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Erik Prince

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Erik Prince
Erik Prince.jpg
Born Erik Dean Prince
(1969-06-06) June 6, 1969 (age 47)
Holland, Michigan, U.S.
Residence Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates[1][2]
Middleburg, Virginia, United States[3]
Nationality American
Education U.S. Naval Academy
Hillsdale College (B.A.)
Known for Founder of Blackwater USA
  • Joan Nicole Prince (m. 1991;d. 2003)[4]
  • Joanna Ruth Prince, neé Houck (m. 2004; div. 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)
Military career
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Navy SEALs
Rank Lieutenant

Erik Dean Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL officer best known for founding the government services and security company Blackwater USA, now known as Academi. 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 Middleburg, Virginia and Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates.

Early life and education[edit]

Prince was born on June 6, 1969 in Holland, Michigan, the son of Edgar D. Prince and his wife, Elsa (Zwiep),[note 1] and the youngest of four children.[7] He graduated from Holland Christian High School.[8]

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.[9] 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.[5] 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.[10] Prince and his father toured the world together, visiting the Dachau concentration camp in Germany, a divided Berlin, and Normandy. According to his mother, these trips "made a big impression" on the young Prince.[11]

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.[12] During his time at Hillsdale, Prince served as a volunteer firefighter and as a cold-water diver for the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department.[13] Prince eventually became an emergency medical technician.[14]

In 1990, Prince secured a low-level internship in the White House under George H.W. Bush,[15] 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 said that he had found one.[16]

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 during the Yugoslav Wars in the early 1990s, he realized the need for private training facilities for special operations.[17]

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.[18][19]

Prince moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997.[20] He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations.[21] The name "Blackwater" comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.[22]


Prince credits the 1994 Rwandan genocide with his decision to start Blackwater. He later said, "It really bothered me. It made me realize you can't sit back and pontificate. You have to act."[23]

From 1997 to 2010, Blackwater was awarded $2 billion in government security contracts,[24] more than $1.6 billion of which were unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work.[25] From 2001 to 2010, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates.[26] It became the largest of the State Department's three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad.[27] Prince built a shooting range on his rural Virginia land to serve as a nearby training facility to CIA headquarters in Langley, Va.[24] 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."[17]

Blackwater came under increasing criticism after the Nisour Square massacre in September 2007, in which Blackwater employees opened fire in a crowded square in Baghdad, killing 17 Iraqi civilians and seriously wounding 20 more. Three guards were convicted in October 2014 of 14 manslaughter charges, and another of murder, in a U.S. court.[28]

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."[29]

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 .[25]

Prince has defended Blackwater's work, pointing to the fact that in 40,000 personal security missions, only 200 involved guards firing their weapons. He has said, "No one under our care was ever killed or injured. We kept them safe, all the while we had 30 of our men killed."[23]

Prince, according to author 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."[30] He credits his father's competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.[31]

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.[32]

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.[33] 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.[24]

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 troop of foreign troops for the U.A.E., which was planned months before the Arab Spring.[34] He helped the UAE found a new company named 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 2,000 Somalis for anti-piracy 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 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."[35]

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.[36] Frontier Services Group is backed by China's state-owned CITIC Group and Hong Kong-based investor Chun Shun Ko.[37][38] Prince's ventures advise and support Chinese investment in oil and gas in Africa.[39]

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.[36] 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.[40]

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.[36] In October 2014, the Kenya Civil Aviation Authority denied Kijipwa Aviation an aviation license renewal.[41][42][43]

Prince also purchased a 25% stake in Austrian aviation company Airborne Technologies. In 2014, Prince commissioned the company to modify Thrush 510G crop-dusters with surveillance equipment, machine guns, armor, and other weapons, including custom pylons that could mount either NATO or Russian ballistics.[44] One of the modified crop-dusters was delivered to Salva Kiir Mayardit's forces in South Sudan shortly before a contract with Frontier Services Group was cancelled. Frontier Services Group owns two of the modified Thrush 510Gs, but since executives learned the craft had been weaponized by Prince, the company has declined to sell or use the aircraft to avoid violating U.S. export controls.[45]

Ties to Trump transition[edit]

In 2016 Prince supported Republican candidate Donald Trump for President of the United States. Prince had no formal role in Trump's transition. In December 2016 Prince visited the transition team offices in New York City. In April 2017 as part of a broader investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 United States elections the Federal Bureau of Investigation is investigating a January 11, 2017 meeting in the Seychelles at which Prince presented himself as an unofficial representative of Trump.[1]

Personal life[edit]


Prince describes himself as a practicing Roman Catholic.[29] He converted to Catholicism in 1992.[46]

Political views[edit]

Prince describes himself as a libertarian.[29] He has said, "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."[47]

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."[47] Speaking of his internship, Prince said, "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with--homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act." Disenchanted, Prince became a backer of presidential candidate Pat Buchanan.[48]

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.[49]

Political donations[edit]

Between 1998 and 2007, Prince donated more than $200,000 to Republican and third-party causes.[50][51] In 2006, Prince contributed money to the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.[51]

In 2016 Prince contributed $250,000 to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign, as well as a Trump-aligned super PAC helmed by Rebekah Mercer.[1]

Charitable work[edit]

Prince has often donated to a number of Christian causes[52] and supports a Muslim orphanage in Afghanistan.[29] Prince also serves as vice president of the Prince Foundation, which his family founded.[53]


Prince is the brother of United States Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos,[54] and the brother-in-law of former Alticor (Amway) president Dick DeVos.[55]

Prince's first wife, Joan,[56] died of cancer in 2003.[57] He later wrote that he had an affair with Joanna Houck, his children's nanny, while his wife was dying.[58] Prince and Houck married in 2004.[59]

Prince has seven children. His youngest child, Charles Donovan, was named after William "Wild Bill" Donovan.[57]

Further reading[edit]


  1. ^ At the time of their marriage, she was known by her maiden name, Elsa Zwiep. Following her marriage to Prince, she was known as Elsa Prince. After Prince's death in 1995 she married, in 2000, a minister, Ren Broekhuizen, and was known as Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen.


  1. ^ a b c Entous, Adam; Miller, Greg; Sieff, Kevin; DeYoung, Karen (April 3, 2017). "Blackwater founder held secret Seychelles meeting to establish Trump-Putin back channel". The Washington Post. Retrieved April 4, 2017. 
  2. ^ Risen, James (August 17, 2010). "Blackwater's Erik Prince Moves to Abu Dhabi". The New York Times. 
  3. ^ Shapira, Ian (January 1, 2015). "Blackwater founder Erik Prince goes to war against a former business partner". The Washington Post. 
  4. ^ Erik Prince, Civilian Warriors, the Inside Story of Blackwater and the Unsung Heroes of the War on Terror (2013).
  5. ^ a b Pelton 2006, p. 291
  6. ^ "Erik Prince: Blackwater, Xe, the New Christian Crusade". TruthisTreason. 
  7. ^ Ready for battle by Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and Todd Spangler, The Detroit Free Press, October 7, 2007.
  8. ^ "Profile: Blackwater's Restless Erik Prince". Newsweek. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  9. ^ accessed 11-20-13
  10. ^ Simons, Suzanne (2009). Master of War. Harper Collins. p. 10. 
  11. ^ Simons 2009, pp. 11–2
  12. ^ "Erik Prince exclusive interview". 
  13. ^ [1]
  14. ^ Simons 2009, p. 19
  15. ^ White-Collar Mercenary Under Fire by Marc Pitzke, Der Spiegel, October 3, 2007,
  16. ^ Pelton, Robert Young. "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Men's Journal. Archived from the original on September 3, 2012. Retrieved June 3, 2011. 
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Robert Young Pelton (November 30, 2010). "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Archived from the original on June 14, 2011. Retrieved May 28, 2011. 
  19. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 291
  20. ^ The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, "Blackwater's top brass" Archived August 29, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. July 24, 2006.
  21. ^ "The Man Behind Blackwater". Newsweek, October 23, 2007, pp. 36–9.
  22. ^ Simons 2009
  23. ^ a b Photos by Mark Copier (May 5, 2010). "Protests outside, cheers inside as Blackwater founder Erik Prince speaks in Holland". Retrieved August 25, 2013. 
  24. ^ a b c Blackwater founder works on next chapter.By Dion Nissenbaum. The Wall Street Journal,page B4, Nov 18, 2013.
  25. ^ a b Strobel, Warren P. (June 28, 2010). "Obama spares Blackwater on Sudan violations". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  26. ^ Prince's business covertly won U.S.contracts.Grand Rapids Gazette, April 9, 2010.
  27. ^ Sengupta, Kim (June 9, 2010). "Blackwater founder to sell up as criticism takes its toll". The Independent. London. 
  28. ^ U.S. Jury convicts Blackwater guards in 2007 killings of Iraqi civilians, The Guardian. October 22, 2014. Retrieved October 23, 2014.
  29. ^ a b c d Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved August 25, 2013. 
  30. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 2
  31. ^ Pelton 2006, p. 3
  32. ^ "Blackwater Founder in Deal to Sell Company". The New York Times. December 16, 2010. 
  33. ^ Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved August 25, 2013. 
  34. ^ Mazzetti, Mark; Hager, Emily B. (May 14, 2011). "Secret Desert Force Set Up by Blackwater's Founder. Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, has a new project". The New York Times. Retrieved November 18, 2013. 
  35. ^ Blackwater founder trains Somalis [2] Archived January 24, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
  36. ^ 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. 
  37. ^ 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. 
  38. ^ 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. 
  39. ^ "Blackwater Founder Prince Now Working With China". Bloomberg Television. January 31, 2014. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  40. ^ 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. 
  41. ^ 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. 
  42. ^ Lamothe, Dan (October 28, 2014). "Blackwater founder Erik Prince: Combative, secretive and expanding in Africa". The Washington Post. Retrieved November 10, 2014. 
  43. ^ "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. 
  44. ^ Cole, Matthew (April 12, 2016). "Report: Blackwater CEO Tried to Sell Armed Planes to South Sudan". The Takeaway. WNYC. Retrieved 27 January 2017. 
  45. ^ Scahill, Jeremy; Cole, Matthew. "Echo Papa Exposed: Inside Erik Prince's Treacherous Drive to Build a Private Air Force". The Intercept. Retrieved 27 January 2017. 
  46. ^ Thomas, Evan (October 13, 2007). "Profile: Blackwater's Erik Prince". Newsweek. 
  47. ^ a b Simons, 20
  48. ^ Scahill, Jeremy (2011-05-26). Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Profile Books. ISBN 1847654789. 
  49. ^ 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. 
  50. ^ Mike Barker, AP, "Testimony Lifts Veil on Blackwater Boss", October 2, 2007.
  51. ^ a b Grilled Blackwater chairman a major GOP donor Archived October 11, 2007, at the Wayback Machine. by Andrew Malcolm, The Baltimore Sun, October 4, 2007
  52. ^ Scahill, Jeremy (2007). Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. Nation Books. pp. 79–81. ISBN 978 1 84668 652 8. 
  53. ^ Woodruff, Betsy (October 22, 2016). "Blackwater Founder Erik Prince, Who Got Rich Off Of Iraq, Now Backs 'Anti-War' Donald Trump". The Daily Beast. 
  54. ^ Huetteman, Emmarie; Alcindor, Yamiche (February 7, 2017). "Betsy DeVos Confirmed as Education Secretary; Pence Breaks Tie" – via 
  55. ^ The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, "Blackwater's top brass", July 24, 2006. Retrieved from the Internet Archive March 27, 2016.
  56. ^ "Blackwater, behind the brass". POLITICO. Retrieved 2017-02-01. 
  57. ^ a b Ciralsky, Adam (January 2010). "Scandal: Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  58. ^ Sizemore, Bill (November 18, 2013). "Blackwater founder takes aim at his critics in memoir". The Virginian-Pilot. Retrieved December 22, 2015. 
  59. ^ Dimascio, Jen (July 20, 2009). "Blackwater, behind the brass". Politico. Retrieved December 22, 2015. 

External links[edit]