It was a company located in a remote area of northeastern North Carolina with a reach, through its private military contracting, of thousands of miles. Blackwater, it used to be called, headquartered in Moyock and run by a former Navy SEAL named Erik Prince, active in the evangelical movement and with his company, a multibillion-dollar private contractor with the U.S. government. The company also trained law enforcement in the use of firearms and other skills.
Blackwater is not owned by Prince anymore, and its now called Academi, only the latest in a series of name changes. And Tuesday, the company ended a long-running criminal investigation by admitting to breaking laws, agreeing to a $7.5 million fine and agreeing to cooperate in ongoing prosecutions involving some former company executives.
The federal case is one of several criminal and civil legal actions in which the company has been involved.
Four former employees face charges for a 2007 shooting in a Baghdad square in which 17 Iraqis were killed; two former Blackwater guards were convicted last year of manslaughter in the deaths of two Afghans in 2009.
And as reported by McClatchy Newspapers in 2010, Blackwater also tried to make a potential $15 billion-worth of deals in south Sudan in 2005 at a time when that country was under U.S. sanctions, meaning American companies werent supposed to do business there.
The saga of Blackwater served to spotlight the degree to which the military and agencies depended on independent contractors for all sorts of hazardous duty, for a hefty sum. That scrutiny was a valuable eye-opener for the country, if a disquieting one for citizens who thought of the military as the one, the only fighting force.
Perhaps that was always a naive view. But until the story of Blackwater unfolded, most people had no idea just how naive.