Erik Prince founder of the private military company Blackwater, financial backer of President Donald Trump, brother to the new Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and frequent Breitbart radio guest of White House power broker Stephen Bannon has been offering his military expertise to support Chinese government objectives and setting up Blackwater-style training camps in two Chinese provinces, according to sources and his own company statements.
The move could put him at odds with Trump, who has often taken a hard line against China, and could also risk violating US law, which prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China.
Former associates of the 47-year-old Prince told BuzzFeed News that the controversial businessman envisions using the bases to train and deploy an army of Chinese retired soldiers who can protect Chinese corporate and government strategic interests around the world, without having to involve the Chinese People s Liberation Army. In December, Frontier Services Group, of which Prince is chairman, issued a press release that outlined plans to open a forward operating base in China s Yunnan province and another in the troubled Xinjiang region, home to the mostly Muslim Uighur minority.
He s been working very, very hard to get China to buy into a new Blackwater, said one former associate. He s hell bent on reclaiming his position as the world s preeminent private military provider. In an email to BuzzFeed News, a spokesperson for Frontier Services Group provided a statement and strongly disputed that the company was going to become a new Blackwater, insisting that all of its security services were unarmed and therefore not regulated. FSG s services do not involve armed personnel or training armed personnel. The training at the Chinese bases would help non-military personnel provide close protection security, without the use of arms.
Mr. Prince and Mr. Trump know each other and share mutual respect, the statement added.
White House spokespersons did not respond to emails requesting comment for this story. Frontier Services Group trades on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, and its largest shareholder is an investment fund owned and controlled by the People s Republic of China, CITIC. Until last year Frontier claimed to be merely a logistics and transportation company, steering clear of Prince s specialty of providing private military capabilities for operations though last March The Intercept news organization ran a story saying that Prince, sometimes using his role at Frontier, was pitching security and paramilitary services. In the story, Frontier denied the company was involved. When Frontier later told its board it was shifting into security services largely to assist China s international development policy the development disgusted two American executives at Prince s Hong Kong company.
Gregg Smith, the former CEO of Frontier, said he was ready to quit last March if Erik Prince was not removed from the company. Then, at a board meeting late that month, he said a company official made clear that Frontier would be providing security services in support of Chinese government objectives. That was the final straw, he told BuzzFeed News. Retired US Admiral William Fallon, a Frontier board member, was at the same board meeting. He resigned too when he heard that the firm was providing security services. That wasn t what I signed up for, he said in an interview. President Donald Trump has talked tough about China. To be sure, he recently reaffirmed that the United States will formally recognize only mainland China and not Taiwan, a crucial point for Beijing. But Trump has installed a sharply anti-China critic as the head of his National Trade Council. Before winning the presidency, Trump called China an enemy. Trump adviser Stephen Bannon, who interviewed Prince on Breitbart frequently, predicted last year that the US will be at war with China in the South China Sea in five to 10 years. And even if no hot war breaks out, many experts believe Trump is gearing up for a trade war with the country that manufactures much of the world s goods (including some Trump brand products.)
During the campaign, Prince donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory Committee, which supported both Trump s election bid and the Republican Party. Jeremy Scahill, a journalist who has long covered Prince, recently wrote that the businessman is advising the Trump Administration.
Just four days before the election, Prince gave an interview to Breitbart radio, part of the media empire that Bannon used to run, in which Prince pushed an unfounded theory that the NYPD had been about to announce arrest warrants in the Clinton investigation but was blocked by the Justice Department, and that Hillary Clinton had been to a sex island with a convicted pedophile at least six times. Prince s bizarre claims were prominently displayed on Breitbart s website leading up to the election and were widely distributed on right wing websites.
Now, however, Prince s new business foray could put him at odds with Trump. Former executives said that Frontier s forward operating bases will be training former People s Liberation Army soldiers to work as discreet non-uniformed soldiers for hire. The former associate, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said Prince is making Frontier Services a full-on private military company.
As of the summer, this person continued, the plan was to set up Blackwater-like training facilities specifically to train the Chinese. Another former ally of Prince said: The idea is to train former PLA soldiers in the art of being private military contractor. That way the actual Red Army doesn t have to go into these remote areas. Asked about Frontier s claim that Prince was planning unarmed security projects, both sources dismissed it, and emphasized that was not their understanding. It is ridiculous, said one.
Are they using sonic weapons, joked the other. Is it psychic powers?
Prince is best known as the founder of Blackwater, a private military company Prince objects to the term mercenary that did phenomenal business during the war on terror. The firm was frequently embroiled in scandal: Four of its employees were killed in Fallujah in 2004, leading to a Marine Corps onslaught on the city; several former employees pleaded guilty to arms violations in a lengthy investigation; and still others were convicted in a wild shooting spree in Baghdad in which 17 civilians were slaughtered. Typically, Prince has been involved in ventures that he claims are in line with US foreign policy goals. He has reportedly helped the United Arab Emirates set up a military unit of former Colombian soldiers; pushed for an anti-piracy operation in the Puntland region of Somalia; and tried to sell a mercenary operation in Nigeria.
The current China plan appears to be different. China is widely understood to have interests that are adversarial to the US, and the two powers compete for world influence. And US law bans US citizens from exporting defense-related services or equipment to the country. Frontier s December press release said the Yunnan base would allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and Cambodia. The Uighur region, which would be home to the company s second base, abuts Afghanistan.
According to the press release these bases will provide training, communications, risk mitigation, risk assessments, information gathering, medevac and joint operations centers that coordinate security, logistics and aviation. The press release said the company was expanding its security offerings to include training for personnel, as well as Personnel Protection services, which is industry jargon for providing bodyguards. The December press release did not state that the security offerings would be unarmed. Frontier s expansion into China, its December press release said, was designed to help clients take advantage of China s new development plan, One Belt One Road, a massive program that many experts believe aims to increase Chinese economic and political sway.
China expert Derek Scissors of the American Enterprise Institute said US regulators would likely take a dim view of security operations in China s Uighur areas. It s at odds with the American government view that we don t want to help the Chinese oppress the Uighurs in Xinjiang.
- ^ prohibits the export of military services or equipment to China. (fas.org)
- ^ a forward operating base in China s Yunnan province (18.104.22.168)
- ^ provided a statement (www.documentcloud.org)
- ^ ran a story saying that Prince, (theintercept.com)
- ^ enemy (www.scmp.com)
- ^ interviewed Prince (www.breitbart.com)
- ^ frequently, (www.breitbart.com)
- ^ in the South China Sea in five to 10 years (www.theguardian.com)
- ^ gearing up (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ trade war (www.bloomberg.com)
- ^ the country (www.vanityfair.com)
- ^ Trump brand products (www.washingtonpost.com)
- ^ advising the Trump Administration. (theintercept.com)
- ^ in which Prince pushed an unfounded theory that the NYPD had been about to announce arrest warrants in the Clinton investigation (www.breitbart.com)
- ^ pleaded guilty to arms violations (s3.amazonaws.com)
- ^ were convicted (www.justice.gov)
- ^ military unit of former Colombian soldiers (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ anti-piracy operation in the Puntland (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ region of Somalia (www.nytimes.com)
- ^ mercenary operation in Nigeria (www.buzzfeed.com)
- ^ allow FSG to be able to better serve companies in Myanmar, Thailand, Laos and (22.214.171.124)
- ^ Cambodia. (www.publicnow.com)
- ^ many experts believe (www.latimes.com)
- ^ increase Chinese economic and political sway (www.economist.com)
Kazakhstan s security services say they have rounded up 33 members of a religious extremist organization called Takfir Wa Al-Hijra following a sweep started earlier this month. Operations were reportedly carried out in the Almaty, Aktobe and Atyrau regions and in the city of Almaty. The National Security Committee, or KNB in its Russian initials, have said all the detainees are citizens of Kazakhstan from southern and western regions of the country specifically. Religious literature and CDs, as well as large but unspecified sums of money, were found during searches.
The group is suspected of propagating extremist ideology and inciting the creation of a theocratic government in Kazakhstan. The activities of this cell was reputedly coordinated from abroad, although it is not stated from which country in particular. While there is no evidence any of those detained were intent of traveling to the Middle East to link up with Islamist militants there, security services say they were sympathetic to the cause of groups fighting in Syria and Iraq. The KNB said most of the suspect are cooperating with investigators. Seven leading figures in the group identified as Takfir Wa Al-Hijra are being held in custody and another has been granted release on their own recognizance. Seventeen people described as rank-and-file members of the group have been qualified as just witnesses.
Takfir Wa Al-Hijra a group whose Arabic name could be translated as Anathema and Exodus was designated an extremist organization by an Astana court in August 2014. It is included in lists of proscribed terrorist groups in multiple countries, including the United States, Russia, China, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan. The origins of the dizzying array of radical Islamic sects is frequently hard to trace with any precision and the way in which the ideas and brands then migrate is understood even less. The KNB does not hazard a suggestion as to the progress of Takfir Wa Al-Hijra in Kazakhstan. This particular group is believed to have emerged in the 1970s in Egypt as an offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood, advancing a case for the relentless repudiation of all those perceived as heretics. Significantly, impious Muslims are as readily tarred with the charge of apostasy as any non-believer by the takfiris, as this current of Salafist ideologues are also known. The man most readily identified as the founder of Takfir Wa Al-Hijra, an agriculture engineer called Shukri Mustafa who was executed by the Egyptian authorities in 1977, was no theologian. Lacking a coherent or rigorous ideological framework, takfiri beliefs appear subject to swift evolution, easily cross cultural and linguistic borders and are adopted in what more often than not appear to be wholly self-serving ends.
It allows Muslims to rob infidels, in that case everyone who does not read namaz, if a share of the profits is directed to support the Islamic cause. This is what the Prosecutor s office meant when it declared that organized criminal groups found in religion an ideological justification for their crimes, Beissembayev wrote. Speaking at conference on religious extremism in April 2015, the head of Kazakhstan s religious affairs committee, Galym Shoikin, described the goals of takfiris in explicitly political terms.
Their aims and intentions are not religious, but political, inasmuch as they are directed toward the struggle for power, forcible change of the constitutional order and the formation of theocratic states, which is what we see now in North Africa and the Middle East, Shoikin said. In an evident recognition of the need to devote more resources to addressing the perceived problem of extremism in Kazakhstan, President Nursultan Nazarbayev in September created the Ministry for Religious Affairs and Civil Society, under which Shoikin s committee continues to operate. The ministry was put in charge of Nurlan Yermekbayev, a former aide to Nazarbayev and secretary of the National Security Council a clear sign that Astana is increasingly viewing Islam as an issue that needs to be securitized, in particular following the wave of shootings in the city of Aktobe earlier this year.
The securitization of the radicalism question would be somewhat at odds with the thoughtful approach outlined by Shoikin in 2015, when he spoke about the need to develop effective mechanisms aimed at identifying and eliminating the causes of religious extremism and terrorism.
It may be that there are low-level initiatives in train to pursue goals set forward by Shoikin such as increasing religious literacy and tapping into the potential of civil society to cultivate anti-extremist sentiments among the population but it is only security raids and arrests that ever make the headlines.
Cybersecurity is what IT professionals in state and local government think about over breakfast, lunch and dinner these days. Think that sounds like an exaggeration? For 2017 and the two previous years security has been named as the number one policy and technology priority from the National Association of State Chief Information Officers (NASCIO). At the 2016 NASCIO conference in Orlando in September, the organization unveiled its state cybersecurity report, produced in partnership with Deloitte. As part of its assessment on the condition of cybersecurity inside state and local government agencies, the report notes a major achievement in cybersecurity leadership:
For the first time, all respondents report having an enterprise-level CISO position. The CISO role itself has become more consistent in terms of responsibilities and span of oversight. CISOs are also focusing their energies more on what they can control. Given this milestone, we thought it would be worthwhile to highlight a few notable chief information security officers in state and local government. There are many CISOs across our cities, counties and states doing incredibly challenging work, but here are five to get you started.
1. Stanton Gatewood, CISO of Georgia
Who is he? Stanton Gatewood has served as CISO for the state of Georgia since February.
What s his previous experience? Gatewood is a cybersecurity professional with more than 15 years of CISO experience, having served in that capacity for institutions such as the University of Southern California, the University of Georgia and the University System of Georgia. His cybersecurity career spans more than 33 years in the military and public/private sectors.
What is one of his goals as a CISO? Gatewood is a firm believer in growing the talent pool for state and local government cybersecurity professionals. Earlier this year, he gave a TEDx talk about the need for cybersecurity awareness among young people and the general need to grow the pipeline for cybersecurity talent.
Notable Quotable: The biggest threat to the system? It s not the latest malware or a virus. It s funding, budgeting, support and strategic planning. If we don t have those things, we ll remain vulnerable. Stanton Gatewood, StateTech
2. Chris Buse, CISO of Minnesota
Who is he? Chris Buse has served as CISO for the state of Minnesota since June 2007.
What s his previous experience? Buse has a background in accounting, which led to work in IT auditing for the Minnesota Office of the Legislative Auditor, according to his official bio. Earlier this year, he was honored by the Cyber Security Summit and named Public Sector Visionary Leader of the Year.
What is one of his goals as a CISO? Buse aims to secure more funding for cybersecurity in his state. He has been out touting the need to invest in cybersecurity now, not after a breach has occurred. Earlier this year, Minn. Gov. Mark Dayton asked for more than $45 million from the state legislature to help state agencies shore up cyber defenses, according to a report from Minnesota Public Radio.
Notable Quotable: You can’t be a successful security leader if you live in a vacuum. You need to be part of a broader cyber security ecosystem that shares information across boundaries. Chris Buse, Cyber Security Summit press release
3. Elayne Starkey, CSO of Delaware
Who is she? Elayne Starkey has served as CSO for the state of Delaware since October 2005.
What s her previous experience? Starkey studied computer science in undergraduate and graduate school before taking on her first post-grad IT job with Xerox, where she spent nine years working in software development. In 1996, she joined the public sector side of IT with the Delaware Department of Public Safety when she took on the role of CIO for the agency. After that, she became chief technology officer for the state of Delaware, a role she held until taking over as CSO for the state.
What is one of her goals as a CSO? Starkey wants to boost cybersecurity awareness among average users more rapidly. The Delaware Department of Technology and Information has a robust online hub called DigiKnow, dedicated to educating users on cybersecurity threats and best practices. It even has an accompanying Twitter handle that Starkey sometimes tweets from herself, with tweets signed ES at the end.
Notable Quotable: It is extremely satisfying to protect state data and shut down risks. If I can say we are more secure today than we were yesterday, it s been a good day. Elayne Starkey, MS-ISAC Q&A
4. Timothy Lee, CISO of Los Angeles
Who is he? Timothy Lee has served as CISO for the city of Los Angeles since September 2014.
What s his previous experience? Lee has over 15 years experience in the role of CISO. Prior to his current role, he was the CISO for the Port of Los Angeles for 13 years, where he established the Port s cybersecurity program and was the project manager for the Cyber Security Operations Center (CSOC), which won the 2015 American Association of Port Authorities IT Award of Excellence, according to a bio from the RSA Conference.
What is one of his goals as a CISO? Lee works to integrate and centralize IT security so that information is stored and shared in a more effective manner and doesn t get lost in the silo vacuum. He deployed this consolidated model, which is called the Integrated Security Operations Center (ISOC), reports public sector IT magazine GCN. Thanks to this centralized security approach, the city blocked over 127,600,000 cyberattacks and identified and remediated 14,189 pieces of malware in May 2016 alone.
Notable Quotable: ISOC is not just about information collection. We needed a system that allows our internal and external stakeholders to extract the information from ISOC directly with near-real-time, read-only dashboards that show the current security posture city-wide. Tim Lee, Infosecurity Magazine
5. Michael Dent, CISO of Fairfax County, Va.
Who is he? Michael Dent has served as CISO for Fairfax County in Virginia since September 2002.
What s his previous experience? Overall, Dent has nearly 25 years of professional cybersecurity experience in state and local government. Prior to his current role, Dent served as Information System Security Officer for the Virginia Department of Corrections.
What is one of his goals as a CISO? Dent strives to control and limit the impact of insider threats. Last year, he spoke on a panel about insider threats at a government IT conference hosted by Symantec. One of the tactics Dent deploys to limit insider threats is to put the onus back on data owners, by asking specific questions about what is in the data and how it will be used, before granting permission to share that data outside of the organization, reports CIO.
- ^ 2017 (www.nascio.org)
- ^ previous (www.nascio.org)
- ^ years (www.nascio.org)
- ^ report (www.nascio.org)
- ^ a TEDx talk (www.youtube.com)
- ^ StateTech (www.statetechmagazine.com)
- ^ bio (mn.gov)
- ^ Public Sector Visionary Leader of the Year. (www.prweb.com)
- ^ a report (www.mprnews.org)
- ^ press release (www.prweb.com)
- ^ DigiKnow (digiknow.dti.delaware.gov)
- ^ Twitter handle (twitter.com)
- ^ MS-ISAC Q&A (msisac.cisecurity.org)
- ^ bio (www.rsaconference.com)
- ^ GCN (gcn.com)
- ^ Infosecurity Magazine (www.infosecurity-magazine.com)
- ^ CIO (www.cio.com)
- ^ Security Current (www.securitycurrent.com)