Here’s Why It’s Time to Remember Blackwater and Iraq

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/albazi/

Source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/albazi/

“The purpose of this memorandum is to inform you of a disturbing incident that occurred on August 21, 2007, while I was on [temporary duty] in Iraq. I found this incident disconcerting on many fronts; however, most of all, underscored the lack of professionalism and discipline that has been systemic during the performance of our [worldwide personal protective services] contracts in Iraq.”

So begins an unclassified “information memorandum” regarding the performance of Blackwater contractors in Iraq that government investigator Jean C. Richter sent State Department officials on August 31, 2007. According to The New York Times, in the course of his month-long inquiry into the operations of Blackwater — a global security firm with billion-dollar contracts for the State Department and the Central Intelligence Agency, whose employees were tasked with protecting American diplomats — he uncovered a number of contract violations: guards failed to regularly qualify on their weapons, carried weapons they were not authorized to use; and stored automatic weapons and ammunition in their private quarters, where they drank and partied heavily. Blackwater also overbilled the State Department by manipulating records.

The letter is part of newly acquired trove of documents, released from the State Department to The New York Times, that chronicles how the U.S. government was alerted to serious behavioral problems with the government contractor Blackwater and how one of the firm’s employee halted an investigation into the security contractor’s operations in Iraq. The documents are particularly enlightening because they captured the tension in the relationship between the State Department and the contractor just weeks before Blackwater guards fatally shot 17 Iraqi civilians at Nisour Square in Baghdad. After that incident, the August 2007 memorandum gained importance because it raised questions about whether increased government oversight could have prevented those deaths. As the documents show, the State Department was well aware problems were brewing before that violence.

The investigators theorized that Blackwater was not reprimanded for the violations because U.S. embassy officials in Iraq had become too close to the contractor.