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Context of '2002: Blackwater Wins Contract for CIA Security in Afghanistan'

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The CIA begins a program to kill or capture al-Qaeda leaders using small teams of its paramilitary forces. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] The aim is to take out of circulation members of al-Qaeda and its affiliates who are judged to be plotting attacks against US forces or interests. The program’s establishment follows its proposal by an official at the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center (see Shortly After September 11, 2001) and official approval from the White House (see September 17, 2001). The program, initially run by the Counterterrorist Center, never becomes operational at the agency and no targets are ever proposed for the White House’s approval; although the CIA will both capture and kill several al-Qaeda leaders over the next few years (see, for example, February 29 or March 1, 2003 and December 1, 2005), these successes result from ad hoc operations or other programs. However, the Pentagon will later begin a parallel program that does kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see July 22, 2002). Although the CIA’s program is never used, it is, according to CIA spokesman George Little, “much more than a PowerPoint presentation.” [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Another official adds: “It’s wrong to think this counterterrorism program was confined to briefing slides or doodles on a cafeteria napkin. It went well beyond that.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009] Top CIA officials are briefed periodically about the program’s progress. [New York Times, 7/14/2009] The program is intended for use in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as other countries. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Reasons for its non-use include logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] There are three versions of the program: an initial one done in house, another one operated by the private military contractor Blackwater (see 2004), and another, possibly after Blackwater leaves the program (see (2005-2006)). The total spending on the program is under $20 million over eight years. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] There is a US government ban on assassinating people. However, the Bush administration takes the position that killing members of al-Qaeda, a terrorist group that attacked the US and has pledged to attack it again, is no different from killing enemy soldiers in battle, so the CIA is not constrained by the ban. [New York Times, 7/14/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: George Little, Central Intelligence Agency, Counterterrorist Center

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

At some time in 2002, the the private military corporation Blackwater wins a classified contract to provide security for the CIA station in Kabul, Afghanistan. The circumstances and details of the contract are unknown, although this is only one of several contracts Blackwater and the CIA conclude after 9/11 (see, for example 2002 and 2004). [New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A small team of contractors from the private security firm Blackwater is deployed inside Afghanistan, as a result of a $5 million contract between Blackwater and the CIA (see 2002 and 2002). The contractors provide security for the CIA at the agency’s station in Kabul and at “The Alamo,” a mud fortress in Shkin, along the Afghanistan-Pakistan border. In May, Blackwater founder and owner Erik Prince, a former Navy SEAL, will fly to Afghanistan to help expand operations. The Kabul and Shkin deployments are the first in a long, profitable relationship between the CIA and Blackwater. The relationship stems from a long friendship between Prince and Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard, the CIA’s executive director. Prince formed another part of the Blackwater group, Blackwater Security Consulting, in early 2002 along with former CIA operative Jamie Smith; Krongard provided the firm with one of its first government contracts. In 2006, Krongard will explain: “Blackwater got a contract because they were the first people that could get people on the ground. The only concern we had was getting the best security for our people. If we thought Martians could provide it, I guess we would have gone after them.” The relationship between Krongard and Blackwater will deepen after the first Afghanistan deployment, with Krongard making repeated visits to the Blackwater headquarters in North Carolina and even bringing his children along to use Blackwater’s firing range. Prince was denied a position with the CIA, but will maintain a close relationship with the agency, and will receive “green badge” access to most CIA stations around the world. Krongard will join Blackwater’s board of directors in 2007. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Jamie Smith, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Blackwater USA, Central Intelligence Agency, Erik Prince

Timeline Tags: War in Afghanistan

A CIA program to kill and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) is terminated, and then revived under a new code name and surreptitiously outsourced to the private military corporation Blackwater. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Outsourcing Kidnappings and Assassinations - The public will not learn of the program until 2009 (see August 19-20, 2009). The reason for the move is that key officials leave the CIA’s Counterterrorist Center, which had run the program, and go to work for Blackwater. A retired intelligence officer intimately familiar with the assassination program will say of the reason for using Blackwater, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” According to the Washington Post, the contract goes to Blackwater “in part because of its close ties to the CIA and because of its record in carrying out covert assignments overseas.” [Washington Post, 8/20/2009] Blackwater is given operational responsibility for targeting terrorist commanders, including planning and surveillance, and is awarded millions of dollars for training and weaponry. Blackwater executives help the CIA in planning, training, and surveillance exercises for team members. It remains unclear whether Blackwater’s role is merely for training and surveillance, or if Blackwater employees are slated to actually carry out kidnappings and assassinations. A former official will say that the Blackwater phase involves “lots of time spent training,” mostly in the US. The teams reportedly simulate missions that often involve kidnapping. “They were involved not only in trying to kill but also in getting close enough to snatch,” the official will say. Blackwater does not have an official contract with the CIA; instead, individual executives, such as its founder and CEO Erik Prince, have contracts with the agency. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Program Never Implemented - Although the CIA spends several million dollars on the program, no one is actually captured or killed, and most of the program’s elements are never implemented. According to a former official, there is “much frustration” among team members at this. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009]
Program Termination - The assassination program began in 2002, after the 9/11 attacks, and will continue until 2009, when then-CIA Director Leon Panetta will terminate it. Blackwater’s role in the program will be terminated much sooner (see (2005-2006)). In 2009, government officials will tell the New York Times that the CIA’s efforts to use what the newspaper calls “paramilitary hit teams” to kill al-Qaeda operatives “ran into logistical, legal, and diplomatic hurdles almost from the outset.” [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Time, 8/21/2009] Despite an initial prohibition from Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002), the program will later be briefed to Congress (see June 24, 2009). The fact that Blackwater became involved in it is one of the reasons Congress is notified. The New York Times will report that “government officials said that bringing outsiders into a program with lethal authority raised deep concerns about accountability in covert operations.” In addition, a private contractor involved in an operation would not have the same diplomatic immunity as a US government employee. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]
Former CIA Agent: Director 'Horrified' at Use of Mercenaries - In 2009, former CIA agent Robert Baer will write: “Panetta must have been horrified that the CIA turned to mercenaries to play a part in its dirty work. It’s one thing, albeit often misguided, for the agency to outsource certain tasks to contractors. It’s quite another to involve a company like Blackwater in even the planning and training of targeted killings, akin to the CIA going to the mafia to draw up a plan to kill [Cuban dictator Fidel] Castro.” Baer believes that the Blackwater contracts were more about “bilking the US taxpayer than… killing Osama bin Laden or other al-Qaeda leaders.… [A]s soon as CIA money lands in Blackwater’s account, it is beyond accounting, as good as gone.” Baer will note that Blackwater is involved in a number of highly questionable actions, including the apparent murder of several Iraqi and Afghan civilians, and will ask “what the CIA saw in Blackwater that the public still has not.” Baer will conclude by speculating, “Even more troubling, I think we will find out that in the unraveling of the Bush years, Blackwater was not the worst of the contractors, some of which did reportedly end up carrying out their assigned hits.” [Time, 8/21/2009]

Entity Tags: Robert Baer, Leon Panetta, Erik Prince, Central Intelligence Agency, Al-Qaeda, Blackwater USA

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

Blackwater stops work on a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders. Blackwater had been hired by the agency to work on the program at some time in 2004 (see 2004). However, according to the New York Times, its involvement ends “years before” Leon Panetta becomes CIA director in 2009 (see June 23, 2009). The reason for the termination is that CIA officials begin to question the wisdom of using outsiders in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Blackwater USA, Central Intelligence Agency

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties, War in Afghanistan

At an emergency meeting, CIA Director Leon Panetta tells the House and Senate intelligence committees of a CIA program to assassinate and capture al-Qaeda leaders (see Shortly After September 17, 2001). [New York Times, 7/14/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009] Panetta learned of the program the previous day and immediately canceled it (see June 23, 2009). The lawmakers had not previously received information about the program, apparently at the direction of former Vice President Dick Cheney (see 2002). Panetta says he thinks the lawmakers should have been told earlier, because the program had moved beyond the planning stage and therefore deserved Congressional scrutiny. [Washington Post, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Central Intelligence Agency, Senate Intelligence Committee, House Intelligence Committee, Leon Panetta

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide.Xe logo. Xe is the name for the firm that previously called itself Blackwater USA and later Blackwater Worldwide. [Source: Public domain]Both the New York Times and Washington Post report that in 2004, the CIA hired outside contractors from Blackwater USA, a private security firm, to take part in a secret program to find and kill top al-Qaeda operatives in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and elsewhere (see 2004). Both stories highlight the fact that a program to assassinate or capture al-Qaeda leaders that began around September 2001 (see Shortly After September 17, 2001) was terminated and then revived and outsourced to Blackwater in 2004 (see 2004 and (2005-2006)). CIA Director Leon Panetta alerted Congress to the secret program in June 2009 (see June 24, 2009), but the public is just now learning of its existence. Government officials say that bringing contractors into a program that has the authority to kill raises serious concerns about accountability in covert operations. Blackwater’s role in the program ended years before Panetta took over the agency, but senior CIA officials have long questioned the propriety and the wisdom of using outside contractors—in essence, mercenaries—in a targeted killing program. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; New York Times, 8/20/2009; Washington Post, 8/20/2009] A retired intelligence officer described as “intimately familiar with the assassination program” says, “Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong.” [Nation, 8/20/2009] The assassination program is just one of a number of contracted services Blackwater provided for the CIA, and may still provide, including guarding CIA prisons and loading missiles on Predator drones. The agency “has always used contractors,” says a former CIA official familiar with the Predator operations. “You have to be an explosives expert,” and the CIA has never sought to use its own personnel for the highly specialized task. “We didn’t care who put on the munitions as long as it wasn’t CIA case officers.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
No Laws Broken? - Former CIA general counsel Jeffrey Smith says that Blackwater may not have broken any laws even by attempting to assassinate foreign nationals on the CIA’s orders. “The use of force has been traditionally thought of as inherently governmental,” he says. “The use of a contractor actually employing lethal force is clearly troublesome, but I’m not sure it’s necessarily illegal.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009]
Mixed Reactions from Congress - Some Congressional Democrats say that the secret assassination program is just one of many secret programs conducted by the Bush administration, and have called for more intensive investigations into Bush-era counterterrorism activities. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) says: “I have believed for a long time that the intelligence community is over-reliant on contractors to carry out its work. This is especially a problem when contractors are used to carry out activities that are inherently governmental.” Conversely, some Congressional Republicans are critical of Panetta’s decision to terminate the program, with Representative Peter Hoekstra (R-MI), the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, accusing Panetta of indulging in too much “drama and intrigue than was warranted.” Officials say that the program was conceived as an alternative to the CIA’s primary assassination method of missile strikes using drone aircraft, which have killed many innocent civilians and cannot be used in heavily populated urban areas. [New York Times, 8/20/2009; Los Angeles Times, 8/21/2009] Jan Schakowsky (D-IL), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, says that she cannot confirm or deny that Congress was informed of Blackwater’s involvement in the program before the New York Times broke the story. However, she notes: “What we know now, if this is true, is that Blackwater was part of the highest level, the innermost circle strategizing and exercising strategy within the Bush administration. [Blackwater CEO] Erik Prince operated at the highest and most secret level of the government. Clearly Prince was more trusted than the US Congress because Vice President Cheney made the decision not to brief Congress. This shows that there was absolutely no space whatsoever between the Bush administration and Blackwater.” Schakowsky says the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the CIA assassination program and will probe alleged links to Blackwater. Former CIA analyst Ray McGovern says: “The presidential memos (often referred to as ‘findings’) authorizing covert action like the lethal activities of the CIA and Blackwater have not yet surfaced. They will, in due course, if knowledgeable sources continue to put the Constitution and courage above secrecy oaths.” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Blackwater Employs Many Former CIA Officials - Author and reporter Jeremy Scahill notes that many former Bush-era CIA officials now work at Blackwater, including former CIA executive director Alvin “Buzzy” Krongard; former CIA counterterrorism chief J. Cofer Black, who now operates Prince’s private intelligence company, Total Intelligence Solutions (TIS); the CEO of TIS, Robert Richer, the former associate deputy director of the CIA’s Directorate of Operations and second-ranking official in charge of clandestine operations; and Enrique “Ric” Prado, a former senior executive officer in the Directorate of Operations. [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Loss of Control, Deniability - Former CIA field agent Jack Rice, who worked on covert paramilitary operations for the agency, says, “What the agency was doing with Blackwater scares the hell out of me.” He explains: “When the agency actually cedes all oversight and power to a private organization, an organization like Blackwater, most importantly they lose control and don’t understand what’s going on. That makes it even worse is that you then can turn around and have deniability. They can say, ‘It wasn’t us, we weren’t the ones making the decisions.’ That’s the best of both worlds. It’s analogous to what we hear about torture that was being done in the name of Americans, when we simply handed somebody over to the Syrians or the Egyptians or others and then we turn around and say, ‘We’re not torturing people.’” [Nation, 8/20/2009]
Negative Publicity Led to Name Change, Prohibition from Operating in Iraq - Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services, in part because of a raft of negative publicity it has garnered surrounding allegations of its employees murdering Iraqi civilians; Iraq has denied the firm a license to operate within its borders. [New York Times, 8/20/2009] However, Blackwater continues to operate in both Iraq and Afghanistan, where it has contracts with the State Department and Defense Department. The CIA refuses to acknowledge whether it still contracts with Blackwater. [Nation, 8/20/2009]

Entity Tags: Obama administration, Total Intelligence Solutions, New York Times, Paul Gimigliano, Peter Hoekstra, Robert Richer, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, US Department of State, US Department of Defense, Leon Panetta, Ray McGovern, Jeremy Scahill, Senate Intelligence Committee, Jan Schakowsky, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), Blackwater USA, A.B. (“Buzzy”) Krongard, Cofer Black, Enrique (“Ric”) Prado, Dianne Feinstein, Jack Rice, Erik Prince, Jeffrey H. Smith, House Intelligence Committee

Timeline Tags: Complete 911 Timeline

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