Inside Burisma Holdings: Joseph Cofer Black

Inside Burisma Holdings: Joseph Cofer Black

Continuing our look at the Board Members of Burisma Holdings, we find another interesting character. Joseph Cofer Black joined the board of Burisma in February 2017. At first glance, the name may not ring any bells, and perhaps that is by design, but it is a name that has been intertwined with the U.S. Government and politics for quite some time.

Black graduated from the University of Southern California in 1973. The following year he completed his Master’s Degree in foreign relations and joined the CIA sometime in 1974. He worked his way through the ranks and eventually found himself in the thick of things. In 1993 Black was made the CIA Station Chief in Sudan at a time when Osama Bin Laden was being protected by the African nation. While in Sudan, Black oversaw intelligence collection on the relatively newly formed Al Qaeda and is credited with providing the intelligence that led to the capture of “Carlos the Jackal.” He left this post in 1995 and was stationed in Asia and later in Latin America until 1999.

In June of 1999, Black was promoted within the CIA to Director of their Counterterrorist Center (CTC), where he would be in charge of tracking and strategizing a comprehensive plan to take on Al Qaeda and their leader Osama Bin Laden under the leadership of then CIA Chief George Tenet. Black and Tenet had settled on a covert operation in the spring of 2001 called the “Blue Sky paper,” involving the use of intelligence and military assets to thwart the terrorist organization, and pitched it to President George W. Bush’s national security team. According to Black, in an article found in Politico Magazine he felt the Bush Administration did not understand the gravity of the impending threat Al Qaeda posed to the U.S. homeland.

I think they were mentally stuck back eight years [before]. They were used to terrorists being Euro-lefties—they drink champagne by night, blow things up during the day, how bad can this be? And it was a very difficult sell to communicate the urgency to this.

On July 10, 2001, Richard Blee, who worked under Black, came into his office and informed him that an attack was likely imminent. The two men went to Tenet, who then contacted Condoleeza Rice at the White House. According to the article:

Tenet vividly recalls the White House meeting with Rice and her team. (George W. Bush was on a trip to Boston.) Rich [Blee] started by saying, ‘There will be significant terrorist attacks against the United States in the coming weeks or months. The attacks will be spectacular. They may be multiple. Al Qaeda’s intention is the destruction of the United States.’ [Condi said:] ‘What do you think we need to do?’ Black responded by slamming his fist on the table and saying, ‘We need to go on a wartime footing now!’

Tenet claims to have testified to the 9/11 Commission about this meeting, but there was no mention of it in the Commission’s report.

Despite Black’s heroic recollection of doing all he could to stop the 9/11 attack he was certain would happen, there is a little more to the story than meets the eye. According to an article in The New Yorker from July 2008, on January 5, 2000 two of the 9/11 terrorists that were later aboard flight 77 were being tailed by the CIA. Khalid Al-Midhar and Nawaf Al-Hamzi attended a meeting in Kuala Lampur that the CIA had asked the Malaysian government to surveil. On January 8, 2000 the CIA was notified that these two men had traveled together to Bangkok to meet with a terrorist named Quso (one of the suicide bombers of the USS Cole) where they received $36,000. The money was believed to be used to purchase plane tickets and pay for living expenses in the U.S. In March of 2000, the CIA learned that Al-Midhar and Al-Hamzi flew to Los Angeles on January 15, 2000. Despite having this knowledge, the CIA never followed through on their obligation to inform the FBI of their presence in the U.S. Had they done so, the entire plot may have been unraveled, so the question is why did they choose to withhold the information?

Newsweek reported that in 2009, Richard Clarke, former White House counterterrorism adviser for both Clinton & Bush, gave an interview wherein he alleges that Tenet, Black, and Blee purposely withheld the information from the FBI because they had intended to recruit the terrorists as double agents. Had the FBI been made aware of their presence, they would have sought to arrest them, so when the recruitment failed the details of this were covered up to avoid being hit with accusations of “malfeasance and misfeasance.”

Clarke is quoted as saying, ‘I believed, for the longest time, that this was one or two low-level desk officers who got this [information about Hazmi and Mihdhar] and somehow didn’t realize the significance,’ he told them. But ’50—five-oh—50 CIA officers knew this, and they included [Tenet and] all kinds of people who were regularly talking to me? Saying I’m pissed doesn’t begin to describe it.”

The interview with Clarke clearly ruffled some feathers, at least enough that Tenet, Black and Blee issued a joint statement in response to the accusations of Mr. Clarke in August 2011 calling it wild speculation, reckless and profoundly wrong and preferred to lay the blame at the feet of nameless junior analysts. Regardless of the excuses, the failure and lapse of the CIA in this instance belongs solely to those in charge.

Black continued in his role at the CIA after 9/11 and helped set the stage for the invasion of Afghanistan. He famously briefed the Russian government about the American invasion plans. The Russians, who had spent considerable blood and treasure in years prior in Afghanistan, had warned Black, “You’re really going to get the hell kicked out of you.” To which he replied, “We’re going to kill them – we’re going to put their heads on sticks.” Black led the CIA efforts in Afghanistan, adding a new branch to the CTC called the CTC Special Operations, where he installed Hank Crumpton, former operations head for CTC as the Agent in Charge. According to George Tenet’s book “At the Center of the Storm.” Black told Crumpton, “Your mission is to find al-Qa’ida, engage it, and destroy it.

In 2002 he left his position at the CIA, succeeded by John Brennan, and was appointed by George W. Bush as the U.S. State Department’s Ambassador-at-Large for counter-terrorism. A position he remained in until November of 2004.

As the Coordinator for Counter Terrorism [at the State Department], Ambassador Black’s office, S/CT, had primary responsibility for developing, coordinating and implementing U.S. counter-terrorism policy. On behalf of the Secretary of State, Ambassador Black represented the Department on the Counter-terrorism Security Group. His office played a leading role on the Department of State’s counter-terrorism task forces organized to coordinate responses to international terrorist incidents. [His] responsibilities included coordinating U.S. Government efforts to improve counter-terrorism cooperation with foreign governments, including the policy and planning of the Department’s Antiterrorism Training Assistance Program.

In 2005 he left Government Service to become Vice-Chair of the controversial Blackwater USA, now known as Academi. Blackwater, or Academi, is a private military company that provides services to the U.S. Government and the CIA under contract. As reported by The New York Times in 2007, while Black was still Vice Chair, four employees of the company were convicted for the murder of 14 Iraqi civilians and injuring 20 others in Baghdad.

In an interview with  Men’s Journal, Black is described as fiercely loyal to the CIA and proud of his service. He is asked many questions about his career, in particular his role in 9/11, but he did not want to offer much on his time with Blackwater:

Why did you go into the private sector to join Blackwater in 2005?
I needed to take a break from the government, for various reasons. I’d had pretty intense jobs for a long period of time. The responsibility was growing heavy on me. The reason I came to Blackwater was its mission to support the United States government, primarily in the training area but also in the security area. I’m proud of the fact that Blackwater provided air resupply to my son, who was serving in the Afghan mountains. That’s all I want to say about Blackwater.

What about accusations that Blackwater is a group of mercenaries?
It’s a free country, so everyone can have their own opinion, but, frankly, I am appalled. We work in support of the U.S. government; we bid for contracts and our bids win. I don’t think working for the U.S. government is mercenary.

What can you say about the killing of four Blackwater security personnel in Fallujah in March 2004?
I can’t talk about it because of ongoing legal action regarding that.

What about the September 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians by Blackwater personnel that resulted in the Iraqi government temporarily revoking the company’s license to operate?
I’m not at liberty to discuss it.

So what is your response to those outraged over Blackwater’s immunity from prosecution for war crimes when uniformed service personnel don’t have the same protection?
That’s not accurate. We are subject to a lot of rules and regulations. There’s a whole list of them. [Black leaves his office and returns moments later with a sheet of paper from the State Department listing 21 regulations for Blackwater, including the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act of 1996.] Anyone who says we are not accountable is wrong.

As to accusations of Blackwater USA being or seeking to become a mercenary group, an article from March 2006 appearing in the Virginia Pilot discusses how Black made comments at an International Conference in Amman, Jordan, that Blackwater stood ready to take on a military role in active combat areas of the world.

Until now, the eight-year-old company has confined itself to training military and police personnel and providing security guards for government and private clients. Under Black’s proposal, it would take on an overt combat role.

‘We’re low-cost and fast,’ Black was quoted as saying. ‘The issue is, who’s going to let us play on their team?’

‘Unlike national and multinational armies, which tend to get bogged down by political and logistical limitations,’ Black said, ‘Blackwater could have a small, nimble, brigade-size force ready to move into a troubled region on short notice.’ Black’s remarks were reported by Defense News, a military publisher that sponsored the conference where he spoke, the Special Operations Forces Exhibition.

Chris Taylor, a vice president at Blackwater’s Moyock headquarters, confirmed the account.’  A year ago or so, we realized that we could have a significant positive impact with a small, professional force in stability operations and peacekeeping operations,’ Taylor said.

When critics pounced on the assertions that Blackwater USA had gone too far, Black backtracked and stated that they would only ever undertake such operations at the request of the U.S. Government. When asked about it in the Men’s Journal interview, he gave the following response:

But didn’t you say in 2006 that you foresaw small, private security forces carrying out limited military actions in various parts of the world?
No, but thanks for asking this. This revolves around a speech I made at a military conference in Amman, Jordan, where Blackwater was a sponsor. What I stated was that with the reviewed approval of the U.S. government, the U.N., and the African Union, Blackwater has the interest and capability to project highly qualified personnel into Darfur to administer to their health and welfare, and to protect itself in doing that. This was translated in some circles as ‘Army for hire!’

After leaving Blackwater in 2008, he attempted to create his own intelligence firm named “Total Intelligence Solutions” that he claims is separate and distinct from Blackwater. The company was formed to provide intelligence and analytic solutions for Fortune 500 companies “Because the better job we can do supporting the titans of industry, the less the U.S. government has to do to support them.”

Total Intelligence Solutions is now known as OODA, and Black, along with his co-founder Robert Richer, remains a part of their Advisory network. You can learn more about the company and those affiliated with it here.

In 2009 Black became Vice President for Global Operations of another intelligence connected company now known as Raytheon Blackbird, which engages in Electronic warfare technology, U.S. Military missile defense radar technology, and the aerospace industry. Black is responsible for advising the U.S. Government on security and equipment for the company. In 2016, he joined the board of Northwest Biotherapeutics (NWBIO) where he is responsible for protecting the company’s technology and operations. NWBIO developed a product called “DCVax” personalized immune therapies for cancer patients.

In addition to holding high-level positions with several companies, Black also ventured a bit into politics in the 2012 Presidential race by accepting a role as a “Special Adviser” for Mitt Romney’s National Security Advisory Team in October 2011. Although nothing came of Romney’s campaign, it is interesting to note the position Romney, now a U.S. Senator, has taken about the Ukraine and Burisma in the current political circus. Romney tweeted the following comment on September 22, 2019:

In February 2017, shortly after Burisma Holdings announced its partnership with the Atlantic Council, Black joined the board. Black was to provide assistance with energy and security challenges for the fastest-growing natural gas company in the Ukraine. He served on the board alongside Hunter Biden from early 2017 until Biden’s resignation in April 2019. Black remains on the Board of the company to this day.

The question is, why does a man such as Black, with a long career in the U.S. Government, involve himself with a company that has such a checkered history with corruption in the Ukraine? For that matter, why does a Ukraine Gas Company favor bringing on its board members with such deep ties to the highest levels of the U.S. Government such as Hunter Biden, Devon Archer, and now Joseph Cofer Black? Maybe that is what the Trump Administration is trying to find out.

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