Iraq's loss may be gain for western Illinois' Blackwater security

July 21, 2008 3:40:34 PM PDT
Blackwater Worldwide, the largest private security contractor operating in Iraq and Afghanistan, is planning to drop out of the business that has made it world famous, according to executives at the company's North Carolina headquarters. Blackwater officials said on Monday that the overseas security contracting business has become too costly due to government scrutiny and negative public attention. Blackwater will refocus on training programs, which was its core business when the company was founded 11 years ago and was the basis for a recent expansion to Jo Daviess County near Mt. Carroll in western Illinois.

On the ground in nine nations around the world, Blackwater became what one company executive called the most "notorious" in the fast-growing business of private security. More than 100,000 people have been trained by Blackwater, the majority of them active duty US Marines, sailors and soldiers. The firm has received hundreds of millions of dollars in State Department security contracts the past few years.

Blackwater's law enforcement training division began expanding last year with the debut of a new law enforcement training operation in Illinois, called "Blackwater North."

"We saw a need for it. You would have to go five states away to find a training facility to find anything like this," Anne Tyrrell, Blackwater spokeswoman told the I-Team in a report broadcast in May, 2007.

In 2005 and 2006, security jobs, including guarding U.S. diplomats and helping secure New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina, represented more than half of Blackwater's business. Currently it is down to about 30 percent now and company president Gary Jackson said it will go much lower. "If I could get it down to 2 percent or 1 percent, I would go there," he said, adding that "security was not part of the master plan, ever."

Blackwater executives have complained the past few years that their company has unfairly become a symbol for all private security contractors in Iraq and made a flash point for anti-war protesters. The company has been under intense scrutiny since last fall when its guards opened fire in a crowded Baghdad intersection while responding to a car bombing. Seventeen Iraqis ended up dead, prompting congressional hearings and a continuing FBI investigation.

Even though the Pentagon found that all seventeen Iraqis were killed as a result of unprovoked and unjustified fire by Blackwater operatives, the U.S. State Department announced in April that it was extending the private military firm's contract in Baghdad for another year.

The new business model at Illinois' Blackwater North and elsewhere will focus on training and logistics, according to company officials.

Click here to read the I-Team Report: Blackwater Rising


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