Thursday, July 31, 2008

Wanting It Both Ways: Senators Critical of Blackwater Want Assurances It Will Continue Serving

Senators who have been critical of Blackwater are now concerned that it might quit the security business in Iraq, and want assurances that the company will continue.

They've been beating the stuffing out of the company, accusing it of all kinds of wrongdoing. But then, when the company's leaders say that the security contracts aren't worth all the heat from Congress and the media, the senators worry that Blackwater might actually leave them high and dry.
They add, with a twist, that recent news reports suggesting that the North Carolina-based company might get out of the diplomatic security business are all the more reason for the State Department not to be so dependent on private contractors.

Given these intentions, the senators want to know whether State has been assured Blackwater will fulfill its recently renewed multimillion-dollar security contract. They also want to know what the department plans to do to shore up its Diplomatic Security Service and lessen its reliance on private security contractors.

They cite recent news reports that quote State officials as saying the other two private security contractors providing services under State’s Worldwide Personnel Protective Services contract would be unable to take on Blackwater’s work if the company pulled out.

Senators Bob Casey (D-Penn.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) co-signed a letter of concerns to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

On the Ground Training Afghan Counternarcotics Police

Blackwater is training Afghanistan's new counternarcotics police - the men and women on the front lines to combat both the illegal drug business and to take away a big source of funds for the Taliban and, presumably, al Qaeda.

I haven't seen anything else like it in the above video. This stuff is new. Some of the highlights are what appears to be a main lobby of Afghanistan's new Counter-Narcotics Training Academy. On the wall are painted the flags of the "nations and organizations" that made the academy possible. Look at the emblems, one by one: Afghanistan, United States, United Kingdom, France, Germany, United Nations, Blackwater . . .

The Blackwater logo among those flags: The Afghans and Coalition members on the ground appear to have quite a different opinion of the company, working with its people up-close, than does most of the American public.

The video shows how Blackwater is helping Afghan women integrate into the counternarcotics police; how it trains new police recruits in law and safety as well as paramilitary CN tactics; how it mentors the new police out in the field; and how it conducts live-fire exercises. These guys and women are heavily armed: they're training to go out against not only heavily armed drug gangs, but against the Taliban.

The video ends with images of some of the results of the training and mentoring: world's biggest drug bust that took place last month at Spin Bolduk, a haul so big that British warplanes had to be called in to incinerate it from the air.

Congressman Henry Waxman and others want to put a stop to such activity by putting Blackwater out of the federal contracting business.

Here's a direct link to the YouTube video:

NATO May Rent Helicopters from Blackwater

Britain and NATO are so short of helicopters in Iraq and Afghanistan that the alliance is reportedly negotiating to rent some from Blackwater Worldwide.

That's what London's Independent is reporting today. The UK is said to want more helicopters in order to avoid overland travel, where roadside bombs are taking a toll on British morale.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Waxman Strategy: Make Blackwater Ineligible for Federal Contracts

As he continues to hammer away at the linchpin that keeps US diplomatic activity secure and the troops resupplied in wars on the other side of the world, Congressman Henry Waxman is revealing his strategy.

If he can't discredit the job Blackwater is doing - with its 100 percent success record defending diplomats, aid workers, and visiting congressmen and senators from terrorist attack - Waxman thinks he can destroy the company by picking away at regulatory issues. describes what's happening: "Waxman appears to be taking a new tack: scrutinizing the contractor's employment practices to make it ineligible for future federal contracts."

"So far," says, whose reporting is biased against the company, "Waxman's strategy seems to be working."

Waxman began his jihad against Blackwater in February 2007, at the behest of a California trial lawyer. The trial lawyer, Dan Callahan, is suing the company on behalf of shell companies that another trial lawyer set up in the names of four security guards whom terrorists murdered in 2004.
Sounds like a sleazy arrangement: A congressman using taxpayer dollars to discredit a defendant in a lawsuit on behalf of a private businessman, a trial lawyer, who stands to make millions by suing a private company that the congressman is pressuring the government to investigate. Too bad there's no accountability to stop such abuse.

Erik Prince Offers to Train African Force to Save Darfur

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince tells the Wall Street Journal that he is willing to train and equip an African force to save Darfur.

And he doesn't want to make a nickel doing it. He's offering to do it at cost.

This amazing news is tucked way down in William McGurn's "Main Street" column that ran in the WSJ on July 29. McGurn writes:

Mr. Prince says that the 9,000 or so African Union soldiers in Darfur, as part of the United Nations peacekeeping force, are a good start. But he says that to be effective they need better training, communications and equipment. That is more or less the same message from a report released yesterday by the Darfur Consortium, a coalition of 50 African-based and Africa-focused NGOs. "One year ago the U.N. Security Council stood unanimous and promised Darfurians the strongest and largest protection force ever," says a coalition spokesman. "Today that force is just over a third deployed, lacks even the most basic equipment and is unable to protect itself let alone civilians."

Mr. Prince has a remedy. He believes that with 250 or so professionals, Blackwater can transform about a thousand of the African Union soldiers into an elite and highly mobile force. This force would also be equipped with helicopters and the kind of small planes that missionaries use in this part of the world. It would be cheaper than the hundreds of millions we are spending to set up a larger AU/U.N. force. And he says he'd do it at cost.

Blackwater would not do the fighting. Its people would serve as advisers, mechanics and pilots. Aid workers and villagers would be equipped with satellite telephones that include Global Positioning Systems.

When they call in, the troops would respond.

"I'm so sick of hearing that nothing can be done," he says. "The Janjaweed is a truly unfettered bully. No one has stood up to them. If they were met by a mobile quick reaction force of African Union soldiers, the Janjaweed would quickly learn their habits were not sustainable." And to ensure accountability, he says, the U.S. could send 25 military officers to observe how Blackwater is doing and serve as liaisons.

Up until Blackwater's offer, all the other "Save Darfur" activity is just useless talk. McGurn notes, "That's the point: Strongly worded resolutions, sanctions and boycotts are generally what you do in place of decisive action. I understand that the whole idea of Blackwater helicopters flying over Darfur probably horrifies many of the same people frustrated by Mr. Bashir's ability to game the system. But it's at least worth wondering what that same Blackwater helo might look like to a defenseless Darfur mother and her daughters lying in fear of a Janjaweed attack."

Any takers?

UN Peacekeeping Chief Rejects Blackwater Offer on Darfur

He didn't even offer the diplomatic decency of "due consideration." He simply warned against the temptation to use "mercenaries" to solve humanitarian problems.

He is Jean Marie Guehenno, the outgoing head of peacekeeping operations for the United Nations (pictured). The Frenchman held a news conference July 29 and threw cold water on Blackwater CEO Erik Prince's offer to train and support a duly constituted African force that would be used to solve the Islamist horrors against the people of Darfur.

In his eight years in charge of UN peacekeeping, Guehenno has accomplished nothing to stop the Darfur atrocities.

Imagine: The UN's top peacekeeping official takes Blackwater's offer so seriously that he must comment about it in a news conference. Erik Prince is holding a lot of moral power in his hands. He has the UN on the defensive.

Obama Campaign Still Won't Talk About Blackwater Help

The Obama campaign still isn't answering questions about whether the presidential candidate accepted security protection from Blackwater Worldwide during his trip to Afghanistan and Iraq. Citing Paul Bedard's column in US News & World Report, London's Daily Telegraph reports,

A tight-lipped Anne Tyrrell, spokeswoman for Blackwater, said she could neither confirm nor deny that the company had been involved in the visits by the senators to Afghanistan or Iraq.

My request to Bill Burton, Obama's national spokesman, for comment on the Bedard story - including whether the alleged quote or its sentiment was genuine - went unanswered.

But a source familiar with Obama's security arrangements told me that Blackwater, along with the Secret Service, did pull security for the three senators in Afghanistan, though not Iraq.

Deceiver describes this as Obama's "Rosie O'Donnell moment" That's maybe a tad harsh but it will be interesting to see whether Obama's public position on Blackwater changes as a result of his up-close time with their personnel in Afghanistan.

Monday, July 28, 2008

Inspector General Faults SBA in 4 of 5 Findings, But Waxman Spins It to Blame Blackwater

The Inspector General of the Small Business Administration (SBA) has faulted the SBA in four out of five findings concerning Blackwater Worldwide.
Congressman Henry Waxman (D-Cal.) is alleging "waste, fraud and abuse" on his committee website, which contains a headline today worded to imply that the SBA has a major problem with Blackwater.

Blackwater is certain to take the blame in the headlines soon to be generated from the Waxman statement. Waxman generated the complaint to the SBA in March.

However, a look at the SBA Inspector General memorandum shows that of the five "findings," the government agency itself appears to be at fault in four of them.

In Finding 1, Blackwater and an affiliated company "may have" won contracts that were set-asides for small businesses, even though the company no longer qualified as a small business. It's pretty subjective and inconclusive, because of Blackwater's use of contractors versus employees in key areas to support the troops.

In Findings 2-5, the Inspector General blames the SBA itself - not Blackwater. Take a look at the original document and see for yourself:

Waxman spins the issue in a memorandum dated today, July 28, and titled: "SBA IG Finds Blackwater May Have Misrepresented Small Business Status." That's the gist of his complaint - he doesn't make an issue of the IG's four allegations against the SBA itself.

At the core of this argument is whether Blackwater can call its contractors "contractors," or whether it must designate them as "employees." The SBA IG report is littered with weasel words like "could have" and "potential," not daring to issue any definitive finding at all.

Waxman, as part of his work helping trial lawyers who stand to make millions from suing Blackwater, complained to the SBA, saying that the company shouldn't be allowed to call its contractors "contractors," but instead should call them "employees" so they can be taxed. Big Labor doesn't like how the law allows contractors either, because they can't be unionized and forced to pay dues to the union political machine.

The trial lawyers and labor unions are among the biggest campaign contributors to the very partisan Waxman's political party.
(Follow-on added at 5:08 PM: This blog broke the story of the SBA IG report. The first news report appearing on Google News was a McClatchy story written by Joseph Neff of the Raleigh News & Observer - the folks who gave the world the phony "news" about the Duke lacrosse team - posted at 4:27 PM. Standish posted the story first at 3:36 PM eastern time.)

Prince Shows Off Blackwater Headquarters

In a surprisingly upbeat article, the Associated Press described their recent visit to Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina:

Erik Prince gets his guests to the runway seconds before the turboprop's approach. The financiers hop out of his black Chevy Suburban and gawk as the pilots drop a pair of packages that float to within feet of their target — just as they might on a mission for Blackwater Worldwide in the Afghan backcountry.

His audience is captivated by the show, but the Blackwater founder and CEO focuses on a seemingly minor detail: the parachutes.

"They're made out of the same stuff sandbags are made out of," Prince tells the group in hurried, staccato sentences. "They are truly disposable. The normal parachutes you put a human out under are much more expensive. With these, you can use them, repack them. It's very cheap."

The State described other aspects of a media visit: Prince "whipped his Chevy Suburban down Blackwater's driving course, where drivers can practice wet and dry runs around corners blinded by berms. Company officials opened up an airplane hangar where the company was working to improve 10 helicopters for a 'Middle East client,'" believed to be one of the Gulf states, which are increasingly threatened by Iran.

Just as Blackwater is preparing to transition away from the security business, it seems the media is coming to realize the quality and importance of its work. The AP writes, "Blackwater Worldwide built a reputation by successfully protecting the nation's top diplomats on the world's most volatile streets. Now the company is looking to... build up other aspects of its business."

By tapping the expertise of its veterans — from ex-SEALs to former Coast Guard officers to FBI agents — Blackwater instead sees a future in using its mobility and flexibility to seek out and quickly fill other gaps that present themselves.

"There's always been gaps. The military can't be all things to all people all the time," Prince said while standing on a gleaming Blackwater logo in the airy lobby of his company headquarters. "There are always going to be some pieces that the private sector can help in."

When Prince noticed a shortage of US combat medics, he developed a school and program to train his own. They practice rescues and vehicle extractions across on Blackwater's campus, and Prince is now looking for customers who want to hire medics as contractors.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

MidEast Times Explains Economics of Contracting

When Blackwater recently announced that it was pulling back from the personal protection business, many people were (wrongly) surprised. What else do contractors do, they wonder, if not pull triggers? Well, it turns out there's a great deal more to contracting. The Middle East Times explains:

It has long been a myth, albeit a popular one, that the majority of private military contractors are gun shooters. In fact, the reverse is true, as has been pointed out, largely in vain, by trade groups such as the Professional Services Council and the International Peace Operations Association.

According to estimates from the IPOA, the total value of what it calls the global peace and stability operations industry is about $20 billion for all companies providing services in the field. Of that number, private security contractors make up only about 5 percent to 10 percent, or a maximum of $2 billion annually. The normal peacetime number would be closer to 5 percent for PSCs, but Iraq has driven it up.

Moreover, contrary to popular perception, the Middle East Times reports that security does not pay better than other forms of contracting:

To understand the difference, one has only to follow the money. For example, compare two major contracts in Iraq, the World Wide Personal Protective Services and the Logistics Civil Augmentation Program. The current WPPS contract, the second, was awarded in July 2005. The State Department utilizes it as an umbrella contract under which it issues task orders to the three contracting companies -- Blackwater USA, DynCorp and Triple Canopy. The bulk of the personnel come from Blackwater. The contract has a ceiling of $1.2 billion per contractor over five years -- one base year and four option years. That works out to $240 million per contractor per year.

LOGCAP, an Army program first established in 1985, is an initiative for the use of civilian contractors in wartime and other contingencies. It includes all pre-planned logistics and engineering/construction-oriented contingency contracts. It does everything from fixing trucks to warehousing ammunition to doing the laundry, running mess halls and building whole bases abroad. When the Army announced the awarding of the fourth and latest LOGCAP contract back in April to DynCorp International LLC; Fluor Intercontinental Inc.; and Kellogg, Brown and Root Services, the total annual maximum value was $15 billion and the lifetime maximum value was $150 billion. That works out to $5 billion per contractor per year.

You don't need a Ph.D. to figure out which is the market segment with the greatest profit-making opportunities.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Obama Got Blackwater Protection in Iraq & Afghanistan; Says 'Blackwater Is Getting a Bad Rap'

Blackwater did indeed protect Senator Barack Obama in Afghanistan and Iraq last week, impressing the presidential candidate so much that he was overheard saying, "Blackwater is getting a bad rap."

This amazing piece of news is being reported by Paul Bedard in US News & World Report.

Bedard writes in his "Washington Whispers" column on July 25,

Sen. Barack Obama has not been a fan of private police like Blackwater in war zones, and some news outlets even reported that they were spurned for his trip last week to Afghanistan and Iraq. But Whispers confirms that Blackwater did handle the Democratic presidential candidate's security in Afghanistan and helped out in Iraq. What's more, Obama was overheard saying: "Blackwater is getting a bad rap." Since everything appeared to go swimmingly, maybe he will take firms like Blackwater out of his sights, the company's supporters hope.

I'm sure there's a lot more where this came from. Obama's conversion on this is a really big deal. Was he struck by seeing up-close the professionalism of the private volunteers who protected him? Or perhaps did Gen. David Petraeus, who has honored Blackwater security men for their work in Iraq, say something? Stay tuned.

New Video Shows How Blackwater Supports the Troops

A new video on YouTube shows one of the ways Blackwater Worldwide supports the troops.

No, it's not about putting little yellow ribbon magnets on the back of your cars, or grandstanding in front of television cameras. It's the real thing - parachuting ammunition to the US Army Special Forces to resupply our warfighters in hot combat areas. It's really helping the troops fight terrorists.

The remarkable video was just posted. It shows two Blackwater C-212 planes on resupply missions to Army forward operating bases in Afghanistan. The video does not give locations.

One of the neat things about this video is that, unlike other videos of Blackwater on the Internet, this one is annotated so that the viewer knows what's going on and in what context.

Credits at the end of the video say it was shot by Dr. Michael Waller of the Institute of World Politics. A check of the IWP website shows that Waller is also editor of Serviam, a magazine about the global stability industry. (For a higher resolution of the video, go to this link: and click the "Watch In High Quality" icon just below the right lower corner of the image box.) When visiting YouTube, be sure to give the video a great rating!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Did Blackwater Protect Obama? Slate Reports No

Did Blackwater protect Senator Barack Obama during his trip to Afghanistan and Iraq? I don't see why anyone would have a problem with it if they wanted to protect the life of a US senator and top presidential candidate. Blackwater has a PERFECT track record protecting American government officials in the world's nastiest war zones.

And Blackwater has protected almost every single US senator and congressman who has visited Afghanistan and Iraq over the past few years - even when Obama visited Iraq in 2006.

Neither the Obama campaign nor Blackwater is saying anything, though, and the Secret Service is implying strongly that the answer is no.

Blogger Christopher Beam saw my question on July 19 and, without attribution, reported on Slate:
But Obama isn't just any globetrotting senator. He's a presidential nominee, which means all his security arrangements at home and abroad are made not by the State Department but by the Secret Service. The Obama campaign refused to discuss his security detail, but a spokesman for the Secret Service told me that private contractors were not accompanying Obama in Iraq or Afghanistan. "We don't utilize contractors," said spokesman Ed Donovan. "We use military law enforcement and Secret Service."

Thursday, July 24, 2008

On Video, Prince Explains Business Future

CEO Erik Prince talks to the Associated Press in this video shot recently at Blackwater Worldwide headquarters in North Carolina.

He gives reasons for why the security part of his business will decline, the main ones being the lack of growth potential, the markedly improved situation in Iraq which hopefully will reduce the need for Blackwater's protection services, and the higher potential of other sectors in which the company excels. Prince adds that the legal and congressional complexities relating to protecting US diplomats and VIPs in Iraq serves as a "disincentive" to any private provider and would put an entire company at risk.

In addition to the security work for which the company is famous, Prince mentions a few other programs, including on in Afghanistan to resupply US and coalition troops with food, water, supplies, ammunition, mail and other necessities in farflung forward operating bases.

He refers to the cost savings of contractors versus the traditional way of doing things in the military. For example, he says, Blackwater did 11,000 aviation missions in Afghanistan last year, hauling 9.5 million pounds and delivering another 1 million pounds by parachute for less than the cost of one Air Force C-27 cargo plane now being built for short-haul military missions.

"It's a pretty simple operational issue and a very simple math question, as to why it's of benefit to the US government to go to the outside to do that mission," Prince says.

Regardless of who becomes president next year, he says, the US "is still going to need a lot of this kind of work done, and companies like us are going to be necessary to do the work."

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

'As long as we're asked, we'll do it'

Despite all the reporting about reducing its security service profile, Blackwater's not going to run from tasks the US government says it needs.

“As long as we’re asked, we’ll do it,” says Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Prince: Demand for Security has Peaked, but Blackwater Will Continue to Serve USA

"Blackwater officials stress that the company will honor its current security contracts and take on those sought by the US government," according to the Associated Press.

But company owner and CEO Erik Prince says that the need for his company's security services has peaked and he is focusing on growing other lines of business.

"'The security business is what it is," Prince tells AP. "I don't see that growing a lot. Iraq is getting progressively better. So, that total demand from the US government will probably stay the same or decrease slightly. We're just growing other parts of the business around it."

Analyst: Americans Abroad Will Die if Blackwater Retreats

If Blackwater winds down its diplomatic security operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, American officials might end up dead.

The company's record protecting US diplomats, aid workers, VIPs and others has been flawless. Blackwater has protected the lives of 100 percent of the people in its care.

"Industry observers say Blackwater's decision to scale back security work is not a ruse to cover up a decline in business. Loren Thompson, a military analyst with The Lexington Institute, said Blackwater's work would be dearly missed if the company left the industry," AP reports.

"There's a real possibility that if Blackwater exits the business, that some US officials will receive inferior protection in war zones — and deaths will result," Thompson tells AP.

"Blackwater officials stress that the company will honor its current security contracts and take on those sought by the U.S. government," according to the wire service.

Blackwater to Scale Back Security Work

The next president may have to change his calculus for the war in Iraq. Expensive government investigations have made Blackwater's cost of providing diplomatic security prohibitively high, and the company will no longer seek federal security contracts. If, that is, we are to believe the accuracy of what the Associated Press is reporting.

With its largest embassy in the world in Baghdad, the US depends almost completely on Blackwater to provide security for diplomats, aid workers, and visiting VIPs such as congressmen and senators. No government agency or military service can provide the scope of security that Blackwater is providing.

In the photo, General David Petraeus recognizes Blackwater diplomatic security men who rescued the Polish ambassador to Iraq last year after an assassination attempt.

Constant dogging by political opponents of the war in Congress, misleading media attacks, and endless government investigations that cost the company millions are reportedly blamed for prompting Blackwater to decide that providing security in a wartime environment just isn't worth it.

"The experience we've had would certainly be a disincentive to any other companies that want to step in and put their entire business at risk," says Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince.

The company will continue its current diplomatic security contract for the State Department in Iraq, but the report is unclear whether or not the company will seek to renew it upon its expiration in about ten months.

Blackwater did not begin as a security company, and providing security was never a part of the firm's master plan. "Our focus is away from security work. We're just not bidding on it," adds Blackwater President Gary Jackson.

Diplomatic security accounted for more than half of Blackwater's business in 2005 and 2006, and has wound down to about 30 percent now. "If I could get it down to 2% or 1%, I would go there," says Jackson. However, he held out the possibility of staying in the security business.

Says AP, "The decision to scale back future security business reflects not only the difficult year Blackwater has had but also the fact that there's probably not as much growth opportunity."

Blackwater Returns Focus to Training and Logistics

Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince told the Associated Press that the company will be returning to its original focus of training, aviation and logistics, moving away from security contracting operations.

However, for the time being the company will continue to protect US diplomats in Iraq; there are no plans to abandon existing contracts or leave American officials vulnerable.

"Security was not part of the master plan, ever," company president Gary Jackson said. Security peaked above 50 percent of the company's revenue, but is now down to about 30 percent and is expected go to much lower, Jackson said.

"If I could get it down to 2 percent or 1 percent, I would go there," Jackson said, adding that the media have falsely portrayed much about that aspect of the company. "If you could get it right, we might stay in the business."

While it often goes unreported, Blackwater does extensive work in training and logistics. The AP explains that the company's "7,000-acre compound offers unparalleled training facilities that attract swarms of US military, federal law enforcement and local officials each year."

"The company also has expanded its aviation division [pictured above], which provides airplane and helicopter maintenance and also drops supplies into hard-to-reach military bases. A 6,000-foot runway is under construction and a large map in the company's hanger shows units based across the world, from Africa to the Middle East to Australia."

Monday, July 21, 2008

Blackwater Airships Fill ISR Need

Defense Secretary Robert Gates has described the military's appetite for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance (ISR) collection, including video from unmanned aerial vehicles, as “insatiable.”

But the Air Force Times reports that “the Army and Air Force can’t seem to keep up.... Gates described getting the military to provide more airborne ISR as 'pulling teeth,' even though the number of Predator orbits — or continuous 24-hour patrols — have doubled in theater since last year.”

And that's where Blackwater comes in. The company's new Polar 400 airships can fly twice as long as Air Force Predators and cost just a fifth as much. “In the past, airships have proven ineffective because they were susceptible to weather, especially high winds,” Air Force Times explains. “Blackwater designed a propulsion system so the pilot can control the airship on all three axes.”

True, the airships won't carry Hellfire missiles like some UAVs currently in use, but the airships are perfect for loitering over a dozen city blocks for up to 60 hours at a time, just the sort of coverage our men in uniform often need when they find themselves in difficult urban warfare.

Blackwater founder and CEO Erik Prince “also suggested his airships could replace Predators flying drug and alien interdiction missions over the US-Mexico border and the Caribbean. He proposed using one ship as a 'lily-pad' and launching three to four airships to form a chain.”

* * *

In spite of the obvious advantages that Blackwater airships offer to the military - both in terms of filling the ISR gap and doing so at a lower cost - certain critics are not keen on the idea. Air Force Times quoted Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., as saying “Now we’re talking about a private, for-profit company having grandiose notions of replacing the Coast Guard and the Navy,” she said. “I think that’s very dangerous.”
Ms. Schakowsky, were you paying any attention at all? We're talking about ISR collection, not the complete functions of both the Navy and the Coast Guard.

Maybe Congresswoman Schakowsky is confusing ISR with the IRS, which busted her felon husband for bank fraud tax evasion.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Guess Who Protected Obama in Afghanistan?

It's funny how, with all the press coverage of Senator Barack Obama's trip to Afghanistan, nobody has mentioned who's working overtime to protect the presidential candidate and his Secret Service guards from harm.

Especially because he has been such a critic of private security contractors.

Who were all those armed civilians keeping a discreet distance from the politician and running the diplomatic security convoy that picked him up at Kabul airport? They weren't Secret Service!

News reports say that Obama's trip is being treated as a congressional delegation or codel. Standard practice for codels visiting Afghanistan and Iraq calls for the lawmakers to be protected under the Worldwide Personal Protection Services (WPPS) program of the State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security. That program is carried out by private security contractors, of which Blackwater is the most important in both Kabul and Baghdad.

Obama has been such a critic of Blackwater (though he recognizes the need for the company's services) that it would be news for him to accept the company's protection in Afghanistan and Iraq. On the other hand, if someone broke with standard practice and had a private security contractor other than Blackwater guard the senator and his Secret Service detail, that would be news too.

So far, nobody's saying anything. And reporters aren't asking.

The Associated Press featured Afghan police wielding battered Kalashnikovs and frisking the locals, but had nothing to say about who was providing the unusually tight security for Obama and the Secret Service agents.

Let's see how long it takes the press to report this one.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Obama Calls for 'Civilian National Security Force' to Rival US Military in Size

Senator Barack Obama recently gave a speech in which he called for building a "civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded" as the US military.

Oddly, the policy proposal is missing from the written text that the Obama campaign handed to journalists who covered the July 2 event, the speech transcript is absent from the campaign's website, and the video has been pulled down from YouTube.

In the speech, which unveiled many new government spending programs to fund his call to greater public service, Obama stated, "We cannot continue to rely on our military in order to achieve the national security objectives we've set. We've got to have a civilian national security force that's just as powerful, just as strong, just as well-funded."

Obama has been a stickler for demanding accountability for private military contractors like Blackwater. He made no comment about how one would hold accountable a new, US military-sized "citizen national security force."

This is much more than the right to keep and bear arms, or meeting defense needs through outsourcing to private companies. Obama appears to be hinting at a vision worthy of Hugo Chavez and his "Bolivarian Circle" citizen-enforcers.

WorldNetDaily's Joe Farah discovered the anomaly by comparing the press coverage and the official written text with a video of Obmama's speech that appears on YouTube. The comment appears at about the 16-minute mark. But we just tested the link and found that the speech has been pulled down from YouTube.

The Obama campaign did not comment on the proposal, the missing sentences from the prepared text, or the missing speech from the campaign website. Questions?

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Government Guards Cost 250% More than Blackwater Guards in Iraq

Here are some surprising figures: A State Department Diplomatic Security agent costs the taxpayer 250 percent more to be stationed in Iraq than does a private security contractor like Blackwater for the same job.

This, despite reports that the private contractors are paid more per day than the government agents.

State Department testimony before Congress shows that each Diplomatic Security agent based in Iraq cost the taxpayer about $1,000,000 a year, when accounting for salary, benefits, support gear, and support personnel. Blackwater CEO Erik Prince told the same congressional panel that his company charges the government $400,000 a year per person to do the exact same job. Built into that per-person cost is the contractor's wage (billed daily and only for days worked), training, gear, administrative support, vehicles, and helicopter and airplane support.

The figures are rendered on the above chart.

What accounts for this huge savings? Click here for the full story in Serviam, the magazine of the global stability industry.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Blackwater Rejected Chinese Training Inquiries

Blackwater CEO Erik Prince reveals that he rejected the Chinese government's requests that Blackwater train its police forces in preparation for the upcoming Olympic games.

Asked by Army Times editors if he's turned down requests from any countries for training, Prince says, "Sure. We had a lot of inquiries from China a couple years ago wanting police training before the Olympics, and that's just not something we wanted to do."

Citing the regime's human rights violations, Prince adds, "we didn't want any of our training to be used in another Tiananmen Square-type faceoff. Simple."

Blackwater Often Misidentified In Iraq

"There’s 170-some security companies in Iraq," Blackwater founder Erik Prince told the Military Times. "Since... we’ve protected the most al Qaida-worthy targets, we would constantly get calls, even now, even today, we get calls that Blackwater guys were involved in a shooting or Blackwater guys were captured or killed here or there, and when we go and investigate, and they weren’t within 100 miles of that because we know where each of the vehicles are."

How does Blackwater know their men are rarely involved in these "Blackwater" incidents? "We track them with Blue Force Tracker so we know what they’re doing and what they’re not doing."

Prince explains:

Blackwater kind of became the Xerox or the Kleenex brand name for the industry, [so] that any armed Americans in a Suburban or an SUV were “Blackwater guys.” Well, no, we only have a total of 1,000 people in Iraq, and only 600 or so of those would be protective folks and the rest would be gate guards, logisticians, mechanics for the helicopters, air crews — that kind of thing.

Blackwater guards? Or some other contractor? It's not always easy to tell.

Blackwater Founder Explains Company's "Silence"

In a recent interview with the Military Times editors and reporters, Blackwater founder Erik Prince explained why the private security contractor is so often mum about its operations:

We go to work for the State Department, who by contract says you will have no contact with the media. So 99 out of 100 times, we have to say, “No comment to the media,” and we still try to abide [by] that however we can....

But that is a difficult quandary that we’re put into where we’re a punching bag of sorts for folks that want to attack whatever is going on in Iraq and we’re not able to put the facts out.

We’ve done well over 20,000 missions now for the State Department. Probably point-4 of 1 percent of all those missions have resulted in the discharge of a firearm — not 4 percent, point-4 percent of 1 percent. So the idea that the guys are trigger happy and shooting up the place is just grossly inaccurate, and still, no one under our care has been killed or injured.

(Just in case you were wondering, no, this interview did not violate said contract with the State Department. Prince explains: "This is kind of an anomaly, me going to an editorial board, but, you know, I’m here not really to talk about our State Department stuff but about the other stuff we do for DoD and aviation and et cetera.")

In spite of this difficult contract, Price is magnanimous about his employers: "I’m not here to criticize the State Department at all.... They have a difficult job there, we have a difficult job there.... I’m honored that they renewed our work, that they see the value that we provide them."

Monday, July 14, 2008

Raleigh News & Observer Tops Duke Lacrosse Scandal with Scahill Collaboration

The Raleigh News & Observer, whose editors and reporters helped destroy the lives of young men with the discredited Duke lacrosse team scandal, now brags about how its crack team has taken on Blackwater Worldwide.

In an edited interview with, News & Observer investigations editor Steve Riley boasts about the paper's coverage. But he says nothing about the special relationship between one of his reporters, Joe Neff, and moonbat writer Jeremy Scahill.

In the public interest, the newspaper should reveal the nature and scope of that relationship, and detail any collaboration between Neff and Scahill that the paper might have kept from its readers.

Destroying Our Nation's Strategic Assets

We received this commentary from a well-informed observer. It speaks for itself. Too bad people had to die before the accused were exonerated:

In 1692, the benevolent Magistrate of Salem, sentenced 19 men and women to death for practicing witchcraft. The falsely accused were summarily hanged on Gallows Hill, a barren hillside just outside of town. One of the accused who refused to participate in the proceedings was pressed to death for failing to submit to the court's jurisdiction. More than 300 years later, the story is well known.

The townspeople of Salem are regarded in the eyes of history as rubes and unsophisticated farmers who punished innocent people guilty of nothing. Following the hysteria, the descedants of the executed "witches" actually received sizable settlements from Salem.

One would think that bureaucrats today, some 300 years later, would have changed. Regrettably, the bureaucratic instinct to accuse and destroy political victims is far more pernicious today than ever. However, rather than conducting witch trials with the traditional dunking and spectral imaging tests, today's bureaucrats utilize loyal press correspondents, unending audits, overly zealous regulatory investigators and congressional oversight hearings to exact their vengeance on their hapless victims.

Forcing a strategic asset to move offshore

During the pendency of the Iraq War, the Texas firm of Kellogg Brown and Root became one such hapless victim for Congressional Democrats. The press pundits loyal to the DNC screeched that Vice President Dick Cheney had, at one point, been the Chairman of the Board of Halliburton, the parent company of KBR. This led to the salacious allegation that KBR was the recipient of special political favors directly from the Vice President. In making such claims, the "journalists" consistently overlooked the fact that KBR had won the overwhelming majority of its business through the open and competitive bidding process. The press also overlooked the fact that KBR and Halliburton were providing an indispensible logistical service to the United States military, a service which no other company possessed the infrastructure to provide.

The owners of KBR finally grew weary of the back biting from the Congress and the press. In an enormous show of defiance, Halliburton sold its incredibly talented subsidiary to a company from the United Arab Emirates. In doing so, one of the country's strategic assets was instantly and forever lost. At least one Congressional Democrat expressed his displeasure at Halliburton, claiming that their reluctance to carry on with the witch trial was"un-American." It seemed that the congressman was trying to figure who he could press to death for failing to submit to the jurisdiction of his kangaroo court.

Partisan shots obscure amazing accomplishments

KBR is not the only accused witch today. There is another company located in a small town in North Carolina which is equally maligned. It is comprised entirely of US military veterans who spent the majority of their adult lives serving the United States Government (which is more than most of their accusers can say).

The company performs some of the most dangerous work in the world at the behest of the United States Government.

The company assembled itself almost overnight in the wake of the 9-11 attacks. Since then, it has trained more than 150,000 US troops better to protect themselves in dangerous foreign lands.

When the government has asked them to, they have fought and died side by side with their active duty military counterparts in places like Iraq and Afghanistan.

They have protected US diplomats in countries where enormous rewards were offered for their deaths - and never has a diplomat been harmed while in their care.

Following Hurricane Katrina, the company was asked to assist in the disaster relief. The company was able to assemble thousands of workers en masse to help the City of New Orleans recover from the storm damage.

In Iraq, the company rescued the Presidential Envoy to Iraq multiple times, rescued the Polish Ambassador to Iraq, and even rescued several Iraqi Cabinetmembers when they were attacked by their own countrymen.

Those same ungrateful Iraqi cabinet members are now the ones criticizing Blackwater for having to defend itself and US diplomats from terrorists, whom the Iraqi police forces are utterly incapable of controlling or capturing.

In Afghanistan, the company recently made one of the largest drug busts in history, confiscating $1.15 billion dollars in hashish from Afghani druglords. This drug money fuels the Taliban's operations and far exceeds the funds which were expended to attack the World Trade Center.

The company trains and operates with the Afghani Border Patrol, which works to keep the Taliban out of Afghanistan and out of power.

By now, most people have figured out that the company I am speaking about is Blackwater Worldwide - the only company in the world capable of accomplishing such feats.

Partisan witch trials

What most people do not understand and realize is that Blackwater is now facing its own witch trials on Capitol Hill. Democrats, who are intent on recapturing the White House, have sparked a wave of investigations by making baseless and false accusations against the company . To date, the company hasbeen investigated, audited and reviewed by the IRS, EEOC, SBA, EPA, ATF, Department of Agriculture, Department of State, Department of Commerce, Special Inspector General for the Reconstruction of Iraq, Defense Contract Audit Agency (DCAA), Defense Contract Management Agency (DCMA), and the Navy Audit Agency.

On top of those, two Grand Juries have been convened to findsomething - anything - on Blackwater.

But Blackwater is proving a much harder nut to crack than anticipated. By and large the company runs a very clean and ethical business. Despite the dedication of every available resource of the US Government to the search, the smoking gun which the Democrats so desperately desire just isn't there.

- Patriot Joe

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Rush Limbaugh Praises Blackwater Detail

While poking holes in Barack Obama's recent inane comments about Blackwater, Rush Limbaugh shared a bit about his own experience of the private security contractor:

When I went to Afghanistan, there was a crew of these guys. I had never heard of Blackwater.... These guys were former Special Forces. They had done their time, they had done their duty.... These guys... were secure, and they were armed to the hilt.... And you thanked God they were there.

So let's review: They're professional (former SF). They're patriotic (all having given a chuck of their lives to military service). And they did the job well. Can we ask for anything more?

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Scahill Uncloseted at Socialism Conference

Gadfly Blackwater critic Jeremy Scahill let his hair down at the Socialism 2008 conference in Chicago last month. In remarks published by Socialist Worker, Scahill lashes out at the Iraqi government, the Democratic Party and Senator Barack Obama, in addition to his predictable diatribes. His comments show that he is far from the detached observer he purports to be when criticizing Blackwater and the private security industry.

Among Scahill's comments:

  • The elected government of Iraq is an American "puppet regime."

  • The Iraqi prime minister is nothing more than a U.S. stooge: "this is a government that the United States put in place, and there's no such thing as independence in this Iraqi government. They tell Nuri al-Maliki to jump, and he says how high. They tell him to do jumping jacks, and he says how many."

  • Congressman Henry Waxman (D-CA), who has led two congressional hearings against Blackwater, is a big disappointment and is not doing enough.

  • There is no real difference between Democrats and Republicans; in Scahill's words, they are "really one party."

  • Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) has sold out to the warmonger establishment: "people who were at the center of a brutal and violent foreign policy during the Clinton era. . . . are now the top folks at Barack Obama's campaign. Once he sewed up the nomination, the old guard comes right in, and it's back to being the same Democratic Party. So much for change."

  • The only legislation Scahill endorsed was authored by Capitol Hill's only openly avowed socialist, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, and by Scahill's fringey stalking horse in the House, Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL).

  • The U.S. presence in Iraq is has no just cause, but remains "a war of aggression and occupation."

  • The American Embassy in Baghdad "was built largely on slave labor."

  • Private security companies aren't the real problem in Iraq. The real problem is the United States itself: "This is the sort of dirty open secret: that Blackwater has done exactly what it's supposed to do in Iraq. Blackwater's number one job--their only job--is to keep alive the most important people in Iraq by any means necessary, and the most important people in Iraq are not Iraqis. They are U.S. occupation officials."

  • The U.S. must abandon Iraq completely: "The reality is that Obama has painted himself into a corner with his Iraq plan. The only solution and the only way to stop using these companies is the only way to stop the violence in Iraq. The U.S. needs to pull out completely - all of its soldiers, all of its mercenaries, all of its contractors. Short of doing that, business is going to be very, very good in Iraq, not to mention elsewhere in the world."
  • The war on drugs is really a plot to oppress poor people of color: "This isn't any more a war on drugs than it was a war on communism. This is a war against people's right to self-determination and the right of nations to independence. That's what it always has been, and that's what it is now."

The tone of Scahill's presentation is one of class struggle - a staple in extreme socialist and Marxist rhetoric for more than a century. Blackwater, he claims, hires poor people from poor countries as "cannon fodder." (He gives no examples, and we can't find any.) As Scahill puts its, "This is the internationalization of war, and using the poor of the world as cannon fodder to occupy a country that has been systematically targeted by the United States and whose economy has been destabilized."

Nowhere in his lengthy comments did Scahill express a desire to help defend Iraq against al Qaeda or Iran, or that there is any justification in doing so.

He seemed to feel at home at Socialism 2008.

Obama Grudgingly Says There's a Need for Blackwater

Senator Barack Obama, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, grudgingly admits that there will continue to be a need for the special services that Blackwater provides.

In a wide-ranging interview with the editors of the Military Times, Obama states,

When it comes to private contractors, there is room for private contractors to work in the mess hall providing basic supplies and doing some logistical work that might have been done in-house in the past. I am troubled by the use of private contractors when it comes to potential armed engagements. I think it puts our troops in harm's way. I think it creates some difficult morale issues when you've got private contractors getting paid 10 times what an Army private's getting paid for work that carries similar risks.

The senator is mistaken about that tenfold pay difference and the risks, as Blackwater's security men in Iraq take bullets practically every day. No matter; Obama shows he's realistic and flexible. He continues,

When it comes to our special forces, what we've seen is that it's a potential drain of some of our best-trained special forces, and you can't blame them if they can make so much more working for Blackwater than they can working as a master sergeant. That, I think is a problem.

A "potential drain." Well-nuanced. A valid concern, but there's no evidence of an exodus of highly trained special forces personnel who are leaving to join Blackwater. Most serve their planned terms and leave for the private sector; Blackwater allows them to continue to serve with their military-learned skills. Again, though, Obama is coming across quite moderately.

Counters a Military Times questioner, "Blackwater would argue that they're a bargain: that you get a higher level of ability, that they can put people there, they can keep top-level talent there perpetually."

Obama's response is interesting:

I am not arguing that there are never going to be uses for private contractors in some circumstances. What I am saying is if you start building a military premised on the use of private contractors and you start making decisions on armed engagement based on the availability of private contractors to fill holes and gaps that over time you are, I believe, eroding the core of our military's relationship to the nation and how accountability is structured. I think you are privatizing something that iswhat essentially sets a nation-state apart, which is a monopoly on violence. And to set those kinds of precedents, I think, will lead us over the long term into some troubled waters.

The senator is remaining pretty consistent with the position he took last February: that he has no plans to shut down private security contractor operations in Iraq and that he reluctantly thinks they have a place in the American force structure.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Paper: Blackwater and Sheriff Probably Did Nothing Wrong, But It Doesn't Matter

Remember the big stink a couple weeks ago when federal agents confiscated several automatic weapons stored at Blackwater's armory and owned by the local sheriff's department? The incident that the media called a "raid" and tried to use as proof that the company had broken federal firearms laws?

Well, there's probably nothing to it, according to a local paper published near Blackwater Worldwide's headquarters in North Carolina. The editors are harrumphing that everything just might have been on the up-and-up, but they're not going to give anybody the benefit of the doubt.

Even if the weapons situation was legal and aboveboard, sniff the editors of the Richmond County Daily Journal, the local sheriff showed poor judgment. They don't explain why the judgement was poor other than the obvious fact that they don't like Blackwater and probably don't like guns. Here's what they say in their editorial:
"The federal investigation into a firearms deal involving the Camden County Sheriff’s Office and security contractor Blackwater Worldwide may ultimately bear out what the county’s attorney and a spokeswoman for the company have already claimed about the transaction: that it was legal and neither party did anything criminally wrong."
"But," say the editors, "we’re not ready to draw that conclusion just yet."

California Shows Need for Private Firefighters

The nation's first fire departments were privately organized "companies," so it stands to reason that the private sector can help fight fires in the 21st century.

After all, we don't complain about private ambulance companies coming to rescue people, or private medical practices and private hospitals tending to victims of fire and other disasters.

"Blackwater might be a more appropriate name for the future of some private firefighting business," says a Los Angeles blogger.

If the US Forest Service can't staff up to fight the massive blazes out west, why not fill the firefighter shortage with private volunteer companies?

Benjamin Franklin organized the first fire department in what is now the United States, and he organized the first fire insurance company as well. (Franklin is shown in a fanciful 19th century firefighter painting.) Private fire insurance companies funded fire departments in order to protect their interests.

The first organized firefighting units in America, established in Boston, existed only to put out fires in the homes and businesses of fellow members. If you weren't a member, your fire might not get put out. Private firefighters contracted by municipal, state or federal authorities, would and can help anyone in need, just like the non-governmental private volunteer fire departments already do.

Analyst: 'Private Contractors are as American as Apple Pie'

"While many commentators acknowledge that private military and security contractors are not mercenaries, some of them still contend that their use, both qualitatively and quantitatively, is a new phenomenon, something that emerged full blown from free market apostles like Ronald Reagan, George Bush (senior and junior) and Bill Clinton," military analyst David Isenberg writes in his "Dogs of War" column for UPI.

"But any fair-minded reading of history should quickly expose such a view for what it is: namely nonsense.

"Private contractors are as American as apple pie. In fact, without private contractors there would not have been an America. Or, to paraphrase Genesis: In the beginning, God created private contractors.

"Private contractors helped set the stage for what would become America. Consider that Capt. John Smith was hired by the Virginia Co. to provide security and conduct military operations for the English settlers at Jamestown. He led the 1606 [sic] expedition to Virginia and was elected head of Jamestown colony."

And so on. Isenberg goes on to quote generously from a history of the 400-year tradition of private military contractors that appeared last year in Serviam, the magazine of the private contractor industry. A good reminder to those who think that the Blackwater phenomenon is something new.

(Pictured: Captain John Smith, the first PMC in America, is honored on a 1907 US postage stamp.)

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Subjecting US Contractors to Iraqi Justice Will Undermine War Effort

By making American contractors subject to Iraq's erratic, corrupt and dysfunctional justice system, the US will be undermining its own war effort.

Of course, that's precisely why certain US congressmen have been complaining that the Bush Administration won't allow Americans to be handed over to the Iraqi "justice" system. But now come official reports from Iraqi officials - and no comment from the US - that Washington has assented to just what opponents in the war have been demanding.

Angry American contractors in Baghdad say that if the US betrays them by making them liable to Iraqi laws, they'll quit. None of note threatened to quit when the US tightened its own laws to hold contractors accountable for any misbehavior or crimes they committed abroad.

The military and State Department cannot function in Iraq without private contractors to provide services from housekeeping and logistics to diplomatic security. State has strongly backed the contractors until now.

Blackwater declined to comment for the article, with officials saying they preferred to wait until the US announced an official policy. (Photo shows Blackwater men practicing to defend a diplomatic convoy in Baghdad.) Other contractors did comment. The military newspaper Stars & Stripes carries the story.

"'Having worked for two years and two months in Iraq, I can tell you without a doubt, I would in no way work if I fell under Iraqi Law,' a deputy sheriff who trains Iraqi police said in an e-mail to Stars and Stripes. 'Are you kidding? You wouldn’t be able to get but the most desperate people to work if they fell under their ridiculous laws.'"

"'I would immediately have to consider my options concerning leaving this country,' another Department of Defense contractor said. 'They, the Iraqis, cannot rule themselves and now they want to try and rule contractors.'"

Jaco Botes of the International Contractors Association says, "By taking away contractor immunity, contractors are being marked as expendable assets — assets that will be placed in the hands of a very shaky and corrupt law system."

Friday, July 4, 2008

Harassment: San Diego Wants Navy Ship Simulator to be Wheelchair Accessible

Among the scores of items the city of San Diego is throwing in the path of a US Navy training facility: A demand that a ship simulator be made wheelchair accessible.

No ship in the US Navy is wheelchair accessible, and no naval ship simulator is, either. But San Diego is insisting that the training site, run on contract by Blackwater Worldwide, be accessible by wheelchair. That means that the ship simulator's gangways, hatches, ladders, and decks be unrealistically modified so that people in wheelchairs can use them - even though wheelchair-bound people are not allowed to serve in the Navy.
Brian Bonfiglio of Blackwater, who is running the San Diego operation for the Navy, says that city officials are trying to block a federal judge's ruling that the training facility proceed. He adds, "They have admitted that they realize that you don't have Navy personnel on wheelchairs on Navy vessels."

Thursday, July 3, 2008

US Seen as Likely to Stand By Contractors

The United States government is highly unlikely to abandon its private security contractors to Iraq's dysfunctional justice system, according to a news report.

The Virginian-Pilot, a Norfolk newspaper close to Blackwater Worldwide's headquarters that has been biased against the company, cites Hofstra University Law School Professor Scott Horton (pictured) as saying that even if the US agrees to end immunity for contractors in Iraq, the State Department could still protect them legally under existing international law.

"Horton said that, given the spotty record of Iraq's nascent court system, it would not be surprising if the United States wanted to extend legal safeguards to Americans working in Iraq," the Virginian-Pilot reports. "US troops and private contractors in many other countries, including South Korea, Germany and Japan, often are protected from courts in those countries under status-of-forces agreements, he noted."

Horton, a contributor to Harper's magazine, is a recognized international human rights lawyer and authority on armed conflicts.

Private US citizens working abroad under contract for the American government can still be prosecuted at home if they are suspected of violating the law.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Iraq Says US Has Agreed to Strip American Guards of Legal Protections

If the Iraqi foreign minister is to be believed, the United States "has agreed" to strip legal protections from Americans who guard US officials from terrorist attacks.

If true, this means that the US is agreeing to place private security contractors in the hands of Iraq's dysfunctional and corrupt judicial system. Current policy protects American private security contractors from prosecution in Iraq, though they may be tried in the US under American law.

The French AFP news service quotes Iraqi Foreign Minister Hoshyar Zebari as saying, "The immunity for private security guards has been removed. The US has agreed on it."

Zebari made the comment to AFP after he briefed Iraqi lawmakers on an Iraqi-American security agreement currently under negotiation.

However, the US isn't saying anything. A US Embassy spokeswoman in Baghdad declined comment, telling AFP, "We do not comment on the contents of ongoing negotiations." Separately, a White House official declined comment to the New York Times.

The Washington Post reports that Iraq is also pushing for the US to lift legal protections for American military personnel.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Webb's Office Clouds Issue In Disputing Junket Report

Senator Jim Webb's office is disputing a report in Human Events that he is using Blackwater as an excuse to retaliate against the Pentagon for not giving his wife and child a free trip to Asia.

But Webb only clouds the issue further. His press secretary's response looks like the senator is digging in his heels rather than coming clean.

Webb's press secretary, Kimberly Hunter, told the reporter that while the senator and Defense Secretary Robert Gates did talk about travel plans for family members on military aircraft (why a United States senator would raise this with the Secretary of Defense is beyond me, but that's another matter). The real issue, she says, is an apparent reluctance or slowness on DoD's part to answer questions about Blackwater. The evidence, though, shows otherwise.

Reporter Erick Erickson, who broke the story, writes a piece today containing Hunter's response and adds:

"I appreciate Ms. Hunter’s response and forwarded to my original sources on the Hill as well as several individuals off the Hill. Ms. Hunter notes that 'travel policies relating to dependents' were discussed and that 'Senator Webb will have additional information on that topic.' Additional sources coming forward to me, however, suggest that the hold is related to the family travel issue and that Sen. Webb 'strongly hinted' at that in his conversation with Secretary Gates.

"Ms. Hunter noted that Sen. Webb worked in the Pentagon for five years. As such, multiple Executive Branch sources who saw Ms. Hunter’s response to me, as well as Secretary Gates’s original letter, said that Senator Webb should have picked up, either in Secretary Gates’s letter or their phone call, that Secretary Gates has been more than willing to give Senator Webb a detailed briefing on the matter. In fact, in Secretary Gates’s letter, he wrote, 'I have asked the Department of the Navy to brief you on this particular contract with Blackwater Lodge.'

"Interestingly, individuals in the Executive Branch were not willing to discuss, on or off the record, Sen.Webb’s holds until they saw his press secretary’s response. On background, I was told there has never been a hold placed on any nominee for any comparable reason, especially when the Secretary of Defense is willing to provide written responses and to send over Navy officials so that Sen. Webb can be briefed and pose questions to the experts.

"Both sources on and off the Hill familiar with the situation strongly maintain that the hold is directly related to the Pentagon’s refusal to pay for Sen. Webb’s wife and child’s travel. Sen. Webb has now been told 'no' twice.

"Said one source, 'Ms. Hunter is right and wrong. Secretary Gates did not provide detailed answers to the senator’s questions. Rather, he offered to send over someone who had knowledge of the program and could more readily answer both the questions posed and the questions raised by the answers. It was not a matter of declining, but a matter of trying to help Sen. Webb get a thorough understanding of the matter beyond what could be done in a letter. Sen. Webb just didn’t like the answer to his travel question.'"