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Blackwater Founder Tells of Extensive Government-Contracted Assassinations December 4, 2009

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by: Yana Kunichoff, t r u t h o u t | Report

December 4, 2009

The head of Blackwater revealed the details of his collaboration with the CIA to locate and assassinate top al Qaeda operatives as part of a covert antiterror operation Tuesday, and blamed Democrats for the leak that ended the program.

In an article published in Vanity Fair, Erik Prince, the founder of Blackwater, spoke about the extent of his involvement with the CIA, which ranged from putting together, funding and executing operations to bring personnel into “denied areas” to targeting specific people for assassination who were deemed enemies by the US government.

Prince was one of a secret network of American citizens with special skills or access chosen to help the CIA access targets of interest. The program was kept secret for nearly eight years until it was revealed to lawmakers in a closed session with the House and Senate Intelligence Committee. During this meeting, CIA director Leon E. Panetta named both Prince and Blackwater as major players.

Prince blames Congressional Democrats for the leak. “[W]hen it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus,” he said. “The left complained about how [CIA operative] Valerie Plame’s identity was compromised for political reasons. Well, what happened to me was worse. People acting for political reasons disclosed not only the existence of a very sensitive program but my name along with it.”

According to current and former government officials, former Vice President Dick Cheney told CIA officers in 2002 that they did not need to inform Congress about the program because they were already legally authorized to kill al Qaeda leaders. Under an executive order signed by President Gerald Ford in 1976, the CIA was barred from carrying out assassinations. But President George W. Bush took the position shortly after 9/11 that killing al Qaeda members was comparable to killing enemy soldiers in battle, and therefore assassinations were permissible. Prince was hired in 2004.

A former Navy Seal, Prince said, “I’ve been overtly and covertly serving America since I started in the armed services.” In his role as a contractor for the covert CIA program, according to The New York Times, Prince’s Blackwater employees assembled and loaded Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto remotely piloted aircraft – work previously performed by authorized and trained CIA employees.

Prince says he and a team of foreign nationals located a target for assassination in October 2008, but did not complete the job. He alleges two of these trips brought him and his team into Germany and Dubai – without the knowledge of their governments.

He further said that Blackwater resources were never used, but that he used his personal finances and was later reimbursed by the government. Prince has personally spent $45 million to finance a fleet of armored personnel carriers, and according to The Wall Street Journal, Blackwater itself had revenues of more than $600 million in 2008.

Blackwater, now renamed Xe Services for Xenon, the noncombustible gas, was founded in 1997 and has been in Afghanistan since 2002 and Iraq since 2003. In 2004, coalition forces in Baghdad declared private contractors, which included Blackwater employees, immune from Iraqi law.

Largely assigned to act as bodyguards for American diplomats and provide security for military and intelligence stations in Iraq and Afghanistan, Prince’s employees have on more than one occasion been accused of wanton force, which has resulted in civilian deaths.

A shooting by Blackwater bodyguards in Baghdad in September 2009 resulted in the death of 17 civilians, and the Justice Department has since charged six people with voluntary manslaughter, among other offenses, calling the use of force both unjustified and unprovoked.

A contractor also shot and killed a man standing on a roadside, who later turned out to be a father of six, and a bodyguard who was assigned to protect Iraq’s vice president. In both cases, the contractors were fired but not prosecuted.

Following these incidents, Iraqi officials have refused to give Blackwater an operating license. As a result of this, its revenue dropped 40 percent, and Prince says he is now paying more than $2 million a month in legal fees.

“We used to spend money on R&D to develop better capabilities to serve the US government,” says Prince. “Now we pay lawyers.”

The company is also facing a grand jury investigation and bribery accusations along with the voluntary-manslaughter trial of five ex-employees for Iraqis killed in September 2007.

American agencies have in the past outsourced interrogations , but many worry that the contracting out of the authority to kill brings a new set of problems.

Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who leads the Senate Intelligence Committee, said. “It is too easy to contract out work that you don’t want to accept responsibility for.”

Blackwater, which received more than $1.5 billion in government contracts between 2001 and 2009, regularly offers its training area in North Carolina to CIA operatives and continues to help fly killer drones along the border between and Afghanistan and Pakistan – President Obama is said to have authorized more than three dozen of these hits.

Philip Alston, an Australian human-rights lawyer who has served as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions, said  that drone attacks also operate in “an accountability void.”

Prince said that until two months ago, he was still working on intelligence-gathering operations from an undisclosed location in America and coordinating the movements of spies who were working undercover in the Axis of Evil countries. However, Prince, who was rejected by the CIA when he applied for a position, now plans to curtail his work with Blackwater and teach economics and history in high school.

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan November 24, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Pakistan, War.
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Jeremy Scahill

The Nation, November 23, 2009

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years, including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of Blackwater’s involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the program is so “compartmentalized” that senior figures within the Obama administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm. Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” A defense official, on background, specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and is not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.”

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct from the CIA assassination program that the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not declared war–knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater’s covert work for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told The Nation, “From my information that I have, that is absolutely correct,” adding, “There’s no question that’s occurring.”

“It wouldn’t surprise me because we’ve outsourced nearly everything,” said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of Blackwater’s role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater’s involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. “Part of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the Congress has placed on DoD. If you don’t have sufficient soldiers to do it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it’s that simple. It would not surprise me.”

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said the source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he said, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified Defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.” The main JSOC/Blackwater facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems are used as a makeshift operations center. “It’s a very rudimentary operation,” says the source. “I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It’s very bare bones, and that’s the point.”

Blackwater’s work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said, it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS), which is owned by Blackwater’s founder, Erik Prince. The military source said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently. Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other agencies. It is modeled after the CIA’s counterterrorism center. In Karachi, TIS runs a “media-scouring/open-source network,” according to the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater executive. “They are running most of their work through TIS because the other two [names] have such a stain on them,” he said. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater’s classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC. Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the former Blackwater executive, “The politics that go with the brand of BW is somewhat set aside because what you’re doing is really one military guy to another.” Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic term used to describe highly classified “black” operations. “With an ACCM, the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and operate within compartmentalized programs far above ‘secret’–even though you have no business doing so,” said the source. It allows Blackwater personnel that “do not have the requisite security clearance or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in classified operations by virtue of trust,” he added. “Think of it as an ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That’s exactly what it is: a circle of love.” Blackwater, therefore, has access to “all source” reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. “That’s how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with contractors,” said the source. “We have contractors that regularly see things that top policy-makers don’t unless they ask.”

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up,” he said, adding, “They have a sizable force in Pakistan–not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it that way–but to support a legitimate contract that’s classified for JSOC.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a spin-off of Blackwater SELECT “was issued a no-bid contract for support to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it.” Some of the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought.”

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC Karachi operation is referred to as “Qatar cubed,” in reference to the US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. “This is supposed to be the brave new world,” he says. “This is the Jamestown of the new millennium and it’s meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways, you can jump northwest. It’s strategically located so that they can get their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They don’t have to deal with that because they’re operating under a classified mandate.”

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces. “That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don’t know if you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan,” he said. “So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?”

Pakistan’s Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.” Instead, US Special Forces teams carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls “Blackwater Vanilla,” and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. “Good or bad, there’s a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That’s probably a good thing,” said the source. “It’s the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they’re the only people that know how and they went where the money was. It’s not trigger-happy fucks, like some of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill innocent civilians. They’re very good at what they do.”

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.” While he concurred with the military intelligence source’s description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive, Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support, private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral’s main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department’s Directorate of Defense Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral. “We cannot help you,” said department spokesperson David McKeeby after checking with the relevant DDTC officials. “You’ll have to contact the companies directly.” Blackwater’s Corallo said the company has “no operations of any kind” in Pakistan other than the one employee working for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The Nation.

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on foreign affairs issues “regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out activities of interest to the United States.” Noriega was hired through his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas $15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. “Ali and Erik have a pretty close relationship,” he said. “They’ve met many times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one another.” Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also integrate with Kestral’s forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with the Pakistani Interior Ministry’s paramilitary force, known as the Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as “frontier scouts”). The Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater “is providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations] and Kestral’s folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they’re having the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go out with the teams when they’re executing the job,” he said. “You can see how that can lead to other things in the border areas.” He said that when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. “You’ve got BW guys that are assisting… and they’re all going to want to go on the jobs–so they’re going to go with them,” he said. “So, the things that you’re seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came in and raided this house or did this or did that–in some of those cases, you’re going to have Western folks that are right there at the house, if not in the house.” Blackwater, he said, is paid by the Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. “That gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, ‘Hey, no, we don’t have any Westerners doing this. It’s all local and our people are doing it.’ But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work.”

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the Frontier Corps, saying, “There’s no real oversight. It’s not really on people’s radar screen.”

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the weapons were being used by “a private American security contractor.” The statement said, “Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also certified the shipments.”

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works for the CIA at “hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company’s contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft.” In February, The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan’s southwestern province of Baluchistan, showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC strikes. “Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it’s JSOC and their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC strikes.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan, says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the norms of international relations. “The immediate question is, How do you define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?” asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. “Let’s forget Blackwater for a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military operations in Pakistan that aren’t about logistics or getting food to Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence, physical force inside of Pakistani territory.”

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney’s Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General McChrystal’s elevation as the military commander of the Afghan war–which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan–there is a concomitant rise in JSOC’s power and influence within the military structure. “I don’t see how you can escape that; it’s just a matter of the way the authority flows and the power flows, and it’s inevitable, I think,” Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, “I’m alarmed when I see execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations Command,” under which JSOC operates. “That’s backward. But that’s essentially what we have today.”

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater’s 7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army’s Delta Force, the Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army’s 75th Ranger Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air Force’s 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations, reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions. Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of veteran Special Forces operators–which several former military officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater’s alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. “What I was seeing was the development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the conventional commander even knowing what they were doing,” said Colonel Wilkerson. “That’s dangerous, that’s very dangerous. You have all kinds of mess when you don’t tell the theater commander what you’re doing.”

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg. “I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in JSOC was quite good,” says Wilkerson. “I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions.” He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld “built up initially because Rumsfeld didn’t get the responsiveness. He didn’t get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse’s mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch–read: Cheney and Rumsfeld–wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.”

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the United States across the globe. “When these teams started hitting capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn’t tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is our ambassadors started to call us and say, ‘Who the hell are these six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our capital cities?’ So we discovered this, we discovered one in South America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him–we rendered him home.”

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC operations. The SSB was created using “reprogrammed” funds “without explicit congressional authority or appropriation,” according to the Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of command and circumvented the CIA’s authority on clandestine operations. Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end “near total dependence on CIA.” Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone stated that Special Operations forces may “conduct clandestine HUMINT operations…before publication” of a deployment order. This effectively gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the “darkest acts” in part to keep them concealed from Congress. “Everything can be justified as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress,” said the source. “They were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints: ‘Preparing the Battlefield.'”

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC’s operations inside Pakistan versus the CIA’s is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. “Every single intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the Congress,” she said. “If they are not, that is a violation of the law.”

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations. Indeed, Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied Blackwater’s presence in the country, stating bluntly in September, “Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan.” In her trip to Pakistan in October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the Pakistani press about Blackwater’s rumored Pakistani operations. Pakistan’s interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that Blackwater “provides security for a US-backed aid project” in Peshawar, suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to use as a consulate in the city. “We have no contracts in Pakistan,” Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. “We’ve been blamed for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we have absolutely no presence there.”

Reports of Blackwater’s alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months. Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his 1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that Blackwater is in Karachi. “The US [intelligence] agencies think that a number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and Peshawar,” he said. “That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in these two cities.” Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir and other Pakistani journalists are “wildly incorrect,” saying they had compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan Taliban, has “found refuge from potential U.S. attacks” in Karachi “with the assistance of Pakistan’s intelligence service.”

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater allegedly submitted by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies to the federal interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through Karachi’s Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, “The port jives because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in.”

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater has acquired “bungalows” in the Defense Housing Authority in the city. According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established “for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces of Pakistan.” Its motto is: “Home for Defenders.” The report alleges Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When things go wrong, it’s the contractors’ fault, not the government’s. But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals. Blackwater’s alleged Pakistan operations, said the military intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. “Having learned its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq, Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting things that are in danger and anticipating other places we’re going to go as a nation that are dangerous,” he said. “It’s as simple as that.”

Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of the bestselling Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, published by Nation Books. He is an award-winning investigative journalist and correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!. more…

Jeremy Scahill on Iraq and Mercenaries April 2, 2009

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(Roger’s note: these are excerpts from Amy Goodman’s interview with investigative journalist, Jeremy Scahill, on DemocracyNow!, April 2, 2009)

AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has confirmed it’s hired the mercenary firm Triple Canopy to take over Blackwater’s contract to protect US diplomats in Iraq. Part of the firm’s job will be to protect the “monstrous” US embassy in Baghdad. Blackwater, now known as Xe, that’s “zee,” lost its State Department contract in Iraq after the Iraqi government refused to grant the company a new license because of the September 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians.

 

Meanwhile, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill has just revealed that the Obama administration is also using Triple Canopy to protect US diplomats in Israel. Jeremy’s article, called “Obama’s Blackwater?” appears on alternet.org. He’s the author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Democracy Now! correspondent, here in our firehouse studio.

Welcome to Democracy Now!

AMY GOODMAN: So, what have you learned, Jeremy?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I’m starting to call a series of pieces I’m doing “Operation Rebranded,” because what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama administration’s foreign policy is basically continuing many of the worst parts of Bush’s foreign policy and sort of repackaging these policies. So, for instance, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term “global war on terrorism” and uses phrases like “contingency operations” to describe the US occupation of Iraq. The latest news we have is that the Obama’s administration has decided on its mercenary firm of choice. Clearly, Obama did not want to continue at least a public relationship with Blackwater.

AMY GOODMAN: So, what have you learned, Jeremy?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I’m starting to call a series of pieces I’m doing “Operation Rebranded,” because what we’re seeing unfold with the Obama administration’s foreign policy is basically continuing many of the worst parts of Bush’s foreign policy and sort of repackaging these policies. So, for instance, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term “global war on terrorism” and uses phrases like “contingency operations” to describe the US occupation of Iraq. The latest news we have is that the Obama’s administration has decided on its mercenary firm of choice. Clearly, Obama did not want to continue at least a public relationship with Blackwater…

Triple Canopy also, though, did a very lucrative business servicing other war contractors like KBR, and Triple Canopy was also known for being the company that brought in the largest number of so-called third country nationals, non-Iraqis, non-Americans. They hired, for instance, former Salvadoran commandos who were veterans of the bloody counterinsurgency war in El Salvador that took the lives of 75,000 Salvadorans, minimum. Chileans—they used the same recruiter, Jose Miguel Pizarro Ovalle, that Blackwater used when they hired Chileans. This was a former Pinochet military officer.

 

And this company has been around, you know, for five or six years. The Obama administration has hired them in Iraq, and many of the Blackwater guys are believed to be jumping over to Triple Canopy to continue working on in Iraq. Obama, though, is keeping Blackwater on, and the State Department has not ruled out that they’re going to stay on for much longer, the aviation division of Blackwater in Iraq, and also Blackwater is on the US government payroll in Afghanistan, also working for the Drug Enforcement Agency…

I think that the Obama administration should be required to explain to US taxpayers, particularly with the atrocious human rights abuses that we’ve been seeing in Israel, why he’s using a US mercenary company to protect US officials when they potentially come in contact with civilians. And we’ve seen how deadly that’s been in Iraq. And before May 7th, his administration should be required to explain to the American people why he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are continuing the Bush administration’s policy of using deadly paramilitary forces in Iraq.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The alternative?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, the alternative, as Representative Jan Schakowsky has said, is to not use these companies, to ban their use in the war zone and to scale down the scope of what you classify as civilians or diplomats in Iraq. I have long said that I think the Obama administration should destroy that monstrous US embassy that was built in part on slave labor in Iraq. I think that they should pitch a tent in the backyard of the Polish embassy and call it a day and pay reparations to the Iraqi people. Now, call me naive or call me silly, but the fact of the matter is, this is a—it remains an illegal occupation of Iraq, that’s destroyed the lives of millions of Iraqis, and the Obama administration should not have a policy that necessitates using mercenaries.

 

AMY GOODMAN: I was quoting you with the term you used, the “monstrous” US embassy in Baghdad. How big is it? Why do you say “monstrous”?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, this is the size of Vatican City. And the Vatican has embassies in other countries around the world. I mean, this is a massive small city within Baghdad itself.

 

AMY GOODMAN: The largest US embassy in the world?

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: It’s the largest US embassy in world history, and there are already some 1,200 employees that are operating out of this embassy. And according to a recent Government Accountability Office report that I reviewed, the Obama administration is very likely to increase its use of private military companies like Triple Canopy. This is going to be a very lucrative arrangement for these companies. So concerned is the Government Accountability Office with this trend, that they’re actually asking Congress to inquire with the Obama administration as to what they intend to if five years from now they have not reduced their reliance on mercenary companies.

 

Obama has now made Afghanistan and the occupation there, where there are maybe 78,000 troops, US troops, by next year, along with all the contractors, and the occupation of Iraq—he’s made these two wars his war. And so, the honeymoon should be over now. Barack Obama needs to be held accountable for wars that he is continuing and aggressively escalating.

 

AMY GOODMAN: We don’t have much time, but I wanted to ask you about this latest lawsuit.

 

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, well, Blackwater has been sued repeatedly over the course of the past couple of years, But really, over the past month by Susan Burke of the law firm Burke O’Neil, who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights, she’s sued them for the killing of an Iraqi bodyguard to the vice president of Iraq, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. She’s suing them over the Nisoor Square massacre. And just yesterday, she filed a lawsuit against Blackwater for an incident in February of 2007 that you’ve reported on on this show, where three Iraqi security guards working for an Iraqi media network were allegedly killed by Blackwater snipers. She filed the lawsuit on behalf of their estates, their families. And really, Susan Burke has said that the Blackwater empire is responsible for so much death and destruction in Iraq that she’s looking to sue them in any way she can.

 

AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremy, I want to thank you for being with us. We’ll link to your article on our website at democracynow.org. Your article appeared at alternet.org. Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist, author of the New York Times bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.

Obama’s Blackwater? Chicago Mercenary Firm Gets Millions for Private “Security” in Israel and Iraq April 2, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, Israel, Gaza & Middle East, War.
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By Jeremy Scahill, AlterNet. Posted April 2, 2009.

Federal records obtained by AlterNet reveal a multi-million dollar contract for a private U.S. paramilitary force operating out of Jerusalem.

On the campaign trail, Barack Obama’s advisers said he “can’t rule out [and] won’t rule out” using mercenary forces, like Blackwater. Now, it appears that the Obama administration has decided on its hired guns of choice: Triple Canopy, a Chicago company now based in Virginia. It may not have Blackwater’s thuggish reputation, but Triple Canopy has its own bloody history in Iraq and a record of hiring mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records. What’s more, Obama is not just using the company in Iraq, but also as a U.S.-government funded private security force in Israel/Palestine, operating out of Jerusalem.

Beginning May 7th, Triple Canopy will officially take over Xe/Blackwater’s mega-contract with the U.S. State Department for guarding occupation officials in Iraq. It’s sure to be a lucrative deal: Obama’s Iraq plan will inevitably rely on an increased use of private contractors, including an army of mercenaries to protect his surge of diplomats operating out of the monstrous U.S. embassy in Baghdad.

The Iraq contract may come as no surprise. But according to federal contract records obtained by AlterNet, the Obama administration has also paid Triple Canopy millions of dollars to provide “security services” in Israel. In February and March, the Obama administration awarded a “delivery order” to Triple Canopy worth $5.5 million under State Department contract SAQMPD05F5528, which is labeled “PROTECTIVE SERVICES–ISRAEL.” According to one government document, the contract is scheduled to run until September 2012. (Another document says September 2009.) The contract is classified as “SECURITY GUARDS AND PATROL SERVICES” in Israel. The total value of the contract was listed at $41,556,969.72. According to a January 2009 State Department document obtained by AlterNet labeled “Sensitive But Unclassified,” the Triple Canopy contract is based out of Jerusalem.

According to federal records, the original arrangement with Triple Canopy in Israel appears to date back to at least September 2005 and has been renewed every year since. The company is operating under the State Department’s Worldwide Personal Protection Program (WPPS), which provides for private security/military companies to operate on the U.S. government payroll in countries such as Afghanistan, Bosnia, Iraq, and Israel. Triple Canopy, according to an internal State Department report, also worked under the program in Haiti, though that task order is now listed as “closed.” In State Department documents the WPPS program is described as a government initiative to protect U.S. officials as well as “certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises.” The State Department spent some $2 billion on the WPPS program from 2005-2008.

Triple Canopy’s Growing Footprint in Iraq

Triple Canopy is hardly new to the Iraq occupation. Founded in Chicago in 2003 by “U.S. Army Special Forces veterans,” the company won its first Iraq contract in 2004. In 2005, with its business expanding, Triple Canopy relocated its corporate headquarters from Obama’s home state to Herndon, Virginia, placing it much closer to the center of U.S. war contracting. (On several U.S. government contracts, however, including the Israel security contracts, its Lincolnshire, Illinois address is still used.) 

Along with Blackwater and DynCorp, Triple Canopy has had armed operatives deployed in Iraq on a major U.S. government contract since the early stages of the occupation. At one point during this arrangement, Blackwater was responsible for Baghdad (the largest share of the work), DynCorp covered northern Iraq and Triple Canopy southern Iraq. Triple Canopy also worked for KBR and other corporations. As of 2007, Triple Canopy had about 2,000 operatives in Iraq, but only 257 on the State Department contract. However, its new contract, which takes effect May 7, will greatly expand Triple Canopy’s government presence in Iraq. (Meanwhile, Blackwater is scheduled to continue to work in Iraq under Obama through its aviation division and in Afghanistan, where it has security and counter-narcotics contracts. It also holds millions of dollars in other U.S. government contracts around the world and in the U.S. In February alone, the Obama administration paid Blackwater nearly $70 million in security contracts.) The Obama administration may have traded Blackwater for Triple Canopy in Iraq, but it is likely that some of Blackwater’s operatives, too, will simply jump over to Triple Canopy to keep working as armed security guards for occupation officials.

Like Blackwater, Triple Canopy has had its share of bloody incidents, among them  allegations that operatives have gone on missions where they shot at civilian vehicles, including one after a briefing where a team leader cocked his M-4 and said to his men, “I want to kill somebody today. … Because I’m going on vacation tomorrow.” (The man in question denied any wrongdoing). While Triple Canopy fired some employees for not reporting shooting incidents in Iraq, none have been criminally prosecuted in Iraq or the U.S. (For a full report on this and other incidents involving Triple Canopy, check out the great work of Washington Post foreign correspondent Steve Fainaru, author of Big Boy Rules.)

Also like Blackwater, Triple Canopy has hired mercenaries from countries with atrocious human rights records and histories of violent counter-insurgencies. Among them: Peru, Chile, Colombia and El Salvador. In fact, in Iraq, Triple Canopy hired far more “Third Country Nationals” than Blackwater and DynCorp and has used more TCNs than US citizens or Iraqis. As I reported in my book, Triple Canopy used the same Chilean recruiter (who served in Augusto Pinochet’s military) Blackwater used when it hired Chilean forces, including some “seasoned veterans” of the Pinochet era. In El Salvador, the company reportedly used “a U.S.-trained former paratrooper and officer of the Salvadoran special forces during the country’s civil war” where the U.S. backed a brutal right wing dictatorship in a war that took the lives of some 75,000 Salvadorans. A Triple Canopy spokesperson reportedly said of the Salvadorans, “They’ve got the right background for the type of work we are doing.” A Triple Canopy subsidiary in Latin America has also reportedly used a former CIA base in Lepaterique, Honduras as a training center. In the 1980s, the facility was used by the CIA and Argentinian military intelligence in training Contra death squads to attack Nicaragua. The base also served as the headquarters for the notorious Battalion 316, a CIA-trained Honduran military unit responsible for torture and disappearances.

There is also cause for concern about Triple Canopy’s attitude towards accountability for its forces in Iraq, particularly in light of new rules which, on paper, give Iraqi courts jurisdiction over contractor crimes. Blackwater has, at times, conspired with the U.S. State Department to whisk its forces out of Iraq when they are facing potential prosecution for alleged crimes committed in the country, as in the case of a drunken Blackwater operative who was alleged to have shot and killed a bodyguard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdel-Mahdi on Christmas Eve 2006.

According to one Triple Canopy operative, “We were always told, from the very beginning, if for some reason something happened and the Iraqis were trying to prosecute us, they would put you in the back of a car and sneak you out of the country in the middle of the night.” Another Triple Canopy operative said U.S. contractors had their own motto: “What happens here today, stays here today.”

The use of mercenaries by Hillary Clinton’s State Department stands in stark contrast to her co-sponsorship as a Senator of a bill last year that sought to ban the use of such companies in U.S. war zones, specifically Iraq. Last February Clinton said, “The time to show these contractors the door is long past due.” Now, Clinton will be relying on these hired guns for protecting her and her staff in various countries.

It’s hardly a surprise that Obama is continuing the use of mercenaries in Iraq and beyond (Triple Canopy itself maintains offices in Abu Dhabi, Nigeria, Peru, Jordan and Uganda); nevertheless, members of Congress — whose actions when Bush deployed these private armies were too little, too late — have a responsibility to investigate his use of companies whose profits are intimately linked to a continuation of war. Moreover, Obama’s choice of this particular company should be investigated, both by the House and Senate, before May 7th when Obama’s mercenaries become the official paramilitary force in Iraq. As for Triple Canopy’s role in Israel, Obama’s administration should explain exactly what these forces are doing on the U.S. government payroll.

President Obama, Why Did You Pay Blackwater $70 Million in February? March 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Economic Crisis, Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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For those already outraged at the AIG bonus scandal, here is a fact that should add more fuel to the fire: The Obama administration has paid the mercenary firm formerly known as Blackwater nearly $70 million to operate in Iraq and, according to the Washington Times, may keep the company on the payroll months past the official expiration of its Iraq contract in May. I reviewed Blackwater’s recent transactions with the Obama State Department and discovered a $45 million payment to Blackwater on February 4, 2009 for “protective services-Iraq.” It is described as a “funding action only.” Here is the interesting part: The estimated “Ultimate Completion Date” is 5/07/2011.

The Washington Times (as described below) reported on a $22 million payment to Blackwater on February 2. Combined with the $45 million payment I discovered, that’s nearly $67 million in 72 hours. Not bad for a company supposedly going down in flames.

With the US economy in shambles and millions of Americans struggling to make ends meet and keep their homes, Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton need to explain to US taxpayers how they justify these mega-payments to a scandal-plagued mercenary company. (At the very least, someone should ask Robert Gibbs about it).

It has been widely reported that the Bush administration’s preferred mercenary company, which recently renamed itself Xe, will soon be leaving Iraq. That news came early this year after the State Department, under immense public pressure, announced it would not renew the company’s lucrative deal to act as the private paramilitary force for senior US occupation officials. The Iraqi government has said it wants the company to leave Iraq and says it has revoked the company’s operating license. The Obama administration continues to use Blackwater in Afghanistan and the company has extensive domestic training contracts with the military and law enforcement agencies inside the borders of the US.

Earlier this week, the Washington Post reported that some of Blackwater’s armed operatives may simply be rehired by two other US mercenary firms that are expected to take over Blackwater’s work in Iraq under the Obama administration: Triple Canopy and DynCorp. Now, The Washington Times reports that the State Department has signed contracts with Blackwater that appear to extend the company’s presence in Iraq at least until September 2009.

According to the paper:

“On Feb. 2, a department spokesman was asked whether officials planned to renew one of Blackwater’s contracts past May. The spokesman, Robert Wood, said the department had told Blackwater ‘we did not plan to renew the company’s existing task force orders for protective security details in Iraq.’

“But records available through a federal procurement database show that on that same day, the State Department approved a $22.2 million contract modification for Blackwater ‘security personnel’ in Iraq, with a job completion date of Sept. 3, 2009.”

“Why would you continue to use Blackwater when the Iraqi government has banned the highly controversial company and there are other choices?” said Melanie Sloan, executive director of the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington.

State Department spokesman Noel Clay told the Washington Times the contract modification involves aviation services. “The place of performance is Iraq, but it is totally different than the Baghdad one that expires in May,” he said. Sloan called the State Department’s explanation of the Feb. 2 deal a “parsing of words” and said “they should just be straight with us.” Xe spokeswoman Anne Tyrell declined to comment on the status of the company’s work in Iraq or the Feb. 2 contract modification. She said the company was aware that the State Department had indicated that it did not plan to renew its contracts in Iraq but that Xe officials had not received specific information about leaving the country. “We’re following their direction,” she said.

Blackwater recently renamed itself Xe and its owner Erik Prince “resigned” as CEO, though he remains its sole owner and chairman.

UPDATE: Could Arlen Specter’s Logic on AIG Bonuses Be Applied to Blackwater?

Several people have written me asking what the Obama administration SHOULD do with Blackwater, following the reports last night that the State Department paid the company some $70 million over a 72 hour period in February.

Many people take the position that Obama is dealing with remnants of the Bush administration’s disastrous policies and that it will take time to unravel. Fair enough. But, with the US economy in shambles, is it really a priority to make good on payments to a company like Blackwater?

I have long written that the Obama Iraq policy will necessitate using mercenary forces. This is true for a number of reasons, not the least of which is Obama’s refusal to scrap that monstrous US fortress they are calling an embassy. If it’s not going to be Blackwater guarding Obama’s occupation officials, it will be Triple Canopy and DynCorp (who will in turn hire a bunch of the “fired” Blackwater guys anyway). The point here is this: I disagree that the reality is simply that Obama needs time to phase out Blackwater and his hands are tied when it comes to paying them on existing contracts. I believe Obama needs them to sustain his bad Iraq policy, which will continue the occupation, albeit with a softer face. If Obama wanted to, he could outright fire Blackwater. Henry Waxman and others have called for that. He certainly would have the support of the American people, particularly given how much money Blackwater has milked from the US treasury.

All of this brings me to Republican Sen. Arlen Specter, former chair of the Judiciary Committee. Yesterday, he was interviewed on MSNBC by Andrea Mitchell about the AIG bonuses. Read what he says about the AIG contracts not having to be honored and then apply the logic to Obama’s Blackwater situation:

MITCHELL: What say you when it comes to these bonuses? Should they be taxed back? Should the AIG executives who approved the bonuses have to commit hari-kari? With whom do you side?

SPECTER: Andrea, they’re not enforceable under the law. They are against public policy. It is obviously against public policy to pay bonuses to people who caused the problem. If you have, for example, a contract for the sale of heroin, that’s not enforceable. You take those cases to court, they won’t be enforced. It’s just that plain. It’s set out very simply in the restatement of the law on contracts

(…..)

MITCHELL: Well, you know, there’s been a lot ventilating on all sides, but you’re a former district attorney, a former prosecutor, experienced lawyer and we tend to trust your judgment on this, former Judiciary Chairman. So let me hear you out on when you say they’re not enforceable, the top economic adviser and the Treasury Secretary said that these were contracts that if the government broke the contracts, there would be greater expense in going to court and suing to get the money back.

What would the next steps be in a practical way to get the money back and break the contracts?

SEN. SPECTER: The top economic adviser and the Secretary of the Treasury are wrong again. It happens too often to be excusable. I’d like to argue this as a legal matter. If you have a contract, which is against public policy, it is not enforceable. I gave you an extreme example. If you have a contract for the delivery of heroin, the use of heroin, the delivery of heroin is against the law, you can’t enforce it.

Let those individuals who claim that they’re entitled to bonuses go to court and the government will defend the case and will say these are against public policy. How can you pay a bonus to this individual in this company, which raised the problem and caused this $180 billion bailout and now they want bonuses on top? It is simply unenforceable.

Jeremy Scahill is the author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army. He is currently a Puffin Foundation Writing Fellow at the Nation Institute.

Barack Obama, Iraq and the Big Lie March 1, 2009

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By Roger Hollander, March 1, 2009, www.rogerhollander.wordpress.com

 

“Don’t piss on me and try to tell me it’s raining”

Judge Judy

 

Does it matter whether it is a moral and intellectual imbecile like George W. Bush or a brilliant and charismatic intellectual like Barack Obama who employ the Big Lie as a tactic to explain and justify the unjustifiable?

In a posting that appeared in towardfreedom.com on February 18, Joel S. Hirschhorn writes, “Compared to rioting Europeans, Americans seem like docile, drugged out sheep … mesmerized by melodic rhetoric of political messiah Barack Obama.”

(http://towardfreedom.com/home/content/view/1529/1/) (italics added)

 

In an ironic and tragic twist of fate, it now appears that Barack Obama’s mesmerizing and melodic rhetoric has turned out to be a two-edged sword.  The same magic timbre that inspired and motivated millions of America to work day and night for his election in order to end America’s disastrous military adventures in the Middle East is now being put to use to give credibility to the Bush/Cheney worldview of the Iraq War and to thwart the desires, interests and welfare of those very same millions.  The delivery hasn’t changed, but God help us, look at the content (which is what this article is all about).

 

In an article entitled “War Is Over (IF You Want It)” that appears in the current edition of The Nation magazine (http://www.thenation.com/doc/20090316/alterman), Eric Alterman calls attention to the radical Republican right strategy of defining the fiasco in Iraq as a “victory.”  He cites, for example, an editorial that appeared in the Wall Street Journal that quotes Bush speech writer Marc Thiessen, “As Mr. Bush leaves office, Iraq is a unified and free country, and our enemies there have suffered a devastating defeat. If his successor does not squander that victory, a free Iraq will one day be to the Middle East what a free South Korea has been to Asia.”  (this parallels the same kind of Big Lie that the radical right has propagated about the Vietnam War, that it could have been won if only the politicians had given the military a free hand – to nuke Hanoi presumably).

 

Alterman goes on to cite other neocons in a similar vein and suggests that this is a conscious and concentrated strategy the purpose of which is to set up President Obama up for failure.  If that is indeed the case, then Obama seems to be willingly and blithely walking into the trap.

 

In his speech given on Friday, February 27 at marine Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, Obama both affirms the neocon revisionist history of the Iraq invasion and occupation and lies blatantly to the American public about the proposed withdrawal.

 

First the latter.  Obama: “Let me say this as plainly as I can: by August 31, 2010, our combat mission in Iraq will end …. And under the Status of Forces Agreement with the Iraqi government, I intend to remove all U.S. troops from Iraq by the end of 2011.”

A bald faced lie.

Writing in the journal Foreign Policy in Focus on Friday, February 27, (http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5910), Phyllis Bennis exposes Obama’s dissimulation about the up to 50,000 allegedly non-combatant troops “left behind.”  Leaving aside the question of why that huge number would be required to “train,equip and advise” (one is reminded of the “advisors” in Vietnam), which even Nancy Pelosi has questioned, Bennis refers to a December New York Times article “describing how military planners believe Obama’s goal of pulling out combat troops ‘could be accomplished at least in part by re-labeling some units, so that those currently counted as combat troops could be ‘re-missioned,’ their efforts redefined as training and support for the Iraqis.’”  She adds, “That would mean a retreat to the lies and deception that characterized this war during Bush years — something President Obama promised to leave behind. It would also mean military resistance in Iraq would continue, leading to more Iraqi and U.S. casualties.”

Along with AlterNet’s Jeremy Scahill (“All Troops Out By 2011? Not So Fast; Why Obama’s Iraq Speech Deserves a Second Look,” (http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/129362/all_troops_out_by_2011_not_so_fast%3B_why_obama%27s_iraq_speech_deserves_a_second_look/), Bettis shows how the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which was adopted by the Iraqi government but never ratified by the United States, and which calls for all U.S. troops to be out of Iraq by the end of 2011, is full of loopholes that the Pentagon and presumably the President are ready, willing and able, to employ when the time comes for the helicopters to be evacuating the remaining troops a la Vietnam (in other words, it ain’t gonna happen).

Obama himself (inadvertently, I presume) lets it slip into the speech where he states that he will “retain a transitional force … conducting targeted counter-terrorism missions.”   Such missions can hardly be characterized as anything other than combat missions.  He also telegraphs to both the American people via his warning to the Iraq resistance what his ace-in-the-loophole will be: “But our enemies should be left with no doubt: this plan gives our military the forces and the flexibility they need to support our Iraqi partners, and to succeed.”  It’s that flexibility that we knee-jerk peace-mongers worry about.

Sins of omission can be as deceptive, disingenuous and morally corrupt as sins of commission.  As Bettis points out, Obama neglected to mention the future use of air and naval force in Iraq, the disposition of the more than fifty military bases in Iraq, or the future status of the enormous numbers of mercenaries and contractors (e.g. Dyncorp, Bechtel,  and Blackwater, now Xe).  Nor did refer to the city within a city that is the United States Embassy in Baghdad, the largest embassy in the history of humankind of which you can bet that it wasn’t built to become redundant in a period of a couple of years. Come December 31, 2111, all logic and experience tell us that United States military presence in Iraq will continue to be substantial.  Obama does himself and the nation a disservice by suggesting otherwise.

As for the Bush, Cheney, neocon, and now apparently Obama fairytale version of the United States involvement in Iraq, it is probably true that it is the only one that would have been palatable for obvious reasons to the marines at Camp Lejeune, not to mention the neo-Fascist right that has ruled the country for the past eight years.  But to speak before the country and the entire world and characterize the United States invasion and occupation of Iraq, which has been responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths, untold misery for millions and the virtual destruction of the Iraq infrastructure, as some kind of a noble venture is to contort reality into nothing less than a Big Lie which can only serve to justify past atrocity and foreshadow future ongoing bloodshed and destruction.

Obama: “We Americans have offered our most precious resource – our young men and women – to work with you to rebuild what was destroyed by despotism; to root out our common enemies; and to seek peace and prosperity for our children and grandchildren, and for yours.”  Bush could not have said it any better (which is probably why McCain is salivating as we speak).

The Biggest Lie of all comes toward the end of Obama’s speech: “And so I want to be very clear: We sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime …We kept our troops in Iraq to help establish a sovereign government …And we will leave the Iraqi people with a hard-earned opportunity to live a better life …”

Alleging that “we sent our troops to Iraq to do away with Saddam Hussein’s regime” contains the truth within a lie.  In making the statement, Obama incredibly admits that the United States government violated the most fundamental precept of the United Nations Charter and international law, to wit, an unprovoked attack on a sovereign nation.  But does the President expect the American people and the world to forget about the intentionally false information about nuclear materials and weapons of mass destruction that was fed to the American people and world community as the justification for the invasion in the first place?  In this instance Obama’s Big lie serves to reinforce the Original Big Lie of the Bush administration.  The growing demand for prosecutorial accountability with respect to Bush and Company include, we should remember, not only torture, rendition, illegal wiretapping, etc. but also the crime of lying to the American public and Congress about the grounds for the invasion.

(To put matters into an even broader historical context, I refer readers to Nora Eisenberg’s excellent piece in AlterNet.com where she documents the Big Lie technique that was used to justify the first Gulf War in 1991 where according to a United Nations report the United States Air Force bombed Iraq “back into the Dark Ages.”  “Obama to Announce Iraq Troop Withdrawal,”

http://www.alternet.org/waroniraq/128916/why_the_dark_secrets_of_the_first_gulf_war_are_still_haunting_us/)

As for establishing a sovereign government and leaving the Iraqi people the opportunity to have a better life, while the jury may still be out on those counts, the evidence we have to date flies in the face of such empty rhetorical wishful thinking.

Some time ago Bush and the neocons began, ominously, comparing Iraq with South Korea, where the U.S. has had a “successful” military presence for over 50 years.  They neglect, of course, to note the difference, to wit, that South Korea was a military ally of the United States against the North Korean invasion, whereas the U.S. has been bombing the life out of Iraq since 1991 and through its unlawful invasion provoked a near civil war within the country that has cost the lives of hundreds of thousands of Iraqis?  Will this South Korea paradigm fiction be the next straw that Obama will need to grasp in order to justify occupation in perpetuity? 

There are two other critical concepts, which are central to the forces that were behind the original invasion and which impulse the continued military occupation, that Obama neglected to mention.  One of them is “war profiteering.”  Wipe out the infrastructure, and then as a pretext for reconstructing it, give billions in untendered contracts to the likes of Dick Cheney’s Haliburton.  And that is not to mention the corporate ghouls who manufacture our weapons of mass destruction.

The other concept, however, is one that virtually every American, not to mention the rest of the world, knows in her or his heart to have been, is, and will continue to be the single most – if not the only – motivating force behind the U.S. military adventure in Iraq.  It can be found in the original but quickly discarded acronym for the mission: Operation  Iraqi  Liberation.

Further Deconstruction of President Obama’s February 27 “Withdrawal from Iraq” Speech

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against tyranny …”

Deconstruction: Those soldiers who have fought tyranny are living in Canada.

Obama: (to the military) “You have fought against … disorder.”

Deconstruction: Disorder created not only by the current invasion and occupation but also by 19 years of U.S. bombing and economic blockade.  Eisenberg: “We never learned that the government’s goals had changed from expelling Saddam’s forces from Kuwait to destroying Iraq’s infrastructure. Or what a country with a destroyed infrastructure looks like — with most of its electricity, telecommunications, sewage system, dams, railroads and bridges blown away.”

Obama: “Violence has been reduced substantially from the horrific sectarian killing of 2006 and 2007.”

Deconstruction: Sectarian killing and violence that the U.S. invasion and occupation provoked and by which Saddam Hussein’s atrocities pale in comparison.  U.S. inspired violence and killing 2003-2006 conveniently ignored.

Obama: “Al Qaeda in Iraq has been dealt a serious blow by our troops and Iraq’s Security Forces …”

Deconstruction: And has been handed a recruiting opportunity that will dramatically inflate the ranks of revenge-motivated terrorists who will plague us for decades or more.

Obama: “… a transition to full Iraqi responsibility … an Iraq that is sovereign, stable and self-reliant … The United States pursues no claim on your territory or your resources.”

Deconstruction: An Iraq that is occupied by the U.S. military in perpetuity, in order to ensure the protection of U.S. interests in the region’s natural resources and to ensure the “election” of government’s that maintain Iraq as a client state of the U.S.

Obama: “There are those … who will insist that Iraq’s differences cannot be reconciled without more killing.”

Deconstruction: We don’t insist on more killing we just do it.  Bennis: “And what if the reduction in ground troops is answered with an escalation of U.S. air power? The U.S. appears to be planning to control the skies over Iraq for years to come. That means even more Iraqi civilians being killed by the U.S. military. We need the withdraw all air and naval forces too — something the SOFA agreement mentions, but we have yet to hear anything from the Obama administration. The U.S. has been conducting continuous overflights and regular bombing of Iraq since January 1991 – isn’t 18 years of air war enough?”

Obama: “And as long as I am your Commander-in-Chief, I promise you that I will only send you into harm’s way when it is absolutely necessary …”

Deconstruction: Necessary to what and to whose ends?

Obama: “What we will not do is let the pursuit of the perfect stand in the way of achievable goals.”

Deconstruction: Forget such wishy-washy idealist notions such as actual peace and justice.

Obama: (with respect to) “millions of displaced Iraqis … America has … a moral responsibility – to act.”

Deconstruction: This is another Obama slip up: America has no “moral responsibility” to help those refugees.  It was Saddam who made us create all those refugees.  Right?  We do it out of the goodness of our gas-guzzling hearts.

Obama: “… the United States of America – a nation that exists only because free men and women have bled for it from the beaches of Normandy to the deserts of Anbar; from the mountains of Korea to the streets of Kandahar.”

Deconstruction: Obama gives us jingoistic triumphalistic patriotism, when the American people hunger for a truthful acknowledgement of the past crimes.

One has to ask the question why the entire sub-text, not to mention the practical implications, of Obama’s speech was addressed directly to the radical Republican right, corporate America, and the military-industrial complex.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

No mercy for mercenaries February 18, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Iraq and Afghanistan, War.
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guardian.co.uk, Tuesday 17 February 2009 18.00 GMT

Blackwater – er, Xe – has been kicked out of Iraq. Now the other private security contractors should be banned as well

After raking in more than a billion dollars from its contracts in Iraq, Blackwater is finally being forced to leave the country that it has terrorised for so long. But the notorious mercenary firm’s departure will likely have more symbolic significance than any real impact on the day-to-day lives of Iraqis.

First, only Blackwater as a corporate entity – which just changed its name to Xe in an effort to shake its bad reputation – is being given the boot. Iraqi officials have said that its operatives will be allowed to stay in the country by switching companies, as long as they have clean records. While this sounds reasonable, making that determination will be next to impossible. According to US officials and the contractors themselves, the actual number of shootings in Iraq by private military companies is far higher than is publicly acknowledged and they are rarely reported by the individuals involved.

Second, Blackwater never was a lone bad apple. The entire mercenary industry is rotten and needs to be discarded. Consider Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, the two mercenary outfits that will be filling the hole left by Blackwater. In 1999, for example, Dyncorp employees were implicated in a sex ring in Bosnia that involved the trafficking of women and children as young as 12 years old. When whistleblowers came forward to expose these heinous crimes, they were promptly fired.

And there is no sign that firm has cleaned up its act in Iraq and Afghanistan. The US state department has repeatedly rebuked Dyncorp for being unprofessional and “too aggressive”. In one embarrassing incident, a BBC correspondent actually saw a guard from the company slap the Afghan transport minister.

By comparison, Triple Canopy is a relative newcomer to the mercenary business. With hopes of cashing in on the most privatised war in history, the company was founded immediately after the invasion of Iraq by three US special forces veterans. According to a report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service (pdf), Triple Canopy relies far more heavily on so-called “third-country nationals” to cushion its bottom line than either Dyncorp or Blackwater. Paid only $33 a day, these hired guns come largely from developing countries – especially those in Latin America – that have histories of human rights abuses.

Much like Blackwater, Triple Canopy was involved in one of the most infamous shooting sprees of the war in Iraq. On 8 July 2006 – after remarking “I want to kill somebody today” – a heavily armed Triple Canopy guard in Iraq reportedly shot multiple rounds into the windshield of an unthreatening pickup truck and later a taxi for amusement.

Many argue, including President Barack Obama, that these mercenaries can be reined in through the creation of a legal framework that can hold them accountable for any wrongdoing. The notion, however, that these hired guns – who number in the tens of thousands and are often better armed than US soldiers – can somehow be effectively monitored and brought to justice in the middle of a war zone is pure fantasy.

The only real solution to this mess is for either Iraq or the US to ban armed contractors altogether. The Stop Outsourcing Security Act would accomplish this by mandating “that all diplomatic security in Iraq be undertaken by US government personnel within six months of enactment.” The legislation also states that “the use of private military contractors for mission critical functions” in all conflict zones where the US is active must be phased out over a longer timeline.

Hillary Clinton offered a glimmer of hope when she endorsed this bill during her campaign for the presidency. But as Obama’s secretary of state, she has quickly abandoned her commitment to “show these contractors the door”. Unfortunately for Iraqis, it looks like the mercenary industry will have little to fear from the new administration.

Blackwater: A Smell by Any Other Name? February 14, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in War.
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Patt Morrison, www.huffingtonpost.com, February 14, 2009

Some of your employees are facing manslaughter charges. Your biggest customers just yanked your contracts.

How do you repair your image and your reputation?

Simple: Change your name.

The Outfit Formerly Known as Blackwater, the huge military contracting and consulting firm, made its bones and its less than salubrious name in Iraq. And now it wants to unmake its notoriety. It is changing its name to Xe.

Pronounced Z. Or maybe “zed,” depending on what part of the world you’re in.

Blackwater: from the unspeakable to the unpronounceable.

In a memo to employees, Blackwater/Xe president Gary Jackson says the switch “reflects the change in company focus away from the business of providing private security.” To providing what now, exactly? Frosted cupcakes?

Xe is on the periodic charts at atomic number 54; it stands for xenon, a “noble gas” like fellow elements krypton and neon.

The Outfit Formerly Known as Blackwater now joins the ranks of the rebranded, along with Altria, a bland, content-free name meant to make people forget that its original name and mission was Philip Morris, cigarette maker.

Whatever they choose to call it, for an awful lot of people, here and in Iraq, Blackwater’s name will always be mud.

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