The Central Intelligence Agency hired personnel from the security firm Blackwater USA to help find and kill leaders of al-Qaida, according to a report in The New York Times.
The CIA and other U.S. intelligence agencies have outsourced increasing numbers of significant tasks in recent years, including prisoner interrogation. But using a private concern to help assassinate terrorists raised a lot of eyebrows.
CIA Director Leon Panetta certainly was concerned. He convened an emergency gathering with Congress in June to reveal that the agency kept details of the program secret for seven years, current and former government officials told the Times.
Blackwater’s role was planning, training, and surveillance. It’s not clear whether the CIA actually sought to have Blackwater personnel capture or kill al-Qaida bigwigs.
The CIA doled out several million dollars for the program, which didn’t end up seizing or killing any suspected terrorists.
Blackwater has received some criticism for its aggressive methods protecting American diplomats in Iraq. In particular, the company was accused of going too far when it killed 17 civilians during a 2007 shootout in Baghdad.
After that, the Iraq government revoked the firm’s operating license.
Blackwater, which has changed its name to Xe Services, has played a key role in Iraq, garnering millions of dollars in government contracts. The Bush administration called the company a vital part of its military operation.
The CIA didn’t have a formal contract with Blackwater for the assassination program, officials told the Times. Instead, it had separate accords with top company brass, including founder Erik Prince.
Blackwater’s participation in the program ceased years before Panetta’s tenure began at the CIA this year. That was because CIA bigwigs themselves felt awkward about outsourcing tasks related to assassination.
A retired intelligence official with deep knowledge of the program explained to The Washington Post why Blackwater was brought in: "Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong."
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