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Blackwater’s New Ethics Chief: John Ashcroft

May 4, 2011

(This article is re-posted from WIRED.)

The consortium in charge of restructuring the world’s most infamous private security firm just added a new chief in charge of keeping the company on the straight and narrow. Yes, John Ashcroft, the former attorney general, is now an “independent director” of Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater.

Ashcroft will head Xe’s new “subcommittee on governance,” its backers announced early Wednesday in a statement, an entity designed to “maximize governance, compliance and accountability” and “promote the highest degrees of ethics and professionalism within the private security industry.”

In other words, no more shooting civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan; no more signing for weapons its guards aren’t authorized to carry in warzones; no more impersonations of cartoon characters to acquire said weaponry; and no more ‘roids and coke on the job.

Ashcroft’s arrival at Xe is yet another clear signal it’s not giving up the quest for lucrative government security contracts now that it’s no longer owned by founder Erik Prince, even as it emphasizes the side of its business that trains law enforcement officers. In September, it won part of a $10 billion State Department contract to protect diplomats, starting with the U.S. consulate in Jerusalem. Ashcroft, a U.S. senator before becoming attorney general in the Bush administration, is a very known quantity to the federal officials that Xe will pitch. Even if he’s not lobbying for Blackwater, Ashcroft’s addition on the board is meant to inspire confidence in government officials of its newfound rectitude.

To some, Ashcroft will be forever known as the face of Bush-era counterterrorism, the official who vigorously defended the Patriot Act’s sweeping surveillance powers; told civil libertarians that their dissents “only aid terrorists“; and covered up the Spirit of Justice’s boob. At the same time, when Ashcroft was critically ill in 2005, he resisted a White House entreaty to his hospital bed seeking to reauthorize warrantless surveillance in defiance of the acting attorney general.

“This is a company with a strong history of service to its country, and a reputation of best-in-class offerings to its public and private customers,” Ashcroft said in a statement. “I look forward to helping USTC enhance its governance and oversight capabilities as the company moves forward,” referring to U.S. Training Center, another of Blackwater’s many names. Like scores of other senior security officials, he’s spent his post-government career running a Washington consulting firm.

Xe is still sorting out its permanent leadership and searching for a permanent CEO. For now, the investor team that bought the company in December assembled and empowered a board of directors to run the shop along with the existing management. That board includes former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman. Its chairman is a Clear Channel co-founder, Red McCombs.

Ashcroft and his new subcommittee will report to the board. “With the formation of this subcommittee, and with Ashcroft as its chair,” the firm says in the statement, “USTC aims to set the bar for industry standards against which all other companies will be measured.”

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