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House Oversight: Blackwater Liveblog Five

waxman.jpgDavid Satterfield of the US State Department: We demand high standards. We’re in constant contact with the Iraqis about this stuff, including the events of September 16. Condi Rice cares really really a lot about that and is conducting three different reviews. The FBI is sending a team to Iraq to investigate at her request, you know. They’re even going to look at CPA 17 (fondly known as “Blackwater’s license to kill“) and the effects it may be having.

Waxman: Why did the State Department help Blackwater get the employee the hell out of Dodge after the incident?

Richard Griffin: Can’t comment on an ongoing investigation.

Waxman: Not asking you about that. The State Department even told Blackwater to pay off the family and “sweep the whole incident under the rug.” What’s up with that?

Griffin: I would say that the area of what should be prosecuted is very murky.

Waxman: You mean there’s a question as to whether this is criminal, when a person hired by a contractor shoots and kills an Iraqi in the green zone, that this isn’t criminal? And then the State Department suggested how much should be paid, and helped him get out of the country?

Griffin: That’s your judgment about what happened.

Waxman: If there’s an investigation going on, and the man’s not there any longer, it makes investigation a little tough. Hard to say you “acted responsibly.” The State Department acting as an “enabler” of Blackwater tactics, demands no accountability.

Griffin: We referred it to the DoJ (no politicization there — jh)

Waxman: And there’s been no action, nine or ten months later.

Tom Davis: The US has been using private contractors for decades. Why is this unprescedented?

Satterfield: The scale of this is unprescedented.

Davis: Would you go back 5 years and do the same thing again, or take it in house?

Griffin: We did this to try and stand up the civilian side of the government. In order to fulfill the security mission in the near term, private contractors were used. If we were going to train people for the job, it would take 18 months. And they have real cool specialists.

Tom Davis: But it’s been a longer term duration.

Griffin: But we’ve used contractors back to 1994 when they were first used in Haiti.

Davis: Is it cheaper to go outside, or to start a bureaucracy within the government?

Griffin: The cost for a State Department special agent to be deployed in a high threat area is $500,000.

William H. Moser, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Logistics Management, Department of State: Costs run about $400,000 for an American Diplomat overseas to $1 million in Iraq (“fully loaded costs”).

Tierney: How many agents do you have there?

Griffin: Thirty six of our agents in Iraq.

Tierney: There are about 800 personnel to protect embassy personnel in Iraq?

Griffin: 845 Blackwater personnel from Blackwater in Baghdad, and with two other contractors, about 1150 total.

Tierney: Blackwater engaged in 195 shooting incidents in less than 3 years, 1.4 times per week.. Are there any other embassies where there have been that many shootings?

Griffin: We’re operating in a combat zone.

Tierney: Is that a no?

Griffin: Not that I can think of.

Tierney: Blackwater has also caused at least 16 casualties, and fired weapons over 160 times in the last three years, and caused serious property damage. Blackwater thinks these shootings were justified. There are policies that allow them to operate under special rules that allow things like shooting at cars that get too close. Are there any other places, besides Afghanistan, like that? My point — it appears to me that this might not be a mission for private security contractors. The question is not whether this is something that 800 troops should be taking over.

Griffin: Standard procedure — whenever a weapon is fired on a security detail, the team comes to the tactical operations center. Members of the team are segregated, they’re interviewed, within 24 hours they have to provide written sworn statement, they’re reviewed by management for consistency, and people who manage contractors having weekly meetings with them.

Dan Burton: Would it be more effective to used armed military personnel?

Griffin: Provided they got the training, which they don’t normally get. They’re not supposed to stay and fight. They’re supposed to get out of there.

Burton: Was the Blackwater contract a sole source?

Moser: In 2004 we decided to do a sole source contract for Blackwater. That was the only time it was sole source. The reason we did that was for urgent compelling reason. We were under urgent situation to make that transition to secure the embassy. We had an audit and were able to negotiate their fees down from $140 million to $106 million. Then in 2005 we went to a competitive bidding situation.

Burton: Are these people well trained:

Griffin: All of the WPPS contractors who are employed must have one year of prior military or law enforcement experience. They have to undergo a background check and qualify for secret clearance for our government. They also have to undergo 160 hour training course.

Burton: When your contractors fire at a vehicle speeding towards a chief admission motorcade, is that a violation of the contract rules of engagement?

Griffin: Absolutely not. In the use of force policy in Baghdad, one does not have to wait until the protectee is physically harmed before taking action. We have an escalation of force policy where they must take prior steps before the use of force.

Diane Watson: Do you feel private security companies do a good job protecting state department personnel?

Satterfield: Yep

Watson: One of the major reasons this committee has expressed skepticism is because we have high regard for our military. Many have been very critical of private security, esp. Blackwater. Brigadier General Karl Huse said, “these guys run loose in this country and do stupid stuff…there’s no authority over them, so you can’t come down on them when they escalate force. They shoot people and someone else has to deal with the aftermath. It happens all over the place.”

An army lieutenant colonel serving in Iraq said of Blackwater, “They are immateur shooters and have quick trigger fingers. Their tendency is to shoot first and ask questions later.  We are all carrying their black eyes.” 

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Jane Hamsher

Jane Hamsher

Jane is the founder of Firedoglake.com. Her work has also appeared on the Huffington Post, Alternet and The American Prospect. She’s the author of the best selling book Killer Instinct and has produced such films Natural Born Killers and Permanent Midnight. She lives in Washington DC.
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