According to a story in the New York Times, personnel of the controversial Blackwater Worldwide Company participated in raids conducted by the CIA against suspected terrorists in Afghanistan and Iraq.
Blackwater is a private security service that, until recently, provided security personnel for State Department officials in Iraq. However, an involvement by Blackwater personnel in a shooting that resulted with 17 dead in Iraq led to a loss of that contract. Blackwater has since changed its name to Xe Services.
Blackwater, or now Xe employees, tend to be ex special ops military or ex CIA, so it would seem to be a perfect source for contractors for CIA operations such as snatch and grab raids against suspected terrorists. On the other hand, the controversy over the use of what some in Congress and the media call “mercenaries” is likely to only intensify with the new revelations.
A spokesperson for Xe Services has denied that personnel for the company have been used for any kind of clandestine raids. However, Blackwater, or Xe personnel, do have undoubted ties with the CIA, providing security for CIA officers, stations and safe houses in dangerous parts of the world.
The use of private contractors by the CIA for certain sensitive operations is nothing new, though naturally something not often openly talked about. The possibility that private security personnel were used in what amounted to commando raids is bound to raise some eyebrows. Ordinarily snatch and grab operations, such as Blackwater personnel are said to have participated in and even planned and led reportedly, are usually reserved for military special ops, such as the Army Special Forces or the Navy SEALs.
But since Blackwater has proven itself to be so controversial, employing Blackwater personnel at all is likely to raise more political heat in the Congress and the media.
On the other hand, the War on Terror is filled with clandestine, special operations, snatching and grabbing of terrorists, assassinations of terrorist leaders, secret reconnaissance and so on. It is certainly possible that military special ops personnel are so stretched by the constant tempo of such operations that the temptation to augment them with private contractors, themselves mostly former special ops, proved to be irresistible. Also rules of engagement for private contractors may be looser than that of the military, avoiding problems such as being encountered by NAVY SEALs who are accused of mistreating a prisoner taken in one of their own snatch and grab raids.
Even so, with the revelation of such practices in the media, the use of private contractors for military operations will come under more scrutiny and, likely, political opposition as well.
Source: Blackwater Guards Tied to Secret Raids by the C.I.A., James Risen and Mark Mazzetti, New York Times, November 10, 2009
Navy SEALs Face Court Martial for Beat Down of Terrorist Prisoner, Mark R. Whittington, Associated Content, November 25th, 2009