In June 15, 2010, The Nation‘s Jeremy Scahill reported that “sources close to Blackwater and its secretive owner Erik Prince” had claimed that the embattled head of the world’s most infamous mercenary firm” was “planning to move to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).”
Scahill noted, “The Nation learned of Prince’s alleged plans to move to the UAE from three separate sources. One Blackwater source told The Nation that Prince intends to sell his company quickly, saying the ‘sale is going to be a fast move within a couple of months.’”
Nearly a year later, in May 2011, the New York Times followed up on this report and, according to Scahill, confirmed that Prince was building a mercenary army in the UAE and it would include recruits from Colombia that would be trained by special forces veterans from the US, Europe and South Africa. The army would be funded by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheik Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. His new company, Reflex Responses or R2, would be contracted to operate for the “oil-soaked sheikdom” until 2015.
Now, in an extensive interview on “Democracy Now!”, where he discussed his new project, Dirty Wars (which includes a book and film), he was asked by Amy Goodman about his prior work investigating Blackwater and how it informed his latest project. He told a story that he had not shared publicly before.
The way I found out about Erik Prince – you know, he’s the head of Blackwater and his company was being investigated for all sorts of reasons. They had. conducted the Nisour Square massacre in Baghdad in September 2007 when they gunned down over a dozen Iraqis. So, there was all this pressure. There were congressional hearings and there was a firestorm about Blackwater being involved with part of the assassination program, running the assassination program. So, Erik Prince decides to leave the United States and goes to Abu Dhabi.
Well, I found out about that before it was ever public because I got an email from a young man who said I’ve read your book and I’ve seen you on TV and I really respect your work and I have a personal connection to someone who because of what he does has information about the Prince family. And I can’t say more than that about it but this person says I have information about that and I think the two of you should be in touch.
“Through that contact,” Scahill said, “I learned that Erik Prince was preparing to leave the United States and the person that wrote me that email was Bradley Manning,” the soldier who the US military is currently prosecuting for disclosing information to WikiLeaks.
He continued, “Bradley Manning was the person that sent me that email. It wasn’t based on any classified information. He wasn’t sending me a document. It was a personal friend of his that had some knowledge because of what he does of the Prince family’s movements and it was because of Bradley Manning that I found out about it.”
After the Times picked up on the scoop, Rep. Jan Schakowsky informed The Nation she would be “launching an investigation into Prince’s work in the UAE.” She told The Nation, “The man who brought us Blackwater, a company whose name has become synonymous with the worst of contractor abuses in Iraq and Afghanistan, has been hired to put together a mercenary army that could be used to suppress a revolt or attack pro-democracy protesters.” And added, “I will be pursuing the question of whether Mr. Prince obtained the necessary licenses to conduct the training of foreign troops and whether his actions in UAE have broken any U.S. laws. Regardless, I do not believe private US citizens should be providing mercenary forces for foreign governments.” [Scahill followed-up with a report on lawmakers who were asking then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to explain Prince's presence in the UAE.]
This anecdote is one further example of the contribution Manning has made to what the world knows about secret operations by the US government and private companies. Without Manning connecting Scahill to the source, who provided the scoop to Scahill, who knows if the Times would have ever investigated Prince’s new mercenary army? One can be certain there would not have been any interest in investigating Prince if the Times had not published a story.
Amy Goodman went on to ask Scahill about the “extensive footnotes” in his book where he cites documents released by WikiLeaks. He asked him to address their significance in his ability to cover America’s dirty wars, covert wars, Joint Special Operations Command, etc.
Impossible to quantify how significant WikiLeaks has been to our understanding of overt and covert US actions. When I was preparing initially to go to Somalia, we went through and researched on the WikiLeaks cables and found various warlords identified in the cables as being on the US payroll or that the US was working with. And, then we went and tracked down and found them. You see that in our film. Two of those warlords are people we discovered through the WikiLeaks cables.
Also, on the Somalia cables that were released, there is a recognition that the US was using these warlords to hunt down people and that it had caused great problems within the State Department. You had internal debates going on where the CIA and the special operations forces were doing things that State Department diplomats didn’t want them to be doing and that were counter to what the intelligence available at the time indicated the threats were and the level of the threat.
But, just in terms of our understanding of how the covert apparatus works, WikiLeaks was indispensable and I think we’re going to look back decades from now and see, because of the release of those documents, there was a huge shift in how we understand some of the more hidden aspects of US policy.
Manning confessed in a military court on February 28 that he had disclosed the US diplomatic cables, which were ultimately released, to WikiLeaks.
One of the warlords identified in the cables is “India Adde.” Scahill wrote a story that included details on him, “Blowback in Somalia,” in September 2011. The story was put together with reporting on him from reporting done in Somalia.
“Adde,” who now is addressed as Gen. Yusuf Mohamed Siad, was described by Scahill as the “embodiment of the mind-boggling constellation of allegiances and double-crosses that has marked Somalia since its last stable government fell in 1991.” He wrote that his ”current role encapsulates the contradictions of the country’s present: he is a warlord who believes in Sharia law, is friendly with the CIA, and takes money and weapons from [the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM)]. There are large parts of Mogadishu that are not accessible without his permission, and he controls one of the largest militias and possesses more technicals (truck-mounted heavy automatic weapons) in the city than any other warlord.”
During Somalia’s civil war in the 1990s, he had become known by the moniker, “The Butcher,” after he “brutally took control of the Lower Shabelle region, which was overwhelmingly populated by a rival clan.”
Scahill did original reporting and he might have been able to find much of the information he ultimately uncovered for part of Dirty Wars without documents Manning provided to WikiLeaks. But, the story shared on air by Scahill is significant and worth acknowledging not only because this journalist has extensively covered Manning’s military court martial (though that is certainly part of it) but because it is a further example of the wide-scale impact Manning has had.
That the Pentagon remains committed to bringing Manning to trial, even after he has pled guilty to some offenses and could be jailed for 20 years, is indicative of how critical the national security state and military industrial-complex believe it is to defend the secrecy, which Manning violated. They consider the sanctity of what they do to be at stake, which is why they are prosecuting him to the fullest extent possible by pushing charges that could keep him in prison for life as someone who “aided” Al Qaeda.
Bradley Manning, WikiLeaks and Jeremy Scahill have collectively exposed America’s dirty wars over the past three years to an extent that threatens the legitimacy of operations as more and more people come to understand the abusive, corrupt and criminal nature of them. And, Americans should understand as the trial of Manning begins to unfold in June that the US government really is prosecuting a source, not a soldier; because he was a source, he must be tried as if he is an enemy of the state.
Watch Part 2 of Jeremy Scahill’s appearance on “Democracy Now!” here.
Clarification: When I first shared this story, I suggested that Bradley Manning sent Jeremy Scahill the scoop. That is inaccurate. I have since corrected the headline to reflect the fact that what Scahill was saying was that Manning had introduced him to a source with knowledge of the Prince family’s movements. If you read anywhere online, as a result of this post, that Manning provided information on Blackwater to Scahill, that is incorrect. Still, Manning introducing Scahill to a source is significant and it seems he may have convinced this person to talk to Scahill about what he knew about Prince.