Obama Corruption Watch: Blackwater Strikes Again

If we have to hire brutal thugs, we've lost the "war" already by our own device.

by Christopher Brauchli

The Gods have their own rules.
-Ovid, Metamorphoses

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Christopher Brauchli can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu. For political commentary see his web page at http://humanraceandothersports.com

State Dept. OKs More Contracts Despite Blackwater Indictments

With 5 of its executives indicted for various crimes in a 15-count indictment and this month's flight into exile in Abu Dabhi of Erik Prince, the owner, Obama's State Dept. wants to shovel more taxpayer $$ to Blackwater/Xe. They've dropped the all-too brief ban on shipping more weapons to the infamous mercenary army-for-hire. Here's the link announcing "they might be criminal SOBs, but they're OUR criminal SOBs" in a press release from the State Dept:

 

http://cryptome.org/0002/dos082510.pdf

This rather begs the question, will Blackwater/Xe now be forced to buy their arms legally or have they simply reached a cozy agreement that lets Blackwater to go back to doing its (illegal) business as usual?

Blackwater Wins Piece of $10 Billion Mercenary Deal

by Spencer Ackerman

Never mind the dead civilians. Forget about the stolen guns. Get over the murder arrests, the fraud allegations, and the accusations of guards pumping themselves up with steroids and cocaine. Through a “joint venture,” the notorious private-security firm Blackwater has won a piece of a five-year State Department contract worth up to $10 billion, Danger Room has learned.

Apparently, there is no misdeed so big that it can keep guns-for-hire from working for the government. And this is despite a 2008 campaign pledge from Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to ban the company from federal contracts.

Eight private security firms have won State’s giant Worldwide Protective Services contract, the big Foggy Bottom partnership to keep embassies and their inhabitants safe. Two of those firms are longtime State contract holders DynCorp and Triple Canopy. The others are newcomers to the big security contract: EOD Technology, SOC, Aegis Defense Services, Global Strategies Group, Torres International Services and International Development Solutions LLC.

Don’t see any of Blackwater’s myriad business names on there? That’s apparently by design.

Blackwater and the State Department tried their best to obscure their renewed relationship. As Danger Room reported Wednesday, Blackwater did not appear on the vendors’ list for Worldwide Protective Services. And the State Department confirms that the company, renamed Xe Services, didn’t actually submit its own independent bid.

Instead, they used a blandly named cut-out, “International Development Solutions,” to retain a toehold into State’s lucrative security business. No one who looks at the official announcement of the contract award would have any idea that firm is connected to Blackwater.

Blackwater’s “affiliate U.S. Training Center is part of International Development Solutions (IDS), a joint venture with Kaseman,” according to an official State Department statement to Danger Room. “This joint venture was determined by the Department’s source-selection authority to be eligible for award.”

Last year, a Blackwater subdivision, the Blackwater Lodge and Training Center, changed its name to U.S. Training Center. Senate Armed Services Committee chairman Carl Levin (D-Michigan) blasted Blackwater in February for setting up shell companies in order to keep winning government security contracts despite its infamy.

According to State’s statement, the contracting process for the new Worldwide Protective Services deal included a “review” to ensure that companies met “minimum criteria” for eligibility. “This review included a process to determine whether any offerors had been suspended or debarred from the award of federal contracts,” it said. Despite Blackwater guards killing 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007, killing two Afghan civilians on a Kabul road in 2009, and absconding with hundreds of unauthorized guns from a U.S. military weapons depot in Afghanistan using the name of a South Park character, federal contracting authorities have never suspended or debarred Blackwater.

It’s not yet clear what the U.S. Training Center–International Development Solutions–Kaseman “joint venture” will do for the State Department. Worldwide Protective Services is actually a bundle of contracts in one, each governing specific duties for a firm to handle in a given country. Only two of those component contracts have been awarded so far.

One of them is to guard the huge U.S. embassy in Baghdad. That’s gone to SOC, which has ousted Triple Canopy, the incumbent security provider (which will still be part of the overall Worldwide Protective Services deal). If SOC remains the contract holder in Baghdad for the full five years — there’s an annual review — it stands to make nearly $974 million.

But because that so-called “task order” is specifically for on-site security around the gates of the Baghdad embassy, it’s not clear if SOC will also provide the 6,000 to 7,000 security guards the State Department estimates it needs to protect diplomats on the move around Iraq or its other outposts around the country. Last year, the Iraqi government barred Blackwater from doing business in Iraq in response to Nisour Square. But it’s not clear whether this new “joint venture” is eligible to operate in Iraq.

The other task order issued under Worldwide Protective Services is to protect the U.S. Embassy in Kabul. That contract’s gone to EOD Technology, a global firm which has in the past guarded the British and Canadian embassies in the Afghan capital. And that means ArmorGroup North America — last seen with its guards taking tequila shots out of each others’ butts and engaging in extracurricular sex trafficking — has lost a contract worth nearly $274 million over five years.

According to a different statement from the Department of State, the new Worldwide Protective Services contract comes with new safeguards to prevent abuse. Those include mandatory cultural awareness training, the addition of interpreters on all protection missions, financial penalties for poor performance, and a formal ban on alcohol. (Yes — after years of alcohol-related contractor incidents.) Despite these new protections, the department still sees fit to continue business with the most infamous member of the private-security world.

Wired.com © 2010 Condé Nast Digital

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