Sunday, September 30, 2007
According to press reports, Blackwater is under tight rein by its State Department clients not to reveal sensitive information about its operations in Iraq to protect American diplomats and other "high value targets" from terrorist attack.
Waxman and his staff are notorious for leaking information to the press to further their political goals.
Warren Strobel of the McClatchy Newspapers reports that Stephen M. Ryan, a Blackwater attorney for McDermott, Will & Emery, wrote to Waxman, in Ryan's words, "to ask that the committee and its members refrain from asking questions during the hearing that might reveal sensitive operational and technical information that could be utilized by our country's implacable enemies in Iraq."
Let's see if Waxman and his colleagues have the will to do it.
Lt. Col. Oliver North, the highly decorated retired Marine who is now with Fox News, penned a scathing broadside against Congressman Henry Waxman, the California Democrat leading the fight to bring down the private security company that saves the lives of our diplomats every day in Iraq. North's column appeared in the September 28 edition of RealClearPolitics.com.
Commenting on Waxman's upcoming October 2 hearing to pillory Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, North (pictured) notes the congressman's sloppy and sensationalistic style of "investigating." In a July hearing on abuses in the construction of the new US Embassy in Baghdad, Waxman invited a supposed witness, Rory Mayberry, to testify that American contractors were using kidnapped Filipino workers as slaves.
According to North: "At the time, Mayberry was described as a whistle-blower who had courageously come forward to describe how unwilling Filipinos were dragooned into building our diplomatic mission. All the major news networks covered his shocking 'revelations.' But this week, The Wall Street Journal's 'Washington Wire' revealed that the committee's star witness 'has a string of convictions going back to the mid-1980s, including two for forgery, one for burglary and a fourth for welfare fraud.' So much for good staff work."
Let's see what Waxman comes up with this week.
- Experienced ex-military personnel. Blackwater personnel are experienced former military with an average service time of 9 years. The average rank achieved as enlisted is E-6. 45% were senior enlisted. 25% are former officers. 50% were veterans of multiple wars. All took an oath to defend the US and the Constitution. All by contract must have 5 years honorable military experience. 50% of the personnel made an average of $32,000 a year at the peak of their uniformed service.
- Decorated combat veterans. 35% were decorated for valor while in uniform. 36% have some service connected disability.
- Intense operating envoronment. Blackwater conducts an estimated 3,000 protective missions each year in Iraq. Since summer of 2004 Blackwater has conducted nearly 10,000 protective missions.
- Riskiest missions of any security company. These missions are high risk - more risk than any other mission conducted by any other security company. This is because the protectee is perceived by the enemy as a worthy high value target for attack. The probability a Blackwater protection team will be attacked is driven by the value of the person they protect.
- "Diplomatic" mode more dangerous than military firepower. When the US military conducts protective missions for senior American officials, they roll with massive firepower and military support. Blackwater must conduct its operations in a "diplomatic" mode - striving to act normal and diplomatic in the war torn environment that is Iraq today.
- Most elite contracting support group. These protective missions are conducted by the most elite contracting support group in Iraq. The contract stipulates that those who perform this duty be rigorously screened, trained, and tested. No one is allowed to be on this elite protection contract without prior SWAT or military experience. There are just over 900 Blackwater professionals performing this role. 20% are in support roles as medics, radio operators, command center watch standers, administrative staff, supply and logistics, etc.
- Top of the security pyramid. Of the more than 25,000 private security contractors in Iraq, only 900+ are Blackwater. These elite protective teams, under tight State Department supervision, are the most qualified and experienced in the country.
Saturday, September 29, 2007
Among the trial lawyers at work, Frank notes, is Daniel Callahan, who is trying to make millions by suing Blackwater on behalf of family members of the four security men who were murdered and mutilated by Islamist militants in Fallujah, Iraq, in 2004.
Callahan, Frank writes, "is clear that his goal is more than simple recovery for his clients: 'As we expose Blackwater in this case, it will also expose the inefficient and corrupt system that exists over there [in Iraq].' He has successfully lobbied the Democratic Congress to hold hearings that promote his litigation, in part by calling Blackwater an 'extremely Republican' company."
Its September 28 poll question asks if readers believe Congressman Henry Waxman's partisan report, authored by a trial lawyer who stands to make a fortune from suing Blackwater, and to vote "yes" or "no." (Actually, the question says nothing about Waxman, partisanship or the trial lawyer; the Virginian Pilot has gone out of its way to make the report look objective and mainstream).
There's still time to vote by clicking here: http://content.hamptonroads.com/story.cfm?story=133464&ran=240852
As of this posting the vote was close. More than 1,100 people have voted so far, with about 47 percent believing the report (as portrayed in the paper) and almost 45 percent not believing it.
That must mean that 45 percent of Virginian Pilot readers don't trust their newspaper!
Friday, September 28, 2007
Commenting on the Blackwater controversy, the Institute of World Politics professor says that outsourcing defense and security services dates to the first English colony in the Americas. "The first PSC on our shores was little more popular than his descendants today. Captain John Smith, a professional soldier who was paid to protect the interests of the Virginia Company of London in 1607, was accused of conspiring to subvert legal authority and locked in irons during the voyage to America, only to be exonerated and made chief of the expedition that founded the colony at Jamestown."
Waller follows with descriptions of PSCs including Captain Myles Standish, who was hired to protect the Pilgrims in 1620 in Massachusetts, a range of European officers who helped the United States during the American Revolution, the privateers of the Revolution and of the War of 1812, private counterintelligence and intelligence contractors during the Civil War, and the Flying Tigers under Gen. Claire Chennault in China during World War II.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
"'I personally was grateful for the presence of my Blackwater security detail, largely comprised of ex-Special Forces and other military, when I served as ambassador to Iraq. Their alert and controlled posture kept me safe, to get my job done,' Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte said."
Associated Press, September 24, 2007
“'But if you get right down to the terms of the contract, they're tasked with protecting U.S. diplomatic personnel. They've done that,' said Scott Traudt, operations manager for Cohort International, a Lebanon, N.H.-based competitor."
International Herald Tribune, September 24, 2007
"There is no avoiding the fact that these bodyguards do work that is both extremely hazardous and indispensable. Blackwater's work involves a State Department contract to protect American officials, including the ambassador. Such officials are among the most endangered individuals in Iraq. Nevertheless, no senior American officials have been assassinated, while the murder of senior Iraqi officials has become almost commonplace."
South Florida Sun-Sentinel, September 24, 2007
"If Blackwater left at this moment, it might leave a security gap because most of the embassies and most of the foreign organizations that are working in Iraq rely on Blackwater, al-Sheikhly said at a news conference with a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad."
Miami Herald, September 23, 2007
"Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice had supportive words for Blackwater at a news conference. ''We have needed and received the protection of Blackwater for a number of years now, and they have lost their own people in protecting our own people -- and that needs to be said,'' she said."
Washington Post, March 14, 2006
"Three Blackwater guards working with FEMA helped patrol a security checkpoint with the deputies, and when the department got a call about a bar fight nearby that could involve a gun, some of the contractors came along to help, said Lt. Jefferson Lee, a 21-year veteran of the department. 'They were making $300 a day, but those guys had my back.'"
International Herald Tribune, January 25, 2006
"The bottom line is this: every time anyone heads out, a four-vehicle convoy is required, protected by more than a dozen guards from the Blackwater USA security firm of North Carolina."
But strangely, the ministry hasn't released the video, and nobody has leaked it to the press. Which prompts the questions, Is there a real video at all? Is the Interior Ministry making it up to blow smoke? If there's something to it, please, let the world see.
Way down the article, in the 13th paragraph, reporters John M. Broder and James Risen finally tell the reader why: "Blackwater operates in the most violent parts of Iraq and guards the most prominent American diplomats, which some American government officials say explains why it is involved in more shootings than its competitors. The shootings included in the reports include all cases in which weapons are fired, including those meant as warning shots. Others add that Blackwater’s aggressive posture in guarding diplomats reflects the wishes of its client, the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security."
State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack tells the Times that of 1,800 Blackwater escort missions this year, there have been "only a very small fraction, very small fraction, that have been involved in any use of force."
So what's the scandal, then?
Wednesday, September 26, 2007
Mark Hemingway writes in the National Review Online, "The truth is that contractors are not above the law, but rather well within the reach of several different codes and regulations and nobody’s exactly sure how one would go about exacting legal remedies against them should they be needed.
"The change regarding the [Unifoorm Code of Military Justice] UCMJ was inserted into the 2007 Defense Authorization Act by Senator Lindsay Graham who noted that the change would “give military commanders a more fair and efficient means of discipline on the battlefield. The provision clarifies the Uniform Code of Military Justice to place civilian contractors accompanying the Armed Forces in the field under court-martial jurisdiction during contingency operations as well as in times of declared war.”
Senator Graham is a reserve Joint Advocate General (JAG) officer.
TAPS is a nonprofit charity that "has provided front line emotional support services, grief and trauma resources and information and case work assistance to thousands of surviving military families," according to the announcement.
"Both Blackwater and General Petraeus have distinguished records of sacrifice and performance. However, the tactics of character assassination, whether used against an accomplished US General or a great US Company, are now considered appropriate political behavior. The media feed off this - salivating as each unsubstantiated report, each unresearched allegation, is tossed like a small boat into a battering storm. Meanwhile, in Iraq, the two elements most concerned about Blackwater remaining in Iraq to protectUS diplomats are the very same elements that are known to be the principal instigators of both sides of the sectarian conflict. They are the corrupt Sunni-led Ministry of the Interior and the ever-vicious Mahdi Army, a Shiite force led by radical cleric Muqtada al Sadr.
"There is no doubt that more Americans and more US companies will feel the sting of politically motivated anti-war attacks as we get closer to the 2008 elections. But wouldn’t it be nice if the media ceased their journalistic complacency and their unwitting (or witting) alignment with forces trying to degrade the US public debate on this war? If the fourth estate is truly the protector of our precious freedoms, wouldn’t be helpful if these media outlets shifted their investigative energies and attention to those in Iraq who seek to reap the rewards generated by hasty US departure?"
Tuesday, September 25, 2007
But that's what a California trial lawyer apparently got Rep. Henry Waxman to do in his jihad against Blackwater USA.
Waxman is holding another show trial of Blackwater on October 2.
The sleazy-looking arrangement came to light earlier this year when Waxman (D-Calif.) held an "investigative" hearing on Blackwater, and called in witnesses who happened to be plaintiffs in a case against the company.
Waxman chairs the House Committee on Government Reform and Oversight, a post that grants him sweeping investigative powers.
The Overlawyered blog reported last February, "Nice tactic, if you can get away with it: after filing suit, get a House committee to conduct a hostile investigation of your opponent with your clients appearing as friendly witnesses. That's what appears to have happened in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee's hearings last week on alleged shortcomings in the work of Iraq contractor Blackwater USA. The friendly witnesses in this case, called by committee chairman Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), were family members of several Blackwater consultants killed in Iraq, who are suing the company for damages. According to Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the hearing followed upon the sending of a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi by Orange County, Calif., plaintiffs’ lawyer Daniel Callahan of Callahan & Blaine, who's representing the families. The letter urged a "fruitful and meaningful" investigation of "these extremely Republican companies, such as Blackwater, who have been uncooperative to date."
Monday, September 24, 2007
That's what Associated Press correspondent Mike Baker reports from Raleigh, North Carolina.
Few other companies can claim such a record. "Not one diplomat has died" under Blackwater's protection.
While earning criticism for its guards' tough, aggressive, "cowboy" appearance, Blackwater wins admiration from some of its competitors.
"You can argue about the methodology and say it's negatively impacting relationships between the Iraqi government and citizens and the U.S. But if you get right down to the terms of the contract, they're tasked with protecting U.S. diplomatic personnel. They've done that," Scott Traudt of competitor Cohort International tells AP.
He cautions against those demanding that the North Carolina company's personnel be removed from his country.
"If we drive out this company immediately, there will be a security vacuum that would force us to pull troops out of the field to protect these institutes," spokesman Tahseen al-Sheikhly says in the Los Angeles Times. "That would cause a big imbalance in the security situation."
Times correspondent Alexandra Zavis reports from Baghdad paraphrased Sheikhly as saying, "Blackwater was one of the main companies protecting foreign embassies and said it was not feasible to expel the company."
Zavis adds, "Security contractors are a growing presence on the world's battlefields, performing functions that the military cannot or will not handle. In Iraq, there are scores of local and international companies protecting Iraqi government officials, foreign diplomats, humanitarian workers, journalists and others. They also guard embassies, reconstruction projects, military bases and supply convoys."
Saturday, September 22, 2007
Waxman (pictured) has been on Blackwater's case for a while now, but his "investigations" have produced little if any new information about the company. (We put "investigations" in quotes because he and his staff have stretched themselves so thin on so many fronts, they could not possibly be conducting much more than headline-grabbing political theater operations.) News reports did not specify the date of the hearing.
Speaking to reporters on September 21, Rice spoke highly of Blackwater and the sacrifices its people have made. Announcing that a full investigation of the September 16 shooting incident would take place, she gave this wonderful endorsement:
"We have needed and received the protection of Blackwater for a number of years now, and they have lost their own people in protecting our people in extremely dangerous circumstances."
This week in Norfolk, Virginia, Blackwater USA formally presented its newly converted maritime training and disaster response ship, the McArthur.
The 153-foot vessel, built 40 years ago for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is refurbished and fully equipped with high-tech gear. The McArthur comes complete with a helipad. The Virginian-Pilot of Norfolk carries the story.
(Photo: The McArthur as a NOAA ship, prior to sale to Blackwater)
Thursday, September 20, 2007
That's what some informed sources in Washington are asking right now. The Political Warfare blog says, "The controversy smells like political warfare-style retaliation after a failed shakedown. The spectacularly corrupt Iraqi Interior Ministry probably tried to get the company to pay millions in fake 'license fees' and found that Blackwater doesn't pay bribes. Even Al Jazeera says in its Blackwater reporting that the Americans have no confidence in the Iraqi police, who are under Interior Ministry authority."
Wednesday, September 19, 2007
Issued on September 6 by the Independent Commission on the Security Forces of Iraq, the report bares a lot of ugly facts that show why the American presence is still needed to keep Iraq from falling apart.
Its conclusion: "The Ministry of Interior is a ministry in name only. It is widely regarded as being dysfunctional and sectarian, and suffers from ineffective leadership. Such fundamental flaws present a serious obstacle to achieving the levels of readiness, capability, and effectiveness in police and border security forces that are essential for internal security and stability in Iraq."
The report says that "sectarianism and corruption are pervasive" in the Ministry of Interior, "and cripple the ministry's ability to provide internal security for Iraqi citizens." (p. 17).
Click here for a copy of the report.
The commissioners who signed the report are among the most impressive authorities anywhere. They are:
General James L. Jones USMC (Ret.) - Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe and 32nd Commandant of the United States Marine Corps.
General John Abrams USA (Ret.) - Former Commanding General, Army Training and Doctrine Command.
Lt. General Martin R. Berndt USMC (Ret.) - Former Commander, U.S. Marine Corps Forces.
General Charles G. Boyd USAF (Ret.) - President and CEO, Business Executives for National Security; former Deputy Commander, U.S. European Command.
Command Sergeant Major Dwight J. Brown, USA (Ret) - Former Command Sergeant Major, U.S. Central Command.
The Honorable Terrance Gainer - Sergeant at Arms, U.S. Senate. Former Chief, United States Capitol Police.
The Honorable John J. Hamre - President and CEO, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Former Deputy Secretary of Defense and Under Secretary of Defense (Comptroller).
Colonel Michael Heidingsfield, USAF (Ret.) - President and Chief Executive Officer of the Memphis Shelby Crime Commission. Former Chief of Police and Director of Public Safety and Chief of Police Emeritus, Scottsdale, Arizona.
Admiral Gregory G. Johnson, USN (Ret.) - Former Commander, U.S. Naval Forces, Europe and Commander in Chief, Allied Forces, Southern Europe.
General George Joulwan, USA (Ret.) - Former Supreme Allied Commander Europe.
Lt. General James C. King, USA (Ret.) - Former Director, United States National Imagery and Mapping Agency.
Assistant Chief Constable Duncan McCausland - Assistant Chief Constable, Urban Region, Police Service of Northern Ireland.
Lt. General Gary S. McKissock, USMC (Ret.) - Former Deputy Commandant, Installations and Logistics, United States Marine Corps.
Sergeant Major Alford L. McMichael, USMC (Ret.) - Founder, The 4-DREW Foundation. Former Sergeant Major, United States Marine Corps.
Brigadier General Richard Potter, USA (Ret.) - Former Deputy Commanding General, United States Army Special Operations Command.
Major General Arnold Punaro, USMC (Ret.) - Executive Vice President, SAIC. Former Director, Marine Corps Reserve and Commanding General, 4th Marine Division.
Chief Charles H. Ramsey - Former Chief of the Metropolitan Police Department, Washington, D.C.
Chief John F. Timoney - Chief of the City of Miami Police Department.
Lieutenant General John A. Van Alstyne - Former Deputy Commanding General for initial entry training, U.S. Army Training and Doctrine Command.
General Charles Wilhelm, USMC (Ret.) - Former Commander, U.S. Southern
(Hampton Roads, Virginia)
September 18, 2007
Peter McHugh has been an "egg" - one of the clients Blackwater ferries around Iraq in heavily armed convoys, like the one that came under attack Sunday in Baghdad.
McHugh's motorcade was never ambushed, but he has an insider's view of how the company moves people from here to there inside a war zone.
Today, McHugh is an interagency chairman for the National Defense University at Joint Forces Staff College in Norfolk. For most of last year, he worked as a transportation counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, trying to help Iraq get its roads, rails, ports and airports up and running.
Progress depended on meetings with Iraqi officials, which meant McHugh had to venture outside the safety of the International Zone. Embassy rules prohibited him from doing so without a security detail.
Blackwater, under its contract with the State Department, provided his escort.
In an interview earlier this year, McHugh described the experience. He said demand for security details outstripped availability. Requests for an escort had to be submitted 48 hours in advance, then screened, prioritized and analyzed for risk. Predictability made a convoy an easier target, so trips to the same place were restricted to three per week. Routes and times were varied.
New destinations were scouted, mapped and photographed by Blackwater, "down to the arrangement of the room, like a table, four chairs, windows that open onto the road," McHugh said. "They made the decision whether or not that venue was safe."
On the day before the outing, a Blackwater team leader and one of his assistants came to the client's office for a briefing. First-time "eggs" were coached on their responsibilities, like "when to duck, when to open the door and when not to," McHugh said.
Plans were laid out for the number of guards, type of vehicles, weapons and departure time. On the day of the mission, Blackwater would dispatch an advance team for a last-minute check of routes and venue. At the appointed hour, the convoy assembled in front of the embassy.
"We were required to wear full 'battle rattle,' " McHugh said of clients, which means helmet, body armor and so on.
Once the client was tucked away - often inside a heavily armored Humvee that McHugh described as "surprisingly uncomfortable, with thick glass, small windows" - the convoy headed for the International Zone's main gate.
"Once out, everybody armors up," he said. "Radios are on, and you're being tracked electronically by a tactical operations center."
Nerves remained taut as the motorcade threaded its way along "narrow roads with high buildings on both sides." At the meeting place, McHugh would be hustled across any open space and into the building with Blackwater's men "acting as a human shield - constantly looking, constantly aware."
Blackwater's presence inside the meeting was negotiated ahead of time, with the contractors usually preferring to stand in with long guns ready.
"That can be hard for a guy trying to do business," McHugh said. "You're meeting with a senior official. He's in a nice office, wearing a nice suit, and here I come with four or six armed, military-looking men. From the Iraqi perspective, that's an insult."
Nevertheless, McHugh said, without such protection, his job would have been even more difficult or impossible.
"They became an integral part of the daily planning and execution," McHugh said, "and a big part in making sure I made it back."
The International Herald Tribune reports that he made the statement on September 11. We can't find a copy of his comments yet online, but will post them as soon as we do.
The lawyer, Michael Ratner (pictured), sued the United States government on behalf of alleged terrorists being detained at Guantanamo, bringing about the Supreme Court decision that gave the terrorists the protection of the United States Constitution. Since the 9/11 attacks he has sued the U.S. on at least nine occasions to weaken counterterrorism legislation. Ratner's group is called the Center for Constitutional Rights.
An occasional collaborator with Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill, Ratner is an admitted supporter of Cuba's Fidel Castro and Che Guevara. Ratner and lawyers in the organization he leads have represented or advocated for a rogue's gallery of cop-killers and enemies of the United States. Over the years they include:
Jose Padilla, the convicted al Qaeda "dirty bomb" conspirator;
Mumia Abu-Jamal, a convicted cop killer;
Leonard Peltier, convicted of murdering two FBI agents;
Clayton Lonetree, a former Marine convicted of spying for the Soviet KGB;
Victor Manuel Gerena, a Puerto Rican terrorist now hiding in Cuba;
Kurt Groenwald, a German Red Army Faktion (Baader-Meinhof Gang) terrorist;
Yu Kikamura, a Japanese Red Army terrorist working for Libya;
H. Rap Brown, a convicted cop killer;
Abdul Majid and Basheer Hameed, both convicted cop killers;
Assata Shakur (aka Joanne Chesimard), a convicted cop killer;
William Morales, a Puerto Rican convicted terrorist bomber;
Mousa Abu Marzook, a leader of HAMAS;
Mazin Assi, a Palestinian convicted of bombing a Bronx synagogue;
Omar Abdel Rahman, the "Blind Sheikh," a spiritual leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad who was convicted of being behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombing in New York;
Lynne Stewart, convicted of aiding Omar Abdel Rahman;
Wilfred Burchett, a journalist and KGB agent.
The Iraqi government, he says, should nullify "this company's and all other intelligence and criminal companies' contracts."
Al-Sadr (pictured) has been responsible for terrorist attacks and killings of American personnel in Iraq and for much of the sectarian violence that is tearing the country apart.
The International Herald Tribune carries al-Sadr's comment in a September 18 story.
Monday, September 17, 2007
Time magazine reports, "According to the incident report, the skirmish occurred at 12:08 p.m. on Sunday when, 'the motorcade was engaged with small arms fire from several locations' as it moved through a neighborhood of west Baghdad.
"'The team returned fire to several identified targets' before leaving the area. One vehicle engine was hit and disabled by bullets and had to be towed away. A separate convoy arriving to help was 'blocked/surrounded by several Iraqi police and Iraqi national guard vehicles and armed personnel,' the report says. Then an American helicopter hovered over the traffic circle, as the U.S. convoy departed without casualties. Some reports have said the helicopter also opened fire on Iraqis, but a Blackwater official told TIME that no shots were fired from the air."
A Blackwater official tells Time that, contrary to some reports, "the convoy was violently attacked by armed insurgents, not civilians, and our people did their job, they fired back to defend human life." The official said that "Blackwater works in a war zone under contract," its personnel are under frequent fire, and all the rules of engagement permit them to defend themselves."