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Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan
November 24, 2009 7:18 AM   Subscribe

Blackwater's Secret War in Pakistan - by Jeremy Scahill [via]
posted by Burhanistan (61 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.
posted by Balisong at 7:22 AM on November 24, 2009


Spencer Ackerman has a few points on this piece.
posted by shothotbot at 7:51 AM on November 24, 2009


Oh, that's nice.

Also, Greenwald has this: Greg Craig and Obama's worsening civil liberties record, which discusses how Greg Craig's ouster was partly due to his fondness for the rule of law. It's somewhat ironic since I don't think Greenwald liked Craig at all at the start of the administration.
posted by delmoi at 7:58 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Have courage, our brave warriors for peace. Help is on the way.
posted by Joe Beese at 8:04 AM on November 24, 2009


Dear Mr Obama,

You were elected on a platform of change. Just a gentle reminder.

Yours sincerely,

The electorate.
posted by MuffinMan at 8:09 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


> So, to recap: we have indefinite detention, military commissions, Blackwater assassination squads, escalation in Afghanistan, extreme secrecy to shield executive lawbreaking from judicial review, renditions, and denials of habeas corpus. These are not policies Obama has failed yet to uproot; they are policies he has explicitly advocated and affirmatively embraced as his own.

Change! HOPE! It is to barf....

Dear Mr Obama,

You were elected on a platform of change. Just a gentle reminder.


But he did bring change! He's not George W. Bush!
posted by you just lost the game at 8:15 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Something something heavy-use of mercenaries are never a good idea in the history of warfare something something.
posted by The Whelk at 8:25 AM on November 24, 2009


Blackwater/Xe Enters Pakistan, In a Big Way; as noted at the end of August when a Craig Davis was deported and then allowed to return.
posted by adamvasco at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2009


On the more hopeful front David Obey's call to require the Afghanistan war to be paid for by taxes rather then by adding to the debt. Requiring the war to be paid for up front will make it much less politically feasible.
posted by delmoi at 8:26 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Something something heavy-use of mercenaries are never a good idea in the history of warfare something something.

Is that actually true? I mean, obviously there are some examples of using mercenaries and losing, but has anyone ever done a real analysis?
posted by delmoi at 8:27 AM on November 24, 2009


Requiring the war to be paid for up front

It's like a prepaid credit card. The Pentagon gets its very own card with its name on it, and can only use it for books and at the cafeteria, and if the account gets used up, that's it for the semester, buster!
posted by dammitjim at 8:30 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yours sincerely,

The electorate.
Do you really think the electorate, overall, actually cares about any of this?
posted by delmoi at 8:30 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Well this is out-of-control scary. I imagine it's going to be a bit trickier to reign in than we can possibly comprehend. I personally am glad that a smart, long-game player like Obama is working on it (I believe that he is; and that we can't and shouldn't know all the juicy gossip about exactly how that's going down). I can't even imagine how to begin to untangle that clusterfuck. Especially after reading shothotbot's link.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:31 AM on November 24, 2009



I console myself with Obama by imagining how the days headlines would read if McCain/Palin were at the helm.
posted by notreally at 8:39 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


One quickly loses hope: it appears the war machine is fully in control and will, as with all corporate interests, seek to expand and dominate.
posted by five fresh fish at 8:44 AM on November 24, 2009


Terrifyingly plausible.

However, this much reliance on a single source, when describing things like out-of-control goons murdering cabbies in south america does raise my skepty-sense.

Hopefully this raises alarm bells for some meatier follow-up.
posted by ScotchRox at 8:46 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Is that actually true? I mean, obviously there are some examples of using mercenaries and losing, but has anyone ever done a real analysis?
The usual point of such statements is not related to winning or losing but to make a comparison (e.g.) with the fall of Rome, when the various 'barbarian' tribes hired by the empire turned on it and took over.
posted by Abiezer at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2009


The only reason any of you is surprised is that you're not cynical enough.


Yet.
posted by ZenMasterThis at 8:48 AM on November 24, 2009


Blackwater really are quite naughty, aren't they?
posted by rhymer at 8:54 AM on November 24, 2009


I console myself with Obama by imagining how the days headlines would read if McCain/Palin were at the helm.

Scientists Determine Crater of Pakistan Uninhabitable Until 2510.
posted by Thorzdad at 8:59 AM on November 24, 2009 [10 favorites]


Unnamed sources are OK as a starting point, but they need tangible corroboration. Watergate could not have happened without Deep Throat, but there was more to Woodward and Bernstein's story than one anonymous source.

Instead, they have an uncorroborated Pakistani report the editors haven't even seen themselves. I'm not saying it couldn't happen or isn't happening... I'm just saying the evidence is a bit sparse and conspiracy-theory-ish, and the author is making some very long stretches to connect the dots.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:01 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


OTOH, we're talking Blackwater here. There is nothing they will not do, no matter how immoral or destructive.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:28 AM on November 24, 2009


Ok. Let me get this straight.

Blackwater is an evil corporation based on the exchange of indiscriminate slaughter of civilians for exorbitant sums of US taxpayer money.

Blackwater changes its name to Xe.

A few years from now, they'll probably have to rebrand again. Maybe they'll be called New Xe.

Soon that's colloquially shortened to "Xenew"

Eventually, as they merge with Halliburton to become an all-encompassing megacorporation, they are known simply as "Xenu".

Oh my god. Scientologists are actually time travelers who have come back back to the past to try to stop Xenu. We ARE the original thetans!

I think I'm going to go lie down now.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 9:28 AM on November 24, 2009 [10 favorites]


I personally am glad that a smart, long-game player like Obama is working on it (I believe that he is;

Why do you believe he is? Also, I think this whole "long game" stuff is nonsense. I mean, obviously during the campaign you wouldn't see Obama flail around on the basis of the cable media freakout fest, trying to "Win the week" or whatever. There was only one week that actually matters.

But there's a difference between campaigning and policy. For one thing, a campaign has a fixed deadline for to succeed by. But what's the deadline by which Obama will have "fixed" all of this and we can actually make the determination as to whether he succeeded or failed?
posted by delmoi at 9:39 AM on November 24, 2009


How will there ever be peace if a for-profit is conducting the war?
posted by RichardS at 9:41 AM on November 24, 2009


how is it at all legal for a for-profit to engage in war? when hired Blackwater goons kill someone, isn't that as illegal as, say, hiring someone to kill someone? If anyone has knowledge of relevant law that makes this ok, I'd like to see it.
posted by cubby at 9:49 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


How will there ever be peace if a for-profit is conducting the war?

See the problem with peace is that, while it's very profitable, those profits are widely diffused among everyone. And why would we want that when we could be funneling billions of dollars down the bottomless gaping maw of Blackwater and the military industrial complex? Sure, Americans might see a little deficit reduction, slightly lower taxes down the line, but the vast majority of the benefit would be reaped by Afganis and Pakistanis. And who wants that?

Why create wealth when you can simply concentrate it?

It's like when a poor person lifts themselves up by their bootstraps by buying a cheap SUV off craigslist and then smashing that car through the front window of a Best Buy in the middle of the night to fill it with thousands of dollars worth of electronics and then burns down that Best Buy to get rid of the evidence. That's called growth, and it benefits everyone!
posted by delmoi at 9:54 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


delmoi: "Why do you believe he is?"

Leap of faith based on my character assessment of him, and the belief I have that many people are good, and work towards positive ends. Totally trite and factually baseless, I know. The horror. I'm an optimist and I've chosen to give him the benefit of the doubt. I also am becoming increasingly aware of the complexity of the issues, as well as my distance from these issues. It's just more probable to me that Obama is working this through, it's going to take a while, and the path to a good outcome is not going to be readily apparent to me, nor immediate, nor published in a newspaper or website. Feel free to tear that all apart, but I rather like my perspective because it leaves me feeling hopeful. That's not to say that I'm not open to becoming more knowledgeable about these issues...if you have something I should read, I will read it and make an evaluation and/or adjust my stance if necessary. That doesn't mean I'll allow myself to become any less optimistic in my general outlook, if I can help it.
posted by iamkimiam at 9:56 AM on November 24, 2009 [4 favorites]


iamkimiam: " It's just more probable to me that Obama is working this through, it's going to take a while, and the path to a good outcome is not going to be readily apparent to me, nor immediate, nor published in a newspaper or website. Feel free to tear that all apart, but I rather like my perspective because it leaves me feeling hopeful."

Glenn Greenwald:

Whenever Bush followers would run out of arguments to defend their leader's actions, that's the same rationale they'd resort to: he knows secret things that you don't know and therefore we should trust him.


Of course, they enjoyed their own hopeful optimism as well.
posted by Joe Beese at 10:44 AM on November 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Scahill discussed these issues on Democracy Now this morning (this is in the "via" portion of the main post, but that is too often overlooked and this is a great interview).
posted by caddis at 10:49 AM on November 24, 2009


I am going to go ahead and guess that this is assets being "loaned out" to Xe so that the CIA can say "We don't have an active counterinsurgency mission in Pakistan, cross our hearts and hope to die" whilst simultaneously having an active counterinsurgency mission in Pakistan under the direction of a PMC that is heavily in pocket. The JSOC rep is correct though - armed predator drones are a USAF/CIA asset and wouldn't be operated by mercenaries. The intel gathering will be interception of comms and general recon work etc.

The fact that the JSOC PA says they are a "Task Force" (capitalised with the article) means that they are working directly for the man. TF20 for example was another name for a JSOC amalgam in Iraq. I'd be rather surprised to find them not working in Pakistan (there were other ISA chaps working in Afghanistan and Iraq over the past 6 years - Grey Fox, TF121 etc.)

There are Xe mercs that are genuinely badass sons of bitches, guys who've served a big chunk of their lives in Special Forces etc. Those are your deniable CIA SAD folks and there are the 2nd string shit heels that were wandering around NOLA shooting at "looters". Those are the ex-cops and fantasy loons who want the sunglasses, the tan and the custom M4 carbine. The guys in Pakistan are not likely to be the reserve team. For all intents and purposes - assume that they are still employees of the US military.

p.s. Examples of mercenaries as a useful and trustworthy military force- Swiss Guard, Condottieri such as John Hawkwood in the late 14th century and many modern PMCs. I know several folks either first hand or via the intertubes and they share a number of traits such as professionalism, devotion to duty and a genuine willingness to risk their lives to help people. Yes, they do so for money but these are men who have devoted 15-20 years of their lives to the military and now do their nation's bidding for a decent paycheque.

It should be noted that most of the chaps I know are British. They wouldn't likely work for Xe and we keep a very close eye on our PMC folks. Most of them still work directly for us (by which I mean SIS or what-have-you), regardless of who signs their contract.

I typed all this up halfway through reading the article and now on getting towards the end it appears that the "unnamed military source" has pretty much just said all that himself. Fuck's sake... I'm not bloody deleting it now. It's hard to type this stuff up at work.

If you accept that you need to have military assets in Afghanistan and Pakistan then you may as well accept Xe or other PMCs being there. If you disagree with the Western powers farting around in Central Asia, well, mercs or US Army, you're going to dislike it either way. I'd rather the best people were out there doing the jobs that the politicians tell them to do.

Don't be scared just 'cos their mercenaries. Be scared because your government has decided the best way to conceal the activity from you/congress is to take it outside the official military chain of command. It's the lack of open responsive government that is the problem for me. Do what you like but fucking tell me why you're doing it.

fivefreshfish says "OTOH, we're talking Blackwater here. There is nothing they will not do, no matter how immoral or destructive"

Yes, but they don't just fly out to Pakistan on the company credit card and start lobbing grenades at Islamic folks on a whim. Someone (the US Government) contracted them, flew them out, supplied them, guided them and gave them a mission plan. That someone works for you (well not you fff, but you smell what I am cooking?). Not every Xe employee is G.I. Billy-Joe. Most of them are smart as fuck and twice as dedicated.
posted by longbaugh at 10:53 AM on November 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


Unnamed sources are OK as a starting point, but they need tangible corroboration. Watergate could not have happened without Deep Throat, but there was more to Woodward and Bernstein's story than one anonymous source.

I was wondering the same thing. Blackwater aka Xe is not on the list of my favorite companies; given sufficiently reliable information, I could easily believe they could be involved in something like this. But a few things bother me about this particular story at this point in time. First, the lack of attribution of information from anything better than a single unidentified source. Second, while the GOP may simply flat out lie in response to media inquiries, previous administrations usually attempted to conceal information by evasion or obfuscation. Sometimes technically true but very misleading answers were the order of the day. Here, all we get are flat out denials.

I'm reserving judgment until the author can develop more sources of information.
posted by Hylas at 11:13 AM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Feel free to tear that all apart, but I rather like my perspective because it leaves me feeling hopeful."

Right. Of course, we should make the determination of whether or not something is true based on how we would feel if it was.
posted by delmoi at 11:17 AM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Second, while the GOP may simply flat out lie in response to media inquiries, previous administrations usually attempted to conceal information by evasion or obfuscation. Sometimes technically true but very misleading answers were the order of the day. Here, all we get are flat out denials.

The only denials are "on background," though. In other words, they're only willing to deny the claims anonymously, which is a little odd.

Anyway, who knows if the story is true. Having only one source is problematic, even if the guy is legit he could just be bullshitting or making claims based on internal rumors.

One thing I've noticed is that a lot of former CIA people seem to be kind of crazy and conspiracy-theory-ish. Look at Larry "Whitey Tape" Johnson and Clinton's DCI James Woolsey, who claimed hours after the 9/11 attacks.
posted by delmoi at 11:28 AM on November 24, 2009


Robert Baer is an ex-CIA chap and has a decent grip on reality. That's just off the top of my head. There are more no doubt that don't prance around in the public eye, trying to generate book sales with the promise of delicious cake hidden CIA sekrits.
posted by longbaugh at 11:37 AM on November 24, 2009


Scahill discussed these issues on Democracy Now this morning (this is in the "via" portion of the main post, but that is too often overlooked and this is a great interview).

I should have highlighted that a little better than I did in the post as you're correct; it is a good interview.
posted by Burhanistan at 11:52 AM on November 24, 2009


Did nobody get the huge factual error that the Pearl Continental in Peshawar was blown the fuck up many months ago? Nobody is going to be using it for a consulate for a long time to come.
posted by thewalrus at 12:05 PM on November 24, 2009


Even though I read your comment as a sarcastic insult to my intellect, I am going to address the part where I think you may have misunderstood what I wrote, delmoi. I am also interested in information, truth and facts. I am willing to change my stance on any person or issue, if there is a compelling reason to do. I am not willing to stop having a positive, hopeful perspective on life. I don't think it's incongruous to be well-informed AND be hopefully optimistic. That's what I'm working towards. I also try to believe that everybody has good intentions, until they do or say something that causes me to doubt them. That's just my default position.

I haven't learned anything about Obama yet that causes me to rethink my assessment of him as a good person with good intentions. Is there something I should know? Are you suggesting that it is not true that Obama is working towards undoing this mess? Please help me understand how and why that is. I'm truly interested. Did I misunderstand some implications in the article? It was a long read, and I am but one reader. What did you think of it?

Again, I am interested in the information and other people's perspectives about the topic at hand. Please share, and let's have a conversation about anything relevant here, other than whether or not my perspective on life is flawed.
posted by iamkimiam at 12:07 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Fomer CIA Intelligence Officer Steven Cash is in charge of Blackwater operations in Peshawar.
posted by adamvasco at 12:21 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Having the CIA in charge is every bit as bad as having Eric Prince in charge. There is no morally reprehensible thing the CIA has not done; indeed, judging by their operations in Iraq, they go out of their way to invent new, morally reprehensible things to do.
posted by five fresh fish at 1:37 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


“I am going to go ahead and guess that this is assets being "loaned out" to Xe so that the CIA can say "We don't have an active counterinsurgency mission in Pakistan, cross our hearts and hope to die" whilst simultaneously having an active counterinsurgency mission in Pakistan under the direction of a PMC that is heavily in pocket”

Nice guessing there. I'm going to go ahead and completely agree.

“Don't be scared just 'cos their mercenaries. Be scared because your government has decided the best way to conceal the activity from you/congress is to take it outside the official military chain of command.”
Bingo.

“But what's the deadline by which Obama will have "fixed" all of this and we can actually make the determination as to whether he succeeded or failed?”

The succeed deadline is a bit ambiguous. The failed deadline – dunno, in a Dallas motorcade perhaps? Seriously, he’s supposed to turn the CIA and the alphabet soup community around on a dime? This is not ‘b’ billions but ‘T’ Trillions of dollars at stake. They’re going to let Obama roll over them just because he convinced enough of the unwashed masses to vote for him?
When, exactly the fuck, are people going to realize it’s not Obama’s job to fix every goddamned problem in the world? He’s a chink in the armor. A pain in the ass. A fly in the ointment. If he were John McClane he’d be feeling very unappreciated now. This is a problem for congress. And in fact there have been studies and there has been an oversight committee.

But congress hasn’t been exactly diligent in their oversight.

That’s Obama’s fault? He’s inherited perhaps the toughest foreign policy challenge since Truman.
Me, I think Dorronsoro is correct that we should (and should have) focused on tighter operations and the instability in Pakistan. But again, congress has mostly taken a walk on this.
As has NATO, didn’t seem to be a lot of strategic cooperation between the provisional reconstruction teams. And the goals of the NGOs (who have people in the field risking their own lives) seems to be at odds in their methods. I’m happy with long term low risk goals. But no one makes much money when there’s a low risk environment because you don’t need to expend much ordinance (just a personal thing too, if I’m going to shoot, I’m going to want to end the conflict. I don’t much like fighting over the same bone all over again).
As it is now – the argument is over more/less troops. Not over policy. If it leads to a lower risk environment, where we’re not looking to militarize our way out, I’m happy to send more people. It will cost us less in the long run than having to go back and blow something up or having something blown up here.
I’d rather talk more to the Taliban, maybe divide the insurgency. That would take more people too.
And we need a long term financial commitment from the international community. Not just diplomacy. Their budget is $2.5 billion. There’s no way they’re going to come up with 135,000 troops with that kind of money. So we need (that is – the international community) to support capacity building and infrastructure and sustain and that’s going to mean more people too. The risk and loss I can accept if it means we get the hell out of there without too much bloodshed eventually.
Otherwise we’re going to continue to just chase our tails.

Also – I like Obey’s idea. People should feel the immediate effects of going to war. It should always be a painful decision. Personally and immediately.
It should never be as casual as it is now.
posted by Smedleyman at 1:40 PM on November 24, 2009


Speaking of making people feel the effects of going to war, it should be constitutionally required that a certain percentage of any US troops sent into combat be drafted. Like, say...50%.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 2:05 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nobody wants to share a foxhole with someone who is being forced to be there. All volunteer professionals are better than draftees. I get what you're saying but must respectfully disagree.
posted by longbaugh at 2:52 PM on November 24, 2009


Smedleyman: "The succeed deadline is a bit ambiguous."

Not at all. It's one Friedman Unit in the future - same as always.
posted by Joe Beese at 3:09 PM on November 24, 2009


A few years from now, they'll probably have to rebrand again

Erik Prince "And then, we looked at each other and said..."
Beelzebub: "Said, look, why not?"
Erik: "...we might as well join up. You know?"
Beelzebub: "So, we became Xe."
Erik: "Right."
Beelzebub: "And, uh, we had to change our name, actually."
Erik: "Well, there was another group, in DC, called Xe and we had to rename ourselves."
Beelzebub: "Blackwater."
Erik: "Blackwater."
Beelzebub: "Yeah."
Erik: "And they became..."
Beelzebub: "...NooXe. They changed their name to NooXe. And we thought we could go back to Blackwater, but what's the point?"
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 4:15 PM on November 24, 2009


Obama said in 2007 that he would take the fight into Pakistan.
posted by Jahaza at 4:22 PM on November 24, 2009


Nobody wants to share a foxhole with someone who is being forced to be there. All volunteer professionals are better than draftees. I get what you're saying but must respectfully disagree.

That makes some sense....but I don't think the evidence supports it. The US & allies liberated the continent of Europe and then some with an almost entirely drafted military. On the other hand, we did have some trouble in SE Asia. I just don't see a lot of evidence that a professional army is more effective. Sorry to say, but voluntarily signing up for the US military doesn't guarantee that you want to be there or that you are the best of the best. Or that you ever intended to actually sit in a foxhole and shoot at people.

I DO think that having a professional army contributes massively to political apathy about waging war. On the whole, I think Americans are pretty indifferent about the fact that they are supporting two foreign wars. That is almost entirely the result of a system in which the only place the war hurts your average civilian is in his unborn grandchildren's wallets. I think it's essential that, when the US goes to war, every American risk the ACTUAL burden of war in their own flesh and blood.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 5:54 PM on November 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Robert Baer is an ex-CIA chap and has a decent grip on reality.

Agreed. Here's an hour-long conversation with Baer which was on UCTV a few month ago.
posted by homunculus at 7:41 PM on November 24, 2009


Related: Pentagon preparing to send 34,000 troops to Afghanistan, official says
posted by HP LaserJet P10006 at 8:44 PM on November 24, 2009


"I just don't see a lot of evidence that a professional army is more effective."

Time in service alone is a massive advantage. Nifty scene in 300 where Leonidas asks troops from different armies what their jobs are - potter, baker, etc. He asks the Spartans and they all raise their spears.
Advantages in command and control by itself as well is a massive advantage.
The change in fire weapons forcing linear tactics (the various revolutions in infantry, artillery, fortificatoins - it wasn't just the Prince of Orange Maurice after the Dutch Revolt, Caesar, Alexander, etc. had professional armies), the change there to Hutier tactics in WWI and on - there's been an increase in the need for professionals as technology, tactics, psychology and even the battlefields themselves have changed.
You need troops that cooperate well and embody doctrine. That's important anywhere, but especially critical in a democracy where there is civilian control of the military.

In fact, what infuriates me is that using blackwater in this way (if it is fact) skirts that doctrine.

And all that said, I do think we need to demobilize. Concerns of liberty and economics aside (military budget and infrastructure is too big), we're far too top heavy just in terms of reaching military objectives. It's so bad that we're looking for military solutions to political problems that don't require them.
I'd absolutely resist a draft, but I agree that people should feel the burden if they want to make war. It'd make it less likely to happen.
posted by Smedleyman at 10:25 PM on November 24, 2009


My interpretation of the article, based on nothing but the article itself:

- During the Bush Administration, Cheney and Rumsfeld often short-circuited the chain of command by going directly to JSOC when they wanted clandestine operations done. This continued until "...Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House." With the creation of the Strategic Support Branch, JSOC even had its own intelligence capacity, which Rumsfeld created "as part of his war to end "near total dependence on CIA."" So JSOC was now almost completely self-sufficient, possessing everything it needed to do black ops stuff anywhere in the world, without a long chain of command that could slow things down or any significant Congressional accountability.

- JSOC employs Blackwater SELECT for two main reasons: many of it's best personnel now work for Blackwater and it needs to hire back their expertise - but more importantly, there is no need to report the actions of private employees back to Congress, or anyone. So JSOC, using Blackwater, can do things in Pakistan that the CIA can't, because the CIA is bound by law and could never get away with it. Accordingly, the article states that most of the drone attacks in Pakistan with heavy civilian casualties were made by JSOC.

So the Bush Administration created something that could carry out the commands of the Executive branch with maximum efficiency and minimum accountability, then sent them out to do stuff in Central Asia. And they're still in place, doing stuff. The big question now, imo, is are they doing stuff at the behest of the new Executive, or are they almost independent? Are they too valuable to the war effort, or can Obama shut them down? Does he want to shut them down, or are they too useful for him? And can the relationship between Blackwater and the the US military be severed at this point, or are they too useful as well?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:30 PM on November 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Pakistani Federal Interior Minister Rehman Malik confirms DynCorp operating in Pakistan via its subcontractor Inter-Risk DynCorp and the CIA are old friends (see Peru Shoot down). The bottom of this dark well is extremely murky.
posted by adamvasco at 12:36 AM on November 25, 2009


I am presently in Islamabad, and rumours of Blackwater operatives are rife. There is a house across the street from me, that was built in a short span of 3 months and now has residents; has razor wire all around it and only tinted SUVs that go in or come out. Who knows who they are, but they certainly didn't greet the neighbours.

This whole military operation (from 9/11 and the sudden discovery of Al-Qaeda), the foreign and the Pakistani, to me stinks. The Al-Qaeda types were CIA and Pakistani assets deployed to fight the Soviet Union. There still must be links between all these players. The Russians are probably doing their thing, the Chinese and Indians, too. It is the local populations in places like Swat and North & South Waziristan who suffer.

All this secrecy makes me very uncomfortable. There are too many people with undisclosedagendas. Little of what has happened in the last decade is easily digestible. Bush-Cheney were in bed with Musharraf for eight long years. There are too many people who benefit from Islamic terrorism as the big Satan, replacing the Soviet Union to justify this fear- and security-obsessed frenzy that we've been on in the last decade.

Too many people profit from war; Iraq is a great example, and now AfPak. That is what is so troubling about operators like Blackwater, that are not subject to any transparency or accountability. They are former soldiers who now place material rewards above motivations like glory or patriotism. If they are highly paid, have no loyalty but to the highest-bidder, and are the most highly-trained and skilled, what does it say about the future of war?

Ultimately, remember that they are dependent on war or insurgency to keep themselves employed.
posted by Azaadistani at 12:51 AM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Kevin Street - your first paragraph is mostly correct except the ISA (a DoD intelligence team recruited from Army Special Forces) was originally founded prior to Operation Eagle Claw in 1980. The DoD has messed around over the past 20 odd years before suborning them to SOCOM/JSOC but they've had an internal intelligence gathering team for nigh on three decades now. I'm pretty certain that the SSB is another new name/file header for the ISA based on their description and taskings (though I could be completely wrong!). SOCOM and JSOC are geared for quicker reactions than the general military - most 1st tier special operations units are ready to go within 4 hours notice. Moving a division or even smaller units of regular Army takes literally days. The SOCOM/JSOC assets move quick but lack support but if it's quick in and out actions that need to be taken (i.e. the hunt for Saddam) then you bring in a small TF of operators to do the job.

The middle paragraph is absolutely correct - but I'd maybe reverse the importance of the two reasons Xe is being used. I think that the avoidance of oversight is more important to the government than the fact that they have no other "expertise" available. Most of the Xe guys are still going to be part of the Army/Navy reserves and could be recalled to duty if needs be.

I'd disagree with the last paragraph also - not majorly but on a couple of points. The rise of Blackwater/Xe is certainly something that has happened during the Bush administration (but then he did start two wars) but SOCOM/JSOC have utilised their shortened chain of command and reduced requirement for oversight many times in the past. Trying to get stuff done via the JCS in 1980 was an absolute joke and directly contributed to the creation of SOCOM. As far as intelligence paramilitaries, CIA SOG/SAD assets have been deployed before but since they are a part of the CIA Dept of Operations they are required by law to have their actions reported to congress. Renting these guys out to Xe bypasses the oversight part (though SOCOM/JSOC units are actually allowed to retroactively make congress aware of intelligence missions they have carried out in certain circumstances thanks to an "interesting" reading of US Code Title 10).

I'd also disagree that they are "off the reservation". They are professionals that for all intents and purposes are working directly for the government, performing tasks they are paid well to succeed at. So long as they have a well defined mission and receive sufficient support they will do what they are tasked to do. That is where your concern should be, that your government doesn't trust you to know what it does in your name, but then again, it's always been that way and I don't know how that can change.

Azaadistani - whilst I appreciate that you are right there I have to disagree with your statement that Xe operators are open to work for "the highest bidder". I'll bet you all the money in the world that if the Saudi government offered Erik Prince $10billion to attack the USA he'd not only decline, he'd offer to take the war to Riyadh himself, free of charge. Don't confuse mercenary armies of the past with Xe. They really aren't the same beast. A lot of PMCs are heavily monitored and directly run for and by national intelligence apparatus. The individual operators might now be paid more money than when they worked directly for Uncle Sam (or whomever) but they still retain the same loyalties as they did when they served. 10-15 years of being sold on glory and patriotism has a tendency to stick.

Otherwise, my heart goes out to you. I have a lot of friends with family in Pakistan and I know it can be quite scary at times. I hope things are resolved in a way that's best for the people who just want to live their lives free of violence. Good luck.
posted by longbaugh at 3:08 AM on November 25, 2009


It seems to me that believing for-profit war-mongers will remain loyal to the State instead of the highest dollar is about as naive as believing that for-profit health-care providers will remain loyal toward improving health outcomes instead of going for the highest dollar.
posted by five fresh fish at 9:28 AM on November 25, 2009


On further reading and remembering General McCrystal's background all of this should come as little surprise.
via firedoglake
It seems both parallel strains of our covert forces want to avoid oversight–and it seems that Blackwater’s centrality in both strains only exacerbates our command problems.
posted by adamvasco at 12:02 PM on November 25, 2009


“…more importantly, there is no need to report the actions of private employees back to Congress, or anyone. So JSOC, using Blackwater, can do things in Pakistan that the CIA can't, because the CIA is bound by law and could never get away with it”

That’s been going on for a loooong time. Contractors are just more out in the open now. And the shadow units go back a long way generally. You could go back to George Washington and the Culper ring and Knowlton's Rangers. And he was fighting the Hessians (who were outright mercs).

During Vietnam you had Harrison Ulrich Jack, General Vang Pao and Air America running a guerilla war in Laos. Before that the CIA had Lawrence Devlin playing games in Africa (Congo). And the French. F’ing nightmare that was. But yeah, there’s been that sort of covert-overt interdependence for a long time (see just below). Walker of course. Etc. etc.

“The big question now, imo, is are they doing stuff at the behest of the new Executive, or are they almost independent? Are they too valuable to the war effort, or can Obama shut them down? Does he want to shut them down, or are they too useful for him? And can the relationship between Blackwater and the the US military be severed at this point, or are they too useful as well?”

There’s this sort of relationship between tooth and tail – that is – how much fight in proportion to how much support (ratios very, e.g. special forces units are mostly tooth). The military does a lot of support and is set up to do it very well and they can get away with doing it quite a bit without much of a profile. When it comes to the teeth, the fighting, well, you can get that on CNN, so it’s pretty high profile and someone wants an answer.

As it stands now, it’s integrated. At Obama’s level – he’s not micromanaging. And for congressmen it’s pretty easy to look the other way at –how- the job gets done. Especially if it’s none of your constituents’ kids buying the farm.

You’d have to make policy changes to alter this. And there’d be a hue and cry. More of ‘our’ troops dead. The cost is too high (because the private sector blah blah blah).
But what it comes down to is the tooth/tail ratio. Training costs. Equipment, space, etc. etc. – so you rely on civilian contractors who can monitor weapon systems, technical assistance, logistical support and yeah, off the books tooth so on paper you’re ‘winning’ the war because your combat power is so badass and you’re so efficient, etc. etc.

Meanwhile in terms of real resources, you’re pretty much the same as anyone else and worse off really because congress can’t get a straight answer in terms of cost-benefit analysis.
On top of all this, the main part really, it’s hard for an all-volunteer force to deal with the in-theater costs of just running stuff, serving food say or hauling stuff from a base to a field depot.

Now one might say gee – if your administrative overhead has tail outnumbering tooth from 7:1 or 10:1 even, maybe you should, y’know, not fight every f’ing war on a big scale you think you can get away with and adjust your foreign policy accordingly.

Buuut we like credit cards n’stuff. So there’s been a big shift from in-house support to contract support. And of course, this extends to the tooth side as well.
There’s a lot of work in protecting diplomats. I’ve done some of this. There are times where security is genuinely needed. At some point within the state department this became a status symbol (as anything someone doing actually useful work uses eventually does). And now you have mercs doing diplomatic security for guys who go back and forth from the embassy to the brothel instead of the guy actually risking his life out in the middle of nowhere crapping in a hole and talking to Joe Tribalchief.
But that’s a tangent.

To be clear – PMCs tooth to tail looks really swell - Blackwater runs (or ran) about 20:1 with the Army at about 1:8 to 1:12. But they’re using U.S. ships, planes, etc. etc. So - duh.

Ultimately tho - this all lowers the costs of going to war. On paper. ‘Hides’ is a better word. Large scale military ops lacking strong popular support would be impossible to engage in without widespread use of military contractors and casualties from contractors are almost never reported.

Again, some wild eyed freethinking anarchist might think maybe, gee, y’know, let’s not go to war without popular support or sideline the people in a representational republic’s decision to use armed force since it seems to contradict the foundational principles of the United States sorta thing.

Buuut we’re still working through the JAG off ices and the DoD’s form of oversight. Hashing out the details. All that. I’d rather we shitcanned it and used the military we had by volunteer and worked out foreign policy from there instead of making policy and trying to beef up forces to fit that. Lot of myopia in Washington though.

Shorter answer – bureaucratic inertia and resistance to change what is essentially an easy way of doing things - as the way we've been doing things.

“The individual operators might now be paid more money than when they worked directly for Uncle Sam (or whomever) but they still retain the same loyalties as they did when they served. 10-15 years of being sold on glory and patriotism has a tendency to stick.”

That’s sort of the problem though. As with any form of idolatry, they’re not fighting for the principles but the symbol of them. They might well be certain they’re fighting for truth and justice and the American way or against terrorism, but whatever their motives they’re fighting without restraint.

That’s crucial. Because they lose objectivity and oversight and they can easily lose their scruples along with their perspective, because of their ideological investment. You don’t get lawyers arguing their own cases or doctors diagnosing and treating themselves. Or if you do, you see how badly it screws them up. Same deal. You can’t do that work and remain acceptable to the society you serve. Hell it’s hard enough for Joe Dogface to come back in. And a lot of those guys are pretty much trapped in that work.

That’s not to say they’d accept money from a foreign government (in contrast to FFF’s point). But as I’ve argued elsewhere, there are interests within the U.S., even the U.S. government, that are not necessarily aligned with the interests OF the U.S. or its people.

I’ve never bought in to the “if I told you I’d have to kill you” mystique. There aren’t things the people “wouldn’t understand.” There are most certainly classified operations and so forth, and those need to be secret. But there can be (and is) representational oversight for all that. Nothing should be off the books, because you can’t support the principles of democracy by violating them.
There are a great many people who think differently. But then, I’ve always been ok with taking the hit. Even if Americans die, it’s more important that liberty not fail. And so often I’ve seen that – that people might die otherwise – be the justification for all kinds of nasty things. If there’s one thing war has taught me, it’s that there are worse things than death.
I think, for me, being a merc would be one.

All points on professionalism ceded of course. They are that.
posted by Smedleyman at 12:39 PM on November 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Too many people profit from war; Iraq is a great example, and now AfPak. That is what is so troubling about operators like Blackwater, that are not subject to any transparency or accountability.

... and for a wholly Indian armchair perspective, two things that trouble me about all this, in addition to the very valid point about transparency and accountability:-

a) This:
The military intelligence source drew a distinction between the Blackwater operatives who work for the State Department, which he calls "Blackwater Vanilla," and the seasoned Special Forces veterans who work on the JSOC program. "Good or bad, there's a small number of people who know how to pull off an operation like that. That's probably a good thing," said the source. "It's the Blackwater SELECT people that have and continue to plan these types of operations because they're the only people that know how and they went where the money was.
In other words, the US Special Forces has a retention problem; it's leaking talent from the top into the 'private sector'. This can't be good; seems to me, the article is basically saying the US government doesn't have the skills anymore to execute specific operations such as this.

b) As also this:
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 counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions
The Pakistani government is now outsourcing a war on its own citizens that it very likely does not want to fight? Didn't we, errr, have a problem the last time we tried that in South Asia?
posted by the cydonian at 7:43 PM on November 25, 2009


Private contractors joined raids against suspected insurgents in Iraq and Afghanistan, says New York Times
posted by adamvasco at 2:30 AM on December 11, 2009


Corporatized war. That's pretty much the end of everything good.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:42 AM on December 11, 2009


Isn't a "snatch and grab" operation redundant?
posted by shothotbot at 2:09 PM on December 11, 2009


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