There are scores of words that instantly invoke events forever etched in the collective consciousness – My Lai, Kent State, Watergate, 9/11, and more recently, Blackwater.
It was 2007 when a shooting in Nisour Square, Baghdad, left 17 Iraqi civilians dead, amidst strident allegations of weapons violations and bribery. The aftermath was so horrendous that Blackwater was exiled from Iraq.
The company, which was founded in 1997 by Erik Prince to train law enforcement and military officers, is trying to shake off any negative associations by rebranding to Xe, a simple black X that’s at once striking and mysterious, which may be just the way Blackwater wants it to be perceived.
Still, some may still see the new logo as a black mark (X marks the spot?) once they know it’s the new and improved corporate image of Blackwater, whose original name derived from the muddy swamp waters at its training facility in Moyock, N.C.[more]
Blackwater’s negative image clearly irked Prince, a multimillionaire fundamentalist Christian who inherited his millions from his father. A major Republican campaign donor, he interned at the White House under President George H.W. Bush.
In a Newsweek article in 2007, when the Iraq controversy was raging, Prince said that his soldiers were part of a “noble tradition,” not “mercenaries… an inflammatory word they use to malign us.”
A subsequent book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, by Jeremy Scahill, makes a powerful case for Prince being a “neo-crusader,” a “Theocon” with a Christian-supremacist agenda.
After the debacle which resulted in federal investigation and stringent public scrutiny, Blackwater changed its name to Xe, an abbreviation for the inert gas xenon, and hired a new CEO, Joseph Yorio, a former Green Beret and shipping executive.
Yorio tells Fortune there’s a new hire at Xe, a compliance officer formerly employed by the U.S. State Department, whose function is to vet projects and ensure proper protocol. He also acknowledges that the company lost 50% of its revenue after the Iraq expulsion – a big hit when its annual sales were rumored to be upwards of $1 billion.
Xe is now bidding for a $1 billion contract to train a national police force in Afghanistan. This job will directly affect the length of U.S. military presence there. Competitors include Triple Canopy and DynCorp. The reborn Blackwater now sells itself as “a normal, regular business.”
Politics and business – especially the business of war – are intimate bedfellows, but in this day and age of digital media ubiquity and sites like WikiLeaks, once-dirty little secrets are no longer so secret. With its new moniker and internal focus on due diligence, can Blackwater shed its blackballed reputation and reinvent itself?