James Risen and Mark Mazzetti of the New York Times continue the disclosures about Blackwater Worldwide, now called Xe Services:
Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials. The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said. Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield.
Separately, former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on some C.I.A. flights transporting detainees in the years after the 2001 terror attacks in the United States. The secret missions illuminate a far deeper relationship between the spy agency and the private security company than government officials had acknowledged. Blackwater’s partnership with the C.I.A. has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater.
Evidently it was “all in the family,” but it’s not exactly clear who was “big brother” and who was “little brother” in this relationship. Today’s Times disclosures can be seen as an extension of the claims made by Erik Prince in his curious Vanity Fair interview that he was a proud but informal operative of the CIA, notwithstanding his unsuccessful attempts to sign up through the front door. In a discussion with Jeremy Scahill at The Nation, I noted that the interview appeared to be carefully laying the foundations for a “graymail” defense for Prince, should federal prosecutors move against him. One common form of “graymail” for a figure who has a relationship with the U.S. intelligence community is to warn that, if prosecuted, he will have to spill the beans on his covert activities in order to defend himself. The tactic has proven widely effective.
The latest disclosures show Blackwater once more smack in the middle of the blackest of the CIA’s black ops. They show the incestuous relationship that had evolved between the CIA and the for-profit contractor, perhaps the result of a revolving door that moved high-ranking individuals between Blackwater and the intelligence community. And they show how extensive were the efforts to privatize some of the nation’s most sensitive national security operations for the benefit of a profitable company with tight connections to the Republican Party. When will the congressional intelligence committees wake up to these disclosures? Their inaction so far confirms suspicions that Congressional oversight of intelligence matters is an oxymoron.