Blackwater Worldwide is abandoning its tarnished brand name as it tries to shake a reputation battered by oft-criticized work in Iraq, renaming its family of two dozen businesses under the name Xe.
The parent company’s new name is pronounced “zee.”
Blackwater Lodge & Training Center — the subsidiary that conducts much of the company’s overseas operations and domestic training — has been renamed US Training Center Inc, the company said on Friday.
The decision comes as part of an ongoing rebranding effort that grew more urgent following a September 2007 shooting in Iraq that left at least a dozen civilians dead. It underscores how badly the Moyock, North Carolina-based company’s brand was damaged worldwide by that incident and other security work in Iraq.
“They have established themselves as the bad guys,” said Katy Helvenston, who sued the company following 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 the 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 US State Department said it would not rehire Blackwater to protect its diplomats in Iraq after its current contract with the company expires in May. The company has one other major security contract, details of which are classified.
Blackwater president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees the new name reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security.
“The volume of changes over the past half year have taken the company to an exciting place, and we are now ready for two of the final, and most obvious, changes,” Jackson said in the note.
It has expanded other businesses such as aviation support, recently building a fleet of 76 aircraft that it has deployed to such hotspots as West Africa and Afghanistan. The company got its start in training and continues to build up that business. Last year, some 25,000 civilians, law enforcement and military personnel attended a Blackwater class.
The company’s changes are not entirely voluntary. The 2007 shooting in Nisoor Square involving Blackwater guards left at least a dozen Iraqi civilians dead, infuriated politicians in Baghdad and Washington, triggered congressional hearings and increased calls that the company be banned from Iraq.
Blackwater has rebranded before, introducing a new name — Blackwater Worldwide — and slight changes to its logo about a year ago. But Friday’s announcement cuts ties entirely with a name created in 1997 when Prince and some of his former Navy SEAL colleagues launched the company.
Xe will cover the parent brand for the two-dozen subsidiaries, and none of those subsidiaries will retain the word “Blackwater” in their names.