Last week we learned that Erik Prince, CEO of shadowy military contractor Blackwater, was formerly a CIA asset. Today, the New York Times reports that Blackwater guards participated in and even helped lead highly sensitive CIA missions in Iraq and Afghanistan. Initially brought on simply to provide security, Blackwater's operational involvement gradually grew to encompass far more.
"They were supposed to be the outer layer of the onion, out on the perimeter," said one former Blackwater official of the security guards. Instead, "they were the drivers and the gunslingers," said one former intelligence official. But in the chaos of the operations, the roles of Blackwater, C.I.A., and military personnel sometimes merged.
Just how close are Blackwater and the CIA, and what does it mean for operations still ongoing in Iraq, Afghanistan and likely Pakistan as well?
- No Accountability VetVoice's Richard Allen Smith fumes. "We now know that at least between 2004 and 2006, sensitive intelligence and kinetic operations were outsourced to a mercenary army which is subject to no legal accountability whatsoever. We need to see congressional hearings on this, and heads need to roll," he writes. "Blackwater/Xe is not a private security contracting firm. Call them what they are: mercenaries."
- For-Profit National Security Harper's Scott Horton shakes his head. "They show the incestuous relationship that had evolved between the CIA and the for-profit contractor, perhaps the result of a revolving door that moved high-ranking individuals between Blackwater and the intelligence community. And they show how extensive were the efforts to privatize some of the nation’s most sensitive national security operations for the benefit of a profitable company with tight connections to the Republican Party."
- Does White House Understand Scope? NPR's Frank James raises "the question of whether private contractors are still doing functions in Afghanistan and Iraq that Americans normally expect U.S. military members to perform. And it sounds like even members of the Obama Administration who one might expect to have clarity on this, don't." He insists, "it's vital for U.S. policymakers to get to the bottom of this by not only looking backwards at what happened during the Bush years but by determining once and for all whether private contractors are still performing the kind of tactical operations for the CIA or other agency that Americans don't necessarily expect such guns for hire to be performing."
- It's About Distraction The Nation's Jeremy Scahill, a Blackwater expert who literally wrote the book on the group, suspects Blackwater itself put out the story for self-serving reasons. "Blackwater is leaking the CIA ops for a reason. It also distracts from ongoing ops that are not CIA." That could include operations with military special forces commands such as JSOC.
- Who Knew About It? Marcy Wheeler explores the "subtext" of the story: "[F]irst, 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."