Back when I was studying the relationship between private-security contractors and the Bush Administration for a book, it became clear very quickly that Blackwater (now called Xe) had a highly privileged position within the industry. I noted:
One career State Department observer put it to me this way. “In Blackwater’s dealings with the Department,” he said, “I often find myself wondering who is the service provider and who is beneficiary of the services.” His point was simple: Blackwater exercised an unseen influence over the process of contracting and supervision; often the Government seems to be working for them.
In the last several days, press reports show us how well this highly irregular relationship with the Bush Administration flourished.
- Blackwater was given training and management responsibility (and perhaps more) for a CIA program of “targeted killings,” a program so sensitive that it was—on orders from Vice President Cheney—not even briefed to congressional oversight.
- Blackwater was hired to manage transportation of high-value detainees within the CIA’s illegal secret prison system and Guantánamo.
- Blackwater was used as a contractor in connection with the operation of a CIA-run predator drone program, which targeted Taliban and Al Qaeda figures with 500-pound laser-guided bombs. The New York Times reports that the Blackwater charge involved collecting “information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leaders, carry[ing] out surveillance and train[ing] for possible missions.”
Repeatedly we learn that Blackwater did not have “formal contracts” with the government, relying instead on “personal relationships” between CEO Erik Prince and a series of senior Blackwater officials such as Cofer Black and Alvin Krongard—all prominent Republicans who came to Blackwater out of high-ranking positions in the intelligence and defense communities. While Alvin was moving business to Blackwater (before he moved himself), his brother Howard was the State Department’s inspector general whose “investigations” repeatedly gave Blackwater a pass following serious allegations of wrongdoing. These “deals” have more than a whiff of corruption about them—they look increasingly like an effort to privatize vital national-security operations for personal profit. The revolving-door relationship between Blackwater and the CIA also merits careful scrutiny.
Unfortunately, the aberrational dealings with Blackwater can’t be viewed as something purely historical. Under the Obama Administration, Blackwater has retained its massive portfolio of government contracts, of which the centerpiece is a global diplomatic-protection contract for the State Department. One might well ask why the State Department would use an entity that is now the target of war crimes investigations that have already produced eight indictments. One would think that this would provide a sufficient legal basis not only for the termination of those contracts but also for Blackwater’s debarment as a contractor. But the Obama Administration appears to be cruising on autopilot, neither taking the time to reconsider what its predecessor did nor taking corrective measures.
“These contracts with Blackwater need to stop,” Representative Jan Schakowsky, an Illinois Democrat and a member of the House Select Committee on Intelligence, told The Nation’s Jeremy Scahill. “There’s already enough evidence of gross misconduct and serious additional allegations against the company and its owner to negate any possibility that this company should have a presence in Iraq, Afghanistan or any conflict zone–or any contract with the US government.” Schakowsky has it just right. At this point there’s little question that Blackwater’s conduct has damaged the nation’s reputation and its security. That provides ample reason to stop funding the nation’s first private military force run with taxpayer dollars.