CIA’s Blackwater Circular Firing Squad

While we wait for Jeremy Scahill’s piece on this today (which will surely tell a more complete story than the NYT and WaPo‘s spook reporters did), I want to follow up on the two posts I did yesterday, obviously based on leaks and counter-leaks, to sort out what we know of the plans to use Blackwater as the US assassination squad. There are two parts to the story: first, that CIA invented an assassination program shortly after 9/11. And then, that CIA gave a contract to Blackwater for the program in 2004. Here are the dates we know of.

2001: Presidential finding allowing assassinations of al Qaeda, assassination squads set up

2002: CIA sets up contract for Blackwater to "provide security" for CIA’s Afghan station

2002: Dick Cheney tells CIA not to brief Congress on assassination plans

2002: Cofer Black ousted from CTC

2004: CIA terminates program, then gives contract to Blackwater to do assassination squads

September, 2004: Buzzy Krongard resigns as CIA’s Executive Director (replaced by Dusty Foggo)

February 2005: Cofer Black becomes Vice Chairman of Blackwater

Fall 2007: Krongard joins Blackwater advisory board

September 2007: Nisour Square massacre

June 23, 2009: Panetta learns of active assassination squad program, cancels it

June 24, 2009: Panetta briefs Congress

Now, a couple of points about this. The stories coming out today want to focus on 2004, when Blackwater supposedly got the contract to do this. If so, then what did Cheney order CIA not to tell Congress about in 2002? It may be that they’re using the term "contract" loosely to hide an earlier arrangement, given that they admit to NYT there was never really a contract.

Officials said the C.I.A. did not have a formal contract with Blackwater for this program but instead had individual agreements with top company officials, including the founder, Erik D. Prince, a politically connected former member of the Navy Seals and the heir to a family fortune. 

I guess if you’re doing all this without contracts, it makes it a lot easier for it to take four months before the Director of the CIA learns about it. But isn’t that one of the nightmares we’ve all been waiting for, as we outsource our intelligence? That the privatized spooks will take over and continue programs without telling the political appointees? Hell, that the privatized spooks will continue to work for the last guy who was President and not the current one?

I’m also curious whether this program just moved around, rather than ever really going away. As WaPo notes, the whole time CIA was playing around with this, Special Forces were doing the same thing.

The CIA — and Blackwater — were not the only agents that sought to covertly kill key members of al-Qaeda using small, highly trained teams. A similar effort, officials say, was undertaken by U.S. Special Forces. 

And in fact, we know Cheney was using these Special Forces assassination teams in DOD because–he claimed–he wouldn’t have to brief Congress on them, because they weren’t an intelligence operation.

Mostly though, with Cheney or someone who sounds a whole lot like him or Addington bitching at Panetta in the DailyBeast propaganda piece…

As one very former, very senior Bush administration official said to me in annoyance, “You know what? Let’s videotape them all. And when some important covert action gets torpedoed by the those guys on the intelligence committees and then we get hit again, let’s put those tapes up on YouTube for everyone to see who disarmed us. See what they think. It cuts both ways.”

I wonder whether they didn’t attack Panetta so aggressively because this is still going on in some pocket of the government.

Marcy has been blogging full time since 2007. She’s known for her live-blogging of the Scooter Libby trial, her discovery of the number of times Khalid Sheikh Mohammed was waterboarded, and generally for her weedy analysis of document dumps.

Marcy Wheeler is an independent journalist writing about national security and civil liberties. She writes as emptywheel at her eponymous blog, publishes at outlets including the Guardian, Salon, and the Progressive, and appears frequently on television and radio. She is the author of Anatomy of Deceit, a primer on the CIA leak investigation, and liveblogged the Scooter Libby trial.

Marcy has a PhD from the University of Michigan, where she researched the “feuilleton,” a short conversational newspaper form that has proven important in times of heightened censorship. Before and after her time in academics, Marcy provided documentation consulting for corporations in the auto, tech, and energy industries. She lives with her spouse and dog in Grand Rapids, MI.

34 replies
  1. klynn says:

    As one very former, very senior Bush administration official said to me in annoyance,

    When I studied journalism, I was taught NOT to use “very” because it inferred opinion and was thus, editorializing.

    “…one very former, very senior…” Really? How very? So very former that you mean the first Bush administration?

    Can we get any more bottom feeder writers?

    Oh wait. I get it. “Very” makes the annon source’s viewpoint more valid. /s

    EW, what “other” pockets can we list as possible dark corners for this to still be going on?

    State? Treasury?

    • bottomfeeder says:

      As the “bottomfeeder” who wrote the “Daily Beast” piece you’re all talking about: (1) you’re totally right about the “very.” “Very very.” Totally a glitch, missed it in the editing; it stuck out when I saw it on DB. Sorry.
      (2) That quote from the Bush adm guy (and no, come on, not Cheney or Addington but someone who’s actually smart — though who doesn’t share your political point of view) — I thought it was really interesting to put that out there, because that shows you the contours of the battle, what the positions are on either side. I lean towards his position, that there’s a real risk of leaking the covert ops stuff when the full committees are briefed, but look, the Gang of Eight thing only started in 1980 during the Iran hostage business. Not as if it’s in the Constitution. I just think it’s ridiculous that they didn’t keep records until just recently. One of the things I had to cut out of my DB piece for space reasons is that the CIA finally agreed to provide a stenographer during the top-secret hearings, but they kick the stenographer out when it gets really deep dark secret — so there’s still no record.
      3) The CIA has been attacking me for writing that Panetta told Congress CIA had misled them for years. THey say Panetta never told them that. OK, folks, so do you think Jan Schakowsky or Silvestre Reyes is lying when they say he said CIA had been misleading for 8 years?
      Basically, if you’re going to go along with the CIA’s attempt to dismiss my piece, you have to buy that 7 Democrats in Congress are lying. Do you?
      4) Finally — do you know why the CIA leaked this Blackwater stuff in the last couple of days? Because of my piece. Hate it, disagree with it, that’s fine — but aren’t you at least glad this shit is out there? It doesn’t refute my article in any way –but lazy readers saw Blackwater and freaked out and said no wonder Panetta rushed to Congress. But Congress has known for at least 6 years that CIA has been hiring Blackwater. OK? I hope Scahill (whose Blackwater book is absolutely invaluable) reports that too. So the problem goes beyond a couple of guys in CIA and a spy novelist.
      5) You guys think Cofer Black was “ousted” from the CIA. You’re totally full of it. Cofer Black retired to run Blackwater and bring CIA’s business to Blackwater. That’s the scandal, but you’re missing the big story because you prefer to cling to misinformation that sounds more dramatic. Instead of dismissing Cofer Black as a fringe wacko, you should be asking about the ethics of his getting business from CIA days after he retired.
      I know, it’s not as fun to actually do some digging. But that’s how you get the stories.

  2. TarheelDem says:

    It is time for a legislative overhaul of our national security establishment, top to bottom, across all functions. The system established in 1947 no longer works to provide security to the nation and its people. Too bad Obama is Herbert Hoover, not Harry Truman.

  3. scribe says:

    All of which just further validates what my “If I were president” things to do list was: “1. Eliminate Blackwater.” Because you cannot have a modern state (or any state, for that matter) if that state does not have a monopoly on the use of violence. Private entities – really, private armies – are sedition, pure and simple.

  4. Citizen92 says:

    If its between Cheney and Addington, I vote for David. There’s no way Cheney knows what the YouTube is.

    And now that we know it was Blackwater who was the CIA’s contractor, that makes a whole lot more sense about the recent whistleblower relevations (from early August).

    Prince “views himself as a Christian crusader tasked with eliminating Muslims and the Islamic faith from the globe.” He “intentionally deployed to Iraq certain men who shared his vision of Christian supremacy, knowing and wanting these men to take every available opportunity to murder Iraqis.”

    I bet that description was lifted from the (metaphorical) contractor requirements requisition drafted up at Langley. I wonder which bureaucrat drafted up such language and mission statement?

  5. klynn says:

    Private entities – really, private armies – are sedition, pure and simple.

    Scribe, you get to the heart of matters beautifully. Thank you.

    • klynn says:

      I was thinking that too. Especially since that is the Department Cheney has a long history of placing “his people” in career contracts.

    • Rayne says:

      Exactly. I don’t think we’ve fully plumbed the depths of the contracts or money coming out of DOI yet.

      Nor do I think we’ve uncovered how compensatory measures programs were used to hide ops from the prying eyes of congress. Some of the special forces’ ops could have been contract jobs which on the surface appear to be legit DOD but in truth were not — and we may not ever get to the bottom of these.

      • Rayne says:

        BTW, we should remember a couple other tidbits from the past:

        – Waxman’s House Oversight Committee was asking about Blackwater’s attempts to “transport [Iraqi] military aircraft” out of Iraq in October of 2007, just weeks or days after the Nisour event.

        – An expert on the topic of intel outsourcing said that the CIA’s Special Activities Division’s Air Branch was mostly outsourced, and that one of the firms having a contract to this function was BW.

        – Same expert also mentioned that BW had contracts with DOE, ostensibly for guarding electrical energy generation sites, but who knows? (Completely forgot about this, seems like forever since I read this.)

        • Rayne says:

          And now I finally found the note I wrote to someone on Oct. 21, 2007, about the planes…

          The CIA black ops for which [expert] speculated the planes were stolen was almost too simplistic, don’t you think? If they’ve been able to render people for years without stealing planes, why do it now? Makes me think that this was CIA — but for other purposes than rendition

          Um, yeah. Were these planes going to be used by BW as a false flag op against Iran, or for the purposes of assassinating someone who might be suspicious of anything but Iraqi planes? What a mess.

    • Leen says:

      This is quite the interview

      Scahill reports that Blackwater uses about 20 different names
      Scahill “xe is so last week”

      Scahill : “massive contracts with (Blackwater) with the Obama administration

  6. Citizen92 says:

    OT, Karl demanding an apology in WSJ op-ed. “Not a shred of evidence” about his role in the US Attorney scandal.…..45662.html

    Is something else coming down the pike from Judiciary for Karl that he needed to, yet again, revisit this?

  7. Leen says:

    I wonder if any of the Blackwater folks were at the Convoy of Death site in Aghanistan (in the fall of 2001)?

    Had no idea that the Bush administration had blocked efforts to investigate Dostum CIA three times. Had not realized that Dostum was on the CIA’s payroll

    Eight Years After Orchestrating Massacre at Dasht-e-Leili, Afghan Warlord Abdul Rashid Dostum Returns to Afghanistan to Campaign for Karzai


    “GEN. ABDUL RASHID DOSTUM: [translated] We are hopeful. We are determined. Playing with General Dostum is playing with a million human beings. Playing with General Dostum is playing with a storm. Playing with General Dostum will be tough and will create anger. God willing, we will establish a party in Afghanistan which will be bigger and stronger within six years, and this party will be able to respond to your demands. And this is what you and your martyrs deserve.”…..assacre_at

  8. Leen says:

    Chris Matthews has been hammering away at how unnecessary it is for people to carry guns to these town hall meetings and protest just because they can.

    Watch this. And as Matthews keeps pointing out it seems it is only matter of time before something more serious happens…..connecticu

  9. marc says:

    John Does 1&2 in their depositions for the Blackwater victim’s civil trail both said Eric Prince had former employee(s) killed for co-operating in criminal probes of Blackwater. That sure makes a lot of sense if Prince had his own teams of covert assassins.

  10. Waccamaw says:

    because this is still going on in some pocket of the government.

    Of that I’m so certain, I’d bet every last dollar and piece of property I own.

  11. klynn says:

    Some interesting Blackwater background:

    The new compound is built near the Great Dismal Swamp. The stated idea behind Blackwater was “to fulfill the anticipated demand for government outsourcing of firearms and related security training.” In May 1998, Blackwater opens for business.

  12. marc says:

    Many journalists poo poo assertions that Prince had employees killed because the deaths of westerners employed by Blackwater can be accounted for by plane crashes and enemy action. Even if this were true Blackwater employs a lot of third world nationals. Accounting for the deaths of third world nationals employed by war contractors is not required by DOD or DOS.

  13. bmaz says:

    Cheney or Addington for the quote? The words themselves sound more like Addington to me, but he also seems the less likely to be yapping. Tough call.

  14. GregB says:

    We are down the rabbit hole.

    This country is too far gone, I am convinced.

    I’d like to be wrong, but I don’t think so.

    The comment about “when” we are attacked again. Very chilling.


  15. Mason says:

    I am reading Naomi Klein’s Shock Doctrine and now I understand what’s going on and why.


  16. readerOfTeaLeaves says:

    That the privatized spooks will take over and continue programs without telling the political appointees? Hell, that the privatized spooks will continue to work for the last guy who was President and not the current one?


  17. valletta says:

    interesting, pertinent tidbit from the official “9/11 Commission Report”:
    Second,Tenet in particular questioned whether he,as Director of Central
    Intelligence,should operate an armed Predator.“This was new ground,”he told
    us.Tenet ticked off key questions:What is the chain of command? Who takes
    the shot? Are America’s leaders comfortable with the CIA doing this,going
    outside of normal military command and control? Charlie Allen told us that
    when these questions were discussed at the CIA,he and the Agency’s execu-
    tive director,A.B.“Buzzy”Krongard,had said that either one of them would
    be happy to pull the trigger,but Tenet was appalled,telling them that they had
    no authority to do it,nor did he.241
    *241 George Tenet Interview January 28, 2004

  18. robspierre says:

    “But isn’t that one of the nightmares we’ve all been waiting for, as we outsource our intelligence? That the privatized spooks will … continue to work for the last guy who was President and not the current one?”

    One nightmare, but not the worst. Mercenaries working for themselves is the worst. All national intelligence assets consolidated under double-agent management.

    If Prince had a better offer from Vladimir Putin or the King of Saudi Arabia or his banker on Grand Cayman, does anyone seriously doubt where what passes for his loyalty would lie?

  19. kindGSL says:

    It looks to me like ‘Family’ leadership is the worst.

    Like all the top politicians and despots are not in competition like they pretend to be, but are working in cahoots with each other.

    I think their goal is to kill as many people and destroy as much land as possible. It is a sick goal, but it seems to be what they are after.

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