The company formerly known as Blackwater continues its mission to bury its tarnished reputation and soldier on. Early this morning, Blackwater founder Erik Prince released a brief statement announcing he is stepping down as CEO of the infamous mercenary firm he started in 1997. A press release from the company -- which last month renamed itself "Xe" -- said Prince "will now focus his efforts on a private equity venture unrelated to the company."
In a personal message sent to his employees and clients, Prince sought to cast his departure as a natural part of the firm's ongoing evolution. "As many of you know, because we focus on continually improving our business that Xe is in the process of a comprehensive restructuring," he wrote. "It is with pride in our many accomplishments and confidence in Xe's future that I announce my resignation as the company's Chief Executive Officer."
Prince's resignation could be seen as a public formality in what has been a dramatic attempt to scrub all public vestiges of Blackwater, given that he remains chairman and sole owner of the network of companies now operating under the Xe umbrella. But it's clear the firm has been thrown into turmoil in recent months. As the Xe statement says, "These appointments follow the addition and departures of several other key personnel. Recent departures from the company include its former Vice Chairman, Chief Operating Officer, President, and Executive Vice President." Joseph Yorio, an ex-Army Special Forces officer and former Vice President of the international shipping company DHL was announced as the new Xe president -- a somewhat humorous development, given Prince's fondness for describing Blackwater as the "FedEx of the U.S. national security apparatus." Meanwhile, Danielle Esposito, a longtime Blackwater employee, was named Xe's new Chief Operating Officer and Executive Vice President.
The rebranding of Blackwater and its attempts to hide its former self have been downright crude. The company's domestic training centers, which some refer to as private military bases, are now simply labeled "U.S. Training Center." Gone is the sexy black-and-red logo featuring a bear paw in a sniper-scope; it has been replaced by a nondescript, rather amateurish sketch of an American Eagle. The company website has been revamped and scaled down.
One thing that does remain is the Blackwater ProShop, where you can still purchase items ranging from all the ammunition and tactical gear you would need for your own private war, to the ever-popular Blackwater teddy bear. There is currently a blow-out sale in Blackwater baby onesies, which have been reduced from $18 to $10. Toddler polos have also had their ticket price slashed.
Blackwater's new name and Prince's resignation come following the State Department's recent announcement that it would not be renewing Blackwater's security contract in Iraq. Some have speculated that many of its operatives may be rehired by the State Department through other companies or the Department itself. Moreover, Blackwater still holds lucrative government contracts in Afghanistan and elsewhere and is marketing "CIA-type services" to Fortune 1000 companies through Prince's Total Intelligence Solutions. And a 184-foot vessel operated by the company (named the MacArthur) is reportedly heading for the Gulf of Aden to fight pirates. Nevertheless, some see the recent developments as Blackwater's funeral.
Still, the company clearly remains concerned with activist campaigns against the "new" company and is taking the necessary precautions. In April 2008, almost a year before "Xe" was officially launched, Blackwater bought the URLs xewatch.com, .org and .net. But activists who have mobilized against Blackwater have launched a rebranding campaign of their own. While Blackwater beat them in the URL game, the folks at BlackwaterWatch.net -- whose homepage currently reads: "DON'T BE FOOLED -- XE IS Blackwater!" -- recently reaffirmed their activism, sending out an e-mail saying:
"Xe Watch (formerly Blackwater Watch) was formed in 2007 as a spin-off of North Carolina Stop Torture Now. Headquartered in Blackwater's home state of North Carolina, Xe Watch seeks to shine a light on Blackwater USA specifically, and private armies/mercenaries generally, with respect to their human rights violations, absence of accountability and their profiteering at the expense of, and lobbying for, war and conflict. Xe Watch represents a growing contingent of concerned individuals and groups including, but not limited to, human rights and peace activists, people of faith, civil libertarians, and veterans. We are in solidarity with the people in San Diego, California, Mount Carroll, Illinois and Coeur d' Alene, Idaho who are fighting Xe's mercurial growth and expansion."