Book Review: Blackwater: From The Inside Out

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Love ’em or hate ’em, I’ve met very few people inside or outside the military who have an opinion that rests somewhere in the middle ground. When I was in Special Forces Blackwater was seen as a joke, something to be laughed at rather than the insidious right wing paramilitary organization that the media had made them out to be. Mostly, I had heard second hand stories from friends who had trained at the Moyock facility and found the Blackwater instructors to be a bunch of blowhards. That said, I’ve never worked for Blackwater and have no first hand experience with them, so in that sense, Tim Beckman’s work is refreshing as it does walk the middle ground and talks about both the good and the bad.

Tim comes to Blackwater after retiring from 10th Special Forces Group, having put in his twenty years. He described the event that put him over the top and left him with no doubt that it was time to retire. After his SF Battalion, stationed in Germany, gets sidelined during OIF and OEF they are then forced to watch a hooyah ceremony about what the rest of 10th Group had accomplished during the war, a blatant slap in the face to veteran SF operators who had wanted to get into the fight as much as anyone else. Sadly, this is the type of shenanigans the leadership in Special Forces often engages in. In 5th Group we had a Sergeant Major handing out haircut tickets at a memorial service. Sillyness like this ends up alienating a lot of soldiers.

This short book (or long article if you prefer) starts off with an incident in which Tim worked with a Blackwater team as a Designated Marksmen before rewinding and talking about his recruitment and refresher training at the Blackwater Compound in Virginia. The corporatization of warfare comes into full view as this former Team Sergeant is blown away by how smooth Blackwater’s operation is. They’ve got a first class training facility that can fabricate pretty much any targetry or training aids the instructors want, a brand new warehouse that issues out equipment that is better than what the author had access to in 10th Group in many cases, even a squared away chow hall.

This book covers two deployments the author had with BW where he held an impressive array of positions that in addition to the Designated Marksmen position, he also worked as a trainer, body guard to for the US ambassador, and worked a staff position in the headquarters doing intel analysis and deconflicting battle space with the US military. Tim doesn’t flinch at describing the uncomfortable details. He talks about the gritty realities of combat as well as some of the hijinx that some of his BW colleges got themselves into. There was an accusation of rape (later disproved), a drunk dude jumping into a pool with an air conditioner, steroid use, and of course, corporate favoritism and backstabbing.

The latter makes for an interesting comparison to the military and how the corporate structure is better in some cases and worse in others. The author does mention that he is against the military over-outsourcing logistical operations that they should be taking responsibility for. He also mentions, if I read right, that he believes there is a role for governmental regulation in this industry.

This work provides a great snapshot of Blackwater and the type of operations they ran in Iraq. For the average person, or even a former Special Forces guy like me, who doesn’t know much about this industry, Tim has a lot of good insights and dispels many of the misconceptions that people have about this company. My only complaint is that it is a little short and I would have liked to have seen him elaborate on some topics a little more but in a short amount of text he does hit all the points you would expect him too. The pictures are also very helpful and give an idea of what it was like to live in work in a Blackwater employee’s shoes. For my money, I think its worth a couple bucks for the insider details and personal accounts that Tim writes about.

PS: This book is self published on Amazon so this account wasn’t filtered through some corporate committee, “fixed” by publishers, or approved by some bullshit government censor so I think the author is giving us the real deal.

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21 Comments

Filed under Action Adventure, Special Forces, Writing

21 responses to “Book Review: Blackwater: From The Inside Out

  1. Gary Hart

    You may note that I never comment when people make outwardly derogatory comments about Blackwater. It remains the singularly best contracting company that I have ever worked for before or since, and I have been in this line of work since ’87. As you pointed out from this writing, their ability to to adapt quickly and their level of professionalism at the corporate site was beyond compare. I will point out one more thing, for what it is worth. I have worked for various contracting companies, large and small, for 25 years. Absolutely never at any place besides there has the owner of the company ever made it a point to come down to his dining facility at lunch time and randomly sit at various tables with his hundreds of employees and have a chat with them 3 or 4 times a week. Erik Prince instilled the kind of loyalty and camaraderie in a corporate climate that is rarely found outside of small special forces units. I hope to work for him again some day.

  2. Thanks for your comments Gary, its always good to hear from those who were there and I’m glad that some of you folks are telling your story. In this book Tim doesn’t BS anyone and tells about what a great company BW was but then they started to slide downhill when they started cutting corners and hiring guys who were under qualified for the job. Tim speculates that with all the cost cutting measures that the company engaged in that incidents like the Baghdad shooting were inevitable. I appreciate both of you shedding some light on this topic as it sounds like a few bad apples, and a few of those “blow hards” gave the company as a whole a bad name.

  3. John

    Good Morning Jack,
    Very nice site you have going. I firmly believe that there are no coincidences in life so there is a reason your fellow commentators have come over here. We just likely do not know the entire game plan for us in life.

    Do you happen to get a little bit of cash in your tip-jar if we buy from amazon thru your site? I like to support the new media at all times so I do purchase through the blogs I read.

    As to BW – they have received enormous negative press for their entire existence – like EO. History will get the truth out. The new media will ensure it gets out faster than the old media can suppress it. At that point we can all decide based on facts – not spoon fed propaganda.

    Best Regards,
    John

  4. Hello John,

    Life is full of strangeness, that is what keeps things interesting. Thank you for taking part in this discussion.

    I do have affiliate links set up in most cases for this blog so if you click to buy one of my books or the one reviewed here I would get a small commission from Amazon. I appreciate every sale but if you’d like to support this type of content I’d love to have more people taking part in the discussion and getting involved as you have.

    I believe that truth is in fact stranger than fiction and with most of the issues I write about there are nuances that the press doesn’t see fit to cover. Real life is just a little too complicated to fit inside childish sound bytes. I hope that this blog can be something of a sounding board for forgotten soldiers and unpopular wars that doesn’t flinch away from covering the moral, illegal, or ethical. At the same time, we shouldn’t be afraid to speak the truth when things go right, even if the mainstream media has already convicted those involved in the court of public opinion!

  5. John

    Good Morning Jack,

    There should be a tip coming your way – I do like the e-book for its portability. I’ll be back posting often. Blackwater and EO are fascinating studies in how to get things done in unpopular or hidden conflicts. I look forward to the real story from someone without an axe to grind such as most earlier work on BW has been. The stuff published between 2003 and 2010 on BW is real tough to read due to the blatant political bend of the authors.

    We have seen that the progressive movement has had their day – they truly realized they could lie to the public in 1968 after Tet and change publiic opinion to accept marxist philosophy. With the advent of the internet the truth will be transmitted just as fast as their lies – they no longer control all the information flow. Now for the hard work.

    Regards,
    John

  6. Thanks John, I hope that I have not led you astray with my work or the work of those I recommend here. Please let me know what you think after reading, I’m always looking to improve.

    I agree, EO and BW are fascinating to compare and contrast. I will say, it is fairly impressive that Eric Prince is able to get away with pretty much anything he wants despite the constant public and political condemnation. I would refer to a short article the Eeben Barlow wrote and posted on his blog about how private most Private Military Companies really are. I’m sure that BW is getting some covert, under the table, support for helping act out certain US Foreign Policy decisions.

    Many old ideas and the ideologues that went along with them are fading away with the advent of advanced communications technology. I don’t think anyone really understands what the long term implications are but it should be interesting, to say the least. The progressive movement is one for sure, increasingly exposed as being regressive more than anything. Part of it also has to do with the times we are moving into and the economic situation. Entrepreneurship and rugged individualism will become valued again and no one will want to hear people whining or playing the victim as the country is falling apart.

    Maybe we can talk more about it later. Thanks again,

    -Jack

  7. John

    Good Evening Jack – I will definitely drop you a note when I finish. It is an addition to the three reading items I am working – Orson Scott Card “Empire” (disturbing fiction, but not as disturbing as “One Second After”), Shadow Warrior (Rodriguez) and 32 Battalion (Nortje). Just a little break from quantum physics as reading (yes, geek hobby of mine).

    The situation we are heading into is frightening – that is why I am out posting like mad in blogs I enjoy reading, dropping items out in Facebook continuously and writing my congressman incessantly. From your profile you have the basics that lead me to believe the “steering” will not be wrong. I am not a soldier, just a concerned civilian trying to decipher what info I get and make sound judgements. I have faith in my country’s Constitution – but not the ruling class. Thank God for our men and women of the armed forces who are a solid rock of volunteer citizens we can rebuild with when the economic storm breaks.

    Regards,
    John

  8. I’ve read 32 Battalion, a good book although it was more of a historical reference book than something that told the full story of the men, the unit, and their operations so I was a little disappointed in that regard. Peter Stiff’s “The Silent War” gives an in depth look at South African and Rhodesian Special Operations from the late 60’s to the 94′ election. So far it is a very good read. I read “One Second After”, a pretty good book but apparently a lot of the fear around EMPs is hype and they are not nearly as effective as the media would have us believe.

    As far as our current situation, I plan on leaving the country after I finish college. There really isn’t much of a future in the US for those under 30. The older generations are going to rape this country’s future so they can live comfortably as we slide into economic decline. Maybe after a generation or two things will start to improve into the US once more, but I’m not holding my breath!

    • John

      Good Evening Jack,

      Each man has the freedom to choose their own path! That is the bonus of freedom – and one of it’s curses. As fast as things move in the modern world the crash could happen right at a good point to toss out the last of the progressives so we can get back to the basics of the Founding Fathers here in the USA. My big fear is a “Reichstag Fire” that would give an excuse for martial law and suspension of the Constitution. All bets would be off then. Though I have learned serious patience as I have aged…and I can understand why you feel those under 30 have no future here, if you are not ~ 60 things can be pretty bleak. Our un-fundedd liabilities, and appetite for massive deficit spending are disastrous combinations. That is worth more conversations on many topics. But where there is life there is hope.

      I agree 32 Bat. is a straight forward account – like a diary, interesting but dry. I have also read War Dog and Fire Force, both excellent accounts. I am a big fan of A. Venters work and have accumulated most of his modern tomes – his latest is waiting in my Amazon queue, pre-purchased (I only hope it does not get delayed multiple times like War Dog). As for Cocks – I only have Fire Force and The Saints – the Rhodesian writings are hard to take at times, something like the works concerning Biafra. I am still trying to get together my personal thoughts about H. Wharton on flying weapons along with supplies for the churches into Biafra. There is a story there that has to come to light. Of course the whole journey of mine in this genre of the literary world started with an autographed copy of Baa-Baa Black Sheep – G. Boyington had a grip of steel and eyes that could probe your soul. The AVG thru Air America journey is quite a trip.

      Of course Eeben Barlow’s work is right up there on my shelves – quite an achievement for anyone – for an initial offering it is quite remarkable. If E. Prince could toss out a work of this magnitude I think it would be very enlightening – It could cut thru a lot of the garbage out there. It will likely be a decade before it does come out – bummer.

      Regards,
      John

  9. I was corresponding with someone the other day about a 9/11 caliber event that would finally force our government to take some kind of action regarding the low-intensity/unconventional war being waged on our southern border. I think the Reichstag event has already happened, although it is more subtle. The ’08 economic crash and the continued slow bleed of our economy is what will slowly bring us into martial law. Times of economic decline are when the dictators get brought in. If you look at the actions of our government, the massive surveillance, wanting to take control of the internet, random street checkpoints, TSA searches in the subway, ect…our government has the hallmarks of desperation. They are scared to death and will do anything to maintain control as people lose faith in their own “representatives”. I don’t say this from a partisan standpoint, just my opinion of where things are heading regardless of ideology.

    I found War Dog to be an outstanding work, Al obviously has some incredible sources. I also have Chris’ fictional work “Cyclone Blues” but have yet to read it, he is a talented writer so I’m sure it is interesting. I actually just ordered Tim Bax’s “Three Sips of Gin” and Keith Nell’s “Viscount Down” so those are the two I’m looking forward to after I finish this tome that Peter Stiff wrote. He’s damn thorough, very impressive work which pulls no punches.

    Yes, Eeben definitely brought his A-game when he wrote his book. It was an amazing work that really changed my opinion about his company. Previously I had believed a lot of the hype about them working for De Beers and so on. He is now writing what sounds like the Ranger Handbook of African conflicts. He has the smarts of an officer but the common sense of a NCO, a rare trait indeed! I’m a little more skeptical about Prince because I think it is obvious that he is CIA sponsored but I will try to keep an open mind.

    • John

      Good Evening Jack,

      Very good points on the increasing infringement on our freedoms. I am of the belief (I know, it is different than knowledge…) that totalitarian forces have been working against the Constitution since it was ratified. Since income taxes were approved in the early 1900’s it has been used as a weapon to destroy freedom. The progressive tax structure is both immoral and fiscally insane by punishing hard-work. The level of loop-holes within truly proves it immorality. All the latest travesties have been building for nearly a century so it will take time to get the poison out of our system. The truth in our freedoms has a voice still – mainly on the internet.

      I will go out and read your reviews of other items here and see what path that leads me. Have you had a chance to get A Venters “Barrel of a Gun”? It is his best work yet…the Beirut chapters really show the level of his contacts out there.

      As for Mr. Barlow – I had a real hard time believing any of the negatives about him and EO. A man/company does not take out an opponent with such ease and then leave their hard won AO if there is that much profit to reap, or spoils to enjoy – if they meet the definition of “mercenary” like the media tried to paint them. That never passed the smell test. And time has proven that feel out. His next work looks to be a must have – I have my credit card ready when it comes.

      As to Mr. Prince an open mind is perfect – the truth will give us what we need to decide. I put his works in the same vein as those of Air America. The bad press they had taken does not match their deeds in SE Asia – especially the final evacuation of Saigon. Men driven purely by profit don’t perform the feats they accomplished between 1972 to 1975. The full, unvarnished story of Blackwater is truly needed.

      Regards,
      John

  10. I agree with you. One thing that I’ve never really mentioned to anyone before is that I’m seeing all the surveillance systems I saw used in Iraq and Afghanistan gradually being phased in here in America. I hesitate to even get into it because I don’t think people will believe it. One example that is very clear is the use of surveillance drones. I also know that they are building some truly frightening databases on huge groups of people to include biometrics. I’m very much afraid of what they will do with such information. You can also do some research on Main Core, and find an article called “The Last Roundup”. It seems that governments keep these types of “naughty” lists compulsively, like they can’t stop themselves. Historically, they are kept to make it easier to round up all the dissidents or anyone who might one day become a dissident after a coup…just sayin’…

    I will have to pick up Al’s latest work since you recommend it so highly. I’d been thinking about it but the kindle version is 10 bucks. At that cost I will probably just order a hard copy.

  11. Nice review, and nice discussion. I haven’t had a chance to research Blackwater myself, but I strongly suspect, any time the Press is so gung-ho to smear a person or organization, that they can’t be ALL bad. This philosophy of mine has been proven out time and again.

    I’m actually surprised the economic house of cards here in the US hasn’t come crashing down already. Always in the back of my mind is the knowledge that I’m living on borrowed time. So I spend all my free time writing fiction. Go figure.

    Appreciate your comments, John. Always nice to find somebody who won’t drink the Kool-Aid/swallow the blue pill.

    • John

      Good Afternoon Jack,

      I highly recommend Mr. Venters work – you have been there and done that (and I have not) – for me the accounts from the Levant (read over the Christmas holiday at the inlaws….) were downright frightening. A good lesson in the failure of society. And a harsh reality check showing why violence can not be used to solve the issues facing our Republic.

      I am enjoying the Blackwater account – very smooth easy read (the authors sense of humor is almost English it is so dry). It is quite interesting that the “troubles” we have all heard about with BW according to this account started when lesser men began to filter in – equate this to your worries about surveillance – which I share.

      Orwell’s 1984 has been with us since ~ 1991. Newspeak = political correctness and Big Brother is watching from everywhere – think of your local 7-11 surveillance being used to crack a crime. When men of lesser moral fiber get ahold of this massive amount of data we get issues. You only have to chuckle how Weiner’s wiener got him into a pickle to realize the low level of moral fiber in many of our elected officials (my Rep is a man of very high moral standing). This is the weakkness I am working at correcting and keeping the internet a free exchange of ideas has to be key no matter how foul some things are out there that get posted.

      Circle this back to the beatings BW and EO have taken in the media – here in the USA the media has special protections under the Constitution so that we as voters can make informed decisions – when they break that trust and flat out lie we can not make informed decisions. I don’t see how this can be separated from sedition at a minimum.

      Enjoy Mr. Venters latest – it is worth the coin. I actually saw three copies in a local bookstore yesterday….

      Regards,,
      John

    • John

      Good Morning Hank,

      Sorry about the late reply – fiction is the catalyst for action many times for the masses. Each man does his own bit to get the ship of state back on the right course. We are living beyond our means but our country has extraordinary natural reserves so if we can get the progressive elites out of power (govt., academia, media etc..) the republic will survive. I have borrowed the term “creeps and nuts” to describe our current elected officials from both parties.
      Mr. Beckman being a Six-Sigma Greenbelt (as am I) means he will royaly irritate many people to make things right – though by definition he is not an “elite”.
      I very much enjoyed his short article/account. I think I will go out and dig up more of his work.

      Regards,
      John

      P.S. Your review of Reflexive Fire was spot on. I really liked the book. The story goes along with this little conversation….with a good bit more direct corrective action.

  12. It’s strange but also makes sense. When the mainstream media criticizes someone it gives them credibility. That is how much respect journalists in this country have lost. It seems that the only thing they report on is each other, little, if any investigative journalism is conducted, stories that could be damaging are torpedo’ed, and in general it seems that they are engaging in metal masturbation for themselves and their peers. I have no idea who is actually still watching televised news shows, I suppose older people but once that generation is gone they’ve lost their audience, and hence, a powerful tool used to propagandize and control political will. That will be interesting to see!

    The economy is being propped up, but they (The Fed) is running out of prop sticks. We can’t all bail each other out and we can’t print money until we are rich again. This is a process of decline that will stretch on for decades. We would be a lot better off if we just had a crash and then we could begin to rebuild. Instead, those who are bought and paid for by the mega-banks are trying to keep the cycle going.

  13. Thanks John, I just ordered Al’s latest. I’m going to have some summer reading between that book, “Three Sips of Gin” and “The Maritime Sniper Manual”. That last one might give a hint at where I plan on sending my fictional mercs if I write a third novel. The second is set in Mexico but I’m not sure when I will pick up on that again, I guess it depends on how well RF sells.

  14. John

    Good Evening Jack,

    The tip-jar is important for everyone trying to get the word out to Freemen. Your fictional men will have plenty of subjects to work with in Mexico.

    Life imitates art – and that leads us back to where we began. I’ll go and wander through your samples from RF, from the prologue my interest has been suitably piqued. I look forward to the read.

    Regards,
    John

  15. Thanks John. I hope to have to book out in less than a month. I will have some status updates on the blog as well.

    • John

      Good Morning Jack,

      I just finished Blackwater and I did like the account. I think there is at least 500 pages within the short article that could come to light. Mr. Beckman is a Six-Sigma greenbelt (as am I) so his training and experience have the possibility of starting a real examination of Blackwater, for better or worse but at least it will be the truth, to counter Scahil’s atrocious smear of BW. Elites don’t like the truth – whether it runs counter to their ideology or it just interferes with their plan to retire and soak the people who still produce – those of us left working and living in a truth world and not a marxist utopia have to be real in our assessments of life.

      Thanks for the recomendation. I think I am going to go out and find more of his work.

      Regards,
      John

  16. I also think that Tim should have written a full length book that expanded on his experiences and gave a more detailed view of how he sees the role of Private Military Companies in modern war and how they interact with the military. In my opinion, the real problem with Blackwater was accountability. Non-performers need to be fired. Under qualified people never should have been hired. I saw the same thing in Army Special Operations, lowering standards leads to all sorts of problems down the line. Sadly, the brass only sees the near term goal of filling the unit to capacity with warm bodies. I used to tell my Privates that I would rather have four strong soldiers in our squad rather than have eight weak ones.

    Definitely check out Tim’s other work, “IQATF: The Less Lethal Option”. That one is actually more important in my opinion than the Blackwater piece. It details Tim’s time working intelligence for the Army, but as a private contractor. A lot gets mentioned about the very small minority of contractors who work PSD and convoy escorts, but intel contracts are huge and very little is written about it as of this moment.

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