Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Tracking Blackwater in Potrero

[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]

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
sq. ft.
* 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!)


Blogger Papa Ray said...

I must be missing something.

What exactly is Blackwater going to do to mother earth?

And how?

Are you one of those tree huggers who lives in a house that uses more energy than the norm?

Do you go everwhere on a bike, and only drive your car to work?

Blackwater is no different than thousands of other companys who are opening up new offices, facilities, enterprises all over the world. In fact if they are different, it is that they do not produce millions of tons of pollutants a year or use megawatts of electricity each month.

Thousands of companys and corporations buy land and build on it without getting "permission" except where required by law. Then they usually don't try to advertise their purchases before hand because of possible increases in prices for land and other services.

Why don't you just come out with your real reason for your dislike of this corporation.

You will feel better.

Papa Ray
West Texas

8:26 AM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

What I am concerned about is the process of establishing this facility. The majority of the Potrero Planning Group is obviously pushing for this project, hard, to the extent that an environmental review has been so hastened (from the looks of it via my little old news source vantage) is has essentially been sidestepped altogether. The sole dissenting planner in the group who is opposed to the project, was not allowed to vote on it at the time the group decided on approving this project (according to RAWSTORY), and since then the head of that group has disallowed any future meetings from taking place on the project (what it looks like) to censor the dissenting voice, and to prevent any public hearings from even taking place. The public notification for the project apparently came so late that Blackwater and local planners may have violated CEQA and Brown Act, mandating open meetings, etc. Read the RAWSTORY article.

It sure doesn’t sound like proper political process to me. More than half of the community has signed a petition saying they reject the project. The sensitive ecology of the area (again, from basic information I have been able to gather) would suffer as a result of this project: from potentially harming the eagle population to contaminating much of the area’s ground water supply, to the general rural complexion of the community. This project looks like a complete disregard for the people of Potrero, so why should they support it? Why should I support it when Blackwater doesn’t care about the community, when the politicians (Hunter Duncan) are clients of Blackwater, and when local politicians no longer include their own constituents in the process? The whole thing smacks of dirty politics.

If they want to set up a facility then let them go through a transparent and rigorous public process, let them face the public, let a proper environmental review take place first, let the appropriate research be done into the effects on this community, let the public voice their concerns and lay out their expected community benefits in return. If Blackwater and local planners want to gang up and completely stomp over the process then why should I support such a project (assuming I support Blackwater in the first place)? Is that why Blackwater came to San Diego in the first place, where they knew they would be able to use the political process to their advantage, where politics are notoriously shady and where military companies have made fortunes for years?

This is another example of big business ramming their projects through the process with politicians on the inside who have absolutely no regard for the environment or the communities their projects will effect. It's not about Blackwater, per se, it's about going though the proper process. This is not any way to get people to buy into Blackwater if they don't think favorably of the company already. Forget it.

10:24 AM  
Blogger ellroon said...

Thank you for posting this (hijacked a bit for my blog). Cheney's 'shadow government' needs to be outed and exposed, and made accountable for their actions around the globe.

3:41 PM  
Blogger Tyler said...

Cofer Black? I think there was a guy with the same name who was the director of the CIA Counterterrorism Center when the US went into Afghanistan after 9/11

Love the blog, Its in my newsreader so keep up the good work!

5:51 AM  
Blogger Bryan Finoki said...

Democracy Now speaks with Rep Bob Filner who is exploring legislation to block the project as well as one of the local organizers and journalist Jeremy Scahill, author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army."

12:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I agree with Papa Ray. You people need to get a life and a job.

I'm pretty sure the people opposed to this have way too much time on their hands. You need to step it up from a part-time job to a full-time job.

You need to realize that the world is not out to get you, there is no right-wing conspiracy.

8:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's not paranoia if it's real."

Gee. State department telling Blackwater they do NOT have to comply with a congressional investigation.

11:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

LOL @ Cheney shadow goverment. What a bunch of crackpots. People have been spouting that shit for years. You probably think aliens shot Kennedy too, huh? Ha ha. Blackwater will build there training facility in Potrero and there is nothing you can do to stop it. The property taxes alone they will have to pay will fund public services in and about the entire county. PS. I love how these "protesters" are going to protest an empty space while no Blackwater employees will be there to defend themselves. What a joke.
Typical bored house wives with nothing better to do. I bet you'll see quite a few sipping from thermoses filled with wine or beer. LOL. Get a job.

3:35 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I wonder how many "positive" Blackwater comments actually come from Potrero residents?

7:14 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


A couple of ex-Navy SEAL's make good on putting together world class training facilities for law enforcement (Oops! I bet I turned you right off there!) and security teams and the koolaid crowd goes wild.

I say this in all good will, in the hopes that maybe just one of you will see the light (although I'm aware druggies hang out in the dark) -

People, people, people... you live in a delusional world of liberalism/anarchism/communism. You, like those before you, will amount to nothing, zip, nada.

Your ideology is based on childishly perceived paranoia, the "If I don't have it neither should you" class division you guys wail about all the time. All other elements are just dressing, a scam.

You are going to find the 'revolt' won't work, because the reality is that YOU are a small, small, small minority... the very segment that sucks up (or should be sucking up) most of the Haldol and Thorazine to be had, and you should not have a voice that gets listened to simply because you are insane.

Face it, you guys are mental cases.

Like someone before me said in this post... Get a job.

Rich in Florida

11:47 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The fascists are out in force today. I am glad that people are watching the rip-off artists and fanatics of Blackwater. They have their mean white men defenders of course, their testosterone challenged male groupies. But if it walks like a goose and steals like a monkey, and has a lot to do with messing around with people who mess around in Africa after apartheid, then we don't want this private army here. Kick them out. You cannot privatize the military, it's called martial law and crossing the Rubicon. Screw them. Maybe they even start fires, like the firemen of Farenheit 451? Maybe they even start wars too?

12:21 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

nice post

4:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

@ Papa Ray..don't worry, they just kill people! Yes, the military can be bad, but just wait until they get their slimy hands on things. Their trail of disregard for the law, democracy, or human rights has been seen where-ever they go.

9:39 AM  

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