Would Blackwater Be Beta Dog Now?

Iraq to Deny New License To Blackwater Security Firm, WaPo reports (January 29, 2009; A12). The Iraqi government has informed the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad that it will not issue a new operating license to Blackwater Worldwide, the embassy’s primary security company, which has come under scrutiny for allegedly using excessive force while protecting American diplomats, Iraqi and U.S. officials said Wednesday.

I don’t think this is a totally unexpected development. I think folks have been waiting for this shoe to drop for a while now.

Quick review of the protective services contracts:

March 2000
– Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS-I) Contract
(former Yugoslavia)
DynCorp International

July 2002
– WPPS-I (expanded) Palestinian Territories
DynCorp International

November 2002
– WPPS-I (expanded) Afghanistan
DynCorp International

– WPPS-II Contract Iraq
Blackwater USA (Baghdad and Hillah)
DynCorp (Erbil and Kirkuk)
Triple Canopy (Tallil and Basra)

– WPPS-III (contract to be awarded early 2009?)

The OIG reports that “there have been no assessments or analysis to determine the personal protective service requirements in Iraq, including how many security personnel to employ, where they should be deployed, or the level and manner of protection given the threat in particular locations. The Office of Inspector General (OIG) noted several instances that raised concerns over the efficient deployment of contractor security assets.”

The concerns it cited over efficient deployment are as follows:

  • In Tallil in 2007, there were no security protection movements for more than six consecutive months despite having between 30 to 53 security specialists stationed there.
  • At the Basra Regional Embassy Office, chief of mission personnel had engaged in five security movements since January 2008 off the Air Base, and as of late-September 2008, approximately 113 security specialists, support staff, and guard force personnel were assigned there.
  • In August 2008, at the mostly vacated Kirkuk Regional Embassy Office, the OIG team observed that 14 private security specialists and guard force personnel were assigned to protect one Foreign Service administrative officer.

That infamous shooting at Nisur Square involved 19 private security specialists, in four heavily armed trucks transporting a USAID protectee. I’m not begrudging the protection afforded COM personnel in Iraq but how effectively can they really do their jobs if they are delivered and extracted by troops of armed guards to/from their every meeting point? And considering that we have people who want us dead there, aren’t the other parties in these meetings put at risk simply by meeting US officials? No answers, just questions …

According to the OIG, Department security officials have also stated there were no plans to conduct an overall assessment of the security requirements in Iraq before the solicitation and awarding of WPPS III contract. Why not? I’m scratching my head here, why not?

Wouldn’t it make sense to find out how many you need before you contract out those services? While at it, perhaps the new administration can put rightsizing the embassy in Baghdad in somebody’s top must-do list, too (please not HR)? With transparency in the air, it’s about time we see some sunlight on the logic of the staffing pattern there.

In any case, Blackwater is the largest provider of private security specialists, administrative and support staff, and guard force for the State Department, so this development has the potential to significantly impact what State can do in Iraq. Unless, Blackwater buys a stake either/both in DynCorp or Triple Canopy, and be the beta dog or the two other companies hire the former BW guards.

Or there is this …

U.S. Attorney Jeffrey Taylor said during the indictment of the Blackwater guards on December 8:

As set forth in the indictment, the five defendants were all employed by the Armed Forces outside the United States. Specifically, the defendants worked as independent contractors and employees of Blackwater Worldwide, a company contracted by the Department of State to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq, within the meaning of the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act, or MEJA.

This indictment represents the first prosecution under MEJA to be filed against non-Defense Department private contractors, which was not possible prior to 2004 amendments that specifically expanded the reach of MEJA to non-Defense Department contractors who provide services, quote, “in support of the mission of the Department of Defense overseas” end quote.

So apparently — these guards were contracted by the State Department “to provide personal security services related to supporting the Department of Defense in the Republic of Iraq.” If that is the case, if State is supporting DOD in Iraq, then perhaps the time has come for Hill and Bob to have that MOU for DOD to provide security protection for our embassy personnel?

BTW, am I the only one confused by that attorney’s convoluted reasoning about why these guys are covered by the MEJA? On December 12, the Congressional Research Service writes that “As the term is defined in the agreement, “U.S. contractors and their employees” only applies to contractors that are operating under a contract/subcontract with or for the United States Forces. Therefore, U.S. contractors operating in Iraq under contract to other U.S. departments/agencies are not subject to the terms of the SOFA and are, arguably, immune from Iraqi civil and criminal jurisdiction as long as CPA Order 17 remains in effect.”

Since CPA Order 17 have not been rescinded when the SOFA was signed, doesn’t it stand within reason that it was in effect prior to the signing of the SOFA, and thus still covered the now indicted guards? I don’t know if these guards are guilty or not, I don’t know them from Adam, never met any of them — but I have some Vulcan blood; I like logic served cold.

Related Items:

OIG: Review of Diplomatic Security’s Management of Personal Protective Services in Iraq
(January 2009)

CRS: U.S. – Iraq Withdrawal: Status of Forces Agreement: Issues for Congressional Oversight
December 12, 2008

OIG: Status of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq Report Recommendations
(December 2008)