Blackwater CEO Defends Employees

With his company's survival at stake, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince is defending his employees in a rare media blitz.

"We've executed the mission put before [us]," he said Sunday on CNN's "Late Edition." "All the State Department people that we were in charge of protecting are alive and well."

Under investigation for killing 17 Iraqi civilians, Blackwater has been condemned by critics on Capitol Hill as a band of reckless mercenaries.

"Blackwater appears to have fostered a culture of shoot first, and sometimes kill, and then ask questions," said Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., in recent congressional hearings.

Now, Iraqi officials are demanding Blackwater be expelled from their country within six months. U.S. officials tell ABC News the State Department is considering "wide-ranging changes" to its security operations that could include Blackwater's expulsion.

Prince contends his men were shot at, though, in interviews, he would not speculate as to who fired first.

"Our vehicles were hit by small arms fire. One of them was damaged," he said on CNN. "I guarantee our guys weren't shooting at each other. So, something damaged those armored vehicles."

There's a lot at stake. Blackwater's contracts with the U.S. government, worth $736,000 in 2001, rose to over half a billion dollars last year.

Then, there's the question of whether the U.S. can afford to get rid of them.

The U.S. needs private contractors like Blackwater to provide security for diplomats and other high-profile figures in Iraq, "because they don't have the diplomatic security personnel to do it, and don't have the military personnel to do it," said ABC analyst Larry Johnson, former head of counterterrorism at the State Department.

In an interview to be broadcast Monday on PBS, Prince said that if Blackwater is forced to leave Iraq the U.S. government would have a "significantly reduced ability" to operate there.

But analysts like Johnson say if Blackwater is forced out, another firm may fill the void. The Congressional Research Service estimates there are as many as 30,000 private security workers in Iraq.

A former Navy SEAL, Erik Prince founded Blackwater in 1997 with the millions he inherited from his father's auto parts business. His family has deep ties to the Republican Party, and helped found some of the country's most prominent Christian advocacy groups.

The 38-year-old Prince told PBS's Charlie Rose he still has a "warrior spiri," and won't retreat without a fight. "I'm a stubborn guy," he said. "I don't quit too easily."

Mike Gudgell contributed to this report from Iraq.

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