First on CNN: Blackwater gets an even bigger makeover
December 11th, 2011
10:00 PM ET

First on CNN: Blackwater gets an even bigger makeover

By Suzanne Kelly, CNN

Editor's note: Watch Erin Burnett's exclusive interview with Academi CEO Ted Wright on OutFront. Monday night 7pET.

Suzanne Kelly Simons is a CNN Senior National Security Correspondent and author of Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War

The company once known as the world's most notorious private security contractor, Blackwater, is changing its name and its look once again in a bid to prove that it has outgrown its toxic reputation.

Renaming the company "ACADEMI" tops a number of changes that have been made by a private equity consortium that purchased the company from former owner Erik Prince last year.

"The message here is not that we're changing the name," said Ted Wright, who came on as the new company CEO in June. "The message is that we're changing the company, and the name just reflects those changes. We have new owners, a new board of directors, a new management team, new location, new attitude on governance, new openness, new strategy - it's a whole new company."

Blackwater was dogged by controversy as it rose from a training facility in Moyock, North Carolina, in the late '90s, to a private security powerhouse at the height of the war in Iraq. But as business boomed, so did the demand for growth, and rules regarding issues like compliance and governance were sometimes not followed. There were also accusations that some Blackwater guards operating in Iraq's virtually lawless environment were heavy-handed, and then a deadly shooting in a Baghdad traffic circle in 2007 was the beginning of the end for the company.

Prince tried changing the Blackwater name to Xe, before selling it late last year to the group of investors led by Jason DeYonker, a managing partner at Forte Capital Advisors, and Dean Bosacki, managing partner of Manhattan Partners. The other investing partners remain anonymous.

Prince has an earn-out agreement over a set number of years, meaning he will continue to be paid on Academi's business, but Wright says "the agreement is for a finite period, a significant portion of which has already passed." Wright insists that Prince has nothing to do with the day-to-day running of the company. In fact, he says he's never even met Erik Prince.

The damage to Blackwater's reputation after the Nisoor Square shooting in Baghdad was bad for business. The company lost its most lucrative contract with the State Department and today only brings in about a third of the revenue it once did.

While Prince was the sole owner of Blackwater and answered to no one, the new company has formed a board of directors, headed by businessman Red McCombs. He was joined earlier this year by former Attorney General John Ashcroft and retired Adm. Bobby Inman, former director of the National Security Agency and former deputy director of the CIA. Most of the executive suites from the Blackwater days were cleared out, and the last major change to be announced was Wright's hiring from fellow government contractor KBR in June.

FULL POST


Filed under: FIRST ON CNN/EXCLUSIVE • Iraq
December 11th, 2011
11:56 AM ET

Tripling Afghanistan's 'community watch with AK-47s'

By Nick Paton Walsh reporting from Kabul

The head of the U.S. special forces has revealed a likely controversial plan to triple the number of armed Afghans paid by NATO to protect their villages under a plan once described as "a community watch with AK-47s".
In a rare meeting with journalists Saturday, Adm. William H McRaven, the architect of the daring U.S. raid that killed Osama bin Laden, said the plan could go into effect over the next two years.
The number of Afghan Local Police, or ALP, could go up from 9,800 to 30,000, if the Afghan government supports it.
American commanders consider the groups a local and cost-effective solution to shoring up security in Afghanistan's sprawling and lawless rural communities. They were active in 57 districts now, but could cover 99 by the end of 2013.
"The real advantage for the ALP and what it provides you as opposed to the Afghan National Army and Afghan National Police is the ability for Afghans from their local districts to protect their own homes," he said. "The ALP allow guys to stay at home and protect their families and their villages."
The ALP created "a network out there that can respond to any potential threats," he said.
Former NATO commander in Afghanistan, Gen. David Petraeus, first introduced the plan 17 months ago, describing it to the U.S. Congress as "a community watch with AK-47s." FULL POST


Filed under: Afghanistan • ISAF • Military