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October 01, 2007

Some more details on Blackwater

Hearings start tomorrow in the House.  As part of that a release of things the House has found out, and will (one hopes) ask Blackwater's founder, Eric Prince some serious questions.

If they do, I don't really expect him to answer; not past some banal comment about, "If there were violations of company policy I am deeply sorry, but I can't really say, since I was here.  I also don't want to second guess the people on the ground."

But some of the details are apalling.  Not just for things like Blackwater being the first to shoot in 80 percent of the 194 incidents in which they were involved (that's almost 1.5 per week; not bad for so small a group).

The full report (.pdf)  is interesting.

Some excerpts:

In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing
from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in
casualties. Even so, Blackwater's o\ryn incident reports document 16 Iraqi casualties and 162
incidents with property damage, primarily to vehicles owned by lraqis. In over 80% of the
escalation of force incidents since 2005, Blackwater's own reports document either casualties or
property damage

The reports describe multiple Blackwater incidents involving Iraqi casualties that have
not previously been reported. In one of these incidents, Blackwater forces shot a civilian
bystander in the head. In another, State Department officials report that Blackwater sought to
cover up a shooting that killed an apparently innocent bystander. In a third, Blackwater provided no assistance after a traffic accident caused by its "counter-flow" driving left an Iraqi vehicle in "a ball of flames."

So they are doing drive-bys.  I'm sure this is winning hearts and minds; persuading the Iraqi public that the US Gov't is here to help them.  Or not.

To put this in some perspective, the other two companies which provide support for the State Dept. (Blackwater's only, declared, employer in Iraq... though they have, it seems, been "engaging in tactical military operations with U.S. forces.") don't have as many shooting incidents, combined.

State is the oversight for Blackwater, or not.

Documents provided by the State Department raise serious questions about how State Department officials responded to reports of Blackwater killings of Iraqis. In a high-profile incident in December 2006, a drunken Blackwater contractor killed the guard of Iraqi Vice President Adil Abd-al-Mahdi. Within 36 hours after the shooting, the State Department had allowed Blackwater to transport the Blackwater contractor out of Iraq. The State Department Charge d'Affaires recommended that Blackwater make a "sizeable payment" and an "apology" to o'avoid this whole thing becoming even worse." The Charge d'Affaires suggested a $250,000 payment to the guard's family, but the Department's Diplomatic Security Service said this was too much and could cause Iraqis to "try to get killed." In the end, the State Depafment and Blackwater agreed on a $15,000 payment. One State Department offrcial wrote: "We would like to help them resolve this so we can continue with our protective mission."

I particularly like the comment that making a large (how does one define large?) payout to the family of a guy gunned down by a drunk bodyguard was said to be too large because,  Iraqis would, "try to get killed," as a result.

WTF?

Costs to Taxpayers. Using Blackwater instead of U.S. troops to protect embassy officials
is expensive. Blackwater charges the government$.I,222 per day for the services of a private
military contractor. This is equivalent to $445,000 per year, over six times more than the cost of
an equivalent U.S. soldier. In total, Blackwater has received over $1 billion in federal contracts
from 2001 through 2006, including more than $832 million under two contracts with the State
Department to provide protective services in Iraq.

This isn't actually a good comparison.  Blackwater isn't, in this case, replacing soldiers.  They are rather, replacing DSS agents.  On the flip side, the base pay for General Petraeus is getting $467 per day (that's pay and allowances, assuming he is getting Housing and Separation allowances; he also gets some personal money for being a general officer, and Hostile Fire Pay.  If he's getting Separate Rations; which he shouldn't, you can add about 7 dollars to that)  He does get benefits, which the gov't isn't paying directly, and he has a pension/ongoing medical benefits when he retires.  Those costs, such as they are, belong to Blackwater, if they choose to set something up.

All in all, it seems soldiers (or DSS agents) might be a more cost effective way to go, esp. if they have better fire discipline.

And what about Mr. Prince, the 37 year old who runs the company.

He's doing well.  After he left the Navy (SEAL) his father staked him to the company, ten years ago.  In the past 6 years that investment has paid off pretty well, since Federal contracts have brought in  more than  1.024 billion dollars. The part behind the decimal point, is 24 million dollars.

Not too shabby.

That doesn't include the part of the 15 billion dollar contract they were given for drug enforcement.

But the details of the contract in Baghdad are what I want to point to.

In June 2004, Blackwater received a second, much larger no-bid contract from the State
Department known as Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS). Under this indefinite
delivery, indefinite quantity contract, Blackwater was paid to provide "protection of U.S. and/or
certain foreign govemment high level offrcials whenever the need arises." Although the
maximum value of the contract was approximately $332 million, Blackwater ultimately received more than $488 million between June 14, 2004, and June 6,2006.' Blackwater was authorized to utilize 482 staff in lraq.

On May 8,2006,the State Department awarded WPPS , the second incarnation of its
diplomatic security contract. Under this contract, the State Department awarded Blackwater and two other companies, Triple Canopy and DynCorp, contracts to provide diplomatic security in Iraq, each in separate geographic locations. Blackwater is authorized to have 1,020 staff in Iraq under this contract. The maximum value of the contract is $l.2 billion per contractor, or $3.6 billion total. Through the end of fiscal year 2006, Blackwater has received over $343 million under this contract.

So, we have spent more than a billion dollars, for a few more than 1,000 guys to be in Iraq, defending the State Dept.  I don't think, even rolling in all the benefits a DSS agent earns, it would cost that much (and if it did, the money could be set aside, and interest on the initial capital would reduce some of the pain).  We also wouldn't have the black eyes we are getting when Blackwater does a drive-by (and we don't really know if the incidents referred to are all the shootings they were engaged in).

Why, one wonders, has Blackwater gotten so much money?

The cynical among us might think this was part of the reason.

Blackwater is owned by Erik Prince. Mr. Prince is a former Navy SEAL who owns the
company through a holding company, The Prince Group, LLC. In the late 1980s, Mr. Prince
served as a White House intern under President George H.W. Bush.to Mr. Prince's father was a
prominent Michigan businessman and contributor to conservative causes. Mr. Prince's sister,
Betsy DeVos, is a former chairwoman of the Michigan Republican Party who earned the title of
Bush-Cheney "Pioneer" by arranging at least $100,000 in donations for the 2004 George W.
Bush presidential campaign." Her husband, Richard DeVos Jr., is a former Amway CEO and
was the 2006 Republican nominee for Governor of Michigan. Mr. Prince himself is a frequent
political contributor, having made over $225,000 in political contributions, including more than
$160,000 to the Republican National Committee and the National Republican Congressional
Committee.

Blackwater has hired several former senior Bush Administration officials to work for the
company. J. Cofer Black, who served as director of the CIA Counterterrorist Center from 1999
to 2002 and as a top counterterrorism offrcial at the State Department until 2004, now serves as Blackwater's vice chairman. Joseph E. Schmitz, the Inspector General for the Defense Department from 2002 to 2005, is nowgeneral counsel and chief operating officer of the Prince
Group, Blackwater's parent company.'

Go read the report.

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I have a great video my blog of Jeremy Scahill (author of "Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army") and Robert Greenwald (director of Iraq for Sale) testifying before a congressional committee on contractor abuses.

http://margalis.blogspot.com/2007/08/adventures-in-broken-governance.html

It's truly sad. The lone Republican who bothered to show up spends all his time (and he is given a lot of time) generically attacking liberals and doesn't address the subject matter at all. The Democrats seem engaged but also clueless -- they literally have no idea what is going on or what to do about it.

Here is a summary of the Republican concerns about contractors, in video form:

http://youtube.com/watch?v=10gzH-fWjX8

This is all going according to the neo-cons' revamped version of Republican play book. By privatizing services that were traditionally provided by the government, they funnel huge sums of money to their supporters while insulating these "contractors" from oversight. The resulting flow of Federal employees, military personnel, experienced intelligence officers, etc., from the public sector to private business is not part of their "free market" philosophy. Now that this "genie" has been let out off the bottle, Dems are left in a position where they can't put it back in. The Federal Government has been not only weakened substantially but left increasingly dependent on the Blackwaters of the world.

As Leslie noted, the price paid for such services is vastly greater than than when historically provided for by our government. These funds, supplied by taxpayers, are a massive reward for neo-cons' supporters supporters. There's an unspoken understanding that a percentage of these monies will be plowed back into the system to support neo-con candidates and/or causes.

If that weren't bad enough, a Democratic controlled Congress and, hopefully, a Democratic President will have to negotiate this new millennial minefield. Dems will be stuck with the responsibility of paying off the last 8 years of graft and gifts to neo-con supporters for sub par services. Payment on an unpopular war costing untold billions of dollars will commence. Dems'll be not only be greatly challenged by the public sectorto private sector brain drain but also be on the hook for increased taxes, any reduction of services (not matter how small or temporary), etc. We'll also have to contend with a Federal Government chock full of an unprecedented number of purely partisan employees. Think they'll lift a finger to assist a Democratic Congress and a Democratic Administration? Think again.

I believe most elite neo-con/Republican bucks & brains trust have given up on 2008. With such a weak field, this may be by design. They'll keep their powder dry for the next following election cycles. This allows them to spend an unprecedented amount of money while at the same time setting Democrats as the bad guys forced to cover the hundreds of billions dollars tab for . The end result will be for the 2010 & 2012 elections Dems will be successfully smeared as: "The Tax and Spend" Party (an oldie but a goodie), "The No, We Didn't Lose The Iraq War. Just Like Vietnam the Dems Pulled Out Before We Could Win It,"The Cannot Get Anything Done For The People Party,""Social Security Killers," etc. =

Republicans have successfully used less sophisticated versions of this strategy in the past. They've now honed it to a science.

It will prove to be very, very difficult for a Democratic President to be elected to a 2nd term


The Mainstream Media was shocked that Democrat Bill Clinton let contributors sleep in the Lincoln bedroom.

The billions of taxpayer dollars which the Republican Bush Admin spends on private contractors to do a job worse and more expensively than the public sector, doesn't seem to bother the Mainstream Media as much.

I'd almost forgotten about that Lincoln bedroom thing. How quaint the scandals of ten or twelve years ago seem today.

Privatizing prisons, now law enforcement, soon we'll be privatizing actual war fighting (as opposed to protective services). Progressives should make rolling back the use of mercenaries a key priority. It won't be long before Blackwater goons kill somebody in a botched drug raid.

making a large payout to the family of a guy gunned down by a drunk bodyguard was said to be too large because, Iraqis would, "try to get killed," as a result.


Those darned evildoers will stop at nothing, even suicide, to make a buck. Like the Palestinian families that FOX news assured us were all in a frenzy to cash in on the river of dough Saddam Hussein was shelling out to the families of “homicide bombers”. It’s another example of the kind of "asymmetric warfare" the illegal combatant suiciders were waging in Guantanamo. No Siree, we’re not going to reward every Iraqi with a death wish who wants to put food on his family by abandoning sacred GOP principles of fiscal responsibility to throw wergeld at the problem.

If my native land is ever reduced to such a blood-soaked hell facing a future under the rule of religious lunatics, I might be tempted to negotiate a ticket out of this world for considerably less.

Forget the MSM, it doesn't even matter what they say. Write you congressman. I realize that William S. Lind is a wing-nut but he is right at his blog "On War" "If you keep on smoking in the powder magazine, you will at some point blow it up"

Just keep in mind folks that outsourcing contracts from the government to private companies is NOT free market capitalism. It's still Big Government mugging taxpayers, only it's picking the "winners" of the marketplace instead of letting consumers decide. This is called "corporatism". It's a lot like socialism, only less humane. Now we COULD have the government doing all the hiring again, but considering the fact that we have a volunteer army, we don't have the "boots on the ground" to replace Blackwater and other contractors. Which means we might have to go back to the draft. I think we can all agree that a draft would not be a fun idea.

I think getting out of "nation building" would be a much better idea. Unfortunately this means not getting politically involved in Darfur and Myanmar. You can't have your cake and eat it too.

I wouldn't call it corporatism. Corporatism implies that the corporations have a say in the way the gov't is run.

And corporations are, somewhat, disembodied entities.

This is rather "crony capitalism". The people getting these contracts are getting them, not because the gov't thinks the corporation is good for the country, but rather because the owner of the company is a friend of the admistration.

While you correctly point out that Blackwater was involved in 194 incidents involving shooting, you fail to point out that during the same period, Blackwater employees were involved in more than 16,000 operations. In other words, the vast majority were successful.

The report you cite (prepared by Rep. Waxman's staff) also grossly overstates the amount paid to Blackwater: the $1,222 per diem figure was denied by Erik Prince today at the Capitol. Blackwater's contractual profit margin is a little over 10%, from which they still have to pay for unexpected losses such as the three helicopters that crashed this year on government service.

These facts come from http://blackblawg.blogspot.com/.

CPVS

"Just keep in mind folks that outsourcing contracts from the government is NOT free market capitalism."

Well, no kidding. The vast majority of so-called "free marketers" in power have always been corporatists, and always will be; they just found a more effective way to market themselves in a democracy. The rest are, in the main, just ideological airheads.

And no, getting rid of mercenaries wouldn't necessitate a draft, but it would mean an end to large-scale colonial wars; not at all a bad thing, I think. And for that very reason, of course, those mercenaries aren't going anywhere.

CPVS: One might note, for the sake of openess, and honesty; who, is running that fluff-site and why.

I don't give a damn how many "operations" Blackwater defines as successful. Even giving them the benefit of all doubts, their definition of success isn't mine.

Me, I define success in a PPD as 1: the subject isn't harmed. So far so good.

Secondarily, I look at the reaction of others to he protection offered the subject. They fail; no ifs, ands or buts. They fail.

When the protection of the subject makes more people want to attack the subject, that's a failure.

When the PPD is in support of another mission (in this case "victory" in Iraq) and the reaction of the populace is to have a lower opinion of the US; as a direct result of the actions of the PPD Blackwater is providing, that's a failure.

Since the contracts Blackwater has gained are worth 1.024 billon, you are telling me that for a (listed) employee base (total; which is generous, given that the Congressional figures are a simple equation: Money paid/persons reported on the roll = $1,222 per deiem) they had business related expenses of almost 1 billion dollars?

Where did the money go?

I listend to some of Prince's testimony. I like the bit where the guy who shot the VP of Iraq's guard; while drunk, was shipped to the states, fired; reported to the DOJ (in Iraq) and that such shootings were, "against policy".

"We can't detain him" Right. You could if you didn't fire him. Station him inside the Green Zone; at a desk, unarmed, and let the Wheels of Justice grind.

No, instead he was sent back to the states (where there's no obvious jurisdiction; and pursuing the case would be bad publicity for the Administration) and let go his merry way. All the while Blackwater get to claim "we did all we could do." All they could do was aid and abet a murder suspect flee prosecution.

So no, Mr. Prince's assurances that all of this is smoke a mirrors vendetta of a purely political nature against a company doing only what it was paid to do (and doing a damned fine job of it to boot) strikes me as less credible than Clinton wagging his finger and saying he didn't have sex with that woman.

It might be true, in a technical sense; but it's a base lie when the facts are examined in context.

You mileage, obviously, varies.

While you correctly point out that Blackwater was involved in 194 incidents involving shooting, you fail to point out that during the same period, Blackwater employees were involved in more than 16,000 operations. In other words, the vast majority were successful.

While my local police have charged me with 3 hit-and-runs, 4 DWI's, and one drive-by shooting, over the last year, they fail to point out that during the same period, I drove my car 650 times without committing a crime. In other words, the vast majority of my car trips were successful. I eagerly await my pardon.

Seriously, is the fact that they don't carry out drive-by shootings every single time they get into their vehicles really supposed to be a stunning defnse of Blackwater? I mean, good for them, I guess, but I'd like to set our standards a little higher.

hehe love the analogy Autumn Harvest. Seriously, citizen soldiers are the only soldiers that should be employed by a healthy representative democracy (geez the d- word is such a stretch these days). Don't just stop using Blackwater, shut them down and confiscate their assets. Everyone is so quick to forget the chaos in Africa that resulted from mercenary armies, and that's just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to dogs of war. Dangerous territory.....

Cass,

Thanks for the comment. The site I quoted from is apparently by some person or persons who are more interested in the truth about Blackwater than the popular liberal spin about Blackwater. I might well ask about the motivations of certain other bloggers on this subject.

I think you might need to present some evidence for your later claims, however.

HawaiiAtheist,

I'm intrigued that you disagree with Democratic representative Diane Watson, who proposed during the testimony that Blackwater does such a good job in Iraq that they ought to be training government employees in VIP protection.

Well, she also said this:


"I am totally opposed to mercenaries taking our jobs and our pay. They do not come under many of the rules of engagement; they have immunity in certain areas; and, when they outright murder, then they have no responsibility. I would say this war has been misdirected, mismanaged, and scandalous."

Link

CVPS, I believe you're responding to pecunium.

I will chime in now although Dock and Pecunium probably wish I wouldn't.

Seems to me that all the money they are spending on these ass clowns could be better spent on pay raises for soldiers, better equipment/armor for soldiers, a raise in hazardous duty pay, and for a higher re-enlistment bonus than maybe the recruiters would be able to fill boots and the military wouldn't be losing soldiers that leave the armed forces to work for these companies.

Cass,

Whoops, you're right. Sorry.

One thing I might offer about your remarks is that it isn't correct to call Blackwater's employees mercenaries. "Mercenary" is a term that's well-defined in international law: http://fairreporting.typepad.com/my_weblog/2007/10/using-the-word-.html

Dock Miles,

At the risk of stating the obvious, that's where I'm going to differ with the gentlewoman from California. Contrary to what she believes, PSCs such as Blackwater actually have to follow "rules of force" (ROF). Also, the hearing today wasn't on any alleged mismanagement of the war, it was about Blackwater and PSCs. So her remarks aren't really apropos.

In the vast majority of instances in which Blackwater fires shots, Blackwater is firing
from a moving vehicle and does not remain at the scene to determine if the shots resulted in
casualties.

To be fair, the Army doesn't usually stick around after an engagement either.

To put this in some perspective, the other two companies which provide support for the State Dept. (Blackwater's only, declared, employer in Iraq... though they have, it seems, been "engaging in tactical military operations with U.S. forces.") don't have as many shooting incidents, combined.

How does this compare with the number of employees they have out on the ground?

I particularly like the comment that making a large (how does one define large?) payout to the family of a guy gunned down by a drunk bodyguard was said to be too large because, Iraqis would, "try to get killed," as a result.

That's not as idiotic as it may seem. A culture which produces suicide bombers will probably also produce people who will commit suicide for more altruistic purposes.

I agree, though, that these mercenaries are a bunch of overprices amateurs, and when I was in Iraq, I found it positively insulting that they were doing jobs that _should_ have been done by real Soldiers.

General Petraeus is getting $467 per day (that's pay and allowances, assuming he is getting Housing and Separation allowances; he also gets some personal money for being a general officer, and Hostile Fire Pay. If he's getting Separate Rations; which he shouldn't, you can add about 7 dollars to that)

Shouldn't, but he probably is. :-P

>Also, the hearing today wasn't on any alleged mismanagement of the war, it was about Blackwater and PSCs. So her remarks aren't really apropos.

At the risk of stating the obvious, I will point out that Blackwater and PSCs are part of the mismanagement of the war and so bringing it up was entirely apropos.

CPVS, fine they are not mercenaries, they are contractors with guns hired to do a job that used to be done by an arm of the State Department. If diplomats have to be sent into war zones (and they do, they expect to) then they should be protected by their own and not random trained gunsells.

Contrary to what she believes, PSCs such as Blackwater actually have to follow "rules of force"

CPVS, would you mind clarifying this? What rules govern the behavior of Blackwater employees in Iraq, and more importantly, who is in charge of enforcing them, and under what circumstances have Blackwater employees actually faced penalties as a consequence of violating these rules?

(Needless to say, the later questions are crucial, since a rule that is not enforced, or that depends on self-enforcement, is not a rule at all. Pecunium has already pointed out in his/her earlier thread, unenforced sections of the USC that would apply to contractors in Iraq.)

Autumn Harvest: The answer to your question is... there are no, practical, restrictions on the use of force by Blackwater, or any other contractor.

Until, and unless, the Iraqi Gov't repudiates Order 17, contractors are exempt from any prosecution under Iraqi law. The, general, opinion of the US DoJ is that crimes committed in Iraq are not subject to US Jurisdiction. USC 18 Part 1 Ch. 118 § 2441 only applies to War Crimes.

I think, reading it, and the accounts of the events, for example, the contractor who shot the Iraqi VP's guard isn't chargeable because it was simple murder, and so not a violation.

So the only, real, sanction which can be imposed is by the State Dept., as the employer, and they have shown a decided lack of will to do that.

If/when the Iraqis repudiate Order 17, the question gets stickier. It may be that Blackwater, et al., employed by State get grants of Diplomatic Immunity. At that point the Gov't of Iraq can't prosecute (absent consent from the State Dept./US gov't) but they can declare those who violate Iraqi law personae non grata.

On the flip side, when they tried to do that over the Sept. shootings, the State Dept. strongarmed them into letting Blackwater stay. That didn't help the Iraqi gov't, because it makes it seem they are still not soveriegn. That, again, goes to my belief that, no matter how well they protect the bodies of the people hiring them, they are reducing the overall success of the mission and good politics demands that they be replaced.

Moral factors would demand a real investigation of alleged violations of the War Crimes Act of 1996.

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