Flushing Blackwater

Blackwater, the private mercenary company owned by Erik Prince, has been
thrust back into the spotlight by a series of stunning revelations about
its role in covert US programs. Since at least 2002, Blackwater has
worked for the CIA in Afghanistan and Pakistan on "black" contracts. On
August 19, the New York Times revealed that the company was, in
fact, a central part of a secret CIA assassination program that Dick
Cheney allegedly ordered concealed from Congress. The paper then
reported that Blackwater remains a key player in the widening air war in
Pakistan and Afghanistan, where it arms drone aircraft. These
disclosures follow allegations--made under oath by former Blackwater
employees--that Prince murdered or facilitated the murder of potential
government informants and that he "views himself as a Christian crusader
tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe."

In addition, Blackwater is being investigated by the Justice Department
for possible crimes ranging from weapons smuggling to manslaughter and
by the IRS for possible tax evasion. It is being sued in federal courts
by scores of Iraqi civilians for alleged war crimes and extrajudicial
killings. Two of its men have pleaded guilty to weapons-smuggling
charges; another pleaded guilty to the unprovoked manslaughter of an
Iraqi civilian, and five others have been indicted on similar counts.
The US military is investigating Blackwater's killing of civilians in
Afghanistan in May, and reports are emerging that the company may be
implicated in the CIA's extraordinary rendition program.

And yet, despite these black marks, the Obama administration continues
to keep Blackwater on the government's payroll. In Afghanistan and
Pakistan, Blackwater still works for the CIA, the State Department and
the Defense Department to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars,
and its continuing presence is an indicator of just how entrenched
private corporations are in the US war machinery. The United States now
deploys more private forces (74,000) than uniformed soldiers (57,000) in
Afghanistan. While the majority of these contractors are not armed, a
sizable number carry weapons, and their ranks are swelling. A recent
Defense Department census reports that as of June 30, armed DoD
contractors in Afghanistan had increased by 20 percent from the first
quarter of 2009.

With the exception of a few legislators, notably Representatives Henry
Waxman and Jan Schakowsky, Congress has left the use of private military
contractors largely unmonitored. But the recent disclosures of
Blackwater's covert activities may finally force Congress to take
action. At the very least, the Obama administration should be required
to disclose current and past federal contracts with all of Prince's
companies and affiliates, including those registered offshore.

Congress can take Schakowsky's lead and ask the Obama administration why
it is continuing to work with Blackwater. Schakowsky has called on
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to
review all of the company's existing contracts and not to award any new
ones to its many affiliates. Congressional intelligence committees
should also conduct a wide-ranging investigation into Blackwater's
involvement in the CIA assassination program. Were Blackwater operatives
involved in actual killings? Who approved the company's involvement? Was
Congress notified? How high up the chain of command did the covert
relationship with the company go? Was Blackwater active on US soil? What
role, if any, did/does Blackwater play in secretly transporting

This investigation must include the sworn testimony of former top CIA
officials who were later hired or paid by Blackwater. Among these are
Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard, the former number-three man at the agency, who
gave Blackwater its first CIA contract and then served on the company's
board, and J. Cofer Black, the former head of the CIA's counterterrorism
unit, which ran the assassination program. Black later became the vice
chair of Blackwater and ran Total Intelligence Solutions, Prince's
private CIA. Total Intelligence has been simultaneously employed by the
US government, foreign governments and private companies, an arrangement
that may have created conflicts of interest that the House and Senate
intelligence committees are obliged to investigate. Congress should also
ask if national security is compromised when the knowledge, contacts and
access possessed by former high-ranking CIA officials like Black and
Krongard are placed on the open market.

John Kerry, chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, has
questioned whether Blackwater used its State Department clearance as
cover to gather information for targeted killings. Kerry should hold
hearings in which Hillary Clinton and Condoleezza Rice would be
compelled to testify on the matter. The oversight committees should
probe allegations that Blackwater was involved in arms smuggling and
extrajudicial killings in Iraq, while committees dealing with military
affairs should investigate what impact Blackwater's actions in Iraq have
had on the safety of US troops. An invaluable asset for these
investigations could be the Commission on Wartime Contracting,
established by Senators Jim Webb and Claire McCaskill. Finally, the
Justice Department should probe the murder, smuggling and other
allegations against Prince and his executives.

In all of this, Blackwater has proved itself to be a whack-a-mole: it
keeps popping up. Despite the Iraqi government's ban on the company, its
operatives remain in Iraq a full two years after the September 2007
Nisour Square massacre, in which seventeen Iraqi civilians were gunned
down in Baghdad. This resilience means that the investigations into the
company must be comprehensive and coordinated.

Lastly, it is a mistake to think that Blackwater is the only problem. In
Iraq, for example, the Obama administration is replacing Blackwater with
the private contractor Triple Canopy, which, in addition to hiring some
of Blackwater's men, has its own questionable history, including
allegations of shooting civilians and hiring forces from countries with
a history of human rights abuses. Blackwater is but one fruit on the
poisonous tree of military outsourcing. It is imperative that Congress
confront the intimate linking of corporate profits to US wars and
lethal, covert operations.

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