Eli Lake has been pouring over the documents filed in the prosecution of Blackwater that ended in almost no consequences for that company breaking the law repeatedly, and what he’s found is pretty disturbing. Blackwater operated as an unofficial extension of the CIA around the world.
But the most noteworthy thing about the largely failed prosecution wasn’t the outcome. It was the tens of thousands of pages of documents—some declassified—that the litigation left in its wake. These documents illuminate Blackwater’s defense strategy—and it’s a fascinating one: to defeat the charges it was facing, Blackwater built a case not only that it worked with the CIA—which was already widely known—but that it was in many ways an extension of the agency itself…
But according to the documents Blackwater submitted in its defense—as well as an email exchange I had recently with Prince—the contractor’s relationship with the CIA was far deeper than most observers thought. “Blackwater’s work with the CIA began when we provided specialized instructors and facilities that the Agency lacked,” Prince told me recently, in response to written questions. “In the years that followed, the company became a virtual extension of the CIA because we were asked time and again to carry out dangerous missions, which the Agency either could not or would not do in-house.”…In all of these instances—the purchase of the rifles through the Camden County sheriff, the shipment of the guns to other countries, and the gifts to Abdullah—Blackwater argued that it was acting on behalf of the U.S. government and the CIA. All of these arguments, obviously, were very much in Blackwater’s legal interest. That said, it provided the court with classified emails, memoranda, contracts, and photos. It also obtained sealed depositions from top CIA executives from the Directorate of Operations, testifying that Blackwater provided training and weapons for agency operations. (A CIA spokesman declined to comment for this story.)
None of this is a surprise, of course. The CIA has long used private contractors — okay, let’s just call them mercenaries — to do a whole range of things. Sometime it’s to do things they can’t do legally but want done. Other times it’s something they want to distance themselves from in case it goes bad. The problem, of course, is that there’s very little accountability after such operations (not that there’s a lot more for the CIA itself).