Recently the Washington Post ran an article about the lawsuit against Erik Prince (former Navy officer, SEAL, CIA asset and co-founder and former CEO of, the former private security company Blackwater) by Robert Young Pelton, author and adventurer in war and conflict zones.
Pelton was one of the first authors to write about Blackwater, having spent a month running Route Irish with the same Blackwater rapid reaction security detail in Baghdad that would ultimately be involved in the Nisour Square shootout.
That was probably why Prince turned to him when seeking help in editing and marketing his memoir. Pelton claims Prince didn’t pay what he is owed and is suing him.
Predictably, Prince, who is no stranger to litigation, is countersuing, alleging that Pelton should not have applied money Prince contractually owed Pelton for a subscription to Somalia Report, a website Pelton created to cover all aspects of the Horn of Africa region.
But while all of this is entertaining it is, at least for those who follow the private military and security sector, not breaking news. The reason I mention it, however, was this bit in the Washington Post article:
Could Erik Prince — a former Navy SEAL who reportedly worked as an undercover CIA operative — specify how much of his best-selling memoir he wrote himself?
“I don’t know, because — I don’t know,” Prince said during a day-long deposition at a Northern Virginia law office about a year ago.
“Do you have a specific recollection of writing any of this book?” the opposing attorney asked.
“Absolutely,” Prince replied.
“And can you identify for me, by chapter number or page number, where that written contribution is?”
“No, not right now,” Prince said, “I can’t.”
As someone who wrote a book a few years ago about private security contractors in Iraq, that got my attention. If it had been, say, ten years ago, okay, he’s a busy billionaire CEO, I might believe it. But a book that you supposedly wrote on your own (that is another story, by the way) which was only published about two years ago, and you can’t recall what portions of the book you actually wrote? Now, that’s humor.
Now curious, I thought it might be worthwhile to take a closer look at the legal proceedings between Prince and Pelton to see what other hilarities might be there.
The last, publicly available, legal deposition I was able to find took place October 1, 2013 — a few months after the final drafts of Prince’s memoir were done. It turns out that for a man who has developed a reputation as a decisive, knowledgeable man of action there is a lot that Erik Prince doesn’t remember (How con-VEEN-ient!, as Saturday Night Live’s Church Lady used to say), doesn’t know or gets mixed up. Perhaps it is really the first sign of a future case of Alzheimer’s for him. And, it also paints a picture of a man who doesn’t seem to feel that he has to answer questions; sort of a man who is above legal procedure, if not above the law.
But let’s first give Prince his due credit. For man who once headed a firm often characterized as doing things on the cheap (remember the four Blackwater contractors killed at Fallujah, Iraq in 2004) he has no problem splurging on legal talent. At the deposition he is represented by three, count ‘em, three lawyers – led by Prince family friend and strident right wing TV lawyer, Victoria Toensing (a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Reagan Administration). Pelton was represented by a Derek Swanson of McGuire Woods one of the oldest law firms in America.
Now, back to forgetfulness.
Prince thought that Pelton’s book, “Licensed to Kill,” had been published before they first met in 2004, but it was not published until 2006.
Prince doesn’t remember meeting Pelton in 2004. He insists he met Pelton after he read “Licensed to Kill,” even though Pelton’s exclusive interview with Prince kicks off the opening chapter in the book.
He insists he didn’t read a Men’s Journal article Pelton wrote in 2010, even though he provided Pelton with detailed comments and a suggested rewrite that Pelton ignored. Though, in light of future events, he should remember one noteworthy quote he made in that article, i.e., “I’m done. It’s all sold or shut down. I’m getting out of the government contracting business” [my emphasis]. More on that, below.
He doesn’t remember agreeing to pay Pelton $150,000 a month to sponsor and upgrade a newsletter called the Somalia Report. Note from us little people: it must be nice to be in the sort of business where agreeing to pay someone $150,000 monthly is so trivial as to be forgettable.
However, on the bright side, Prince did not have any old savings account to keep money in. His account was titled the Erik D. Prince Living Trust.
Also, evidently Prince hadn’t severed connections will all his past business connections. For example, a $325,515 payment to Pelton made in September 2011 came from a company called Thor Global Enterprises Ltd., which Prince says he was owed due to past consulting he did for them.
That consulting would presumably be the work Prince did as part of trying to set up a mercenary battalion for the United Arab Emirates, as reported by the New York Times in 2011. The Times reported that “Thor Global Enterprises, a company on the Caribbean island of Tortola [largest and most populated of the British Virgin Islands] specialized in “placing foreign servicemen in private security positions overseas.”
Thor Colombia is a Blackwater front company, according to September 2011 article in Colombia’s El Colombiano newspaper, which rents Colombian security people. Many of these people had no prior military experience.
Hiring Colombians, instead of people from the UAE or elsewhere in the Middle East, was seen as preferable because they would presumably be more willing to kill Muslims, as the Nation reported.
An interesting historical note, according to Pelton, is that TGE has the exact same address as ID Systems which provided Colombians to Blackwater in Iraq. ID Systems is the now known as Fortox, according to Colombia’s Semana magazine.
It is very much worth noting that Erik Prince has owned or controlled many different companies since helping to found Blackwater. Trying to track them all is why the world needs forensic accountants, but you can find reasonably comprehensive listings here and here.
As noted above, Prince has made a lot of rhetorical points in recent years, especially after the publication of his memoir, that he is out of the security business forever due to the supposed unfair vilification of him by both the U.S. government and the media and public.
But, reading the deposition, it hardly seems credible that he is done with security contracting. For example, take Greystone Limited, a Blackwater affiliated provider of protective support services since 2004 and acquired in 2010 by Academi (formerly Blackwater), which now operates as a standalone company.
In the deposition there is this exchange:
Q. Okay. I’ll ask you to go ahead and turn to Exhibit 6-D.
Q. I’ll represent to you that this is a printout of a wire transfer. Do you see that the date is April 3, 2012?
A. No, it’s April 30.
Q. Oh, pardon. April 30, 2012. And please ignore that yellow box there. Do you see the transfer amount of $923,000?
Q. Okay. And who is the ordering customer on this invoice?
Q. “GREYSTONE LIMITED-ABU DHABI”?
Q. And the payee is “DPX VENTURES”?
Q. Is this Greystone Limited a company that you’re affiliated with?
A. Right. I control that one. Well, I control that account.
Q. Okay. So in this case you are making a payment to Robert from the Greystone account?
If you are out of the security contracting business why would you still control the company?
Likewise, in 2011, when he was supposedly done with security contracting, Prince paid for both Blackwater branding work, which Pelton was supposed to do, and the Somalia Report, using TGE, a company created to supply Colombian mercenaries.
The bottom line is this: If you think Erik Prince really is out of the security contracting business then you will want to see me about a bridge in Brooklyn I can sell you.
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