Blackwater Another Low Point in CIA's Difficult Year

Revelations that the CIA outsourced to Blackwater continue debate on the agency's character.

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The CIA recruited private security firm Blackwater to kidnap or kill Al Qaeda members, reports the New York Times. The plan, though it yielded no results, may have been legally dubious and possibly constituted illegal assassinations had it been successful. Blackwater was highly active in Iraq for years, though a string of controversial and deadly incidents tarnished the company's reputation and led to difficulties in obtaining an Iraqi government license to operate there. The revelation is sure to reignate debate over the CIA's behavior since Sept. 11, 2001, and its strained relationship with Congress.

  • CIA and Blackwater  Two national security experts are wondering about connections between the two groups. The Atlantic's Marc Ambinder hinted, "Cofer Black, ex-CIA ops poo-bah and B'Water exec, is key." Black was the CIA's counterterrorism head following Sept. 11 and later left to join Blackwater. Marcy Wheeler noted, "The Blackwater assassination contract timed perfectly w/Buzzy Krongard's move from CIA to [Blackwater]." A.B. "Buzzy" Krongard was a high ranking CIA official from 2001 to 2004, later joining Blackwater. Wheeler called Krongard "the gimmick behind the CIA's assassination program."
  • CIA and Congress  Wheeler suggested that Congressional Democrats may be supporting Leo Panetta, the agency's head under Obama. "If I had to guess, I'd say the Dems are closing ranks around Panetta," she wrote. "If those trying to reform the [CIA] join with Panetta and push him, we might make some progress." But Congressional Dems, particularly Nancy Pelosi, have had an extremely strained relationship with the CIA this year. In May, Pelosi claimed the CIA had misled Congress in 2002 and 2003 on waterboarding, a conflict David Ignatius of the Washington Post called "the nightmare scenario ever since the modern system of congressional oversight of intelligence was created in the late 1970s." Ignatius wrote, "it's pretty hard not to conclude that Pelosi is shading the truth to retrospectively cover her backside."

    The rift between the CIA and Congress deepened in June, when Panetta admitted in closed testimony that the CIA had misled Congress from 2001 on. Congressional Dems released details of the testimony in July, spurring a massive debate over the warring government bodies. An editorial in the Wall Street Journal accused Democrats of playing partisan politics at the expense of anti-terrorism. "The message to CIA operatives is don't take any risks for national security," they wrote. The Nation's John Nichols was among many liberals who sided with Congress, arguing, "There is a clear case for dramatically expanding congressional oversight of the CIA."
  • Nature of the Agency  Matthew Yglesias, during the July media storm over the CIA misleading Congress, called the entire debate "naive" and said it indicates a deeper problem. "Intelligence agencies sometimes help presidents cover up illegal activities," he wrote. "A lot of the structure of the current set-up of the CIA is basically designed to give presidents an outlet for illegal orders. It needs to change. There’s room for government secrecy, but there’s no good reason for the government to be keeping secrets from congress."
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