More news emerged on Blackwater (currently known as Xe Services) yesterday as new information was revealed regarding their participation in secret raids coordinated by the CIA and carried out against suspected insurgents in Afghanistan and Iraq. These revelations have increased the already stringent criticism being directed toward both Blackwater and the CIA and the depth of their relationship. Iraqis have claimed that the behavior of Blackwater security guards has been reckless, and the company lost its contract with the State Department this year in response to a shooting in 2007 that resulted in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians.
Blackwater’s ties to the C.I.A. have emerged in recent months, beginning with disclosures in The New York Times that the agency had hired the company as part of a program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to assist in the C.I.A.’s Predator unmanned vehicle program in Afghanistan and Pakistan. Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, recently initiated an internal review examining all Blackwater contracts with the agency to ensure that the company was performing no missions that were “operational in nature,” according to one government official.
As additional information has been revealed, concerns have been voiced about the seemingly extensive involvement that private security companies have had with offensive military and intelligence operations. Recently, more questions have arisen about the depth of the relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. It is now being reported that between 2004 and 2006, raids orchestrated by Blackwater and the CIA took place almost nightly.
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.
Though the Justice Department memos defining torture do not mention contractors, testimony indicates that private CIA contractors played an instrumental role in the implementation of harsh interrogation tactics.
President Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder have said CIA agents who followed the Justice Department’s legal advice won’t be prosecuted criminally, but they have said nothing about contractors.
Criminal or civil lawsuits against CIA contractors would present their own unique legal challenges.
In 2006, Congress passed a bill called the Military Commissions Act that includes a provision immunizing contractors from lawsuits. Some lawyers believe that provision is unconstitutional, but no court has weighed in on the law.
Consider this an open thread. What’s on your minds, my moosey friends?