Top executives at Blackwater Worldwide authorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy their support after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.
Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests over the deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about reckless practices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’s ouster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused an operating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and private clients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.
The four former Blackwater executives, who had held high-ranking posts at the company, would speak only on condition of anonymity. Two of them said they took part in talks about the payments; the two others said they had been told by several Blackwater officials about the discussions. In agreeing to describe those conversations, the four officials said that they were troubled by a pattern of questionable conduct by Blackwater, which had led them to leave the company.
A senior State Department official said that American diplomats were not aware of any payoffs to Iraqi officials.
Of course the US government was blind to this - they didn't want to know, they turned a blind eye to what Blackwater was doing because it would have been too hard to arrange for another contractor to do all the security missions that it had ongoing. In both Iraq and Afghanistan, there are as many private contractors as there are uniformed military personnel. Most of them are not security guards as Blackwater's most visible function was. The lack of oversight is abhorrent but not surprising; the State Dept's failure to can this company is inexcusable.
My only observation on this article is to suggest how the US government got into this predicament, and it's pretty easy to see. The Bush administration wanted to hold onto the fiction of a few conservative principles, one of those being the concept of a small federal government. Since it already blew that "principle" with the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, I'm betting there was White House guidance that directed "no more personnel growth in DOD or State." That didn't mean that there wasn't lots of work to be done, however. The beans and the bullets still had to get out to the Middle East, and it was still dangerous Injun country for all those unarmed State Dept civilians doing Condi's work out there.
So out come the sole source, cost-plus contracts for KBR, Haliburton, and Blackwater, adding tens of thousands of additional personnel to the mix. The growth of contractors wasn't only apparent overseas, it's very apparent in the Washington DC area in support of larger defense contracts and operations (confession: I is one of them). Now SecDef Gates is trying to flush out the system, and it's going to prove much harder than he puts on in his speeches. Everyone admits there's a problem - but no one wants to create the necessary oversight mechanism to stop this misbehavior in the future. Regulating industry is bad, don't you know.