SIGN IN to access Harper’s Magazine
Need to create a login? Want to change your email address or password? Forgot your password?
1. Sign in to Customer Care using your account number or postal address.
2. Select Email/Password Information.
3. Enter your new information and click on Save My Changes.
Subscribers can find additional help here. Not a subscriber? Subscribe today!
The disclosures about Blackwater USA (now Xe Services LLC) are coming at a steady drip now. The company first gained international notoriety following the massacre of seventeen Iraqi civilians in an incident at Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on September 16, 2007. The New Yorker’s Jane Mayer put the company right in the middle of a controversial program of drone warfare on the Afghanistani-Pakistani border. A recent New York Times story suggests that senior officers approved payments of $1 million to Iraqi officials to silence their criticism of the company, which would raise questions under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act even if the payments were never made, as shown in the recent sentencing of businessman Frederic Bourke. As the judge in that case noted, the Justice Department secured a conviction even though there was no substantial evidence of any bribe ever having been paid. Blackwater may of course be subject to a more lenient Justice Department view.
Meanwhile, in Pakistan, newspapers have been filled with charges to the effect that the government knows of and is turning a blind eye to Blackwater’s operations on their soil. The Pakistani government has vehemently denied these charges, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently insisted that he will resign if Blackwater is proven to be operating in the country. The minister may be in for an unpleasant surprise. The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill offers up substantial detail about Blackwater’s Pakistani operations, which were evidently undertaken at the behest of the U.S. Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC). Scahill’s reporting confirms and substantially deepens reporting about a targeted killings program operated by JSOC under close supervision by former Vice President Cheney, in which Blackwater played a vital role.
At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help run a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus…
A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan.
Scahill goes on to provide a physical description of the Blackwater facility in Karachi. He names and describes Blackwater’s key Pakistani contract counterpart. He also quotes Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, Colin Powell’s chief-of-staff at the State Department, on the curious relationship that developed between Dick Cheney and the JSOC operation. “Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” As a legal matter, the Vice President is not in the chain of command and has no business issuing orders to the military in his own name. But as Bart Gellman demonstrates in his book, Angler, Cheney repeatedly assumed and asserted military command authority, and his usurpation went unchallenged by the Rumsfeld Defense Department.
It seems unlikely to me that we’re anywhere near the end of unwinding the Blackwater relationship with the Bush Administration. Scahill’s latest article points to a complex, far-flung relationship with JSOC, and earlier reporting gives the company a similarly dominant contracting position with the CIA and State Department. In each of these cases, the roles of client and service-provider seem reversed. The rules that normally apply to contractors never seem to apply to Blackwater, a company that provided a revolving door for senior figures in the intelligence community looking for employment in the private world.
How did the Rumsfeld Pentagon justify putting these matters in the hands of a private contractor? Is it because the contractor provides deniability if the matter were to be disclosed? Or is it to avoid congressional oversight? Is it distrust of the CIA? Did JSOC really lack the resources and personnel to manage these projects on its own? Or was it a simple matter of “capture,” the term that social scientists use to describe the way that commercial contractors come first to influence and then to manage the contracting process? If it is the latter, then Blackwater may be the most impressive example of “capture” we have ever seen.
More from Scott Horton:
Conversation — August 5, 2016, 12:08 pm
Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the Republican Party, the fallout from Clinton’s emails, and his new biography of Abraham Lincoln
Conversation — March 30, 2016, 3:44 pm
Joseph Hickman discusses his new book, The Burn Pits, which tells the story of thousands of U.S. soldiers who, after returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, have developed rare cancers and respiratory diseases.
Flor Arely Sánchez had been in bed with a fever and pains throughout her body for three days when a July thunderstorm broke over the mountainside. She got nervous when bolts of light flashed in the sky. Lightning strikes the San Julián region of western El Salvador several times a year, and her neighbors fear storms more than they fear the march of diseases — first dengue, then chikungunya, now Zika. Flor worried about a lot of things, since she was pregnant.
Late in the afternoon, when the pains had somewhat eased, Flor thought she might go to a dammed-up bit of the river near her house to bathe. She is thirty-five and has lived in the same place all her life, where wrinkled hills are planted with corn, beans, and fruit trees. She took a towel and soap and walked out into the rain. Halfway to the river, the pains returned and overcame her. The next thing Flor remembers, she was in a room she didn’t recognize, unable to move. As she soon discovered, she was in a hospital, her ankle cuffed to the bed, and she was being investigated for abortion.
Amount of laundry an average American family of four washes in a year (in tons):
A study of female Finnish twins found that relative preference for masculine faces is largely heritable.
It was reported that visits from Buddhist priests could be purchased through Amazon in Japan, and the London Philharmonic Orchestra began streaming performances through virtual-reality headsets.
Subscribe to the Weekly Review newsletter. Don’t worry, we won’t sell your email address!
“Matt was happy enough to sustain himself on the detritus of a world he saw as careening toward self-destruction, and equally happy to scam a government he despised. 'I’m glad everyone’s so wasteful,' he told me. 'It supports my lifestyle.'”