August 20, 2008 -- Two unlikely allies met for breakfast last month in New York to discuss a possible collaboration: Mia Farrow, actress and passionate activist for Darfur refugees, and Erik Prince, founder and CEO of the government contractor, Blackwater Worldwide.
Farrow told ABC News that Blackwater, despite its controversial history and allegations of murdering civilians in Iraq, might be able to help the "hopelessly under-equipped" African Union forces deployed in Darfur with logistics and training.
"Blackwater has a much better idea of what an effective peace-keeping mission would look like than western governments," Farrow told ABC News from a refugee camp in near the Darfur border. Farrow said those governments have been unsuccessful in standing up to the Sudanese government and bringing peace to the region.
Experts disagree, saying there is no "quick fix" to the complex problems in Darfur, and that Blackwater is no exception.
"It's preposterous to think there is some magic silver bullet that takes the form of Blackwater or any other private military contractor to solve the problems in Darfur," said J. Steven Morrison, a Sudan expert for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Sudan and its militias are blamed for most of the violence in the conflict with rebels in Darfur, the western province where the United Nations estimates up to 300,000 have been killed in the past five years.
Farrow said she acknowledged that the idea of working with Blackwater was "controversial," but said she was "curious about Blackwater's ideas" about to how to help the situation.
Though Farrow said that it is unlikely that Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir would allow Blackwater into Darfur, she said the Darfur refugees are desperate and any help the company could provide would be welcome.
Prince, meanwhile, has reportedly said that with about 250 professionals, Blackwater could transform roughly one thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force.
"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," Prince told the Wall Street Journal last month, calling the Janjaweed, a militia force backed by the Sudanese government, an "unfettered bully."
"No one has stood up to them," he told the Journal. "If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable."
Prince also told the Associated Press in July that the military "can't be all things to all people" all the time. "There are always going to be some pieces that the private sector can help in."
Prince's spokesperson confirmed that he met with Farrow in New York, but said that since the U.S. government is the company's main client, he would not make any further comments on the situation in Darfur, his possible involvement there, or how governments have handled the peace-keeping mission.
Morrison said that though Prince might have some good ideas about how to better equip the African Union forces, the Darfur situation is so complex with regards to both politics and security that Blackwater's involvement could prove to increase the violence in the region.
"Darfur is the largest humanitarian life sustaining operation in the world," he said, noting that the international community spends $1 billion per year on relief aid for the 2.5 million people living in refugee camps.
"If you start waving around the notion of forced external interventions to transform the situation, you will kick the pins out from under the operation," said Morrison, which, he said, would mean disaster for the refugees.
The Financial Times reported in June, before Farrow and Prince had discussed meeting together, that Farrow asked Blackwater for help in Darfur. Farrow's organization, Dream for Darfur, said it asked the FT to retract the story.
Dream for Darfur Director Jill Savitt, who was at the breakfast meeting with Farrow and Prince, said that though the FT report was untrue, both Farrow and Prince had been talking to the media separately about Darfur. She said a reporter who knows both Farrow and Prince gave Farrow's contact information to Prince and that he called her to set the date.
The meeting between the unlikely allies has raised eyebrows among experts who learned of it from ABC News, in particular because of Blackwater's controversial reputation.
Blackwater employees have been involved in two deadly incidents in Iraq that proved to be public relations disasters for the company.
The first was the slaying and mutilation of four Blackwater contractors in 2004 in Fallujah that led to congressional hearings about the protection Blackwater provided its employees.
The second, a September 2007 shooting at a crowded Baghdad intersection that killed 17 Iraqis, triggered congressional hearings and investigations from more than a dozen federal agencies.
Federal prosecutors have sent target letters to six of the security guards involved in the September shooting, indicating a high likelihood the Justice Department will seek to indict at least some of the men, according to reports by the Washington Post on Sunday.
An Iraqi government investigation concluded that the security contractors fired without provocation. Blackwater has said its personnel acted in self-defense.
The company has earned more than $1 billion since 2001 in government contracts, much of it providing security and protective services for U.S. diplomats working in Iraq.
Farrow said she and Prince discussed how he could help the African Union forces at cost, and could do it with the number of troops which are currently deployed.
There are currently 9,200 African Union/United Nations troops on the ground in the Darfur region. Bashir has authorized 26,000 troops to enter Darfur, but since he insisted on the predominantly African character of the force, there are not currently enough soldiers to fill that quota.
A spokesman for the U.N. peacekeeping mission said the U.N. "optimistically" hopes to have 20,000 troops on the ground by the end of the year.