After Blackwater contractors were accused of shooting 17 civilians in Iraq, the State Department announced it would stop doing business with the company, but ABC News has found that several other agencies, including the CIA and the Pentagon, continue to employ the controversial company, under a myriad of names, often via secret, classified contracts.
Blackwater, which changed the name of its parent company to Xe Services last year because of bad publicity, is also operating subdivisions under a variety of altered handles intended to lower its public profile. In some instances the flagship company has tried to distance itself from these offshoots, insisting they are merely "affiliates."
Public records and a source familiar with their ownership suggest, however, that the companies are nothing more than new names on the same old Blackwater. All are owned by Blackwater founder Erik Prince.
According to several military and government sources familiar with Xe's contracts, Xe also operates under the names Paravant and XPG. Both "affiliates" are based at the same Moyock, North Carolina address as Xe. Other Prince-owned companies that have received government contracts include Greystone, Raven, Constellation, US Training Center, GSD Manufacturing, and Presidential Airlines. The companies are among a total of 20 different limited liability corporations owned by Prince and registered to the same address as Blackwater-Xe.
In September 2007, Blackwater guards escorting a State Department convoy through Baghdad shot and killed 17 civilians in Nissour Square, resulting in international outrage, the loss of Blackwater's State Department security contract and criminal charges against the guards. Late last month Vice President Biden announced that the U.S. government would appeal a recent federal court decision to throw out charges against the guards involved in the shooting.
Damage control after the Nissour Square incident is what inspired Blackwater executives to scrap the iconic brand name of the parent company. According to several government and military officials, the incident lead to a company shakeup and name change intended to clean up Blackwater's image and limit legal liabilities.
Blackwater dropped the crosshairs from its company logo, and some executives were forced out. Then, after a lengthy internal name search, Blackwater decided to become Xe Services. "Blackwater" had referred to the water of the North Carolina swamp where the company was headquartered, but Xe, according to a company spokeswoman, had no connotations.
The change from Blackwater to Xe was announced in February 2009. Less known is that a variety of affiliated companies were also renamed. In the wake of the Nissour Square shooting Xe was barred from Iraq, and the corporate relaunch was supposed to include a de-emphasis on security contracts and a new focus on providing training. However, Xe and its rebranded affiliates still work in Afghanistan, and continue to provide security and training, though they often operate as security subcontractors to other contractors.