(cross-posted from Courage Campaign)
Blackwater, the private contracting firm that sent its employees into the warzone of Iraq unprepared and unprotected, the very one that is currently under investigation by the Government Oversight Committee, is looking at California and seeing dollar signs. Robert Salladay had an excellent post the other day that connects the comments of Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, who said the following on Fresh Air recently:
"[Blackwater] has applied for operating licenses in all of the coastal states of the United States and…they're opening military and law enforcement training facilities in Illinois and California."
…and the Nov. 2005 hiring of Chris Bertelli as deputy director of the CA Office of Homeland Security (you can watch him HERE appearing to take glee in the prospect of CA's coming disasters.)
His qualifications? Salladay puts it this way:
[Chris Bertelli] once did consulting work for Blackwater
Scahill put it quite another on yesterday's Democracy Now:
Bertelli was Blackwater's leading lobbyist, working for the Alexander Strategy Group, the powerful K Street Republican firm staffed and founded by former senior staffers of Tom DeLay. Bertelli was one of the people steering Erik Prince and other Blackwater executives around Capitol Hill after the Fallujah ambush in 2004.
One example of Bertelli's work for Blackwater can be found here in reporting on a statement he wrote responding to a civil lawsuit brought by the survivors of the slain contractors.
In a statement, Blackwater spokesman Chris Bertelli said…"It would be inappropriate for us to comment on the specifics of the complaint at this time."
"Blackwater hopes that the honor and dignity of our fallen comrades are not diminished by the use of the legal process," Bertelli said in the statement.
The fact that Schwarzenegger hired an ex-Blackwater lobbyist may not in and of itself be problematic except for the fact that, as I aluded to above, these days Blackwater has quite a bit riding on the approval of California's powers that be.
On the home front, Hurricane Katrina's $73 million purse has persuaded Blackwater officials to position themselves as the go-to guys for natural disasters. Operating licenses are being applied for in every coastal state of the country. Governors are being given the pitch, including California's Arnold Schwarzenegger, whom a Blackwater official recently visited to discuss earthquake response.
So, wait, they actually met with the governor? Salladay dug into this and reports:
Schwarzenegger spokesman Aaron McLear said the administration today triple-checked its records and could not find any evidence that the governor met with Blackwater USA.
The assurance that such a meeting did take place originated from Seamus Flatley, deputy director of Blackwater's new domestic operations division. So, who's right? Perhaps someone should ask if there's been a recent meeting between Bertelli and his previous employers.
But perhaps of more concern than Blackwater's getting contracts to perform their own unique brand of disaster relief right here in California is their desire to build a mercenary training camp outside San Diego.
Amy Goodman has the goods:
About 150 miles south of [Los Angeles], near the US-Mexico border, the private security firm Blackwater is planning to build a new military training center known simply as Blackwater West. Plans for the new site include multiple firing ranges, training towers, an armory, a helipad, an urban simulation training area and a driving track.
Blackwater plans to build the facility on an 800-acre chicken and cattle ranch near Potrero, a tiny rural town about forty-five miles east of San Diego.
In December, the project won unanimous approval by the Potrero Planning Board but since then a majority of Potrero's registered voters have signed a petition opposing the proposed site, Rep. Bob Filner, whose district contains the area in question, is doing what he can to fight it as are a plethora of environmental and anti-war activists. The ultimate decision lies with the San Diego County Board of Supervisors once an environmental impact report is done, which may not be for a couple years.
More on Blackwater West on Monday. The story just gets stranger and stranger.