By Roxana Tiron - 02/24/10 02:00 AM EST
A Senate Armed Services Committee investigation found that Blackwater contractors had no regard for policies and rules in Afghanistan.
The investigation, spurred by committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mich.), found multiple irresponsible acts by the contractors and troubling gaps in government oversight.
“In the fight against the Taliban, the perception of Afghans is crucial,” Levin said in a prepared statement. “If we are going to win that struggle, we need to know that our contractor personnel are adequately screened, supervised and held accountable, because, in the end, the Afghan people will hold us responsible for their actions.”
The release of the Senate investigation also coincides with renewed efforts in Congress to rein in the use of security contractors in war zones. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) on Tuesday introduced legislation that would phase out private security contractors in war zones.
According to Pentagon data, the number of contractor personnel goes beyond 100,000.
The Senate Armed Services panel has been looking into the overall issue of contractors in Afghanistan for about eight months. The Blackwater examination is one facet of that investigation.
Raytheon Technical Services Co. subcontracted to a company called Paravant to perform weapons training for the Afghan national army. Paravant was created in 2008 by Erik Prince Investments, the parent company of Blackwater Worldwide.
The company became embroiled in controversy after a deadly 2007 shooting in Baghdad and changed its name to Xe in an effort to avoid the stigma of that controversy.
The Senate examination uses the names Blackwater and Paravant interchangeably. “There is no meaningful distinction between the two,” Levin said in a statement.
One of the most publicized incidents occurred on May 5, 2009, when two Paravant employees in Afghanistan discharged their weapons, killing two Afghan civilians and injuring a third. The Department of Justice indicted the two employees on Jan. 6 on firearm and homicide charges for their involvement in the shooting.
The Senate panel investigation found there was another shooting incident five months before the May incident, in which one of the Paravant trainers was seriously injured. A training team based at Camp Darulaman decided it was going to learn how to shoot from a moving vehicle and, when the vehicle hit a bump, the team leader’s AK-47 discharged and hit one of the trainers.
Subsequently, the Senate Armed Services panel found that Blackwater obtained hundreds of AK-47s from a U.S.-operated facility in Afghanistan, known as 22 Bunkers. The weapons at that facility are meant for arming the Afghan national police, and not contractors. According to a Nov. 19, 2009, letter cited by Levin, the head of Central Command (CENTCOM), Gen. David Petraeus, said that “there is no current or past written policy, order directive or instruction that allows U.S. military contractors or subcontractors in Afghanistan to use weapons stored at 22 Bunkers.”
Additionally, Blackwater furnished Paravant personnel with pistols diverted from a contract that Blackwater had with Lockheed Martin and was not associated with Paravant. The transfer of pistols was made without any authorization, the committee investigators found.
“The carrying of weapons by the Paravant personnel exemplified the lack of government oversight,” Levin said in a prepared statement. “The only way in which contract personnel are authorized to carry weapons in Afghanistan is by obtaining that authority from CENTCOM … In Paravant’s case, company personnel carried weapons without CENTCOM authority.”
Additionally, the panel’s examination stresses that Blackwater fell “well short” of any “reasonable standard” for vetting personnel — hiring some people with criminal history, propensity for violence and alcohol abuse.
The committee found that Raytheon notified Army staff responsible for their contract oversight that Paravant employees were carrying weapons without authority, but no steps were taken until the two shootings occurred. After the May 2009 shooting, Raytheon issued a show-cause notice to Paravant for, among other things, failure to exercise “sufficient command, control and oversight of its personnel.”
The Senate Armed Services Committee is holding a hearing on the issue on Wednesday and will receive testimony from a former Paravant program manager, Raytheon’s program manager and several former and current Army representatives.
Levin told reporters Tuesday that so far he is not planning to take any legislative steps but wants to emphasize the need for stronger oversight and implementation of existing rules.
Xe spokeswoman, Stacy DeLuke, did not return a request for comment by press time.
Meanwhile, Sanders and Schakowsky on Tuesday introduced the “Stop Outsourcing Security Act” to phase out private security contractors from war zones.
“The behavior of private contractors has endangered our military, hurt relationships with foreign governments and undermined our missions overseas,” Schakowsky said.
The bill seeks to restore the responsibility of the American military to train troops and police, guard convoys, repair weapons, administer military prisons and perform military intelligence. The bill also seeks to mandate that all diplomatic security be performed by U.S. government personnel. The White House could seek exceptions, but those contracts would be subject to congressional oversight.
The legislation also would subject contracts exceeding $5 million to congressional oversight. Agencies with military contractors would have to report the number of contractors employed, disclose the total cost of the contracts and make public any disciplinary actions against employees.
Schakowsky told The Hill that she is looking to get support for the bill as a standalone and has not yet considered including it in any of the upcoming defense bills.