Blackwater: Shadow Army The Nation's Jeremy Scahill describes the rise of Blackwater USA, the world's most powerful mercenary army.
Jeremy Scahill Testifies on Defense Contracting, 5.10.2007
WASHINGTON — From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees. The division’s operations are carried out at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said. The role of the company in the Predator program highlights the degree to which the C.I.A. now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency’s most important assignments. And it illustrates the resilience of Blackwater, now known as Xe (pronounced Zee) Services, though most people in and outside the company still refer to it as Blackwater. It has grown through government work, even as it attracted criticism and allegations of brutality in Iraq. A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment for this article. Read More: C.I.A. Said to Use Outsiders to Put Bombs on Drones By JAMES RISEN and MARK MAZZETTI Published: August 20, 2009 and Mark Landler contributed reporting. A version of this article appeared in print on August 21, 2009, on page A1 of the New York edition. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/21/us/21intel.html?_r=3&partner=rss&emc=rss
Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press - Blackwater security contractors flew over Baghdad in 2007. For years, Blackwater played a significant role in the Iraq operation. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/us/20intel.html?ref=us
WASHINGTON — The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials. Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects. The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.’s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said. Read More: C.I.A. Sought Blackwater’s Help to Kill Jihadists By MARK MAZZETI Published on page A1 of the New York edition. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/08/20/us/20intel.html?ref=us August 19, 2009.
Founded in 1998 by former Navy Seals, Blackwater Worldwide says it has prepared tens of thousands of security personnel to work in hot spots around the world. But it was an incident in Baghdad in September 2007, in which Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqis, that brought the company to public notice, and made it a focal point for tensions over the role of the many private security firms supplementing the American war effort. In 2002, Blackwater won a classified contract to provide security for the Central Intelligence Agency station in Kabul, Afghanistan, and the company maintains other classified contracts with the C.I.A. Over the years, Blackwater has hired several former top agency officials, including Cofer Black, who ran the C.I.A. counterterrorism center immediately after the Sept. 11 attacks. C.I.A. operatives regularly use Blackwater's training complex in North Carolina.
In 2004, the C.I.A. hired contractors from Blackwater as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials. Blackwater executives helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance, and the C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects. In June 2009, alarmed by the agency's use of an outside company for the program, Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.'s director, called an emergency meeting to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, officials said. The C.I.A. did not give the Blackwater executives a "license to kill," though, officials said. Instead, it directed the contractors to collect information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda's leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater's work on the program ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in such a program.
The C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for the program; it had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. The extent of Blackwater's dealings with the C.I.A. has largely been hidden, but its public contract with the State Department to provide private security to American diplomats in Iraq has generated intense scrutiny and controversy. Iraqi officials had long complained about what they called indiscriminate gunfire by private security forces hired by Americans. American officials said they had no alternative for protecting diplomats, but in negotiations in 2008 over a status of forces agreement with the American military, Iraqi officials were adamant that private contractors no longer have immunity for their actions.
On Dec. 8, 2008, federal prosecutors charged five Blackwater guards involved in the Baghdad shootings with manslaughter. A sixth guard admitted in a plea deal to killing at least one Iraqi. In January 2009, the Iraqi government indicated it would not renew Blackwater's operating license amid concerns of inappropriate use of force. In February, Blackwater announced that it was abandoning the brand name that has been tarnished by its work in Iraq, choosing Xe (pronounced zee) as the new name for its family of two dozen businesses. Most people in and outside of the company still use Blackwater. The company has continued to grow through government work, even as it has attracted criticism and allegations of brutality. From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, it has assumed a role in Washington's most important counterterrorism program: the use of drones to kill Al Qaeda's leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.
The division's operations are carried out at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where Blackwater contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by C.I.A. employees. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said. Blackwater is not involved in selecting targets or actual strikes. The targets are selected by the C.I.A., and employees at its headquarters in Langley, Va., pull the trigger remotely. Only a handful of the agency's employees actually work at the Predator bases in Afghanistan and Pakistan, current and former employees said. Reference: Blackwater Worldwide http://topics.nytimes.com/top/news/business/companies/blackwater_usa/index.html
President Obama, Why Did You Pay Blackwater $70 Million in February? by By Jeremy Scahill dated March 19, 2009 http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/20911
Jeremy Scahill, an independent journalist who reports frequently for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!, has spent extensive time reporting from Iraq and Yugoslavia. He is currently a Puffin Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill is the author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army. http://blackwaterbook.com/
For those already outraged at the AIG bonus scandal, here is a fact that should add more fuel to the fire: The Obama administration has paid the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater nearly $70 million to operate in Iraq and, according to The Washington Times [EXCLUSIVE: New deal for Blackwater By Jim McElhatton (Contact) Tuesday, March 17, 2009 http://washingtontimes.com/news/2009/mar/17/new-deal-for-blackwater-bucks-decision-by-iraq/] , may keep the company on the payroll months past the official expiration of its Iraq contract in May. I reviewed Blackwater's recent transactions with the Obama State Department and discovered a $45 million payment to Blackwater on February 4, 2009 for "protective services-Iraq." It is described as a "funding action only." Here is the interesting part: The estimated "Ultimate Completion Date" is 5/07/2011.
The Washington Times (as described below) reported on a $22 million payment to Blackwater on February 2. Combined with the $45 million payment I discovered, that's nearly $67 million in 72 hours. Not bad for a company supposedly going down in flames.
With the U.S. economy in shambles and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and keep their homes, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton need to explain to U.S. taxpayers how they justify these mega-payments to a scandal-plagued mercenary company. (At the very least, someone should ask Robert Gibbs about it).
It has been widely reported that the Bush administration's preferred mercenary company, which recently renamed itself Xe [Blackwater Changes Its Name, Shall Now Be Called the Knights Who Say 'Xe' http://www.alternet.org/bloggers/scahill/126863/blackwater_changes_its_name,_shall_now_be_called_the_knights_who_say_'xe'/ Posted by Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet at 11:25 AM on February 13, 2009.], will soon be leaving Iraq. That news came early this year after the State Department, under immense public pressure, announced it would not renew the company's lucrative deal to act as the private paramilitary force for senior U.S. occupation officials. The Iraqi government has said it wants the company to leave Iraq and says it has revoked the company's operating license. The Obama administration continues to use Blackwater in Afghanistan and the company has extensive domestic training contracts with the military and law enforcement agencies inside the borders of the U.S.
Jeremy Scahill is the author of the international best-seller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army http://blackwaterbook.com/. He is a frequent contributor to The Nation magazine and a correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now! He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute. Scahill has won numerous awards for his reporting, including the prestigious George Polk Award, which he won twice. While a correspondent for Democracy Now!, Scahill reported extensively from Iraq through both the Clinton and Bush administrations.
Traveling around the hurricane zone in the wake of Katrina, Scahill exposed the presence of Blackwater forces in New Orleans and his reporting sparked a Congressional inquiry and an internal Department of Homeland Security investigation. He has appeared on ABC World News, CBS Evening News, NBC Nightly News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS’s The NewsHour, Bill Moyers Journal and is a frequent guest on other radio and TV programs nationwide. Scahill also served as an election correspondent for HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher. He lives in Brooklyn, New York. http://rebelreports.com/private/92098354/5Xyb7VOMWlsbywxs2KbF4ABW
MORE ON BLAKWATER BY JEREMY SCAHILL
CIA Hired Private Military Firm Blackwater for Secret Assassination Program By Jeremy Scahill August 21, 2009 http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22385
Blackwater Still Armed in Iraq August 19, 2009 By Jeremy Scahill http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/22353
Mercenary King Erik Prince Resigns as Blackwater CEO - In a desperate re-branding effort, the notorious firm formerly known as Blackwater bids goodbye to its founder. By Jeremy Scahill March 04, 2009 http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/20773
Blackwater Busted? Six Guards May Be Charged in Iraq Massacre By Jeremy Scahill November 16, 2008 http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/19643
Blackwater's Private CIA By Jeremy Scahill June 10, 2008 http://www.zmag.org/znet/viewArticle/17885