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Ashcroft to advise security firm formerly called Blackwater

This article first appeared in the St. Louis Beacon, May 4, 2011 - WASHINGTON - Former U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft was named Tuesday as an "independent director" of Xe Services LLC, the controversial military training and security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide.

The Ashcroft announcement was made by USTC Holdings LLC, a consortium of investors that bought Xe (pronounced "Zee") in December from Blackwater founder Erik Price, a former Navy Seal who had changed the firm's name to Xe two years ago in the face of bad publicity and U.S. government investigations.

The USTC Holdings investors had promised to tighten the oversight of Xe and re-emphasize its training mission in the wake of a series of scandals involving Blackwater employees, including a 2007 shooting in Baghdad during which 17 civilians were killed.

As an "independent director" of Xe Services, Ashcroft, a former Missouri governor and U.S senator, will lead an advisory subcommittee that will focus on the company's efforts to maximize governance, compliance and accountability. A spokesman for USTC Holdings told the Beacon Tuesday that Ashcroft "will not sit on the formal board but will be active as an advisory director," leading the governance subcommittee.

"I'm delighted to be involved in USTC's next phase of ownership and growth, particularly in helping to oversee its commitment to professionalism, compliance and accountability within the security industry," Ashcroft said in a statement.

The former attorney general, who left office at the end of 2004, added that Xe had "a company with a strong history of service to its country, and a reputation of best-in-class offerings to its public and private customers. I look forward to helping USTC enhance its governance and oversight capabilities as the company moves forward."

Ashcroft is chairman of The Ashcroft Group, LLC. A spokesman for the group said Tuesday that Ashcroft's title and responsibilities there would not change in the wake of the new directorship.

In December, Ashcroft told the Beacon that the Ashcroft Group, founded in 2005, "is a law firm and consulting firm that assists institutions and individuals in complying with federal regulations." He added: "We generally go into a company and say, 'This is what you need to do to get your act in order to avoid problems.' "

According to its website, the Ashcroft Group "specializes in strategic consulting for corporations worldwide in the areas of national security, corporate governance, litigation strategy, crisis management, regulatory advice and entrepreneurial ventures." It is affiliated with the Kansas City-based Ashcroft Law Firm -- with branch offices in St. Louis, Boston, Austin and Dallas -- which "is equipped to offer seamless legal services alongside our team's consulting division."

The key component of Xe Services is the U.S. Training Center, based in Moyock, N.C., which boasts on its website that it "is famous for our ability to deliver hard-hitting, effective training experiences for military, security and law enforcement professionals as well as civilians. We provide advanced training courses for a wide range of missions, terrain and tactical situations." More than 50,000 U.S. government personnel and many private contractors and allied government forces have trained at the facility.

In a statement Tuesday, the chairman of Xe Services, billionaire businessman Billy Jo "Red" McCombs, said, "We are ecstatic and honored to have Attorney General Ashcroft join the USTC team. His relevant experience, unparalleled reputation for integrity and personal commitment to ethics, transparency, and excellence make him a valuable addition to the company."

Jason DeYonker, the managing partner of Forte Capital Advisors and the leader of the USTC Holdings private equity consortium that acquired Xe in December, said: "Attorney General Ashcroft's accomplished career will certainly provide a strong reference for the company as we continue to strengthen its governance and accountability."

Aside from Ashcroft, another independent director of Xe is Adm. Bobby R. Inman, a former director of the National Security Agency and deputy director of Central Intelligence Agency.

Rob Koenig is an award-winning journalist and author. He worked at the STL Beacon until 2013.