik Dean Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman, former U.S. Navy SEAL officer, and the founder of the private military company Blackwater USA, now called Academi. He served as Blackwater's CEO until 2009, and as its chairman, until its sale to a group of investors in 2010. Prince now heads the private equity firm Frontier Resource Group, and is chairman of the Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group.

Erik Prince
Erik Prince.jpg
Prince in 2015
Born
Erik Dean Prince

(1969-06-06) June 6, 1969 (age 51)
EducationHillsdale College (BA)
Known forFounder of Blackwater
Spouse(s)
Joan Prince
(m. 1991; died 2003)

Joanna Houck
(m. 2004; div. 2012)

Stacy DeLuke (m. date unknown)
Children7
RelativesEdgar Prince (father)
Betsy DeVos (sister)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy
RankLieutenant
UnitUnited States Navy SEALs

He is the brother of U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

Early life, education, and military serviceEdit

Prince was born on June 6, 1969, in Holland, Michigan, the son of Edgar D. Prince and his wife, Elsa (Zwiep),[a] and the youngest of four children.[1] He graduated from Holland Christian High School.[2] Prince and his father toured the world together, visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, divided Berlin, and the battlefields of Normandy. According to his mother, these trips "made a big impression" on the young Prince.[3]

Prince was accepted into the United States Naval Academy and attended for three semesters before leaving, explaining that he loved the Navy but disliked the Academy. He went on to receive his B.A. in economics from Hillsdale College in 1992.[4] Some sources say Prince dropped out of the Naval Academy,[5][6] while others say he transferred to Hillsdale.[7][8] During his time at Hillsdale, he served as a volunteer firefighter and as a cold-water diver for the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department.[9] Prince eventually became an emergency medical technician.[10]

In 1990, Prince secured an internship in the White House under George H.W. Bush,[11] but soon left to intern for California congressman Dana Rohrabacher, President Ronald Reagan's former speechwriter. Rohrabacher described Prince as "a bright, driven young man." At the age of 21, Prince volunteered to search for a mass grave in Nicaragua, to expose killings under President Daniel Ortega and later said that he had found one.[12]

After college, Prince was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy via Officer Candidate School in 1992. He went on to become a Navy SEAL and deployed with SEAL Team 8 to Haiti, the Middle East, and the Balkans. He credits the SEALs for being an outlet for his entrepreneurial spirit. In his autobiography he states that during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s, he realized that there was a need for private training facilities for special operations.[13]

Prince ended his U.S. Navy service prematurely in 1995 when his father died. Erik assumed control of daily operations at Prince Machine Corporation for a year until 1996 when his mother sold the company for $1.35 billion in cash to Johnson Controls.[14][15]

Private careerEdit

Prince moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997.[16] He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations.[17] The name "Blackwater" comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.[18]

Prince credits the 1994 Rwandan genocide with his decision to start Blackwater. He later said, "It really bothered me. It made me realize you can't sit back and pontificate. You have to act."[19]

From 1997 to 2010, Blackwater was awarded $2 billion in government security contracts,[20] more than $1.6 billion of which were unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work.[21] From 2001 to 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates.[22] It became the largest of the State Department's three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad.[23] Prince built a shooting range on his rural Virginia land to serve as a nearby training facility to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.[20] In his memoir Prince says that he provided the CIA with links to Afghan warlords who helped "topple the Taliban and drive al Qaeda into hiding."[13]

Blackwater came under increasing criticism after the Nisour Square massacre in September 2007, in which Blackwater employees opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more. Three guards were convicted in October 2014 of 14 manslaughter charges, and another of murder, in a U.S. court in 2019.[24][25]

The criticism continued after president Barack Obama took office in 2009. Prince said he believes that much of this criticism stems from politics. "I put myself and my company at the CIA's disposal for some very risky missions," Prince told Vanity Fair for its January 2010 issue. "But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus."[26]

Blackwater lost a $1 billion contract with the State Department to protect American diplomatic personnel in 2009, after the Iraqi government refused to renew the company's operating license. [27]

Nevertheless, in 2010 the Barack Obama administration awarded the company a $120 million United States Department of State security contract and about $100 million in new CIA work.[21]

In 2012 Blackwater's successor company paid a combined $49.5 million to settle charges of arms trafficking violations dating back to the period Prince was CEO and chairman of the company.[28] In 2020 Prince again became the focus of an FBI investigation into arms trafficking violations. [29]

Prince has defended Blackwater's work, pointing to the fact that in 40,000 personal security missions, only 200 involved guards firing their weapons. He has said, "No one under our care was ever killed or injured. We kept them safe, all the while we had 30 of our men killed."[19]

Prince, according to author Robert Young Pelton, reportedly thinks of Blackwater's relationship to the military as something similar to FedEx's relationship to the U.S. Post Office: "an efficient, privatized solution to sclerotic and wasteful government bureaucracy."[30] He credits his father's competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.[31]

Prince resigned as CEO of Blackwater on March 2, 2009, and remained chairman of the board until he sold the company in late 2010 to a group of investors.[32]

Disclosure as part of a covert CIA task forceEdit

Prince was part of a CIA task force created to engage in targeted killings of suspected terrorists, possibly in violation of domestic and international law. Prince alleged, without evidence, that the House intelligence congressional committee leaked his name to the press.[33] Prince has said that he is convinced that former CIA director Leon Panetta outed him as a CIA asset, after shutting down the covert CIA training operation in 2009.[20] There is no evidence to support Prince's claim.

Private security for the United Arab EmiratesEdit

After Blackwater faced mounting legal problems in the United States, Prince was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010. His task was to assemble an 800-member troop of foreign troops for the U.A.E., which was planned months before the Arab Spring.[34] He helped the UAE found a new company named Reflex Responses, or R2, with 51 percent local ownership, carefully avoiding his name on corporate documents. He worked to oversee the effort and recruit troops, among others from Executive Outcomes, a former South African mercenary firm hired by several African governments during the 1990s to defeat violent rebellions in addition to protecting oil and diamond reserves.

As of January 2011, Prince was training a force of 2,000 Somalis for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The program was funded by several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and backed by the United States. Prince's spokesman, Mark Corallo, said Prince had "no financial role" in the project and declined to answer any questions about Prince's involvement. John Burnett of Maritime Underwater Security Consultants said, "There are 34 nations with naval assets trying to stop piracy and it can only be stopped on land. With Prince's background and rather illustrious reputation, I think it's quite possible that it might work."[35]

Private equity investor in AfricaEdit

Prince currently heads a private equity firm called Frontier Resource Group and is chairman of Frontier Services Group Ltd, a Bermuda-incorporated logistics and transport company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.[36] Frontier Services Group is backed by China's state-owned CITIC Group and Hong Kong-based investor Johnson Chun Shun Ko [zh],[37][38] with the Chinese government listed as the largest investor.[39] Prince's ventures advise and support Chinese investment in oil and gas in Africa.[40]

In May 2014, it was reported that Prince's plan to build a diesel refinery in South Sudan, in which $10 million had already been invested, was suspended. The halted refinery project was reported to be supported personally by the country's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit.[36] Frontier Services Group was reported to be paid $23.3 million by South Sudan's Ministry of Petroleum to transport supplies and perform maintenance on oil production facilities.[41]

As part of Prince's Africa-focused investment strategy, Frontier Services Group purchased stakes in two Kenyan aviation companies, Kijipwa Aviation and Phoenix Aviation, to provide logistics services for the country's oil and gas industry.[36] In October 2014, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority denied Kijipwa Aviation an aviation license renewal.[42][43][44]

Prince also purchased a 25% stake in Austrian aviation company Airborne Technologies. In 2014, Prince commissioned the company to modify Thrush 510G crop-dusters with surveillance equipment, machine guns, armor, and other weapons, including custom pylons that could mount either NATO or Russian ballistics.[45] One of the modified crop-dusters was delivered to Salva Kiir Mayardit's forces in South Sudan shortly before a contract with Frontier Services Group was cancelled. Frontier Services Group owns two of the modified Thrush 510Gs, but since executives learned the craft had been weaponized by Prince, the company has declined to sell or use the aircraft to avoid violating U.S. export controls.[46]

Ties to Trump campaignsEdit

The New York Times reported in May 2018 that Prince arranged an August 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, attended by himself, Donald Trump, Jr., George Nader and Joel Zamel, during which Nader reportedly told Trump Jr. the crown princes of Saudi Arabia and the UAE were eager to help his father win the election, and Zamel pitched a social media manipulation campaign from his Israeli company Psy-Group.[47] Prince had stated in his November 2017 testimony to the House Intelligence Committee that he had no formal communications or contact, nor any unofficial role, with the Trump campaign.[48] Asked about this contradiction in March 2019, Prince replied, “I don't know if [the Committee] got the transcript wrong" and "not all the discussion that day was transcribed, and that's a fact.”[49] Prince acknowledged for the first time in March 2019 that he had attended the 2016 Trump Tower meeting, asserting he was there to "talk about Iran policy."[50]

Special Counsel investigators have examined a meeting around January 11, 2017, in the Seychelles that was convened by the UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan (known as "MBZ"), which Prince attended. Also present at that meeting were Nader and Kirill Dmitriev, the CEO of the state-owned Russian Direct Investment Fund, who is close to Vladimir Putin. UAE officials reportedly believed that Prince was representing the Trump transition and Dmitriev was representing Putin. The Washington Post had reported on April 3, 2017, that American, European and Arab officials said the Seychelles meeting was "part of an apparent effort to establish a back-channel line of communication between Moscow and President-elect Donald Trump." Prince denied in his November 2017 House Intelligence Committee testimony that he had represented the Trump transition or that the meeting involved any back-channel.[51][52][53][54] The Washington Post reported on March 7, 2018, that the Special Counsel had gathered evidence that contradicts Prince,[55] and ABC News reported on April 6, 2018, that Nader had met with Prince at a Manhattan hotel days before the Seychelles meeting and later provided him with biographical information about Dmitriev.[56]

The Mueller report later found that Nader had represented Prince to Dmitriev as "designated by Steve [Bannon] to meet you! I know him and he is very very well connected and trusted by the New Team," while Prince "acknowledged that it was fair for Nader to think that Prince would pass information on to the Transition Team," although Bannon told investigators that Prince had not informed him of the Dmitriev meeting in advance. Prince testified to the House Intelligence Committee that “I didn't fly there to meet any Russian guy,” although the Mueller report found that he and Nader made significant preparations to meet Dmitriev. Although Prince characterized a second meeting between him and Dmitriev in a hotel bar as a chance encounter of no consequence, the meeting was actually pre-arranged after Prince had learned from calls back home that Russia had moved an aircraft carrier off Libya and he wanted to convey that the United States would not accept any Russian involvement in Libya.[57][58]

House Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff announced on April 30, 2019, that he was sending a criminal referral to the Justice Department alleging Prince had provided false testimony to the committee.[59][60] United States Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd confirmed on February 4, 2020, that the Department of Justice was opening an investigation into Prince.[61][62]

Connections to Nicolas Maduro and VenezuelaEdit

On December 30, 2019, it was reported that Prince had traveled to Venezuela to meet with a top aide of Nicolas Maduro.[63] Prince has been referred to the United States Treasury Department for possible violations of sanctions against the Maduro government.[63]

Political infiltration operations allegationsEdit

The New York Times reported in March 2020 that in recent years Prince had recruited former intelligence agents to infiltrate "Democratic congressional campaigns, labor organizations and other groups considered hostile to the Trump agenda."[64] Prince's efforts were reportedly conducted to assist Project Veritas, a widely discredited conservative organisation that was described as disseminating "coordinated disinformation"[65] due to its repeated use of deceptively edited videos in mostly failed attempts to discredit Democrats, the media, and liberal groups.[66] Prince also reportedly arranged for Project Veritas employees to receive intelligence training, which ended when the trainer quit because the group "wasn't capable of learning."[67] Prince continued to support Project Vertitas after the organization's failure to disclose to state regulators the criminal conviction of its founder, James O'Keefe, resulted in the revocation of their charitable organization status in multiple states, and caused other donors to withdraw their financial support. [68]

Proposed cooperation with the Wagner group & activities in LibyaEdit

In April 2020, the Intercept reported that Prince has offered his services as a subcontractor to Russian Wagner group's activities in Mozambique and Libya, suggesting to provide aerial surveillance platforms and a ground force. [39] An investigation by the Rolling Stone has since revealed a number of connections between Prince and the Libyan warlord Khalifa Haftar's attempts in 2019 to overthrow the U.N.-backed government of Libya.[69]

Personal lifeEdit

Prince lives in both Middleburg, Virginia[70] and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.[71][72] He converted to Catholicism in 1992[73] and describes himself as a practicing member of the church.[26]

Political viewsEdit

Prince describes himself as a libertarian.[26] Despite running companies that rely almost exclusively on government contracts funded by taxpayer dollars, Prince said, "I'm a very free market guy. I'm not a huge believer that government provides a whole lot of solutions. Some think that government can solve society's problems. I tend to think private charities and private organizations are better solutions."[74]

Prince credits his time as a White House intern with some of his political views. He said that "having that White House internship responsibility and badges, I walked around some of these other cavernous federal agencies, and you want to talk about depressing? Walk through HHS or HUD or Commerce, you name it. Leviathan realized."[74] Speaking of his internship, Prince said, "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act." Disenchanted, Prince became a backer of presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.[75]

Prince has advocated for a leaner, more efficient military, suggesting several ways to make the military more efficient without compromising security. His suggestions include: greater accountability of costs, using appropriate equipment for each job, reduction of overhead, and operational and procurement reform.[citation needed]

Contributions to political and charitable causesEdit

Between 1998 and 2007, Prince donated more than $200,000 to Republican and third-party causes.[76][77] In 2006, Prince contributed money to the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania as part of a failed effort to help Republican Rick Santorum defeat Democrat Bob Casey.[77] He has also donated to the Family Research Council,[78] a beneficiary of the Prince and DeVos families since the 1980s,[77][79] which the Southern Poverty Law Center designates as a hate group that "makes false claims about the LGBTQ community based on discredited research and junk science."[80]

In 2016 Prince contributed $250,000 to Donald Trump's presidential campaign, and $100,000 to Make America Number 1, a Trump-aligned super PAC helmed by Rebekah Mercer.[71][81]

Other Republican politicians that Prince has contributed to include Ron Paul, Walter Jones, Joe Miller, Todd Tiarht, Mike Pence, Dana Rohrabacher, Oliver North, Pat Buchanan, Jim DeMint, Tom Coburn, Duncan L. Hunter, Ted Poe, Jon Kyl, Pete Hoekstra, and Mitt Romney.[82][83]

Prince serves as vice president of the Prince Foundation, an organization his parents founded in 1979.[81] In the 1990s Prince founded the Freiheit ("Liberty") Foundation, a nonprofit charity which funded a number of conservative causes.[78] Publicly available tax records indicate the foundation has been largely inactive since 2008 after claiming a $1.8 million loss in 2007 (more than 50% of the foundation's assets) related to its investment in Seligman New Technologies Fund, [84] whose manager was accused of engaging in illegal market timing activity.[85] Prince has frequently donated to conservative Christian organizations, including the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion and Liberty and the Prison Fellowship, and conservative political groups such as the Council for National Policy, of which his father was vice president at the time of his death.[78] After Blackwater employees opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more [86], Prince supported a Muslim orphanage in Afghanistan and built mosques at Blackwater bases.[26]

FamilyEdit

Prince is the younger brother of United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos,[87][88] and the brother-in-law of former Alticor (Amway) president Dick DeVos.[89][b]

Prince's first wife, Joan Nicole,[92][93] died of cancer in 2003 at age 36.[94] She introduced Prince to Catholicism.[92] They had four children.[95] He later wrote that he had an affair with Joanna Ruth Houck, his children's nanny, while his wife was dying.[96] Prince and Houck married in 2004.[97] He is now married to Stacy DeLuke,[98] a former Blackwater spokesperson.[99]

Prince has seven children. His youngest child, Charles Donovan Prince, was named after William "Wild Bill" Donovan.[94]

See alsoEdit

Further readingEdit

  • Pelton, Robert Young (2006). Licensed to Kill: Hired Guns in the War on Terror. New York: Three Rivers Press. ISBN 1400097819. Prince.
  • Simons, Suzanne (2009). Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War. New York City: Harper. ISBN 978-0-06-165135-9.
  • Pelton, Robert Young (November 2010). An American Commando In Exile. Men's Journal. – Prince spends his last two days in America with Pelton.
  • Scahill, Jeremy (2007). Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. ISBN 978-1-56025-979-4.
  • Prince, Erik (June 1, 2008). Inside Blackwater: The True Story of the World's Most Controversial Company by the Man Who Founded It. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 978-1596985575. Hardcover, 256 pages.
  • Prince, Erik (November 2013). Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Portfolio/Penguin. ISBN 978-1591847212.Hardcover, 416 pages.

NotesEdit

  1. ^ At the time of their marriage, she was known by her maiden name, Elsa Zwiep. Following her marriage to Prince, she was known as Elsa Prince. After Prince's death in 1995 she married, in 2000, a minister, Ren Broekhuizen, and was known as Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen.
  2. ^ The DeVos family is one the richest families in the United States and are strong financial supporters of archconservatives.[90][91]

ReferencesEdit

  1. ^ Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and Todd Spangler (October 7, 2007). "Ready for battle". The Detroit Free Press.CS1 maint: uses authors parameter (link)
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  3. ^ Simons 2009, pp. 11–2
  4. ^ "Erik Prince exclusive interview".
  5. ^ Flintoff, Corey (September 25, 2007). "Blackwater's Prince Has GOP, Christian Group Ties". NPR.
  6. ^ Wisely, John (April 8, 2017). "Betsy DeVos' brother, Blackwater founder Erik Prince, sparks headlines". Detroit Free Press.
  7. ^ Risen, James (October 8, 2007). "Blackwater Chief at Nexus of Military and Business". The New York Times.
  8. ^ Thomas, Evan (October 31, 2017). "Profile: Blackwater's Erik Prince". Newsweek.
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  10. ^ Simons 2009, p. 19
  11. ^ White-Collar Mercenary Under Fire by Marc Pitzke, Der Spiegel, October 3, 2007,
  12. ^ Pelton, Robert Young. "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Men's Journal. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved June 3, 2011.
  13. ^ a b Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror Hardcover by Erik Prince.Portfolio Hardcover (November 18, 2013) ISBN 978-1591847212
  14. ^ Robert Young Pelton (November 30, 2010). "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2011.
  15. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 291
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  47. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Bergman, Ronen; Kirkpatrick, David D. (May 19, 2018). "Trump Jr. and Other Aides Met With Gulf Emissary Offering Help to Win Election". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved July 23, 2019.
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  57. ^ Mueller report, vol.1, p.151
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