For nearly eight years he sat at the helm of the world's most infamous private security contracting company. Today, former Blackwater president Gary Jackson is wanted by authorities to answer to charges of weapons violations.
An indictment filed last week in federal court lays out just how prosecutors believe Jackson and other current and former Blackwater employees skirted gun laws in the company's pursuit of lucrative security and training contracts. The charges are the most serious yet to be levied against former heads of the company which has rebranded itself as Xe.
Jackson along with former Executive Vice President Bill Mathews, former Blackwater attorney Andrew Howell and two other employees stand accused of charges ranging from conspiracy to violate firearms laws to possession of weapons not properly registered, to making false statements.
Among other things, prosecutors believe company employees enticed members of the Camden County Sheriff's Department in North Carolina (where the company's main training facility, renamed the U.S. Training Center, is located) to act as the purchasers of Bushmaster M4s and AK47 machine guns that were then delivered to and stored at the Blackwater facility. Prosecutors also believe company officials gave gifts to the King of Jordan and his entourage during a 2005 visit to the Moyock facility and then later falsified documentation of those firearms.
An attorney for Jackson is limiting what he says for now, but he did say "Mr Jackson, a 23 year veteran and Navy Seal, is a true American hero. These charges are false. He will defend himself, as he defended this country, in what he calls the greatest justice system in the world."
When Jackson became the president of the company in October 2001, Blackwater was just getting its roots in the training business. But as the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq ramped up, so did the government's need for private security.
Blackwater owner Erik Prince was very interested in the opportunities, and he believed that Jackson was the man to lead the business - in part because Jackson rarely said "no." Prince admired Jackson because he was a doer, he made things happen. But it was more than that, Prince and Jackson forged a personal friendship and a professional partnership that would frustrate future employees, who complained that Prince would often overlook others' thoughts or concerns because he believed so strongly in Jackson.
I sat down with both Jackson and Prince several times in 2007-2008 in the course of researching my book, Master of War: Blackwater's Erik Prince and the Business of War, and it was hard to believe one could function without the other. They jokingly referred to themselves as a married couple.
Prince insisted that in a lot of ways his relationship with Jackson was better than a marriage, "We've never thrown furniture," said Prince. "We've never gotten close to blows, not even once. So in that sense, it's far more fortunate than a marriage." And it would be Jackson who helped Prince through troubles in his own marriage. Prince, in turn, would be Jackson's biggest defender.
But as often happens in a marriage, the relationship between Jackson and Prince went sour, and fast.
Last year, amid the ongoing investigation into the weapons allegations and the public relations fallout after a deadly shooting incident in Baghdad's Nisoor Square in September 2007 in which more than a dozen Iraqis were killed, Prince decided radical changes were necessary in order to save his company's reputation. The stakes were huge, his various companies had attracted more than a billion dollars in U.S. government contracts in less than a decade.
Prince decided to hire Joseph Yorio as the company's new president and Gary Jackson was soon shown the door. It was a dramatic change from when I'd spoken with Jackson just weeks earlier and he told me the only way he could ever leave Blackwater's Moyock training facility was if they "carried him off the property."
The owner and his former top executive, once the closest of confidantes, now rarely speak.
Prince, who has not been indicted on charges, has certainly distanced himself from Jackson.
I asked a Xe spokesman for comment on the indictment and he simply said that "The company is aware of the charges against former executives.
As we've stated before, the company has fully cooperated with the Department of Justice investigation. Given the pending criminal charges, the company will not comment further."
- Suzanne Simons is an Executive Producer at CNN, and author of "Master of War: Blackwater USA's Erik Prince and the Business of War"