The CIA has awarded a $100 million dollar contract to the controversial American security firm previously called Blackwater. The company had been re-named Xe Services. Blackwater made headlines in 2007 over allegations that its employees killed seventeen civilians in an incident in Baghdad. The CIA says it awarded the contract because the company has cleaned up its act. And Xe Services came in with the lowest bid. The World’s Jason Margolis has more. (Photo: PATRICK BAZ/AFP/Getty Images)
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DAVID BARON: I’m David Baron and this is The World. The CIA is taking heat for a new contract it signed with the controversial firm Xe Services. You may know it by its former name, Blackwater. Guards working for Blackwater killed civilians in Iraq and were perceived as operating with a “cowboy mentality”. Now the CIA has agreed to pay Xe Services 100 million dollars to provide security services at two U.S. consulates in Afghanistan. The CIA says that Xe has cleaned up its act and underbid the competition. The World’s Jason Margolis prepared our story.
JASON MARGOLIS: It was just two and a half years ago, the chief executive of Blackwater was hauled before Congress to answer some tough questions. Democrats like Dennis Kucinich portrayed Blackwater as an overpaid private army.
DENNIS KUNCINICH: From 2004 on the amount of taxpayer dollars Blackwater was awarded by the administration began to go through the roof. From about 48 million in 2004 to 350 million in 2005 to over 500 million last year. This is really an unprecedented rate of increase and I want to understand how this happened.
MARGOLIS: U.S. government contracts for Blackwater’s security services started to dry up in Iraq at the end of 2007. That’s when five Blackwater guards were accused of killing 17 unarmed Iraqis. Iraq banned the company from working there in 2009. Now, Blackwater is back in the game. Ray McGovern is a former senior analyst from the CIA. He condemns the new contract to hire Blackwater in Afghanistan.
RAY MCGOVERN: Well I believe it reflects a complete lack of understanding of how Blackwater is viewed around the world. The massacre there in 2007 speaks volumes. Many of those people have been indicted and yet they’re given this contract because ostensibly they’re the low bidder? The lack of respect for human opinion is really striking here.
MARGOLIS: The security firm may still be widely reviled, but David Isenberg argues that Blackwater, now Xe Services, gets the job done. Isenberg is author of the book “Shadow Force: Private Security Contractors in Iraq”. He says the CIA simply doesn’t have many alternatives for security beyond Xe Services.
DAVID ISENBERG: It’s a little bit like using a courier service. What’ the slogan for Federal Express? When it absolutely, positively has to be there overnight. And when you’re absolutely, positively have to have a private security firm that you know is going to get your guy to his or her destination alive, unharmed; you at least think of, if not actually award to, a firm like Xe Services/Blackwater.
MARGOLIS: Isenberg says that Xe Services/Blackwater has cleaned up its act in the past couple of years. The company’s controversial chief executive has stepped down. The company has also become more transparent and enacted anti-corruption measures. Isenberg says yes, the company had more problems than other security outfits. But Xe Services also has made more efforts to improve and he says the derogatory labels attached to private security guards and unfair.
ISENBERG: Take your term of opprobrium, jack booted thugs, thinly veiled mercenaries, blood thirsty wackos, you know, for the most part they’re people with skill sets trying to do a job in onerous, dangerous conditions and they deserve a lot of credit for it.
MARGOLIS: some people will never like the idea of hiring out private security guards in war zones, but Isenberg argues that’s the new reality. It’s been happening since the Cold War ended.
ISENBERG: There’s this huge mismatch between American geopolitical ambitions and resources.
MARGOLIS: As a result, says CIA analyst Ray McGovern, the White House and the Pentagon can’t carry out all the foreign operations they’d like to with the manpower at hand.
MCGOVERN: And so they go to contractors who are making, number one, a whole bunch of money and number two, cannot be depended upon to give the accurate story on what’s going on in these places, nor can they be depended upon to win hearts and minds if that’s what we’re really after in Afghanistan.
MARGOLIS: It’s not clear exactly how many private contractors are working in Afghanistan and Iraq. They may number up to 200,000. They do everything from laundry to driving trucks to carrying guns while acting as body guards. For The World, I’m Jason Margolis.
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