Much Ado About Blackwater Part II: Xe (the next generation?)

March 4, 2009

Just as it seemed everyone knew about Blackwater and its laundry list of scandals, the company pulled an all-too-common move of ducking a public-relations battering and organization-level accountability by changing it’s name. Poof. No more “Blackwater”, no more problem. Now, there’s just Xe (the company’s new name) and the “U.S. Training Center”.

I, for one, think we should instead refer to the firm as the “company formerly known as Blackwater”, at least until there’s evidence of real changes in its way of operating. And, by real changes, I don’t just mean that Erik Prince isn’t CEO anymore. Will the company formerly known as Blackwater, for example, adopt a human rights policy? Will it introduce stricter (any) guidelines on training and vetting of employees/contractors? Will it do anything to give the world any kind of assurance that it can be trusted  — particularly to train African military troops and/or in peacekeeping missions — areas of work it has been seeking agressively, perhaps in an attempt to stay more behind the scenes than their U.S. Diplomatic Security contract allowed.

Mr. Prince, the former CEO of the company fomerly known as Blackwater, told the Wall Street Journal that he was “a little worn out by the whole thing, the politics of it all”. Frankly, I’m a little worn out of companies getting away with murder and then doing a quick costume change and thinking that solves the problem.

Prince also told the Journal that the company’s new name, Xe, is an abbreviation for Xenon, “an inert, non-combustible gas.” But nations and private sector clients already know that the company formerly known as Blackwater is not inert — it’s moving quickly to soak up new contracts, and if history repeats itself and the company does not make real changes to its modus operandi, it will prove combustible once again.