The Amira Chronicles (Dealing with Creditors)

By Keith Kloor | October 9, 2013 2:36 pm

Oh great, the Daily Mail has cannibalized my Washington Post magazine story about Michele Ballarin, the Virginia woman who fancies herself the savior of Somalia.

As I’ve hinted in earlier posts, there is much more to her than I could fit into my story (Even Mark Mazzetti’s excellent work only scratches at the surface).

For example, let’s return to the time in the early 2000s when Ballarin got into selling body armor. The venture proved unsuccessful, but her company Select Armor put her on the map as a military contractor in the Beltway. Select Armor in the mid-2000s reconstituted itself to be a wannabe Blackwater-like company, specializing in military protection and training services. Ballarin recruited professionals from the military and intelligence community to give the company a sheen of credibility.

Those who seeded Select Armor and (other similar businesses of hers) with their own money and services never recouped their investments. Public records reveal that Ballerin came under financial duress in the 2000s, as numerous vendors and creditors filed claims and lawsuits against her.

How Ballarin dealt with one credit card company pursuing her for lapsed payments is notable. In 2003, she appealed to the company chairman and CEO with a personal letter (using stationary from her boutique investment company, Cambridge Management Services firm), explaining why she was in arrears:

I have been a [REDACTED] cardholder for several years. As a result of the terrorist attacks of September 11, I have been requested to serve my country in the fight against terrorism by tracking and reporting terrorist funds on global basis. As a direct result of my assignment through the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the United States, I have been living and working in the international space since the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers. My work has kept me in remote regions, war zones, the Middle East, Central Europe and the Far East.

Given the sensitive and demanding nature of this supposed work, she was appealing for special dispensation:

I am working to help ensure events like 9/11 do not happen again. I spend holidays, weekends, and my only child’s birthday in foreign countries staying the course in this important struggle for enduring freedom.

The letter is a fascinating window into a persona that Ballarin is fond of projecting. Over at MIT’s Tracker, Paul Raeburn takes note of my piece and wonders in a headline (which plays off of something I wrote in an earlier post):

Is wealthy businesswoman a mercenary, humanitarian, covert operative, or just delusional?

At this point in her life, I bet that Ballerin can’t untangle who she really is.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Somalia
  • Martin

    I haven’t followed the details on this, but there are perhaps a surprising number of people who don the guise of para-military work to cash in on the special dispensation society tends to give to people who put their lives on the line.

    In some cases people can make a living out of claiming all sorts of quite interesting and exciting contacts and activities that disappear into smoke and mirrors when examined. Over here the more military pretenders are called ‘Walts’ after ‘Walter MItty’ of the film, and the Army Rumour Service has a dedicated team (well, there was a fad amongst some of the forum members for a bit) who hunt them down and expose them, eg: http://www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/The_Baron_of_Castleshort

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About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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