[Image: A Google view of Potrero, California.]
I remember catching a headline a couple of months ago about the private mercenary company Blackwater looking to set up a massive shooting range somewhere in southern California. It became one of those millions of others headlines I knew I needed to look into further but had, like so many of them, put it on the back burner.
But, thanks to Ben who sent me a link to a great article in RAWSTORY on the facility, I’m finally getting around to it.
In case you haven’t heard about this project or aren’t familiar with Blackwater let me stitch together some basic background for you. You probably first heard about Blackwater back in 2004 when the Bush administration started paying the private security firm millions of dollars for “diplomatic security” services all over the world. Those contracts, managed by the State Department, then amounted to some $320 million, apparently $100 million of which the State Department couldn’t even recall signing up for. This money supposedly funded Blackwater’s added security forces in most of the regional locales we associate with the ‘War on Terrorism’: Bosnia, Afghanistan, Iraq, and generally all throughout the Middle East.
Though, according to Jeremy Scahill, in the ensuing years the company has won nearly $1 billion in noncovert government contracts, many of which have been no-bid arrangements.
You may also remember that Blackwater racked up roughly another $30 million in public funds by storming New Orleans after the disaster struck to "protect" and "safeguard" FEMA and their pitiful reconstruction efforts.
Needless to say, they are the biggest private security firm currently operating in Iraq, and have made a financial killing off of the 'War on Terror' (no pun intended). It is, after all, their business: to make a killing off of the complete privatization of war.
Scahill, who reported last month in The Nation, said:
“Blackwater currently has 2,300 personnel deployed in nine countries, with 20,000 other contractors at the ready. It has a fleet of more than twenty aircraft, including helicopter gunships and a private intelligence division, and it is manufacturing surveillance blimps and target systems.”
From his new book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army he also tells us:
“Contractors have provided the Bush Administration with political cover, allowing the government to deploy private forces in a war zone free of public scrutiny, with the deaths, injuries and crimes of those forces shrouded in secrecy. The Administration and the GOP-controlled Congress in turn have shielded the contractors from accountability, oversight and legal constraints.”
Beginning on a swampy 5,000 acre plot of land near Moyock, North Carolina, Blackwater has in the last ten years expanded their headquarters to 7,000 acres, making it the world's largest private military base.
[Images: Blackwater Training facility in North Carolina, compliments of www.blackwaterusa.com.]
Since the company's exponential growth in the private security market it has opened a domestic division, building off of the contract killing it made around the gulf after hurricane Katrina. And, according to this article, Blackwater Vice Chairman Cofer Black said to the effect, “the company is interested in creating a small army for hire - a brigade-size force that could be contracted for peacekeeping and stability operations in troubled regions of the world.”
This same article details Blackwater’s latest plans to establish a new base in the Philippines, ‘a jungle survival skills training center on the site of the former Subic Bay naval base.”
[Image: Subic Bay, Philippines, satellite photo via Wikipedia, March 2004.]
Subic Bay, as I understand, was at one point the largest U.S. military base in all of Asia. After it became inactive the Navy handed it over to the Philippines in 1992 and since then it has operated as a commercial and industrial zone.
Blackwater has “has acquired about 25 acres at Subic Bay and will have access to thousands of acres of adjacent jungle for conducting jungle environment survival training, known by the acronym JEST.”
All of which gets us to California, the other destination on Blackwater’s westward expansion radar. The company has apparently been running roughshod over the political process of establishing a 824 acre training facility in a little rural community East of San Diego. This is being documented now by multiple media sources. One writer from the Daily Kos describes the secluded and obviously vulnerable Potrero, California by saying, “It's not exactly an urban metropolis, the population is only 978, and about a quarter of those people live below the poverty level.” Despite its pastoral surrounding landscape, “it could be anywhere in America really.”
Using politicians on the inside to hasten a quick turnaround on an environmental review, Blackwater is pulling its usual shadowy tricks and has for the most part completely circumnavigated any real due public process. If you read the Daily Kos article, it quotes Don Bauder from the San Diego Reader (who has been watching this deal intently), he reports how the people of the county there are vehemently opposed to the facility, and that Blackwater got the County’s approval pretty much behind the scenes without any public meetings or additional hearings.
The San Diego Coalition for Peace and Justice has also set up a well-informed resource for documenting this whole thing. First, the ‘Blackwater West’ facility (as it has been referred to) is planned to include (you ready?):
* 9 carbine ranges, 300 x 225 ft. each
* 1 carbine range, 600 x 225 ft.
* 5 pistol ranges, 150 x 150 ft. each
* 2 live-fire fully ballistic multi-level shoot houses, 4,600 sq ft
* 15 live-fire fully ballistic single-level shoot houses, 20 x 60 each
* 2 mile tactical driving track with gasoline storage tank
* 350 foot diameter EVOC skid pad
* 400 foot diameter helipad
* 33,000 square foot urban simulation training area composed of
shipping crates stacked to simulate city buildings on paved streets
* 1 training tower, 5 level, 40 x 20 ft., 800 sq. ft. total
* 1 training tower, 6 level, 24 x 48 ft., 1,152 sq. ft. total
* 4 ship simulators, 3 levels, indoor-outdoor, made of stacked shipping containers
* 1 Armory building for storage of guns and ammunition, 18,000
* 2 Dormitory buildings, 18,000 sq. ft. each
* 2 classroom buildings, 18,000 sq. ft. each
* 1 Defensive training building, 10,000 sq. ft.
* 1 Dining hall, 10,000 sq. ft.
* 1 Facility maintenance building, 18,000 sq. ft.
* Various other buildings totaling 13,280 sq. ft.
All of which will no doubt have a nasty impact on the environment. SDCPJ reports some of the estimated ill effects: dramatically increased traffic (remember, this is a quiet little hill town), possible groundwater pollution (from septic planning deficiences), incredible noise (firing ranges, test explosions), and grave consequences for the local eagle population (ironically, the symbol of American freedom!), but even worse:
* Rainwater will leach out lead from the spent bullets and take it directly into Mc Almond Canyon and into Cottonwood Creek which enters the Tijuana River. Bi-National Pollution!
* This project means the disestablishment of agriculture preserve land. San Diego County cannot afford to lose more farmland.
* If this business is allowed it will set a dangerous precedent and we will not be able to stop any other large, obnoxious, businesses from locating in our small (less than 800 residents) rural community.
Anyway, there is serious mounting opposition to the facility (thankfully) but no telling what will eventually become of this project. And getting the word out never hurts. So don't be shy about slinging this post around. This project is as critical as it gets, it is the insidious flexing muscle of the pirvatization of war meeting the privatization of local land use policy meeting yet again the type of military urbanism that goes on quietly comsuming the map, plot by plot, tract by tract, acre by acre, revising the very spaces of our world one exception at a time.
If you want to learn more about how Blackwater is fast tracking the Blackwater West project, check out the Rawstory article, it's pretty startling.
(Thanks again Ben for shooting this one my way!)