Pentagon Team To Study Oversight Of Security Firms

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told senators his
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates told senators his "concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight" of private security firms. (By Pablo Martinez Monsivais -- Associated Press)
By Ann Scott Tyson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, September 27, 2007

Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said yesterday that his concerns over insufficient oversight of private security firms in Iraq led him this week to dispatch a team to the country to investigate the issue, while also instructing commanders to tighten their controls over the armed guards.

The actions demonstrate Gates's scrutiny of Pentagon supervision of its estimated 7,300 private security workers in Iraq following a Baghdad shooting incident this month involving Blackwater USA security guards, working for the State Department, that left at least 11 Iraqis dead.

"My concern is whether there has been sufficient accountability and oversight in the region over the activities of these security companies," Gates said at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Committee. He said the team would look into whether commanders have "the means and the resources that they need to be able to exercise adequate oversight."

The five-person Pentagon team will meet with the top two U.S. commanders in Iraq, Gen. David H. Petraeus and Lt. Gen. Raymond T. Odierno, as well as "all the key players" who deal with contract guards, Pentagon press secretary Geoff Morrell said yesterday. The team will return at the end of this week and report to Gates.

Underscoring Gates's concern, Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon R. England issued a memo late Tuesday calling on senior Pentagon leaders and military commanders to tighten supervision of Defense Department contractors. The three-page memo lists seven steps, including a requirement that commanders ensure that private guards are authorized to carry their weapons and that those who are not are disciplined. It also requires commanders to stop guards who commit felonies from leaving the country.

Commanders must also ensure that guards follow rules on escalating force and deadly force, the memo says. They should also "review periodically the existing RUF" -- Rules on the Use of Force -- "and make any changes necessary to minimize the risk of innocent civilian casualties or unnecessary destruction of civilian property," the memo says.

The memo spells out the military and civilian laws that apply to guards and aims to make "abundantly clear to commanders" the means they have to enforce the rules by which the guards operate, Morrell said. Pentagon security contractor personnel are subject to administrative sanctions, the Uniform Code of Military Justice and referral to the Justice Department for felonies under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.

The memo also reveals that "over the past several months" the Pentagon has been developing new guidance regarding use of the military code to discipline guards serving with U.S. armed forces overseas.

According to Gates, rules of force for contract employees are different from U.S. military "rules of engagement" in that they are defensive. "Contractors . . . are not allowed to carry out offensive operations," he said. Asked by a senator whether he considered the contractors "mercenaries," Gates replied that many of the security contractors in Iraq are former members of the U.S. military and do not see themselves in that light.

The Defense Department's estimated 7,300 private security employees in Iraq include about 5,000 who guard fixed locations such as infrastructure, Gates and Pentagon officials said. But none of the guards are from Blackwater, and in contrast to the State Department, the Pentagon has no Blackwater protective service contracts in Iraq, the officials said.

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