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.
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State Department Struggles To Oversee Private Army
A Convenient Choice
When the U.S. military invaded and occupied Iraq in early 2003, there was no question who would be in charge of security for the official civilians pouring in to remake the country. Under an executive order signed by Bush, the Coalition Provisional Authority and its head, L. Paul Bremer, reported directly to then-Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld. But as U.S. troops became preoccupied with a growing insurgency, the Pentagon hired Blackwater to provide protection for Bremer and other civilians.
The next year, as the United States prepared to return sovereignty to the Iraqis and the State Department began planning an embassy in Baghdad, Rumsfeld lost a bid to retain control over the full U.S. effort, including billions of dollars in reconstruction funds. A new executive order, signed in January 2004, gave State authority over all but military operations. Rumsfeld's revenge, at least in the view of many State officials, was to withdraw all but minimal assistance for diplomatic security.
"It was the view of Donald Rumsfeld and [then-Deputy Defense Secretary] Paul Wolfowitz that this wasn't their problem," said a former senior State Department official. Meetings to negotiate an official memorandum of understanding between State and Defense during the spring of 2004 broke up in shouting matches over issues such as their respective levels of patriotism and whether the military would provide mortuary services for slain diplomats.
Despite the tension, many at State acknowledged the Pentagon's point that soldiers were not trained as personal protectors. Others worried that surrounding civilian officials with helmets and Humvees would undermine the message of friendly democracy they were trying to instill in Iraq.
"It was a question of, 'Do you want uniforms?' " the senior DS official said. " 'Should the military be doing that kind of work?' "
It was clear that the mission was beyond DS capabilities, and as the mid-2004 embassy opening approached, "we had to decide what we were going to do," the former State Department official said. "We had to get jobs done, and to do that we had to have some protection."
State chose the most expedient solution: Take over the Pentagon's personal security contract with Blackwater and extend it for a year. "Yes, it was a sole-source contract" justified by "urgent and compelling reasons," said William Moser, the deputy assistant secretary of state for logistics management, in recent congressional testimony. Midway through the contract, Moser said, an independent audit forced Blackwater's $140 million proposal down to $106 million.
The senior DS official rejected congressional suggestions that Blackwater's Republican political contacts and campaign contributions influenced its selection. "I'll stack our procurement office against anybody else's," he said. "Particularly DOD's." State officials "could care less whether [Blackwater head Erik] Prince gave money to anybody." Blackwater was the only contractor in Iraq with helicopters, and it already had personnel and facilities in place.
When the sole-source contract expired in the summer of 2005, State invited bids on a massive "worldwide personal protection services" contract to put its operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere under one umbrella. Blackwater formed a consortium with U.S. firms DynCorp and Triple Canopy, and the group won a multiyear, $1.2 billion agreement.
Under the individual task orders that only the three are eligible to bid on, DynCorp provides personal security in northern Iraq, and Triple Canopy in the south. Blackwater covers Baghdad and Hilla, and has by far the largest share of the $520 million that State spends annually on contract security in Iraq.
Both Blackwater and State say the firm provides good value. The cost of sending a U.S. diplomat or DS agent overseas "ranges from around $400,000 for a regular mission around the world to around $1 million for an American diplomatic position in Iraq," Moser, the State logistics official, told Congress. "So when we talk about using contract employees, I think that we have to be very careful to consider what the fully loaded costs would be of direct hires."
DS provides contractors a 1,000-page list of rules and procedures and says all security personnel meet rigid requirements -- including military or police experience -- and undergo security vetting. Contractors are highly paid for security duties: Blackwater charges State $1,221.62 a day for a "protective security specialist," according to a 2005 invoice released by the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
But that is an all-inclusive cost, Blackwater head Prince argued during a recent interview on the "Charlie Rose" show. "They get paid well, but they get paid only for every day they are at work in a hot zone. They pay significant taxes right off the top of that, state and federal. They have to cover their own insurance, their own housing allowance -- all those benefits that a soldier gets wrapped in."
In any case, Prince said, "I know it would be hard for the State Department to recruit other people to come over and do reconstruction work . . . if some of them are going home in coffins."
U.S. diplomats who have served in Iraq are uniform in their defense of Blackwater and the other security firms that protect them. Blackwater, they point out, has lost about 30 of its own personnel in Iraq -- and not one diplomat.
But just as diplomats receive only rudimentary training to protect themselves, DS had little preparation and established no comprehensive guidelines for running a thousands-strong private army. In particular, the senior DS official said, little thought was given to how contractors would be held legally accountable for incidents such as the Sept. 16 shootings.
Oversight, the official acknowledged, has "perhaps not been as good as it could be."