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Monday, 11 December 2017 07:59

Privatize the Wars, Franchise in China: Erik Prince Is On the Move

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BWsign 1211wrp opt(Photo: Bob Davis / Flickr)Erik Prince, the founder of the notorious Blackwater (now known as Academi) private army that wreaked havoc during the Bush-era military adventures in Iraq, the chairman of Frontier Services Group, an aviation, logistics, and security firm, brother of education secretary Betsy DeVos, and close friend to Steve Bannon, is not letting any grass grow under his mercenary and entrepreneurial feet.

In addition to his proposals to the Trump administration to privatize the war in Afghanistan and mine the country's valuable minerals, Prince is also looking to franchise FSG operations in China.

First Afghanistan: According to BuzzFeed News' Aram Roston, Prince, who recently testified to the House Intelligence Committee for its Russia investigation, "briefed top Trump administration officials directly, talked up his [Afghan privatization] plan publicly on the DC circuit, and published op-eds about it. He patterned the strategy he's pitching on the historical model of the old British East India Company, which had its own army and colonized much of Britain's empire in India. "An East India Company approach," he wrote in the Wall Street Journal Wall, "would use cheaper private solutions to fill the gaps that plague the Afghan security forces, including reliable logistics and aviation support."

Perhaps the key element of Prince's pitch to Trump officials is his envisioning of the US "get[ting] access to Afghanistan's rich deposits of minerals such as lithium, used in batteries; uranium; magnesite; and 'rare earth elements,' critical metals used in high technology from defense to electronics. One slide estimates the value of mineral deposits in Helmand province alone at $1 trillion."

Prince expects the purloined minerals to fund the Afghan privatization project, and, by the way, provide some jobs for Afghanis. "What is laid out in the slides is a model of an affordable way for the US to stabilize a failed state where we are presently wasting AmErikan youth and tens of billions of dollars annually," a Prince spokesperson emailed BuzzFeed News.

Then there's China: According to the Financial Times' Charles Clover and Don Weinland, Prince is "working with the US's main geopolitical competitor, China. … to sell logistics and security to support Beijing's 'Silk Road' strategy, which is seen as an effort to promote Chinese political influence across the Eurasian land mass using roughly $900bn of foreign investment."

According to Prince, Frontier Services Group (FSG) -- which is listed in Hong Kong and partly owned (20 percent) by China's Citic conglomerate -- "We're not serving Chinese foreign policy goals, we're helping increase trade," he said in the interview in Hong Kong earlier this year.

He called the Silk Road policy a "fantastic initiative," adding: "China trading with its neighbors and building infrastructure brings only benefits."  But he denies that his overtures are "a Chinese version of Blackwater."

Blackwater made close to $2 billion in contracts with the US after the invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Financial Times pointed out.

Prince maintained that FSG "is a logistics company, … not a security company": "None of our people have been or will be armed. But security management is certainly part of the logistics process."

A December 2016 FSG press release stated that the company "is adjusting its corporate strategy to better capitalize on the opportunities available from China's One Belt, One Road (OBOR) development initiative. The updated strategic focus will enable FSG to offer its customers improved access to the challenging markets surrounding China's borders. "

Dr. Dongyi Hua, FSG CEO, commented: "FSG is that truly unique corporation - a hybrid between China and the West, bringing the best of both worlds to the benefit our international clients. One Belt, One Road provides FSG with an exciting opportunity to support firms with their secure logistics and transportation needs from Asia to Africa".

The press release also talked about creating "forward operating bases" in two Chinese provinces — Yunnan in the southwest and Xinjiang in the west. J David Whittingham, head of business development and investor relations, insisted that the term "forward operating bases" was a poorly stated phrase.

Interestingly, as BuzzFeed's Rostin pointed out, "in his pitch to AmErika's policymakers, he plays the US against China. One slide, devoted to 'market manipulation in rare earth elements,' presents China as dominating the market for the valuable minerals."

Nevertheless, Prince plans to get his Frontier Services Group involved in the Afghanistan project by "provid[ing] logistics support to the extractive firms with secure transportation and camp support."

How Prince's Afghanistan project and China work pan out is anybody's guess. However, if there is anything that can be said about Prince is that there is no end to him "pitching one crackpot idea after another" to the Trump administration as Salon's Heather Digby Parton recently reported.

"According to numerous sources -- and accompanied by official denials from the White House -- the Trump administration is considering creating a private spy network to be run by Prince, legendary Iran-Contra figure Oliver North and a right-wing clandestine agent from the Reagan administration named John Maguire," Parton reported. "Its goal would be to go around the intelligence community and gather information on its own for CIA Director Mike Pompeo and President Trump."

Stay tuned.