Thursday, November 26, 2009

'Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan' from The Nation

Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan
  by Jeremy Scahill, November 23, 2009

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special
Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members
of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program
in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al
Qaeda operatives, "snatch and grabs" of high-value targets and other
sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The
Nation has found. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering
intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign
that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes,
according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

The source, who has worked on covert US military programs for years,
including in Afghanistan and Pakistan, has direct knowledge of
Blackwater's involvement. He spoke to The Nation on condition of
anonymity because the program is classified. The source said that the
program is so "compartmentalized" that senior figures within the Obama
administration and the US military chain of command may not be aware of its existence.

The White House did not return calls or email messages seeking
comment for this story. Capt. John Kirby, the spokesperson for Adm.
Michael Mullen, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told The
Nation, "We do not discuss current operations one way or the other,
regardless of their nature." A defense official, on background,
specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or
intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. "We don't have any contracts to do
that work for us. We don't contract that kind of work out, period," the
official said. "There has not been, and is not now, contracts between
JSOC and that organization for these types of services."

The previously unreported program, the military intelligence source said, is distinct
from the CIA assassination program that the agency's director, Leon
Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. "This is a parallel
operation to the CIA," said the source. "They are two separate beasts."
The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation
within the borders of a nation against which the United States has not
declared war--knowledge that could further strain the already tense
relations between the United States and Pakistan. In 2006, the United
States and Pakistan struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan
to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny
it had given permission. Officially, the United States is not supposed
to have any active military operations in the country.

Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies
the company is operating in Pakistan. "Xe Services has only one employee
in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,"
Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The
Nation, adding that the company has "no other operations of any kind in Pakistan."

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military
intelligence source's claim that the company is working in Pakistan for
the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations
force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for
the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based
security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with
Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids
and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and
elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said,
allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations
forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military
presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a
facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan.
The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

His account and that of the military intelligence source were borne
out by a US military source who has knowledge of Special Forces actions
in Pakistan and Afghanistan. When asked about Blackwater's covert work
for JSOC in Pakistan, this source, who also asked for anonymity, told
The Nation, "From my information that I have, that is absolutely
correct," adding, "There's no question that's occurring."

"It wouldn't surprise me because we've outsourced nearly
everything," said Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, who served as Secretary of
State Colin Powell's chief of staff from 2002 to 2005, when told of
Blackwater's role in Pakistan. Wilkerson said that during his time in
the Bush administration, he saw the beginnings of Blackwater's
involvement with the sensitive operations of the military and CIA. "Part
of this, of course, is an attempt to get around the constraints the
Congress has placed on DoD. If you don't have sufficient soldiers to do
it, you hire civilians to do it. I mean, it's that simple. It would not surprise me."

The Counterterrorism Tag Team in Karachi

The covert JSOC program with Blackwater in Pakistan dates back to at
least 2007, according to the military intelligence source. The current
head of JSOC is Vice Adm. William McRaven, who took over the post from
Gen. Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being
named the top US commander in Afghanistan.  Blackwater's presence in
Pakistan is "not really visible, and that's why nobody has cracked down
on it," said the source. Blackwater's operations in Pakistan, he said,
are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified
Defense contracts. "It's Blackwater via JSOC, and it's a classified
no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis." The main JSOC/Blackwater
facility in Karachi, according to the source, is nondescript: three
trailers with various generators, satellite phones and computer systems
are used as a makeshift operations center. "It's a very rudimentary
operation," says the source. "I would compare it to [CIA] outposts in
Kurdistan or any of the Special Forces outposts. It's very bare bones,
and that's the point."

Blackwater's work for JSOC in Karachi is coordinated out of a Task
Force based at Bagram Air Base in neighboring Afghanistan, according to the military
intelligence source. While JSOC technically runs the operations in Karachi, he said,
it is largely staffed by former US special operations soldiers working for a division of
Blackwater, once known as Blackwater SELECT, and intelligence analysts
working for a Blackwater affiliate, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS),
which is owned by Blackwater's founder, Erik Prince. The military source
said that the name Blackwater SELECT may have been changed recently.
Total Intelligence, which is run out of an office on the ninth floor of
a building in the Ballston area of Arlington, Virginia, is staffed by
former analysts and operatives from the CIA, DIA, FBI and other
agencies. It is modeled after the CIA's counterterrorism center. In
Karachi, TIS runs a "media-scouring/open-source network," according to
the source. Until recently, Total Intelligence was run by two former top
CIA officials, Cofer Black and Robert Richer, both of whom have left the
company. In Pakistan, Blackwater is not using either its original name
or its new moniker, Xe Services, according to the former Blackwater
executive. "They are running most of their work through TIS because the
other two [names] have such a stain on them," he said. Corallo, the
Blackwater spokesperson, denied that TIS or any other division or
affiliate of Blackwater has any personnel in Pakistan.

The US military intelligence source said that Blackwater's
classified contracts keep getting renewed at the request of JSOC.
Blackwater, he said, is already so deeply entrenched that it has become
a staple of the US military operations in Pakistan. According to the
former Blackwater executive, "The politics that go with the brand of BW
is somewhat set aside because what you're doing is really one military
guy to another." Blackwater's first known contract with the CIA for
operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the
Afghanistan-Pakistan border.

One of the concerns raised by the military intelligence source is
that some Blackwater personnel are being given rolling security
clearances above their approved clearances. Using Alternative
Compartmentalized Control Measures (ACCMs), he said, the Blackwater
personnel are granted clearance to a Special Access Program, the bureaucratic
term used to describe highly classified "black" operations. "With an ACCM,
the security manager can grant access to you to be exposed to and
operate within compartmentalized programs far above 'secret'--even
though you have no business doing so," said the source. It allows
Blackwater personnel that "do not have the requisite security clearance
or do not hold a security clearance whatsoever to participate in
classified operations by virtue of trust," he added. "Think of it as an
ultra-exclusive level above top secret. That's exactly what it is: a
circle of love." Blackwater, therefore, has access to "all source"
reports that are culled in part from JSOC units in the field. "That's
how a lot of things over the years have been conducted with
contractors," said the source. "We have contractors that regularly see
things that top policy-makers don't unless they ask."

According to the source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself
as a company whose operatives have "conducted lethal direct action
missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC
just ate that up," he said, adding, "They have a sizable force in
Pakistan--not for any nefarious purpose if you really want to look at it
that way--but to support a legitimate contract that's classified for
JSOC." Blackwater's Pakistan JSOC contracts are
secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said. The source is
not sure when the arrangement with JSOC began, but he says that a
spin-off of Blackwater SELECT "was issued a no-bid contract for support
to shooters for a JSOC Task Force and they kept extending it." Some of
the Blackwater personnel, he said, work undercover as aid workers.
"Nobody even gives them a second thought."

The military intelligence source said that the Blackwater/JSOC
Karachi operation is referred to as "Qatar cubed," in reference to the
US forward operating base in Qatar that served as the hub for the
planning and implementation of the US invasion of Iraq. "This is
supposed to be the brave new world," he says. "This is the Jamestown of
the new millennium and it's meant to be a lily pad. You can jump off to
Uzbekistan, you can jump back over the border, you can jump sideways,
you can jump northwest. It's strategically located so that they can get
their people wherever they have to without having to wrangle with the
military chain of command in Afghanistan, which is convoluted. They
don't have to deal with that because they're operating under a
classified mandate."

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against
suspected Al Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the
CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC
inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan, according to
the military intelligence source. Blackwater does not actually carry out the
operations, he said, which are executed on the ground by JSOC forces.
"That piqued my curiosity and really worries me because I don't know if
you noticed but I was never told we are at war with Uzbekistan," he
said. "So, did I miss something, did Rumsfeld come back into power?"

Pakistan's Military Contracting Maze

Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not
doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. "The SELECT
personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going
after targets," he said. "It's not like Blackwater SELECT people are
running around assassinating people." Instead, US Special Forces teams
carry out the plans developed in part by Blackwater. The military
intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives
who work for the State Department, which he calls "Blackwater Vanilla,"
and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program.
"Good or bad, there's a small number of people who know how to pull off
an operation like that. That's probably a good thing," said the source.
"It's the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these
types of operations because they're the only people that know how and
they went where the money was. It's not trigger-happy fucks, like some
of the PSD [Personal Security Detail] guys. These are not people that
believe that Barack Obama is a socialist, these are not people that kill
innocent civilians. They're very good at what they do."

The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that
Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said,
"that's not entirely accurate." While he concurred with the military
intelligence source's description of the JSOC and CIA programs, he
pointed to another role Blackwater is allegedly playing in Pakistan, not
for the US government but for Islamabad. According to the executive,
Blackwater works on a subcontract for Kestral Logistics, a powerful
Pakistani firm, which specializes in military logistical support,
private security and intelligence consulting. It is staffed with former
high-ranking Pakistani army and government officials. While Kestral's
main offices are in Pakistan, it also has branches in several other countries.

A spokesperson for the US State Department's Directorate of Defense
Trade Controls (DDTC), which is responsible for issuing licenses to US
corporations to provide defense-related services to foreign governments
or entities, would neither confirm nor deny for The Nation that
Blackwater has a license to work in Pakistan or to work with Kestral.
"We cannot help you," said department spokesperson David McKeeby after
checking with the relevant DDTC officials. "You'll have to contact the
companies directly." Blackwater's Corallo said the company has "no
operations of any kind" in Pakistan other than the one employee working
for the DoD. Kestral did not respond to inquiries from The

According to federal lobbying records, Kestral recently hired former
Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roger
Noriega, who served in that post from 2003 to 2005, to lobby the US
government, including the State Department, USAID and Congress, on
foreign affairs issues "regarding [Kestral's] capabilities to carry out
activities of interest to the United States." Noriega was hired through
his firm, Vision Americas, which he runs with Christina Rocca, a former
CIA operations official who served as assistant secretary of state for
South Asian affairs from 2001 to 2006 and was deeply involved in shaping
US policy toward Pakistan. In October 2009, Kestral paid Vision Americas
$15,000 and paid a Vision Americas-affiliated firm, Firecreek Ltd., an
equal amount to lobby on defense and foreign policy issues.

For years, Kestral has done a robust business in defense logistics
with the Pakistani government and other nations, as well as top US
defense companies. Blackwater owner Erik Prince is close with Kestral
CEO Liaquat Ali Baig, according to the former Blackwater executive. "Ali
and Erik have a pretty close relationship," he said. "They've met many
times and struck a deal, and they [offer] mutual support for one
another." Working with Kestral, he said, Blackwater has provided convoy
security for Defense Department shipments destined for Afghanistan that
would arrive in the port at Karachi. Blackwater, according to the former
executive, would guard the supplies as they were transported overland
from Karachi to Peshawar and then west through the Torkham border
crossing, the most important supply route for the US military in Afghanistan.

According to the former executive, Blackwater operatives also
integrate with Kestral's forces in sensitive counterterrorism operations
in the North-West Frontier Province, where they work in conjunction with
the Pakistani Interior Ministry's paramilitary force, known as the
Frontier Corps (alternately referred to as "frontier scouts"). The
Blackwater personnel are technically advisers, but the former executive
said that the line often gets blurred in the field. Blackwater "is
providing the actual guidance on how to do [counterterrorism operations]
and Kestral's folks are carrying a lot of them out, but they're having
the guidance and the overwatch from some BW guys that will actually go
out with the teams when they're executing the job," he said. "You can
see how that can lead to other things in the border areas." He said that
when Blackwater personnel are out with the Pakistani teams, sometimes
its men engage in operations against suspected terrorists. "You've got
BW guys that are assisting... and they're all going to want to go on the
jobs--so they're going to go with them," he said. "So, the things that
you're seeing in the news about how this Pakistani military group came
in and raided this house or did this or did that--in some of those
cases, you're going to have Western folks that are right there at the
house, if not in the house." Blackwater, he said, is paid by the
Pakistani government through Kestral for consulting services. "That
gives the Pakistani government the cover to say, 'Hey, no, we don't have
any Westerners doing this. It's all local and our people are doing it.'
But it gets them the expertise that Westerners provide for [counterterrorism]-related work."

The military intelligence source confirmed Blackwater works with the
Frontier Corps, saying, "There's no real oversight. It's not really on
people's radar screen."

In October, in response to Pakistani news reports that a Kestral
warehouse in Islamabad was being used to store heavy weapons for
Blackwater, the US Embassy in Pakistan released a statement denying the
weapons were being used by "a private American security contractor." The
statement said, "Kestral Logistics is a private logistics company that
handles the importation of equipment and supplies provided by the United
States to the Government of Pakistan. All of the equipment and supplies
were imported at the request of the Government of Pakistan, which also
certified the shipments."

Who is Behind the Drone Attacks?

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has
expanded drone bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone
strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, and
the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The Obama
administration has now surpassed the number of Bush-era strikes in
Pakistan and has faced fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US
lawmakers over civilian deaths. A drone attack in June killed as many as
sixty people attending a Taliban funeral.

In August, the New York Times reported that Blackwater works
for the CIA at "hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the
company's contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound
laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft." In February,
The Times of London obtained a satellite image of a secret CIA
airbase in Shamsi, in Pakistan's southwestern province of Baluchistan,
showing three drone aircraft. The New York Times also reported
that the agency uses a secret base in Jalalabad, Afghanistan, to strike in Pakistan.

The military intelligence source says that the drone strike that
reportedly killed Pakistani Taliban leader Baitullah Mehsud, his wife
and his bodyguards in Waziristan in August was a CIA strike, but that
many others attributed in media reports to the CIA are actually JSOC
strikes. "Some of these strikes are attributed to OGA [Other Government
Agency, intelligence parlance for the CIA], but in reality it's JSOC and
their parallel program of UAVs [unmanned aerial vehicles] because they
also have access to UAVs. So when you see some of these hits, especially
the ones with high civilian casualties, those are almost always JSOC
strikes." The Pentagon has stated bluntly, "There are no US military
strike operations being conducted in Pakistan."

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater
continues to work for the CIA on its drone bombing program in Pakistan,
as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that
Blackwater is working on JSOC's drone bombings as well. "It's Blackwater
running the program for both CIA and JSOC," said the source. When
civilians are killed, "people go, 'Oh, it's the CIA doing crazy shit
again unchecked.' Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that's JSOC
[hitting] somebody they've identified through HUMINT [human
intelligence] or they've culled the intelligence themselves or it's been
shared with them and they take that person out and that's how it works."

The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are
subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings.
"Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and
the CIA knows that," he says. "Contractors and especially JSOC personnel
working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so
they just don't care. If there's one person they're going after and
there's thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going
to die. That's the mentality." He added, "They're not accountable to
anybody and they know that. It's an open secret, but what are you going
to do, shut down JSOC?"

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes,
Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive
task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps and Defense
Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan, according to the military
intelligence source.

Mosharraf Zaidi, a well-known Pakistani journalist who has served as
a consultant for the UN and European Union in Pakistan and Afghanistan,
says that the Blackwater/JSOC program raises serious questions about the
norms of international relations. "The immediate question is, How do you
define the active pursuit of military objectives in a country with which
not only have you not declared war but that is supposedly a front-line
non-NATO ally in the US struggle to contain extremist violence coming
out of Afghanistan and the border regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan?"
asks Zaidi, who is currently a columnist for The News, the
biggest English-language daily in Pakistan. "Let's forget Blackwater for
a second. What this is confirming is that there are US military
operations in Pakistan that aren't about logistics or getting food to
Bagram; that are actually about the exercise of physical violence,
physical force inside of Pakistani territory."

JSOC: Rumsfeld and Cheney's Extra Special Force

Colonel Wilkerson said that he is concerned that with General
McChrystal's elevation as the military commander of the Afghan
war--which is increasingly seeping into Pakistan--there is a concomitant
rise in JSOC's power and influence within the military structure. "I
don't see how you can escape that; it's just a matter of the way the
authority flows and the power flows, and it's inevitable, I think,"
Wilkerson told The Nation. He added, "I'm alarmed when I see
execute orders and combat orders that go out saying that the supporting
force is Central Command and the supported force is Special Operations
Command," under which JSOC operates. "That's backward. But that's
essentially what we have today."

From 2003 to 2008 McChrystal headed JSOC, which is headquartered at
Pope Air Force Base and Fort Bragg in North Carolina, where Blackwater's
7,000-acre operating base is also situated. JSOC controls the Army's
Delta Force, the Navy's SEAL Team 6, as well as the Army's 75th Ranger
Regiment and 160th Special Operations Aviation Regiment, and the Air
Force's 24th Special Tactics Squadron. JSOC performs strike operations,
reconnaissance in denied areas and special intelligence missions.
Blackwater, which was founded by former Navy SEALs, employs scores of
veteran Special Forces operators--which several former military
officials pointed to as the basis for Blackwater's alleged contracts with JSOC.

Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up
employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the
highly specialized work they did in uniform. "The Blackwater individuals
have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military,
and they've been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that
the younger Green Beret guys don't," said retired Army Lieut. Col.
Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior
legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. "They're known entities.
Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they've
got the experience. They're very valuable."

"They make much more money being the smarts of these operations,
planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in
Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia," said the military intelligence
source. "They were there for all of these things, they know what the
hell they're talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the
institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that
used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types
of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater
SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future
operations. It's a ridiculous revolving door."

While JSOC has long played a central role in US counterterrorism and
covert operations, military and civilian officials who worked at the
Defense and State Departments during the Bush administration described
in interviews with The Nation an extremely cozy relationship that
developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President
Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the
Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation
that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct
coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was
largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC. "What I was seeing was the
development of what I would later see in Iraq and Afghanistan, where
Special Operations forces would operate in both theaters without the
conventional commander even knowing what they were doing," said Colonel
Wilkerson. "That's dangerous, that's very dangerous. You have all kinds
of mess when you don't tell the theater commander what you're doing."

Wilkerson said that almost immediately after assuming his role at
the State Department under Colin Powell, he saw JSOC being politicized
and developing a close relationship with the executive branch. He saw
this begin, he said, after his first Delta Force briefing at Fort Bragg.
"I think Cheney and Rumsfeld went directly into JSOC. I think they went
into JSOC at times, perhaps most frequently, without the SOCOM [Special
Operations] commander at the time even knowing it. The receptivity in
JSOC was quite good," says Wilkerson. "I think Cheney was actually
giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for
instructions." He said the relationship between JSOC and Cheney and
Rumsfeld "built up initially because Rumsfeld didn't get the
responsiveness. He didn't get the can-do kind of attitude out of the
SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and
went straight to the horse's mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating
as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive
branch--read: Cheney and Rumsfeld--wanted it to do. This would be more
or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming
for me as a conventional soldier."

Wilkerson said the JSOC teams caused diplomatic problems for the
United States across the globe. "When these teams started hitting
capital cities and other places all around the world, [Rumsfeld] didn't
tell the State Department either. The only way we found out about it is
our ambassadors started to call us and say, 'Who the hell are these
six-foot-four white males with eighteen-inch biceps walking around our
capital cities?' So we discovered this, we discovered one in South
America, for example, because he actually murdered a taxi driver, and we
had to get him out of there real quick. We rendered him--we rendered him home."

As part of their strategy, Rumsfeld and Cheney also created the
Strategic Support Branch (SSB), which pulled intelligence resources from
the Defense Intelligence Agency and the CIA for use in sensitive JSOC
operations. The SSB was created using "reprogrammed" funds "without
explicit congressional authority or appropriation," according to the
Washington Post. The SSB operated outside the military chain of
command and circumvented the CIA's authority on clandestine operations.
Rumsfeld created it as part of his war to end "near total dependence on
CIA." Under US law, the Defense Department is required to report all
deployment orders to Congress. But guidelines issued in January 2005 by
former Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence Stephen Cambone
stated that Special Operations forces may "conduct clandestine HUMINT
operations...before publication" of a deployment order. This effectively
gave Rumsfeld unilateral control over clandestine operations.

The military intelligence source said that when Rumsfeld was defense
secretary, JSOC was deployed to commit some of the "darkest acts" in
part to keep them concealed from Congress. "Everything can be justified
as a military operation versus a clandestine intelligence performed by
the CIA, which has to be informed to Congress," said the source. "They
were aware of that and they knew that, and they would exploit it at
every turn and they took full advantage of it. They knew they could act
extra-legally and nothing would happen because A, it was sanctioned by
DoD at the highest levels, and B, who was going to stop them? They were
preparing the battlefield, which was on all of the PowerPoints:
'Preparing the Battlefield.'"

The significance of the flexibility of JSOC's operations inside
Pakistan versus the CIA's is best summed up by Senator Dianne Feinstein,
chair of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. "Every single
intelligence operation and covert action must be briefed to the
Congress," she said. "If they are not, that is a violation of the law."

Blackwater: Company Non Grata in Pakistan

For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about
Blackwater's alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part,
these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or
propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that,
although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis
have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater's operations in their
country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has
been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the
company has been involved--almost from the beginning of the "war on
terror"--with clandestine US operations. Indeed,
Blackwater is accepting applications for contractors fluent in Urdu and
Punjabi. The US Ambassador to Pakistan, Anne Patterson, has denied
Blackwater's presence in the country, stating bluntly in September,
"Blackwater is not operating in Pakistan." In her trip to Pakistan in
October, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton dodged questions from the
Pakistani press about Blackwater's rumored Pakistani operations.
Pakistan's interior minister, Rehman Malik, said on November 21 he will
resign if Blackwater is found operating anywhere in Pakistan.

The Christian Science Monitor recently reported that
Blackwater "provides security for a US-backed aid project" in Peshawar,
suggesting the company may be based out of the Pearl Continental, a
luxury hotel the United States reportedly is considering purchasing to
use as a consulate in the city. "We have no contracts in Pakistan,"
Blackwater spokesperson Stacey DeLuke said recently. "We've been blamed
for all that has gone wrong in Peshawar, none of which is true, since we
have absolutely no presence there."

Reports of Blackwater's alleged presence in Karachi and elsewhere in
the country have been floating around the Pakistani press for months.
Hamid Mir, a prominent Pakistani journalist who rose to fame after his
1997 interview with Osama bin Laden, claimed in a recent interview that
Blackwater is in Karachi. "The US [intelligence] agencies think that a
number of Al-Qaeda and Taliban leaders are hiding in Karachi and
Peshawar," he said. "That is why [Blackwater] agents are operating in
these two cities." Ambassador Patterson has said that the claims of Mir
and other Pakistani journalists are "wildly incorrect," saying they had
compromised the security of US personnel in Pakistan. On November 20 the
Washington Times, citing three current and former US intelligence
officials, reported that Mullah Mohammed Omar, the leader of the Afghan
Taliban, has "found refuge from potential U.S. attacks" in Karachi "with
the assistance of Pakistan's intelligence service."

In September, the Pakistani press covered a report on Blackwater
allegedly submitted by Pakistan's intelligence agencies to the federal
interior ministry. In the report, the intelligence agencies reportedly
allege that Blackwater was provided houses by a federal minister who is
also helping them clear shipments of weapons and vehicles through
Karachi's Port Qasim on the coast of the Arabian Sea. The military
intelligence source did not confirm this but did say, "The port jives
because they have a lot of [former] SEALs and they would revert to what
they know: the ocean, instead of flying stuff in."

The Nation cannot independently confirm these allegations and
has not seen the Pakistani intelligence report. But according to
Pakistani press coverage, the intelligence report also said Blackwater
has acquired "bungalows" in the Defense Housing Authority in the city.
According to the DHA website, it is a large residential estate originally established
"for the welfare of the serving and retired officers of the Armed Forces
of Pakistan." Its motto is: "Home for Defenders." The report alleges
Blackwater is receiving help from local government officials in Karachi
and is using vehicles with license plates traditionally assigned to
members of the national and provincial assemblies, meaning local law
enforcement will not stop them.

The use of private companies like Blackwater for sensitive
operations such as drone strikes or other covert work undoubtedly comes
with the benefit of plausible deniability that places an additional
barrier in an already deeply flawed system of accountability. When
things go wrong, it's the contractors' fault, not the government's. But
the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions,
particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. "We are
using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered
to be a violation of the Geneva Convention," said Lt. Col. Addicott, who
now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary's University School of
Law in San Antonio, Texas. "In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope
to the breaking limit, and it's almost a fiction that these guys are not
in offensive military operations." Addicott added, "If we were subjected
to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be
picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That's one of the
reasons we're not members of the International Criminal Court."

If there is one quality that has defined Blackwater over the past
decade, it is the ability to survive against the odds while
simultaneously reinventing and rebranding itself. That is most evident
in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military,
the CIA and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost
weekly scandals. Blackwater's alleged Pakistan operations, said the military
intelligence source, are indicative of its new frontier. "Having learned
its lessons after the private security contracting fiasco in Iraq,
Blackwater has shifted its operational focus to two venues: protecting
things that are in danger and anticipating other places we're going to
go as a nation that are dangerous," he said. "It's as simple as that."












No comments: