Iraq orders former Blackwater security guards out

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.

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What would Erik Prince advise?

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.

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Biden says U.S. will appeal Blackwater case dismissal

Biden says U.S. will appeal Blackwater case dismissal

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…]

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Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

Iraqis say they were forced to take Blackwater settlement

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…]

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Blackwater and the Khost bombing: Is the CIA deceiving Congress (yet again)?

Blackwater and the Khost bombing: Is the CIA deceiving Congress (yet again)?

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…]

Sources: Suspected drone strikes kill militants in Pakistan

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.

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CIA reportedly ordered Blackwater to murder 9/11 suspect

CIA reportedly ordered Blackwater to murder 9/11 suspect

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…]

Germany knows nothing of alleged CIA murder plot

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…]

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Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

Iraqis express dismay over Blackwater ruling

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 to sue ex-Blackwater guards

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…]

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Blackwater guards tied to secret CIA raids

Blackwater guards tied to secret CIA raids

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…]

When did the CIA become a Blackwater subsidiary?

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…]

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Erik Prince: tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy

Erik Prince: tycoon, contractor, soldier, spy

“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…]

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Blackwater’s secret war in Pakistan

Blackwater’s secret war in Pakistan

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. [continued…]

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Fine and inquiry possible for Blackwater successor

Fine and inquiry possible for Blackwater successor

The international security company formerly called Blackwater Worldwide is facing large government fines for unlicensed arms shipments to Iraq, as a key Congressional committee is asking for a separate investigation into whether the company bribed Iraqi officials.

In talks likely to result in millions of dollars in penalties, executives from the company, now known as Xe Services, are negotiating with government regulators over years of violations of export laws. According to government officials and former company employees, many of the violations involve arms shipments to Iraq, to outfit company security guards operating inside the country.

In addition, former company officials say that other penalties could result from violations of licensing requirements for the transfer of other forms of military technology and training expertise to foreign countries.

Senator John Kerry, the Massachusetts Democrat who is chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, wrote in a letter on Wednesday that his committee was told by a top State Department official that the company had engaged in “broad violations” of export laws and that the unlicensed shipments “went beyond weapons for personal use.” [continued…]

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Blackwater said to approve Iraqi payoffs after shootings

Blackwater said to approve Iraqi payoffs after shootings

Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.

Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.

Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, where the company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though, said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of the potential recipients.

Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials. [continued…]

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Blackwater tapped foreigners on secret CIA program

Blackwater tapped foreigners on secret CIA program

When the CIA revived a plan to kill or capture terrorists in 2004, the agency turned to the well-connected security company then known as Blackwater USA.

With Blackwater’s lucrative government security work and contacts arrayed in hot spots around the world, company officials offered the services of foreigners supposedly skilled at tracking terrorists in lawless regions and countries where the CIA had no working relationships with the government.

Blackwater told the CIA that it “could put people on the ground to provide the surveillance and support — all of the things you need to conduct an operation,” a former senior CIA official familiar with the secret program told The Associated Press.

But the CIA’s use of the private contractor as part of its now-abandoned plan to dispatch death squads skirted concerns now re-emerging with recent disclosures about Blackwater’s role. [continued…]

CIA’s black sites, illuminated

Their transformations took place in a sensory cocoon: aboard a CIA aircraft, shackled in place, deprived of sight and sound by blindfolds, headsets and hoods.

They emerged into an existence that was hidden for most of the last eight years, but now is possible to glimpse through dozens of declassified files released by the Obama administration last week.

Scattered throughout, in the CIA’s clinical style, are descriptions of the prisoners’ surroundings, the extraordinary security measures with which they were handled, the often brutal search for answers they were thought to possess, and what passed for everyday life.

Some days seemed endless, illuminated around the clock by a pair of 17-watt fluorescent bulbs. White noise from the walkways filtered through the cell walls usually “in the range of 56-58” decibels, about as loud as people generally talk. [continued…]

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New CIA docs detail brutal “extraordinary rendition” process

New CIA docs detail brutal “extraordinary rendition” process

Deep among the documents released to the ACLU on Monday afternoon was a curious memo dated 30 December 2004 and directed to Dan Levin, then acting head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel. The fax cover sheet has a brief note, “Dan, a generic description of the process.” The name of the sender, based at the CIA, has been obliterated. You can view the document here.

The document provides a step-by-step manual for extraordinary renditions.

The process starts with “capture shock.” The detainee is subject to a medical examination prior to his flight. During the flight, the detainee is securely shackled, and is deprived of sight and sound through the use of blindfolds, earmuffs and hoods. [continued…]

ACLU lawyers mine documents for truth

In the spring of 2003, long before Abu Ghraib or secret prisons became part of the American vocabulary, a pair of recently hired lawyers at the American Civil Liberties Union noticed a handful of news reports about allegations of abuse of prisoners in American custody.

The lawyers, Jameel Jaffer and Amrit Singh, wondered: Was there a broader pattern of abuse, and could a Freedom of Information Act request uncover it? Some of their colleagues, more experienced with the frustrations of such document demands, were skeptical. One made a tongue-in-cheek offer of $1 for every page they turned up.

Six years later, the detention document request and subsequent lawsuit are among the most successful in the history of public disclosure, with 130,000 pages of previously secret documents released to date and the prospect of more. [continued…]

Blackwater founder accused in court of intent to kill

The founder of Blackwater USA deliberately caused the deaths of innocent civilians in a series of shootings in Iraq, attorneys for Iraqis suing the security contractor told a federal judge Friday.

The attorneys singled out Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL who is the company’s owner, for blame in the deaths of more than 20 Iraqis between 2005 and 2007. Six former Blackwater guards were criminally charged in 14 of the shootings, and family members and victims’ estates sued Prince, Blackwater (now called Xe Services LLC) and a group of related companies.

“The person responsible for these deaths is Mr. Prince,” Susan L. Burke, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said in U.S. District Court in Alexandria. “He had the intent, he provided the weapons, he provided the instructions, and they were done by his agents and they were war crimes.” [continued…]

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CIA said to use outsiders to put bombs on drones

CIA said to use outsiders to put bombs on drones

From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, the company formerly known as Blackwater has assumed a role in Washington’s most important counterterrorism program: the use of remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda’s leaders, according to government officials and current and former employees.

The division’s operations are carried out 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, work previously performed by employees of the Central Intelligence Agency. They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said.

The role of the company in the Predator program highlights the degree to which the C.I.A. now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency’s most important assignments. And it illustrates the resilience of Blackwater, now known as Xe (pronounced Zee) Services, though most people in and outside the company still refer to it as Blackwater. It has grown through government work, even as it attracted criticism and allegations of brutality in Iraq. [continued…]

Detainees shown CIA officers’ photos

The Justice Department recently questioned military defense attorneys at Guantanamo Bay about whether photographs of CIA personnel, including covert officers, were unlawfully provided to detainees charged with organizing the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks, according to sources familiar with the investigation.

Investigators are looking into allegations that laws protecting classified information were breached when three lawyers showed their clients the photographs, the sources said. The lawyers were apparently attempting to identify CIA officers and contractors involved in the agency’s interrogation of al-Qaeda suspects in facilities outside the United States, where the agency employed harsh techniques.

If detainees at the U.S. military prison in Cuba are tried, either in federal court or by a military commission, defense lawyers are expected to attempt to call CIA personnel to testify. [continued…]

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CIA sought Blackwater’s help in plan to kill jihadists

CIA sought Blackwater’s help in plan to kill jihadists

The Central Intelligence Agency in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of Al Qaeda, according to current and former government officials.

Executives from Blackwater, which has generated controversy because of its aggressive tactics in Iraq, helped the spy agency with planning, training and surveillance. The C.I.A. spent several million dollars on the program, which did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects.

The fact that the C.I.A. used an outside company for the program was a major reason that Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A.’s director, became alarmed and called an emergency meeting in June to tell Congress that the agency had withheld details of the program for seven years, the officials said.

It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to actually capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance in the program. American spy agencies have in recent years outsourced some highly controversial work, including the interrogation of prisoners. But government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.

Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. Blackwater’s work on the program actually ended years before Mr. Panetta took over the agency, after senior C.I.A. officials themselves questioned the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program.

Blackwater, which has changed its name, most recently to Xe Services, and is based in North Carolina, in recent years has received millions of dollars in government contracts, growing so large that the Bush administration said it was a necessary part of its war operation in Iraq. [continued…]

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Iraqis speak of random killings committed by private Blackwater guards

Iraqis speak of random killings committed by private Blackwater guards

Guards employed by Blackwater, the US security company, shot Iraqis and killed victims in allegedly unprovoked and random attacks, it was claimed yesterday.

A Virginia court also received sworn statements from former Blackwater employees yesterday alleging that Erik Prince, the company’s founder, “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe”.

They also accused the company of following a policy of deliberate killings and arms dealing and of employing people unfit or improperly trained to handle lethal weaponry. [continued…]

Police: 37 die in Iraq as bombs target Shiites

A suicide car bomb devastated a Shiite mosque in northern Iraq, one of a series of attacks Friday that killed at least 37 Shiite pilgrims and worshippers, police and medical officials said.

The incidents are the latest in a series that have targeted Shiites, raising concerns that insurgents are stepping up attacks, hoping to re-ignite sectarian violence that nearly tore the country apart in 2006 and 2007.

Though violence has dramatically declined in Iraq in the past two years, U.S. officials have repeatedly called the security gains fragile and cautioned that a waning insurgency still has the ability to pull off sporadic, high profile attacks. [continued…]

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Blackwater founder implicated in murder

Blackwater founder implicated in murder

A former Blackwater employee and an ex-US Marine who has worked as a security operative for the company have made a series of explosive allegations in sworn statements filed on August 3 in federal court in Virginia. The two men claim that the company’s owner, Erik Prince, may have murdered or facilitated the murder of individuals who were cooperating with federal authorities investigating the company. The former employee also alleges that Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe,” and that Prince’s companies “encouraged and rewarded the destruction of Iraqi life.”

In their testimony, both men also allege that Blackwater was smuggling weapons into Iraq. One of the men alleges that Prince turned a profit by transporting “illegal” or “unlawful” weapons into the country on Prince’s private planes. They also charge that Prince and other Blackwater executives destroyed incriminating videos, emails and other documents and have intentionally deceived the US State Department and other federal agencies. The identities of the two individuals were sealed out of concerns for their safety. [continued…]

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