Friday, February 29, 2008

Lieberman Highlights Blackwater Need

In his prepared statement to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which he chairs, Senator Joe Lieberman (I-Conn) explained the important role played by the private sector in our nation's security.

Throughout our history, the American military has relied on the private sector in what has been called a “great arsenal of democracy” to provide weapons and supplies for our fighting forces.

Underscoring the inability of the government to meet its own needs, Lieberman told the committee:

Our present military is just not large enough to fulfill the need for the protection of American personnel, convoys, key facilities, and reconstruction projects. So, the use of private security contractors has become necessary in Iraq and Afghanistan.

His praise of many of the nation's private security contractors (PSCs) was glowing:

PSC employees have in fact performed effectively, honorably, and in many instances, heroically. Many of the private security employees are ex-service members. They are patriots deeply dedicated to the U.S. mission and ready every day to risk their lives – and sometimes lose them – protecting American personnel and America’s cause.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Obama Gives Thumbs-Up for Blackwater

Presidential candidate Barack Obama gave a qualified show of support to private security contractor Blackwater Worldwide, The Nation reports.

Jeremy Scahill, one of the most vitriolic opponents of the company, has written that:

A senior foreign policy adviser to leading Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama has told The Nation that if elected Obama will not "rule out" using private security companies like Blackwater Worldwide in Iraq.

The same unnamed advisor explains that,

Obama does not plan to sign on to legislation that seeks to ban the use of these forces in US war zones by January 2009, when a new President will be sworn in.

No doubt Scahill is upset about the matter - he goes on to criticize the position in the rest of the article. But the fact remains that even someone of Obama's political persuasion can see that Blackwater does important, even critical, work for the US government, and they do it well. Obama has been a strong critic of the company, which has a facility in the senator's home state of Illinois.

Even Scahill concedes:

If Obama maintains [the US] embassy [in Iraq] and its army of diplomats and US personnel going in and out of the Green Zone, which his advisers say he will, a significant armed force will be required for protection. The force that now plays that role is composed almost exclusively of contractors from Blackwater, DynCorp and Triple Canopy.

Why? Because the US government is not able to provide this security. So the private sector has boldly stepped into the gap. Props to Senator Obama and his staff for recognizing that.

Can Rep. Jan Schakowsky think for herself?

We've followed Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky's attacks on Blackwater for quite a while, but we still can't find an original thought. Indeed, it looks like she's been cribbing from Blackwater stalker Jeremy Scahill, because her comments track about 100 percent with his.

And when Scahill's been silent, so has Schakowsky. Indeed, both have been pretty quiet for a while now. In fact, Schakowsky has been rather reserved since last fall, when we raised the issue of her husband being a convicted felon.

But when Scahill recently resumed making public comments against Blackwater, Schakowsky did as well, starting this week.

Doesn't she have a mind of her own?

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Truth About Contractor Profits

The Federal Times has brought some interesting statistics to light. Conventional wisdom has it that private contractors in Iraq are bleeding the American taxpayer dry and making money hand over fist in the process. But in fact, the numbers tell a different story:

Sixty-nine percent of government contractors generated profit rates of less than 10 percent from their government business and 7 percent generated no profits at all.

Indeed, government contracts are hardly considered a guaranteed cash stream:

Most contractors said they view government contracting as a greater business risk than most commercial ventures.

Just further evidence that maybe these guys risk their lives because they're patriots, not money-grubbers.

Friday, February 22, 2008

FBI Finally Gets Around to Investigating Blackwater Incident

The AP reports that eight FBI agents and federal prosecutors investigating the September 17 shoot-out at Nisoor Square are returning to the scene as part of their ongoing investigation. The AP writes,

Since opening a grand jury investigation in November, prosecutors have questioned about 30 US witnesses, including Blackwater security guards and managers, during closed-door grand jury sessions in a Washington courthouse. To accommodate the crush of witnesses, prosecutors took the unusual step of requesting a third day of grand jury time each week.

However, read a little further and you find out that some key people were not interviewed, namely the Iraqis at the scene:

Authorities plan to interview about two dozen Iraqis during this trip, many for the first time, according to one person familiar with the investigation. Some Iraqi witnesses spoke to reporters and local police following the shooting.... FBI agents reviewed reports of those interviews but did not question the Iraqi witnesses themselves during the agency's first trip to Baghdad two weeks after the shooting.

So now, five months after the fact, we're hoping that the witnesses are still reliable, if ever they were. Surely the FBI has done enough investigations to know that people begin to confuse details, "remember" things they never saw, and generally become unreliable. It's not the witnesses' fault; it's just the way the human mind works.

Let's hope the good folks at the Bureau are sharp enough to realize their mistake and the limits of this latest fact-finding mission, rather than jumping to conclusions.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Abbas Considers Blackwater Protection

The World Tribune reports that Mahmoud Abbas (pictured), chairman of the Palestinian Authority, wants Blackwater to train his bodyguards. It is unclear if the deal - which appears to be just talk at this point - will go through; Blackwater does nothing abroad without explicit U.S. government approval.

However, some interesting points have come out of this story. One Western security source explained:
Abbas likes the U.S. approach to VIP security,
which is unobtrusive, quiet and highly professional.
A source within the Palestinian Authority echoed these sentiments:
Abu Mazen [Abbas] was very impressed by the security around President [George] Bush during his visit to Ramallah [in January 2008].... Abbas has already discussed this with senior U.S. officials.
As it turns out, the United States already funds the training of the PA security detail. The World Tribune writes,
The United States, as part of an $86 million program, has been financing the training and equipping of PA forces. In January, a battalion of PA National Security Force officers was sent for training to a U.S.-financed police center outside Amman. The center trained more than 30,000 Iraqi police officers from 2004 through 2007.
Abbas is opposed by several members of his own Fatah movement and does not trust Force 17, one of the units responsible for his protection. One source said,

Force 17 has no loyalty to Abbas.... They are all Arafat's people and this makes Abbas uncomfortable. He does not feel they will protect him.
Only time will tell if Blackwater gets a contract to train the PA guards. However, the US officials responsible for enhancing PA security are said to support Blackwater as a means of significantly bolstering PA capabilities.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Heritage Foundation Dispels Blackwater Myths

Dr. James Jay Carafano, of the Heritage Foundation:

Blackwater Trains Taiwanese

Security agencies around the world have taken notice of Blackwater's professionalism and expertise. Defense News reports that the Special Protection Service of Taiwan's National Security Bureau (NSB) has begun training with the North Carolina-based security contractor.

"An NSB source stated that training began in 2007 and was conducted at Blackwater facilities in the United States. The source stated the NSB was satisfied with the training, and further training programs are being considered."

Defense News cites a former US official as saying that “the key thing would be to have special operations training for Army, Marines and Reserve units in Taiwan.”

In addition to special protective service, the National Security Bureau is also responsible for national intelligence work and unified cryptography in Taiwan.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Stanford Students Support Blackwater

The Stanford Review, a student newspaper at the prestigious California university, gave an endorsement of private security contractors in an article title "Should America Employ Mercenaries? You Bet!"

Chris Seck, the World News Editor, says "it is unfortunate that in our modern lexicon, 'mercenary' is generally seen as a pejorative term." In defending the use of private security contractors, Seck explains that "Blackwater guards have done a remarkable job of protecting US diplomats and the US embassy in Baghdad. When was the last time you heard about a top U.S. official being killed while on tour in Iraq?"

Seck leaves little doubt about the professionalism of Blackwater and it's fellow contractors: "America’s mercenaries are highly-trained, highly-motivated, and highly-paid. According to the New York Times, Blackwater’s training facility in North Carolina is so well-equipped that even US Navy Seals sometimes use it for specialized military training."

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Waxman Destroys Independent Oversight

Howard Krongard recently worked his last day as the State Department Inspector General, an event accompanied by some scathing remarks by the Wall Street Journal for Congressman Henry Waxman. From the article:
Howard Krongard... learned a hard lesson in the ways of modern Congressional "oversight." To wit, if you don't follow Henry Waxman's orders, he'll try to ruin you....

In July, Mr. Krongard testified before Mr. Waxman's House oversight committee [that]... he had inspected and found no evidence of human trafficking or human-rights violations [at the new US Embassy in Baghdad]. That's not what Mr. Waxman wanted to hear. In his opening statement, the California partisan insisted that State's approach to the inquiry was evidence of a "full bunker mentality."

As if on cue, "whistleblowers" emerged to accuse [Mr. Krongard]of being too cozy with top State officials, failing to pick up counterfeit computers in Afghanistan, and even of being a high-handed boss. The principal complainers were not under oath, nor did they offer much evidence. One accuser admitted that, "I have no proof, I want to make that clear it is just my opinion."

Democrats howled that Mr. Krongard had intervened in the audit of State Department books to help the department get a "clean" result. What really happened? He argued that the auditors should get extra time to complete their work -- a position supported both by the Office of Management and Budget and the Government Accountability Office.

Mr. Krongard was also said to have "impeded" a Justice Department probe into allegations of weapons smuggling by Blackwater Inc., the civilian contractor in Iraq. In fact, he was coordinating as far back as July on a civil audit of Blackwater contracts with the Special Inspector General for Iraq Reconstruction. Later that month, he learned that employees in his office were cooperating with a criminal investigation by the US Attorney in North Carolina....

To avoid the conflict of parallel proceedings within the office, Mr. Krongard instructed the employee to "stop immediately" any further work until Mr. Krongard could speak to the US Attorney's office, which he offered to do right away. In short, he was doing his job, which is to make sure investigations aren't tainted by conflicts of interest. Mr. Waxman also made much of the fact that Mr. Krongard has a brother who served on a Blackwater advisory board. But Mr. Krongard immediately recused himself on learning of his brother's Blackwater tie.

Every specific charge against Mr. Krongard was examined and refuted in a report by the committee minority. And as Mr. Krongard noted, he was not a big political donor, had never met President Bush, and had never been to the White House except as a tourist. Yet none of these facts interfered with Mr. Waxman's public smears that Mr. Krongard's "partisan political ties" had led him to "halt investigations, censor reports, and refuse to cooperate with law-enforcement agencies."

Mr. Waxman doesn't much care if any of this is true, because his larger goal is to send a message to every Inspector General in government: They answer to him. Mr. Waxman expects them to tee up political scandals in the executive branch and serve as witnesses for his prosecution whether or not the facts support it. Mr. Krongard's mistake was telling the truth.

Friday, February 8, 2008

Poland decorates Blackwater men for saving ambassador's life

Poland's ambassador to Iraq has decorated Blackwater security professionals for their role in rescuing him and his aides after an October 3 assassination attempt in Baghdad.

Ambassador Edward Pietrzyk was badly burned in the ambush, and one of his guards was killed. He is pictured, bandaged, being rescued by troops. A Blackwater guard is shown at center-left in the blue-gray tee shirt, to place the ambassador on one of the company's "Little Bird" helicopters.

Speaking with reporters on February 4, US Ambassador to Iraq Ryan Crocker revealed that the Ambassador Pietrzyk bestowed medals on the Blackwater men: "Last week, the Polish Ambassador decorated about a dozen of them for saving his life back in October."

A Vast Conspiracy Indeed...

If you do a news search for "Blackwater" these days, you'll get a number of hits, though few are about private security contracting. One particular vein of stories is worth examining.

Burson-Marsteller, one of the world's largest public relations firms, has been hired by Blackwater. You don't have to be a right-wing militant to recognize that the company has had a lot of mud slung at it lately; anyone in their position would be well-advised to get some PR folks. But returning to the news...

Burson-Marsteller's Mark Penn (pictured), a pollster and political guru, has been working for Senator Hillary Clinton's presidential campaign, a story that the Telegraph, among others, has picked up. That's turning up a lot of the red herring Blackwater stories. In fact, Burson-Marsteller is all over the news: they're working for the Labour Party of Britain, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, and a variety of other entities.

Why bring this all up? It's not simply to demonstrate the wiles of internet searches. In fact, it shows just one more way that Blackwater is a fairly normal member of the international business community (if in a somewhat more dangerous line of work). According to the Virginian-Pilot, Blackwater trains Virginia Beach police and sheriff’s deputies, a variety of other "cops, federal agents, servicemen, merchant marines, game wardens, forest rangers and security guards. They came from across the country and the globe, including Switzerland, Italy, Chile and Canada."

If Blackwater is part of the vast right-wing fascist-Zionist-Bushite conspiracy, it is a vast conspiracy indeed, wide enough to include the Canadians, the Arabs, the left wing of both the British and American political scenes, the game wardens and even the ever-neutral Swiss. Now if you really think all those folks are in cahoots, well, feel free to join the Foil Hat Conspiracy.

This would all be amusing, except that some people take such talk seriously, while others like Congressman Waxman pick it up and try to foist their nonsense on Congress. Ladies and gentlemen, let's try to stick to the facts.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Video: Red Cross says Blackwater saved 600 people

The American Red Cross has credited Blackwater with saving 600 lives, thanks to the company's employee-led blood drive. WAVY-TV, the NBC affiliate in Norfolk/Portsmouth, Virginia, has the story. (For more, see our February 2 post below.)

Monday, February 4, 2008

Blackwater Goes Green

The Virginian-Pilot reports that the most powerful wind-turbine in the state of North Carolina - a 120 ft, three bladed 50-kilowatt unit - belongs to Blackwater, the private security contractor.

The turbine, erected last month at a cost of $180,000, powers the company's 70,000-square-foot Grizzly plant and is expected to produce 110,000 kilowatt hours in the next year.

The project has caught the eye of folks outside the world of security contracting. Brent Summerville, outreach and training programs manager for the North Carolina Small Wind Initiative at Appalachian State University says, "Everything that is installed is going to get scrutiny; projects like this will help."

The Virginian-Pilot explains that "winds off Cape Hatteras average 17 mph at 120 feet off the ground and are rated as some of the most potentially productive in the state, according to a wind map online at the U.S. Department of Energy," making the region a fertile area for developing wind power.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Red Cross says Blackwater saved 600 lives

News station WAVY reports that the American Red Cross is honoring Blackwater with a special plaque (pictured left). Georgia Donaldson of the Mid Atlantic region Red Cross explained:

The people here at Blackwater go above and beyond in trying to sponsor blood drives during times of the year when we need them the most.
As WAVY-TV reports in its video broadcast, the American Red Cross credited Blackwater with saving 600 lives from its blood drives.

Erik Prince, founder and CEO of Blackwater, pointed out that this sort of work is typical of the company's ethos:

I'm proud of the folks we have here. We have a great team, they constantly go above and beyond the call of duty, they give back and they're giving to their local community here.... We try to create a venue for smart innovative folks to do good work here and this was an idea that came from our medical department. They saw a need for the community to receive more blood, so we made it available and our folks answered the call.