Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Out of Control

James Risen reported in the New York Times yesterday that Daniel Carroll, the project manager in Iraq for the private military firm then called Blackwater, threatened to kill two State Department investigators. The investigators, Jean C. Richter and Donald Thomas Jr., arrived in Iraq on August 1, 2007, and almost immediately uncovered numerous contract violations. When they confronted a State Department official at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, Acting Regional Security Officer Ricardo Colon, with this information, Colon ordered Richter and Thomas to conclude their investigation and leave Iraq. Colon wrote in a email to Washington, "Regrettably, the pattern of behavior exhibited by the team members [Richter and Thomas] reached a level that became unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of direct hire and contract personnel. That left us no recourse but to request that the team wrap up its work and depart Post at the earliest opportunity (Aug. 24)."

According to an internal memorandum written by Richter, a special agent in the State Department's Diplomatic Security Office assigned to the investigation, Carroll told Richter "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq." Thomas corroborated Richter's account of the conversation, which had begun with questions about the operations of a dining facility operated by Blackwater under its contract with the U.S. Government. Both Richter and Thomas reported to superiors that they regarded Carroll's comments as a serious threat. Carroll was never punished for his behavior in spite of the fact that State Department officials concluded that, in context, his remark met the legal definition of assault.

Although the investigation was cut short by Colon's order for Richter and Thomas to leave Iraq, Richter had apparently seen enough to raise a number of red flags that should have been noted by the Bush administration. In his memorandum to his superiors back in Washington, Richter wrote,
I was not only surprised by the unnerving remarks related to Mr. Carroll's perceived understanding of what fell under COM [chief of mission] and Department property, but also by the cavalier and unrestrained manner in which the Blackwater contractors felt they could respond to a USG [U.S. Government] official. To me, it was immediately apparent that the Blackwater contractors believed that they were the de facto authority and acted accordingly, in an alarming manner.
In addition, I witnessed Blackwater employees make disparaging remarks of superiority in reference to the FBI personnel presence in Iraq. These comments along with my COM Authority conversation sent a clear message that the Blackwater contractors saw themselves as "above the law" and actually believed that they "ran the place." Once again, this highlights conduct and performance issues that have been present throughout Blackwater's participation in the WPPS [Worldwide Personnel Protective Service] program.
Just weeks after Richter wrote these words, Blackwater contractors killed seventeen Iraqi civilians in a shooting spree in Baghdad's Nisour Square. An American investigator called the incident "the My Lai massacre of Iraq." To date, no one has been held accountable for the killings, although a federal prosecution against the contractor believed to have fired the first shots has recently been revived.

Finally, the Iraqi government's displeasure over the Nisour Square killings and the U.S. Government's response to them was one of the issues that prevented both the Bush and Obama administrations from reaching an agreement with Iraq on the basing of U.S. troops in the country beyond 2011. This, in turn, has been a factor in the ability of ISIS to take control of large portions of Iraq in recent days.