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Jeremy Scahill Answers Your Questions

In just the week since Jeremy Scahill’s appearance on THE JOURNAL, there have been many developments in the Blackwater story:

  • In front of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, Secretary of State Rice expressed regret for not investigating Blackwater earlier. She said, "I certainly regret that there was not the oversight that there should have been." Watch a clip of her testimony here.

  • Richard Griffin, the assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security announced his departure amidst questioning of his oversight and policies regarding Blackwater, particularly int he wake of the September 16 killing of Iraqi civilians by Blackwater guards.

  • Questions arose as to whether or not Blackwater evaded tens of millions of dollars in taxes.

  • Iraq revoked all contractor immunity, put into the Iraqi constitution by L. Paul Bremer as one of his last acts in his post back in 2004.

We'd like to thank Jeremy Scahill for taking the time to respond so thoroughly to many of your important comments and inquiries.

Please note that the views and opinions expressed by Mr. Scahill are not necessarily the views and opinions held by Bill Moyers or BILL MOYERS JOURNAL.

(Photo: Robin Holland)


Do we have any operational numbers on what Blackwater has actually succeeded at doing? Or is this classified?

Posted by: JohnHouston | October 21, 2007 07:08 PM

Jeremy Scahill: There is no question that Blackwater has been highly successful at completing the literal mission that it has been tasked with in Iraq – primarily keeping alive senior US occupation officials, State Department personnel and visiting Congressional delegations. But, as the events of September 16 show us in an all too horrifying way, the manner in which Blackwater sometimes goes about completing its mission has a violent and deadly outcome. There are numerous incidents in which Blackwater operatives and forces from other private companies working for the US government have opened fire on Iraqi vehicles, killed Iraqi civilians and enraged communities across Iraq. These actions give the impression of a wild west atmosphere and send a clear message to Iraqis that the lives of American occupation officials are worth infinitely more than those of the ordinary people of Iraq. Interestingly, we are hearing increasingly from military officials that they believe Blackwater and its colleagues/competitors are "hurting the counterinsurgency effort," i.e. the "hearts and minds" campaign.

Col. Thomas Hammes, the US military official once overseeing the creation of a new Iraqi military has described driving around Iraq with Iraqis and encountering Blackwater operatives. "[They] were running me off the road. We were threatened and intimidated," Hammes said. But, he added, "they were doing their job, exactly what they were paid to do in the way they were paid to do it, and they were making enemies on every single pass out of town." Hammes concluded the contractors were "hurting our counterinsurgency effort." While this may encourage an analysis or line that the private forces are bad and the military is angelic (which is far from true), it is worth noting because even if you support the war, it makes a compelling case for severely limiting or discontinuing the use of Blackwater and other private forces.


Could you resolve this contradiction in your interview? (a) Early in the program you indicate that Blackwater has superb equipment and training, the envy of regular US military forces; (b) later you indicate that the Fallujah debacle resulted from bad equipment, undermanning, insufficient weaponry, bad planning, etc.

I share your viewing-with-alarm of Blackwater, but apart from its moral and political and strategic and criminal negatives, is Blackwater competent? (I.e., did they "learn" something from Fallujah, however much we deplore their mercenary modus operandi? And of course I don't mean "competence" here as a compliment, but as part of the danger.)

Posted by: Gene Keyes | October 20, 2007 12:34 PM

Jeremy Scahill: This is one of the realities of the industry, especially given the profit motives at play. Combat is a major, for-profit entity on a scale never seen in US history. Indeed, Blackwater does have some of the best-trained veterans of the US Special Forces world working for it in Iraq and elsewhere. In the case of Fallujah, the families of those four men killed and dragged through the streets have sued Blackwater for wrongful death, alleging that the company cut corners in the interest of profit and rushed a mission into a dangerous area, resulting in the deaths of their loved ones.


Dear Mr. Scahill--

As a resident of North Carolina, I am particularly interested in my state's oversight and regulation of Blackwater. Clearly investigations on the Federal are ongoing. I would also like to write NC state officials to urge them to conduct their own investigations, but I'm not sure which offices would be concerned (AG, Governer's, Treasury) or which particular aspects of Blackwater's operation would fall under state oversight. Any ideas or tips for issues to raise with state officials? Do you know of any email or letter-writing campaigns aimed at increasing oversight of Blackwater? Thank you for the fascinating interview.

Posted by: jcdavis | October 20, 2007 11:31 AM

Jeremy Scahill: I think this would be an important development. One of the interesting – some might say disturbing – aspects of Blackwater's presence in the US national security apparatus is its facilities. The main Blackwater headquarters in Moyock, North Carolina is a sprawling 7,000 acre private military base--the largest of its kind in the world. The company has also been building a parallel network to the structure of the official government apparatus. The Prince empire now includes an aviation division, a maritime division, an intelligence company and Blackwater manufactures both surveillance blimps and armored vehicles. It recently opened a new Blackwater facility in Illinois called "Blackwater North" and is fighting back fierce local opposition to a planned 800+ acre facility in Poterero, California, just miles from the US-Mexico border. The Congressman who represents that district, Democrat Bob Filner, recently introduced legislation seeking to block the creation of what he terms "mercenary training centers" anywhere in the U.S. outside of military bases. While that is obviously at the federal level, it would be interesting to get basic questions answered about the legal framework for such facilities in the states in which they operate.


Why hasn't the media, other than our local San Diego newspapers, mentioned Blackwater's attempt to put a base near Potrero, a small San Diego County community which is somewhat close to the Mexican border? Is Blackwater slated to be part of our "border security"? The community council members who voted "yea" on the base have been recalled, but this needs media coverage!!

Posted by: Tina Davis | October 20, 2007 01:13 AM

Jeremy Scahill: I visited this proposed Blackwater site earlier this year and met with local residents and a dissident member of the local planning group. I was impressed with the level of resistance in Potrero to Blackwater's attempt to set up shop there. It is a very important discussion that cuts to the heart of the future of privatized warfare, homeland security and border issues. Certainly the location is curious given the closeness to Mexico. There is no doubt that Blackwater and other companies have long pressed for a greater inclusion in border training and some have suggested actually using private forces to patrol the border. It is hard to imagine that is not in the minds of Blackwater executives when they look at the Potrero site and its potential uses.


Mr. Scahill could you just clarify something. Repeatedly you referred to "private contractors" outnumbering U.S. soldiers in Iraq in your interview. Are all of these "private contractors mercenary soldiers?

Posted by: Daniel Loomis | October 20, 2007 12:16 AM

Jeremy Scahill: No. There are now approximately 180,000 private contractors operating alongside approximately 170,000 US troops. Those are just the ones on contracts with the US government. Most of them do jobs traditionally performed by active duty soldier – whether that is peeling potatoes or protecting commanding generals. Most of them are not armed, however. Of these 180,000, we do not know how many are armed contractors like those that work for Blackwater. In fact, the military has been unable to provide an effective tally. Estimates range from 20,000-70,000 armed contractors. But it must be said that the system of contracting in Iraq is a labyrinth of subcontractors. The prime contractors are very secretive about the work of their subcontractors making it very difficult to investigate. With incredibly ineffective oversight and monitoring, it may well be impossible to know the truth about the extent of the use of these forces. The GAO last year estimated that there were 48,000 employees of private military/security companies in Iraq working for more than 170 companies. I tend to think the number is higher – perhaps much higher, especially when one takes into account the fact that there are many other entities besides the US government hire private security – i.e. Britain, Australia, corporations, wealthy individuals, the Iraqi government, etc.


On May 10th, 2005, my Brother, Thomas Jaichner, was shot and killed by a sniper in Ramadi while working for Blackwater. Like many of the Blackwater men he also served in the U.S. Military in Afghanistan where he met Blackwater. After being home for just three months from Afghanastan he was off to Iraq with Blackwater. It was during his 3rd time in Iraq with Blackwater when he was killed. I have been told three versions of what happened that day, one from the men with whom he served, one from the newspapers, and one from the autopsy report given to me by the FBI. The stories vary significantly. I would just like to know the truth, without a lawsuit. Being you wrote a book about Blackwater, I wonder if you have researched the circumstances of the men who have been killed while working for Blackwater?

Posted by: Jennifer Lynch | October 19, 2007 11:13 PM

Jeremy Scahill: I'm sorry for your loss. With the exception of the deaths of the four Blackwater operatives in Fallujah in March 2004 and the crash of a Blackwater aircraft in Afghanistan in November 2004, killing, among others, three active-duty soldiers, I have not investigated other cases of deaths of Blackwater forces in any depth. I write briefly about some in my book but not to the extent that you are asking. These two cases – Fallujah and Afghanistan – are in litigation, as the families of the deceased are suing Blackwater. I would suggest that if you have not already done this to involve your Congressmember (though this may go nowhere, it is worth a try), as well as filing an official inquiry with the US State Department asking for any information on your brother's death. It would be important to know if he was working a State Department contract when he was killed or not. Also, have you ever asked Blackwater for any company documentation about the circumstances of his death? I wish I could be of more help but those are the thoughts that immediately come to mind.


You made the point numerous times that due to continual contracts given to Blackwater, the company will be around for a long time. If a Democrat wins in 2008, with a Democrat controlled congress, there will obviously be a lot of de-privatization and a probably end to the war in Iraq. How will Blackwater continue?

Posted by: Benjamin Alff | October 19, 2007 10:33 PM

Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater was originally given its federal operating license under the Clinton Administration. Clinton was a dedicated supporter of outsourcing in general and the military specifically. He authorized the use of mercenary forces in the Balkans, as well as in Haiti and elsewhere. Who do we think gave Halliburton all those contracts in the 1990s when Cheney was running the company? Blackwater is deeply embedded in the US national security apparatus and will, I believe, continue to thrive under a Democratic administration. This has long been a bipartisan system and while Blackwater may be under some scrutiny right now, it would take a much more dedicated investigation to unpack the extent of its involvement in the US war machine and the Homeland Security apparatus. I don't see it shutting down (or being shut down) anytime soon. I also do not share your optimism about an end to the war in the near future with or without a Democrat in the White House.


What would happen to Blackwater if the U.S. left Iraq tomorrow? How would it affect their size and income as a corporation? If these behemoth security companies depend on large conflicts to maintain their stature, won't they become an unacceptable lobby for a permanent state of war?

Posted by: John Petesch | October 19, 2007 10:22 PM

Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater may well leave Iraq in its overt capacity by May. Perhaps not, but it is possible. Erik Prince has indicated in recent days that he sees the private security business in Iraq diminishing. While Blackwater has indeed made significant money off of its Iraq operations – over $1 billion by some estimates – the company is by no means hurting for other business. It recently won a share of a $15 billion "war on drugs" contract, a $92 million contract for its aviation division with the Pentagon and continues to be one of the premiere providers of specialized training to federal and local law enforcement and the US military. The company has been expanding rapidly even amidst the scandals. Iraq is only a part of the story. These companies have their sights set on being international peacekeepers and increasing their presence within the homeland security structure of the US. I'm sure they'd prefer to keep their Iraq arrangement but it won't break them – not by any stretch of the imagination.


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One day the USA will be run by Militia rule. It's slowly happening now.

I find it frightening that more people are not concerned about Blackwater's move to other areas of the US. I do not think San Diego is the only location this company is targeting for one of their "training camps". Strategically speaking, if you want to completely control your "enemy" it is always best to flank or surround them. That is what seems to be happening here--and yes, the US citizens have become the "enemy" for this government that supports and pays Blackwater big money contracts.

Dear Sir, you appear to be well versed on Special Warfare units and their personnel. Can you tell us how many medals for valor have been awarded to such units like the Rangers, Delta, Special Forces, Marine Recon./Special Ops, USAF Commandos and especially the SEALS? It is my contention that the SEALS continue to be obsessed w/ the medals count-as was the case in Vietnam-and even have professional writers do up their citations for quick approval. Ex. The latest Moh for a member of a 4 man fireteam that was ambushed in Afghanistan in 2005. All four also received the Navy Cross on the word of the lone survivor. Another MoH is in the works, being lobbied in Congress as we speak, for a 2006 Iraq grenade incident . a tie-in between the Blackwater excited shooting incident(s) and SEALs as their CEO, was a SEAL, and hires mostly SEALS is intiguing.Were the shooters mostly ex-SEALS too?

Question: Would you have a program explaining how the Department of STate has the authority and the money to finanace a private army? How often does this happen? Could it be curtailed?

Please write to me. I was blacked for some reason. I want to discuss Black Water in New Orleans. I had an unpleasant encounter and know some of those soldiers are dangerous: personality/character disorders.

Competence is not having to say you are sorry!
It is sad that we have massive incompetence at the highest offices of government.

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