December 4, 2009

I had noted that Rachel ought to have Jeremy Scahill on if she wanted to get to the bottom of what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and lo and behold she did, not that I think I had anything to do with it. I was just glad to see her have Jeremy Scahill on to talk about just what the U.S. is doing in Afghanistan and Pakistan, the President's decision to escalate our presence in Afghanistan and the recent revelation that Erik Prince was acting not only as a military contractor, but a CIA asset as well. You can read Scahill's recent article at The Nation The Secret US War in Pakistan.

Transcript via Nexis Lexis.

MADDOW: By the time President Obama`s new plan for Afghanistan is implemented, there will be 100,000 U.S. troops there -- which means that President Obama will have roughly triple the number of U.S. troops that were in Afghanistan when he took office. That`s the most talked about, but the second most sobering set of numbers of the whole new Afghanistan policy.

The most sobering and perhaps overlooked is that as we look to get up to 100,000 troops in Afghanistan, turns out we`ve already got more than 100,000 contractors there. Yes. U.S. Central Command is telling "Talking Points Memo" that the number of contractors in Afghanistan is 104,000 now. And that number has grown by 30,000 just in the past six months. And the number of contractors is only expected to grow further along with the new troop increase.

The last time we paid a lot of attention to contractors in Afghanistan, some of them were doing vodka shots in places -- yes. Embarrassing the country and themselves and making us wonder all over again why it is that we pay people like this to go to our embassy instead of our own troops.

Here`s a new reason to wonder. Some pretty stunning revelations about the most notorious defense contractor of them all, Blackwater and its founder Erik Prince.

A new article in "Vanity Fair" by Adam Ciralsky, which we`ve linked at our Web site -- says this about conservative billionaire Erik Prince, quote, "For the past six years, he appears to have led an astonishing double life. Publicly, he has served as Blackwater CEO and chairman. Privately and secretly, he`s been doing the CIA`s bidding, helping to craft, fund, and execute operations ranging from inserting personnel into "denied areas" -- places U.S. intelligence has trouble penetrating -- to assembling hit teams targeting al Qaeda members and their allies. Erik Prince, according to sources with knowledge of his activities, has been working as a CIA asset: in a word, as a spy."

It`s not just that Blackwater has been working for the CIA, the allegation is that Erik Prince personally has been working for the CIA.

The CIA assassination squads we heard so much about this summer when it was revealed that the CIA had kept them secret from Congress, apparently, they trained at Erik Prince`s house.

Joining us now Jeremy Scahill, reporter for "The Nation," whose cover story in this week`s "Nation" magazine is on Blackwater. It`s called "The Secret U.S. War in Pakistan: U.S. Special Forces Enlist Blackwater`s Help on Covert Operations."

Jeremy, thanks very much for coming on the show.


MADDOW: What is important about Erik Prince personally being a spy and admitting to it now beyond what we already know about what his company does?

SCAHILL: Well, I have to say on the outset, I see this sort of as Erik Prince taking out an insurance policy for himself and talking to a guy who served Adam Ciralsky as a CIA lawyer. He`s a trusted guy.

Erik Prince is in the crosshairs now of the Congress, of federal investigators and others. And by sort of preempting of what he thinks is going to be a sort of barrage of attacks against him by essentially outing CIA operations himself and then crying that he`s like Valerie Plame, it`s a way to insulate himself from future attacks.

What`s significant about this is that Erik Prince actually tried to join the CIA and my sources tell me he failed the polygraph test -- not that he didn`t have enough experience, which is what he says in this piece, but that he actually couldn`t pass the polygraph. And so, there was an alternative arrangement made with Prince where he not only -- as you say -- was sort of running a sort of private war, sometimes with the CIA, sometimes with the Special Forces, sometimes freelance, but he himself also was an asset of the CIA.

Him coming forward now, I think, is significant. But I also think we have to realize he is a smart political guy, too. He knows what he`s doing.

RACHEL MADDOW, MSNBC ANCHOR: In the "Vanity Fair" piece, Erik Prince says that it is one of Blackwater`s bases in Afghanistan that is the closest forward operating base to Pakistan. In "the nation," you are reporting that despite the company`s denials, Blackwater totally is operating in Pakistan itself right now. What are you able to report that they`re doing there?

SCAHILL: For years Blackwater has been operating under the cover of a training program. We heard a lot about training from the president since his plan was addressed. Blackwater`s training the Pakistani frontier corps which is a federal paramilitary force hunting down high value targets in the frontier province. Former Blackwater`s Executive told me that the line is crossed, that Blackwater guys are going out on these raids. Parallel to that Blackwater is at the center of a u.s. Special Forces, not cia but u.s. Special Forces drone bombing campaign inside of Afghanistan. They are also helping to plan targeted assassinations, snatch and grab operations not just in Pakistan, Rachel but also against the Islamic movement of Uzbekistan inside of Uzbekistan as well.

MADDOW: OK. So, this is a huge deal because in terms of learning about what we`re doing with the drones, what we`ve been able to say up until this point is yes, the military uses drones. The military uses drones in places like Iraq and Afghanistan. They use them for surveillance; they use them sometimes for bombing. If there are drone attacks in Pakistan, those are not u.s. military, that`s the cia, that`s why we never comment on them. You`re saying that`s not true. Its contractors, but they are also working with the u.s. military, secret elements of the u.s. military.

SCAHILL: I have multiple sources in this including a very well placed military intelligence source. And part of the reason why the military intelligence source is speaking to me is because he is offended at the idea that you have these operations happening outside of the military chain of command and with no oversight from the Congress and says that some of the highest civilian casualty attacks from the drones are not in fact cia attacks but are military attacks because as he put it they simply don`t care. There`s no oversight. If there`s one bad guy in a building and 34 civilians, 35 people are going to die.

MADDOW: I want to tell you, read you something from the "New York Times" website. This was just posted, new article by Scott Shane entitled cia expanding drone assaults inside Pakistan. Shane says the white house has authorized an expansion of the cia`s drone program in Pakistan`s lawless tribal area to parallel the president`s decision to send 30,000 more troops to Afghanistan. American officials talking with Pakistan about the possibility of striking in one province they`ve never apparently done drone strikes in before, Baluchistan, controversial move because it`s outside the tribal areas. They say that`s where they believe Afghan Taliban leaders are believed to hide. What do you think are the significance of this?


SCAHILL: I think we need to view this sober reality. The war is in Pakistan right now. There`s no question about it. The question, though, is how much it is going to expand. Are we going to see an expansion of actual covert operation teams alongside the drones? This is I think a very disturbing aspects of what we`re seeing unfold right now, because these are actions that are going to destabilize Pakistan and going to create new enemies for the United States because of the high civilian casualties that they`ll bring on.

MADDOW: It may be something that the United States -- that maybe a risk to the United States as well is to incur.

SCAHILL: Clearly.

MADDOW: In order to, it is. In order to reap whatever military, anti-terrorist benefit we think we can. It`s complicated by the fact that because these are covert operations we`re not willing to explain what it is that we`re doing and creates a complete chasm of credibility between us and Pakistan.

SCAHILL: Well, it also raises the prospect of not the clandestine operations of the cia. The Pakistanis have long known the cia was doing it. But here is the military operation inside of a country that we don`t have a declaration of war against.

MADDOW: Jeremy Scahill of the nation`s cover story right now is on Blackwater, it`s called the secret u.s. war in Pakistan. U.s. Special Forces enlist Blackwater`s help on cover operations. It`s great to have you on the show. Thanks for sharing your insight with us.

SCAHILL: Thank you Rachel.

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