The scandal-ridden security firm Blackwater USA is officially changing its name effective immediately as the company moves to rebrand itself after being fired last month by the State Department from its job protecting diplomats in Iraq.
The company will now be known as Xe and hopes to be a "one-stop shopping source for world class services in the fields of security, stability, aviation, training and logistics", according to a memo sent by company president Gary Jackson to employees today.
The division that handles the diplomatic protection services will now be known as U.S. Training Center, Inc., but now its primary focus will be operating training facilities, including the flagship campus in North Carolina, according to Jackson. It was that very division that handled Blackwater's overseas operations, which also faced the most criticism.
"Blackwater's latest attempt at re-branding itself would be hilarious if the company's record wasn't so deadly," said Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army"
"Blackwater's deadly record has clearly made the company an international symbol of the out of control violence of the Bush era in Iraq and the rise of modern-day mercenaries, so it is understandable why the company would try to change its name at this moment in history," said Scahill.
Blackwater has been the target of at least four grand jury investigations and accusations of tax fraud, improper use of force, arms trafficking and overbilling. The firm has denied any wrongdoing.
The firm is best known for its automatic weapon-brandishing diplomatic protection force in Iraq. Officials there recently refused to license Blackwater to operate in Iraq citing lingering outrage over the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 civilians by Blackwater guards.
Five former Blackwater guards have pleaded not guilty to federal charges that include 14 counts of manslaughter and 20 counts of attempted manslaughter. No charges were brought against the corporation.
While Jackson made no mention of the scandals in his memo, he did say that an independent panel of outside experts had been advising the company since last fall "to help build our company compliance structures."
The State Department is now advertising for the latest round of security posts overseas. The description warns that the job involves "harsh climates" and "health hazards". There's also the caveat that despite "unique rewards and opportunities," the job "may result in bodily injury and death."
The department is hiring as many as 700 Security Protective Specialists to end its reliance on contracting firms, like Blackwater. The position pays about $52,000 a year, with additional danger pay and post differential that add up to about 70 percent of the base salary, according to a job posting on a government website.
Meals and housing are provided overseas – the new hires will be deployed to Iraq, Afghanistan and Israel – but they'll also encounter some fairly rigorous working conditions. The job "may require jumping, dodging, lying prone, as well as wrestling, restraining and subduing attackers, or detainees," the posting says. And after the initial tour is completed, the specialists could very well be transferred to "other high threat posts overseas."
Specialists will be trained in the use of firearms, personal defensive tactics, driving skills, emergency medical procedures, and protective security techniques at a 13-week training session before being deployed. Applicants can apply on the State Department's website through Feb. 17.