Blackwater Workers Took Police Assault Rifles, Hearing Told

Employees of American defence
contractor Blackwater took more than 500 assault rifles that were
intended for the Afghan police force and routinely carried weapons
without permission, it emerged in a hearing of the Senate armed
services committee today.

It also emerged that to shed its sullied reputation and win contracting business in Afghanistan,
Blackwater created what one senator called a shell company. Senators
said that company, Paravant, deceived US officials into thinking
Blackwater was not involved even as it laid claim to Blackwater's past
performance to establish a track record. "They made representations
here that are wildly false," said Senator Carl Levin, a Democrat.
"Everyone knew in the field it was Blackwater trying to get rid of a
negative name."

Steven Ograyensek, a US army contracting officer
who testified, said: "There is no indication that they were part of

Blackwater has come under intense scrutiny in recent
years for its employees' involvement in a 2007 Baghdad shooting in
which 17 Iraqi civilians were killed, and other allegations. The
company has since sought to rebrand itself as Xe, and in order to win
the training contract in Afghanistan, created a firm called Paravant.

represented itself as a separate company, even as the training
personnel were aware they had been hired by Blackwater, according to
witnesses and senators.

At the hearing today Levin warned that
Afghan civilians did not distinguish between troops and contractors,
and that when contractors misbehaved it turned the population against
US forces and encouraged them to side with the Taliban.

hearing focused in part on a December 2008 accident in which a
Blackwater employee was shot in the head during what the company
described as a vehicle training exercise but Levin called horseplay.

to committee investigators, a Blackwater trainer jumped on top of a
moving vehicle while carrying a loaded AK47. The vehicle hit a bump and
the rifle discharged, striking another trainer in the head. At the
hearing today former Blackwater officials insisted the Americans were
engaged in vehicle training. Levin accused Blackwater of covering up
misconduct by describing the shooting as an accident during "routine"

In May two Afghan civilians were killed in a shooting
involving Paravant employees. Investigators later determined that the
Americans had "violated alcohol policies", were not authorised to have
weapons and had violated other policies. The US department of justice
said the shooting had a detrimental effect on US national security.

Paravant official Brian McCracken acknowledged the company's trainers
were carrying weapons without authorisation but said they often
operated in dangerous environments among armed Afghans, without US
army protection.

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