WASHINGTON — Private security guards from Blackwater Worldwide participated in some of the C.I.A.’s most sensitive activities — clandestine raids with agency officers against people suspected of being insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan and the transporting of detainees, according to former company employees and intelligence officials.
raids against suspects occurred on an almost nightly basis during the
height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, with Blackwater
personnel playing central roles in what company insiders called “snatch
and grab” operations, the former employees and current and former
intelligence officers said.
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Khalid Mohammed/Associated Press
In 2007, an Iraqi traffic police officer inspected a destroyed car in a
square in Baghdad, where Blackwater guards killed 17 people in an
incident that stirred outrage among Iraqis.
Several former Blackwater guards
said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that
the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the
military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing
security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times
became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and
Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for
hire on the battlefield.
Separately, former Blackwater
employees said they helped provide security on some C.I.A. flights
transporting detainees in the years after the 2001 terror attacks in
the United States.
The secret missions illuminate a far deeper
relationship between the spy agency and the private security company
than government officials had acknowledged. Blackwater’s partnership
with the C.I.A. has been enormously profitable for the North
Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency
officials joined Blackwater.
“It became a very brotherly
relationship,” said one former top C.I.A. officer. “There was a feeling
that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency.”
Little, a C.I.A. spokesman, would not comment on Blackwater’s ties to
the agency. But he said the C.I.A. employs contractors to “enhance the
skills of our own work force, just as American law permits.”
give you flexibility in shaping and managing your talent mix —
especially in the short term — but the accountability’s still yours,”
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Blackwater, said
Thursday that it was never under contract to participate in clandestine
raids with the C.I.A. or with Special Operations personnel in Iraq,
Afghanistan or anywhere else.
Blackwater’s role in the secret
operations raises concerns about the extent to which private security
companies, hired for defensive guard duty, have joined in offensive
military and intelligence operations.
Representative Rush D. Holt,
a New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Intelligence
Oversight Panel, said in an interview that “the use of contractors in
intelligence and paramilitary operations is a scandal waiting to be
examined.” While he declined to comment on specific operations, Mr.
Holt said that the use of contractors in such operations “got way out
of hand.” He added, “It’s been very troubling to a lot of people.”
now known as Xe Services, has come under intense criticism for what
Iraqis have described as reckless conduct by its security guards, and
the company lost its lucrative State Department contract to provide
diplomatic security for the United States Embassy in Baghdad earlier
this year after a 2007 shooting that left 17 Iraqi civilians dead.
ties to the C.I.A. have emerged in recent months, beginning with
disclosures in The New York Times that the agency had hired the company
as part of a program to assassinate leaders of Al Qaeda and to assist in the C.I.A.’s Predator drone program in Afghanistan and Pakistan.
Leon E. Panetta,
the C.I.A. director, recently initiated an internal review examining
all Blackwater contracts with the agency to ensure that the company was
performing no missions that were “operational in nature,” according to
one government official.
Five former Blackwater employees and
four current and former American intelligence officials interviewed for
this article would speak only on condition of anonymity because
Blackwater’s activities for the agency were secret and former employees
feared repercussions from the company. The employees said they
participated in the raids or had direct knowledge of them.
with the former officials, they provided few details about the targets
of the raids in Iraq and Afghanistan, although they said that many of
the Iraq raids were directed against members of Al Qaeda in Mesopotamia.
To corroborate the claims of the company’s involvement, a former
Blackwater security guard provided photographs to The Times that he
said he took during the raids. They showed detainees and armed men whom
he and a former company official identified as Blackwater employees.
The former intelligence officials said that Blackwater’s work with the
C.I.A. in Iraq and Afghanistan had grown out of its early contracts
with the spy agency to provide security for the C.I.A. stations in both
In the spring of 2002, Erik Prince, the founder of
Blackwater, offered to help the spy agency guard its makeshift Afghan
station in the Ariana Hotel in Kabul. Not long after Mr. Prince signed
the security contract with Alvin B. Krongard, then the C.I.A.’s
third-ranking official, dozens of Blackwater personnel — many of them
former members of units of the Navy Seals or Army Delta Force — were sent to provide perimeter security for the C.I.A. station.
the company’s role soon changed as Blackwater operatives began
accompanying C.I.A. case officers on missions, according to former
employees and intelligence officials.
A similar progression
happened in Iraq, where Blackwater was first hired for “static
security” of the Baghdad station. In addition, Blackwater was charged
with providing personal security for C.I.A. officers wherever they
traveled in the two countries. That meant that Blackwater personnel
accompanied the officers even on offensive operations sometimes begun
in conjunction with Delta Force or Navy Seals teams.
senior C.I.A. official said that Blackwater’s role expanded in 2005 as
the Iraqi insurgency intensified. Fearful of the death or capture of
one of its officers, the agency banned officers from leaving the Green
Zone in Baghdad without security escorts, the official said.
gave Blackwater greater influence over C.I.A. clandestine operations,
since company personnel helped decide the safest way to conduct the
The former American intelligence officials said that
Blackwater guards were supposed to only provide perimeter security
during raids, leaving it up to C.I.A. officers and Special Operations
military personnel to capture or kill suspected insurgents or other
“They were supposed to be the outer layer of the onion,
out on the perimeter,” said one former Blackwater official of the
security guards. Instead, “they were the drivers and the gunslingers,”
said one former intelligence official.
But in the chaos of the
operations, the roles of Blackwater, C.I.A., and military personnel
sometimes merged. Former C.I.A. officials said that Blackwater guards
often appeared eager to get directly involved in the operations.
Experts said that the C.I.A.’s use of contractors in clandestine
operations falls into a legal gray area because of the vagueness of
language laying out what tasks only government employees may perform.
P.W. Singer, an expert in contracting at the Brookings Institution,
said that the types of jobs that have been outsourced in recent years
make a mockery of regulations about “inherently governmental”
“We keep finding functions that have been outsourced
that common sense, let alone U.S. government policy, would argue should
not have been handed over to a private company,” he said. “And yet we
do it again, and again, and again.”
According to one former
Blackwater manager, the company’s involvement with the C.I.A. raids was
“widely known” by Blackwater executives. “It was virtually continuous,
and hundreds of guys were involved, rotating in and out,” over a period
of several years, the former Blackwater manager said.
former Blackwater guard recalled a meeting in Baghdad in 2004 in which
Erik Prince addressed a group of Blackwater guards working with the
C.I.A. At the meeting in an air hangar used by Blackwater, the guard
said, Mr. Prince encouraged the Blackwater personnel “to do whatever it
takes” to help the C.I.A. with the intensifying insurgency, the former
But it is not clear whether top C.I.A. officials
in Washington knew or approved of the involvement by Blackwater
officials in raids or whether only lower-level officials in Baghdad
were aware of what happened on the ground.
The new details of
Blackwater’s involvement in Iraq come at a time when the House
Intelligence Committee is investigating the company’s role in the
C.I.A.’s assassination program, and a federal grand jury in North
Carolina is investigating a wide range of allegations of illegal
activity by Blackwater and its personnel, including gun running to Iraq.
Several former Blackwater personnel said that Blackwater guards
involved in the C.I.A. raids used weapons, including sawed-off M-4
automatic weapons with silencers, that were not approved for use by
private contractors. In separate interviews, former Blackwater security
personnel also said they were handpicked by senior Blackwater officials
on several occasions to participate in secret flights transporting
detainees around war zones.
They said that during the flights, teams of about 10 Blackwater personnel provided security over the detainees.
group of individuals were selected who could manage detainees without
the use of lethal force,” said one former Blackwater guard who
participated in one of the flights.
Intelligence officials deny
that the agency has ever used Blackwater to fly high-value detainees in
and out of secret C.I.A. prisons that were shut down earlier this year.
Mr. Corallo, the Blackwater spokesman, said that company personnel were
never involved in C.I.A. “rendition flights,” which transferred
terrorism suspects to other countries for interrogation.