Erik Prince was born June 6, 1969 in Holland, Mich. The son of Edgar Prince, a wealthy and influential Michigan Republican who helped found the Family Research Council in the late 1980s. He has six children. His first wife, Joan, died in 2003, and Prince has since remarried. Erik Prince began attending the Naval Academy but transferred to Hillsdale College in Michigan, from which he graduated in 1992.
Mr. Erik D. Prince is the Founder, Managing Partner and Chairman of Frontier Resource Group. Mr. Prince is the Founder of Blackwater. He was the Founder of ACADEMI LLC. Upon graduation, he enlisted in the United States Navy, where he served as a Navy SEAL officer until 1996. He has been an Executive Director of Frontier Services Group Limited since January 10, 2014 and its Deputy Chairman of the Board since December 6, 2018.
He was the Chairman of the Board at Frontier Services Group Limited since January 10, 2014 until December 6, 2018. He serves as a Director of a subsidiary of Frontier Services Group Limited. Mr. Prince is an entrepreneur, philanthropist, military veteran and private equity investor with business interests in Africa, Europe, the Middle East and North America in the fields of logistics, aviation services, manufacturing, natural resource development and energy. He was educated at Hillsdale College.
He served as an intern for George H.W. Bush in 1990. Joined the Navy Seals in 1992. He left in 1996 after his father’s death. Gained a windfall after his mother sold his father’s company, Prince Corp., for $1.3 billion in 1996. Erik Prince founded the private-security firm Blackwater USA in 1997 and purchased land in North Carolina to house the company and its training facilities.
Erik Prince formed Blackwater Security Consulting in 2002, when he obtained government contracts to protect U.S. personnel in Iraq and Afghanistan.
He testified before Congress in 2007 to defend Blackwater against allegations of misconduct by its operatives in Iraq and Afghanistan. Erik Prince resigned as CEO of Xe in March 2009, after Iraq barred Blackwater from operating in the country. Retained his title as chairman, although he claims to have little involvement in the day-to-day operations of the company.
Erik Prince Full Biography and Profile
Despite his charmed upbringing, his father insisted he forge his own path before possibly joining the family business. After graduating from Hillsdale College, a Christian school near the Ohio-Michigan border, he became a Navy SEAL, enduring its legendary training regimen, including a “hell week” that allows just four hours of sleep over five and a half days. Even now, he says, “I try to do what most people would call an extreme event three or four times a year.” Recent examples include a 24-hour bike race in South Africa’s desert and a 600-mile sailboat race.
After Edgar Prince died in 1995, the family quickly sold Prince Corp.’s automotive unit to Johnson Controls for $1.35 billion. Erik, then 26, walked away with at least $50 million. Around the same time, he left the SEALs when his first wife, Joan, was diagnosed with breast cancer. (She died in 2003.)
Flush and underemployed, Prince used a piece of his inheritance to build a training center for special forces in Moyock, North Carolina, which he called Blackwater, after the region’s murky swamps. A series of domestic tragedies fueled the business’ ascent. The shooting at Columbine High School brought police contracts. The U.S.S. Cole bombing beckoned the United States Navy. And after 9/11, Blackwater became the Pentagon’s mercenary army of choice in Afghanistan and Iraq. Through 2006, Prince’s firm generated $1 billion in government work.
But as public support for the conflicts waned, things began to unravel. Tension boiled over in September 2007, when a convoy of Blackwater contractors shot 31 people in Iraq’s Nisur Square, killing 14. The contractors said they had been ambushed; Justice Department prosecutors thought otherwise. One Blackwater guard pleaded guilty to manslaughter, three others were also convicted of manslaughter and one of first-degree murder in 2014. (The murder conviction was vacated last August; prosecutors have appealed to the Supreme Court for a retrial.) The event — hardly Blackwater’s first deadly incident — was viewed in much of the world as an indiscriminate massacre.
Prince was summoned to Congress for questioning. Government officials, many of whom had sanctioned Blackwater’s aggressive tactics — even if tacitly — condemned him. Prince thinks he was singled out unfairly. Blackwater “was the perfect bogeyman for them to make up,” he says. “I was a sole owner, my guys carried weapons [and] I came from a conservative family.”
Whatever the reason, Prince’s name became toxic, and the new Obama administration wanted nothing to do with him. Blackwater rebranded as Xe Services, and in 2010 Prince sold the company to an investment group led by two private equity firms, Forte Capital Advisors and Manhattan Growth Partners, for over $100 million.
Prince is still not over the loss. “I’ve stuck it all out there for America. The previous administration was extremely abusive of us, and I don’t forget that,” he fumes with an unflinching stare. “That means I’m very cautious about sticking it out there for any government.”
To most of America, that chapter spelled the end of Erik Prince. But it’s not in Prince’s nature to slow down, much less concede defeat, and he quietly took his gambits offshore. He moved to Abu Dhabi in 2010, where, he says, he worked on his energy-and-mining investment firm, Frontier Resource Group. But according to a New York Times report he was also helping assemble a “secret army” for the UAE. (His spokesman denies the story.)
At the same time, he zigzagged around the globe on similar projects. Using Emirati funding, he helped create an antipiracy force in Somalia in 2010. The outfit targeted criminals on land rather than waiting for them to attack boats, “the way the U.S. or NATO or the EU was trying to do it,” he says. “If you have a wasp problem, you deal with the nest.”
To Prince, that endeavor offers proof of concept for his Afghanistan privatization proposal. “It worked,” he says. “Have you heard of Somali piracy anytime recently? And that program cost less than the pirates were taking in ransom.” But a 2012 UN report called the project “the most brazen violation of the [Somali] arms embargo by a private security company.” Others say Prince deserves little credit for the pirates’ demise. “It was ultimately the intensity of international naval patrolling, combined with the defenses that ships developed,” says Vanda Felbab-Brown, senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
Prince next shifted to Asia. In 2014 he cofounded Frontier Services Group, a logistics and security business that trades on the Hong Kong stock exchange. He says he spends more than 80% of his time on FSG. According to its literature, the firm provides straightforward services for “companies operating in frontier markets.” It has a market cap of $325 million.
Once again, Prince’s work has government backing. One of FSG’s principal shareholders is CITIC Group, a Chinese state-owned conglomerate. CITIC and another state-owned enterprise, China Taiping, agreed to invest an additional $107 million in FSG on March 2, though the deal has not yet closed. President Xi’s corruption crackdown made raising the money a challenge. “I had meetings that were scheduled with senior executives,” Prince says, “and we were called: ‘Don’t come, state security is here arresting people right now.’ “
By all appearances, FSG is an incredibly dry business. “We deliver groceries,” Prince told students at Oxford last April. Intuitively, that makes little sense. Prince isn’t the type to go from battling al Qaeda and pirates to shipping rice and beans. Indeed, in 2015 a civil war broke out at the company over side projects Prince was allegedly running, two sources familiar with the events tell Forbes. Multiple executives left the business, while Prince remained chairman. The details behind the split are murky. The muckraking site The Intercept, cofounded by a longtime Prince critic, journalist Jeremy Scahill, reported that he was secretly planning to build armed aircraft in Europe, may have worked with Chinese intelligence and was under investigation for “attempting to broker military services to foreign governments.” Prince again denies the allegations, terming them “fantasy.”
Either way, Prince’s years in exile demonstrate one underlying fact: Blackwater was only the start for this young, ambitious tycoon. And the current political climate gives him a window to get back in the game in America.
On a dewy morning in Washington, D.C., last year, Erik Prince is waiting outside a cafe. While it hasn’t opened yet, he’s already scoped the place out. He gathers his things and moves to a table by the storefront, where he can keep an eye on nearby foot traffic. A hanging plant shields him from above. Dodging scrutiny, often unsuccessfully, is his habit and his business. “It is what it is,” he says.
Prince’s eyes dart around as if he’s on guard while he shares the early framework of his Afghanistan proposal. It revolves around a private force of 6,000 contractors, supplemented by 2,000 U.S. special operations troops and support personnel, who would embed with local Afghan units. Air power would be led by Afghan pilots, paired with contractors. All would be overseen by a “viceroy” who ultimately reports to the president.
Prince thinks his plan, which includes an overall drawdown, could save more than $40 billion a year. The current approach, he says, focuses on cycling in soldiers, who never fully adapt to the local climate. “How stupid is that?”
Prince first aired his full proposal last year via an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal. According to Prince, Trump took notice. “He liked it very much,” Prince says.
It’s a relationship years in the making. Prince displayed early devotion to Trump, a president famously obsessed with loyalty. He donated $250,000 to entities supporting Trump’s candidacy even when he looked like a general-election long shot and unofficially shilled for the campaign. “If you actually want to change things, and take power away from a centralized, bloated and elite-serving government, vote for Donald Trump,” he told the alt-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos in a podcast interview. “It’s a pretty clear choice.”
The trust is allegedly mutual. Prince traveled to the Seychelles prior to the inauguration, according to a Washington Post report, to meet a “Russian close to President Vladimir Putin.” The purported goal: arranging a “back channel” between the Kremlin and the incoming administration. The Post recently reported that George Nader, an advisor to the UAE who reputedly helped arrange the summit, confirmed the meeting to a grand jury.
Prince had previously testified to the House Intelligence Committee that the Seychelles encounter was a coincidence. He said he was there to talk business with the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan. After a discussion focused on terrorism and mining, a member of the Emirati entourage suggested he meet “an interesting guy from Russia” who, like Prince, did “business in the commodity space.” They grabbed a quick drink at the bar. Did he contribute to or know about any sort of Trump-Russia collusion? “Zero.”
Prince stands by his testimony, according to his spokesman.
The Seychelles blowback likely eliminated any thought of a primary race that Prince had been considering against Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming (his family owns real estate there). No matter. The recent White House shakeup has buoyed the prospects for his Afghanistan plan, which Prince claims had momentum last year. “If it was not for the debacle of Charlottesville,” he says, “and the lady that got killed and all the political blowback that fell on the president… I’m almost sure he would not have made the decision [against it] today.”
McMaster’s departure removes one obstacle, though top military brass and think-tank eggheads revile the idea. Pompeo could be the wild card. The secretary of state designate traveled to Afghanistan last year in part to evaluate Prince’s ideas, according to the Financial Times. He also pitched an Afghanistan proposal at Camp David in August 2017 that included elements of Prince’s plan, a source familiar with the events tells Forbes. A CIA spokesperson, however, disputes those claims, telling Forbes, “You have been provided wildly inaccurate information.”
Steve Bannon sees things differently: “Prince’s voice is only going to get stronger, not weaker, because everything he said was going to happen [in Afghanistan] has happened.”
Prince seems fine either way. Ever the SEAL, with Mueller potentially circling, he has backup plans. Libya could use a police force to choke off migrants; Somalia would benefit from armed boats patrolling its fisheries. Prince follows opportunity. And no matter how bad his PR, he always seems to find new backers. “If people think it gets to me,” he says, “they have sorely misunderstood.”
What People Are Saying About Blackwater CEO Erik Prince
“Blackwater, in a lot of ways, reflects Prince’s own personality: stubborn, driven, and obsessed with finding ways to make things happen.”
— Suzanne Simons, in her 2009 book, Master of War, detailing Prince’s time at the helm of Blackwater.
“Based on information provided to me by former colleagues, it appears that Mr. Prince and his employees murdered, or had murdered, one or more persons who have provided information, or who were planning to provide information, to the federal authorities about the ongoing criminal conduct.”
— Testimony of John Doe #2, entered into federal court in Virginia on Aug.
“Mr. Prince intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis. Many of these men used call signs based on the Knights of the Templar, the warriors who fought the Crusades.”
— Testimony of John Doe #2, entered into federal court in Virginia on Aug.
“It is obvious that Plaintiffs have chosen to slander Mr. Prince rather than raise legal arguments or actual facts that will be considered by a court of law.”
— Statement released by Xe on Aug. 6 in response to the allegations.
On the dangers of operating in Iraq: “Obviously, you can see the business risk that goes with it — being sued, being maligned in the press, a very significant rush to judgment. It can jeopardize all the rest of the work that we’ve done in the rest of the world without any controversy.”
— October 2007, in congressional testimony.
On being unable to give information to Congress about Blackwater’s profits: “I am not a financially-driven guy,”
— October 2007, in congressional testimony.
On any connection between Blackwater and Christianity: “I’m a practicing Roman Catholic, but you don’t have to be Catholic, you don’t have to be a Christian to work for Blackwater.”
— Newsweek, October 2007.
Ally of Russia-friendly congressman
For much of Prince’s career, he worked with associates and governments in the Middle East. But he has had some overlap with Russia-friendly figures over the years. He was an intern in the 1990s for Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, the California Republican who is one of the most Russia-friendly members of Congress. Rohrabacher’s views on WikiLeaks and economic sanctions are more in line with the Kremlin’s positions than the prevailing consensus in Washington.
Rohrabacher and Prince have remained allies. Prince is slated to hold a private fundraiser for Rohrabacher’s re-election campaign at his Virginia home this month, CNN has learned.
In the months before the 2016 election, Prince regularly went on Bannon’s radio show to promote Trump’s candidacy and occasionally spread conspiracy theories about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton. Bannon hosted the radio program, “Breitbart News Daily,” before joining the Trump campaign.
“John Podesta’s emails, I can assure you, did not come from the Russians,” Prince said in October 2016, referring to Clinton’s campaign chairman, whose personal emails were released by WikiLeaks. “This idea that the left, and even the administration, even some in the intelligence community, are now claiming it’s all the Russians is entirely too cute and very, very thin on any kind of fact or legitimacy.”
The US intelligence community later announced that Russia was responsible for the Podesta hacks and had transferred the information to WikiLeaks as part of its plan to interfere in the election. This belief has since been reaffirmed by the leaders appointed by Trump to head the FBI and CIA.
- Erik Prince Biography and Profile (Time / Forbes / CNN)