Politics is, for lack of a better phrase, a messy business. Cash is king; and for the vast majority of elections, it directly correlates to victory or defeat. We are at a crossroads in society now where the general public is becoming more and more informed as to where all of this money is coming from, and just as importantly, where its all going.
In this day and age, most candidates — Democrats especially — are swearing off money from Political Action Committees (PACs), in large part because they know their constituents are exponentially more engaged than they’ve been in the past with the campaign finance aspect of politics; they know special interests are constantly trying to buy our government’s favor in one way or another. Voters are beginning to wise up.
Most corporations and institutions are more or less partisan; they throw their money almost exclusively to one side or the other, seemingly in consistency with the political leanings of the people who sit in their highest offices. Some industries, however, can afford to be a bit more bi-partisan than others. Private Military Companies, or PMCs, definitely fall into the latter category.
As the foreign policy debate rages on, becoming increasingly prevalent in the minds and hearts of the American electorate, its worth noting that many aspects of the machine that operates foreign policy function out of sight; as is the case in most areas of our society. The private military industry is no different. As far as business models go, one could argue theirs is a rather ingenious one; they’re making money, in most cases regardless of the market.
In short: these companies are already employed in territories currently occupied by warring factions that are part of specific government’s militaries; but if those factions pull out, the conflict, instead of ending, seems inevitably to get outsourced to the private sector. These PMCs know their success is predicated on the concept of constant conflict , which is the backbone of the war economy. For years, these military contractors have operated in the shadows of war-torn nations around the world: Afghanistan, Somalia, and Iraq to name a few. While it’s more than fair to say that many of these companies are international by necessity, some of the largest and most notorious originate from the United States. The most infamous of these entities used to be known by a name you may have heard before: Blackwater.
Blackwater was founded in 1997 by Navy SEAL Erik Prince. It was started, undoubtedly, from a logic that is at the core of every ingenious capitalist notion: response to a demand. Through their early years, Blackwater had operations throughout the Middle East — until president George W. Bush’s “War on Terror” turned the already volatile region into a full-blown war zone. That was Blackwater’s big break, so to speak. Arms of the US government — including the Department of Defense and the CIA — began doling out contracts to the tune of tens of millions of dollars.
As their presence increased, so did the probability of the occurrence of an event that would underline the risk implicit in their presence; these were non-military personnel (though some were formerly enlisted) with the majority having backgrounds as security guards and law enforcement. They were, for all intents and purposes, a private, for-profit army of semi-trained civilians thrown into an environment dominated by an international coalition of combative military forces.
That is to say: many employees of PMCs were far out of their element, and given the less accountable nature of their involvement in these conflicts, they didn’t necessarily have to play by the same rules as everyone else. It has been reported that Blackwater operated with near autonomy for a period but, like most things that dramatically rise upwards, all of this would come crashing down.
On September 16, 2007, Blackwater guards were escorting a convoy through Nisour Square in Baghdad, Iraq. What happened there is well documented, and serves as a reminder of the types of atrocities this U.S.-conceived forever war has incurred along its path. Blackwater opened fire on civilians in the square — killing 17 and wounding another 20.
The Iraqi government said the killings were unprovoked, and shortly thereafter, a US military report corroborated their story. It would be an incident that would seemingly destroy Blackwater as a company. Several federal investigations ensued, and by the time all was said and done, 4 Blackwater guards were convicted of multiple counts of violent crimes and sentenced to extended prison sentences (earlier this year, however, 3 of those 4 had their sentences reduced).
Blackwater’s brand was irreparably damaged, and in 2010, the company was sold and began a process of rebranding; first as Xe Services, and after another acquisition by a defense contractor investment firm called Constellis, became the entity they are known as today — Academi.
As of 2016, Academi’s Board of Directors included:
- Red McCombs — founder of Clear Channel Communications, and long time political power player.
- John Ashcroft — former US Attorney General under George W Bush. He now operates as a lobbyist and consultant, with such clients as Israeli defense companies and the government of Qatar.
- Dean Bosacki — Canadian businessman and consultant.
- Jason DeYonker —longtime associate and financial record-keeper for Blackwater founder Erik Prince, he led the buyout and transition into Xe Services. Its worth noting that while Prince left the company in 2010, this connection still remains.
- Bobby Ray Inman — former NSA director under Carter and Reagan, as well as Deputy Director of the CIA under Reagan. In the late 1980’s, International Signal and Control, a company he was on the board of, was caught illegally selling $30 million in weapons to South Africa; some of which reportedly made their way to Iraq.
- Jack Quinn — former Chief of Staff to Vice President Al Gore and current CNN contributor.
- Russ Robinson —international steel-dust recycling business magnate.
Academi’s website no longer lists its board of directors, and this information was pieced together through extensive reading and research; but the message is the same in either case. This organization is/was run by some extremely connected and powerful individuals with ties to U.S. government administrations dating back to the mid-1970s — and it doesn’t stop there.
Constellis is a company comprised of several different PMCs under one umbrella — those being Academi, Triple Canopy, Centerra, and Olive Group.
It is under this moniker that the remnants of Blackwater have continued to do business throughout the United States and abroad. Throughout all of Constellis’ acquisitions, some Blackwater board members and executives moved into similar roles in the new Constellis parent company, mainly corporate power players Bosacki and McCombs, with a couple other notables joining their ranks.
Tim Reardon, who spent years in the CIA, was brought in to be Constellis CEO; but Paul Donahue, an executive at Centerra is also worth mentioning. Centerra is the new name of one of the other largest and longest running PMCs in the world — G4S. G4S, much like Academi, operates in hotspots across the globe, along with its subsidiaries, such as Rapiscan, and profits from the atrocities of war. Rapiscan, for example, provides body and cargo scanning equipment used at Israeli checkpoints throughout the West Bank. The reach of this security conglomerate is massive, but even with arms as long as theirs, they still needed some pockets to dig in to. In August of 2016, they found some — at Apollo Global Management.
Apollo Global Management has made most of its money by buying out companies that were failing during the financial crisis of 2008, and to date Apollo has acquired dozens of corporations to add to its dazzling portfolio. The firm now owns Redbox, home security company ADT, and several other seemingly random entities, including Constellis.
However, the Apollo brand sits on a perch that is far enough removed from the stigma surrounding the PMC industry that they feel comfortable in throwing their money from up there; after all, with board members like former Senator Evan Bayh and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft, a false sense of invincibility is relatively understandable.
Executives at Apollo have already donated 10’s of 1000’s in 2019, and they have an undeniable infatuation with two Senators (one of which is a candidate for president). Those Senators are Mitch McConnell and Cory Booker — the latter of which used to sit on the board of the Alliance for School Choice with current Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, sister of Erik Prince.
Its a small world, isn’t it?
Four Apollo executives have donated almost $20,000 to Senator McConnell this year alone, which, to be honest, should be expected given the Majority Leader’s history of taking money from, well, just about anyone that has a lot of it — especially in the defense sector. Presidential candidate Cory Booker has taken almost double that. According to FEC filings, Apollo Global executives have donated more than $41,000 to his 2020 campaign, including a $1,000 donation from Justin Stevens — the Apollo executive that also sits on the board of Academi’s parent company Constellis, a role he acquired in the merger.
This puts the profits of the war economy’s black market directly into the pockets of a Presidential candidate.
While some may make the argument that Apollo has so much diverse skin in the game that their PMC business isn’t of much importance to them, there is some evidence that suggests otherwise. According to OpenSecrets, Apollo Global has lobbied several bills this year — one of them being the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act. According to lobbying disclosures, Parry, Romani, Deconcini & Symms was hired by Apollo to lobby the NDAA — on behalf of General Nutrition Center, or GNC, another Apollo subsidiary.
This begs an obvious question: what reason on Earth would a nutritional supplement chain to lobby about a federal defense budget? Any explanation that doesn’t involve the possibility of this being an instance of “shadow lobbying” is bordering on being willingly ignorant to the rather obvious reality of the situation. In this way, Apollo can lobby for the interests of Constellis without anyone knowing the wiser — unless they decided to dig. Apollo, as high profile as it is, is still wary of the brand damage they stand to incur if people see their company in the same light as war profiteers — which they are.
If you follow the money, in almost every arena in which money is weaponized, you can almost always find a window into the motivations of those who feel powerful enough to facilitate it’s abuse. Erik Prince should be a pariah after the fallout of Blackwater, but he isn’t. Instead, Prince was recently an advisor to President Trump, and even reportedly tried to convince him to practically spy on his own citizens to an extent only Orwell would appreciate.
Prince sold out, and it didn’t take long for Wall Street to buy in, at least to his brainchild of a PMC. On the opposite end, the current owners at Apollo likely feel as though there are so many layers of paperwork and rebrands separating them from their for-profit war businesses that they can afford to start cautiously increasing the financial support for their less-than-savory endeavors.
As I’ve said before, their business model allows for profit both inside and outside the margins; and to them, the prospect of whether or not we pull our troops out of countries such as Afghanistan is irrelevant. If anything, with a smaller official presence, logic would dictate that there would be more incentive for the U.S. government to increase their contractual relationships with companies like Academi. In short, they are getting comfortable again; we shouldn’t let them.
We as a populace need to understand that these companies and investment firms don’t see themselves as the malignancy they are, but any institution that makes even a sliver of profit from the bloodshed and environmental instability of constant war should be deemed immoral, and any candidate who knowingly accepts their tainted money should be disqualified in the eyes of those who oppose such a disgusting approach to enrichment.
We get caught up in the big names: Raytheon, Lockheed Martin, United Technologies — but we fail to see that they serve as the mask for a myriad of PMC and ironically named “defense contractors” for which cash flow is directly related to blood flow.
Its time we became the tourniquet.
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