Thursday, August 20, 2009

CIA hired Blackwater for assassin program


Middle East Online, First Published 2009-08-20



Blackwater changes its name to Xe after Iraq murders

Republicans ‘deeply concerned’ as US Attorney General poised to look into abuses by CIA interrogators.

WASHINGTON – The CIA hired the security firm Blackwater in 2004 as part of its secret program to find and kill suspected terrorists, US media said Thursday, citing current and former intelligence officials.

The program, on which the Central Intelligence Agency spent several million dollars, was cut before launching any missions and the hiring of an outside company was a major reason that CIA director Leon Panetta moved to cancel it, the New York Times said.

Shortly after learning about the effort in June, Panetta pulled the plug and briefed lawmakers on details of the program, of which they had not been informed since 2001.

Citing government officials, the Times said the CIA had separate agreements with top Blackwater executives for the outsourcing, as opposed to a formal contract with the whole firm.

The State Department cut ties with Blackwater following ongoing allegations of abuse in Iraq. The North Carolina-based company renamed itself Xe after the Iraq government banned it in January over killing civilians in Baghdad’s Nisur Square on September 16, 2007.

It had been given “operational responsibility” for the targeting program, according to the Washington Post, which noted the covert effort was canceled before any missions were conducted.

Before the program was cut, however, the private security firm had already been awarded “millions of dollars for training and weaponry,” according to the Post.

“Outsourcing gave the agency more protection in case something went wrong,” said an unnamed intelligence official close to program, quoted by daily.

Republicans denounce possible CIA interrogator probe

A group of Republican US senators sharply warned Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday against launching a formal probe into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“Such an investigation could have a number of serious consequences, not just for the honorable members of the intelligence community, but also for the security of all Americans,” the lawmakers wrote in a letter to Holder.

Republican Senators Jon Kyl, the party’s number two in the Senate; Kit Bond, co-chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee; and Jeff Sessions, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee were among the nine signers.

The lawmakers said they were “deeply concerned” by media reports that Holder was poised to name a special prosecutor to look into alleged abuses by CIA interrogators of suspected terrorists.

“There is little doubt that further investigations and potential prosecutions of CIA officials would chill future intelligence activities,” the senators warned.

“The intelligence community will be left to wonder whether actions taken today in the interest of national security will be subject to legal recriminations when the political winds shift,” the senators said.

Holder may be close to announcing a probe focused on whether interrogators went beyond torture – authorized by former president George W. Bush’s administration, according to news accounts.

Bush’s Republican allies and some Democrats have argued that rank-and-file interrogators acted in good faith and followed directives from higher ups in using techniques, like “waterboarding” suspects, and obtained valuable information.

Some former intelligence officials have challenged that claim, saying that harsh tactics elicited no better information than traditional approaches.

And human rights groups have called for formal investigations into charges of torture, which violates US law.

So far, US President Barack Obama has resisted calls from some congressional Democrats to establish a “truth and reconciliation” panel to look into alleged abuses.

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