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Erik Prince
Prince at a board meeting in July 2008
Prince at a board meeting in July 2008
Born Erik Dean Prince
June 6, 1969(1969-06-06) (age 51)
Holland, Michigan, U.S.
Residence Abu Dhabi, UAE[1]
Nationality American
Education U.S. Naval Academy
Hillsdale College (B.A.)
Occupation Private military company executive, businessman
Known for Founder of Blackwater USA
Title Chairman and CEO of the Prince Group and Blackwater Worldwide
Religion Christian; a convert to the Roman Catholic Church,[2] raised in the Calvinist Christian Reformed Church in North America[3]
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
Parents Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Prince-Broekhuizen
Relatives Betsy DeVos (sister)

Erik Dean Prince (born June 6, 1969) is an American businessman and former U.S. Navy SEAL, best known for founding the world's largest private military company, Blackwater USA, in 1997. 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 lives in the United Arab Emirates.

Early life and educationEdit

Prince was born on June 6, 1969, in Holland, Michigan to Edgar D. Prince and Elsa Broekhuizen, the youngest of four children.[4] 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 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.[5]

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.[6] During his time at Hillsdale, Prince served as a volunteer firefighter and as a cold-water diver for the Hillsdale County Sheriff's Department.[7] Prince eventually became an emergency medical technician.[8]

In 1990, Prince secured a low-level intern in the White House under George H. W. Bush,[9] He was ciritical of a number of that administration's policies to the Grand Rapids Press, saying: "I saw a lot of things I didn't agree with — homosexual groups being invited in, the budget agreement, the Clean Air Act, those kinds of bills.[4] He 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.".[10]

After Hillsdale 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.

Prince ended his U.S. Navy service prematurely in 1995 when his father died. Prince's mother sold the Prince Corporation for $1.3 billion in cash to Johnson Controls. He moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997.[11] He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations.[12] The name "Blackwater" comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.[13]


Prince credits the 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."[14]

Since 1997, the firm has been awarded more than $1.6 billion in unclassified federal contracts and an unknown amount of classified work.[15] It became the largest of the State Department's three private security companies, providing 987 guards for embassies and bases abroad.[16]

Since 2001, the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has awarded up to $600 million in classified contracts to Blackwater and its affiliates.[17] 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 in 2010.[15]

Prince takes great pride in the work Blackwater has done 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."[14]

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."[18] He credits his father's competitive streak in the automotive business with the inspiration to design a lighter, faster army.[19]

In recent years Blackwater has come under criticism, but Prince 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."[20]

Prince resigned as CEO of Blackwater on March 2, 2009 and remained as chairman of the board until he sold the company in late 2010 to a group of investors.[21]

Disclosure as part of a covert CIA task forceEdit

Prince was part of a secret CIA task force created to kill terrorists. The House intelligence congressional committee leaked his name to the press.[22] 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."[22]

Blackwater controversiesEdit

Prince's company, Blackwater Worldwide, was involved in several international controversies during 2007, leading to his being asked to testify before the United States Congress. Seventeen Iraqi civilians were killed when a Blackwater private security detail (PSD) escorted a convoy of US State Department vehicles en route to a meeting in western Baghdad with United States Agency for International Development officials on September 16, 2007.[23] On September 22, 2007, Federal prosecutors announced an investigation into whether Blackwater employees illegally smuggled weapons into Iraq that were later possibly transferred to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK), a Kurdish nationalist group designated a terrorist organization by the US, North Atlantic Treaty Organization and the European Union.[24][25][26]

Congressional investigationEdit

On October 2, 2007 Prince was subject to a congressional hearing conducted by the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform following the controversy related to Blackwater's conduct in Iraq and Afghanistan.[27] Public relations powerhouse Burson-Marsteller was brought in briefly, but at a critical moment, to help Prince, prepare for the Oct 2 hearing.[28]

  • When testifying before Congress on October 2, 2007, about Blackwater Worldwide's activities in Iraq, Prince complained about the lack of remedies his company has to deal with employee misdeeds. When asked why an employee involved in a fatal incident had been "whisked out of the country" he replied, "We can't flog him, we can't incarcerate him." [29]
  • When asked by a member of Congress for financial information about his company, he declined to provide it. "We're a private company, and there's a key word there -- private," Prince answered.[30] Later he stated that the company could provide it at a future date if questions were submitted in writing.[31][32]
  • When the term "mercenaries" was used to describe Blackwater employees, Prince objected, characterizing them instead as "loyal Americans," notwithstanding the fact that Blackwater employees comprise many nationalities.[33]

Later workEdit

In January 2011, the Associated Press reported that Prince had taken on a new role training a force of 2000 Somalis for anti-piracy operations in the Gulf of Aden. The program is 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 Somali force will also reportedly pursue an Islamist supporting warlord.

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."[34]

Prince is serving as an advisor to Chinese investors in Africa. He created an investment fund of $100 million for this purpose.[35]

Personal lifeEdit


Prince's father, Edgar D. Prince, began Prince Machine Corporation, an automobile supply company, in 1965. The business "exploded" and Prince began to invest some of the profits, through the Prince Group, into shopping malls and other types of car parts, creating a network of companies and real estate worth a billion dollars.[2] In the early 1970s, Edgar Prince's company patented a sun visor that could light up and sold 5,000 to General Motors. When the company was sold in the 90s, the company produced 20,000 a day.[36]

In 1995, after the death of his father, Erik assumed control of daily operations, which was eventually sold for $1.35 billion in 1996.[37][38] Prince is the brother of Betsy DeVos, a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party and wife of former Alticor (Amway) president and Gubernatorial candidate Dick DeVos.[11]

Prince has seven children. His wife, Joan, died of cancer in June 2003.[39] His youngest, Charles Donovan, was named after William "Wild Bill" Donovan.[39]

Philanthropy and political viewsEdit

Prince describes himself as a libertarian and practicing Roman Catholic.[20] 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."[40]

Prince credits his time as a White House intern with some of his 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."[40]

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.[20] He financed the film The Stoning of Soraya M.[41] Salon reports that "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,"[42] headed by James Dobson. The foundation is a major donor to Calvin College,[43] a Christian institution in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Between 1998 and 2007, Prince donated over $200,000 to Republican and third-party causes.[44][45] In 2006 Prince contributed money to the Green Party of Luzerne County, Pennsylvania.[45]

Prince has been an advocate of a leaner, more efficient military. He suggests several ways to make the military more efficient without compromising security. His suggestions are: greater accountability of costs, using appropriate equipment for each job, reduction of overhead, and operational and procurement reform.[46]

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".[47]



  1. Risen, James (August 17, 2010). "Blackwater's Erik Prince Moves to Abu Dhabi". The New York Times. 
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pelton 2006, p. 291
  3. "Erik Prince: Blackwater, Xe, the New Christian Crusade". TruthisTreason. 
  4. 4.0 4.1 Ready for battle by Jim Schaefer, M.L. Elrick and Todd Spangler, The Detroit Free Press, October 7, 2007.
  5. Simons 2009, pp. 11–12
  6. "Erik Prince exclusive interview". 
  7. [1][dead link]
  8. Simons 2009, p. 19
  9. White-Collar Mercenary Under Fire by Marc Pitzke, Der Spiegel, October 3, 2007,
  10. Pelton, Robert Young. "An American Commando in Exile". Men's Journal. Men's Journal. Retrieved 3 June 2011. 
  11. 11.0 11.1 The Virginian-Pilot, Hampton Roads, "Blackwater's top brass", July 24, 2006.
  12. The Man Behind Blackwater." Newsweek, October 23, 2007, pages 36–39.
  13. Simons 2009
  14. 14.0 14.1 Photos by Mark Copier (2010-05-05). "Protests outside, cheers inside as Blackwater founder Erik Prince speaks in Holland". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  15. 15.0 15.1 Strobel, Warren P. (June 28, 2010). "Obama spares Blackwater on Sudan violations". Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 
  16. Sengupta, Kim (June 9, 2010). "Blackwater founder to sell up as criticism takes its toll". The Independent. London. 
  18. Pelton 2006, p. 2
  19. Pelton 2006, p. 3
  20. 20.0 20.1 20.2 Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  21. "Blackwater Founder in Deal to Sell Company". The New York Times. December 16, 2010. 
  22. 22.0 22.1 Ciralsky, Adam. "January 2010: Adam Ciralsky on Blackwater". Vanity Fair. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  23. "Blackwater killed 17 says Iraq". BBC News. Retrieved 2007-10-08. 
  24. "Foreign Terrorist Organizations List". United States Department of State. Archived from the original on 2002-10-02. Retrieved 2007-08-03.  - USSD Foreign Terrorist Organization
  25. "Terrorism Act 2000". Home Office. Retrieved 2007-08-14.  - Terrorism Act 2000
  26. "Council Decision". Council of the European Union. Archived from the original on 2005-05-06. Retrieved 2007-08-14. 
  27. BBC News, "Blackwater boss grilled over Iraq", October 2, 2007.
  28. Blackwater Mounts a Defense With Top Talent
  29. Iraq security firm denies trigger-happy charge by Ewen MacAskill, The Guardian, October 3, 2007.
  30. The Man From Blackwater, Shooting From the Lip by Dana Milbank, The Washington Post, October 3, 2007, Page A02.
  31. Rise of the white-collar mercenary, Brian Dickerson, Detroit Free Press, October 3, 2007.
  32. CSPAN video of the quote on Youtube.
  33. Blackwater Unplugged by Bonnie Goldstein, Slate, October 3, 2007
  34. [2][dead link]
  35. George Chen (2012-11-19). "Into Africa: Ex-navy SEAL sets trail for investors | South China Morning Post". Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  36. Simons, Suzanne (2009). Master of War. Harper Collins. p. 10. 
  37. Robert Young Pelton (November 30, 2010). "An American Commando in Exile". Retrieved 28 May 2011. 
  38. Pelton 2006, p. 291
  39. 39.0 39.1 Ciralsky, Adam (January 2010). "Scandal: Tycoon, Contractor, Soldier, Spy". Vanity Fair. Condé Nast. Retrieved April 30, 2013. 
  40. 40.0 40.1 Simons, 20
  41. 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. 
  42. The Bush administration's ties to Blackwater, by Ben Van Heuvelen, Salon, October 2, 2007.
  43. "Calvin College: Calvin News". 2001-10-29. Retrieved 2013-08-25. 
  44. Mike Barker, AP, "Testimony Lifts Veil on Blackwater Boss", October 2, 2007.
  45. 45.0 45.1 Grilled Blackwater chairman a major GOP donor by Andrew Malcolm, The Baltimore Sun, October 4, 2007
  46. 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. 
  47. "Prince interview". YouTube. 

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