Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

Posts Tagged ‘Blackwater

What Blackwater is up to

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Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute and author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, has an article on Blackwater that’s well worth reading (and is accompanied by links to other articles on Blackwater). Scahill’s article begins:

This past September, the secretive mercenary company Blackwater USA found its name splashed across front pages throughout the world after the company’s shooters gunned down seventeen Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square. But by early 2008, Blackwater had largely receded from the headlines save for the occasional blip on the media radar sparked by Congressman Henry Waxman’s ongoing investigations into its activities. Its forces remained deployed in Iraq and Afghanistan, and business continued to pour in. In the two weeks directly following Nisour Square, Blackwater signed more than $144 million in contracts with the State Department for “protective services” in Iraq and Afghanistan alone and, over the following weeks and months, won millions more in contracts with other federal entities like the Coast Guard, the Navy and the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

Blackwater’s Iraq contract was extended in April, but the company is by no means betting the house on its long-term presence there. While the firm is quietly maintaining its Iraq work, it is aggressively pursuing other business opportunities.

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Written by Leisureguy

7 June 2008 at 1:22 pm

Blackwater

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ThinkProgress:

Shortly after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians on Sept. 16, the firm “repaired and repainted its trucks immediately,” essentially “destroy[ing] evidence that Justice Department investigators hoped to examine.” Blackwater responded that any repairs “would have been done at the government’s direction.” The State Department refused to comment.

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12 January 2008 at 3:25 pm

If you want incompetence, you have to reward it

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And the Bush Administration does:

Spencer Ackerman reports that the State Department has quietly given bonuses for “outstanding performance” to two officials who had “direct oversight” over Blackwater:

On November 20, an internal cable, listed as State 158575, went out to State employees announcing the recipients of bonuses ranging from $10,000 to $15,000 for “outstanding performance.” Among them: Kevin Barry and Justine Sincavage. You can read the cable here. Barry’s name is listed on page 2, and Sincavage’s is on page 5. Both Barry and Sincavage already earn approximately $150,000 annually. Their bonuses are scheduled to take effect on December 20, in time for the holidays.

In October, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice also promoted Barry and Sincavage.

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4 December 2007 at 3:09 pm

How Condi’s State Dept investigates

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Condi Rice has been in charge of the State Department for 3 years. It’s hers. The policies are hers. She’s responsible. But she’s not accountable, obviously. She’ll keep her distance on this, and she’ll get away with it. And here’s how her State Department works:

 Last Feb. 7, a sniper employed by Blackwater USA, the private security company, opened fire from the roof of the Iraqi Justice Ministry. The bullet tore through the head of a 23-year-old guard for the state-funded Iraqi Media Network, who was standing on a balcony across an open traffic circle. Another guard rushed to his colleague’s side and was fatally shot in the neck. A third guard was found dead more than an hour later on the same balcony.

Eight people who responded to the shootings — including media network and Justice Ministry guards and an Iraqi army commander — and five network officials in the compound said none of the slain guards had fired on the Justice Ministry, where a U.S. diplomat was in a meeting. An Iraqi police report described the shootings as “an act of terrorism” and said Blackwater “caused the incident.” The media network concluded that the guards were killed “without any provocation.”

The U.S. government reached a different conclusion. Based on information from the Blackwater guards, who said they were fired upon, the State Department determined that the security team’s actions “fell within approved rules governing the use of force,” according to an official from the department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security. Neither U.S. Embassy officials nor Blackwater representatives interviewed witnesses or returned to the network, less than a quarter-mile from Baghdad’s Green Zone, to investigate.

The incident shows how American officials responsible for overseeing the security company conducted only a cursory investigation when Blackwater guards opened fire. The shooting occurred more than seven months before the Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater guards killed 17 civilians at another Baghdad traffic circle.

The Feb. 7 shootings convulsed the Iraqi Media Network, one of the prominent symbols of the new Iraq, in anger and recrimination.

U.S. officials and the security company, now known as Blackwater Worldwide, offered no compensation or apology to the victims’ families, according to relatives of the guards and officials of the network, whose programming reaches 22 million Iraqis.

“It’s really surprising that Blackwater is still out there killing people,” Mohammed Jasim, the Iraqi Media Network’s deputy director, said in an interview. “This company came to Iraq and was supposed to provide security. They didn’t learn from their mistakes. They continued and continued. They continued killing.”

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Written by Leisureguy

8 November 2007 at 10:54 am

State Dept cover-up

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This looks very bad indeed: the State Department as accessory to a crime. Exhibits at the link.

Even as Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice defended her department’s oversight of private security contractors, new evidence surfaced Thursday that the U.S. sought to conceal details of Blackwater shootings of Iraqi civilians more than two years ago.

In one instance, internal e-mails show that State Department officials tried to deflect a 2005 Los Angeles Times inquiry into an alleged killing of an Iraqi civilian by Blackwater guards.

“Give [the Los Angeles Times] what we can and then dump the rest on Blackwater,” one State Department official wrote to another in the e-mails, which were obtained by ABC News. “We can’t win this one.”

One department official taking part in a chain of e-mails noted that the “findings of the investigation are to remain off-limits to the reporter.” Another recommended that there be no mention of the existence of a criminal investigation since such a reference would “raise questions and issues.”

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Written by Leisureguy

26 October 2007 at 9:35 am

Blackwater story from one who was there

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It’s a depressing story:

I know something about Blackwater USA. This opinion is both intellectually driven as well as moderately emotional. You see, during my own yearlong tour in Iraq, the bad boys of Blackwater twice came closer to killing me than did any of the insurgents or Al Qaeda types. That sort of thing sticks with you. One story will suffice to make my point.

The first time it happened was in the spring of 2005. For various reasons, none of which bear repeating, I was moving through downtown Baghdad in an unmarked civilian sedan. I was with two other men, but they had the native look, while I was in my uniform, hunched in the back seat and partially covered by a blanket, hoping that the curtains on the window were enough to conceal my incongruous presence, not to mention my weapons. It was not the normal manner in which an Army infantry major moved around the city, but it was what the situation called for, so there I was. We were in normal Baghdad traffic, with the flow such as it was, in the hubbub of confusion that is generated when you suddenly introduce more than 1 million extra vehicles in the course of two years into a city that previously had only a few hundred thousand vehicles, and no real licensing authority.

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Written by Leisureguy

23 October 2007 at 12:56 pm

Yet more on the Blackwater shootings

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From the NY Times:

Fresh accounts of the Blackwater shooting last month, given by three rooftop witnesses and by American soldiers who arrived shortly after the gunfire ended, cast new doubt Friday on statements by Blackwater guards that they were responding to armed insurgents when Iraqi investigators say 17 Iraqis were killed at a Baghdad intersection.

The three witnesses, Kurds on a rooftop overlooking the scene, said they had observed no gunfire that could have provoked the shooting by Blackwater guards. American soldiers who arrived minutes later found shell casings from guns used normally by American contractors, as well as by the American military.

The Kurdish witnesses are important because they had the advantage of an unobstructed view and because, collectively, they observed the shooting at Nisour Square from start to finish, free from the terror and confusion that might have clouded accounts of witnesses at street level. Moreover, because they are pro-American, their accounts have a credibility not always extended to Iraqi Arabs, who have been more hostile to the American presence.

Their statements, made in interviews with The New York Times, appeared to challenge a State Department account that a Blackwater vehicle had been disabled in the shooting and had to be towed away. Since those initial accounts, Blackwater and the State Department have consistently refused to comment on the substance of the case.

The Kurdish witnesses said that they saw no one firing at the guards at any time during the event, an observation corroborated by the forensic evidence of the shell casings. Two of the witnesses also said all the Blackwater vehicles involved in the shooting drove away under their own power.

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2007 at 8:06 pm

Blackwater, revisited

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From the Washington Post today:

Blackwater USA guards shot at Iraqi civilians as they tried to drive away from a Baghdad square on Sept. 16, according to a report compiled by the first U.S. soldiers to arrive at the scene, where they found no evidence that Iraqis had fired weapons.

“It appeared to me they were fleeing the scene when they were engaged. It had every indication of an excessive shooting,” said Lt. Col. Mike Tarsa, whose soldiers reached Nisoor Square 20 to 25 minutes after the gunfire subsided.

His soldiers’ report — based upon their observations at the scene, eyewitness interviews and discussions with Iraqi police — concluded that there was “no enemy activity involved” and described the shootings as a “criminal event.” Their conclusions mirrored those reached by the Iraqi government, which has said the Blackwater guards killed 17 people.

The soldiers’ accounts contradict Blackwater’s assertion that its guards were defending themselves after being fired upon by Iraqi police and gunmen.

Tarsa said they found no evidence to indicate that the Blackwater guards were provoked or entered into a confrontation. “I did not see anything that indicated they were fired upon,” said Tarsa, 42, commander of the 3rd Battalion, 82nd Field Artillery Regiment of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division. He also said it appeared that several drivers had made U-turns and were moving away from Nisoor Square when their vehicles were hit by gunfire from Blackwater guards.

In Washington on Thursday, an injured Iraqi man and the families of three Iraqi civilians who were killed in the Sept. 16 shootings sued the company in federal court, calling the incident a “massacre” and “senseless slaughter” that was the result of corporate policies in the war zone.

More at the link—and then this, from Newsweek:

The colonel was furious. “Can you believe it? They actually drew their weapons on U.S. soldiers.” He was describing a 2006 car accident, in which an SUV full of Blackwater operatives had crashed into a U.S. Army Humvee on a street in Baghdad’s Green Zone. The colonel, who was involved in a follow-up investigation and spoke on the condition he not be named, said the Blackwater guards disarmed the U.S. Army soldiers and made them lie on the ground at gunpoint until they could disentangle the SUV. His account was confirmed by the head of another private security company.

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Written by Leisureguy

12 October 2007 at 6:08 pm

Who started the mercenary push?

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Oddly enough, it turns out that one man can be identified as the prime mover into the US hiring mercenaries and setting them loose in a war zone: Mike McConnell. Frank Viviano of CBS reports:

Where does the buck stop? It’s a question that Washington has ignored through a long succession of scandals in Iraq, while senior officials plead ignorance and the buck – responsibility – skids to a halt at grunt level.

It is the question we ought be asking today about the widespread and controversial use of mercenaries, known formally as “private contractors,” in war zones. And it should be directed squarely at Admiral J. “Mike” McConnell, the Bush Administration’s Director of National Intelligence.

Admiral McConnell is not simply the boss of sixteen separate U.S. intelligence and security agencies. In the netherworld where private security firms and public institutions do business, he was a principal architect of the system that led to the Blackwater USA disaster, with its revelations of trigger-happy hired gunmen shooting innocent civilians in the name of the State Department.

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Written by Leisureguy

5 October 2007 at 7:45 am

More Blackwater

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From ThinkProgress (and more at the link, including video clip):

In a memo released today, House Oversight And Government Reform Chairman Henry Waxman (D-CA) reveals that of the 195 “escalation of force” incidents Blackwater has been involved in since 2005, Blackwater forces fired first in over 160 of them:

According to the Blackwater incident reports received by the Committee, Blackwater personnel have participated in 195 incidents in Iraq from January 1,2005, through September 12, 2007 , that involved firearms discharges by Blackwater personnel. This is an average of 1.4 incidents per week. In 32 of those incidents, Blackwater personnel were returning fire after an attack, while on 163 occasions (84% of the shooting incidents), Blackwater personnel were the first to fire.

Despite the controversy around Blackwater, the Pentagon recently awarded the firm a new contract worth $92 million. Tomorrow, Blackwater CEO Erik Prince will testify before Waxman’s committee tomorrow.

Read more highlights from Waxman’s memo here and here.

UPDATE: The Oversight Committee’s staff also found evidence that the State Department “helped create an environment where Blackwater guards could use deadly force with minimum reprisal.”

Written by Leisureguy

1 October 2007 at 3:49 pm

Can Blackwater look any worse? Can the State Department?

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Condi Rice is running a criminal enterprise, it seems:

Guards working in Iraq for Blackwater USA have shot innocent Iraqi civilians and have sought to cover up the incidents, sometimes with the help of the State Department, a report to a Congressional committee said today.

The report, based largely on internal Blackwater e-mail messages and State Department documents, depicts the security contractor as being staffed with reckless, shoot-first guards who were not always sober and did not always stop to see who or what was hit by their bullets.

In one incident, the State Department and Blackwater agreed to pay $15,000 to the family of a man killed by “a drunken Blackwater contractor,” the report said. As a State Department official wrote, “We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission.”

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1 October 2007 at 1:59 pm

Blackwater’s immunity really works

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ThinkProgress:

Earlier this month, Blackwater USA was involved in the fatal shooting of 11 Iraqi civilians. While the Iraqi government swiftly condemned the contractor, the Bush administration has continued to back Blackwater’s story that it was “defensive fire.”

Last Thursday, Gen. Peter Pace told reporters, “Blackwater has been a contractor in the past with the department and could certainly be in the future.” The next day, that future was already here. The Pentagon had issued a new list of contracts, including one worth $92 million to Presidential Airways, the “aviation unit of parent company Blackwater.” From the release:

Presidential Airways, Inc., an aviation Worldwide Services company (d/b/a Blackwater Aviation), Moyock, N.C., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract for $92,000,000.00. The contractor is to provide all fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform passenger, cargo and combi Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services between locations in the Area of Responsibility of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. This contract was competitively procured and two timely offers were received. The performance period is from 1 Oct. 2007 to 30 September 2011.

Government officials have repeatedly ignored Blackwater’s transgressions. Senior Iraqi officials “repeatedly complained to U.S. officials” about Blackwater’s “alleged involvement in the deaths of numerous Iraqis, but the Americans took little action to regulate the private security firm.”

Next week. Rep. David Price (D-NC) plans to introduce legislationto extend the reach of U.S. civil courts to include security contractors in Iraq.”

Written by Leisureguy

30 September 2007 at 4:03 pm

More on the US use of mercenaries

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From the Boston Globe, titled “The Shadow Army“:

If there is a quagmire in Iraq, it was created more than a decade ago when the United States instituted a flawed system governing the use of contractors to perform governmental functions. Now, despite Iraqi fury at Blackwater USA, some of whose employees are accused of fatally shooting Iraqis, Washington is so reliant on the firm that it dare not order it from the field.

The heavy dependence on private contractors in the military is relatively recent. In the Gulf War only 9,200 contractors supported 540,000 military personnel. The estimated 180,000 US-funded contractors now in Iraq (of which about 21,000 are Americans) outnumber the 160,000 US troops.

All too often this private army has been unmanageable and unaccountable, its interests dangerously divergent from those of the US and the Iraqi governments. The troubles exposed by the Blackwater debacle provide a glimpse into a much larger, systemic problem that pervades military, intelligence, and homeland security efforts alike.

The Bush administration came into office bent on privatizing as many government functions as possible and threw billions into the mix in its Iraq venture. It was changes in the contracting system, instituted during the Clinton administration, though, that transformed the contracting rules and undercut oversight, transparency, and competition.

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30 September 2007 at 1:28 pm

Blackwater an international terrorist organization?

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They certainly seem to fit the description.

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29 September 2007 at 7:00 pm

Posted in Iraq War

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Blackwater continued firing…

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NY Times:

Participants in a contentious Baghdad security operation this month have told American investigators that during the operation at least one guard continued firing on civilians while colleagues urgently called for a cease-fire. At least one guard apparently also drew a weapon on a fellow guard who did not stop shooting, an American official said.

The operation, by the private firm Blackwater USA, began as a mission to evacuate senior American officials after an explosion near where they were meeting, several officials said. Some officials have questioned the wisdom of evacuating the Americans from a secure compound, saying the area should instead have been locked down.

These new details of the episode on Sept. 16, in which at least eight Iraqis were killed, including a woman and an infant, were provided by an American official who was briefed on the American investigation by someone who helped conduct it, and by Americans who had spoken directly with two guards involved in the episode. Their accounts were broadly consistent.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater, Anne E. Tyrrell, said she could not confirm any of the details provided by the Americans.

The accounts provided the first glimpse into the official American investigation of the shooting, which has angered Iraqi officials and prompted calls by the Iraqi government to ban Blackwater from working in Iraq, and brought new scrutiny of the widespread use of private security contractors here.

The American official said that by Wednesday morning, American investigators still had not responded to multiple requests for information by Iraqi officials investigating the episode. The official also said that Blackwater had been conducting its own investigation but had been ordered by the United States to stop that work. Ms. Tyrrell confirmed that the company had done an investigation of its own, but said, “No government entity has discouraged us from doing so.”

An Iraqi investigation had concluded that the guards shot without provocation. But the official said that the guards told American investigators that they believed that they fired in response to enemy gunfire.

More at the link.

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27 September 2007 at 8:59 pm

Paul Krugman on Blackwater

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Interesting point, re: Machiavelli’s assessment:

Sometimes it seems that the only way to make sense of the Bush administration is to imagine that it’s a vast experiment concocted by mad political scientists who want to see what happens if a nation systematically ignores everything we’ve learned over the past few centuries about how to make a modern government work.

Thus, the administration has abandoned the principle of a professional, nonpolitical civil service, stuffing agencies from FEMA to the Justice Department with unqualified cronies. Tax farming — giving individuals the right to collect taxes, in return for a share of the take — went out with the French Revolution; now the tax farmers are back.

And so are mercenaries, whom Machiavelli described as “useless and dangerous” more than four centuries ago.

As far as I can tell, America has never fought a war in which mercenaries made up a large part of the armed force. But in Iraq, they are so central to the effort that, as Peter W. Singer of the Brookings Institution points out in a new report, “the private military industry has suffered more losses in Iraq than the rest of the coalition of allied nations combined.”

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27 September 2007 at 8:57 pm

Blackwater…

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McClatchy Washington Bureau:

The firm’s contractors have killed or wounded at least 43 people in eight days in Baghdad. Its snipers also killed three guards at an Iraqi TV station earlier this year. The most recent spate of killings comes as a U.S. congressional report slams Blackwater for sending guards to Fallujah unprepared, resulting in the March 2004 massacre of four contractors. » read more

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27 September 2007 at 5:56 pm

The Blackwater mess

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The more things come out, the worse it looks. That’s probably why the State Department is forbidding Blackwater to testify before Congress and why the State Department won’t testify. Apparently, the State Department doesn’t believe that Congress have oversight responsibilities.

This story sums up the situation as of now. A few points from the story, quoting directly:

… In high-level meetings over the past several days, U.S. military officials have pressed State Department officials to assert more control over Blackwater, which operates under the department’s authority, said a U.S. government official with knowledge of the discussions. “The military is very sensitive to its relationship that they’ve built with the Iraqis being altered or even severely degraded by actions such as this event,” the official said.

“This is a nightmare,” said a senior U.S. military official. “We had guys who saw the aftermath, and it was very bad. This is going to hurt us badly. It may be worse than Abu Ghraib, and it comes at a time when we’re trying to have an impact for the long term.” The official was referring to the prison scandal that emerged in 2004 in which U.S. soldiers tortured and abused Iraqis.

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Written by Leisureguy

26 September 2007 at 8:23 am

Blackwater looking worse

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ThinkProgress:

Federal investigations are now investigating whether Blackwater USA employees smuggled weapons into Iraq. The employees allegedly “sent over unlicensed weapons and equipment, that could have been used by a group labelled as terrorist by the US.” Iraqi officials are also probing “allegations about the security firm’s involvement in six other violent episodes this year that left at least 10 Iraqis dead.”

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22 September 2007 at 12:00 pm

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