Blackwater offshoot elects McCombs

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Academi, the private military company formerly known as Blackwater USA that was contracted to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, has acquired a new director with close ties to UT.

Billionaire entrepreneur Red McCombs, namesake of the McCombs School of Business, is now the chairman of Academi’s board of directors. McCombs joined the company during its restructuring last December to “manage the company and enhance its governance and oversight capabilities,” according to a December press release announcing the decision.

More recently, as part of an article published in Harper’s April issue, the publication released a series of videos on their website showing alleged Blackwater contractors indiscriminately firing at Iraqi traffic, smashing into cars and running over civilians.

Beginning in 2003, the U.S. State Department contracted Blackwater to provide a wide variety of services in Iraq and Afghanistan from training and deploying special-forces soldiers to providing aerial reconnaissance.

Management and sociology professor John Butler said McCombs is likely joining the company as a good business practice, similar to when he donated $50 million to the business school in 2000, resulting in the naming of the school.

“Mr. McCombs understands the importance of defending this country, and you need someone like him to build an organization that’s so important,” Butler said. “Red McCombs has the leadership you require in such a company, and I expect that as part of his plan he will be rebranding its image as part of effective entrepreneurship.”

The company drew wide criticism in 2007 when Blackwater military contractors allegedly shot and killed 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Nisoor Square, Baghdad, which resulted in the company temporarily losing its contract to operate. The company was also investigated that year by the State Department for allegedly smuggling arms into Iraq for designated terrorist organizations.
McCombs could not be reached for comment.

Finance junior Philip Kaminer said he believed that it wasn’t an issue to have McCombs associated with the company.

“Despite the fact that Blackwater has done military contracting, it’s a legitimate corporation and has to be seen as legitimate enterprise,” Kaminer said. “It would be different if he was funding mercenaries, but if its acceptable for the government to put millions of dollars behind these companies then it is perfectly fine for a businessman to support them as well.”

Thomas Palaima, a professor of classics and middle eastern studies who researches war and violence, said that while he was concerned about the activities of Blackwater, it was more important to understand where funding comes from and how it is spent.

“It’s a very dangerous thing to get private contractors involved in fighting our undeclared wars, but that’s a different question,” Palaima said. “Does Red McCombs have the right to throw his money into Blackwater, make a profit and then put his money into the University? Of course he does. At least, President Powers seems to think so.”

It is common for large sums of money to enter institutions through questionable means and institutions still accept funding, Palaima said. He added it was more important to raise discussion about institutional priorities allowing this to happen.

“If you’re really concerned about where money comes from, just look at how many of the great fortunes are attached to conflicts that later get donated to charity,” Palaima said. “Rockefeller was behind the killing of innocent minors, but nobody says we can’t have money from the Rockefeller foundation any longer. Someday people will look at Blackwater the same way.”

Palaima said the controversies surrounding Blackwater cannot change large public indifference or affect the business school’s image.

“The general public just doesn’t care very much to be informed about Blackwater and Afghanistan — the former vice president of the United States was highly involved in Blackwater,” Palaima said. “The bigger issue is the U.S. being able to conducting informal wars by using highly profitable private companies like Blackwater.”

Printed on Thursday, April 19, 2012 as: McCombs chairs private security firm