[News] Blackwater: CIA Assassins?
news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 21 10:50:55 EDT 2009
Blackwater: CIA Assassins?
August 20, 2009
In April 2002, the CIA paid Blackwater more than
$5 million to deploy a small team of men inside
Afghanistan during the early stages of US
operations in the country. A month later, Erik
Prince, the company's owner and a former Navy
SEAL, flew to Afghanistan as part of the original
twenty-man Blackwater contingent. Blackwater
worked for the CIA at its station in Kabul as
well as in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan
border, where they operated out of a mud fortress
known as the Alamo. It was the beginning of a
long relationship between Blackwater, Prince and the CIA.
Scahill: Despite the State Department's
announcement canceling Blackwater's contracts in
Iraq, the Obama administration will pay the
company more than $174 million for security services in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Now the New York Times is
that in 2004 the CIA hired Blackwater "as part of
a secret program to locate and assassinate top
operatives of Al Qaeda." According to the Times,
"it is unclear whether the CIA had planned to use
the contractors to capture or kill Qaeda
operatives, or just to help with training and surveillance."
The Times reports that "the CIA 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."
A retired intelligence officer "intimately
familiar with the assassination program"
the Washington Post, "Outsourcing gave the agency
more protection in case something went wrong."
The Post reported that Blackwater "was given
operational responsibility for targeting
terrorist commanders and was awarded millions of
dollars for training and weaponry, but the
program was canceled before any missions were conducted."
"What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares
the hell out of me," said Jack Rice, a former CIA
field operator who worked for the directorate of
operations, which runs covert paramilitary
activities for the CIA. "When the agency actually
cedes all oversight and power to a private
organization, an organization like Blackwater,
most importantly they lose control and don't
understand what's going on," Rice told The
Nation. "What makes it even worse is that you
then can turn around and have deniability. They
can say, 'It wasn't us, we weren't the ones
making the decisions.' That's the best of both
worlds. It's analogous to what we hear about
torture that was being done in the name of
Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to
the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then
we turn around and say, 'We're not torturing people.'"
Reached by telephone, Illinois Democrat Jan
Schakowsky, a member of the House Intelligence
Committee, said that because of her oath of
secrecy on sensitive intelligence issues, she
could neither confirm nor deny that Congress was
aware of Blackwater's involvement in this program
before the Times report. Schakowsky also declined
to comment on whether Blackwater came up at a
June briefing by CIA director Leon Panetta, which
she attended. That briefing sparked calls for an
investigation into whether Vice President Dick
Cheney ordered the CIA to conceal an assassination program from Congress.
"What we know now, if this is true, is that
Blackwater was part of the highest level, the
innermost circle strategizing and exercising
strategy within the Bush administration,"
Schakowsky told The Nation. "Erik Prince operated
at the highest and most secret level of the
government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than
the US Congress because Vice President Cheney
made the decision not to brief Congress. This
shows that there was absolutely no space
whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater."
As The Nation has
Blackwater continues to operate on the US
government payroll in both Iraq and Afghanistan,
where it works for the State Department and the
Defense Department. The CIA will not confirm
whether Blackwater continues to work for the
agency (or, for that matter, if it ever has).
Blackwater's work for the CIA was the result of
meetings in the immediate aftermath of 9/11
between Prince and Alvin "Buzzy" Krongard,
then-executive director of the CIA, the agency's
number-three man. Krongard and Prince, according
to a former Blackwater executive interviewed by
The Nation, "were good buddies." In a 2006
interview for my book,
<http://blackwaterbook.com/>Blackwater: The Rise
of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army,
Krongard said that the company was hired to
provide security for the CIA in Afghanistan.
"Blackwater got a contract because they were the
first people that could get people on the
ground," Krongard said. "The only concern we had
was getting the best security for our people. If
we thought Martians could provide it, I guess we would have gone after them."
The relationship between Krongard and Prince
apparently got chummier after the contract was
signed. One former Blackwater executive said in
2006, "Krongard came down and visited Blackwater
[at company headquarters in North Carolina], and
I had to take his kids around and let them shoot
on the firing range a number of times." That
visit took place after the CIA contract was
signed, according to the former executive, and
Krongard "may have come down just to see the company that he had just hired."
The relationship between Blackwater and the CIA
quickly evolved. Shortly after Prince arrived in
Afghanistan in May 2002, according to a former
Blackwater executive who was with Prince, the
Blackwater owner focused on winning more business
with government agencies, providing private
soldiers for hire. In 2002 Prince, along with
former CIA operative Jamie Smith, created
Blackwater Security Consulting, which would put
former Navy SEALs and other special ops on the market.
Prince subsequently tried to join the CIA but was
reportedly denied when his polygraph test came
back inconclusive. Still, he maintained close
ties with the agency. He reportedly was given a
"green badge" that permitted him access to most
CIA stations. "He's over there [at CIA
headquarters] regularly, probably once a month or
so," a CIA source told Harper's journalist Ken
Silverstein in 2006. "He meets with senior
people, especially in the [directorate of operations]."
Prince would also go on to hire many senior
Bush-era CIA officials to work at Blackwater. In
July 2007 Buzzy Krongard joined the company's
board; Prince offered him a $3,500 honorarium per
meeting attended plus all expenses paid. "Your
experience and insight would be ideal to help our
team determine where we are and where we are
going," Prince wrote in a letter to Krongard. At
the time his brother, Howard "Cookie" Krongard,
was the State Department inspector general
responsible for overseeing Blackwater's work for
the State Department. In September 2007
California Democratic Representative Henry Waxman
accused Cookie Krongard of impeding a Justice
Department investigation into Blackwater over
allegations the company was illegally smuggling weapons into Iraq.
Prince hired several other former CIA officials
to run what amounted to his own private CIA. Most
notable among these was J. Cofer Black, who was
running the CIA's counterterrorism operations and
leading the hunt for Osama bin Laden when
Blackwater was initially hired by the CIA in
2002. Black left the government in 2005 and took
a job at Blackwater running Prince's private
intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions.
While at the CIA, Black ran the "extraordinary
rendition" program and coordinated the CIA
"Jawbreaker" team sent into Afghanistan to kill
or capture bin Laden and senior Al Qaeda leaders.
In the days immediately after 9/11, he told Bush
that his men would aim to kill Al Qaeda
operatives. "When we're through with them, they
will have flies walking across their eyeballs,"
Black promised Bush. When Black told Bush the
operation would not be bloodless, the president
reportedly said, "Let's go. That's war. That's what we're here to win."
Before the CIA Jawbreaker team deployed on
September 27, 2001, Black gave his men direct and
macabre directions: "I don't want bin Laden and
his thugs captured, I want them dead.... They
must be killed. I want to see photos of their
heads on pikes. I want bin Laden's head shipped
back in a box filled with dry ice. I want to be
able to show bin Laden's head to the president. I
promised him I would do that." According to CIA
operative Gary Schroen, a member of the
Jawbreaker team, it was the first time in his
thirty-year career he had been ordered to
assassinate an adversary rather than attempt a capture.
In September 2002, five months after Blackwater's
first known contract with the CIA in Afghanistan,
Black testified to Congress about the new
"operational flexibility" employed in the "war on
terror." "There was a before 9/11, and there was
an after 9/11," Black said. "After 9/11 the
gloves come off." Black outlined a "no-limits,
aggressive, relentless, worldwide pursuit of any
terrorist who threatens us," saying it "is the
only way to go and is the bottom line." Black
would later brag, in 2004, that "over 70 percent"
of Al Qaeda's leadership had been arrested,
detained or killed, and that "more than 3,400 of
their operatives and supporters have also been
detained and put out of an action." The Times
reports that the Blackwater-CIA assassination
program "did not successfully capture or kill any terrorist suspects."
In addition to Black, Total Intelligence's
executives include CEO Robert Richer, the former
associate deputy director of the CIA's
Directorate of Operations and second-ranking
official in charge of clandestine operations.
From 1999 to 2004, Richer was head of the CIA's
Near East and South Asia Division, where he ran
covert operations in the Middle East and South
Asia. As part of his duties, he was the CIA
liaison with Jordan's King Abdullah, a key US
ally and Blackwater client, and briefed George W.
Bush on the burgeoning Iraqi resistance in its early stages.
Total Intelligence's chief operating officer is
Enrique "Ric" Prado, a twenty-four-year CIA
veteran and former senior executive officer in
the Directorate of Operations. He spent more than
a decade working in the CIA's Counterterrorist
Center and ten years with the CIA's "paramilitary" Special Operations Group.
Total Intelligence is run out of an office on the
ninth floor of a building in the Ballston area of
Arlington, Virginia. Its Global Fusion Center,
complete with large-screen TVs broadcasting
international news channels and computer stations
staffed by analysts surfing the web, "operates
around the clock every day of the year" and is
modeled after the CIA's counterterrorist center,
once run by Black. The firm employs at least
sixty-five full-time staff--some estimates say
it's closer to 100. "Total Intel brings
the...skills traditionally honed by CIA
operatives directly to the board room," Black said when the company launched.
Representative Schakowsky says the House
Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA
assassination program and will probe alleged
links to Blackwater. "The presidential memos
(often referred to as 'findings') authorizing
covert action like the lethal activities of the
CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced," says
Ray McGovern, a retired twenty-seven-year CIA
analyst who once served as George H.W. Bush's
national security briefer. "They will, in due
course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put
the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths."
Blackwater Strikes Back
The Times report comes as Prince and his
Blackwater empire are facing the prospect of a
potentially explosive civil trial over the
killing of Iraqi civilians. Attorney Susan Burke
and the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR),
who are suing Prince and his companies on behalf
of their Iraqi victims, have alleged that Prince
is "equivalent to a top mafia boss who is
responsible for all the day-to-day crimes
committed at his direction and behest." If the
case proceeds, the process of discovery could
blow the lid off some of the darkest secrets of
the powerful security contractor and its
secretive owner. Burke and CCR are suing Prince
and his companies directly rather than his
individual employees because they say Prince
"wholly owns and personally controls all
Defendants." Burke also alleges that Prince has
committed "violations of the Racketeer Influenced
and Corrupt Organizations Act, a federal statute
permitting private parties to seek redress from
criminal enterprises who damage their property."
Among the allegations are war crimes,
extra-judicial killings and assault and battery of Iraqis.
Since the first case was filed by Iraqi civilians
against Prince and Blackwater over the killing of
seventeen Iraqis at Baghdad's Nisour Square on
September 16, 2007, the company's high-powered
lawyers have fought feverishly to have that and
four other cases dismissed. Now, facing a crucial
August 28 hearing in federal court in Virginia,
they are putting forward a new argument: instead
of Prince and Blackwater standing trial, the US
government should be the defendant.
In a motion filed August 12, Blackwater's lawyers
asked federal Judge T.S. Ellis III to order "that
the United States 'be substituted as the party
defendant,' in place of all of the current
Defendants." In his motion, Blackwater lawyer
Peter White of the powerhouse firm Mayer Brown
argued that the company was working for the State
Department in Iraq and therefore was on official
business when the alleged killings and injuries
of Iraqis took place. White cites the 1988
Westfall Act, which prohibits suits against
government employees for their actions on behalf
of the government and states that the government
will assume liability for any lawsuits against employees.
Federal tort law defines "employees" in this
context as "persons acting on behalf of a federal
agency in an official capacity, temporarily or
permanently in the service of the United States,
whether with or without compensation." The fact
that the defendants are "corporate entities" in
this instance, White claims, "does not alter that
conclusion." In the motion, Blackwater's
attorneys note that the company, which recently
renamed itself Xe Services, now does business
with the government under the name US Training Center (USTC).
"The idea that the United States government
should accept liability for the unprovoked
criminal manslaughter of seventeen innocent
Iraqis by Blackwater mercenaries, and place it on
the back of taxpayers, is corporate animism run
amok," says Ralph Nader, who has spent his entire
career fighting against corporate personhood. "If
Blackwater wants to be treated like a person,
then its latest mutation, USTC, should be
prosecuted, convicted and given the equivalent
penalty of corporate capital punishment by
revoking its charter and terminating its corporate operations."
The Westfall Act was passed in 1988 as an
amendment to the Federal Torts Claim Act "to
protect federal employees from personal liability
for common law torts committed within the scope
of their employment, while providing persons
injured by the common law torts of federal
employees with an appropriate remedy against the
United States." After Westfall, the government
assumed legal responsibility for suits filed
against federal employees and made the sole
remedy for victims suits against the government.
Blackwater has asked Attorney General Eric Holder
to intervene in the case and to assume liability
for the allegations against Blackwater. If that
were to happen, legal experts say, the case would
be dead in the water. "It's clear that if they
win this motion and the government is
substituted, since the wrongs occurred in a
foreign country, the government is absolutely
immune and the case will be dismissed," says Alan
Morrison, a former federal prosecutor who is now
the associate dean for public interest at George
Washington Law School. "This is an effort [by
Blackwater and Prince] to absolve themselves...of
any liability for the alleged wrongs to the
plaintiffs." He adds: "A gigantic, for-profit
corporation is seeking to use this statute,
designed to protect government employees, to
shield themselves from any responsibility for the
deaths and injuries" of Iraqis.
"When Blackwater chooses to interpose itself in
the middle and to make profit off these
individual employees in the relationship with the
government, the notion that Blackwater itself, a
corporation, could be an employee is unusual to
say the least," says Morrison. "Why would
Congress want to, in effect, transfer liability
from a large, well-heeled corporation like
Blackwater to the United States taxpayers for
this kind of conduct? What they'd be saying [if
Blackwater's interpretation of the Westfall Act
is accepted] is they would have wanted to assume
liability for that which they didn't have any liability in the first place."
The Justice Department has not yet issued a
position in this case. "Unfortunately, there's
nothing we can provide in regard to your inquiry
at this time," an official wrote in an e-mail.
Earlier, in response to questions from The
Nation, a Justice Department spokesperson sent a
memo filed by the department earlier this year in
a similar case against Blackwater in federal
court in Florida, in which the department had
rejected the company's attempt to make the
government responsible. "Defendants' request for
Westfall Act certification should be denied
because only natural persons can be considered
'employee[s] of the government,'" Assistant
Attorney General Tony West wrote on June 8 in a
thirty-five-page filing opposing Blackwater's motion.
Several legal experts interviewed by The Nation
said they could not foresee the Justice
Department intervening on Blackwater's behalf.
But the Westfall Act has been used by attorneys
general in both the Bush and Obama
administrations to attempt to absolve senior Bush
officials of liability for their alleged role in
crimes and to make the government liable. On June
26 Holder's office intervened in a lawsuit filed
by CCR against Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld
and twenty-three other military and medical
officials "for their role in the illegal
detention, torture, inhumane conditions and
ultimate deaths" of two Guantánamo prisoners.
Citing the Westfall Act, Tony West wrote that
"the type of activities alleged against the
individual defendants were 'foreseeable' and were
'a direct outgrowth' of their responsibility to
detain and gather intelligence from suspected
enemy combatants." In defending the government's
position, West cited case law stating that
"genocide, torture, forced relocation, and cruel,
inhuman, and degrading treatment by individual
defendants employed by Department of Defense and
State Department were within scope of employment"
and similar cases justifying CIA torture as part of official duty.
"It is essentially saying torture is all in a
day's work when it comes to holding people in
military detention," says Shane Kadidal, who
heads the Guantánamo project at CCR. In that
case, the issue was not whether Rumsfeld and the
others were "employees" but whether they were
doing official business. Blackwater's argument is
a tougher sell, says Morrison. "Does it hold
water?" he asks. "It holds Blackwater."
Meanwhile, in another development, Prince's
lawyers have responded to explosive allegations
made against Prince by two former employees. In
sworn affidavits submitted by lawyers
representing the Iraqis suing Blackwater, the two
alleged that Prince may have murdered or
facilitated the murder of individuals who were
cooperating with federal authorities
investigating the company. One of the former
employees 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." They
also charge that Prince was profiting from
illegal weapons smuggling. In a motion filed
August 10, Prince's lawyers asked Judge Ellis to
strike from the record the sworn statements of
the two former employees, saying that "the
conclusory allegations they contain are
inadmissible on multiple grounds, including lack
of foundation, hearsay, irrelevance, and unfair
prejudice." They charge that the lawyers suing
Blackwater are attempting to "use this litigation
as a 'megaphone' to increase their ability to
influence the public's perceptions regarding the
use of contractors in military battlefield
situations, the Iraq War, and most particularly
about Erik Prince and the other defendants.
Unsubstantiated statements made in filings in
this Court become 'newsworthy' simply because
they appear in those filings." The lawyers
characterize the allegations as "scandalous,
baseless, inadmissible, and highly prejudicial."
Interestingly, nowhere do Prince's lawyers say
flatly that the allegations are untrue.
As the cases against Prince move forward, the
company continues to do a robust business with
the federal government, particularly in
Afghanistan. Schakowsky has called for a review
of all of the companies' current contracts, and
she has called on Secretary of State Hillary
Clinton and Defense Secretary Robert Gates to
stop awarding the company contracts. The "Obama
administration should at the very least cancel
and debar [Blackwater's] present and pending
government contracts," says Nader. "Otherwise
corporate crimes, privileges and immunities continue to pay and pay and pay."
About Jeremy Scahill
Jeremy Scahill, a Puffin Foundation Writing
Fellow at The Nation Institute, is the author of
The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary
Army, published by Nation Books. He is an
award-winning investigative journalist and
correspondent for the national radio and TV program Democracy Now!.
522 Valencia Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
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