Notorious security company Blackwater is back in the news, just in time to remind us (again) how over-reliance on contractors for sensitive security missions is hurting American effectiveness abroad.
Last week, a Federal court indicted five Blackwater guards on 35 counts of manslaughter related to the September 2007 deaths of 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
In an effort to shore up Blackwater's flagging image, CEO Erik Prince's PR machine placed an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal last week. Predictably, his piece was long on spin and shamefully short on truth. Noah Schachtman at Danger Room cataloged the more blatant lies set forth by Prince, such as the falsehood that all Blackwater employees are US military or police veterans.
Nonetheless, Prince uses the WSJ soapbox to strike his rugged-capitalist/super-patriot pose and whine that his company has been unfairly sullied.
Oh yeah, and Blackwater pilots who like to pretend that flying around Afghanistan is "fun" just like X-wings in Star Wars and have killed American service members in plane crashes.
Prince must not have gotten the briefing I got when I was a newly minted Program Manager for a big intelligence contractor a few years back: anything that goes wrong will be blamed on the contractors--even if it's irrefutably the government's fault.
I scoffed at this admonition when I first heard it, but soon learned it to be painfully true.
If Prince can't stand the heat, maybe he should go back to his family's auto parts empire in Michigan.
Meanwhile, a State Department report says that the Iraqi government is set to ban Blackwater from the country, which would likely leave a significant gap in the security of US diplomats and other US government civilians working in Iraq.
In reality, many individual Blackwater security employees will probably resign and accept new employment with US security contractors that have not been kicked out of Iraq, such as DynCorp and Triple Canopy.
But a forced withdrawal of Blackwater will almost certainly disrupt security for US civilians working in Iraq, making our Embassy and other locations vulnerable as Diplomatic Security (State Department's security arm) figures out how to transition in new security contractors.
Such an abrupt withdrawal would also cause serious problems for other government agencies that rely on Blackwater for security in Iraq, especially CIA. According to intelligence outsourcing specialist RJ Hillhouse, "CIA's Baghdad station . . . could not function without contractors." A freeze of Blackwater activity in the wake of the September 2007 Baghdad shootings, for example, all but paralyzed CIA activity in Iraq.
Of course, Iraqis would like to kick Blackwater out of their country: it would be a cathartic, symbolic act, much like hurling shoes at the leader of an occupying country.
And for anti-US elements in the Iraqi government, singling out Blackwater for expulsion has the bonus effect of hamstringing US intelligence activity in their country. The intelligence and covert action chiefs in Tehran are undoubtedly thrilled.
The US mission in Iraq is entirely too dependent on private security contractors. This dependence is exacerbated by reliance on a single contractor company, Blackwater, which clearly evidences a culture of unlawfulness and brutality.
The combination of lazy policy and lax contract supervision that gave us Blackwater isn't just wasting taxpayer dollars--it's actually harming the security of US personnel overseas and hurting America's standing in the world. Here's hoping the Obama administration National Security team and the incoming Congress will sideline Blackwater and similar war profiteering contractors. Doing so will make good on promises to reduce the government's dependence on security contractors and re-establish American prestige overseas.