Criminal Minded

Blackwater: Murder Threats Were Just The Start

The world’s most notorious guns-for-hire had more than their fair share of scandals. Here are six of the worst.

Ahmad Al-Rubaye

The mercenary firm Blackwater is back in the news, after a New York Times report that a company official threatened to kill a U.S. government official in Iraq—and got away with it.

The New York Times reports that the State Department called off an inquiry into a fatal shooting in Iraq after Blackwater’s project manager in the country threatened a department investigator with death. “American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators,” the paper notes.

And there was plenty for the State Department to probe. Blackwater operated during the Iraq war with a sense that they were untouchable because—well, because they were. Investigators found that four drunken Blackwater guards had driven a $180,000 armored vehicle to a party, crashing it into a concrete barrier. Further, Blackwater was found to have over-billed the State Department by manipulating records.

It’s all a reminder that, during the worst days of the Iraq war, Blackwater was allegedly doing a whole host of awful things.

Here are some of the most scandalous events that Blackwater has been tied to:

1. Opened fire in Baghdad, killing 17 civilians

In September 2007, Blackwater military contractors fatally shot 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, injuring an additional 20 others. The FBI later concluded that of the 17 fatalities, 14 of the shootings were unjustified and violated the rules for the use of deadly force that applied to security personnel, according to the New York Times.

The subsequent investigation of this shooting was what prompted a Blackwater manager to threaten a State Department official.

2. Coke, hash, steroids, nudity—and more indiscriminate shooting

A Texas businessman claimed in 2010 that Blackwater paid him to buy steroids, drugs, AK-47 rifles and ammunition on Baghdad’s black market to provide to the security contractors, according to The Nation.

It was a “frat party gone wild. Drug use was rampant,” the businessman, Howard Lowry, said in a deposition filed as part of a lawsuit brought by former Blackwater employees. One party he described involving Blackwater personnel included nudity and indiscriminate shooting at a building housing Iraqi civilians next door.

3. Allegedly tried to smuggle assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in dog food

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Blackwater was alleged to have shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq hidden in dog food, according to ABC News. “The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou told the network.

Blackwater denied that there were any illegal shipments, that weapons were properly accounted for in paperwork, and that the weapons were placed in dog food containers to prevent theft.

4. Crashed into Army Humvee, drew weapons on U.S. soldiers

A Blackwater SUV crashed into an Army Humvee in 2006, prompting a confrontation between the contractors and military service members. The contractors were accused of drawing their firearms on American soldiers, disarming them and forcing them to lie on the ground at gunpoint, Newsweek reported.

“Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers,” a colonel told the magazine.

5. Suspected of drunkenly killing a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president

A former Blackwater employee, Andrew Moonen, was investigated as the sole suspect in the Christmas Eve killing of a bodyguard for an Iraqi vice president. A Blackwater employee was allegedly drinking heavily when the confrontation occurred, and fired three shots at the bodyguard, who died the next day, the New York Times reported.

Within hours of the shooting, Blackwater terminated Moonen’s employment. Moonen was not subsequently charged, as investigators could not find sufficient evidence to convict him, according to CNN.

6. Blackwater founder builds Christian mercenary army to suppress possible Muslim uprising

Blackwater founder Erik Prince, who since sold off the security company in 2010, moved to the United Arab Emirates and started a new unit of mercenaries, made up of Colombian and South African soldiers. The forces from Christian nations were hired to protect Muslim leaders in the UAE, Wired reported in 2011.