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 it will no longer operate under the name that came to be known worldwide as a caustic moniker for private security, dropping the sullied brand for a disarming and simple identity: Xe, 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-based 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 died 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 State Department said it would not rehire Blackwater to protect its diplomats in Iraq after its contract with the company expires 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 name change reflects the company’s 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 hotspots as West Africa and Afghanistan.