A decade ago, the Iraqi government banned Blackwater Security from operating in the country after its mercenary fighters killed 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. That might dissuade some from meddling in conflicts overseas, but Blackwater founder Erik Prince is nothing if not committed to his profit margins. On Tuesday, Reuters reported that Prince — who no longer has a professional connection to Blackwater — has a new business plan. He’d like to send mercenary fighters to Venezuela, where they would help depose the country’s sitting president, Nicolás Maduro. Prince met recently with “influential” supporters of President Trump and “wealthy Venezuelan exiles” to pitch his plan to ship out as many as 5,000 mercenaries to aid opposition leader Juan Guaidó, according to Reuters.
A spokesman for Guaidó said that the aspiring president had not discussed security with Prince, and a source told Reuters that the White House would probably not support the plan. Representatives for Prince and for his firm, Frontier Resource Group, offered somewhat conflicting accounts of Prince’s intentions. His personal spokesman told Reuters that Prince “has no plans to operate or implement an operation in Venezuela,” but Reuters says that a spokeswoman for Frontier had confirmed Prince’s “interest” in Venezuelan security and added that Prince “does have a solution for Venezuela, just as he has a solution for many other places.”
If Prince, who is the brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, can’t even get the White House onboard with his reputed plan, Venezuela might indeed be spared his “solution.” But while the White House has backed Guaidó’s bid to become Venezuela’s president, it doesn’t control the Venezuelan opposition; an anonymous Venezuelan told Reuters that while Prince’s plan likely wouldn’t work, “private contractors might prove useful, in the event Maduro’s government collapses, by providing security for a new administration in the aftermath.”
Venezuela isn’t the only country Prince has his sights on. Despite Blackwater’s bloody and inhumane tenure in Iraq, Prince recently insisted that mercenary forces could bring peace to Afghanistan. BuzzFeed News reported earlier this month that his Frontier Services Group is operating in Iraq, with the backing of Chinese investors. There may be no greater evidence of Washington’s culture of impunity than Prince. Much like the architects of the war in Iraq, he suffered no meaningful consequences for unleashing violent havoc there. Thus, it’s no surprise that Prince is still profiteering off various conflicts.
Prince may once again test his ability to shirk consequences. Representative Adam Schiff told the Washington Post on Tuesday that the House Intelligence Committee would make a criminal referral to the Department of Justice over inconsistencies between Prince’s testimony before the committee and his actions as uncovered by special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation. Prince told the committee that his Seychelles meeting with Kirill Dmitriev, the head of the Russian Investment Fund, was a chance encounter. That doesn’t appear to be true. George Nader, the financier who helped arrange the meeting, told Mueller’s investigators that he had briefed Prince on Dmitriev, who was, according to the report, “looking to build a link with the incoming Trump administration.” After Prince booked a ticket to the Seychelles, Nader wrote to Dmitriev directly to tell him that he had arranged a meeting with a member of the Trump transition team, referring to Prince, who at the time served in a loose capacity as an adviser to Trump’s incoming government.
Though the House Intelligence Committee can make a criminal referral to the DOJ, the responsibility and authority to act lies with that department. It’s an open question whether the DOJ would actually consider prosecuting the brother of a Cabinet secretary — and in fact, the DOJ might not be able to prosecute Prince at all. Prince’s statements to the Mueller team might be protected by an agreement that they not be used against him, Schiff noted. That means Prince might get off free, again.