The Pentagon has awarded Academi, the security company previously known as Blackwater, part of a $20 billion five year contract to train military intelligence agents. It comes despite the firm earlier being fined by a US court for illegal arms trade.
The US Defense Intelligence Agency announced on Thursday that it would hire six private security companies, including Academi, for the contract. The contractors are to train agents “before they leave on overseas deployments, to provide them with a foundation of hard and soft skills relevant to living and working in hostile and austere environments,” the document says.
Academi declined to comment on the contract when asked by Wired’s Danger Room blog, saying it is not finalized yet. But it may be one of the first US governmental contracts it received after changing ownership and re-branding for a second time. Blackwater dropped its scandal-tainted name and became Xe Services in 2009, but in late December 2011 changed it again.
In August, Academi struck a deal with the US Justice Department and agreed to pay $7.5 million to settle what the company described as a "legacy matter" left behind by former managers and owners, including founder Erik Prince, who sold his interest in 2010.
The fine covered 17 violations, including arms smuggling and providing security services to foreign governments without US approval. In 2010, it agreed to pay $42 million in fines for almost 300 violations of arms trade laws by the company under the previous management.
The new management insists the firm has now little to do with its earlier incarnations, having undergone a profound reform and audit.
“Today, Academi is working to become the industry leader in governance, compliance and regulatory matters. It is fair to say – and important to note – that the company that was once known as Blackwater simply does not exist anymore in the company that is now Academi,” a spokesman for the firm told Politico.
But some remain unconvinced and criticize the US government for the lack of proper accountability for Blackwater’s misdeeds.
“I think that was threatened by Erik Prince at one point that, if there were a prosecution, things would come out that would be damaging to the US government. And I think we see from the settlement agreement, the papers behind it – there seems to be a lot of substance for that, because a lot of what Blackwater is doing is under the auspices of the US government,” Scott Horton, contributing editor to Harper's Magazine, told RT in an interview.
“They’ve changed their name two times and they’ve changed some of the personnel in senior echelons, but the reputation does not seem to be materially changed. They are still more or less the cowboys of the industry operating on the edge… I’d suspect they are involved in an awful lot of business that they don’t want to see come out, and that the US government probably also doesn’t want to see the light of day,” he added.