By John Byrne
Raw Story | September 16th, 2010
Almost three years ago exactly -- Sept. 17, 2007 -- a cadre of guards from the security firm then known as Blackwater shot and killed 17 Iraqis at a public plaza in Baghdad.
The company, long in the public eye, has been known for brutal tactics and as a mercenary for the US State Department in countries where the US has boots on the ground. What hasn't been known, however, is that the same company was handling intelligence ops for publicly-traded US companies.
Atop the list is Monsanto, the biotech giant, who The Nation's Jeremy Scahill revealed Wednesday accepted a proposal through a Blackwater subsidiary which "offer[ed] to provide operatives to infiltrate activist groups organizing against the multinational biotech firm."
Monsanto doesn't stand alone. Through a network of 30 subsidiaries and shell corporations, Blackwater-linked entities provided "intelligence, training and security services" to a cache of major multinational firms, including: Monsanto, Chevron, the Walt Disney Company, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines, Deutsche Bank and Barclays, according to documents Scahill obtained.
Blackwater's owner and founder, Erik Prince -- who has himself been linked to the CIA -- helped train companies through two other firms he controlled: Total Intelligence Solutions and the Terrorism Research Center.
Not surprisingly, no one responded to requests for comment.
Monsanto topped the list of firms using Prince's services, Scahill writes.
"According to internal Total Intelligence communications, biotech giant Monsanto—the world's largest supplier of genetically modified seeds—hired the firm in 2008–09," the reporter writes. "The relationship between the two companies appears to have been solidified in January 2008 when Total Intelligence chair Cofer Black traveled to Zurich to meet with... Monsanto's security manager for global issues."
"After the meeting in Zurich, Black sent an e-mail to other Blackwater executives.... saying that Wilson "understands that we can span collection from internet, to reach out, to boots on the ground on legit basis protecting the Monsanto [brand] name.... Ahead of the curve info and insight/heads up is what he is looking for." Black added that Total Intelligence "would develop into acting as intel arm of Monsanto." Black also noted that Monsanto was concerned about animal rights activists and that they discussed how Blackwater "could have our person(s) actually join [activist] group(s) legally." Black wrote that initial payments to Total Intelligence would be paid out of Monsanto's "generous protection budget" but would eventually become a line item in the company's annual budget. He estimated the potential payments to Total Intelligence at between $100,000 and $500,000. According to documents, Monsanto paid Total Intelligence $127,000 in 2008 and $105,000 in 2009.
....In an... e-mail to The Nation, Wilson confirmed he met Black in Zurich and that Monsanto hired Total Intelligence in 2008 and worked with the company until early 2010. He denied that he and Black discussed infiltrating animal rights groups, stating "there was no such discussion." He claimed that Total Intelligence only provided Monsanto "with reports about the activities of groups or individuals that could pose a risk to company personnel or operations around the world which were developed by monitoring local media reports and other publicly available information. The subject matter ranged from information regarding terrorist incidents in Asia or kidnappings in Central America to scanning the content of activist blogs and websites." Wilson asserted that Black told him Total Intelligence was "a completely separate entity from Blackwater."
The Walt Disney Company hired Total Intelligence and TRC to do a "threat assessment" for potential film shoot locations in Morocco, with former CIA officials Black and Richer reaching out to their former Moroccan intel counterparts for information. The job provided a "good chance to impress Disney," one company executive wrote. How impressed Disney was is not clear; in 2009 the company paid Total Intelligence just $24,000.
How about Deutsche Bank?
Total Intelligence and TRC also provided intelligence assessments on China to Deutsche Bank. "The Chinese technical counterintelligence threat is one of the highest in the world," a TRC analyst wrote, adding, "Many four and five star hotel rooms and restaurants are live-monitored with both audio and video" by Chinese intelligence. He also said that computers, PDAs and other electronic devices left unattended in hotel rooms could be cloned. Cellphones using the Chinese networks, the analyst wrote, could have their microphones remotely activated, meaning they could operate as permanent listening devices. He concluded that Deutsche Bank reps should "bring no electronic equipment into China." Warning of the use of female Chinese agents, the analyst wrote, "If you don't have women coming onto you all the time at home, then you should be suspicious if they start coming onto you when you arrive in China." For these and other services, the bank paid Total Intelligence $70,000 in 2009.
Prince, now the owner of Blackwater successor Xe Services, now has his eyes on another target: the Democrats.
He's now writing a book alleging that officials in the Clinton and Obama administrations "approved of his most sensitive and controversial operations," according to a report by veteran intel reporter Jeff Stein published in The Washington Post earlier this month.
The Post's Jeff Stein cited two unnamed sources who say Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, is hurrying to sell his company before he can go public with a book that takes aim at the Democratic Party. One of the sources told Stein that Prince and his friends "think this will destroy the Democratic Party in the elections."
The source, who is described as having a "business relationship with Xe," said Prince had "given his people three weeks to complete the sale of the company and the book will be released then," in time for the November elections.