Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army

by Jeremy Scahill

Paperback, 2007

Call number

355.3 S



Four Wals ight Windows Publishing Co.,2007 (2007)


In this exposé by radical journalist Scahill, you will meet BLACKWATER USA, the world's most secretive and powerful mercenary firm. Based in the wilderness of North Carolina, it is the fastest-growing private army on the planet, with forces capable of carrying out regime change throughout the world. Blackwater protects the top US officials in Iraq, and yet we know almost nothing about the firm's quasi-military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and inside the US. Blackwater was founded by an extreme right-wing fundamentalist Christian mega-millionaire ex-Navy Seal named Erik Prince, the scion of a wealthy conservative family that bankrolls far-right-wing causes. This book is the dark story of the rise of a powerful mercenary army, ranging from the blood-soaked streets of Fallujah to rooftop firefights in Najaf to the hurricane-ravaged US Gulf to Washington DC, where Blackwater executives are hailed as new heroes in the war on terror.--From publisher description.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member addict
Scahill, a regular contributor to the Nation, offers a hard-left perspective on Blackwater USA, the self-described private military contractor and security firm. It owes its existence, he shows, to the post–Cold War drawdown of U.S. armed forces, its prosperity to the post-9/11 overextension of
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those forces and its notoriety to a growing reputation as a mercenary outfit, willing to break the constraints on military systems responsible to state authority. Scahill describes Blackwater's expansion, from an early emphasis on administrative and training functions to what amounts to a combat role as an internal security force in Iraq. He cites company representatives who say Blackwater's capacities can readily be expanded to supplying brigade-sized forces for humanitarian purposes, peacekeeping and low-level conflict. While emphasizing the possibility of an "adventurous President" employing Blackwater's mercenaries covertly, Scahill underestimates the effect of publicity on the deniability he sees as central to such scenarios. Arguably, he also dismisses too lightly Blackwater's growing self-image as the respectable heir to a long and honorable tradition of contract soldiering. Ultimately, Blackwater and its less familiar counterparts thrive not because of a neoconservative conspiracy against democracy, as Scahill claims, but because they provide relatively low-cost alternatives in high-budget environments and flexibility at a time when war is increasingly protean
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LibraryThing member kraaivrouw
Jeremy Scahill has an ax to grind and a certain amount of bias shows through in this expose of Blackwater's corporate army. That said, the book is well-researched, reasonably well-written and will definitely switch your paranoia on.

The book takes you through the creation of Blackwater and the
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background of its CEO, Eric Prince, a neo-conservative Evangelical Christian who believes that he is fighting the Crusades. It's clear that Scahill believes that Blackwater is evil and I can't say that I disagree with him. I'm pretty uncomfortable with the notion of outsourcing wars and mercenary armies make me think uncomfortably of the Italian city states in the 10th to 15th century and their constant state of warfare funded by citizens and waged by mercenary bands.

I do have some quibbles with this book. The focus is almost entirely on Blackwater's involvement in Iraq with a few ancillary chapters on their involvement in other localities. I would have liked a broader view of the company and its activities. While his chapter on Blackwater's man on the ground in Chile is interesting, Scahill misses an incredible opportunity to trace the history of US involvement in Central and South America and the teaching of torture at the Academy of the Americas and frankly doesn't do a good enough job of explicating these mercenary's ties to the Pinochet government and why that is problematic. There is another missed opportunity in the chapter on Blackwater after Katrina - to observe that we had boots on the ground with guns on the Gulf Coast before there was humanitarian aid is disturbing, but again I would have liked more information about this and an analysis of how outsourcing is impacting our disaster relief efforts. Lastly, I found myself wishing Scahill was a business reporter - I think there's a big story in where the money is coming from and where it's going and I don't think this is explored well.

Overall this is an interesting book, but very topical. Three years after its publication it is beginning to show its age and in another three years it'll be creaky. I think Scahill has done a great job of investigative reporting, but less well on contextualizing his subject matter.
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LibraryThing member wfzimmerman
An important book with lots of good original reporting. It's unfortunate that the author tends to see Christian evangelists as "the enemy." The situation with Blackwater is disturbing enough without any political assumptions.
LibraryThing member ASKelmore
From my Cannonball Read V review...

Just to make sure we're all on the same page: Blackwater is a horrible, horrible, horrible company, right? Like, everyone with a conscience is aware of that fact? Everyone who works there is not a horrible person (many are just trying to survive), but we all know
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that the organization is bloody awful, yes?

Okay, so starting from that premise, why read a book that tells you in detail about how horrible it is? Because it's good. Really good. It is very well researched, with a level of detail in the writing that brings home the realities of just how atrocious an organization this is.

Scahill provides a history of the company, from its roots in the southern U.S., through the Iraq war and into present day, where Blackwater (now ACADEMI) has truly terrifying plans. He discusses the problems of a mercenary army - recruitment, payment, accountability (well, lack thereof), lawlessness. He uses the murder of four Blackwater contractors in Fallujah as backdrop against which the book is set, returning to what happened, how it happened, and the impact on the families. That running story points out how expendable these contractors are to the company. Their lives may be on the line, and they may be getting great compensation (unless they are from South American or Africa, which Scahill addresses in the book), but in the end, the company doesn't care about them. Their deaths are a PR issue, but that's about it.

The biggest problem with contractors like Blackwater from the perspective of the county and the world is that they are essentially mercenaries. They are paid to protect the elite, to do things that our military might or might not be able to do, and they aren’t accountable to anyone. They may technically be subcontractors, but they aren’t covered by the same laws as private citizens, and they pretend to be military even though they don’t have the same oversight. They can do whatever they want with minimal consequences; claiming immunity as a quasi-military organization. It’s despicable.

From the perspective of the families of the contractors who are killed due to the careless policies of Blackwater (and, by extension, the U.S. government for contracting with them), these contractors don’t get the same respect and care as the military. Some of them may be doing work that troops would have done in the past, but because they aren’t military, they don’t get the same benefits, or support. Is that wrong? I don’t know. You can argue they know what they signed up for, but Blackwater is so shady that who knows what they were really told, and how much time they all had to really review what they signed.

Beyond the tasks Blackwater performed in Iraq and Afghanistan, they also ingratiated themselves in the Katrina response, taking part in disaster profiteering. They lied about saving lives, and tried to not pay the contractors the prevailing ways.

This company isn’t just bad for the reasons stated above; they are bad because of what they represent: a shift from governmental accountability to private (stockholder / owner) accountability. One thing about war is that the country is supposed to feel the consequences of it. It should keep us from just going to war with anyone we dislike, without cause. But as more of the actions are shifted to mercenary companies like Blackwater, who’s to speak up and say it’s not okay?

If you have any interest in this, and want to have some details to back up your understanding that Blackwater is just appalling, check out the book.
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LibraryThing member RajivC
I found this book to be very well researched and very well written. The only reason why I gave it a 4 star, is because it seemed to me, to represent only side of the matter. I am sure Blackwater would have a completely different perspective.

The first twenty or thirty pages were a little slow, but
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then it picked up. Once it picked up, i could not put it down. The book was stunning, and assuming all this is true, the implications are frightening indeed. I am not American, and I don't live in America, however, it would appear to me that a most insidious and dangerous force is slowly taking over much of the security measures/activities in the US, and that this agency may become stronger than the government ones. Since they are motivated primarily by money and power, their lust for the same will be implacable, and the security systems will be held ransom by utterly ruthless men, driven by their cold, hard motives.

Brr... This can be a scary prospect indeed, and I would not like to think too deeply about this at all. I would not sleep at night.

All in all, a fascinating book about the growth of Big Brother in our backyards.
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LibraryThing member cequillo
Scahill reveals the inside workings of the Blackwater organization as well as informative and often disturbing insights into how the privatized military has played such a huge part in our current conflict.
LibraryThing member annbury
This is fun reading for lefties who want their worst fears confirmed. , but does it really convey much information that careful attention during the Bush years wouldn't have made clear? Also, the tone of the book seems biased to me (even though I'm biased in the same direction), and some more
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analysis would have been nice. The outsourcing and professionalization of the U.S. military are profoundly serious long-term issues that require deeper analysis than Scahill provides.
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LibraryThing member MooapeTheSequel
+ a good starting point for further reading on the matter
- repetition can go a long way when building a case, if it's done right
LibraryThing member twylyghtbay
Blackwater is Jeremy Scahill's personal opinion regarding military and military type contractors actions in the Middle East as well as his opinion of the Bush and Clinton Administrations. Reading it felt like reading the National Enquirer or Star Magazine, "because inquiring minds want to know...".
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The author would reference real events with dates and specific data in a effort to substantiate his opinion, but the information always seemed to be half of the data needed to make a well rounded summary and valid conclusion. It seemed that the author only supplied what he thought would substantiate his opinion and insufficient information to provide a full explanation for any one occurrence. I should of just borrowed the book from the library instead of purchasing it and putting any money in the authors pocket. Then it wouldn't be sitting on my bookshelves taking up valuable space. My BA is in Social and Behavioral Science with a double major in political science and history. I know when I'm reading malarki. I'm a firm believer to obtaining data from multiple sources. Multiple international sources in the event of an international incident. I am sure human beings in the field make human mistakes. The author did not provide any data on what the statistical likelihood that a convoy would be assaulted while in transit. How often were they fired upon in the process of completing their assignment? I do not condone murder, but military personnel in a war zone are in a war zone. They are not driving in downtown New Orleans, or Gulf Shores or Key West. In a non-war zone military personnel do not drive through town expecting to be attacked. In a war zone their job is to be prepared for attack. An accurate portrayal of this situation would include that data. Exactly what types of situations the Blackwater personnel encountered on a daily basis since being placed in Iraq. From what I have read from other sources the type of fanatic who would fire upon a convoy or military personnel is dressed the same as everyday people traveling about town. One popular tactic is to place unarmed women in front of armed fanatics to give the fanatics a better opportunity of killing more UN forces. Before condemning a member of the military or military contractor complete date needs to be gathered and presented. Perhaps SOP needs updated,. Perhaps personnel need to be rotated into less active positions more often. There are many ways to improve or change the situation, but first a complete understanding of each situation needs to be compiled. Hopefully, Blackwater adjusted their SOP to a plan that would decrease the likelihood of a repeat of innocent civilians being injured and killed. Hopefully, all military's and military type contractors will develop methods to determine when an operator is to stressed to work within normal parameters. It would seem that fanatics and extremists purposely develop members who will martyr themselves and kill as many of the members of the UN Peace force as possible. The leader who sends to martyrs to their deaths need to stand trial, too. If I ever travel to a war zone I want a team like Blackwater protecting me. I will definitely pull over to the side of the road in a non-threatening manner if I ever encounter one of their convoys to avoid any misinterpretations. I think it boils down to the fact that it is exceptionally difficult to tell the friendlies from the fanatics. Does a member of the team have to die before it is determined that a force in not friendly, Much of the action is a judgement call. Maybe the forces in command need to focus on determining when personnel have experienced too much action and move them to a less active local instead of keeping men past the standard length of service and them being surprised with one of them overreacts to a situation. I guess it boils down to the fact that if you really want to read this book, borrow it from a library.
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LibraryThing member addunn3
A comprehensive and a bit shocking overview of Blackwater and the privatization of our military capabilities.the US is using a private army in the Middle East that has been built by Christian evangelicals - radicals...
LibraryThing member Cherizar
A look into one of our governments darkest elements - hired hands, mercenary armies, working in Iraq without rules or restrictions - how Blackwater shaped the image of America to the Iraqi people.
LibraryThing member newskepticx
Torn. On one hand I should have read this when it was more timely. On the other the rambling meant it sat on my shelf for far longer than it would've if it was written in a straightforward way
LibraryThing member MiaCulpa
Covers the rise of mercenaries, exemplified by Blackwater, who are receiving very large amounts of money to keep the peace in hotspots around the world. Of course, while Blackwater's owner and senior staff are paid handsomely, the same cannot be said of many of the soldiers serving in dangerous
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areas. While some sections drag, overall "Blackwater" is a quite frightening insight into how war is making some people very rich (and did the founder name his company "Blackwater" specifically because it sounded ominous?)
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LibraryThing member gmicksmith
The company that is the subject of this book, Blackwater, changed its name to "Xe," (pronounced like the letter "Z"), as part of a "rebranding" effort aimed at helping the company distance itself from negative incidents such as a September 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square in Baghdad, Iraq that killed
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at least a dozen civilians. The book is an interesting read about the evolution of mercenary armies in service to the U.S. but it does include a bit more about similar companies and countries that employ private contractors. Since this is the case, the book is a bit broader than the title suggests and it details the rise of related movements worldwide. The organization of the book is problematic as a result and it lacks focus at times although most of the documentation will bear scrutiny. One of the book's limitations is a too firm attachment between Bush conservative fundamentalism and the religiously inclined Blackwater corporation. In the post-Bush era, private contractors will continue to grow and I would not overdraw the fundamentalist impulse as a sufficient causal motive for their rise. The growth of the surveillance state and its attendant security needs are a more direct motivation. Blackwater and its less familiar counterparts flourish not because of a reactionary conspiracy against democracy, as Scahill claims, but because they provide relatively low-cost alternatives in high-budget environments and flexibility at a time when war is increasingly asynchronous.

* Winner of the George Polk Book Award
* Alternet Best Book of the Year
* Barnes & Noble one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2007
* Amazon one of the Best Nonfiction Books of 2007
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LibraryThing member nicdevera
A good read, but like in The Assassination Complex, there are repetitive sentences and passages, I'm guessing coming from having a series of longform articles compiled into a book. Still surprising to see the extent of this, the huge amounts of money, the extraordinary legal gray areas that
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complicit politicians carved out to make PMCs effectively immune from prosecution.

Some basic Wikipedia perusal, Blackwater, rebranded Academi, has merged with several other PMCs under an umbrella holding company.
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LibraryThing member TobinElliott
This book just confirms what we all know: the Untied (spelling intentional) States of America is a seriously fucked-up place.

This book terrified me. Overly-powerful fanatical men, believing they are working for the Christian God—the only God—turn killing into a multi-billion dollar industry to
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overthrow all those crazy-ass overly-powerful fanatical men who believe they are working for their god or gods.

In the middle, you have the highly-trained men who are simply in it for the massive payday.

War is big business, and business is good.

It blows my mind that all these Republicans believe they're morally right pulling all this shit (and no, I'm not naive enough to believe the Dems are much better).

I've said it before, I'll say it again. There's more than enough religion in the world to start wars, but nowhere near enough to end them.
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LibraryThing member Kavinay
You go into the book thinking Erik Prince is Darth Vader.

He's not. He's more akin to Director Krennic: a manipulator of corrupt institutions that simply don't value life.

The real shock of Scahill's excellent coverage is just how banal the evil of the mercenary business is. Much like imperialist and
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colonial military dogma, the expansion of the private security contractors--mercenaries--boils down to exploitation and indifference. Exploitation of government policy to procure highly suspect security contracts and indifference towards the lives of the foreign populations affected by private militaries that are not beholden to account for war crimes.
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