Blackwater: CIA Assassins?

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The Nation

Blackwater: CIA Assassins?

Jeremy Scahill

In April 2002, the CIA paid Blackwater more than $5 million to deploy a
small team of men inside Afghanistan during the early stages of US
operations in the country. A month later, Erik Prince, the company's
owner and a former Navy SEAL, flew to Afghanistan as part of the
original twenty-man Blackwater contingent. Blackwater worked for the CIA
at its station in Kabul as well as in Shkin, along the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border, where they operated out of a mud fortress
known as the Alamo. It was the beginning of a long relationship between
Blackwater, Prince and the CIA.

Now the New York Times is
that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater "as part of a secret
program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda." According
to the Times, "it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use
the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help
with training and surveillance."

The Times reports that "the CIA did not have a formal contract
with Blackwater for this program but instead 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." A retired intelligence officer "intimately familiar
with the assassination program" told the
Washington Post, "Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in
case something went wrong." The Post reported that Blackwater
"was given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders
and was awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry, but the
program was canceled before any missions were conducted."

"What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me,"
said Jack Rice, a former CIA field operator who worked for the
directorate of operations, which runs covert paramilitary activities for
the CIA. "When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a
private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly
they lose control and don't understand what's going on," Rice told
The Nation. "What makes it even worse is that you then can turn
around and have deniability. They can say, 'It wasn't us, we weren't the
ones making the decisions.' That's the best of both worlds. It's
analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name
of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the
Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, 'We're not
torturing people.'"

Reached by telephone, Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, a member of the
House Intelligence Committee, said that because of her oath of secrecy
on sensitive intelligence issues, she could neither confirm nor deny
that Congress was aware of Blackwater's involvement in this program
before the Times report. Schakowsky also declined to comment on
whether Blackwater came up at a June briefing by CIA director Leon
Panetta, which she attended. That briefing sparked calls for an
investigation into whether Vice President Dick Cheney ordered the CIA to
conceal an assassination program from Congress.

"What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the
highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy
within the Bush administration," Schakowsky told The Nation.
"Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the
government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because
Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This
shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush
administration and Blackwater."

As The Nation has reported,
Blackwater continues to operate on the US government payroll in both
Iraq and Afghanistan, where it works for the State Department and the
Defense Department. The CIA will not confirm whether Blackwater
continues to work for the agency (or, for that matter, if it ever has).

Blackwater's work for the CIA was the result of meetings in the
immediate aftermath of 9/11 between Prince and Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard,
then-executive director of the CIA, the agency's number-three man.
Krongard and Prince, according to a former Blackwater executive
interviewed by The Nation, "were good buddies." In a 2006
interview for my book, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's
Most Powerful Mercenary Army
, Krongard said that the company was
hired to provide security for the CIA in Afghanistan. "Blackwater got a
contract because they were the first people that could get people on the
ground," Krongard said. "The only concern we had was getting the best
security for our people. If we thought Martians could provide it, I
guess we would have gone after them."

The relationship between Krongard and Prince apparently got chummier
after the contract was signed. One former Blackwater executive said in
2006, "Krongard came down and visited Blackwater [at company
headquarters in North Carolina], and I had to take his kids around and
let them shoot on the firing range a number of times." That visit took
place after the CIA contract was signed, according to the former
executive, and Krongard "may have come down just to see the company that
he had just hired."

The relationship between Blackwater and the CIA quickly evolved. Shortly
after Prince arrived in Afghanistan in May 2002, according to a former
Blackwater executive who was with Prince, the Blackwater owner focused
on winning more business with government agencies, providing private
soldiers for hire. In 2002 Prince, along with former CIA operative Jamie
Smith, created Blackwater Security Consulting, which would put former
Navy SEALs and other special ops on the market.

Prince subsequently tried to join the CIA but was reportedly denied when
his polygraph test came back inconclusive. Still, he maintained close
ties with the agency. He reportedly was given a "green badge" that
permitted him access to most CIA stations. "He's over there [at CIA
headquarters] regularly, probably once a month or so," a CIA source told
Harper's journalist Ken Silverstein in 2006. "He meets with
senior people, especially in the [directorate of operations]."

Prince would also go on to hire many senior Bush-era CIA officials to
work at Blackwater. In July 2007 Buzzy Krongard joined the company's
board; Prince offered him a $3,500 honorarium per meeting attended plus
all expenses paid. "Your experience and insight would be ideal to help
our team determine where we are and where we are going," Prince wrote in
a letter to Krongard. At the time his brother, Howard "Cookie" Krongard,
was the State Department inspector general responsible for overseeing
Blackwater's work for the State Department. In September 2007 California
Democratic Representative Henry Waxman accused Cookie Krongard of
impeding a Justice Department investigation into Blackwater over
allegations the company was illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq.

Prince hired several other former CIA officials to run what amounted to
his own private CIA. Most notable among these was J. Cofer Black, who
was running the CIA's counterterrorism operations and leading the hunt
for Osama bin Laden when Blackwater was initially hired by the CIA in
2002. Black left the government in 2005 and took a job at Blackwater
running Prince's private intelligence company, Total Intelligence

While at the CIA, Black ran the "extraordinary rendition" program and
coordinated the CIA "Jawbreaker" team sent into Afghanistan to kill or
capture bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leaders. In the days immediately
after 9/11, he told Bush that his men would aim to kill Al Qaeda
operatives. "When we're through with them, they will have flies walking
across their eyeballs," Black promised Bush. When Black told Bush the
operation would not be bloodless, the president reportedly said, "Let's
go. That's war. That's what we're here to win."

Before the CIA Jawbreaker team deployed on September 27, 2001, Black
gave his men direct and macabre directions: "I don't want bin Laden and
his thugs captured, I want them dead.... They must be killed. I want to
see photos of their heads on pikes. I want bin Laden's head shipped back
in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be able to show bin Laden's head
to the president. I promised him I would do that." According to CIA
operative Gary Schroen, a member of the Jawbreaker team, it was the
first time in his thirty-year career he had been ordered to assassinate
an adversary rather than attempt a capture.

In September 2002, five months after Blackwater's first known contract
with the CIA in Afghanistan, Black testified to Congress about the new
"operational flexibility" employed in the "war on terror." "There was a
before 9/11, and there was an after 9/11," Black said. "After 9/11 the
gloves come off." Black outlined a "no-limits, aggressive, relentless,
worldwide pursuit of any terrorist who threatens us," saying it "is the
only way to go and is the bottom line." Black would later brag, in 2004,
that "over 70 percent" of Al Qaeda's leadership had been arrested,
detained or killed, and that "more than 3,400 of their operatives and
supporters have also been detained and put out of an action." The
Times reports that the Blackwater-CIA assassination program "did
not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects."

In addition to Black, Total Intelligence's executives include CEO Robert
Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA's Directorate of
Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine
operations. From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA's Near East
and South Asia Division, where he ran covert operations in the Middle
East and South Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA liaison with
Jordan's King Abdullah, a key US ally and Blackwater client, and briefed
George W. Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.

Total Intelligence's chief operating officer is Enrique "Ric" Prado, a
twenty-four-year CIA veteran and former senior executive officer in the
Directorate of Operations. He spent more than a decade working in the
CIA's Counterterrorist Center and ten years with the CIA's
"paramilitary" Special Operations Group.

Total Intelligence is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a
building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia. Its Global Fusion
Center, complete with large-screen TVs broadcasting international news
channels and computer stations staffed by analysts surfing the web,
"operates around the clock every day of the year" and is modeled after
the CIA's counterterrorist center, once run by Black. The firm employs
at least sixty-five full-time staff--some estimates say it's closer to
100. "Total Intel brings the...skills traditionally honed by CIA
operatives directly to the board room," Black said when the company

Representative Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is
investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links
to Blackwater. "The presidential memos (often referred to as 'findings')
authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and
Blackwater have not yet surfaced," says Ray McGovern, a retired
twenty-seven-year CIA analyst who once served as George H.W. Bush's
national security briefer. "They will, in due course, if knowledgeable
sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy

Blackwater Strikes Back

The Times report comes as Prince and his Blackwater empire are
facing the prospect of a potentially explosive civil trial over the
killing of Iraqi civilians. Attorney Susan Burke and the Center for
Constitutional Rights (CCR), who are suing Prince and his companies on
behalf of their Iraqi victims, have alleged that Prince is "equivalent
to a top mafia boss who is responsible for all the day-to-day crimes
committed at his direction and behest." If the case proceeds, the
process of discovery could blow the lid off some of the darkest secrets
of the powerful security contractor and its secretive owner. Burke and
CCR are suing Prince and his companies directly rather than his
individual employees because they say Prince "wholly owns and personally
controls all Defendants." Burke also alleges that Prince has committed
"violations of the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act, a
federal statute permitting private parties to seek redress from criminal
enterprises who damage their property." Among the allegations are war
crimes, extra-judicial killings and assault and battery of Iraqis.

Since the first case was filed by Iraqi civilians against Prince and
Blackwater over the killing of seventeen Iraqis at Baghdad's Nisour
Square on September 16, 2007, the company's high-powered lawyers have
fought feverishly to have that and four other cases dismissed. Now,
facing a crucial August 28 hearing in federal court in Virginia, they
are putting forward a new argument: instead of Prince and Blackwater
standing trial, the US government should be the defendant.

In a motion filed August 12, Blackwater's lawyers asked federal Judge
T.S. Ellis III to order "that the United States 'be substituted as the
party defendant,' in place of all of the current Defendants." In his
motion, Blackwater lawyer Peter White of the powerhouse firm Mayer Brown
argued that the company was working for the State Department in Iraq and
therefore was on official business when the alleged killings and
injuries of Iraqis took place. White cites the 1988 Westfall Act, which
prohibits suits against government employees for their actions on behalf
of the government and states that the government will assume liability
for any lawsuits against employees.

Federal tort law defines "employees" in this context as "persons acting
on behalf of a federal agency in an official capacity, temporarily or
permanently in the service of the United States, whether with or without
compensation." The fact that the defendants are "corporate entities" in
this instance, White claims, "does not alter that conclusion." In the
motion, Blackwater's attorneys note that the company, which recently
renamed itself Xe Services, now does business with the government under
the name US Training Center (USTC).

"The idea that the United States government should accept liability for
the unprovoked criminal manslaughter of seventeen innocent Iraqis by
Blackwater mercenaries, and place it on the back of taxpayers, is
corporate animism run amok," says Ralph Nader, who has spent his entire
career fighting against corporate personhood. "If Blackwater wants to be
treated like a person, then its latest mutation, USTC, should be
prosecuted, convicted and given the equivalent penalty of corporate
capital punishment by revoking its charter and terminating its corporate

The Westfall Act was passed in 1988 as an amendment to the Federal Torts
Claim Act "to protect federal employees from personal liability for
common law torts committed within the scope of their employment, while
providing persons injured by the common law torts of federal employees
with an appropriate remedy against the United States." After Westfall,
the government assumed legal responsibility for suits filed against
federal employees and made the sole remedy for victims suits against the

Blackwater has asked Attorney General Eric Holder to intervene in the
case and to assume liability for the allegations against Blackwater. If
that were to happen, legal experts say, the case would be dead in the
water. "It's clear that if they win this motion and the government is
substituted, since the wrongs occurred in a foreign country, the
government is absolutely immune and the case will be dismissed," says
Alan Morrison, a former federal prosecutor who is now the associate dean
for public interest at George Washington Law School. "This is an effort
[by Blackwater and Prince] to absolve themselves...of any liability for
the alleged wrongs to the plaintiffs." He adds: "A gigantic, for-profit
corporation is seeking to use this statute, designed to protect
government employees, to shield themselves from any responsibility for
the deaths and injuries" of Iraqis.

"When Blackwater chooses to interpose itself in the middle and to make
profit off these individual employees in the relationship with the
government, the notion that Blackwater itself, a corporation, could be
an employee is unusual to say the least," says Morrison. "Why would
Congress want to, in effect, transfer liability from a large,
well-heeled corporation like Blackwater to the United States taxpayers
for this kind of conduct? What they'd be saying [if Blackwater's
interpretation of the Westfall Act is accepted] is they would have
wanted to assume liability for that which they didn't have any liability
in the first place."

The Justice Department has not yet issued a position in this case.
"Unfortunately, there's nothing we can provide in regard to your inquiry
at this time," an official wrote in an e-mail. Earlier, in response to
questions from The Nation, a Justice Department spokesperson sent
a memo filed by the department earlier this year in a similar case
against Blackwater in federal court in Florida, in which the department
had rejected the company's attempt to make the government responsible.
"Defendants' request for Westfall Act certification should be denied
because only natural persons can be considered 'employee[s] of the
government,'" Assistant Attorney General Tony West wrote on June 8 in a
thirty-five-page filing opposing Blackwater's motion.

Several legal experts interviewed by The Nation said they could
not foresee the Justice Department intervening on Blackwater's behalf.
But the Westfall Act has been used by attorneys general in both the Bush
and Obama administrations to attempt to absolve senior Bush officials of
liability for their alleged role in crimes and to make the government
liable. On June 26 Holder's office intervened in a lawsuit filed by CCR
against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld and twenty-three other
military and medical officials "for their role in the illegal detention,
torture, inhumane conditions and ultimate deaths" of two
Guantánamo prisoners.

Citing the Westfall Act, Tony West wrote that "the type of activities
alleged against the individual defendants were 'foreseeable' and were 'a
direct outgrowth' of their responsibility to detain and gather
intelligence from suspected enemy combatants." In defending the
government's position, West cited case law stating that "genocide,
torture, forced relocation, and cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment
by individual defendants employed by Department of Defense and State
Department were within scope of employment" and similar cases justifying
CIA torture as part of official duty.

"It is essentially saying torture is all in a day's work when it comes
to holding people in military detention," says Shane Kadidal, who heads
the Guantánamo project at CCR. In that case, the issue was not
whether Rumsfeld and the others were "employees" but whether they were
doing official business. Blackwater's argument is a tougher sell, says
Morrison. "Does it hold water?" he asks. "It holds Blackwater."

Meanwhile, in another development, Prince's lawyers have responded to
explosive allegations made against Prince by two former employees. In
sworn affidavits submitted by lawyers representing the Iraqis suing
Blackwater, the two alleged that Prince may have murdered or facilitated
the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities
investigating the company. One of the former employees alleges that
Prince "views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating
Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe," and that Prince's
companies "encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life." They
also charge that Prince was profiting from illegal weapons smuggling. In
a motion filed August 10, Prince's lawyers asked Judge Ellis to strike
from the record the sworn statements of the two former employees, saying
that "the conclusory allegations they contain are inadmissible on
multiple grounds, including lack of foundation, hearsay, irrelevance,
and unfair prejudice." They charge that the lawyers suing Blackwater are
attempting to "use this litigation as a 'megaphone' to increase their
ability to influence the public's perceptions regarding the use of
contractors in military battlefield situations, the Iraq War, and most
particularly about Erik Prince and the other defendants. Unsubstantiated
statements made in filings in this Court become 'newsworthy' simply
because they appear in those filings." The lawyers characterize the
allegations as "scandalous, baseless, inadmissible, and highly
prejudicial." Interestingly, nowhere do Prince's lawyers say flatly that
the allegations are untrue.

As the cases against Prince move forward, the company continues to do a
robust business with the federal government, particularly in
Afghanistan. Schakowsky has called for a review of all of the companies'
current contracts, and she has called on Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to stop awarding the company
contracts. The "Obama administration should at the very least cancel and
debar [Blackwater's] present and pending government contracts," says
Nader. "Otherwise corporate crimes, privileges and immunities continue
to pay and pay and pay."

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