Saturday, December 12, 2009

CIA admits Xe (Blackwater) Services presence in Pakistan

DESPITE repeated denials, the CIA has now confirmed that US security contractor Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater, has been operating in Pakistan. CIA spokesman George Little said that agency Director Leon Panetta has terminated a contract with Xe Services that allowed the company’s employees to load bombs on CIA drones at secret airfields in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

Although the spokesman denied that Blackwater was currently involved in CIA operations in Pakistan and Afghanistan, his comments, contradicted past US assertions that the company does not operate in Pakistan, reported Press TV on Saturday.

Other than the US administration, the Pakistani government and Xe itself had denied that the company was operating in Pakistan. Little did say, however, that the contractor still provides so-called security or support assistance to the US intelligence agency in the two countries. He did not elaborate further on exactly what that role involves.

While the New York Times published CIA’s claim that Blackwater employees no longer have an operational role in the agency’s covert programmes in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the British newspaper Guardian posted a quite different article.

Citing comments from an unnamed former US official, the British daily reported that Blackwater was still operating in Pakistan at a secret CIA airfield used for launching drone attacks.

According to the official, who has direct knowledge of the operation, Xe employees patrol areas surrounding the Shamsi airbase in Balochistan. Blackwater gained its notoriety mainly from its activities in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Iraqis have launched several cases against the company in US courts over violent attacks carried out by the company against unarmed people, including an unprovoked 2007 shooting spree in Baghdad that killed 17 civilians. After the Baghdad incident Blackwater changed its name to Xe Services.

The company CEO Erik Prince also is facing allegations by a former US marine and a past employee that he organised the murder of witnesses that could have testified against his company during the hearings. He has also been accused by the two witnesses, whose identities have not been disclosed by the courts for safety purposes, of having anti-Muslim sentiments, ‘encouraging and rewarding the destruction of Iraqi life’, and arms smuggling.

Pakistan’s Interior Minister Rehman Malik had even offered to resign if it is proven that Blackwater is present in Pakistan. However, it remains to be seen whether he will keep that promise now that the CIA has confirmed that Blackwater is and was working in Pakistan.

CIA cancels pact with Blackwater: NYT

NEW YORK – Amid an outcry over its black deeds, the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) has cancelled a contract with Blackwater (Xe Worldwide) that allowed the security company to load bombs on CIA drones in Pakistan and Afghanistan, The New York Times reported on Saturday.

Citing intelligence officials, the newspaper said the contract gave Blackwater employees an operational role in one of the CIA’s most significant covert programmes, which has killed dozens of militants with Predator and Reaper drones.

The contract with the company, now called Xe Services, was cancelled this year by CIA Director Leon Panetta, the report said.CIA spokesman George Little said Panetta had ordered that the agency’s employees take over the jobs from Xe employees at the remote drone bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, the paper noted. Panetta had also ordered a review of all contracts with the company, according to the report “At this time, Blackwater is not involved in any CIA operations other than in a security or support role,” Little was quoted by The Times as saying.

The disclosure about the terminated contract comes a day after The Times reported that Blackwater employees had joined CIA operatives in secret operations against suspected Islamic militants in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Blackwater’s role in the raids grew out of contracts that the company had with the spy agency to provide security for the C.I.A. in Kabul and Baghdad. The company had a dual role in the drone programme, said current and former employees and intelligence officials. Contractors on the secret bases assembled and loaded Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs onto drones, and they also provided security at the CIA bases.

The C.I.A. did not allow contractors to select targets for the drone attacks or pull the trigger on the strikes, the report said. That work was done at the CIA’s headquarters in Langley, Virginia.

But Blackwater’s direct role in the drone operations sometimes led to disputes between the contractors and CIA employees, as the spy agency sometimes accused Blackwater employees of poor weapon assembly if the missile or bomb missed a target, it said. In one instance last year, a 500-pound bomb dropped off a Predator before the drone had launched its payload, leading to a frenzied search along the Afghan-Pakistani border. A company employee said the bomb was eventually found not far from the intended target.

The Nation


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