HOLLAND, Mich. (AP) â€” As an ex-Navy SEAL and the son of a wealthy auto industrialist, Erik Prince founded what would become Blackwater USA in 1996.
But it wasn’t until the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001 that the politically well-connected entrepreneur’s business plans for his private military contracting company took shape.
The 37-year-old Prince is brother of Betsy DeVos, former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party. His Moyock, N.C.-based company has received at least $800 million in federal contracts over the past five years, according to government records.
Prince rarely gives interviews and declined to speak with The Grand Rapids Press for a profile Sunday.
In a 2006 e-mail interview with The Virginian-Pilot, Prince said, “We have a very long-term view to our work.”
“We see ourselves assisting in the transformation of the (Department of Defense) into a faster, more nimble organization,” he told the Norfolk, Va., newspaper. “The private sector has always led innovation in our country.”
Dan Walcott, Prince’s former soccer coach at Holland Christian High School, remembered Prince as being “very, very intense.”
“You knew if he was going to do something, he was going to go after it,” Walcott said.
Deborah Avant, professor of political science at George Washington University, said Prince and others like him share an interest in proving the legitimacy of their companies’ services. But some qualities set Blackwater and its founder apart from other military services companies, she said.
“Blackwater is owned by one guy, who is very rich,” Avant said. “He’s very connected. He’s very tied to the Christian right.”
In 2004, a mob in Fallujah ambushed a supply convoy guarded by Blackwater, killing four employees. The victims’ families sued Blackwater, saying the company provided the men with inadequate security.
U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., questioned America’s use of heavily armed civilians in war zones.
“We have had virtually no oversight over the role of the private military or security contractors,” said Schakowsky. “We know virtually nothing about them, who they hire, how much it has cost and how many have died.
“This should be public information for people to see. These are all taxpayer dollars.”
___ Information from: The Grand Rapids Press, http://www.mlive.com/news/grpress/index.ssf?/base/news-36/1177828942186650.xml&coll=6