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 (184.108.40.206)
- ^ 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 (220.127.116.11)
- ^ Cambodia. (www.publicnow.com)
- ^ many experts believe (www.latimes.com)
- ^ increase Chinese economic and political sway (www.economist.com)
ED-209 Enforcement Droid: [menacingly] Please put down your weapon. You have 20 seconds to comply.
Almost 30 years since Robocop hit our screens, robot security guards could be about to transform the security industry. But unlike the gun-toting robots of the movies, these real-life robo-guards are equipped not with weapons but with an arsenal of cameras and security sensors. The latest to hit the market is Knightscope s 1.5-metre-tall, 136-kilogram K5 security robot. With looks that are half -Dalek, half fridge-freezer, the K5 manages to be simultaneously cute and imposing. Its R2D2-esque little brother, the K3, is smaller and more manoeuvrable for indoor environments. The robots will autonomously patrol a designated circuit and signal an alarm if they detect any suspicious activity. Knightscope isn t the first robotics company to try to muscle in on the security business. Robot security guards have actually been on offer for a surprisingly long time, says Paul Pounds, a research engineer at the University of Queensland. In the early 2000s, Japanese firm Tmsuk developed a range of robo-guards, including their Banryu guard dog. But these early incarnations lacked the smarts to reliably and autonomously patrol a beat, and never made an impact.
The K5, in comparison, navigates just like a driverless car, using LIDAR (light detection and ranging) to bounce laser light off of its surroundings to map out its 3-D environment and avoid obstacles. Mapping software ensures K5 doesn t stray beyond its patrol perimeter. K5, which has been under development for more than three years, has logged more than 35,000 hours of testing, autonomously patrolling shopping centres, car parks and factories across California. The robots have already been sent on patrol at Microsoft and Uber. The K5 is equipped with so many sensors almost 30, all told it amasses security data at a rate of 90 terabytes a year. Its 360-degree vision means it literally has eyes in the back of its head, while its infra-red camera gives it night vision. It can read licence plates (up to 300 per minute) and check them against a blacklisted database. It can recognise faces and, if linked to police records, could constantly scan for faces of wanted criminals. K5 can also call an alarm if it hears a suspiciously large bang, sees a flash or smells smoke. Knightscope maintains they re not out to put security guards out of work, just to take the drudgery out of the routine patrol beat leaving strategic decisions to humans in a control room. Without any ability to intervene in a crime, the company bills its robots as Autonomous Data Machines more a smart security camera on wheels than a security guard.
But the K5 s constant video and microphone feed has generated controversy. Jeramie Scott, a national security fellow at the Electronic Privacy Information Centre in Washington, DC, has warned that the K5 could become like a cuter, less aggressive Terminator that kills privacy instead of people . Meanwhile, K5 s agility has also been questioned. On one of its first big jobs patrolling a shopping centre in Palo Alto, K5 collided with a 16-month-old toddler, leaving the boy with a bruised foot though whether robot ran into child or child ran into robot is a matter of dispute. Teething issues notwithstanding, the brothers Knightscope are the first in a new generation of robot security guards that might turn the security industry on its head. Colorado-based Gamma 2 Robotics has RAMSEE, a similar style of security robot to K5. Japan s Sharp Corporation has its Autonomous Unmanned Ground Vehicle (A-UGV), a squat, four-wheeled droid that looks a bit like a bomb disposal bot on patrol. And for even more rugged outdoor terrain, there s SMP Robotics Rover S5, designed for tasks such as patrolling the perimeter fencing of power plants. All three are billed for release in 2017.
But K5 s real competition is in the air, says Pounds. Security drones have the advantage of moving faster, covering more ground, and being out of reach of people on the ground. And unlike ground-based security bots even Robocop s fictional ED-209 flying drones won t be stopped by a simple flight of stairs.
Height: 1.5 metres
Weight: 136 kilograms
Cost: US$7 an hour to rent (or about $60,000 per year)
Battery life: Two to three hours, then dock and charge for 20 minutes (though it keeps working through the coffee break period)
Patrol speed: 2-5 kilometres per hour
Top speed: 29 kilometres per hour
Data collection: 90 terabytes per year
Multiple high-definition cameras give the K5 360-degree vision. Licence-plate recognition, face recognition and moving object avoidance can all be simultaneously performed. As well as visible light cameras, the K5 also boasts thermal imaging and infrared cameras.
Light detection and ranging (LIDAR) emits laser that sweeps 270-degrees to map its surroundings and identify obstacles in its path.
Four microphones to capture audio, temperature sensors and air-quality sensors to detect smoke or elevated CO2 that might indicate a fire.
Broadcast-capability two-way radio with public address and intercom.
See the K5 in action here:
Earlier this week, President-elect Donald Trump tweeted criticism over the F-35 fighter jet program. It caused Lockheed Martin stock to fall 2.5 percent. It also raised some eyebrows in the Northeast. The Vermont Air National Guard is scheduled to begin receiving the fighter jet in 2019. Supporters of the F-35 say they aren t worried those plans will change because the tweet raises two very different issues. President-elect Donald Trump typed: The F-35 program and cost is out of control. Billions of dollars can and will be saved on military (and other) purchases after January 20th. The tweet from Trump targeting the F-35 did not explain how he would control F-35 costs or military spending. The first of 18 F-35s are scheduled to arrive in Burlington in 2019 to replace the current fleet of F-16s. Democratic Vermont Congressman Peter Welch does not believe Trump can stop the Burlington Air Guard s plan. These F-35 s that are assigned to Burlington have already been produced. These are planes that exist and they’re going to be transferred here. On the question of the tweet where he’s focusing on the endemic problem in the Pentagon of cost overruns I agree with him. A lot of us have been arguing to go after waste in the Pentagon for a long time. And if that’s going to be a priority of President Trump I’m going to support him.
New York Congresswoman Elise Stefanik s district includes Fort Drum. The Republican sits on the House Armed Services Committee and strongly supports the fighter jet program. The Vermont National Guard, which uses F-35 s, they plan on doing training in our airspace surrounding Fort Drum. So it’s important to our district. It’s also important to our military readiness and to ensure that we have technological capabilities that far surpass our adversaries around the world today. What I do agree with however is we need to find savings. President-elect Trump as a candidate talked about the importance of investing in our national defense and I will continue to be a voice in ensuring that we also have investment in our military readiness and standing strong against the across-the-board defense cuts which have gutted our military. Green Ribbons for the F-35s was formed by businesswoman Nicole Citro to show community support to base the jets in Burlington. She notes that plans are already well under way. The Secretary of the Air Force has already made the decision that the F-35 is going to be based with the Vermont Air National Guard and that is already in the midst of implementation. I think President-elect Trump was realizing as I think most of us do how out of control government spending is and government contracts need to be reined in. They acknowledge the fact that this aircraft platform is going to be universal throughout all our armed forces. So it’s not a matter of doing away with it. It’s just making it cost effective. Stop the F-35 Coalition member James Leas says it s remarkable that even Trump recognizes the F-35 program is a quote complete boondoggle. It’s extremely negative for the taxpayers. There’s no reason why private companies should be making profits at all when it comes to national security. The whole system is really being called into question by Donald Trump and rightly so.
The F-35 is the most expensive Pentagon weapons program, with a nearly $400 billion price tag. Built by Lockheed Martin the F-35 program accounted for 20 percent of the company’s total 2015 revenue.