by JEREMY SCAHILL
[from the August 28, 2006 issue]
Blackwater's "diplomatic security" contract was officially awarded under the State Department's little-known , described in State Department documents as a government initiative to protect US officials as well as "certain foreign government high level officials whenever the need arises."
A heavily redacted 2005 government audit of Blackwater's WPPS contract proposal, obtained by The Nation, reveals that
The WPPS contract awarded in 2004 was divided among a handful of companies, among them and . Blackwater was Blackwater's two years of WPPS earnings exceed many estimates of the company's total government contracts, which the Virginian-Pilot recently put at $290 million combined since 2000. Six years ago the government paid Blackwater less than $250,000.
"This underscores the need for Congress to exercise real oversight on the says Illinois Democrat Jan Schakowsky, a leading Congressional critic of private military companies.
"This whole business of security is just insidious," says former Assistant Defense Secretary Philip Coyle, who worked at the Pentagon from 1994 to 2001. "The costs keep going up, and there is no end in sight to what you can spend.
In soliciting bids for the 2004 global contract, the State Department cited a need born of "the continual turmoil in the Mid East, and the post-war stabilization efforts by the United States Government in Bosnia, Afghanistan and Iraq." It said the government "is unable to provide protective services on a long-term basis from its pool of special agents, thus, outside contractual support is required." Coyle, now with the Center for Defense Information, believes the privatization of security duties historically fulfilled by US Marines and other active-duty military is directly related to the Iraq occupation. "Obviously the military could do it, but indeed the Administration is looking for places to get more troops for Iraq," Coyle says.
While the WPPS program and the broader use of private security contractors is not new, it has . According to the most recent Government Accountability Office report, . Blackwater, now one of the most prominent and successful companies providing soldiers in Iraq, was relatively unknown until March 31, 2004, when four of its contractors were ambushed and killed in Falluja [see Scahill, "Blood Is Thicker Than Blackwater," May 8]. In the days and weeks that followed, company executives hired ultra-connected lobbyists and were welcomed by powerful government officials as heroes, allowing the firm to solidify its role in the Bush Administration's foreign policy apparatus.
Since 2003 Blackwater has held the high-profile job of guarding senior US officials in Iraq, including all three occupation-era ambassadors. The vaunted WPPS contract was awarded at the end of Paul Bremer's tenure in Baghdad. Blackwater, which did not respond to repeated requests for comment, refuses to divulge where its forces are deployed under the program. WPPS documents say . The State Department says explicitly that there is a "long-term" need for these "protective services." Schakowsky says she will request a formal explanation from the department of the WPPS contract: "We need to know why the Bush Administration keeps writing blank checks to Blackwater and others, while it keeps Congress and the American people in the dark."