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A James Risen scoop over in NYT on how a warning on Blackwater in Iraq prior to the 2007 Nisour Square shooting that killed 17 civilians was ignored by the State Department. Quick excerpt:
State Department investigators arrived in Baghdad on Aug. 1, 2007, to begin a monthlong review of Blackwater’s operations, the situation became volatile. Internal State Department documents, which were turned over to plaintiffs in a lawsuit against Blackwater that was unrelated to the Nisour Square shooting, provide details of what happened.
It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater.
The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.
The investigators concluded that Blackwater was getting away with such conduct because embassy personnel had gotten too close to the contractor.
The next day, the two men met with Daniel Carroll, Blackwater’s project manager in Iraq, to discuss the investigation, including a complaint over food quality and sanitary conditions at a cafeteria in Blackwater’s compound. Mr. Carroll barked that Mr. Richter could not tell him what to do about his cafeteria, Mr. Richter’s report said. The Blackwater official went on to threaten the agent and say he would not face any consequences, according to Mr. Richter’s later account.
Mr. Carroll said “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq,” Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.
Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.
“We interviewed a large number of individuals,” Mr. Kennedy said. “We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the embassy had suppressed in any way.”
Read in full Mr. Risen’s piece, Before Shooting in Iraq, a Warning on Blackwater.
Click here for text of the teleconference call on October 23, 2007 with then State Department Spokesman Sean McCormack and Ambassador Patrick F. Kennedy on the Report of the Secretary of State’s Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq. The Q and A below:
QUESTION: Hi, this is Brian Bennett from Time magazine. I’m wondering in these reviews — why this review wasn’t done earlier, complaints about contractor conduct have been relayed to Ambassador Khalilzad, tocharge d’affaires Margaret Scobey, to Ambassador Crocker. And I’m wondering if in looking into this you had found any communiqus that have gone out of the Embassy into main State in the months prior to the September 16th incident about concerns about contractor conduct and why wasn’t – why it took an event like September 16th for these concerns to be addressed?
AMBASSADOR KENNEDY: We — when you look through the report you’ll see that we interviewed a large number — large number of individuals. We did not find any, I think, significant pattern of incidents that had not — that the Embassy had suppressed in any way. No one told us that they had — that they had made reports to the Embassy that had been suppressed.
We found the Panel’s 2007 report (see below). The Panel was composed of Eric Boswell, George Joulwan, J. Stapleton Roy and Patrick F. Kennedy. Appended at the end of the report are the list of interviewees, which includes the acting RSO named in the NYT report. It does not, however, include the names of the Blackwater project manager, or Jean C. Richter, the Diplomatic Security special agent nor Donald Thomas Jr., the State Department management analyst. According to the NYT, Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for its article.
Mr. Richter’s report that the private security firm’s manager there had threatened to kill him, an episode that occurred just weeks before Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Nisour Square is available here via NYT. We note also that Ambassador Kennedy was appointed Under Secretary of State for Management (M) on November 6, 2007. Prior to assuming his position as “M,” he was Director of the Office of Management Policy, Rightsizing, and Innovation (M/PRI) from May 2007.
Read the Secretary of State’s Report on Personal Protective Service Details from 2007:
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- Trial Begins for Blackwater Guards Over Baghdad Massacre (commondreams.org)
- Blackwater Guards Finally To Be Tried For Killing 14 Iraqi Civilians (thesleuthjournal.com)
- Trying to Salvage Remains of Blackwater Case (nytimes.com)
- Blackwater guards lose bid to appeal charges in Iraqi civilian shooting case (guardian.co.uk)
- What Blackwater Founder Erik Prince Learned About the Business of War (businessweek.com)
- Nisour Square (talkingpointsmemo.com)
- In U.S. Court, Iraqis Accusing Blackwater of Murders in ’07 (rss.nytimes.com)
- Charges Prompt Iraqis to Look Into Blackwater (nytimes.com)
- Blackwater Guards Were Under Attack, Defense Lawyers Say (online.wsj.com)