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Blackwater dumps tarnished brand name

The company, which is shifting its focus from private security contracting to training, is changing its name to Xe.

February 14, 2009|Associated Press

RALEIGH, N.C. — Blackwater Worldwide is still protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq, but executives at the beleaguered security firm are taking their biggest step yet to put that work and the ugly reputation it earned the company behind them.

Blackwater said Friday that it would no longer operate under the name that came to be known worldwide as a caustic moniker for private security, dropping the tarnished brand for a disarming and simple identity: Xe, which is pronounced like the letter "z."

It's a rare surrender for a company that cherished a brand name inspired by the dark-water swamps of northeastern North Carolina, one that survived another rebranding effort about a year ago, following a deadly shooting in Baghdad's Nisoor Square. The decision to give it up underscores how badly the Moyock, N.C., company's brand was damaged by that incident and other security work in Iraq.

"They have established themselves as the bad guys," said Katy Helvenston, who sued the company after her son's death during a mission in Fallujah while working for Blackwater in 2004. "They've established such a horrible reputation. Why else would they change their name?"

Blackwater acknowledged last year in an interview with the Associated Press that damage to its reputation had persuaded the company to focus on lines of business other than private security contracting.

The issue came to a head last month, when the State Department said it would not rehire Blackwater to protect its diplomats in Iraq after its current contract with the company expired in May. The company has one other major security contract, details of which are classified.

The company is also replacing its bear paw logo with a sleeker black-and-white graphic based on letters that make up the company's new name. In a note to employees, President Gary Jackson said the change reflected a new focus, and he indicated Xe would not actively pursue new security business.

"This company will continue to provide personnel protective services for high-threat environments when needed by the U.S. government, but its primary mission will be operating our training facilities around the world," Jackson said.

It has expanded other businesses such as aviation support, recently building a fleet of 76 aircraft that it has deployed to such hot spots as West Africa and Afghanistan. The firm got its start in training and continues to build up that business. Last year, about 25,000 civilians and law enforcement and military personnel attended a Blackwater class.

The company's changes aren't entirely voluntary. The 2007 shooting in Baghdad involving Blackwater guards left at least a dozen Iraqi civilians dead, infuriated politicians in Iraq and Washington, triggered congressional hearings and increased calls for the company to be banned from Iraq.

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