Blackwater founder says he aided CIA secret programs

By Joby Warrick
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 3, 2009

The founder of Blackwater Worldwide acknowledged in an interview published Wednesday that he had helped the CIA with secret programs targeting top al-Qaeda leaders, a role he says was intended to give the agency "unattributable capability" in sensitive missions.

Erik Prince, owner of the military contractor now known as Xe Services, told Vanity Fair magazine that he performed numerous "very risky missions" for the spy agency, some of which were improperly exposed in leaks to the news media.

The magazine, which was granted rare access to Prince and his deputies at the company's facilities in the United States and Afghanistan, said the former Navy SEAL had served a dual role for the CIA as both a contractor and an "asset," or spy, who carried out secret missions as recently as two months ago, when the Obama administration terminated his contract.

Among other, previously undisclosed roles, Prince ran intelligence-gathering operations to coordinate the movement of undercover operatives in "one of the so-called Axis of Evil countries," the magazine said, citing unidentified sources familiar with his activities.

"But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus," Prince said, referring to recent leaks about his company's CIA ties.

Blackwater was identified in media reports this summer as a participant in a secret CIA program that sought to use special teams of assassins to kill or capture al-Qaeda leaders overseas. The program was halted in July after CIA Director Leon Panetta privately briefed congressional leaders about the effort and acknowledged that under the Bush administration, the agency had deliberately kept lawmakers in the dark.

Current and former intelligence officials have acknowledged that the program existed in three different forms over the past decade but was never fully operational. "The only trigger that got pulled -- the only one that was ever even close to being pulled -- was the one that finally killed the whole idea," a source familiar with the matter said Wednesday.

Vanity Fair said the assassin-team program was begun in 2001 under Enrique "Ric" Prado, then the CIA chief of operations for counterterrorism. When Prado left the CIA to join Blackwater in 2004, he essentially took the program with him, securing an arrangement that would allow contractors to assume the risks and deflect blame from the agency if things went wrong, the magazine said.

"We were building a unilateral, unattributable capability," Prince was quoted as saying. "If it went bad, we weren't expecting the chief of station, the ambassador, or anyone to bail us out."

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