Helicopters to Afghanistan Blackwater Subsidiary Flouted German Arms Export Laws

A subsidiary of the US private security firm Blackwater flouted German arms export law, the US diplomatic cables have revealed. The company, Presidential Airways, didn't want to wait to get the proper export permit, so it simply transported the aircraft to Afghanistan via third countries.
Blackwater founder Erik Prince (2007 photo): A Blackwater subsidiary bypassed German arms export law, the diplomatic cables have revealed.

Blackwater founder Erik Prince (2007 photo): A Blackwater subsidiary bypassed German arms export law, the diplomatic cables have revealed.

Foto: TIM SLOAN/ AFP

The controversial US private security firm Blackwater, which is now known as Xe Services, has mainly been criticized in the past over the use of excessive force in Iraq. Confidential American diplomatic dispatches now show that another company belonging to Blackwater founder Erik Prince exported German military helicopters to Afghanistan with scant regard for German law.

Presidential Airways purchased three SA-330 J "Puma" helicopters in Germany for use in providing logistical support to US forces in Afghanistan. But because it was taking too long to get the necessary German export permit, and its employees didn't want to wait, they simply took the helicopters out of the country in October 2008, first to Britain, and then on to Turkey.

In so doing, Presidential ignored advice from both the German Economics Ministry and the US Office of Defense Cooperation that their actions were illegal under German law. A concerned William Timken, the then US ambassador to Germany, warned the State Department that "the issue could become public in Germany and would take on proportions well beyond the significance of a few helicopters given the widespread public skepticism about Germany's engagement in Afghanistan." He therefore called for the relevant US government agencies "to examine this matter immediately" and to "encourage" Presidential to keep the helicopters in Turkey for the time being.

Originals: The Key Blackwater Cables

But Presidential ignored all the warnings and transported the military hardware to Afghanistan via Georgia and Azerbaijan while the German Foreign Ministry was apparently still trying to get cabinet approval for the export of the helicopters. Imagine what would happen, US diplomats in Berlin wrote to Washington, if German companies were to sell American weapons to Iran. Under that scenario, they wrote, "we expect that US authorities would react strongly." They warned of "negative reactions" in the German media.

Presidential Airways was also suspected of conducting secret "extraordinary rendition" flights on behalf of the CIA, taking terror suspects to third countries to be interrogated.

Fingers in Many Pies

The embassy cables show Blackwater has its fingers in many different pies around the globe. Its security experts trained special forces and police units in the United Arab Emirates, Kuwait, Jordan and Azerbaijan as well as in Afghanistan, where they worked alongside German police trainers. In Chile, Blackwater apparently subcontracted a company called Red Tactica to recruit former Chilean police officers and soldiers, which it then sent to Iraq as mercenaries.

When the Iraqi government withdrew Blackwater's license following the Nisoor Square massacre  in 2007, many of the company's employees simply went to other firms. In January 2010, the US Embassy in Baghdad reported that it "understands" that Triple Canopy, a contractor working for the US government, "currently employs several hundred former Blackwater employees," while DynCorp, another private security firm, also employed "dozens of ex-Blackwater employees".

In November 2009, suspicions arose that Blackwater had spent about a million dollars bribing Iraqi officials to ensure that it could remain in the country. At the time, a State Department spokesman claimed he knew nothing about the bribes.

The leaked diplomatic dispatches now reveal, however, that American representatives in Baghdad knew full well about Blackwater's shady dealings, and had attempted to distance themselves from the company a year earlier. The deputy US ambassador in Baghdad even stressed that "under no circumstances could the Embassy approve of or in any way be part of a bribery effort."

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