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Erik Prince

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Not to be confused with the English footballer Eric Prince.
Erik Prince
Born Erik Dean Prince
(1969-06-06) June 6, 1969 (age 46)
Holland, Michigan, U.S.
Residence Virginia, United States[1] Abu Dhabi, UAE[2]
Nationality American
Education U.S. Naval Academy
Hillsdale College (B.A.)
Known for Founder of Blackwater USA
Religion Christian; a convert to the Roman Catholic Church,[3] raised in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church in North America[4]
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
Parent(s) Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen
Relatives Betsy DeVos (sister)

Erik Dean Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman, philanthropist, and former U.S. Navy SEAL officer. Prince was 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 is chairman of Hong Kong-listed Frontier Services Group Ltd. He lives in both Virginia and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Early life and education[edit]

Prince was born on June 6, 1969, in Holland, Michigan, to Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Broekhuizen, the youngest of four children.[5] Both his parents share Dutch heritage (the family name, Prins, was at some point anglicized to Prince). He graduated from Holland Christian High School.[citation needed]

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;[6] 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.[3] 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.[7] 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.[8]

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.[9] During his time at Hillsdale, Prince served as a volunteer firefighter and as a cold-water diver for the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department.[10] Prince eventually became an emergency medical technician.[11]

In 1990, Prince secured a low-level internship in the White House under George H.W. Bush,[12] 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."[13]

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.[14]

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.[15][16]

Prince moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997.[17] He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations.[18] The name "Blackwater" comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.[19]


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."[20]

From 1997 to 2010, Blackwater was awarded $2 billion in government security contracts,[21] more than $1.6 billion of which were unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work.[22] From 2001 to 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates.[23] It became the largest of the State Department's three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad.[24] Prince built a shooting range on his rural Virginia land to serve as a nearby training facility to CIA headquarters in Langley, VA.[21] 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."[14]

Blackwater came under increasing criticism after the Nisour Square killings in Baghdad of 17 Iraqi civilians and the serious wounding of 20 more in September 2007. Three guards were eventually convicted in October 2014 of 14 manslaughter charges, and another of murder, in a U.S. court.[25]

The criticism continued after president Barack Obama took office in 2008. Prince said he 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."[26]

Nevertheless, in 2010 the Barack Obama administration awarded the company a $120 million United States Department of State security contract and about $100 million in new CIA work .[22]

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."[20]

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."[27] He credits his father's competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.[28]

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.[29]

Disclosure as part of a covert CIA task force[edit]

Prince was part of a CIA task force created to kill terrorists. Allegedly, the House intelligence congressional committee leaked his name to the press.[30] 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.[21] 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.[30]

Private security for the United Arab Emirates[edit]

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.[31] 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 defeat violent rebellions in addition to protecting 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.".[32]

Private equity investor in Africa[edit]

Prince currently heads a private equity firm called Frontier Resource Group and is chairman of Frontier Services Group Ltd, a Bermuda-incorporated logistics and transport company listed on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.[33] Frontier Services Group is backed by China's state-owned CITIC Group and Hong Kong-based investor Chun Shun Ko.[34][35] Prince's ventures advise and support Chinese investment in oil and gas in Africa.[36] Of his strategy, Prince stated:

Africa is so far the most unexplored part of the world, and I think China has seen a lot of promise in Africa. But the problem is if you go alone, you bear the country risk on your own. You have to get support and maintenance there.[37]

In May 2014, it was reported that Prince's plan to build a diesel refinery in South Sudan, in which $10 million had already been invested, was suspended. The halted refinery project was reported to be supported personally by the country's president, Salva Kiir Mayardit.[33] Frontier Services Group was reported to be paid $23.3 million by South Sudan's Ministry of Petroleum to transport supplies and perform maintenance on oil production facilities.[38]

As part of Prince's Africa-focused investment strategy, Frontier Services Group purchased stakes in two Kenyan aviation companies, Kijipwa Aviation and Phoenix Aviation, to provide logistics services for the country's oil and gas industry.[33] In October 2014, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority denied Kijipwa Aviation an aviation license renewal.[39][40][41]

Personal life[edit]


Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, a former chairman of the Michigan Republican Party and wife of former Alticor (Amway) president and gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos.[17]

Prince has seven children. His first wife, Joan, died of cancer in 2003.[42] He married his second wife, Joanna Houck, in 2004 but the two later divorced.[43] In his 2013 memoir, titled Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror, Prince writes that he was having an affair with Joanna.[44]

His youngest child, Charles Donovan, was named after William "Wild Bill" Donovan.[42]

Philanthropy and political views[edit]

Prince describes himself as a libertarian and practicing Roman Catholic.[26] He describes his political views as follows:

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.[45]

Prince credits his time as a White House intern with some of his political 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."[45]

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.[26] He financed the film The Stoning of Soraya M.[46] 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,[47] headed by James Dobson. The foundation is a major donor to Calvin College,[48] a Christian institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Between 1998 and 2007, Prince donated over $200,000 to Republican and third-party causes.[49][50] In 2006 Prince contributed money to the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.[50]

Prince has advocated for a leaner, more efficient military. He suggests several ways to make the military more efficient without compromising security. His suggestions include: greater accountability of costs, using appropriate equipment for each job, reduction of overhead, and operational and procurement reform.[51]

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.[52]



  1. ^ Johnson, Charles (November 26, 2013). "On Why Private Militaries Are the Future". The Daily Caller. 
  2. ^ Risen, James (August 17, 2010). "Blackwater's Erik Prince Moves to Abu Dhabi". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ a b Pelton 2006, p. 291
  4. ^ "Erik Prince: Blackwater, Xe, the New Christian Crusade". TruthisTreason. 
  5. ^ Ready for battle by Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and Todd Spangler, The Detroit Free Press, October 7, 2007.
  6. ^ accessed 11-20-13
  7. ^ Simons, Suzanne (2009). Master of War. Harper Collins. p. 10. 
  8. ^ Simons 2009, pp. 11–2
  9. ^ "Erik Prince exclusive interview". 
  10. ^ [1][dead link]
  11. ^ Simons 2009, p. 19
  12. ^ White-Collar Mercenary Under Fire by Marc Pitzke, Der Spiegel, October 3, 2007,
  13. ^ Pelton, Robert Young. "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Men's Journal. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  14. ^ a b Civilian Warriors: The Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror Hardcover by Erik Prince.Portfolio Hardcover (November 18, 2013) ISBN 978-1591847212
  15. ^ Robert Young Pelton (November 30, 2010). "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  16. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 291
  17. ^ a b The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, "Blackwater's top brass", July 24, 2006. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; name "HamptonRoads_072406_1" defined multiple times with different content (see the help page).
  18. ^ "The Man Behind Blackwater". Newsweek, October 23, 2007, pp. 36–9.
  19. ^ Simons 2009
  20. ^ a b Photos by Mark Copier (2010-05-05). "Protests outside, cheers inside as Blackwater founder Erik Prince speaks in Holland". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  21. ^ a b c Blackwater founder works on next chapter.By Dion Nissenbaum. The Wall Street Journal,page B4, 11-18-2013.
  22. ^ a b Strobel, Warren P. (June 28, 2010). "Obama spares Blackwater on Sudan violations". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  23. ^ Prince's business covertly won U.S.contracts.Grand Rapids Gazette, 9-4-2010.
  24. ^ Sengupta, Kim (June 9, 2010). "Blackwater founder to sell up as criticism takes its toll". The Independent (London). 
  25. ^ U.S. Jury convicts Blackwater guards in 2007 killings of Iraqi civilians, The Guardian. October 22, 2014. Retrieved 23 October 2014.
  26. ^ a b c Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  27. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 2
  28. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 3
  29. ^ "Blackwater Founder in Deal to Sell Company". The New York Times. December 16, 2010. 
  30. ^ a b Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  31. ^ 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, accessed 11-18-13
  32. ^ Blackwater founder trains Somalis[2] Archived January 24, 2011 at the Wayback Machine
  33. ^ a b c Gridneff, Ilya (May 28, 2014). "South Sudan Chaos Halts Prince’s Plan for Oil Refinery". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on August 17, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  34. ^ Ng, Eric (January 14, 2014). "DVN shares surge as former Blackwater owner named chairman". South China Morning Post. Archived from the original on August 5, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  35. ^ Eisenhammer, Stephen (February 2, 2014). "Beyond Blackwater: Prince looks to resources in Africa". Reuters. Archived from the original on November 10, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  36. ^ "Blackwater Founder Prince Now Working With China". Bloomberg Television. January 31, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  37. ^ George Chen (2012-11-19). "Into Africa: Ex-navy SEAL sets trail for investors | South China Morning Post". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  38. ^ Gridneff, Ilya (December 18, 2014). "South Sudan Hires Ex-Blackwater Chief to Restore War-Damaged Oil Facilities". Bloomberg News. Archived from the original on December 18, 2014. Retrieved January 11, 2015. 
  39. ^ Herbling, David (October 27, 2014). "State denies American company aviation licence". Business Daily Africa. Archived from the original on October 28, 2014. Retrieved December 6, 2014. 
  40. ^ Lamothe, Dan (October 28, 2014). "Blackwater founder Erik Prince: Combative, secretive and expanding in Africa". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  41. ^ "Kenya refuses to renew Blackwater founder's Kijipwa Aviation ASL". ch-aviation. November 6, 2014. Archived from the original on November 7, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  42. ^ a b Ciralsky, Adam (January 2010). "Scandal: Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  43. ^ Dimascio, Jen (July 20, 2009). "Blackwater, behind the brass". Politico. Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  44. ^ Sizemore, Bill (November 18, 2013). "Blackwater founder takes aim at his critics in memoir". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved 22 December 2015. 
  45. ^ a b Simons, 20
  46. ^ Simons, Suzanne (2009). Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War. New York City: Harper. p. 253. ISBN 978-0-06-165135-9. 
  47. ^ The Bush administration’s ties to Blackwater, by Ben Van Heuvelen, Salon, October 2, 2007.
  48. ^ "Calvin College: Calvin News". 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  49. ^ Mike Barker, AP, "Testimony Lifts Veil on Blackwater Boss", October 2, 2007.
  50. ^ a b Grilled Blackwater chairman a major GOP donor by Andrew Malcolm, The Baltimore Sun, October 4, 2007
  51. ^ Beck, Glenn (2010). Broke: The Plan to Restore Our Trust, Truth and Treasure. New York, NY: Mercury Radio Arts, Inc. p. 405. ISBN 978-1-4391-8719-7. 
  52. ^ "Prince interview". YouTube. 

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