An Oct. 21 Page One article misidentified two companies contracted by the State Department for personal security. In 2002, DynCorp International was hired to protect Afghan President Hamid Karzai. In 1994, MVM Inc. was hired to protect Haitian President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. This online version has been corrected.
State Department Struggles To Oversee Private Army
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Last Christmas Day in Baghdad, U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad received a furious phone call from Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi. An American -- drunk, armed, wandering through the Green Zone after a party -- had shot and killed one of his personal bodyguards the night before, Mahdi said. He wanted to see Khalilzad right away.
At the vice president's home, Khalilzad found the slain guard's family assembled. Mahdi demanded the names of the American and his employer. And he wanted the man turned over to the Iraqi government.
After consulting with the embassy's legal officer, Khalilzad identified the shooter as Andrew J. Moonen, an employee of Blackwater USA, the company that provides security for U.S. diplomats in Baghdad. But he would not deliver Moonen himself. Within 36 hours of the shooting, Blackwater and the embassy had shipped him out of the country.
"As you can imagine," the embassy's Diplomatic Security office said in an e-mail to its Washington headquarters the day of Moonen's departure, "this has serious implications."
But as with previous killings by contractors, the case was handled with apologies and a payoff. Blackwater fired Moonen and fined him $14,697 -- the total of his back pay, a scheduled bonus and the cost of his plane ticket home, according to Blackwater documents. The amount nearly equaled the $15,000 the company agreed to give the Iraqi guard's family.
Ten months later, however -- after Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a Baghdad traffic circle on Sept. 16 -- the State Department can no longer quietly manage the consequences of having its own private army in Iraq. The FBI is investigating the incident, Baghdad has vowed to overturn a law shielding contractors from prosecution, and congressional critics have charged State's Bureau of Diplomatic Security with failing to supervise Blackwater and other security companies under its authority.
The shootings have also reopened long-standing, bitter arguments between the State Department and the Pentagon, which over the years have feuded over policies including the decision to invade Iraq and the treatment of detainees. Such broad disagreements have frequently played out over a narrow question: Who is responsible for the safety of U.S. civilians serving in Iraq?
With State Department and FBI investigations underway, the military leaked its own report on the Sept. 16 shootings, finding no evidence that the Blackwater guards fired in self-defense, as the company has maintained. U.S. officers have publicly criticized the security contractors as out-of-control "cowboys" who alienate the same Iraqis the military is trying to cultivate.
Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said last week that the contractors are at "cross purposes" with military goals, and he has suggested they be put under his authority. Many at State see this as a power grab by a Defense Department that has long refused to supply protection for diplomats. Since last month's shootings, one diplomat said, the Pentagon "has spared no expense to excoriate Blackwater and the State Department."
At its headquarters in a Rosslyn high-rise, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS) is in crisis mode. Already, the service has more than doubled its three dozen agents in Baghdad, dispatching at least a third of the elite, 100-agent mobile SWAT force it keeps for emergencies around the world. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered that at least one DS agent accompany every Blackwater-guarded convoy leaving the Green Zone -- an average of six or seven each day -- and has directed DS to monitor and archive radio and video transmissions from Blackwater vehicles to be used as evidence in any future incident.
An examination of State Department security contractor operations awaits Rice's review. Some officials speculated that Rice will have no choice but to remove Blackwater's approximately 900 personal-security personnel from Iraq; others said they think the company will be allowed to stay through the end of its current contract in May.
Replacing Blackwater -- by far the largest and most visible of three private security companies under State Department contract in Iraq -- would be difficult and expensive. DS officials fear that their bureau may be permanently tasked with guarding the hundreds of U.S. civilian officials now under Blackwater protection in Iraq. The service has only 1,400 trained agents worldwide, spread among the State Department building in Washington, 25 domestic U.S. offices and 285 U.S. diplomatic facilities overseas.