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5. Blackwater (Xe): The Secret US War in Pakistan

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and al-Qaeda operatives inside and outside Pakistan. The Blackwater operatives also gather intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

Student Researchers:

  • Andrew Hobbs, Kelsea Arnold, and Brittney Gates (Sonoma State University)

Faculty Evaluators:

  • Elaine Wellin and Peter Phillips (Sonoma State University)

Captain John Kirby, the spokesperson for Admiral Michael Mullen, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, told the Nation, “We do not discuss current operations one way or the other, regardless of their nature.” Meanwhile a defense official specifically denied that Blackwater performs work on drone strikes or intelligence for JSOC in Pakistan. “We don’t have any contracts to do that work for us. We don’t contract that kind of work out, period,” the official said. “There has not been, and are not now, contracts between JSOC and that organization for these types of services.” The Pentagon has stated bluntly, “There are no US military strike operations being conducted in Pakistan.”

Blackwater’s founder Erik Prince contradicted this statement in an interview, telling Vanity Fair that Blackwater works with US Special Forces in identifying targets and planning missions, citing an operation in Syria. The magazine also published a photo of a Blackwater base near the Afghanistan–Pakistan border.

Jeremy Scahill’s military intelligence source said that the previously unreported program is distinct from the CIA assassination program, which the agency’s director, Leon Panetta, announced he had canceled in June 2009. “This is a parallel operation to the CIA,” said the source. “They are two separate beasts.” The program puts Blackwater at the epicenter of a US military operation within the borders of a nation against which the US has not declared war—knowledge that could further strain the already tense relations between the US and Pakistan. In 2006, the two countries struck a deal that authorized JSOC to enter Pakistan to hunt Osama bin Laden with the understanding that Pakistan would deny it had given permission. Officially, the US is not supposed to have any active military operations in that country.

Blackwater, which also goes by the names Xe Services and US Training Center, has denied that the company operates in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the US government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to the Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in “counterterrorism” operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces that now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan.

The covert program in Pakistan dates back to at least 2007. The current head of JSOC is Vice Admiral William McRaven, who took over the post from General Stanley McChrystal, who headed JSOC from 2003 to 2008 before being named the top US commander in Afghanistan. Blackwater’s presence in Pakistan is “not really visible, and that’s why nobody has cracked down on it,” said Scahill’s military source. Blackwater’s operations in Pakistan, he adds, are not done through State Department contracts or publicly identified defense contracts. “It’s Blackwater via JSOC, and it’s a classified no-bid [contract] approved on a rolling basis.”

Blackwater’s first known contract with the CIA for operations in Afghanistan was awarded in 2002 and was for work along the Afghanistan–Pakistan border.

According to Scahill’s source, Blackwater has effectively marketed itself as a company whose operatives have “conducted lethal direct action missions and now, for a price, you can have your own planning cell. JSOC just ate that up.” Blackwater’s Pakistan JSOC contracts are secret and are therefore shielded from public oversight, he said.

In addition to planning drone strikes and operations against suspected al-Qaeda and Taliban forces in Pakistan for both JSOC and the CIA, the Blackwater team in Karachi also helps plan missions for JSOC inside Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

Since President Barack Obama was inaugurated, the United States has expanded drone-bombing raids in Pakistan. Obama first ordered a drone strike against targets in North and South Waziristan on January 23, 2009, and the strikes have been conducted consistently ever since. The number of strike orders by the Obama administration has now surpassed the number during the Bush era in Pakistan, inciting fierce criticism from Pakistan and some US lawmakers over civilian deaths.

The military intelligence source also confirmed that Blackwater continues to work for the CIA on its drone-bombing program in Pakistan, as previously reported in the New York Times, but added that Blackwater is working on JSOC’s drone bombings as well. “It’s Blackwater running the program for both CIA and JSOC,” said the source. When civilians are killed, “people go, ‘Oh, it’s the CIA doing crazy shit again unchecked.’ Well, at least 50 percent of the time, that’s JSOC [hitting] somebody they’ve identified through HUMINT [human intelligence] or they’ve culled the intelligence themselves or it’s been shared with them and they take that person out and that’s how it works.”

In addition to working on covert action planning and drone strikes, Blackwater SELECT also provides private guards to perform the sensitive task of security for secret US drone bases, JSOC camps, and Defense Intelligence Agency camps inside Pakistan.

Blackwater’s ability to survive against odds by reinventing and rebranding itself is most evident in Afghanistan, where the company continues to work for the US military, the CIA, and the State Department despite intense criticism and almost weekly scandals.

Sources:

Jeremy Scahill, “The Secret US War in Pakistan,” Nation, November 23, 2009, http://www.thenation.com/doc/20091207/scahill.

Jeremy Scahill, “Blackwater Wants to Surge Its Armed Force in Afghanistan,” Antiwar.com, January 20, 2010, http://original.antiwar.com/scahill/2010/01/19/blackwater-wants-to-surge.

David Edwards and Muriel Kane, “Ex-employees Claim Blackwater Pimped Out Young Iraqi Girls,” Raw Story, August 7, 2009.

  • Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall October 4, 2010

    I think Obama needs to start telling the truth about the real reason we are at war in Pakistan (and Afghanistan) – namely the Chinese-built deep water port in Gwadar Pakistan – and the virtual monopoly it guarantees the Chinese on Iranian oil and gas. I blog about this at http://stuartbramhall.aegauthorblogs.com/2010/09/26/iran-china-and-the-gwadar-port/

  • jeff December 4, 2010

    David Bouchard Esq.(he’s the lawyer who told me I was digging my own grave Dec.22,2004)appears in an EXTREMELY BIZARRE paragraph- July29,2010 in the Va. Pilot:

    One defendant in the Nicholas attack did not appear in court Wednesday because his attorney, David Bouchard, alerted the court that he is stuck at sea trying to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat.

    Then I read how Erik Prince moved to the UAE so his children could enter school by August15.

    Prince sought to avoid giving a deposition in this case by claiming that he needed to be in Abu Dhabi in time for his children to begin school there on August 15. It is unclear what English-speaking school in the country begins any time before September. But, calling his bluff, Susan offered to travel herself to Abu Dhabi to take the deposition there, and the judge granted the order. As the old expression goes, if you can’t bring Mohammed to the mountain, you bring the mountain to Mohammed.
    ——

    Could that July29,2010 paragraph in the Va. Pilot be a warning to Prince get out of dodge so you won’t have to be deposed— ESPECIALLY in light of how Prince was living in Va. Beach when he founded Blackwater.

    Prince moved to Virginia Beach and personally financed the formation of Blackwater Worldwide in 1997. He bought 6,000 acres (24 km2) of the Great Dismal Swamp of North Carolina and set up a school for special operations.The name “Blackwater” comes from the peat-colored bogs in which the school is located.

    Perfect timing for my railroading to the Supreme Court.

    *****
    His concerns were echoed in the US by Representative Jan Schakowsky, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “This really is part of an ongoing investigation that I can’t talk about, but even the fact that there is that allegation, I think, gives one a picture of the degree to which Blackwater has been completely enmeshed in these secret operations,” Schahowsky said. “And, you know, at least the allegation that they are, I think is disturbing enough. And there is an investigation going on around activities like that.”

  • Global Realist February 27, 2011

    From what I understand based on stories in the independent media and predictions made by reasonably intelligent and knowledgeable people, Pakistan is set to be another country where the likelihood of US intervention is high.

    One of the main reasons for this is that the current Pakistani government has strong relationships with, and loyalties to, the Chinese.

    Seeing the trouble occurring in northern Pakistan, just as these predictions clearly indicated, suggests that they were right all along – the Anglo-American empire is concerned/afraid of Pakistan’s relationship with China and would rather see a regime installed there that would do their bidding. The presence of military forces in the region surprises me not one bit and neither do the conflicting BS sound bytes coming out of the mouths of the perpetrators.

    We went to Afghanistan to facilitate the building of an oil pipeline through their country and down to the Indian Ocean to ensure that the oil went to western interests and not to “Red” China. Now we have the explosion of poppy production, (heroin) which, under the Taliban had been reduced to an all time low, an ongoing and profitable war and a lot of interests including many mineral, metal and other natural resources to plunder, I can’t see the US allowing Pakistan a chance to rain on their parade, by allowing the Chinese a look in. I guess time will tell. Won’t be surprised to see major upheaval at some point in time though, nor will I be surprised at the staggering lies that will be told to sell such a coup to us all or justify further occupations in the region. Having intervened directly or indirectly in over 70 countries in the last few decades, deposed elected leaders and caused genocide and civil wars, I see no reason why Pakistan would be treated any differently if it is decided they need to be brought to heel.

    I really don’t envy Pakistan and it’s current position. Choosing sides is never going to be easy, ask some of the African nations where the “superpowers” are already conducting a hidden “war” with one another in attempts to steal/secure natural resources for their own.

    Forget all the BS about the war on terror and the major threat of Islam etc etc ad infinitum- the real power struggle and only genuine major threat threat to the west is that posed by Russia and China as the only nations with the might to go toe to toe with US/UK/European interests.

  • jeff April 18, 2011

    Operation Mockingbird July29,2010 press release from the CIA’s second favorite newspaper- the Va. Pilot:

    One defendant in the Nicholas attack did not appear in court Wednesday because his attorney, David Bouchard, alerted the court that he is stuck at sea trying to cross the Atlantic in a sailboat.

    http://www.nytimes.com/2010/08/18/world/18blackwater.html?_r=1

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D4u-sNR02vg&feature=player_profilepage

  • jeff April 18, 2011

    She pleaded not guilty on Feb. 9 at a Norfolk court appearance. David W. Bouchard, her lawyer, says it was all a misunderstanding: a man she dated; some issues of trust; some issues of naivete.

    Because “of the sensitive nature of the case,” Paul J. McNulty, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, says he is limited in what he can say about Hoffler-Riddick. “You see who she was associated with in terms of transactions involving real estate and an automobile,” he says. “These are very serious charges.” He goes on: “We went into a storage facility in Newport News and found $2 million in cash” linked to the conspiracy.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A35473-2005Mar14.html

  • jeff April 18, 2011

    SARAH NIGHTINGALE

    Most of us remember where we were and what we were doing at 8:36 a.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday September 11, 2001, when the first of four airliners hijacked by al-Qaeda terrorists crashed into New York City’s World Trade Center.

    The country watched in horror as the second plane hit, at 9:03 a.m., as the third plane flew into the Pentagon and the fourth flight crashed near Shanksville, Penn.

    Former U.S. Attorney General and then White House Counsel Alberto Gonzales was in Norfolk Va., speaking to government employees about ethics.

    The now Texas Tech visiting professor said Wednesday he doesn’t yet know whether he’ll attend any of the local events honoring those who lost their lives in the attacks.

    “I spent most of the morning trying to get back to Washington D.C.,” said Gonzales, who eventually secured a ride on a Navy helicopter. “After that, the meetings were all the time. We were trying to understand what happened and what was the appropriate response.”

    Gonzales said he’ll talk about his experiences in the weeks and months after the attacks during his junior level seminar class “Contemporary Issues in the Executive Branch.”

    Eight years on, Gonzales said he thinks the Bush Administration’s actions improved safety here.

    “I think the country is safer,” he said. “I think the level of communication and cooperation within the government and with other governments is much better.”

    But things will never be the same, Gonzales said.

    “I think people should try to lives their lives as normally as possible,” he said, adding “sometimes I wish people could watch the replays of that morning more often just to be reminded how terrible that tragedy was.”

    Memorial events in Lubbock include an American Tribute Flag Field event, to begin with a Catfish Fry Thursday at 5:30 p.m. and continue with a memorial Friday at 10:30 a.m. at Kastman Park, Loop 289 and Nashville Ave. There will also be a Cry Out America prayer gathering, set for Friday at noon at the Lubbock County Courthouse.

  • jeff April 18, 2011

    Mohamed Atta and Marwan Alshehhi make a brief trip to Virginia Beach, where they cash a check for $4,000 and rent a mailbox. Newsweek later reports that federal investigators believe Mohamed Atta visits Norfolk, Virginia, site of a huge US Navy base, at this time: “The Feds believe that Atta was scoping out an aircraft carrier as a target.” However, the 9/11 Commission will comment, “We have found no explanation for these travels.”

    April3-4:

    Atta and Alshehhi will return to Virginia Beach a few weeks later.

    http://bcove.me/xh82za7f

  • jeff May 5, 2011

    Keeping it “in the family”

    That board includes former National Security Agency director Bobby Ray Inman. Its chairman is Clear Channel co-founder Red McCombs.

    http://www.wired.com/dangerroom/2011/05/blackwaters-new-ethics-chief-john-ashcroft/

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