The New York Times reports: Just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, the State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. But the inquiry was abandoned after Blackwater’s top manager there issued a threat: “that he could kill” the government’s chief investigator and “no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” according to department reports.
American Embassy officials in Baghdad sided with Blackwater rather than the State Department investigators as a dispute over the probe escalated in August 2007, the previously undisclosed documents show. The officials told the investigators that they had disrupted the embassy’s relationship with the security contractor and ordered them to leave the country, according to the reports.
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created “an environment full of liability and negligence.” [Continue reading...]
Eli Lake reports: Last month a three-year-long federal prosecution of Blackwater collapsed. The government’s 15-felony indictment — on such charges as conspiring to hide purchases of automatic rifles and other weapons from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives — could have led to years of jail time for Blackwater personnel. In the end, however, the government got only misdemeanor guilty pleas by two former executives, each of whom were sentenced to four months of house arrest, three years’ probation, and a fine of $5,000. Prosecutors dropped charges against three other executives named in the suit and abandoned the felony charges altogether.
But the most noteworthy thing about the largely failed prosecution wasn’t the outcome. It was the tens of thousands of pages of documents — some declassified — that the litigation left in its wake. These documents illuminate Blackwater’s defense strategy — and it’s a fascinating one: to defeat the charges it was facing, Blackwater built a case not only that it worked with the CIA — which was already widely known—but that it was in many ways an extension of the agency itself.
Founded in 1997 by Erik Prince, heir to an auto-parts family fortune, Blackwater had proved especially useful to the CIA in the early 2000s. “You have to remember where the CIA was after 9/11,” says retired Congressman Pete Hoekstra, who served as the Republican chairman of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence from 2004 to 2006 and later as the ranking member of the committee. “They were gutted in the 1990s. They were sending raw recruits into Afghanistan and other dangerous places. They were looking for skills and capabilities, and they had to go to outside contractors like Blackwater to make sure they could accomplish their mission.” [Continue reading...]
The New York Times reports from Abu Dhabi, in the United Arab Emirates:
Late one night last November, a plane carrying dozens of Colombian men touched down in this glittering seaside capital. Whisked through customs by an Emirati intelligence officer, the group boarded an unmarked bus and drove roughly 20 miles to a windswept military complex in the desert sand.
The Colombians had entered the United Arab Emirates posing as construction workers. In fact, they were soldiers for a secret American-led mercenary army being built by Erik Prince, the billionaire founder of Blackwater Worldwide, with $529 million from the oil-soaked sheikdom.
Mr. Prince, who resettled here last year after his security business faced mounting legal problems in the United States, was hired by the crown prince of Abu Dhabi to put together an 800-member battalion of foreign troops for the U.A.E., according to former employees on the project, American officials and corporate documents obtained by The New York Times.
The force is intended to conduct special operations missions inside and outside the country, defend oil pipelines and skyscrapers from terrorist attacks and put down internal revolts, the documents show. Such troops could be deployed if the Emirates faced unrest in their crowded labor camps or were challenged by pro-democracy protests like those sweeping the Arab world this year.
The U.A.E.’s rulers, viewing their own military as inadequate, also hope that the troops could blunt the regional aggression of Iran, the country’s biggest foe, the former employees said. The training camp, located on a sprawling Emirati base called Zayed Military City, is hidden behind concrete walls laced with barbed wire. Photographs show rows of identical yellow temporary buildings, used for barracks and mess halls, and a motor pool, which houses Humvees and fuel trucks. The Colombians, along with South African and other foreign troops, are trained by retired American soldiers and veterans of the German and British special operations units and the French Foreign Legion, according to the former employees and American officials.
In outsourcing critical parts of their defense to mercenaries — the soldiers of choice for medieval kings, Italian Renaissance dukes and African dictators — the Emiratis have begun a new era in the boom in wartime contracting that began after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. And by relying on a force largely created by Americans, they have introduced a volatile element in an already combustible region where the United States is widely viewed with suspicion.
Glenn Greenwald writes:
On January 27, Raymond Davis, a former U.S. Special Forces soldier, shot and killed two Pakistani citizens in that nation’s second-largest city, Lahore, using a semi-automatic Glock pistol. Davis claims he acted in self-defense when they attacked his car to rob him — both of the dead were armed and had lengthy records of petty crimes — but each was shot five times, and one was killed after Davis was safely back in his car and the victim was fleeing. After shooting the two dead, Davis calmly photographed their bodies and then called other Americans stationed in Pakistan (likely CIA officers) for assistance; one of the Americans’ Land Rovers dispatched to help Davis struck and killed a Pakistani motorcyclist while speeding to the scene. The Pakistani wife of one of Davis’ victims then committed suicide by swallowing rat poison, saying on her deathbed that she had serious doubts that Davis would be held accountable.
For reasons easy to understand — four dead Pakistanis at the hands of Americans, two of whom (at least) were completely innocent — this episode has become a major scandal in that nation. From the start, the U.S. Government has demanded Davis’ release on the grounds of “diplomatic immunity.” But the very murky status of Davis and his work in Pakistan has clouded that claim. The State Department first said he worked for the consulate, not the embassy, which would make him subject to weaker immunity rights than diplomats enjoy (State now says that its original claim was a “mistake” and that Davis worked for the embassy). President Obama then publicly demanded the release of what he absurdly called “our diplomat in Pakistan”; when he was arrested, Davis “was carrying a 9mm gun and 75 bullets, bolt cutters, a GPS unit, an infrared light, telescope, a digital camera, an air ticket, two mobile phones and a blank cheque.” Late last week, a Pakistani court ordered a three-week investigation to determine if Davis merits diplomatic immunity, during which time he will remain in custody. And now it turns out, according The Guardian last night, that “our diplomat” was actually working for the CIA.
The Guardian reports:
Pakistani prosecutors accuse the spy of excessive force, saying he fired 10 shots and got out of his car to shoot one man twice in the back as he fled. The man’s body was found 30 feet from his motorbike.
“It went way beyond what we define as self-defence. It was not commensurate with the threat,” a senior police official involved in the case told the Guardian.
The Pakistani government is aware of Davis’s CIA status yet has kept quiet in the face of immense American pressure to free him under the Vienna convention. Last week President Barack Obama described Davis as “our diplomat” and dispatched his chief diplomatic troubleshooter, Senator John Kerry, to Islamabad. Kerry returned home empty-handed.
Many Pakistanis are outraged at the idea of an armed American rampaging through their second-largest city. Analysts have warned of Egyptian-style protests if Davis is released. The government, fearful of a backlash, says it needs until 14 March to decide whether Davis enjoys immunity.
A third man was crushed by an American vehicle as it rushed to Davis’s aid. Pakistani officials believe its occupants were CIA because they came from the house where Davis lived and were armed.
The US refused Pakistani demands to interrogate the two men and on Sunday a senior Pakistani intelligence official said they had left the country. “They have flown the coop, they are already in America,” he said.
ABC News reported that the men had the same diplomatic visas as Davis. It is not unusual for US intelligence officers, like their counterparts round the world, to carry diplomatic passports.
The US has accused Pakistan of illegally detaining him and riding roughshod over international treaties. Angry politicians have proposed slashing Islamabad’s $1.5bn (£900m) annual aid.
But Washington’s case is hobbled by its resounding silence on Davis’s role. He served in the US special forces for 10 years before leaving in 2003 to become a security contractor. A senior Pakistani official said he believed Davis had worked with Xe, the firm formerly known as Blackwater.
Pakistani suspicions about Davis’s role were stoked by the equipment police confiscated from his car: an unlicensed pistol, a long-range radio, a GPS device, an infrared torch and a camera with pictures of buildings around Lahore.
“This is not the work of a diplomat. He was doing espionage and surveillance activities,” said the Punjab law minister, Rana Sanaullah, adding he had “confirmation” that Davis was a CIA employee.
A number of US media outlets learned about Davis’s CIA role but have kept it under wraps at the request of the Obama administration. A Colorado television station, 9NEWS, made a connection after speaking to Davis’s wife. She referred its inquiries to a number in Washington which turned out to be the CIA. The station removed the CIA reference from its website at the request of the US government.
The New York Times reports:
Erik Prince, the founder of the international security giant Blackwater Worldwide, is backing an effort by a controversial South African mercenary firm to insert itself into Somalia’s bloody civil war by protecting government leaders, training Somali troops, and battling pirates and Islamic militants there, according to American and Western officials.
The disclosure comes as Mr. Prince sells off his interest in the company he built into a behemoth with billions of dollars in American government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, work that mired him in lawsuits and investigations amid reports of reckless behavior by his operatives, including causing the deaths of civilians in Iraq. His efforts to wade into the chaos of Somalia appear to be Mr. Prince’s latest endeavor to remain at the center of a campaign against Islamic radicalism in some of the world’s most war-ravaged corners.
Andrew Bacevich writes:
American politics is typically a grimy business of horses traded and pork delivered. Political speech, for its part, tends to be formulaic and eminently forgettable. Yet on occasion, a politician will transcend circumstance and bear witness to some lasting truth: George Washington in his Farewell Address, for example, or Abraham Lincoln in his Second Inaugural.
Fifty years ago, President Dwight D. Eisenhower joined such august company when, in his own farewell address, he warned of the rise in America of the “military-industrial complex.” An accomplished soldier and a better-than-average president, Eisenhower had devoted the preponderance of his adult life to studying, waging, and then seeking to avert war. Not surprisingly, therefore, his prophetic voice rang clearest when as president he reflected on matters related to military power and policy.
Ike’s farewell address, nationally televised on the evening of January 17, 1961, offered one such occasion, although not the only one. Equally significant, if now nearly forgotten, was his presentation to the American Society of Newspaper Editors on April 16, 1953. In this speech, the president contemplated a world permanently perched on the brink of war—“humanity hanging from a cross of iron”— and he appealed to Americans to assess the consequences likely to ensue.
Separated in time by eight years, the two speeches are complementary: to consider them in combination is to discover their full importance. As bookends to Eisenhower’s presidency, they form a solemn meditation on the implications—economic, social, political, and moral—of militarizing America.
Jeremy Scahill writes:
In the fall of 2008, the US Special Operations Command asked top US diplomats in Pakistan and Afghanistan for detailed information on refugee camps along the Afghanistan Pakistan border and a list of humanitarian aid organizations working in those camps. On October 6, the US ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, sent a cable marked “Confidential” to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, the CIA, US Central Command and several US embassies saying that some of the requests, which came in the form of emails, “suggested that agencies intend to use the data for targeting purposes.” Other requests, according to the cable, “indicate it would be used for “NO STRIKE” purposes.” The cable, which was issued jointly by the US embassies in Kabul and Islamabad, declared: “We are concerned about providing information gained from humanitarian organizations to military personnel, especially for reasons that remain unclear. Particularly worrisome, this does not seem to us a very efficient way to gather accurate information.”
What this cable says in plain terms is that at least one person within the US Special Operations Command actually asked US diplomats in Kabul and/or Islamabad point-blank for information on refugee camps to be used in a targeted killing or capture operation. It also seems possible whoever made that request actually put it in an email (FOIA anyone?). It is no longer a publicly deniable secret that US special operations forces and the CIA have engaged in offensive operations in Pakistan, but this cable is evidence that they sought to exploit the US embassies’ humanitarian aid operations through back channel communications to conduct potentially lethal operations. Needless to say, this type of request is extremely dangerous for aid workers because it reinforces the belief that USAID and other nongovernmental organizations are fronts for the CIA. In November 2009, a US military intelligence source told me that some Blackwater contractors working for US special operations forces in Pakistan have posed as aid workers. “Nobody even gives them a second thought,” he said. Blackwater, at the time, denied it was operating in Pakistan.
At TomDispatch, Pratap Chatterjee writes:
The Pentagon faces a tough choice: Should it award a new contract to Xe (formerly Blackwater), a company made infamous when its employees killed 17 Iraqis in Baghdad in 2007, or to DynCorp, a company made infamous in Bosnia in 1999 when some of its employees were caught trafficking young girls for sex?
This billion-dollar contract will be the linchpin of a training program for the Afghan National Police, who are theoretically to be drilled in counterinsurgency tactics that will help defeat the Taliban and bring security to impoverished, war-torn Afghanistan. The program is also considered a crucial component of the Obama administration’s plan for turning the war around. Ironically, Xe was poised to win the contract until a successful appeal by DynCorp last week threw the field wide open.
Some people in the U.S. government (and many outside it) believe that this task should not be assigned to private contractors in the first place. Meanwhile, many police experts are certain that it hardly matters which company gets the contract. Like so many before it, the latest training program is doomed from the outset, they believe, because its focus will be on defeating the Taliban rather than fostering community-oriented policing.
The Obama administration is in a fix: it believes that, if it can’t put at least 100,000 trained police officers on Afghan streets and into the scattered hamlets that make up the bulk of the country, it won’t be able to begin a drawdown of U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan by the middle of next year.
The New York Times says that soon after what had been described as a successful offensive in Marja, the Taliban have begun waging a campaign of intimidation “that some local Afghan leaders worry has jeopardized the success of an American-led offensive there meant as an early test of a revised military approach in Afghanistan.”
At GlobalPost, Jean MacKenzie and Mohammad Ilyas Dayee write:
The dusty squares of Marjah are empty; there is no life, the soul of the place seems to have disappeared. Those residents who are left cower in their homes, afraid of bullets or mines if they venture out, even for food.
“It is a small picture of Doomsday,” said Alishah Mazlumyar, the head of Helmand’s Department of Information and Culture, and a member of the Marjah shura, or council. “Dozens of civilians have been killed. Their families cannot bury the bodies, and for days they have been lying in their houses, beginning to decompose. There is a smell of death here.”
Twelve days into Operation Moshtarak — pitting 15,000 U.S., British and Afghan troops against a few hundred Taliban — the message from the military and diplomatic communities is resolutely upbeat.
Western diplomats term the operation a success, and the media office of the International Security Assistance Force (ISAF) points to a bright future.
“Signs of steady progress in development and governance are being seen in central Helmand province. Bridges, roads and culverts are being repaired, bazaars are re-opening and attracting customers, and a variety of initiatives are being planned or implemented,” read the IJC press release of Feb. 22.
But those in Marjah are telling a very different story.
Reporting for Christian Science Monitor, Anand Gopal says:
Pakistan has arrested nearly half of the Afghanistan Taliban’s leadership in recent days, Pakistani officials told the Monitor Wednesday, dealing what could be a crucial blow to the insurgent movement.
In total, seven of the insurgent group’s 15-member leadership council, thought to be based in Quetta, Pakistan, including the head of military operations, have been apprehended in the past week, according to Pakistani intelligence officials.
Western and Pakistani media had previously reported the arrest of three of the 15, but this is the first confirmation of the wider scale of the Pakistan crackdown on the Taliban leadership, something the US has sought.
“This really hurts the Taliban in the short run,” says Wahid Muzjda, a former Taliban official turned political analyst, based in Kabul. Whether it will have an effect in the long run will depend on what kind of new leaders take the reins, he says.
The New York Times reports:
Inside a secret detention center in an industrial pocket of the Pakistani capital called I/9, teams of Pakistani and American spies have kept a watchful eye on a senior Taliban leader captured last month. With the other eye, they watch each other.
The C.I.A. and its Pakistani counterpart, the Directorate of Inter-Services Intelligence, have a long and often tormented relationship. And even now, they are moving warily toward conflicting goals, with each maneuvering to protect its influence after the shooting stops in Afghanistan.
Yet interviews in recent days show how they are working together on tactical operations, and how far the C.I.A. has extended its extraordinary secret war beyond the mountainous tribal belt and deep into Pakistan’s sprawling cities.
Beyond the capture of Mullah Abdul Ghani Baradar, C.I.A. operatives working with the ISI have carried out dozens of raids throughout Pakistan over the past year, working from bases in the cities of Quetta, Peshawar and elsewhere, according to Pakistani security officials.
The Washington Post says:
A blizzard of bank notes is flying out of Afghanistan — often in full view of customs officers at the Kabul airport — as part of a cash exodus that is confounding U.S. officials and raising concerns about the money’s origin.
The cash, estimated to total well over $1 billion a year, flows mostly to the Persian Gulf emirate of Dubai, where many wealthy Afghans now park their families and funds, according to U.S. and Afghan officials. So long as departing cash is declared at the airport here, its transfer is legal.
But at a time when the United States and its allies are spending billions of dollars to prop up the fragile government of President Hamid Karzai, the volume of the outflow has stirred concerns that funds have been diverted from aid. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, for its part, is trying to figure out whether some of the money comes from Afghanistan’s thriving opium trade. And officials in neighboring Pakistan think that at least some of the cash leaving Kabul has been smuggled overland from Pakistan.
Finally, in Mother Jones, Daniel Schulman reports:
Blackwater improperly obtained hundreds of weapons intended for use by Afghanistan’s already underequipped police force—and then falsely claimed to a Senate committee that the firearms had been returned when many remained unaccounted for.
According to a months-long investigation by the Senate Armed Services Committee that unearthed a range of misconduct by the company’s personnel, contractors working for a Blackwater subsidiary named Paravant operated recklessly and routinely violated military regulations. The inquiry also identified a series of major vetting lapses by the company, which employed at least one contractor it had previously fired for improper behavior in Iraq and others who abused alcohol and drugs, including steroids. The investigation paints a grim picture of the state of contracting oversight in Afghanistan, where, according to committee staffers, military officials missed multiple red flags calling Paravant’s conduct into question—and were even confused about who was ultimately responsible for overseeing the company’s work in the first place.
The Associated Press reported:
Iraq has ordered hundreds of private security guards linked to Blackwater Worldwide to leave the country within seven days or face possible arrest on visa violations, the interior minister said Wednesday.
The order comes in the wake of a U.S. judge’s dismissal of criminal charges against five Blackwater guards who were accused in the September 2007 shooting deaths of 17 Iraqis in Baghdad.
The New York Times reported:
Two former employees of Blackwater Worldwide have accused the private security company of defrauding the government for years by filing bogus receipts, double billing for the same services and charging government agencies for strippers and prostitutes, according to court documents unsealed this week.
In a December 2008 lawsuit, the former employees said top Blackwater officials had engaged in a pattern of deception as they carried out government contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
The lawsuit, filed under the False Claims Act, also asserts that Blackwater officials turned a blind eye to “excessive and unjustified” force against Iraqi civilians by several Blackwater guards.
The New York Times reports:
An Iraqi militant group said it had abducted an American contractor, a day after the United States military reported that a contractor had been missing since Jan. 23. It would be the first reported kidnapping of an American in a year in Iraq.
The militant group posted a video to back up its claim, although the man in the video does not give his name.
The Department of Defense identified the missing man as Issa T. Salomi, 60, of El Cajon, Calif. In a statement on Friday, the military said he worked as a contractor for American forces and was last seen on Jan. 23 in Baghdad. Search efforts were under way, the statement said.
There was no way to immediately confirm the authenticity of the video or that the man pictured was Mr. Salomi.
The reports of an abduction raise fresh fears that despite an improvement in security in Baghdad and other parts of Iraq, foreigners working here are still vulnerable to kidnapping.
In the video, the captured man, wearing what appeared to be an American military uniform, identified the abductors as the League of Righteous, a Shiite Muslim militant group, and said they were treating him “kindly.” He said his kidnappers were demanding the release of other militants from jail and the prosecution of former Blackwater security guards accused in a shooting that left 17 Iraqis dead in 2007.
“The second demand is to bring the proper justice and the proper punishment to those members of Blackwater company that have committed unjustifiable crimes against innocent Iraqi civilians,” the man said in a transcript of the video posted on a Web site used by Iraqi insurgent groups. The man in the video said his captors were demanding “proper compensation to the families that have been involved in great suffering because of this incident.”
If the Obama administration has any interest in really dealing with the Blackwater legacy in a significant way, it’s time that it develops a case for the criminal prosecution of Erik Prince. Otherwise, in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan, groups like the League of Righteous will continue to have all the political ammunition they need to justify kidnapping Americans.
But the chances are, Prince still doesn’t need to fear arrest. Instead, most likely, another secret deal will be cut resulting in another prisoner exchange.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. promised Iraqi leaders on Saturday that the United States would appeal the dismissal of manslaughter charges against five Blackwater Worldwide security contractors involved in a deadly shooting here that has inflamed anti-American tensions.
Mr. Biden, tasked by the Obama administration to oversee policy in Iraq, made the statement after a day of meetings with Iraqi leaders that dealt, in part, with a political crisis that has erupted over the March 7 parliamentary elections. American officials view the vote, a barometer of the durability of Iraq’s political system, as a crucial date in American plans to withdraw tens of thousands of combat troops from Iraq by the end of August.
The vice president expressed his “personal regret” for the Blackwater shooting in 2007, in which contractors guarding American diplomats opened fire in a crowded Baghdad traffic circle, killing 17 people, including women and children.
“A dismissal is not an acquittal,” he said after meeting President Jalal Talabani. [continued...]
Several victims of a 2007 shooting involving American private security guards employed by the firm formerly known as Blackwater alleged Sunday that they were coerced into reaching settlements, and they demanded that the Iraqi government intervene to have the agreements nullified.
The Iraqis said they were pressured by their own attorneys into accepting what they now believe are inadequate settlements because they were told the company was about to file for bankruptcy, that its chairman was going to be arrested and that the U.S. government was about to confiscate all of the firm’s assets. This would be their last chance to get any compensation, the victims said they were told.
When criminal charges against the guards were dismissed by a U.S. federal judge on Dec. 31, the Iraqis concluded that they had been duped and that Blackwater, now called Xe, was not in the kind of legal and financial trouble they had been led to believe. [continued...]
A leading member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has told The Nation that she will launch an investigation into why two Blackwater contractors were among the dead in the December 30 suicide bombing at the CIA station at Forward Operating Base Chapman in Khost, Afghanistan. “The Intelligence Committees and the public were led to believe that the CIA was phasing out its contracts with Blackwater and now we find out that there is this ongoing presence,” said Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, in an interview. “Is the CIA once again deceiving us about the relationship with Blackwater?”
In December, the CIA announced that the agency had canceled its contract with Blackwater to work on the agency’s drone bombing campaign in Afghanistan and Pakistan and said Director Leon Panetta ordered a review of all existing CIA contracts with Blackwater. “At this time, Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations other than in a security or support role,” CIA spokesman George Little said December 11.
But Schakowsky said the fact that two Blackwater personnel were in such close proximity to the December 30 suicide bomber–an alleged double agent, who was reportedly meeting with CIA agents including the agency’s second-ranking officer in Afghanistan when he blew himself up–shows how “deeply enmeshed” Blackwater remains in sensitive CIA operations, including those CIA officials claim it no longer participates in, such as intelligence gathering and briefings with valuable agency assets. [continued...]
At least 13 suspected militants were killed in a tribal region of Pakistan near the Afghan border Wednesday, apparently by missiles fired from unmanned U.S. aircraft, two Pakistani intelligence sources told CNN.
The strikes are the fourth and fifth suspected drone strikes in less than a week, and come after a suicide bomber killed seven Central Intelligence Agency officers and contractors on December 30. [continued...]
Editor’s Comment — Soon after the Khost bombing, unnamed CIA officials promised there would be revenge attacks, yet one has to wonder whether the CIA is now conducting attacks so indiscriminate that they have unequivocally become acts of terrorism. The New York Times reported:
Officials in Afghanistan and Washington said the C.I.A. group in Khost had been particularly aggressive in recent months against the Haqqani network, a militant group that has claimed responsibility for dozens of American deaths in Afghanistan. One NATO official in Afghanistan spoke in stark terms about the attack, saying it had “effectively shut down a key station.”
“These were not people who wrote things down in the computer or in notebooks. It was all in their heads,” he said. The C.I.A. is “pulling in new people from all over the world, but how long will it take to rebuild the networks, to get up to speed? Lots of it is irrecoverable. Lots of it.”
So the CIA is now struggling to get up to speed, the intelligence knowledge possessed by a key group involved in targeting Predator attacks has irrecoverably been lost and Hellfire missiles are raining down.
In 2004, the CIA sent a team from the private security firm Blackwater, now Xe, to Hamburg to kill an alleged al Qaeda financier who was investigated for years by German authorities on suspicion of links to al Qaeda, according to a little-highlighted element in a Vanity Fair article to be published this month.
The report cited a source familiar with the program as saying the mission had been kept secret from the German government.
“Among the team’s targets, according to a source familiar with the program, was Mamoun Darkazanli, an al Qaeda financier living in Hamburg who had been on the agency’s radar for years because of his ties to three of the 9/11 hijackers and to operatives convicted of the 1998 bombings of U.S. embassies in East Africa,” writes Vanity Fair’s Adam Ciralsky. [continued...]
The German government said on Monday it knew nothing about a magazine report that the CIA had planned a secret operation to kill a German-Syrian in Hamburg linked to the September 11 attacks on U.S. targets.
The U.S. magazine Vanity Fair had reported that the CIA had in 2004 sent a team from the private security firm Blackwater, now Xe, to Hamburg to kill Mamoun Darkazanli, who was investigated for years by German authorities on suspicion of links to al Qaeda. [continued...]
Cars breezed by the trimmed green hedges and flowers of Baghdad’s Nisoor Square on Friday, while pedestrians strolled past billboards of smiling men and women promoting national elections. Little trace was left of the September 2007 day when Blackwater security guards opened fire on the crowded intersection, killing 17 civilians.
On Thursday, a judge in a U.S. federal court had thrown out the criminal prosecution of five Blackwater guards involved in the shootings. The consequences of that decision were still being felt Friday by survivors of the attack, politicians and ordinary Iraqis, who expressed feelings of helplessness at the hands of the United States.
The Iraqi government vowed to seek an appeal. Victims and others said they doubted they would ever see justice, convinced the American government considers their blood cheap.
U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina ruled that prosecutors of the five security guards had wrongly relied on statements the defendants made to State Department investigators under the promise of immunity. The guards, who were facing counts of manslaughter and firearms violations, maintained they opened fire in response to an attack. Iraqis dispute that. [continued...]
Iraq said Friday that it will file a lawsuit against five Blackwater security guards cleared of manslaughter charges in the 2007 killing of 17 Iraqi civilians, an act a government official called murder.
The Iraqi government also will ask the U.S. Justice Department to appeal a federal judge’s “unfair and unacceptable” dismissal of the charges Thursday, spokesman Ali al-Dabbagh said.
An Iraqi man wounded in the 2007 incident also voiced his anger Friday, saying U.S. District Judge Ricardo Urbina’s dismissal of the charges showed “disregard for Iraqi blood.” [continued...]
Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.
The raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former intelligence officers said.
Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield.
Separately, former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on some C.I.A. flights transporting detainees in the years after the 2001 terror attacks in the United States.
The secret missions illuminate a far deeper relationship between the spy agency and the private security company than government officials had acknowledged. Blackwater’s partnership with the C.I.A. has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater. [continued...]
Today’s Times disclosures can be seen as an extension of the claims made by Erik Prince in his curious Vanity Fair interview that he was a proud but informal operative of the CIA, notwithstanding his unsuccessful attempts to sign up through the front door. In a discussion with Jeremy Scahill at The Nation, I noted that the interview appeared to be carefully laying the foundations for a “graymail” defense for Prince, should federal prosecutors move against him. One common form of “graymail” for a figure who has a relationship with the U.S. intelligence community is to warn that, if prosecuted, he will have to spill the beans on his covert activities in order to defend himself. The tactic has proven widely effective. [continued...]
“I put myself and my company at the C.I.A.’s disposal for some very risky missions,” says Erik Prince as he surveys his heavily fortified, 7,000-acre compound in rural Moyock, North Carolina. “But when it became politically expedient to do so, someone threw me under the bus.” Prince—the founder of Blackwater, the world’s most notorious private military contractor—is royally steamed. He wants to vent. And he wants you to hear him vent.
Erik Prince has an image problem—the kind that’s impervious to a Madison Avenue makeover. The 40-year-old heir to a Michigan auto-parts fortune, and a former navy seal, he has had the distinction of being vilified recently both in life and in art. In Washington, Prince has become a scapegoat for some of the Bush administration’s misadventures in Iraq—though Blackwater’s own deeds have also come in for withering criticism. Congressmen and lawyers, human-rights groups and pundits, have described Prince as a war profiteer, one who has assembled a rogue fighting force capable of toppling governments. His employees have been repeatedly accused of using excessive, even deadly force in Iraq; many Iraqis, in fact, have died during encounters with Blackwater. And in November, as a North Carolina grand jury was considering a raft of charges against the company, as a half-dozen civil suits were brewing in Virginia, and as five former Blackwater staffers were preparing for trial for their roles in the deaths of 17 Iraqis, The New York Times reported in a page-one story that Prince’s firm, in the aftermath of the tragedy, had sought to bribe Iraqi officials for their compliance, charges which Prince calls “lies … undocumented, unsubstantiated [and] anonymous.” (So infamous is the Blackwater brand that even the Taliban have floated far-fetched conspiracy theories, accusing the company of engaging in suicide bombings in Pakistan.) [continued...]