Wednesday, April 30, 2008

ABC Eats Its Words on Blackwater Report

Take a look at this attempted sleight of hand by ABC News. The network giant reported on its website that Cerberus Capital Management, the hedge fund that bought Chrysler, is angling for a $200 million stake in Blackwater Worldwide.

The Wall Street Journal countered with a blog story that the ABC item is untrue. Whereas ABC relied on an anonymous source, the Journal did something real journalists do: It called a real person and quoted him by name. After the inaccurate ABC report came out, a Journal reporter phoned Cerberus operations chief Mark Neporent, who acknowledged consideration of an investment in Blackwater but said no deal was in the works. ABC was wrong.

After the Wall Street Journal went online with the debunking, pulled down its original story and replaced it with one headlined, "Exclusive: Investment Giant Ends Talks with Blackwater." kept the same URL as the original inaccurate story, as if to fool people. (Imagine if Blackwater had done such a thing!)

ABC put the best spin on its reporting reversal, saying, "After news broke this morning on the Blotter on of the ongoing talks between the investment giant Cerberus and the controversial security firm Blackwater, the talks have now ceased, and there will be no deal."

No word from the guys in Moyock.

Blackwater Evacuates US Ambassador from Assassination Attempt

Blackwater guards evacuated US Ambassador to Afghanistan William Wood to safety after Sunday's assassination attempt on Afghan President Hamid Karzai.

News reports cited “security guards” as protecting the envoy, but not a single news organization identified the guards. Blackwater has the sole contract to guard the American ambassador in Afghanistan.

Wood and other dignitaries joined Afghan leaders in celebrating the 16th anniversary of the Afghan victory over the Soviet Union when Taliban terrorists opened fire with automatic weapons, rockets and mortars. Several people were killed.

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince told Congress last fall that the company's State Department diplomatic security job under the Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) program is to get their protectees "off the X," meaning to rush them from an attack site to safety.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Iranian Press Condemns Blackwater - Oh No!

The Associated Press isn't the only one abandoning journalistic integrity when it comes to reporting on Blackwater. In fact, AP in very good company: the Iranian state-controlled media.

Iran's Press TV describes Blackwater's operations at Nisoor Square on 17 September last year as "an unprovoked shooting spree." Well I'm glad the Iranians have sorted out this difficult matter for us, a matter the FBI is still investigating. (Though Time magazine has reported that a variety of evidence supports Blackwater's account of events.)

The Iranians' journalism is almost laughable; one doesn't expect much more from the mouthpiece of a terrorist-sponsoring theocratic autocracy. But when the Associated Press (along with Reuters, the New York Times and others) use the same sort of non-nonsensically biased language, it's a cause for concern. It's time for more accountability in American journalism.

In the Line of Fire: A Contractor Tells His Story

Today the UAE's 7 Days news service carried an interview with a former private security contractor (PSC) in Iraq. The account he gives is quite a bit different from the recycled 'cowboy mercenary' stories you usually read in the blogosphere.

“With suicide bombers and snipers where do you draw the line?” he asked. “Their tactic is to drive alongside a convoy and detonate a bomb, so you’ve got to control which vehicles come close to the convoy and that’s not easy. Do you shoot first, risking civilian lives, and ask questions later - or wait for them to prove themselves to be terrorists, by which time they will have already killed you? It’s an awful situation to be in.

And in many ways, it's getting worse: “In 2004, convoy protection was easy, as traffic was mainly military. But this time last year there were a lot of civilian vehicles which made it more difficult.

There is a myriad of potential problems to consider; operational security - keeping your plans out of the hands of the enemy - is just one consideration: “With convoy protection, the number of people who know your routes and timings is minimized for safety - Iraq is a corrupt place - and the fewer people who know where you are going, the better.”

Iraq is no playground and the contractors, of all people, are keenly aware of this. In spite of the difficult situations insurgents try to place them in, these contractors are still a force for good: “Security guards have been getting very bad press... but if it were not for privates [PSCs], the situation in Iraq would be ten-times worse.”

Sunday, April 27, 2008

Lawyers Accuse Blackwater - But their Cop-Killer and Al Qaeda Ties Taint Allegations

Trial lawyers suing Blackwater Worldwide on behalf of Iraqis allegedly suffering from the September 16 Nisoor Square incident in Baghdad are accusing the company of covering up evidence.

But the trial lawyers' documented ties to terrorist groups and activists causes undermine the credibility of the accusations. And the propagandistic reporting of the Associated Press undermines the credibility of the news organization.

For months, the Associated Press has avoided identifying the trial lawyers by name andtheir terrorist connections in its reporting on the issue. In a display of the wire service's increasingly sloppy journalism, the AP's April 25 headline reads, "Iraqis Accuse Blackwater of Shredding Documents." The article identifies none of the accusers and carries no byline, raising questions about accountability within AP's editorial offices.

As this blog has documented, members of the legal team suing Blackwater in this case include Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights, who has spent the better part of 40 years defending terrorists and cop-killers as part of his self-described professional mission; and Shereef Hadi Akeel, who represents a group the US says is an al Qaeda organization.

For more of AP's propagandistic reporting of this lawsuit, see our December 19 posting.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Terrorist Propaganda Targets Contractors

WIRED reports that the Islamic Army of Iraq (IAI), a Sunni breakaway faction of al Qaeda, has released a video specifically targeting the contractors who protect US diplomats and provide key services to American uniformed personnel.

Sophisticated propaganda operations - such a slick website in English, Spanish, French and Arabic designed for Western media outlets and a strong presence on YouTube - seem to be hallmarks of the Islamic Army of Iraq and other new insurgent groups.

Noah Shachtman of writes:

The video starts on March 31, 2004 -- a day when Iraqis, not American contractors, were the ones acting barbaric. Four Blackwater employees were killed by locals after getting lost in Fallujah. Their bodies were burned, dragged through the streets, and hung from a bridge.
The video goes on to claim that "crimes against Iraqis happen on a daily basis done by unleashed barbarians dressed in security uniforms, criminals protected by law and instructed by the Bush administration to murder for the sake of killing." As this blog and others committed to the truth have worked hard to show, this is not at all the case. But the propaganda pieces of the IAI and others have been picked up and believed by the American media and extreme elements of the anti-war movement and the political left. The consequence? Terrorist vitriol against those serving the US government has now become "common knowledge."

This latest video from the IAI shows "that security contractors are not being targeted just as an extension of targeting US forces but rather as a direct target," says Ben Venzke, the CEO of IntelCenter, which meticulously tracks insurgent and jihadist propaganda.
While attacks on contractors are nothing new, this video is one sign that the threat profile for contractors has continued to increase and that groups like IAI are specifically looking for ways to attack contractors such as Blackwater both on the ground and in the information war space.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mag Describes Blackwater's Fight Against Heroin Trafficking

With so much attention focused on Blackwater's private security contracting work for the State Department, it's understandable that few people know about the company's other activity - including its leading role in fighting heroin and opium production and trafficking in Afghanistan.
Faced with out-of-control narcotics production in Afghanistan, NATO and the United States have relied on several contractors - especially DynCorp, Lockheed Martin and Blackwater - to make the fight more effective. The US Army photo above illustrates how civilian contractors work directly with the military and with Afghan civilians. Blackwater is working for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and the US military, according to a cover story in the March-April issue of the industry magazine Serviam.

The magazine describes a "five-pillar" counternarcotics strategy for the country, and shows how Blackwater helped set up Afghanistan's elite Narcotics Interdiction Unit (NIU).

“We’re involved on DoD side,” Jeff Gibson, vice president for international training at Blackwater, tells Serviam. “We interdict. The NIU surgically goes after shipments going to Iran or Pakistan. We provide training to set up roadblocks, identify where drug lords are, and act so as not to impact the community.”

The article is long and contains several sidebars, so it's worth visiting the original piece for the full story. Here's a representative snippet:

NIU police cover a cross-section of Afghan society. Their faces reflect the diverse racial and cultural makeup of the country. About 10 to 15 percent of NIU personnel are women: a cultural step forward in local terms, as the women work side-by-side with the men. While the women wear traditional scarves to cover their heads, they do not cover their faces unless wearing black balaclava masks to shield their identities while on an operation, or voluntarily wearing burqas to go undercover.

Once out in the field, the NIU graduates show the same determination they displayed in their training.

“About a year and a half ago they lost two officers in an ambush,” Gibson says. “They got intelligence on a drug lab outside of Kabul. Two officers went out to verify the source, but it was a setup and they were ambushed and killed.

“We believed that this unit was becoming more effective and that the ambush was a backlash. We were concerned that the Afghans would say, ‘Screw this, we’re not going to do it any more.’ But they got energized and they became stronger, and much more proud of what they were doing. It steeled their determination,” the Blackwater
international training chief says. “I thought guys would quit or not show up, but instead they put more purpose behind it.”

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

PSCs Defend Maritime World

With international piracy on the rise, Blackwater and other private security contractors (PSCs) are taking to the waves.

In a report released by the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich - Albert Einstein's alma mater - cites statistics from the International Maritime Bureau showing that piracy is on the rise. Recent news accounts regarding French and Spanish vessels reinforce this story.

Within the private sector, shipping, oil and insurance firms have been impacted by a significant and long-term increase in pirate attacks mounted against off-shore oil platforms, tankers and cargo vessels traveling throughout the world's shipping lanes. In strategic choke points like the Malacca Straits, large, slow-moving container ships and tug-pulled drilling rigs are easily approached and boarded by the much smaller, agile and quicker boats used by today's pirates. These attacks, measured in terms of ship and cargo losses as well as increased insurance premiums, have amounted to losses of up to US$16 billion annually.

That's where PSCs come in.

At the federal level, both the Department of Homeland Security and the US Coast Guard have solicited advice from PSCs on matters of maritime security. For example, after the 9/11 attacks, a number of British firms - including Marine Underwater Security Consultants and Hart Security - were invited to participate in a committee drafting of the US Coast Guard's ISPS Code submission to the International Maritime Organisation. After the bombing of the USS Cole, the PSC Blackwater was awarded a contract to train over 50,000 US sailors in the use of small arms to defend their ships from terrorist attacks.

This US public-private interface has not been limited to merely an advisory or training role. At the local government level, the US has launched a number of pilot programs using the firm Seawolf Marine Patrol to provide manned guarding services for a US ports. Overseas, the US navy has relied upon the PSC Glenn Defense Marine Asia to provide security - complete with armed ghurkhas - for its naval vessels while in port.

The United States is not the only employer of maritime PSCs:

Middle Eastern and Asian states have hired PSCs like Britam to provide training for their own maritime security forces to protect state-owned high-risk maritime assets. In the wake of the 2002 assault on the Limburg tanker in Yemeni coastal waters, for example, Hart Security was hired to train the Yemeni Navy in waterborne anti-terrorist tactics. African states have turned to PSCs in an even more proactive capacity....

Traditionally, various members of the maritime industry more broadly have hired PSCs in risk mitigation roles. For example, the marine insurance industry utilizes PSCs in various political risk advisory, due diligence, asset recovery and maritime kidnap and ransom (k&r) services associated with piracy and terrorism.... Large shipping and oil companies sensitive to increasingly violent pirate attacks against their oil tankers and drilling rigs have turned to PSCs like Background Asia Risk Solutions to provide armed personnel and armored escort vessels to "ride shotgun" while escorting these expensive assets through some of the world's most dangerous waterways.

Truth about Pay, Rules Clarified

In a letter to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Anne E. Tyrrell clarified some of the popular misconceptions that still swirl in the media about private security contractors (PSCs).

With regards to levels of financial compensation, Tyrrell writes,
When you compare military compensation -- which includes base pay plus housing, tax benefits, education assistance, bonuses, retirement benefits and other benefits -- to the compensation offered Blackwater contractors (base pay only), the two are essentially equal.
Regarding rules of engagement and accountability mechanisms , Tyrrell explains:
Blackwater operates under detailed contracts with the US government that provide intensive government oversight, direction and control. Blackwater's contracts with the US government dictate almost every aspect of operation and contract performance, including the hiring, vetting guidelines, background checks, screening, training standards, rules of force and standards of conduct.
In conclusion:
Blackwater protects US officials so the military can focus on its mission. During our 17,000 missions in Iraq, 27 of our personnel have lost their lives. However, no individual we have protected has been killed or seriously injured. We consider our responsibility to protect US government employees, members of Congress and other diplomats in Iraq to be a very important duty.... While opinions on Blackwater may differ, your readers deserve the facts.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

In Geneva, Red Cross Legal Adviser Affirms Place for PSCs

Cordula Droege, legal adviser to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Geneva, recently gave some comments about the role of private security contractors (PSCs) on the international scene. Her remarks, posted on the ICRC website, underlined the legitimacy of this business sector and the legal framework in which it operates.

Journalists and even experts often claim that there is a gap in the law when it comes to PSCs, she said. For the ICRC, on the other hand, it is clear that in situations of armed conflict there is a body of law that applies, namely IHL [international humanitarian law], which regulates both the activities of PSC staff and the responsibilities of the States that hire them. The law also places obligations on the governments of countries where these companies are registered or incorporated, and where they operate. In case of breaches of IHL, the legal responsibility of PSC staff and of the States that hire them is quite clear.

She pointed out that these laws exist to protect the contractors themselves as well as those around them.

We shouldn’t forget that the law is also there to protect the personnel of these companies, under certain conditions. The protection they are entitled to will vary, according to the type of activity they are carrying out.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Rice, Gates, Petraeus "quite satisfied" with PSCs

The Associated Press reports that in joint Congressional testimony Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Secretary of Defense Bob Gates expressed their confidence in the work that private security contractors (PSCs) are doing in Iraq. Gates said General David Petraeus, Commanding General of Multi-National Force Iraq, was "quite satisfied with the arrangement that exists today" between PSCs and the government. Rice agreed. "I do think we've come to a good modus vivendi."

Monday, April 14, 2008

Use of Force by PSCs Extremely Rare

United Press International reports that the use of force by private security contractors (PSCs) is extremely rare, according to congressional testimony by Jack Bell (pictured), the deputy under secretary of defense for logistics and material readiness.

"He said that between August 2004 and February 2008, 'a period of rampant insurgency and sectarian violence in Iraq,' there were 19,268 contractor convoys run for the U.S. military. There were 1,441 attacks against them. But in only 151 cases -- less than 1 percent of convoys overall, and just over 10 percent of those that were attacked -- was the discharge of firearms by [PSC] personnel reported. And in some of these 151 incidents, only warning shots or disabling shots aimed at vehicles were involved."

UPI points out that these figures are for PSCs operating with the Pentagon and does not include those under State Department contract; "nonetheless, these figures and documents challenge the popular conception of PMCs as out-of-control 'cowboys.'"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Top US Diplomat Defends Blackwater

In his comments to Congress on Friday, Ryan Crocker, US ambassador to Iraq (pictured with Gen. David Petraeus), defended private security contractors (PSCs) like Blackwater, calling them "absolutely essential" to the functioning of the US embassy, the AP reports.

Crocker is one of the most highly regarded senior diplomats in the entire foreign service.

"The challenges of getting the nation's business done in Iraq are pretty substantial," he said. "We have to function in conditions that would in most places have us pretty much in a stand-down. But this is the nation's most critical work, and it has to go on, and security contractors like Blackwater are absolutely essential to this effort."

Crocker's comments confirm that this blog and others have already said: Hillary Clinton's plan to remove all PSCs from Iraq and Afghanistan would result in the deaths of countless diplomats and VIPs. We'd like to be charitable and think she's just naive, but having been to Iraq and enjoyed PSC protection, she knows better. She's just rather put political gain above the lives of our diplomats.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Poland Decorates Blackwater Men for Valor - First Awards to Foreigners Since World War II

The government of Poland has bestowed its Silver Star and Bronze Star combat medals on foreigners for the first time since World War II - and Blackwater security men were the recipients.

Polish Ambassador to Iraq Edward Pietrzyk (fourth from right) presented the awards on behalf of his government in a January, 2008 ceremony to recognize the Blackwater guards for evacuating him by helicopter after an October 2007 assassination attempt. Poland is one of the most important NATO allies in Iraq.

The State Department's internal State Magazine has the story in its April, 2008 issue. The award ceremony was considered so important that US Ambassador Ryan Crocker (third from right) and General David Petraeus (left) attended and posed for pictures with the contractors. The above photo, picturing some of the Blackwater men, appears in the magazine.

Here's how the State Department describes the event:

"On January 25, Poland's ambassador to Iraq, Edward Pietrzyk, honored the heroism of 18 members of the US Embassy in Baghdad's regional security office who helped rescue his motorcade when it came under attack in Baghdad in October.

"The motorcade was struck by four roadside bombs and a barrage of small-arms fire from more than two dozen assailants. One member of the Polish Special Forces security detail was killed, several were wounded and Pietrzyk was severely burned.

"During the midday attack, the Polish security detail contacted the RSO's tactical operation center, which dispatched two helicopters. The arriving personnel found the motorcade group sheltering in a residential compound and provided first aid while evacuating the wounded. Ambassador Pietrzyk was flown to a combat surgical hospital and later to Poland. After several months of treatment, he returned to Iraq.

"In the award ceremony, with gloves still protecting his badly burned hands, the ambassador pinned on the shirts of his rescuers Poland's Silver and Bronze Star medals, the first time these awards had been given to foreigners since World War II.

"Attending were US Ambassador Ryan Crocker and General David Petraeus, commander of the Multi-National Forces - Iraq. Ambassador Crocker noted the long history of Polish-US mutual assistance.

"The award recipients are employees of the contractor Blackwater and work with the RSO to protect Mission Iraq staff."

Petraeus Presence with Blackwater Lays Criticisms to Rest

The presence of General David Petraeus at the Polish Embassy event to bestow combat medals on Blackwater security contractors in Iraq puts an end to the validity of criticisms that the military is at odds with the diplomatic security provider.

Petraeus is one of the busiest men in Iraq, and his time is at a premium. US Ambassador Ryan Crocker, as the supervisor of the Blackwater guards, was already at the event, ensuring a proper level of official recognition from a protocol standpoint. The Blackwater men were not under Petraeus' command. There was no need for Petraeus to attend, but he did it anyway. That's an important indication of his support for Blackwater and its mission.

Though under contract with the State Department, Blackwater has assisted the US military on many occasions in Iraq, and performed a number of unheralded evacuations and rescues of American troops.

(Photo: Petraeus, left, with Blackwater security contractors at Polish Embassy ceremony. Cropped from larger State Department photo from
State Magazine, April 2008, p. 3.)

Saturday, April 5, 2008

State Department Renews Blackwater Contract

Mom always said actions speak louder than words. The big news today is that the US State Department has renewed the contract with Blackwater Worldwide to provide diplomatic security in Iraq.

The BBC, the AFP, the Washington Post, and everybody else is carrying the story. No matter how much any of them try to spin the story, several key points are obvious:

1. The US government still depends upon private security contractors (PSCs).

2. Blackwater's service has been exemplary, winning them another year on the contract.

In spite of all the pressure from trial lawyers, anti-war protesters and elements of the Democratic Party, the State Department has still come to the conclusion that no one - including the State Department's own Bureau of Diplomatic Security - can provide the quality of service that Blackwater does.

"I have requested and received approval to have Task Order 6, which Blackwater has to provide personal protective services in Baghdad, renewed for one year," the State Department's Gregory Starr said.

When asked about allegations against Blackwater, he replied: "I am not going to prejudge what the FBI is going to find in their investigation. I think really, it is complex. I think that the US government needs protective services. Essentially I think they [Blackwater] do a very good job."

Friday, April 4, 2008

"Experts" Get It Wrong, VP Gets It Right

Reuters reported yesterday on a conference at New York University School of Law titled "Privatizing Defense: Blackwater, Contractors and American Security." Comparing the comments of various participants with the actual course of events is striking.

With regards to the deaths of 17 Iraqis in a shootout with Blackwater last September, Reuters cited the New York Times as reporting that "an FBI investigation... found at least 14 of the shootings were unjustified." Reuters cites Jeremy Scahill, author of Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, as going even further, claiming that a military investigation concluded all the deaths were the result of "unjustified and unprovoked fire."

In fact, the FBI's investigation, which began quite late, is still underway. Likewise, no military investigation has been concluded. So in spite of all their alleged journalistic training, Reuters jumps to conclusions, engaging in little more than rumor-mongering.

Who's account most closely matches the actual state of the investigation? Blackwater Vice President Marty Strong's. "Irrespective of The New York Times or any other newspaper saying they think they know what's going on, the FBI is going to complete an official investigation, not one done by the seat of the pants.... At that time we're going to find out exactly what they found out."

On nothing more than their own authority, Reuters reports that Blackwater has "operated with impunity." This runs contrary to the government's own affirmation only a few days ago that Blackwater and other private security contractors are accountable to the Uniform Code of Military Justice, and has been unmistakably since 2006.

The suggestion from Scahill and others was that Blackwater's behavior has been irresponsible and unjustified. Though the quotation comes from elsewhere, these experts could easily have been the ones to ask Who drives against traffic in a traffic circle? The answer, quite simply, is the State Department and its contract, which stipulates the aggressive tactics that have made Blackwater famous. (Then again, who ever wrote a news article about all the quite missions going according to plan?)

In light of these trying circumstances, Marty Strong's explanation to the conference was as good as any: "I spent nine months in Iraq, it's a very difficult place."

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

PSCs Praised for Dangerous Work

The Buffalo News recently ran an editorial explaining the particular dangers encountered by private security contractors. Here are some of the highlights from the piece:

These security guards by no means operate as the men in uniform do. Soldiers work under the protection of tanks, helicopters and their fellow soldiers, and soldiers can aggressively attack someone who is a potential threat to their safety, [Douglas] Brooks, [president of the International Peace Operations Association] said.

“The private security contractors work under regulations that prevent them from being the aggressor. They can only take aggressive action to protect themselves or the people they’re guarding,” Brooks said. “If they come under attack, they can call for help from the military, but that help doesn’t always arrive right away.

According to Michael Skora, an Army veteran who worked closely with [abducted contractor Jonathon] Cote in both the Army and Crescent Security, he and Cote faced sniper attacks and “dozens” of encounters with improvised explosive devices that blew up near convoys that the two former soldiers were escorting, Skora said. “It was as bad or worse than anything we saw in the Army.

In Brooks’ view, the private contractors don’t get nearly enough credit for the jobs they do and the extreme dangers they face while working in Iraq. Peter W. Singer, a national security expert at the Brookings Institution in Washington, agreed. Singer has done extensive research on the subject…. “There has been much discussion of how the US recently passed the 4,000 death mark,” Singer told The Buffalo News. “The fact is, we already passed that long ago, if you count contractors…. And yet, they aren’t counted in official tolls, and largely not known by the media and the public.”

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Atrocity bridge rededicated in Fallujah

"Four years ago today," the New York Daily News writes, "four American security men from Blackwater were ambushed in Fallujah. They were shot in their vehicles, doused in gasoline and set afire, mutilated and strung up on a bridge over the Euphrates River. The grisly images of their blackened corpses dangling from the steel bridge fueled the drive for a ... Marine offensive into the city days later."

The four men were led into ambush by their Iraqi security detail. The attackers planned the ambush for its international propaganda value; some of the attackers had video cameras to record the murders and mutilations, and relied on the international news media to spread the images around the world. A trial lawyer is trying to profiteer from the tragedy by holding Blackwater - not the terrorists - responsible for the killings. He is suing the company on behalf of some of the family members of the deceased.

Four years after the horrible incident, the city of Fallujah is much quieter. In fact, the Public Affairs Office of the Multi-National Corps at has announced that the bridge, reportedly nicknamed "Blackwater Bridge," has been refurbished and will be rededicated on 5 April. The bridge was first dedicated by King Feisel in 1927 and will henceforth bear his name.