So much for naming your mercenary company after an obscure element from the periodic table.
Say goodbye to Xe. The company formerly known as Blackwater — the world’s most infamous private security corporation — has jettisoned the name it chose in its 2009 rebrand. Now the “security solutions provider” wants to wash away the taint of the 2007 Nisour Square shootings by adopting the new name “Academi.”
But the company is changing its name — not its core business. And it even wants back into the country where it ran its brand through the mud: Iraq.
“Our focus is on training and security services. We’re continuing that,” new CEO Ted Wright tells Danger Room. “We’re not backing away from security services. The lion’s share of our business today is providing training for security services and [providing] security services.”
If Blackwater — sorry, Academi – was a sports franchise, you’d consider 2011 its rebuilding year. A consortium of investors close to the family of founder Erik Prince bought the company in late 2010, and spent 2011 putting together its new leadership team. It brought on board former Attorney General John Ashcroft, Bill Clinton consigliere Jack Quinn and Suzanne Folsom from the insurance giant AIG. Wright came from military-services giant KBR. Notice a pattern? All have deep experience with crisis management.
Notice another pattern: all of those hires either worked in senior government positions or worked closely with those who did. That signals confidence in the company’s traditional business — getting big government contracts to protect diplomats, aid workers and even the military in dangerous places. On its new website, Academi says providing “stability and protection to people and locations experiencing turmoil” is its “core” business. New name; same wheelhouse.
The name, however, is meant to convey that “we lead with training,” Wright says — using the company’s “elite training facility” at Moyock, North Carolina to train cops, first responders, and even U.S. troops. No more will the company, say, act like a cutout for the CIA.
Xe certainly didn’t get the company out of the private security business. But after Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, turning the company radioactive, it played down its own its own brand name. When Xe ventured out into the security business, it often did so by using spinoff, subsidiary or front companies that obscured their ties to Xe, like “International Development Solutions,” its partnership with Kaseman that won part of a $10 billion State Department security contract in 2010.
That’s coming to an end, Wright says. All future Academi subsidiaries “will have the word ‘Academi’ in front.” International Development Solutions will keep its name, however, since Academi is a “minority partner” in the firm.
And that’s part of convincing everyone that the company has turned over an ethical leaf. Academi will issue new codes of conduct to its guards and trainers soon, and Wright promises “accountability and openness” over the company’s actions. Translation: no more stealing guns, coked-up warzone parties, or killing civilians.
Wright acknowledges that rebranding the world’s most infamous security company might seem like an exercise in cynicism. And so he sets himself a challenge: getting the company back into Iraq.
“As we make changes and they take root and we convince everyone they’re real,” Wright says, “then the real proof in the pudding is convincing the government of Iraq and the U.S. government to let us do business in Iraq.”
That’s a hard sell: Iraq stripped Blackwater of its business license after Nisour Square. Iraqis are unlikely to give Academi anything like the benefit of the doubt. But with U.S. troops set to leave Iraq at the end of the month, mercs are filling the security gap. There’s a lot of business to be had — if Wright and company can convince either government they deserve it.
Wright wants a shot to show a very skeptical world that Academi represents “an institution of trained thinkers and warriors,” he says, conveying ”excellence, dignity, honor, integrity.”
Photo: Flickr/Peter Gene