leon panetta, cia director, cia
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
CIA Director Leon Panetta speaks with reporters at CIA Headquarters in Langley, Va., on
Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2009.

Blackwater Implicated in CIA’s Al-Qaida Assassination Plan

August 21, 2009 05:00 PM
by Liz Colville
Blackwater, a private company contracted by the U.S. government for security work during the war in Iraq, was involved in the CIA’s recently abandoned plan to assassinate al-Qaida operatives.

Blackwater Was in Charge of Remote Drones

In 2004, Blackwater, now known as Xe Services, operated "remotely piloted drones to kill Al Qaeda leaders" under assignment by the CIA, The New York Times reports. The Times, citing "government officials and current and former employees" of Blackwater, writes that Blackwater's tasks were "previously performed by employees" of the CIA. The company based its mission in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

The news comes several weeks after current CIA chief Leon Panetta revealed the existence of the CIA assassination plan, which Congress had not been briefed on, and which he scrapped soon after taking office. 

The House Intelligence Committee released a letter in early July that discussed the CIA operation. The letter, from seven Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee, “asked [Panetta] to publicly admit that his agency had deceived Congress for several years,” U.S. News and World Report’s Queenie Wong writes.

Blackwater's connection to the project is important because it "highlights the degree to which the CIA now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency's most important assignments," The Times adds.

It is also controversial because of Blackwater's implication in the 2007 killings of 17 unarmed Iraqi civilians after a car bomb explosion in Baghdad's Nisour Square. Five Blackwater security guards were charged with manslaughter in late 2008 for those deaths, The Economist writes, and a "sixth employee has already pleaded guilty."
Shedding light on military contracting in Afghanistan, The Economist mentions a report by a bipartisan group in Congress called the Commission on Wartime Contracting in Iraq and Afghanistan, which suggests that "[t]raining for Afghanistan’s security contractors is weak and efforts to monitor them are disjointed."

Further, The Economist adds, the "main body charged with supervising contractors in Afghanistan is also a contractor."

Michael V. Hayden, the former CIA director, defended the hiring of contractors by saying, "There are skills we don’t have in government that we may have an immediate requirement for.” He was quoted by the Times during an Aug. 20 panel discussion on privatized intelligence.

Indeed, Blackwater was awarded "a no-bid contract for diplomatic security services" by the State Department in 2004, the reason being that the department was in a "massive time-crunch," Talking Points Memo wrote in 2007, because the U.S.-created Coalition Provisional Authority that ran the Iraqi government from 2003 to 2004 was in the midst of dissolution.

Blackwater was "already on the ground," thus available for such a contract, though a State Department official admitted during a House Oversight Committee hearing in October 2007 that the department "didn't like" awarding a "sole-source contract" to the company. It was later revealed that Blackwater overbilled the government "for an undisclosed amount of money," Talking Points Memo adds in a related article.

Next: CIA Assassination Plan Reflects Agency's Controversial Role

Most Recent Beyond The Headlines