Walter Pincus, Washington Post, September 8, 2009
"As the United States withdraws its combat forces from Iraq, the government is hiring more private guards to protect U.S. installations at a cost that could near $1 billion, according to the special inspector general for Iraq reconstruction....
"The inspector general for reconstruction predicted that costs for private security at U.S. facilities in Iraq 'will grow in size to a potential $935 million.' The inspector general's report, issued this year, said the MNF-I planned to switch to private guards for Victory Base Camp, one of its largest installations. That facility alone would require 'approximately 2,600 security personnel,' the report said....
"The inspector general's report shows that government estimates of the total cost of replacing soldiers with contractors are hidden in public accounting. The report notes that government services provided to the private guard force -- food, housing and other benefits -- are not considered, only payments going directly to the contractors. The report estimated that such services provided to private security personnel in the 12 months ending in March cost 'more than $250 million,' at a time when listed outlays to the contractor firms in that period totaled $155 million.
"In the new contracts, private contractors will continue to be allowed to use government dining facilities, living quarters, barber services, some transportation within Iraq and emergency medical care."
Matthew Lee, Associated Press, September 2, 2009
"State Department officials said Wednesday they have extended a contract with a subsidiary of the security firm once known as Blackwater USA despite the fact the company is not allowed to work in the country.
"Three officials said the contract with Presidential Airways to provide air support for U.S. diplomats was temporarily extended because the firm chosen to replace it is not yet ready to take over. The contract was due to expire on Sept. 3 and be taken over a day later by Dyncorp International....
"The State Department had informed Blackwater in January that it would not renew its contracts to provide security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq because of the Iraqi government's refusal to grant it an operating license. The Presidential Airways contract was the last of those contracts to expire. Blackwater guards stopped protecting American diplomats in al Hillah, Najaf and Karbala, all south of Baghdad, in August."
Steven Aftergood , Federation of American Scientists' Secrecy News blog, September 1, 2009
"There are more Department of Defense contractors in Afghanistan today than there are uniformed U.S. military personnel, according to a new report from the Congressional Research Service. Not only that, the ratio of contractors to troops in Afghanistan is higher than in any prior military engagement in U.S. history.
"'As of March 2009, there were 68,197 DOD contractors in Afghanistan, compared to 52,300 uniformed personnel. Contractors made up 57% of DOD’s workforce in Afghanistan. This apparently represented the highest recorded percentage of contractors used by DOD in any conflict in the history of the United States,' the CRS report said. A copy of the report was obtained by Secrecy News."
Read the full CRS report, "Department of Defense Contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan: Background and Analysis."
Richard Lardner, Associated Press, September 1, 2009
"[ArmorGroup] guards hired by the State Department to protect diplomats and staff at the U.S. Embassy in Afghanistan live and work in a 'Lord of the Flies' environment in which they are subjected to hazing and other inappropriate behavior by supervisors, a government oversight group charged Tuesday.
"One e-mail from a guard describes lurid conditions at Camp Sullivan, the guards' quarters a few miles from the embassy. The message described scenes of abuse including guards and supervisors urinating on people and 'threats and intimidation from those leaders participating in this activity.'
"Photographs show guards and supervisors in various stages of nudity at parties that took place near the housing of other supervisors. Multiple guards say these conditions have created a 'climate of fear and coercion.' Those who refuse to participate are often ridiculed, humiliated or even fired, they contended."
Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, August 20, 2009
"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 capture or kill any terrorist suspects....
"It is unclear whether the C.I.A. had planned to use the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance. 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 that 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."
Jeremy Scahill, The Nation, August 4, 2009
"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."
Yochi J. Dreazen, Wall Street Journal, June 16, 2009
"A government audit found that the State Department overpaid the contract-security firm once known as Blackwater Worldwide by tens of millions of dollars because the company failed to properly staff its teams in Iraq.
"The report didn't identify any specific security breaches, but it said the State Department should have withheld at least $55 million in payments to the company because of the shortfalls.
"The audit by the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction and the State Department's Inspector General said the firm didn't employ enough guards, medics, marksmen and dog handlers to fully man the teams, which were responsible for protecting the U.S. ambassador to Iraq and other high-level officials."
Rod Nordland, New York Times, April 4, 2009
“Late last month Blackwater Worldwide lost its billion-dollar contract to protect American diplomats here, but by next month many if not most of its private security guards will be back on the job in Iraq.
“The same individuals will just be wearing new uniforms, working for Triple Canopy, the firm that won the State Department's contract after Iraqi officials refused to renew Blackwater's operating license, according to American diplomats, private security industry officials and Iraqi officials. Blackwater - viewed in Iraq as a symbol of American violence and impunity - lost the contract after being accused of excessive force in several instances, particularly an apparently unprovoked shooting in downtown Baghdad in 2007 in which 17 civilians were killed….
“Critics of Blackwater said they worried that the same people might perpetuate what they believed was a corporate culture that disregarded Iraqis' lives. ‘They're really all still there, and it's back to business as usual,’ said Susan Burke, an American lawyer who has filed three civil rights lawsuits against Blackwater on behalf of Iraqi civilians alleged to be victims of it.”
Eileen Sullivan, Associated Press, April 1, 2009
"The U.S. Border Patrol is erecting 16 more video surveillance towers in Michigan and New York to help secure parts of the U.S.-Canadian border, awarding the contract to a company criticized for faulty technology with its so-called 'virtual fence' along the U.S.-Mexico boundary. The government awarded the $20 million project to Boeing Co., for the towers designed to assist agents stationed along the 4,000-mile northern stretch....
"Boeing is the firm responsible for a 28-mile stretch of technology erected along the U.S.-Mexico border near Tucson, Ariz., as part of the government's Secure Border Initiative. The company was widely criticized for delivering an inferior product. Last year the government withheld some of the payment to Boeing because technology used in the test project near Tucson did not work properly. Boeing also was late in delivering the final product....
"Tim Sparapani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union, said the Secure Border Initiative has been a disaster since its inception. 'The technologies don't work, they're not weather-resistant and they're certainly privacy invasive,' Sparapani said. 'Putting them in America's backyards only invades the privacy of Americans, it doesn't add to our security.'"
R. J. Hillhouse, The Spy Who Billed Me, February 13, 2009
Blackwater has gone to ground--sort of. In a move to apparently distance itself from its image as reckless cowboys that was etched into the world's mind from the September 2007 Baghdad Nisoor Square shoots, Blackwater USA is once again rebranding itself. It has changed its name (and presumably legal structure) to Xe. (Pronounced, 'Z' as in 'Xena, Warrior Princess.')...
"Given that the Iraqi government recently kicked Blackwater out of the country and BW subsequently lost that portion of a larger State Department security contract, the move is most likely to distance itself from this past so closely associated with the Bush Administration's questionable Iraq policies and to make contracting with it more palatable for government organizations and private entities. In a few years, everyone will still remember Blackwater, but few will recall that Xe (again, pronounced 'Z' as in 'Xena, Warrior Princess.') is indeed its successor. The cryptic name is unlikely to incite strong public opposition or at the least the fear of it.
"It is unclear if the new legal structure will help limit the legal liabilities of Blackwater, containing them within the Blackwater USA, LLC structure and shielding the new entity."