The Toxic Tentacles of Erik Prince
“Given the power enjoyed by his sister Betsy DeVos and the close relationships he enjoys with senior figures in the United States government, it appears that a new era is dawning for Erik Prince.”
The life of Erik Prince has been a complicated globe-trotting journey complete with extensive mercenary activities, spying on American citizens, brokering arms deals with despotic regimes and essentially taking advantage of any situation he can in order to line his personal pockets. His career and popularity have had their ups and down over the years, but after the end of political normalcy in America following Trump’s election the disgraced mercenary killer once again found himself in a position of political power and is frequently able to gain audiences with the Trump administration and collaborate with other right wing entities.
He has been accused by Congress of lying under oath and is currently under investigation by the justice department. However, this is far from the only legal peril facing Prince at the hands of federal government authorities. He is also being investigated by the FBI on charges related to two American made crop-dusting planes that were customized to be battle ready, a flagrant violation of international arms trafficking laws.
Prince is most famous for being the founder and former CEO of Blackwater Worldwide, a mercenary group that is now known as Academi to distance the company from atrocities of war committed by its contractors in the middle east. The most infamous of these events was the bloody massacre of dozens of innocent Iraqi civilians in a crowded square in the bustling Mansour neighborhood of Baghdad. As bullets flew through the air, fires broke out, fusing dying children to their mothers’ breasts in one last horrific caress.
Blackwater has come under fire for a variety of other haphazard and often illegal activities, including a plot orchestrated by operatives from the company and CIA agents that was intended to initiate a program of covertly assassinating suspected Al Qaeda operatives.
However, engagement in mercenary activities is far from the only way that Prince attempts to influence national and global geopolitics. He works closely with Project Veritas, a right-wing “activist” group that uses amateur espionage tactics and deceptive editing techniques to attempt to sway public opinion against organizations and groups that they perceive to have a radical leftist agenda. Project Veritas has attacked various organizations over the years, including The New York Times, Planned Parenthood, and The Washington Post.
Private Domestic Espionage
As a result of his association with Project Veritas and other right-wing groups engaged in espionage and other covert operations, Prince has been involved in numerous attempts to infiltrate labor groups and other political organizations in the United States. Some of these operations have failed, yet many have been incredibly successful. These activities have typically relied on the help of former government intelligence operatives from organizations in the United States and abroad, such as M16, the British secret intelligence service.
Richard Seddon, a British national who formerly worked for M16, was implicated in a plot designed by Prince and his cronies to infiltrate a Michigan chapter of the American Federation of Teachers. Throughout 2017, Seddon directed embedded Project Veritas operatives to make copies of the organization’s documents and secretly record members of the group in an attempt to collect footage and information that could be used against them. Seddon was recruited to Project Veritas due to his close association with Prince.
Prince’s close connection to harassment of teachers’ unions and other educational organizations is particularly concerning given that he is the brother of Betsy DeVos, Trump’s Secretary of Education and a vocal critic of teachers’ unions and America’s public school system.
Project Veritas operatives involved in the activities against the teachers’ union in Michigan were also implicated in a plot that sought to compromise democratic Representative Abigail Spanberger’s campaign against incumbent Republican Representative Dave Brat in the 7th district of Virginia.
Project Veritas has come under fire from critics on both the left and right to the deceptive editing of their videos and other unethical “guerilla journalism” tactics. Some of Project Veritas’ supposed attempts at finding the truth have had devastating consequences for organizations and individuals that provided essential services to underserved Americans, such as the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now (ACORN), which was the victim of one of Project Veritas’ most publicized and most falsified “stings.”
As a result of the damage done to ACORN’s good name by Project Veritas most chapters of the organization had to close their offices and no longer could provide important housing information and economic assistance to families and individuals in need across America. James O’Keefe, the man behind Project Veritas, was later ordered by California courts to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in restitution fees to ACORN employees that were slandered and manipulated during the filming of videos attempting to mischaracterize ACORN’s work.
Especially concerning given Prince’s close ties to the Trump administration are pictures and commentary posted by O’Keefe and other Project Veritas operatives on social media platforms showing them being trained in the use of assault rifles and other weapons at Prince’s Wyoming ranch. These posts including phrasing such as O’Keefe claiming that Project Veritas “will be the next great intelligence agency” and another Project Veritas member, Seijah Drake, exclaiming “What a week, Trump’s America is lit.”
Ex-Mossad Agents and Information Warfare
As the world of international espionage and geopolitical intrigue has evolved to the point where technology now plays a crucial role in determining global power structures, Prince has evolved with it, using his shady global connections and new technologies to engage in information warfare.
Prince set up a meeting between Donald Trump, Jr. and Joel Zamel at Trump Towers in August of 2016. Zamel was at the time the owner of Psy-Group, a now defunct Israeli private intelligence organization which primarily employed ex-Mossad agents and other former Israeli government intelligence operatives and sported the slogan “Shape Reality” as its motto.
At the time, the tentacles of Psy-Group ran deep into politics around the world, even reaching local elections in the United States. In one instance, Psy-Group was involved in influencing Tulare, California’s Local Healthcare Board Election and were paid to do so by then director of Tulare Hospital Yorai Benzeevi.
Psy-Group has also been implicated in doxxing projects and other cyber initiatives directed towards students and professors active in the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement, which calls for global economic pressure to be applied to Israel in order to stop the horrific human rights abuses of Palestinians being committed in that country.
Prince has also tried to influence the Trump white House in matters of national security. He worked closely Trump’s disgraced former National Security Advisor Michael T. Flynn during the early days of the Administration and attempted to convince Pentagon officials and other members of Trump’s cabinet to use mercenary services like those provided by Blackwater instead of American military forces.
Trump also has close ties to Project Veritas. In 2015, when began campaigning for the presidency, he donated $20,000 to the group through the Trump Foundation. O’Keefe has also alleged that in 2013 Trump attempted to solicit his assistance in uncovering potential information that could be used to fuel the “birther” conspiracies related to then President Obama’s place of birth.
Crop Dusters or Fighter Jets?
Modifying small aircraft designed for agricultural purposes into instruments of war has long been a personal obsession for Prince, who believes that technological achievements of this sort will forever change the nature of combat in power struggles in Asia and Africa where most mercenary activities take place. The development of aircraft of this sort would also be a huge source of financial gain to Prince, and former colleagues have detailed Prince’s compulsive obsession towards establishing his own private air force.
Employees at an Austrian aviation firm called Airborne Enterprises were involved in refitting American-made Thrush 510G crop dusters into fighter jets complete with laser-targeting equipment, bulletproof cockpit windows, machine gun mounts and electronic technology that could be used to drop bombs and launch rockets. Many of these employees were concerned about the legality and legitimacy of these operations, and some project leaders knew they were violating both Austrian and international law, but were told by their employers to keep quiet, as everything would be fine “as long as it was kept secret.”
Prince was known to Airborne employees only by the code name “Echo Papa” despite the fact that he owned over 25 percent of the company they worked for. “Echo Papa” took advantage of this fact, and by utilizing his monetary and social influence Prince and his cronies were able to use Airborne’s state of the art facilities as their own personal weaponry and aircraft playground to test risky new technologies and ways of transforming agricultural aircraft into weaponized killing machines.
In order to keep everything secret, Prince and his associates started a company called LASA (Light Armed Surveillance Aircraft) Engineering, Ltd. In Bulgaria, a country often used as a point of sale by arms traffickers. LASA Engineering, Ltd. Is closely linked to one of Prince’s close associates, a Bulgarian by the name of Zachary Botchev, who is wanted on charges related to felony burglary and probation violations in the United States and has a warrant out for his arrest. Information in documents filed with the Bulgarian government by LASA almost identically match contact information and other details related to a Bulgarian aircraft firm run by Botchev, who also claims to be the owner of the largest ceramic tile operation in the Balkan region.
Further, in addition to Prince’s own personal nom de guerre, ciphers and benign sounding codenames such as “sensor” were also used to discuss weaponry and military technology to avoid detection and potential legal problems.
In the European union, it is against the law to modify an aircraft without receiving the proper certification, but employees at Airborne soon realized that Prince and his henchmen couldn’t care less about following European Union and international laws or complying with certification requirements. When they voiced their concerns, Prince and his associates simply said things along the lines of, “these planes are going to be used in Africa and other parts of the world where certification doesn’t matter.”
Russian Oligarchs and Emirati Royalty
Prince has numerous ties to governments and regimes throughout Asia, Africa and the Middle East, but perhaps none is as cozy as the one he shares with Mohammed bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and the most powerful man in the United Arab Emirates. Their relationship began when Prince attempted to help bin Zayed establish a special forces style counterterrorism unit in 2009.
Bin Zayed introduced Prince to Kirill Dmitriev, a Russian oligarch with close ties to the Putin regime. While testifying under oath in the aforementioned congressional hearings, Prince claimed this his interaction with Dmitriev was “nothing more than a chance encounter over a beer,” but later changed his tune, defending his actions by stating that “If Franklin Roosevelt can work with Joseph Stalin after the Ukraine terror famine, after killing tens of millions of his own citizens, we can certainly at least cooperate with the Russians in a productive way to defeat the Islamic State.”
It should come as no surprise the Prince is close friends with Oliver North, the disgraced lieutenant marine colonel who was one of the major orchestrators of the Reagan administration’s bungled attempt to sell arms to Iran in exchange for hostages while diverting to profits to fund right wing guerilla Contra activities in Nicaragua.
Prince is known for double dipping and self-dealing in most of his operations, attempting to command every step of the supply chain in order to make as much money as possible. A longtime associate of Prince explained “Everything he does, he skims… “He will run a contract through two companies and then dictate that those two companies have to subcontract out to another eight companies. What he doesn’t disclose is that he owns all or part of those eight companies and will take 25 percent from each company. Then, he can use those same eight entities to make the money disappear.”
Erik Prince’s influence has ebbed and flowed throughout his career, but his cozy relationship with the Trump administration has given him the opportunity to manipulate situations to his advantage closer to home than ever before. Given the power enjoyed by his sister Betsy DeVos and the close relationships he enjoys with senior figures in the United States government, it appears that a new era is dawning for Erik Prince.