‘Blackwater’ gets new US contract

Private security firm now known as Xe has a slice of a new $10bn state department contract despite repeated violations.

Blackwater private security firm contractors
The US State Department says that using contractor is a practical way to deal left by the departing troops [File: EPA]

Despite US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s campaign promise to no longer award military contracts to Blackwater – the now renamed notorious security contractor – the US state department has recently awarded the company another lucrative contract.

Blackwater was renamed Xe after a string of legal cases against the company in the US and in Iraq.

Wired.com reports that while neither Xe nor Blackwater appear on the list of eight firms hired for the Worldwide Protective Services contract (a group of contracts combined into one), one of the company’s fronts, International Development Solutions LLC (IDS) is on the list.

In total, the contract for all eight companies is worth up to $10bn.

“When I am president I will ask the Joint Chiefs for their help in reducing reliance on armed private military contractors with the goal of ultimately implementing a ban on such contractors,” Clinton said during her presidential campaign in 2008.

Indeed, Clinton was the only co-sponsor in the US senate of the Stop Outsourcing Security Act, introduced in 2007.

She used the issue to differentiate herself from her chief rival for the Democratic nomination, Barack Obama, who said that if voted into office, he would not rule out the continued use of military contractors.

But reporter Spencer Ackerman, who wrote the story for Wired.com’s Danger Room, says that Clinton only took that stance “in order to gain some traction” during her campaign and that “it was clear that she didn’t mean what she said”.

Despite working for the Obama administration, where the president himself never ruled out the use of contractors, Clinton, Ackerman said, has options.

“She could stop using any particular contractor if she wanted to,” Ackerman said. 

Mysterious company 

It is unclear what IDS will do in order to fulfil its contract or how much its portion of the contract is worth.

A press officer from the state department returned Al Jazeera’s call, but was unable to say what specific services IDS could provide and why, given Blackwater’s tarnished reputation, (which lead to the company’s name change in 2009) it was still eligible for such a contract.

She did, however, read out a prepared statement, indicating that while the state department is aware of IDS’s ties to Blackwater, that that fact was not prohibitive in accepting its bid.

“The contract was competed in accordance with the Federal Acquisitions Regulations (FAR),” read the statement. 

“The FAR allows any company that is not been debarred or suspended to submit a proposal in response to an acquisition process based on full and open competition.”

Blackwater’s US Training Center (formerly known as Blackwater Lodge and Training Center) is part of IDS. Our calls to US Training Centre were not returned.

Ackerman, the Wired.com writer, said he has not be given a clear reason for why IDS was chosen out of the 12 vendors shortlisted for the contract. In fact, he says he has been unable to find a paper trail for the company.

“I have yet to identify anyone who has heard from this company,” he said.

“This company appears to out of nowhere.”

Trying to keep track of Blackwater’s many affiliates seems to be a task made deliberately difficult, as the name International Development Solutions contains a combination of common words, which makes forming effective search terms tough.

In a US congressional hearing in February, the use of such companies, which can easily obscure a parent company from public eyes, was heavily criticised by Senator Carl Levin, chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Sullied record

Military contractors have a long and troubled record.

Two former Blackwater employees are currently on trial in the US on charges of murdering Afghan civilians and keeping human remains as trophies. The charges stem from a 2009 incident in Kabul.

In 2008, five Blackwater guards were charged in the deaths of 17 Iraqi civilians, who were shot in Baghdad’s al-Nisoor Square in 2007. Those charges were ultimately dismissed.

Another employee of Triple Canopy – another contractor included in the new Worldwide Protective Services contract – was charged with killing at least one Iraqi after he fired into a civilian vehicle for “sport.”

In August, Blackwater agreed to pay $42m in fines for weapons export violations.

Source: Al Jazeera