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Blackwater’s Nine Lives

The Gods have their own rules.

Ovid, Metamorphoses

One of the many nice things about being a United States Senator is that you can ask just about anyone in government to explain actions being taken and anticipate a response and, in many cases, a change in conduct. Here is one example of how a United States Senator was able to influence policy. It pertains to Blackwater.

On February 25, 2010 Senator Carl Levin, Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee sat down and wrote a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder asking him to investigate whether Xe Services, (formerly known as Blackwater) had made false or misleading statements when it bid for an Army contract in Afghanistan. The reason for his letter was that he had just finished conducting a hearing reviewing the results of an investigation of Blackwater. In his opening statement at the hearing Senator Levin said that: “Blackwater operated in Afghanistan without sufficient oversight or supervision and with almost no consideration of the rules it was legally obligated to follow. The means by which Blackwater acquired weapons for its contractor personnel in Afghanistan showed just how little regard company personnel had for those rules.” Senator Levin did not limit his letter writing to writing the Attorney General. He also sent a letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates.

In the letter to Secretary Gates he said the Pentagon should consider deficiencies in Blackwater’s past performance before awarding it additional contracts. He said: “[W] e received evidence that Blackwater may have: used a front company for the contract; made false official statements and misled Department of Defense officials in its proposal documents; misappropriated government weapons and carried weapons without authorization; and hired unqualified personnel with backgrounds that included assault and battery, larceny and misappropriation of property, insubordinate conduct, and drug and alcohol abuse; and violated CENTCOM’s movement control policies.” He concluded saying the Department of Defense “should review the transcript of this hearing and consider the deficiencies in Blackwater’s performance . . . before a decision is made to award the police training work to Blackwater.”

The investigations Senator Levin requested may be ongoing. So is the awarding of lucrative contracts to Blackwater. Jeff Stein who writes “Spy Talk”, reported on June 21, 2010 that the State Department gave Xe Services a $120 million contract for providing “protective security services” at new U.S. consulates in Herat and Mazar-e-Sharif. Two days later he reported that the Central Intelligence Agency had hired the company to guard CIA facilities in Afghanistan and other places. Xe was not the only contractor interested in obtaining the work. In connection with both of those contracts DynCorp and Triple Canopy had bid on the jobs but lost out to Blackwater.

Senator Levin’s reaction to these awards has not been reported. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky’s have. They are hardly surprising. She was outraged. Her outrage was prompted by her familiarity with Blackwater and its performance. In November 2009 she learned that the government had given Blackwater an indefinite extension of a contract to provide “Aviation Services” in Iraq and said: “Given the company’s history of massive abuses and misconduct, I believe it is inappropriate for the United States government to continue doing business with this firm.” Upon hearing of the newest contracts in Afghanistan she said, speaking to ABC news: “I’m just mystified why any branch of the government would decide to hire Blackwater, such a repeat offender. We’re talking about murder . . . . A company with a horrible reputation that really jeopardizes our mission in so many different, different ways.”

For all we know, the Justice Department may be conducting an investigation of Blackwater’s conduct in both Afghanistan and Iraq in response to the letter it received from Senator Levin. For all we know the CIA may be investigating Blackwater’s prior conduct even though it has just agreed to pay the company $125 million for its services. For all we know, the State Department may be conducting its own independent investigation in response to Senator Levin’s letter. Here is what we know for sure, however. The mystery to which Ms. Schakowsky was referring has been unraveled by CIA Director Leon Panetta.

In a June 27 interview on ABC News Mr. Panetta said that in a war zone “we continue to have needs for security. . . . Unfortunately, there are a few companies that provide that kind of security. The State Department relies on them, we rely on them to a certain extent. So we bid out some of those contracts. They . . . . outbid everyone else by about $26 million. And a panel that we had said . . . that they have shaped up their act. So there really was not much choice to but accept that contract..”

That explains it all. Sort of.

CHRISTOPHER BRAUCHLI can be e-mailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu.

 

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