Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to
From left, Gerry Broome/AP; Mark Wilson/Getty; Brendan Smialowski for NYT
Published: November 10, 2009
Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press
Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in
Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’s president, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from
Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegal under American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the former executives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a former top C.I.A. and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in
Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left
Stacy DeLuke, a spokeswoman for the company, now called Xe Services, dismissed the allegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees. Mr. Black did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.
Reached by phone, Mr. Jackson, who resigned as president early this year, criticized The New York Times and said, “I don’t care what you write.”
The four former Blackwater executives, who had held high-ranking posts at the company, would speak only on condition of anonymity. Two of them said they took part in talks about the payments; the two others said they had been told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions. In agreeing to describe those conversations, the four officials said that they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, which had led them to leave the company.
A senior State Department official said that American diplomats were not aware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.
Blackwater continued operating as the prime contractor providing security for the United States Embassy in
Five Blackwater guards involved in the shooting are facing federal manslaughter charges, and their trial is scheduled to start in February in
Separately, a federal grand jury in
Officials at the United States Attorney’s Office in
Federal prosecutors in North Carolina have interviewed a number of former Blackwater employees about a variety of issues, including allegations of weapons smuggling, according to several former employees who say they have testified before the grand jury or been interviewed by prosecutors, as well as lawyers familiar with the matter. Two former employees have pleaded guilty to weapons charges and are believed to be cooperating with prosecutors.
Since 2001, Blackwater has undergone explosive growth, not only from security contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, but also from classified work for the Central Intelligence Agency that included taking part in a now defunct program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to load missiles on Predator drones.
The matter set off an international outcry and intense debates in
Those responses deeply worried Blackwater officials. Before the
“It would hurt us,” Mr. Prince, the chairman, said in an interview in January about losing the diplomatic security contract. “It would not be a mortal blow, but it would hurt us.”
The former Blackwater executives said it was not clear who proposed paying off Iraqi officials. But after Mr. Jackson, the former company president, approved the plan, the cash for the payoffs was taken from
Mr. Garner, who still works for the company, could not be reached for comment. The former executives said they did not know whether Mr. Garner was involved in decisions about the bribery scheme.
At that time, Mr. Black was in a series of discussions with Patricia A. Butenis, the deputy chief of mission at the American Embassy in
“We are out of here,” Mr. Black told a colleague, one former executive said. After returning to the
Mr. Richer left Blackwater in February 2008, followed by Mr. Black several months later, amid a battle inside Blackwater between former C.I.A. officers working at the company’s office outside Washington and executives at Blackwater’s headquarters in
The former officials said that Mr. Black, Mr. Richer and others believed that Blackwater had cultivated a cowboy culture that was contemptuous of government rules and regulations, and that some of the company’s leaders — former members of the Navy Seals including Mr. Prince and Mr. Jackson — had pushed the boundaries of legality. Contacted by telephone, Mr. Richer would not discuss specifics of why he left the company.
Ms. Butenis, now the
In interviews, three Iraqis wounded in
Even after the furor that was set off by the shootings, State Department officials made it clear that they did not believe they could operate in
Raed Jarrar, the
In late 2008, the Bush administration and the Iraqi government hammered out an agreement governing the role of security contractors in
In March 2009, the Iraqis said that the company would not be awarded a license. Two months later, the State Department replaced it with a competing security contractor, Triple Canopy.
A version of this article appeared in print on November 11, 2009, on page A1 of the
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