Private security guards working for Blackwater USA participated in clandestine CIA raids against suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported Thursday.
Blackwater's role points to a much deeper connection between the company and the spy agency than has been previously disclosed and raises concerns over the legalities of involving contractors in the most sensitive operations conducted by the U.S. government.
The "snatch and grab" raids took place regularly between 2004 and 2006, the Times reported, when the insurgency in Iraq was escalating and security throughout the country was deteriorating.
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Asked for comment on the report, CIA spokesman George Little did not confirm the role that the Times said Blackwater played but defended the use of contractors on intelligence missions.
"This agency, like many others, uses contractors in roles that complement and enhance the skills of our own workforce, just as American law permits," Little said late Thursday. "Agency staff officers have the decision-making authority and bear responsibility for results."
Blackwater, based in Moyock, N.C., changed its corporate name to Xe Services after a series of use-of-force controversies, including a September 2007 shooting in Baghdad by five company security guards that left 17 civilians dead.
The Times also reported that former Blackwater employees said they helped provide security on CIA flights that transported detainees.
Messages seeking comment left with Xe representatives were not immediately returned late Thursday.
The report comes as the House Intelligence Committee is investigating the agency's hiring of Blackwater to be part of a program to kill or capture al-Qaida leaders. The death squad program had several lives over an eight-year period before it was canceled in June by current CIA Director Leon Panetta. The CIA has said the effort yielded no successes.
The CIA has been reducing its reliance on the use of contractors over the past few years.
The Sept. 11, 2001, attacks occurred after a contraction of the CIA in the post-Cold War period and which compelled the agency to hire contractors to rapidly fill its ranks for the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
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