Blackwater, Missing Guns, Afghanistan and... South Park?

Published on
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The Washington Independent

Blackwater, Missing Guns, Afghanistan and... South Park?

Blackwater Took Hundreds of Guns From U.S. Military, Afghan Police * Senate Inquiry Shows Contractor Signed for Rifles Using 'South Park' Alias

by
Spencer Ackerman

Eric Cartman of South Park (Photo courtesy: Comedy Central)

WASHINGTON - Employees of the CIA-connected private security corporation
Blackwater diverted hundreds of weapons, including more than 500 AK-47
assault rifles, from a U.S. weapons bunker in Afghanistan intended to
equip Afghan policemen, according to an investigation by the Senate
Armed Services Committee. On at least one occasion, an individual
claiming to work for the company evidently signed for a weapons
shipment using the name of a "South Park" cartoon character. And
Blackwater has yet to return hundreds of the guns to the military.

A Blackwater subsidiary known as Paravant that until recently
operated in Afghanistan acquired the weapons for its employees'
"personal use," according to committee staffers, as did other
non-Paravant employees of Blackwater. Yet contractors in Afghanistan
are not permitted to operate weapons without explicit permission from
U.S. Central Command, something Blackwater never obtained. A November
2008 email from a Paravant vice president named Brian McCracken,
obtained by the committee, nevertheless reads: "We have not received
formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet but I will take my
chances."

As a result of Blackwater's disregard for U.S. military
restrictions on contractor firearms, four employees of Paravant - which
held a subcontract from defense giant Raytheon to train Afghan soldiers
- under the influence of alcohol opened fire on a car carrying four Afghan civilians on May 5, 2009,
wounding two. That incident, occurring less than two years after
Blackwater guards killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, prompted the
committee's investigation.

"In the fight against the Taliban, the perception that the Afghans
have of us is critical," Sen. Carl Levin (D-Mich.), the chairman of the
committee, told reporters Tuesday afternoon. "It's clear to me that if
we're going to win that struggle, we need to know that contractor
personnel are adequately screened, they're adequately supervised and
they're adequately held accountable." Levin will hold a hearing on Blackwater's Afghanistan contracts Wednesday morning.

The committee's investigation points to the contrary. Blackwater
personnel appear to have gone to exceptional lengths to obtain weapons
from U.S. military weapons storehouses intended for use by the Afghan
police. According to the committee, at the behest of the company's
Afghanistan country manager, Ricky Chambers, Blackwater on at least two
occasions acquired hundreds of rifles and pistols from a U.S. military
facility near Kabul called 22 Bunkers by the military and Pol-e Charki
by the Afghans. Gen. David Petraeus, the commander of all U.S. military
forces in the Middle East and South Asia, wrote to the committee to
explain that "there is no current or past written policy, order,
directive, or instruction that allows U.S. Military contractors or
subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers."

On one of those occasions, in September 2008, Chief Warrant Officer
Greg Sailer, who worked at 22 Bunkers and is a friend of a Blackwater
officer working in Afghanistan, signed over more than 200 AK-47s to an
individual identified as "Eric Cartman" or possibly "Carjman" from
Blackwater's Counter Narcotics Training Unit. A Blackwater lawyer told
committee staff that no one by those names has ever been employed by
the company. Eric Cartman is the name of an obnoxious character from
Comedy Central's popular "South Park" cartoon.

Blackwater personnel invoked their Fifth Amendment rights against
self-incrimination when approached by the committee to explain the
weapons acquisitions from 22 Bunkers, according to committee staff.
Sailer, who is still deployed to Afghanistan, told the committee that
he thought Blackwater was signing for the weapons to train Afghan
police, a task it has never conducted.

Not all of the guns received from Blackwater have been returned to
the Afghan government - and, according to committee staff, many only
began to be returned after staff approached the company for an
explanation. "It was represented to us that all the weapons had been
returned" to 22 Bunkers, Levin said. "That is not true. Hundreds of
them were not returned." Asked if that meant Blackwater lied to
Congress, Levin replied, "They misrepresented the facts, and I'd like
to leave it at that."

Raytheon did not renew Paravant's contract for training the Afghan
army, which expired in September. Blackwater still holds a contract
with the State Department worth millions of dollars to protect
diplomats in Afghanistan. While that contract expires this year, Politico reported on Tuesday
that Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services, might acquire a new
multimillion-dollar contract from the Defense Department to train
Afghan police - the same police force that Blackwater's weapons
diversions from 22 Bunkers deprived of hundreds of pistols and rifles.

This is not the first time Blackwater has faced allegations of
diverted weapons. In 2007, company employees came under federal
investigation for improperly shipping hundreds of weapons to Iraq, some
of which are believed to have been sold on the black market and
acquired by a Kurdish terrorist group. A Blackwater statement
at the time said allegations that the company was "in any way
associated or complicit in unlawful arms activities are baseless." The
New York Times reported
in November that the company is negotiating with regulators over
"hundreds of millions of dollars in fines" associated with the illicit
weapons shipments.

In January, Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince, confirmed
to Vanity Fair that his 12-year-old company - which has earned more
than a billion dollars through government contracts in the past decade
- was involved in a nascent terrorist assassination program run by the
CIA, among other CIA activities. "I'm paying for all sorts of
intelligence activities to support American national security, out of
my own pocket," Prince told the magazine. Additionally, The Nation
recently reported
that Blackwater assists the Joint Special Operations Command with the
terrorist manhunt in Afghanistan and Pakistan, including with the
operations of JSOC's armed unmanned drones.

Levin said his inquiry had uncovered "inadequate oversight by the
Army over this contract." The Florida-based Army office supposedly
overseeing the contract did not even have a contracting officer
representative in Afghanistan when the Paravant employees shot at
Afghan civilians on May 5, 2009. Yet as early as December 2008,
concerned Raytheon personnel informed that Army office that Paravant
personnel were carrying unapproved weapons. An officer in Afghanistan
responsible for training Afghan soldiers told the committee, "We should
have had better control."

Additionally, Blackwater personnel in Afghanistan, including those
involved in both the May shooting and an earlier improper weapons
discharge from December 2008, have been cited for, among other
infractions, drug and alcohol abuse and, in one case, an "extensive
criminal history."

Wednesday's hearing is expected to receive testimony from current
and former Blackwater/Paravant officers, including Brian C. McCracken,
the former Paravant vice president who now serves as Raytheon's chief
Afghanistan program officer; Fred Roitz, a Blackwater vice president;
and John Walker, a former Paravant program officer.

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