|Born||Erik Dean Prince
June 6, 1969
Holland, Michigan, U.S.
|Residence||Virginia, United StatesAbu Dhabi, UAE|
|Education||U.S. Naval Academy
Hillsdale College (B.A.)
|Occupation||Private military company executive, businessman|
|Known for||Founder of Blackwater USA|
|Title||Chairman and CEO of the Prince Group and Blackwater Worldwide|
|Religion||Christian; a convert to the Roman Catholic Church, raised in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church in North America|
|Spouse(s)||Joan Nicole Prince (deceased 2003)
Joanna Ruth Prince, neé Houck (2004-2012)
|Children||7; 4 from his first marriage and 3 from his second|
|Parents||Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen|
|Relatives||Betsy DeVos (sister)|
Erik Dean Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL officer. Prince was the best known for founding the government services and security company Blackwater USA. He served as its CEO until 2009 and later as chairman, until Blackwater Worldwide was sold in 2010 to a group of investors. Prince currently heads the private equity firm Frontier Resource Group and lives in both Virginia and the United Arab Emirates.
Early life and education
Prince was born on June 6, 1969, in Holland, Michigan, to Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Broekhuizen, the youngest of four children. Both his parents share Dutch heritage (the family name, Prins, was at some point anglicized to Prince). He graduated from Holland Christian High School.
Prince’s father had started as a salesman making 40 cents an hour, who founded a die cast machine manufacturing firm, Prince Machine Corporation, in 1965, which became a supplier to the automobile manufacturing industry and eventually a billion-dollar company; As business “exploded” Prince began to invest some of the profit through the Prince Group into other types of car parts and shopping malls, creating a network of companies and real estate worth a billion dollars. In the early 1970s, Edgar Prince’s company patented a sun visor that could light up and sold 5,000 to General Motors. In the ’90s, the company produced 20,000 a day. Prince and his father toured the world together, visiting the German concentration camp Dachau, a divided Berlin, and Normandy. According to his mother, these trips “made a big impression” on the young Prince.
Prince was accepted into the United States Naval Academy and attended it for three semesters before leaving, citing that he loved the Navy but disliked the Academy. He went on to receive his B.A. in economics from Hillsdale College in 1992. During his time at Hillsdale, Prince served as a volunteer firefighter and as a cold-water diver for the Hillsdale County Sheriff’s Department. Prince eventually became an emergency medical technician.
In 1990, Prince secured a low-level internship in the White House under George H.W. Bush, but soon left to intern for California congressman Dana Rohrabacher, President Ronald Reagan’s former speechwriter. Rohrabacher described Prince as “a bright, driven young man.” At the age of 21, Prince volunteered to search for a mass grave in Nicaragua, to expose killings under President Daniel Ortega and later claimed in an interview in Men’s Journal that he found “a mass grave: bones sticking out of the ground, hands tied with wire at the wrists.”
After College, Prince was commissioned as an officer in the United States Navy via Officer Candidate School in 1992. He went on to become a Navy SEAL and deployed with SEAL Team 8 to Haiti, the Middle East, and the Balkans. He credits the SEALs for being an outlet for his entrepreneurial spirit. In his autobiography he states that it was during the Yugoslav Wars of the early 1990s that he realized the need for private training facilities for special operations.
Prince ended his U.S. Navy service prematurely in 1995 when his father died. Erik assumed control of daily operations at Prince Machine Corporation for a year until 1996 when his mother sold the company for $1.35 billion in cash to Johnson Controls.
Prince moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997. He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations. The name “Blackwater” comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.
Prince credits the 1994 Rwandan genocide with his decision to start Blackwater. He told an audience in his native Holland, Michigan, “It really bothered me. It made me realize you can’t sit back and pontificate. You have to act.”
From 1997 to 2010, Blackwater was awarded $2 billion in government security contracts, more than $1.6 billion of which were unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work. From 2001 to 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates. It became the largest of the State Department's three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad. Prince built a shooting range on his rural Virginia land to serve as a nearby training facility to CIA headquarters in Langley, VA. In his memoir Prince says that he provided the CIA with links to Afghan warlords who helped topple the Taliban and drive al Qaeda into hiding."
Blackwater came under increasing criticism after the Nisour Square shooting of 17 Iraqis in September 2007, and after Barack Obama took office in 2008, but Prince believes that much of this criticism stems from politics. “I put myself and my company at the CIA’s disposal for some very risky missions,” Prince told Vanity Fair for its January 2010 issue. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.”
Prince takes great pride in Blackwater’s work and points to its successes. According to him, out of 40,000 personal security missions, only 200 involved guards discharging their weapons. “No one under our care was ever killed or injured. We kept them safe, all the while we had 30 of our men killed.”
Prince, according to Robert Young Pelton reportedly thinks of Blackwater’s relationship to the military as something similar to FedEx’s relationship to the U.S. Post Office “an efficient, privatized solution to sclerotic and wasteful government bureaucracy.” He credits his father’s competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.
Prince resigned as CEO of Blackwater on March 2, 2009, and remained chairman of the board until he sold the company in late 2010 to a group of investors.
Disclosure as part of a covert CIA task force
Prince was part of a CIA task force created to kill terrorists. Allegedly, the House intelligence congressional committee leaked his name to the press. Prince has said that he is convinced that former CIA director Leon Panetta outed him as a CIA asset, after shutting down the covert CIA training operation in 2009. Prince compared himself to the target of the similar government leak of Valerie Plame:
“Valerie Plame’s identity was compromised for political reasons. A special prosecutor [was even] appointed. Well, what happened to me was worse. People acting for political reasons disclosed not only the existence of a very sensitive program but my name along with it.”
Private security for the United Arab Emirates
After Blackwater faced mounting legal problems in the United States, Prince was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi and moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010. His task was to assemble an 800-member troupe of foreign troops for the U.A.E., which was planned months before the Arab Spring revolts  He helped the UAE found a new company Reflex Responses, or R2, with 51 percent local ownership, carefully avoiding his name on corporate documents. He worked to oversee the effort and recruit troops, among others from Executive Outcomes, a former South African mercenary firm hired by several African governments during the 1990s to put down rebellions and protect oil and diamond reserves.
In January 2011, the Associated Press reported that Prince was training a force of 2000 Somalis for antipiracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The program was reportedly funded by several Arab countries, including the United Arab Emirates and backed by the United States. Prince’s spokesman, Mark Corallo, said that Prince has “no financial role” in the project and declined to answer any questions about Prince’s involvement.
The Associated Press quotes John Burnett of Maritime Underwater Security Consultants as saying, “There are 34 nations with naval assets trying to stop piracy and it can only be stopped on land. With Prince’s background and rather illustrious reputation, I think it’s quite possible that it might work.”.
Private equity investor in Africa
As of 2013 Prince heads a private equity firm called Frontier Resource Group, operating in more than a dozen African countries serving as an adviser to Israeli and Chinese investors in Africa. He created an investment fund of $100 million for this purpose. He “is building an oil refinery in South Sudan, owns a cement factory in Congo, conducts aerial gas and oil surveys across the continent, and is looking at taking over idle oil wells damaged by insurgents in Nigeria.”
Prince has seven children from 2 marriages. His first wife, Joan, died of cancer in June 2003.
Philanthropy and political views
“I'm a very free market guy. I’m not a huge believer that government provides a whole lot of solutions. Some think that government can solve society’s problems. I tend to think private charities and private organizations are better solutions.”
Prince credits his time as a White House intern with some of his views. He said that “having that White House internship responsibility and badges, I walked around some of these other cavernous federal agencies, and you want to talk about depressing? Walk through HHS or HUD or Commerce, you name it. Leviathan realized."
Prince serves as vice president of the Edgar and Elsa Prince Foundation, which his family founded. Prince has donated heavily to both Christian and Islamic causes, building mosques at Blackwater’s overseas bases, and supporting a Muslim orphanage in Afghanistan. He financed the film The Stoning of Soraya M. Salon reports that "between July 2003 and July 2006, the foundation gave at least $670,000 to the Family Research Council and $531,000 to Focus on the Family," headed by James Dobson. The foundation is a major donor to Calvin College, a Christian institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Prince has been an advocate of a leaner, more efficient military. He suggests several ways to make the military more efficient without compromising security. His suggestions are: greater accountability of costs, using appropriate equipment for each job, reduction of overhead, and operational and procurement reform.
In a televised interview with Charlie Rose, Prince discussed his offer to George Clooney of sending a humanitarian mission to Darfur. Prince expressed disdain over international inaction in the face of the Rwandan genocide:
|“||Who can watch the movie 'Hotel Rwanda' and not wish it had a different outcome? Who didn't wish that the UN would have sent troops or yank those Belgian commandos back there to secure that hotel and provide some safe havens? You let almost a million people in a country about the size of Maryland get killed by farm tools over four months.”||”|
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- Scahill, Jeremy (2007). Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. ISBN 978-1560259794.
- Prince, Erik (June 1, 2008). Inside Blackwater: The True Story of the World's Most Controversial Company by the Man Who Founded It. Regnery Publishing. ISBN 1596985577. Hardcover, 256 pages.
- Prince, Erik (November 2013). Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror. Portfolio/Penguin. ISBN 978-1591847212.Hardcover, 416 pages.
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- Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater’s Founder. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has a new project.By MARK MAZZETTI and EMILY B. HAGER. New York Times, May 14, 2011 http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/world/middleeast/15prince.html?ref=global-home&pagewanted=all, accessed 11-18-13
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- "Calvin College: Calvin News". Calvin.edu. 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2013-08-25.
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- Grilled Blackwater chairman a major GOP donor by Andrew Malcolm, The Baltimore Sun, October 4, 2007
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