Blackwater, the Next Installment

This rather wandering piece by James Risen on Blackwater has several pieces of news. First, Panetta is trying to figure out whether BW was officially involved with the CIA in “operational” missions.

Leon E. Panetta, the C.I.A. director, recently initiated an internal review examining all Blackwater contracts with the agency to ensure that the company was performing no missions that were “operational in nature,” according to one government official. [my emphasis]

Note the scope, though: Panetta’s checking whether BW was contracting with the CIA. Not whether they were involved in operational missions. Compare that to Risen’s description of his sources.

Five former Blackwater employees and four current and former American intelligence officials interviewed for this article would speak only on condition of anonymity because Blackwater’s activities for the agency were secret and former employees feared repercussions from the company.

He describes the intel folks as generic intel–which could be CIA, but also could be DOD or something else. (Just as interesting, the BW guys plead fear of repercussions from the company; remember, several BW employees have alleged that Prince was taking out whistle blowers.)

And note how quickly Risen goes from discussing the way providing security became assistance on raids–to the inclusion of Delta Force and Navy Seals.

In addition, Blackwater was charged with providing personal security for C.I.A. officers wherever they traveled in the two countries. That meant that Blackwater personnel accompanied the officers even on offensive operations sometimes begun in conjunction with Delta Force or Navy Seals teams.

Which is what the subtext of this story seems to point to: first, the possibility that the operational aspects were contracted not through the CIA, but through DOD (which would make it easier to put it through on a supplemental, and therefore much easier to hide it from the Intelligence Committees); and also the likelihood that everyone in Baghdad knew about this, but the top brass in CIA did not.

But it is not clear whether top C.I.A. officials in Washington knew or approved of the involvement by Blackwater officials in raids or whether only lower-level officials in Baghdad were aware of what happened on the ground.

And then there’s this. In Prince’s VF piece, he was sweating the various legal cases against BW. Risen implies–but does not say–that the weapons smuggling case in NC points to the use of non-authorized weapons.

… a federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating a wide range of allegations of illegal activity by Blackwater and its personnel, including gun running to Iraq.

Several former Blackwater personnel said that Blackwater guards involved in the C.I.A. raids used weapons, including sawed-off M-4 automatic weapons with silencers, that were not approved for use by private contractors.

Which I guess would make it easier to hide the involvement of contractors.

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Scahill: Prince Is Conducting Graymail

Jeremy Scahill expands the explanation he gave Rachel Maddow last night about what Erik Prince was doing with the Vanity Fair article admitting his role in the CIA (primarily) operations.

The in-depth Vanity Fair profile of the infamous owner of Blackwater, Erik Prince, is remarkable on many levels–not least among them that Prince appeared to give the story’s author, former CIA lawyer Adam Ciralsky, unprecedented access to information about sensitive, classified and lethal operations not only of Prince’s forces, but Prince himself. In the article, Prince is revealed not just as owner of a company that covertly provided contractors to the CIA for drone bombings and targeted assassinations, but as an actual CIA asset himself. While the story appears to be simply a profile of Prince, it might actually be the world’s most famous mercenary’s insurance policy against future criminal prosecution. The term of art for what Prince appears to be doing in the VF interview is graymail: a legal tactic that has been used for years by intelligence operatives or assets who are facing prosecution or fear they soon will be. In short, these operatives or assets threaten to reveal details of sensitive or classified operations in order to ward off indictments or criminal charges, based on the belief that the government would not want these details revealed.

I’m most interested, though, in what Scahill says about the JSOC side of this.

While much of the focus in the Vanity Fair story was on Prince’s work with the CIA, the story also confirmed that Blackwater has an ongoing relationship with the US Special Forces, helping plan missions and providing air support. As The Nation reported, Blackwater has for years been working on a classified contract with the Joint Special Operations Command in a drone bombing campaign in Pakistan, as well as planning snatch-and-grab missions and targeted assassinations. Part of what may be happening behind closed doors is that the CIA is, to an extent, cutting Blackwater and Prince off. But, as sources have told The Nation, the company remains a central player in US Special Forces operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan.[my emphasis]

Those JSOC issues, of course, would be far more inflammatory than the stuff he already revealed about the CIA.

But what I’m most interested in is who the target of this threat is: yes, Blackwater’s role is scandalous (and might make Leon Panetta regret revealing Blackwater to Congress). But there are a whole lot of people who are more worried about what Prince would have to say than Panetta.

Counter-Intelligence and Secret Service Officers as Inspectors General

I’m reading Paul Alexander’s book, Machiavelli’s Shadow, in anticipation of Sunday’s Book Salon on it.

One of the little-mentioned details he reports in his book is that Bush loaded up the Inspectors General positions with former Secret Service Agents.

"The telltale sign of what the crowd was going to be like was the way Bush was appointing politicals early on.[" said Gordon Hamel, a career bureaucrat. "]He was putting tons of unqualified politicals into positions.  One of the things I noticed the most was the inspectors genera. He was filling all of the IG positions with former Secret Service agents. It had nothing to do with their skills. A Secret Service agent does two things: Protect the president and chase counterfeiters. Unless you were a manager, you were one of the geeks standing at the door talking into your sleeve. So how are you qualified to go from that into an executive position that requires manager and policy-making skills? But these Secret Service agents were the ones who had guarded Daddy Bush and Bush and Rove knew it. The agents were loyal Bushies."

Alexander goes on to suggest that Bush did this to limit the reporting of waste, fraud, and abuse from within his how government. And Alexander elaborates on Hamel’s story of being intimidated by one of these inspectors general.

Which is all I could think of when I read that Bush’s nominee to replace Cookie Krongard as the State Department’s IG is a counter-intelligence officer.

President Bush has nominated Thomas Betro, director of the Naval Criminal Investigative Service, to be State Department inspector general, a position roiled by controversy and turnover over the last year.

If confirmed, Betro would fill the slot of Howard Krongard, who resigned under fire in December, and take over for acting State IG Harold Geisel.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Unlike those secret service agents installed to be thugs, it appears that Betro has executive experience in the kind of task that IG’s perform. He seems qualified for the position.

Still, at a time when the State Department’s primary IG complaint is reeling in Blackwater, and a soon-to-be secondary complaint may be the assistance, on the part of the Ambassador to Albania, of weapons fraud, not to mention the always-dominant complaints about the Iraqi Embassy and its related intelligence fun, I find it notable that Bush chose a counter-intelligence officer to take over as State’s IG.

What Do They Say About Cookies Crumbling?

For the moment, we’re just talking about the singular cookie, the guy in charge of making sure no one was stealing money from our Baghdad Embassy project and also making sure that some jacked up contractors don’t kill Iraqi civilians.

Embattled State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, under fire for allegedly impeding probes into problems with construction of the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and with security firm Blackwater Worldwide, submitted his resignation Friday.


In an e-mail to his staff, obtained by McClatchy, Krongard said that he plans to leave the government by Jan. 15.

In a reference to the upheaval in the inspector general’s office in recent months, he told his staff: "I also ask you, frankly, to make an effort to reduce the static that interferes with the harmony we would like to achieve."

There was no immediate comment from the State Department.

Though it’s beginning to feel like the big cookie is finally beginning to give way itself.