Erik Prince is the founder and former chief executive officer of Blackwater Worldwide -- later called Xe, then Academi -- a private military firm best known as a contractor for the United States government in Iraq under President George W. Bush
. Raised in Michigan and a former Navy SEAL (Sea, Air and Land) officer, Prince started Blackwater in 1997, using money he'd inherited from his father's billion-dollar auto parts business. Prince comes from a family active in Michigan politics. His connections to the Republican Party and Christian political groups helped Blackwater secure government contracts in 2003, after the U.S. ousted Iraq's Saddam Hussein
from power. Hired to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq, Blackwater operated without much publicity until September of 2007, when Iraqi officials charged Blackwater personnel with killing 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians in Baghdad's Nisoor Square (16 September 2007). The incident sparked an FBI investigation and caused strained relations between the U.S. and Iraq, and publicity-shy Prince became a familiar face through appearances on TV and testimony before a U.S. congressional panel. By the end of 2008 the company had lost the U.S. State Department contract in Iraq, but continued to operate in Afghanistan for the U.S. and internationally for other clients. By the beginning of 2009 the name was changed from Blackwater to Xe in response to the firm's many legal troubles and tainted public image. Prince resigned as CEO in March of 2009, removing himself from operations while maintaining his position as chairman; by the end of 2009 he'd distanced himself even more from the company and gone public with complaints that the C.I.A. and Washington Democrats had betrayed him by revealing his role as a C.I.A. operative since 2004. Erik Prince formed the company Reflex Responses and moved to the United Arab Emirates in 2010. Xe was sold in 2010, and at the end of 2011 became Academi.