The founder of one of the most headline-grabbing private security firms in the last decade of war denies reports that he has provided security to United Arab Emirates royal families against "possible popular uprisings and riots."
Iranian state-sponsored Fars News Agency cited an anonymous source Monday morning in claiming that the security contractor Blackwater Worldwide had signed contracts to guard the palaces of Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, as well as the palaces of some of his brothers and other Emirati sheikhs. The report also claimed Blackwater had existing contracts worth almost $600 million to guard UAE government buildings against riots and uprisings.
Erik Prince, founder of Blackwater, says these claims are completely unfounded.
"Neither Mr. Prince nor Blackwater are doing or have done security within the UAE," Kathy Daneman, a spokeswoman for Prince, says in an email. "All reports to the contrary are in error."
The New York Times reported in a widely circulated article in 2011 that Prince, who was based in UAE at the time, was hired by the crown prince in Abu Dhabi to train and equip an 800-troop foreign force there. The Times cited documents it said show that dozens of Colombian troops were training for special operations security missions.
Blackwater has come under fire for what some perceived as reckless and untempered violence while operating security details in Iraq for the U.S. government. One particular incident prompted a media firestorm in 2007, following reports that Blackwater security operators were ambushed in Nasoor Square in Baghdad while securing a State Department convoy. Seventeen civilians died in the crossfire, which led to Iraqi and U.S. government investigations.
In 2010, the training facility in North Carolina that had been Blackwater's headquarters was purchased by a group of private investors. They changed the name to ACADEMI, and established it as a separate security firm.
Prince, a former Navy SEAL, defended the actions of the company he founded in a book released in November entitled "Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror."
"We were running hard and serving the government very well," Prince told U.S. News shortly before the book's release. He criticized State Department procedures during the Iraq war, which he said included officials' insistence on transporting diplomats in "washed and waxed" SUVs instead of the dirty and inconspicuous local vehicles his organization would have preferred.
"We're not mercenaries," Prince said. "We're Americans working for America on an American-funded contract."
The Times in 2012 also linked counter-piracy operations in Somalia to Prince, who reportedly worked with CIA and UAE backers.
When asked about his work in Somalia, Prince told U.S. News in November he believed the United States' overt approach to fighting piracy was misguided.
"I was an idea guy for how to deal with piracy early on," he said. "The concept of Navy ships chasing [pirates] around the ocean is not very effective.
"I thought the better way to do it is basically a land-based police force to interrupt pirate logistics."
This tactic provided a solution to the problem without deploying "first-world militaries and the billions that they cost," he said.