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Blackwater is now Xe. Just Xe. Blackwater rebrands itself Print
Feb. 2009

The Eastern North Carolina-based private security company had exemplified the problems of using private soldiers in combat zones. Now, after losing its contract to guard U.S. diplomats in Iraq, it is changing its name.

Company officials announced Friday that the group of businesses formerly called Blackwater Worldwide will now be known as "Xe," pronounced like the letter Z.
The company provided no information on how it chose the name.

The attempt to rebrand itself comes as six former employees face manslaughter charges for a shooting that killed 17 civilians in Baghdad. The company has also faced intense scrutiny since four of its employees were massacred and two of them hung from a bridge in Fallujah in 2004.

In January, the Iraqi government denied Blackwater a license to operate there, and its workers are expected to leave the country this spring.

Company spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said the new name reflects a new focus.

After earning more than $1 billion in federal contracts from the Bush administration, mostly for providing security to U.S. diplomats in Iraq, she said the company will no longer pursue new security contracts. She said it will now work mostly on training law enforcement officers and military troops in such areas as weapons handling and hostage rescue.

"This company will continue to provide personnel protective services for high-threat environments when needed by the U.S. government," Blackwater president Gary Jackson said in a memo to employees, "but its primary mission will be operating our training facilities around the world, including the flagship campus in North Carolina."

The company runs what is believed to be the world's largest privately owned firearms training facility. Its headquarters is in the northeastern North Carolina town of Moyock, and it has smaller sites in Illinois and San Diego.

Aside from its Iraq work, the company also guards U.S. diplomats in Afghanistan. However, some members of Congress -- including Sen. John Kerry, chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee -- have called for the company to be fired.

Blackwater's chief executive, Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, founded the company in 1997 in a remote, swampy area of the state. It operated in relative obscurity until the Fallujah massacre in 2004. Images of the ambush were flashed around the world after a mob dragged the bodies of the contractors through the streets and hung two charred corpses from a bridge.

The incident set off a battle that left 36 U.S. military members and 600 Iraqi civilians dead. A congressional inquiry found that the for-profit company used unarmored vehicles to save money and cut essential personnel from the mission.

'So corrupt'

Kathryn Helvenston-Wettengel, whose son Scott Helvenston was one of the Blackwater employees killed in the massacre, said Friday that the name change made sense.

"I'm not surprised at all," she said "They've become so corrupt, I don't think they could get a contract under Blackwater's name. So, good luck."

Hers is among four families suing Blackwater, alleging that the company failed to provide armored vehicles, machine guns, proper maps or the full complement of six guards outlined in the company's contract.

In addition to that incident, Blackwater has been involved in nearly 200 shooting incidents in Iraq. In 2007, company contractors were accused of killing 17 innocent civilians in Baghdad. Six former employees have been charged with manslaughter.

Iraqi officials said that record of violence was behind their decision last month to deny Blackwater's permit.

Tyrrell, the company spokeswoman, said the name change has been part of a gradual process of redefining the company.

"Of course, the past is a factor in all decisions made by the company," she said. "We're changing the name because we're taking the company to a place where we think it is no longer described by the name Blackwater."

Read The News & Observer print edition on your computer with the new e-edition!
Staff writer Jay Price contributed to this report.
SOME MEANINGS OF XE

* The symbol for the element Xenon, a colorless, odorless gas

* XE.com, a currency and foreign exchange rate Web site

* X-Entertainment, a pop culture Web site for Generation X

* Chi Epsilon, a civil engineering honor society

* A gender-neutral pronoun invented to avoid sexism in language

XE, MEET XE

Steven Dengler, CEO of XE, the Canadian-based currency exchange services company, said Friday that he was surprised at Blackwater's choice of name. His company's Web site, XE.com, is one of the most popular destinations on the Web.

On any given day, it's usually ranked between No. 250 and No. 380 for traffic, he said.

"Why on earth they'd want to name themselves the same thing as such a well-established brand, I don't know," Dengler said. "We just think they made a bad mistake."

He paused to speak while adding a line to his company's Wikipedia entry saying that it had no relationship with the company once known as Blackwater.

The currency exchange XE's lawyers were still looking into the issue, but Dengler said that at first blush the change seemed unlikely to have any serious effect on his XE, and the Moyock firm doesn't appear to be engaged in any of the same lines of work.

"We have our trademark registered all over the world, but we certainly don't have anything registered under 'mercenary army,' " he said.
 
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