After uncovering alleged indiscriminate killings of civilians in Iraq, broad misuse of power and fraudulent billing practices of security contractor Blackwater, two US State Department investigators received direct death threats from Blackwater’s commander in Iraq and were told “no one could or would do anything about it (their murder) as we were in Iraq,” according to US State Department documents reported in the New York Times.

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US security contractor backs off after getting threats from Blackwater

After receiving the death threat from a US security contractor, State Department investigators backed off and later a sanitized report was created that found no wrongdoing.  The State Department investigator, Jean C. Richter, would be ordered back to Washington DC by the US Embassy in Iraq, where he wrote a then confidential Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. “Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law.  The contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control,” he wrote in the report, published in the New York Times.

The State Department began investigating the security contractor’s operations in Iraq Just weeks before Blackwater guards would be accused of fatally shooting 17 civilians at Baghdad’s Nisour Square in 2007 without cause.  Although Blackwater guards claimed they were fired upon, a separate government investigator found no evidence to support that claim. Blackwater’s conduct in Nisour Square dramatically impacted the course of diplomatic relations between the two countries, creating an uproar in Iraq and ultimately leading to the US leaving the country with relationships soured.

Fraud involving improper billing practices

The report not only centered on the killing, but also around fraud involving improper billing practices, with the US government paying for services it did not receive, abuse of government property for use in drunken party binges and improper weapons usage.  “It did not take long for the two-man investigative team — Mr. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst — to discover a long list of contract violations by Blackwater,” the report says.

They (the investigators) found that Blackwater’s staffing of its security details for American diplomats had been changed without State Department approval, reducing guards on many details to eight from 10, the documents said. Blackwater guards were storing automatic weapons and ammunition in their private rooms, where they also were drinking heavily and partying with frequent female visitors. Many of the guards had failed to regularly qualify on their weapons, and were often carrying weapons on which they had never been certified and that they were not authorized to use.

The armored vehicles Blackwater used to protect American diplomats were poorly maintained and deteriorating, and the investigators found that four drunk guards had commandeered one heavily armored, $180,000 vehicle to drive to a private party, and crashed into a concrete barrier.

Blackwater – State Department relationship gave new meaning to the word ‘dysfunctional’

“The Blackwater-State Department relationship gave new meaning to the word ‘dysfunctional,’ ” Peter Singer, a strategist at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute, who has written extensively on private security contractors, said in the article. “It involved everything from catastrophic failures of supervision to shortchanging broader national security goals at the expense of short-term desires.”

After Richter was dismissed from Iraq, then the secretary of state Condoleezza Rice created a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Richter or his fellow investigator Thomas who had documented Blackwater’s violations.  The “official” report found no wrongdoing.