Blackwater's Owner Has Spies for Hire
Ex-U.S. Operatives Dot Firm's Roster
By Dana Hedgpeth
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, November 3, 2007; A01
First it became a brand name in security for its work in Iraq and Afghanistan. Now it's taking on intelligence.
Prince Group, the holding company that owns Blackwater Worldwide, has
been building an operation that will sniff out intelligence about
natural disasters, business-friendly governments, overseas regulations
and global political developments for clients in industry and
The operation, Total Intelligence Solutions, has
assembled a roster of former spooks -- high-ranking figures from
agencies such as the CIA
and defense intelligence -- that mirrors the slate of former military
officials who run Blackwater. Its chairman is Cofer Black, the former
head of counterterrorism at CIA known for his leading role in many of
the agency's more controversial programs, including the rendition and
interrogation of al-Queda suspects and the detention of some of them in secret prisons overseas.
chief executive is Robert Richer, a former CIA associate deputy
director of operations who was heavily involved in running the agency's
role in the Iraq war.
Total Intelligence Solutions is one of a
growing number of companies that offer intelligence services such as
risk analysis to companies and governments. Because of its roster and
its ties to owner Erik Prince,
the multimillionaire former Navy SEAL, the company's thrust into this
world highlights the blurring of lines between government, industry and
activities formerly reserved for agents operating in the shadows.
Richer, for instance, once served as the chief of the CIA's Near East division and is said to have ties to King Abdullah of Jordan.
The CIA had spent millions helping train Jordan's intelligence service
in exchange for information. Now Jordan has hired Blackwater to train
its special forces.
"Cofer can open doors," said Richer, who
served 22 years at the CIA. "I can open doors. We can generally get in
to see who we need to see. We don't help pay bribes. We do everything
within the law, but we can deal with the right minister or person."
Intel, as the company is known, is bringing "the skills traditionally
honed by CIA operatives directly to the board room," Black said. Black
had a 28-year career with the CIA.
"They have the skills and
background to do anything anyone wants," said RJ Hillhouse, who writes
a national security blog called The Spy Who Billed Me. "There's no
oversight. They're an independent company offering freelance espionage
services. They're rent-a-spies."
The heart of Total Intel operations is a suite on the ninth floor of an office tower in Ballston,
patterned after the CIA counterterrorist center Black once ran, with
analysts sitting at cubicles in the center of the room and glass
offices of senior executives on the perimeter.
A handful of analysts in their 20s and 30s sit hunched over Macintosh computers,
scanning Web sites, databases, newspapers and chat rooms. The lights
are dimmed. Three large-screen TVs play in the background, one tuned to
The room, called the Global Fusion Center, is staffed
around the clock, as analysts search for warnings on everything from
terrorist plots on radical Islamic Web sites to possible political
upheavals in Asia, labor strikes in South America and Europe, and economic upheavals that could affect a company's business.
not a private detective," Black said. "We provide intelligence to our
clients. It's not about taking pictures. It's business intelligence. We
collect all information that's publicly available. This is a completely
legal enterprise. We break no laws. We don't go anywhere near breaking
laws. We don't have to."
Total Intel was launched in February by Prince, who a decade ago opened a law enforcement training center in Moyock, N.C.,
that has since grown into a half-billion-dollar business called
Blackwater Worldwide. Prince has nine other companies and subsidiaries
in his Prince Group empire, offering a broad range of security and
training services. (One, Blackwater Security,
is under scrutiny because of a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Iraq that
involved some of its armed guards and in which 17 Iraqi civilians were
killed.) Prince built Total Intel by buying two companies owned by Matt
Devost, the Terrorism Research Center and Technical Defense, and
merging them with Black's consulting group, the Black Group. Devost, a
cyber security and risk management expert, is now president of Total
Devost runs day-to-day operations, overseeing 65 full-time
employees. At the Global Fusion Center, young analysts monitor
activities in more than 60 countries. They include a 25-year-old
Fulbright scholar fluent in Arabic and another person with a master's
degree in international affairs, focused on the Middle East, who tracks the oil industry and security in Saudi Arabia.
and Richer spend much of their time traveling. They won't say where.
It's a CIA thing. Black called at midnight recently to talk about Total
Intel from "somewhere in the Middle East."
"I don't spend a lot
of time telling people where I am as part of my business," he said. "I
am discreet in where I go and who I see. I spend most of my time
dealing with senior people in governments, making connections."
who also serves as vice chairman of Blackwater Worldwide, said he also
does "a lot more mundane things like go to conferences and trade
shows," looking for business opportunities. "I'm going to have to go,"
he said. "My guy is motioning for me. I have to go meet people."
Government people? Business people?
company won't reveal its financial information, the names of its
customers or other details of its business. Even looking at an
analyst's screen at its Global Fusion Center wasn't allowed.
"No, no," Richer said, putting his hands up. "There may be customers' names on there. We don't want you to see."
their conference room overlooking the Global Fusion Center, Total Intel
executives fired off a list of some of their work. Are some recent
bombings at major cities in India isolated incidents or should you pull your personnel out? What are the political developments in Pakistan going to mean for your business? Is your company popping up on jihadist Web sites? There's been crime recently in the ports of Mexico, possibly by rogue police officers. Is the government going to be able to ensure safety?
2000, the Terrorism Research Center portion of the company has done
$1.5 million worth of contracts with the government, mainly from
agencies like the Army, Navy, Air Force, Customs and the U.S. Special
Operations Command buying its data subscription or other services.
Black and Richer, one of the most surprising things about being in the
private sector is finding that much of the information they once
considered top secret is publicly available. The trick, Richer said, is
knowing where to look.
"In a classified area, there's an
assumption that if it is open, it can't be as good as if you stole it,"
Richer said. "I'm seeing that at least 80 percent of what we stole was
As he's no longer with the CIA, Richer said he's found
that people are more willing to share information. He said a military
general in a country he would not name told him of the country's plan
to build its next strike fighter. "I listened," Richer said.
talked business and where we could help him understand markets and
things like that." At the end of the conversation, Richer said, he
asked the man, "Isn't that classified? Why are you telling me this?"
Richer said the man answered, "If I tell it to an embassy official I've created espionage. You're a business partner."
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