Don’t read this about Blackwater! Why ruin your illusions, so carefully manufactured by our government’s info ops.

I strongly recommend reading this in full.  It’s a long and well-documented (as such things go) article.  Why should foreigners be the only ones to know the truth about America’s wars?

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan“, Jeremy Scahill, The Nation, 23 November 2009 — Excerpt:

At a covert forward operating base run by the US Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) in the Pakistani port city of Karachi, members of an elite division of Blackwater are at the center of a secret program in which they plan targeted assassinations of suspected Taliban and Al Qaeda operatives, “snatch and grabs” of high-value targets and other sensitive action inside and outside Pakistan, an investigation by The Nation has found.

… Blackwater, which recently changed its name to Xe Services and US Training Center, denies the company is operating in Pakistan. “Xe Services has only one employee in Pakistan performing construction oversight for the U.S. Government,” Blackwater spokesperson Mark Corallo said in a statement to The Nation, adding that the company has “no other operations of any kind in Pakistan.”

A former senior executive at Blackwater confirmed the military intelligence source’s claim that the company is working in Pakistan for the CIA and JSOC, the premier counterterrorism and covert operations force within the military. He said that Blackwater is also working for the Pakistani government on a subcontract with an Islamabad-based security firm that puts US Blackwater operatives on the ground with Pakistani forces in counter-terrorism operations, including house raids and border interdictions, in the North-West Frontier Province and elsewhere in Pakistan. This arrangement, the former executive said, allows the Pakistani government to utilize former US Special Operations forces who now work for Blackwater while denying an official US military presence in the country. He also confirmed that Blackwater has a facility in Karachi and has personnel deployed elsewhere in Pakistan. The former executive spoke on condition of anonymity.

We don’t know because we cover our eyes.

… Blackwater, according to the military intelligence source, is not doing the actual killing as part of its work in Pakistan. “The SELECT personnel are not going into places with private aircraft and going after targets,” he said. “It’s not like Blackwater SELECT people are running around assassinating people.”

… The former Blackwater executive, when asked for confirmation that Blackwater forces were not actively killing people in Pakistan, said, “that’s not entirely accurate.”

… The military intelligence source says that the CIA operations are subject to Congressional oversight, unlike the parallel JSOC bombings. “Targeted killings are not the most popular thing in town right now and the CIA knows that,” he says. “Contractors and especially JSOC personnel working under a classified mandate are not [overseen by Congress], so they just don’t care. If there’s one person they’re going after and there’s thirty-four people in the building, thirty-five people are going to die. That’s the mentality.” He added, “They’re not accountable to anybody and they know that. It’s an open secret, but what are you going to do, shut down JSOC?”

Turning our loyal troops into mercenaries for hire.

… Since 9/11, many top-level Special Forces veterans have taken up employment with private firms, where they can make more money doing the highly specialized work they did in uniform. “The Blackwater individuals have the experience. A lot of these individuals are retired military, and they’ve been around twenty to thirty years and have experience that the younger Green Beret guys don’t,” said retired Army Lieut. Col. Jeffrey Addicott, a well-connected military lawyer who served as senior legal counsel for US Army Special Forces. “They’re known entities. Everybody knows who they are, what their capabilities are, and they’ve got the experience. They’re very valuable.”

“They make much more money being the smarts of these operations, planning hits in various countries and basing it off their experience in Chechnya, Bosnia, Somalia, Ethiopia,” said the military intelligence source. “They were there for all of these things, they know what the hell they’re talking about. And JSOC has unfortunately lost the institutional capability to plan within, so they hire back people that used to work for them and had already planned and executed these [types of] operations. They hired back people that jumped over to Blackwater SELECT and then pay them exorbitant amounts of money to plan future operations. It’s a ridiculous revolving door.”

Trashing the sovereignty and legitimacy of our allies.

… For months, the Pakistani media has been flooded with stories about Blackwater’s alleged growing presence in the country. For the most part, these stories have been ignored by the US press and denounced as lies or propaganda by US officials in Pakistan. But the reality is that, although many of the stories appear to be wildly exaggerated, Pakistanis have good reason to be concerned about Blackwater’s operations in their country. It is no secret in Washington or Islamabad that Blackwater has been a central part of the wars in Afghanistan and Pakistan and that the company has been involved–almost from the beginning of the “war on terror”–with clandestine US operations.

War Crimes.

But the widespread use of contractors also raises serious legal questions, particularly when they are a part of lethal, covert actions. “We are using contractors for things that in the past might have been considered to be a violation of the Geneva Convention,” said Lt. Col. Addicott, who now runs the Center for Terrorism Law at St. Mary’s University School of Law in San Antonio, Texas. “In my opinion, we have pressed the envelope to the breaking limit, and it’s almost a fiction that these guys are not in offensive military operations.” Addicott added, “If we were subjected to the International Criminal Court, some of these guys could easily be picked up, charged with war crimes and put on trial. That’s one of the reasons we’re not members of the International Criminal Court.”

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22 thoughts on “Don’t read this about Blackwater! Why ruin your illusions, so carefully manufactured by our government’s info ops.”

  1. Well, 25 years ago we wanted a separate USSOCOM and for SOF to take over clandestine and covert operations beyond civilian control. It looks like we got what we wanted, except now the civilians–the wrong civilians–have taken charge.
    FM reply: I assume this is a reference to VP Cheney. But he’s out of office. Who are the “wrong civilians” now in charge? Or are civilians still in charge?

  2. One day there going to zap the wrong guy, or the wrong guys brother and then there will be hell to pay. If they keep on like this the US is going to lose any leverage over Pakistan, and by default any chance of saving face in Afghanistan.
    FM reply: They’re zapping wrong people all the time (e.g., wedding parties). No matter, they’re just peasants — powerless in Afghanistan and Pakistan. But collectively they have power, as they grow in numbers and anger.

    More important, these US actions in Pakistan inflame its people sense of national pride. Their government loses legitimacy, seen as lackies of foreign infidels. This probably outweighs any purely military benefit from the strikes. The COIN manual places great emphasis on building the host government’s legitimacy, more evidence that “COIN” is just a facade behind which the US military uses its standard trinity of counterinsurgency tools:
    * Popular front militia
    * Massive firepower on civilians
    * Sweep and destroy missions

    For more on this see The trinity of modern warfare at work in Afghanistan.

  3. I have been following Mr. Scahill for several years now. The 1st I saw of him was when he gave an hour long talk at Wayne State. SAT carried it. He went on for over an hour about Blackwater. Since then, he has spoken much about Blackwater. He pops up here and there in various locales ranting about them. I have to admire his dedication. He does, however seem to have a very narrow focus. He has also written a book on the subject. My only question is: Who pays this guy? Where does his funding come from? It takes money to pay for hotels and plane rides. He is obviously not a corporate flack. Who backs him up?

  4. I read the Blackwater book by Jeremy Scahill (2007). It was honestly badly written and structured – which was a shame, given the importance and interesting nature of the subject matter. I can’t remember another experience of being so frustrated with the author for letting this book get away from them.
    FM reply: I thought is was typical work of journalists throwing together books to meet current demand. He had no prior expertise or knowledge of the subject, was in a hurry — and the final result reflects these things. Speed, quality, price — pick which two you want.

  5. OK, so now I know the dread truth that we employ Blackwater in the hunt for jihadists in Pakistan. And I care because???

    And why the great concern for Pakistan’s precious feelings of national pride? If they would exercise de facto control over their national territory and not let it be used as a sanctuary for conducting a war in Afghanistan, then they wouldn’t have Blackwater/CIA/SOCOM/guys from The Nation magazine running around in their national territory in the first place. Sovereignty isn’t just a right, it’s a responsibility. Maybe the Pakistanis should try living up to theirs once in a while.
    FM reply: We care because the people of Pakistan changing sides would be a serious defeat for us. Why is this difficult to understand? See FM 3-24 (“Counterinsurgency”, PDF here) for a detailed explanation.

  6. For I am a Pirate King!
    And it is, it is a glorious thing
    To be a Pirate King!


  7. How you gonna keep em down on the farm?

    American Police Force in Hardin Montana“, KURL 8, 25 November 2009 — Excerpt:

    American Police Force {APF} officials showed up in Mercedes SUV’s that had “Hardin Police” stenciled on the vehicles. The twist, the city of Hardin doesn’t have a police department. Two Rivers Authority officials say having APF patrol the streets was never part of their agenda. “I have no idea. I really don’t because that’s not been a part of any of the discussions we’ve had with any of them,” said Two Rivers Authority’s Al Peterson.

    As it stands now the Big Horn County Sheriff’s Department is contracted to patrol the city and APF has no jurisdiction. If that was changed Peterson says it would have to go through the city council.

    FM Note: This is an interesting story, esp the uncertainty about APF. It’s some sort of private company, but the details are conflicting and mysterious. Here’s the Wikipedia entry.

    I suspect we’ll see more such incidents in the future, with police functions privatized to shadowy and poorly-regulated entities.

  8. “And why the great concern for Pakistan’s precious feelings of national pride?”

    They have nuclear weapons, for one thing. And can cause troubles in other ways. And because you stand no higher in their books than they do in yours.

  9. Baucus, go home! The Serbians are coming!


  10. FM note: I recommend reading this, and the papers to which he links.


    Here is a link to a Sandline International article (formerly known under a different name for a number of operational successes as a ‘Private Military Company’), that references a British M.O.D. Green Paper on the subject of “PMC’s”… published in Jane’s Defense Weekly {“Private military companies: Soldiers, Inc.“, Stuart McGhie, 22 May 2002:

    It might be worth it’s own thread, given Sandline’s association with Executive Outcomes, and given the information in this next link to minutes from a UK Parliamentary review of the subject of PMC’s (which I’ve linked due to the great deal of detail included).

    CHAPTER 4—THE NON-GOVERNMENTAL ORGANISATION PERSPECTIVE, House of Common’s Foreigns Affairs Committee.

    Here’s a link to an actual document on the subject first authored by an Aussie officer back in the 80’s:


    And lastly, here is the 2002 Green Paper itself, entitled ‘Private Military Companies: Options for Regulation‘, submitted to the UK Commons (it’s a PDF file).

    Fabius… I have a number of other choice (and difficult to find) papers and debate threads on this topic if it’s your opinion more are needed. Hopefully the links provided will make up for the excessively editorial nature of many of my recent posts, as it’s usually my view that given the appropriate documentation, military strategists of the sort that read this blog can make up their own minds without any help from me beyond a little research to dig up original documents (if available).

    Lastly, I think it’s important to note that prior to the GWOT, American PMCs were NOT known for having much operational capacity nor for managing combat units in an irregular or complex environment… quite the reverse, the various U.S. merc corporate players (mostly in Virginia) were known for the skill at logistics, support, supply, and providing technical services, BUT were universally considered second tier in terms of small unit irregular combat or counter-insurgency gigs. Even back in the 1990’s the Virginians had a bad habit of hiring men who got their primary employers into trouble for hi-jinx much like that which was going on among the embassy guards in Kabul (dancing around bon fires naked, homosexual harassment of recruits, excessive use of drugs and alcohol whilst off duty…), behavior which so repelled Marines and Green Beret advisors, actual paperwork got filed warning of the liabilities of allowing civilians to create independent commands with themselves inserted in place of a trained officer corps.

    In terms of “which civilians” are or are not in charge…. of complex irregular operations; Obviously I wouldn’t know who VP Cheney’s first, second, or third shift managers were, being a mere member of the chattering class myself… (heh). I strongly suspect, in a hypothetical case where I to have been involved, that a “third shift” team would be so very very far away from the “first shift” or “second shifts” access or budgets or operations, that they’d have no idea whatsoever which civilians or entities were in charge, (as a “third shift” group wouldn’t be operating in active combat areas). My own opinion of what a civilian 4GW units role vis a vis the military is very well documented in these blogs, and obviously doesn’t presume to usurp the role of SOCOM forces, which seems to have been more or less what the “first shift” and “Second Shift” managers ended up doing whilst misleading SOCOM about possessing the legal or military authority to do so.

    Anyway… I’ll leave the links to speak for themselves, and count on Fabius to edit the editorial parts as he sees fit.

    Best, A. Scott Crawford
    FM reply: These are excellent links. More are welcomed and appreciated.

  11. So why doesnt the military aim to keep these older , experienced people on their books ? (As the old bull said to the young bull about the cows , dont gallop after those cows and * a couple ; stroll down and * the lot .)

  12. This is news?

    As the Army is more infiltrated and exposed by the media, the Army will offload it’s more touchy operations to mercenaries. Expect a lot more of this in the future. Blackwater don’t need to report to no Congress, all they expect is a paycheck. It’s win -win, all around!

    This is a natural end run around our fossilized governmental structure. Expect government to change, as it must to fight this new kind of war. Obama does do the occasional thing right!
    FM reply: Yes, it is news. I don’t understand why you ask that.

    “It’s win -win, all around!”

    Or “win for the contractors, lose for America”. The article clearly states that their activities are angering the people of Pakistan. No surprise, as these types of tactics have played a large role in the defeat of almost every foreign army fighting insurgencies since WWII.

    The inability of Americans to see that we’re replaying tactics that have consistently failed suggests that we’re nuts. As in the adage of Alcoholics Anonymous (and other dependency abuse experts):

    “Insanity is doing the same thing again and again, always expecting a different result.”

    {Note: there is no record I’ve seen of this being a Chinese proverb, or said by Franklin or Einstein. It appears in a book by Narcotics Anonymous printed in 1980, the earliest use I’ve found.}

  13. “Or “win for the contractors, lose for America”. The article clearly states that their activities are angering the people of Pakistan. No surprise, as these types of tactics have played a large role in the defeat of almost every foreign army fighting insurgencies since WWII.”

    But we are not fighting an insurgency in Pakistan. Pakistan is. Our government is just helping them, if they don’t like it, they can stop anytime they want.

    It is not nuts to employ mercenries, if the times call for such. The times call for government to divest itself of the providing of all kinds of services, war making is just another one of these services. The problem is not the mercenaries, they are doing their job. It’s the policy of intervention, in this case, that one could disagree with, and that comes from the government of the US.

    The aim of war, in this war against terror, is to preclude terrorist incidents. Mercenaries are tailor made for this. If the Pakistanis are angred by this, they had better get used to being angry, since our government likes being in power, and that power will change hands quickly if another attack takes place. Hence, this kind of action will continue. The best we can hope to do, is clamor for a new legal and military framework, new rules of war and law, to make it as civil as possible.
    FM reply: Great logic! Too bad it’s been tried by a dozen or more foreign armies since WWII, and consistently failed. Note my previous comment about insanity.

    “Our government is just helping them, if they don’t like it, they can stop anytime they want.”

    Very funny (even if unintentional humor). We’re almost certainly following the standard US playbook — paying Pakistan’s leaders big bucks to allow our actions. If smart, they’re putting the money in off-shore banks, and care not a whit what results. So long as they manage a successful flight out before the results hit the fan. They want to be Marcos, not Diem.

  14. Annanic,

    There’s actually a really great biography called “Ghost Force” written by a Sgt. Connor (sp) (my hard copies out on loan), that details how exasperating it can be for a SAS non-com to deal with his superiors.

    When considering military (3GW+) special operations, the heavy lifting is done by non-coms, who are the stars of the show, and the officers are best that protect their guys from paperwork and martinets and outside meddling and… well, the entire world aside from training and missions. Obviously there are exceptional officers who inspire and evoke intense unwavering loyalty from their men (like Col. Gus over in Oz), but the SAS/SF structure is actually 3GW first and foremost, and, in my opinion, shouldn’t be hot swapped into 4GW missions without additional training.

    What is happening with the “Contractors” is that non-coms that are getting long in the tooth for typical Special Ops, are men that the SOCOM brass really really needs to hang around a couple more years as instructors and for non-combat details that aren’t what these killing machines signed up for, and the military needs them to do it for the same terrible pay. What the Brass cannot have is crack troops conditioned for twenty years to obey their officers without blinking, to suddenly get lured into working for some sleezebag spy or diplomat who’s NOT an officer, but expects orders to be obeyed as if they were. This not only degrades SOCOMS ability to turn over it’s own force requirements, it allows unqualified civilians to use crack soldiers independently of their officers or CoC, basically as “bag-men”, and often in ways that go directly against the long term strategic interests of SOCOM itself. It’s a serious problem in need of a solution sooner rather than later… but SOCOM is shy about going outside the beltway or military to recruit troubleshooters.

    One last point. Regarding 4GW. I doubt very very much that effective 4GW units require round the clock protection by former SEALS or Green Berets, although it’s possible. Nor is it obvious to me that non-coms hired away from SOCOM are a good choice for 4GW ops, as non-coms gossip like old washer women with their old comrades. So just what the jokers at Blackwater and the DoS think they’re doing is beyond me. Any suggestions?
    FM reply: As to your last question, that’s easy to answer. They’re collecting big bucks (well-deserved, also). As for the rest, we’re fools.

  15. If smart, they’re putting the money in off-shore banks,

    Not a smart move anymore. It would be better set up shell corporations overseas and then use hawala to transfer the funds to those locales, where it could be anonymously invested.
    FM note, from Wikipedia:

    Hawala (also known as hundi) is an informal value transfer system based on the performance and honor of a huge network of money brokers, which are primarily located in the Middle East, North Africa, the Horn of Africa, and South Asia.

  16. dckinder wrote: “They have nuclear weapons, for one thing. And can cause troubles in other ways. And because you stand no higher in their books than they do in yours.”

    The last time I checked, we had a lot more nuclear weapons than they did, and I suspect that if push came to shove we could make quite a bit of trouble for them as well. One hopes it will not come to that, but the fact is that our operations in Pakistan didn’t begin in a vacuum. The Pakistanis have supported and/or tolerated the Taliban. Actions have consequences.

  17. FM reply: “We care because the people of Pakistan changing sides would be a serious defeat for us. Why is this difficult to understand?

    It’s not difficult to understand at all, but the concept that the people of Pakistan are, or ever have been, on our side is bit hard to follow.
    FM reply: The government of Pakistan has been a strong US ally for decades, and the people have tolerated this. That extends to the present, where the government allows US ops in Pakistan — turning a blind eye to them. Reversing all this would be a serious defeat, on many levels.

  18. Dr. Moloch (or is it Strangelove?): “The last time I checked, we had a lot more nuclear weapons than they did, and I suspect that if push came to shove we could make quite a bit of trouble for them as well.”

    Your statement is factually true but rather useless.

    The guy with the biggest gun in the room has the temporary right to do whatever he wants with the other people in the room. But unless he convinces them that it is in their long term best interests to cooperate with him (and pointing his gun at them makes the effort much harder) they are going to eventually decide that it’s worth any cost to get rid of him.

    If you want an example, look at the people on Flight 93 who died to thwart the terrorists goals. The terrorist weapons and threats only bought them a certain amount of time to accomplish their goals. The US government is in a similar position in Pakistan.

    Actions have consequences

    Very true and we should always remember that this applies to us as well as them and shape our actions accordingly.

  19. Another point to consider.

    A wealthy, pro-Taliban Saudi might consider simply hiring the mercenaries out from under the military. That would be an especially effective tactic to assassinate an ambassador or something like that.

    After all, they’re guns for hire, and capitalism is capitalism.

  20. “It’s not difficult to understand at all, but the concept that the people of Pakistan are, or ever have been, on our side is bit hard to follow.”

    Actually, it’s the ISI, who could kill Eric Prince tomorrow if they wanted to – and if you want to deal with that, then you would have to target them directly.

    Going around beating up on Pakistani civilians only makes the ISI’s job that much easier.
    FM reply: Our use of massive firepower against civilians (a mainstay of our counter-insurgency warfare) is probably considered by our enemies as their top advantage.

  21. Maybe, if those folks are champs at bribery but less good at other things, then maybe they should do more of the first and less of the second. He he!

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