Issa: Attack on Blackwater is Attack on... Petraeus


By Spencer Ackerman - October 2, 2007, 10:51AM


Gold-Plated Rambos

  By Patrick B. Pexton

All of these security personnel, whether civil servants or uniformed military, are highly trained. And, by most all accounts, they do an exemplary job. They are swift and sure when force is necessary. They are also sensitive to civilians, whether confronting a line of impatient visa seekers or in the course of guarding the commander in chief. And, if there are any problems, they are accountable to a clear chain of command.

Yet, despite this solid reputation, they're mostly absent from Iraq. Instead, the top American diplomats there have relied on the hired guns of the increasingly swampy North Carolina private-security firm Blackwater USA. Since 2003, the State Department has paid Blackwater upwards of $832 million for security in Iraq. Today, Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince and three State Department officials are scheduled to appear before Congress to explain what that money paid for. The short answer? Gold-plated Rambos that are a slight to the U.S. government's in-house security personnel and a hindrance to U.S. policy goals.

If the State Department's attitude is any indication, clearly Blackwater and the two other major private contractors -- Dyncorp and Triple Canopy -- are the Cadillacs, maybe the Rolls Royces, of security. State has been happy to leave them to their own devices and send big checks. Written contracts (some of them no-bid) are vague, requiring "protection of U.S. and/or certain foreign government high-level officials whenever the need arises." Accountability is non-existent. After the Sept. 16 Blackwater shootout that reportedly left 11 Iraqi civilians dead and 14 wounded, the State Department couldn't say which laws -- Iraqi or American, if any -- the Blackwater agents were subject to.

 for private security services are high. Court documents in one of several lawsuits filed by families of Blackwater agents killed in Iraq suggest that its triggermen are paid $600 a day -- or more than $150,000 a year. By contrast, a Marine gunnery sergeant, with say 15 years experience and maybe a couple of tours in Iraq's Anbar province under his belt, would make about $43,000. That discrepancy could be even higher, according to a report released yesterday by the Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. The report cited a fee for each contractor of $1,222 a day or $445,000 a year and declared that a Blackwater guard is "over six times more than the cost of an equivalent soldier."

But even more costly are the harmful effects on U.S. policy. The arrogance and trigger-happy ways of the gold-plated Rambos are killing innocent Iraqis and destroying the good will that our uniformed troops up the road are fighting and dying for. Indeed, our diplomats had to hunker down in the Green Zone after the latest shootout. They feared for their lives, and the reaction of Iraqis, if they ventured out with Blackwater in tow.

State Department officials claim the situation is one of necessity. "[T]here is simply no way at all that the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security could ever have enough full-time personnel to staff the security function in Iraq," says the U.S. ambassador there, Ryan Crocker. "There is no alternative except through contracts." It's certainly true that civilian diplomatic security agents are a small force. But the most reliable estimates put the number of private security contractors protecting U.S. diplomats in Iraq at less than 1,000. That's the equivalent of a battalion or less of Marines or soldiers. Surely the Pentagon, even given its shortages, could lend a battalion to protect senior diplomats doing the necessary political work in Iraq. It could also redirect some of the $20,000 enlistment bonuses now offered to green recruits and instead try to retain the senior soldiers and Marines leaving uniform to work for Blackwater.

Not all Marines are perfect; the ongoing courts martial of Marines accused in the killings of civilians at Haditha, Iraq, underscore that. Nor are all Blackwater employees criminals; many of them served with distinction in the armed forces. But by giving private security firms such special treatment, U.S. officials are implying that these private armies are better at their jobs than government security personnel. And, if you believe that, I have a few thousand Secret Service agents and U.S. Marines I'd like you to meet.

Patrick B. Pexton is deputy editor of National Journal.




                     TROUBLE FOR HIRE


Contractors training at Blackwater in North Carolina.  

Contractors training at Blackwater in North Carolina.

 September 30, 2007 -- Americans have always despised mercenaries. Our dislike of hired killers dates back to the days of our Founding Fathers. When Washington crossed the Delaware to defeat the Hessians at Trenton, he targeted hirelings who’d burned, raped and murdered their way across northern New Jersey.
During our Civil War, the fiercest insult Southerners hurled across the Potomac was the accusation that the Irish immigrants inducted into the Union armies were mercenaries. Men who fought for pay alone were repulsive to American values.
And now the United States has become the world’s No. 1 employer of hired thugs. By a conservative count, we and our partners in Iraq employ 5,000 armed American and other Western expatriates, at least 10,000 third-country- nationals or TCNs, and upwards of 15,000 Iraqis who should be serving their own country in uniform.
George Washington must be grinding his false teeth in heaven.
To be fair, not all of the mercenaries your tax dollars pay create problems (although they all pose moral issues). TCNs, such as the Peruvian guards in the Green Zone and Ugandans guarding mess halls on Marine forward operating bases, usually take their responsibilities seriously. As for the Iraqi hires, it’s a constant game of “Who Do You Trust?”
The gravest problems arise from the collection of psychos, misfits, sadists and can’t-make-it-back- home gunslingers employed by the “private security contractors” or PSCs. For one American tax dollar to go to these thugs is a travesty.
We’ve starved our armed forces. Now we’re doling out billions for armed farces.
Again, it’s vital to be fair - and PSCs come in a wide range of flavors. Some contractors are disciplined and wary of doing harm. Nor could we do without them, having painted ourselves into an ugly corner by making a religious cult of privatization and outsourcing. Our troops abroad now depend on contractors for elementary services.
Nonetheless, rogue elements within the security contractor world do so much damage to our strategic goals and international relationships that it’s hard not to conclude that we should just shut them down and do the best we can without them.
The most notorious recent incident occurred two weeks ago, when gunmen from Blackwater USA, an organization that’s created far more than its fair share of trouble, shot up a crowd of Iraqi civilians in a thriving district of Baghdad.
The details remain murky - and Blackwater and its State Department defenders are doing all they can to make them murkier. But most accounts, whether from “our” Iraqis or U.S. soldiers who rushed to the scene, pin the blame on Blackwater’s thugs.
The information emerging suggests that, in the course of a routine escort mission for American diplomats, at least one of the Blackwater boys either imagined a threat or just felt like busting some caps. A woman and child died in a car (which did not carry any bombs). Up to 10 more unarmed Iraqis were slaughtered in a tempest of automatic weapons fire. Up to two dozen were wounded.
The firepower employed by Blackwater was better suited to a full-scale combat engagement with an enemy army than it was to the protection of a diplomat - who was, apparently, never in any danger.
Blackwater claims that Iraqi security forces returned fire at its convoy. Well, if they did, they were awfully brave, since the Iraqi police don’t have the kind of heavy weaponry packed by Blackwater’s gunmen (without proper licenses, at that). On the contrary, reports suggest that Blackwater’s men just got into a partying spirit, emptying additional magazines long after any threat had evaporated. Some accounts describe internal confrontations between Blackwater supervisors and sadists who wouldn’t stop shooting.
With Blackwater reinforcing its thugs with its own helicopter gunships and Iraqi security forces begging for help to save civilian lives, the U.S. Army had to step in and enforce a cease-fire.
Oh, one Blackwater employee did suffer a minor injury. And a number of the company’s vehicles were scratched. Guess that makes up for the dead mom and her kid.
In war, the innocent die. Got it. And no apologies are necessary for legitimate casualties in the course of combat. But there’s no excuse for killing the innocent just for a hoot.
Blackwater couldn’t care less - if it did, it would press for prosecutions itself. Instead, the company works the loopholes in the shabby system the State Department forced on the government of Iraq.
And who gets the blame? Our troops. Iraqis just see all of the pale faces with guns as Americans. They don’t differentiate between the honorable men and women in uniform and the narcissistic killers who adorn themselves with knives and cop-killer side arms - and who look like rejects from professional wrestling.
And, as any soldier in Iraq can tell you, one contractor shoot-’em-up can ruin months of progress. (Of course, the contractors don’t make money off of progress - a peaceful Iraq would be terrible for business.)
Speaking with Army officers in Iraq, you’ll find some who defend specific security contractors as responsible and valuable. I’ve personally seen some who behaved with discipline and professionalism. But I couldn’t find one military officer who had a good word to say about Blackwater - the kindest comment came from a major on a repeat tour who told me that “given my own dealings with them in ’05, this latest incident [has] not come as a surprise to me.”
A well-placed colonel had believed that Blackwater’s cowboy years had been back in 2004 and 2005. He’d hoped that the company was now under control.
It wasn’t.
Another officer recalled his experiences up-country on his last tour of duty. A rival of Blackwater’s, Triple Canopy, escorted State reps who visited his unit’s area. The security details always checked in, got briefed, confirmed the route status, made sure the Army knew when they entered and exited the sector, and even asked if any large gatherings of Iraqis were expected - so they could bypass them. The soldiers and the contractors from Triple Canopy “developed a rapport.”
Then Blackwater took over the escort mission. The officer “got a decidedly different impression of the guys I came in contact with . . . Security officers who came to the TOC [tactical operations center] were swaggering, arrogant and didn’t want to be bothered knowing about the route status . . . I clearly remember the first day I met them [and] began the standard brief I would give to Triple Canopy. The Blackwater guy threw up his hand and said dismissively, ‘I’m good to go, Hoss.’”
Soon after that, Blackwater gunmen shot up some locals, killing one civilian and wounding several others. They didn’t bother to inform the Army unit responsible for the area - which had to pick up the pieces. Our troops hadn’t known that State had anyone in the area that day and only found out after the damage was done.
How can it be that you and I are working and paying taxes to fund six-figure salaries for thugs who undercut our progress in Iraq, make a mockery of the values we profess, and trash America’s image?
 most-frightened human beings you’ll
Our country has been dishonored. By our “Hessians.”
Ralph Peters is a retired Army officer and the author of the recent book “Wars Of Blood And Faith.”
Founded: 1997 in North Carolina by former Navy SEAL Erik Prince
Logo: A bear claw within a rifle sight
Employees: It boasts a database of 20,000 men; it’s estimated they have about 1,000 contractors in Iraq.
Pay: Blackwater has four tiers of contractor. Tier 1, made up mostly of former military personnel, can pay $600-$650 a day, according to author Jeremy Scahill. The bottom tier, usually Iraqi locals, make much less. Scahill heard that Colombian contractors, at Tier 3, made as little as $34 a day.
Contracts: Over $700 million in State Department contracts alone since 2003, including a $27 million contract to guard Iraq administrator Paul Bremer for 11 months.
Nickname: Iraqis call it “the Mossad.” “There’s probably no deeper insult for the Iraqis,” Scahill says.
Jeremy Scahill, author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army” (Nation Books), explains the meteoric ascent of the troubled private military contractor. Blackwater may not be the largest of these companies, “but it’s a high-end boutique on a strip-mall full of Wal-Marts. And it’s politically closest to the administration.”
1997 - Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL whose family is a major Republican donor, founds Blackwater Lodge and Training Center in North Carolina. The name is a tip of the hat to the local swamps, and it’s advertised as a sportsman’s paradise - though the company mentions that a growth area could be in the increased outsourcing of military contracts.
1999 - After the Columbine tragedy, Blackwater builds a mock high school called RU Ready High. Law enforcement officials from around the country train in the facility to respond to school shootings.
2000 - After the U.S.S. Cole bombing in Yemen, the U.S. Navy grants Blackwater a $35 million contract to train its sailors to respond to terrorist attacks.
2001 - After 9/11, Blackwater is granted its first contract in a military zone. Details are classified; Scahill believes the mission was to guard a structure in Afghanistan for the CIA.
2003 - Blackwater receives a $27 million no-bid contract to guard U.S. administrator Paul Bremer in Iraq.
2004 - In March, Iraqi insurgents attacked a convoy containing four Blackwater contractors, who were killed, their bodies hung from a Euphrates bridge. The company hired lobbyists from the Alexander Strategy Group the day after the ambush, and within a week Blackwater officials met with top GOP lawmakers. Three months later, Blackwater was awarded a $320 million contract to provide diplomatic security in Iraq.
2005 - After Hurricane Katrina, Blackwater is contracted to provide security, logistics and transport on the Gulf Coast. Its employees protect government facilities for the Department of Homeland Security.
2006 - On Christmas Eve, an off-duty Blackwater contractor shoots and kills a bodyguard for the Iraqi vice president inside the Green Zone. The Iraqis label it a “murder.” Blackwater admits it whisked the contractor out of Iraq.
2007 - On Sept. 16, at Nissor Square in Baghdad, Blackwater contractors get into a fire fight in which 11 Iraqis are killed. Blackwater officials say that they came under attack from multiple locations. According to an Iraqi investigation, the Blackwater contractors fired at a car that ignored warnings and Iraqi Army soldiers responded by firing on the Blackwater team, which was answered by more shooting. The next day, the Iraqi government revoked Blackwater’s license to operate in the country. So far the Bush administration has backed Blackwater. “The company has lost about 30 men in Iraq,” Scahill says. “They’ve never lost anyone they were assigned to protect. So there’s a




FACTBOX: Report says Blackwater Iraq shootings at 1.4 per week


(Reuters) - Blackwater, the embattled U.S. security contractor, defended itself in Congress on Tuesday over "escalation of force" incidents in Iraq that a congressional report said equal 1.4 shootings per week.

The report prepared by Democratic staff of the House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform said Blackwater has been involved in 195 shooting incidents since 2005 and shot first 84 percent of the time despite a contract agreement to use force only in defense.

The report said Blackwater usually does not remain at the scene to determine if there are casualties. But Blackwater's own incident reports still record 16 Iraqi casualties and 162 instances of property damage, mainly to Iraqi vehicles.

Blackwater activities came under intense scrutiny in Washington after a September 16 shooting killed 11 Iraqi civilians, wounded 14 and initially prompted the Iraqi government to revoke the company's license.

Following are five other incidents listed in the Democratic report from the committee chaired by U.S. Rep. Henry Waxman of California.

* June 2005, a Blackwater team killed an Iraqi man with a shot to the chest. The victim's brothers reported to the State Department that the father of six was killed as an innocent bystander. An internal State Department document said the Blackwater personnel who fired the shots initially failed to report the shooting and sought to cover it up.

* October 2005, a Blackwater team protecting a motorcade in Mosul encountered a vehicle that appeared to be turning into the motorcade's path. When the driver did not heed warnings to stop, a Blackwater gunner released "a burst of fire" that apparently disabled the vehicle. A civilian nearby was hit in the head by a bullet. Blackwater continued on without stopping but reported the incident as a probable killing. An ambulance was sent to the scene.

* November 2005, a Blackwater motorcade collided with 18 vehicles during a round trip journey. Written statements from team members were determined by Blackwater to be "invalid, inaccurate, and at best, dishonest reporting." According to a Blackwater contractor who was on the mission, the tactical commander "openly admitted giving clear direction to the primary driver to conduct these acts of random negligence for no apparent reason." Two employees were fired as a result.

* September 2006, a Blackwater team with four vehicles was driving on the wrong side of the road in a maneuver called "counter flowing." The driver of an Iraqi car heading toward the Blackwater team lost control while trying to avoid them. The car swerved, skidded into a Blackwater vehicle, crashed into a telephone pole and caught fire. The Blackwater team collected people and sensitive equipment from its own disabled vehicle and left the scene without trying to assist the occupants of the Iraqi vehicle, which Blackwater described as "a ball of flames."

* Christmas Eve 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed a security guard for Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul-Mahdi. The State Department allowed the contractor to leave Iraq within 36 hours. The U.S. embassy's charge d'affaires recommended that Blackwater apologize to the dead man's family and pay them $250,000. But the State Department's Diplomatic Security Service said the sum was too high and could cause Iraqis to "try to get killed." In the end, Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment.

                Trigger-Happy Journalists 

October 1, 2007; Page A22

"They are immature shooters and have very quick trigger fingers," says an anonymous lieutenant colonel.

"Why are we creating new vulnerabilities by relying on what are essentially mercenary forces?" asks a nameless intelligence officer. "They often act like cowboys over here," says an unidentified commander.

Ever since a recent shootout in downtown Baghdad, newspapers have been ablaze with charges that private security contractors in Iraq are trigger-happy.

This rush to pass judgment is hardly surprising. Frequently derided as "mercenaries" and "rent-a-cops," security contractors make an easy target for war opponents.

As a former employee of a major Blackwater competitor, I find this categorical smearing of contractors to be starkly at odds with my experience. I served as an officer in the Navy SEALs for six years. After I left, I joined a private security firm and was promptly sent to Iraq.

Contrary to the popular belief that Blackwater contractors are "thugs for hire," most are highly professional and well trained. Blackwater operates the world's largest private military training facility. Its 1,000 contractors working in Iraq are drawn from the ranks of former military and law enforcement officials. Many of its workers are former SEALs or veterans of other special-operations units.

The risks these workers assume are underscored by the infamous 2004 ambush in Fallujah, in which four Blackwater contractors were murdered and mutilated. To date, Blackwater has lost 30 contractors. For all anyone knows, last month's incident could have turned into another Fallujah had Blackwater's contractors reacted differently. The details are still terribly unclear.

The contractors -- and the U.S. diplomats they were escorting -- claim they were ambushed. Yet Iraq's Ministry of Interior almost immediately issued a report declaring that the contractors were "100% guilty." Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has charged that the operators killed "in cold blood."

With conflicting reports, condemnations should not be made until the joint Iraqi-U.S. investigation is completed. The media, however, has accepted the Ministry of Interior's version of events, all but writing off the accounts of both Blackwater and the State Department.

This follows a long-established pattern of unfounded claims in the press about security contractors. For instance, numerous reports reference contractors making over $1,000 a day -- far more than active-duty soldiers. Some point to the more than $700 million Blackwater has received in State Department contracts in order to denounce security firms as war profiteers.

The truth, however, is that contractors are cost-effective. Blackwater contractors, for example, are generally paid $450-$650 a day. More important, unlike U.S. servicemen, they usually receive no benefits and are paid only for the days they work. Security contractors at the better firms have typically retired from active duty or left the military on their own accord after extended service. They are honorable veterans who have chosen to risk their lives to protect American diplomats in a war zone.

Instead of depleting our armed forces, security contractors allow the government to recapture its investment in these men during wartime and avoid the extraordinary expense of training new recruits. In short, they're already trained and experienced -- and cost money only when they're needed.

Another common myth is that contractors are above the law. True, the June 2004 Coalition Provisional Authority Order 17 exempts contractors (and other diplomatic personnel) from local prosecution. But that doesn't mean that contractors have been granted blanket immunity from prosecution. In fact, the order clearly states that this immunity is limited only to acts necessary to fulfill contracts. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians -- as alleged in last month's incident -- are not covered.

Contractors are also subject to numerous U.S. statutes and regulations, as well as international treaties. Just last year, Congress amended the Uniform Code of Military Justice to include contractors. Contractors can also be prosecuted under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act of 2000, which permits charges to be brought in federal court for crimes abroad.

Like soldiers, security contractors are sometimes forced to make split-second decisions with enormous consequences. They must be -- and are -- accountable to our government for their actions. But the people I worked with in Iraq, including veterans working for Blackwater, were hardly rogue cowboys. I did, however, meet some trigger-happy journalists over there.

Mr. Ryan is a former U.S. Navy SEAL officer who spent time in Iraq as an employee of Triple Canopy, a private security firm.