Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Operating in Pakistan Under Covert Assassination and Kidnapping Program

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Democracy Now!
Nov. 24, 2009

Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan: Jeremy Scahill Reveals Private Military Firm Operating in Pakistan Under Covert Assassination and Kidnapping Program

In an explosive new article in The Nation magazine, investigative journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill reveals the private military firm Blackwater is part of a covert program in Pakistan that includes planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al-Qaeda suspects. Blackwater is also said to be involved in a previously undisclosed U.S. military drone campaign that has killed scores of people inside Pakistan. The article says the program has become so secretive that top Obama administration and military officials have likely been unaware of its existence. In a Democracy Now! exclusive, Scahill joins us for his first interview since the story broke.[Includes rush transcript]

Jeremy Scahill, independent journalist, Democracy Now correspondent, and author of “Blackwater: The Rise of the World’s Most Powerful Mercenary Army.” His latest piece for the Nation magazine is “Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan.”

AMY GOODMAN: Writing in The Nation Magazine, journalist Jeremy Scahill, Democracy Now! correspondent has revealed Blackwater is secretly operating in Pakistan under a covert program that includes planning the assassination and kidnapping of Taliban and Al Qaeda suspects. Blackwater is also said to be involved in a previously undisclosed U.S. military drone campaign that has killed scores of people inside Pakistan. Blackwater operatives have been working under a covert program run by the Joint Special Operations Command, the military’s top covert operations force. The previously undisclosed JSOC operations would mark the first known confirmation of U.S. military activity inside Pakistan.

A military intelligence source said Blackwater offer tips are effectively running the drone bombings for both JSOC and the CIA. The CIA drone program is already public knowledge. But the military source says some of the deadliest drone attacks in attributed to the CIA were actually carried out by JSOC. The article also reveals Blackwater operatives have taken part in ground operations with Pakistani forces under a subcontract with a local security firm. The operations have included house raids and border interdictions in northwest Pakistan and other areas.

Blackwater has also been given responsibility for planning JSOC operations in Uzbekistan. The Nation reports the program has become so secretive the top Obama administration and military officials have likely been unaware of its existence. Independent journalist and Democracy Now! correspondent Jeremy Scahill broke the story for The Nation Magazine. He joins us in our New York studio for its first television interview since the article’s publication last night. Jeremy, welcome to “Democracy Now!” Lay out what you have learned so far.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well Amy, just by way of background, we do know that beginning in 2006, the Bush administration struck a deal with the Pakistani government that would allow U.S. Special Operations forces from the Joint Special Operations Command to enter Pakistan with the understanding that there were, “Following the target, ” the target being Osama bin Laden and his top deputies. As part of that agreement, the Pakistani government insisted they have the right to A, deny that the United States had permission to enter the country and B, be able to condemn U.S. actions in their country as a sort of a violation of their sovereignty. But the understanding was struck in 2006. What I understand now from the military intelligence source and another U.S. military source that confirmed what I was initially told by the military intelligence source, is that in fact there are active covert operations on an ongoing basis that are not just about targeting Osama bin laden. What we understand now is the Joint Special Operations Command, which from 2003-2008 was headed by General Stanley McChrystal, who has now been promoted and is the head of all US forces and NATO forces in Afghanistan, and is pushing for a very large troop increase, he ran that program from 2003-2008. Now its being headed by Admiral William Craven, who is the head of all JSOC operations. So, you have on the one hand the allegation from these military sources that JSOC has coverts bases throughout Pakistan, that they are running a drone bombing campaign runs parallel to that of the CIA, and that Blackwater forces have been at the center of this operation, according to my sources, since at least 2007. And as part of the work they’re doing for JSOC and Pakistan, I am told they are essentially an intelligence cell, if you will, that is planning strikes, gathering intelligence, as well as planning operations inside of Uzbekistan against the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan.

My sources said when they are working, when Blackwater guys are working for an elite division of the company that is been known as Blackwater Select, that they’re not doing the actual killing in these operations, but rather they are doing the planning of these operations. And Amy, what this really is, is an outgrowth of a trend that we saw very early on in the Bush administration following September 11th, where the Vice President Dick Cheney and Donald Rumsfeld circumvented the military chain of command, went directly into JSOC, and essentially separated JSOC from the military and started using JSOC to commit what my source said were some of the “darkest acts.” They also set up a parallel agency to the CIA was called the Strategic Support Branch, the SSB. The SSB called information resources from the CIA and the DIA, but for the first time, took the realm of covert operations out of the exclusive hands of the CIA, and essentially created a parallel, clandestine force that would report directly to Rumsfeld, and directly to Dick Cheney. And this Blackwater program is an outgrowth of that separating of JSOC from the broader military chain of command, and that is why my sources say there are senior figures within the military and the a administration right now that may be unaware of it because as he said, “They are not in the circle of love.”

AMY GOODMAN: “Not in the circle of love?”

JEREMY SCAHILL: That is the phrase that was used twice by the military intelligence source that I spoke to. What we are seeing now, and I also talked to Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was the Chief of Staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell. And he described, he first of all, when I talked about this, said the program would not surprise him, and that he was very disturbed when he sees execute orders the coming out ,saying that JSOC is essentially above the Special Operations Command and the Special Operations Command is essentially in a support role for these JSOC teams. So, what I am told is that this program is so compartmentalized, that there are probably very top-level people that are unaware of it, and in fact, what my military intelligence source says, is that Blackwater personnel that are working as part of this program, and have worked as part of this program, have been given rolling security clearances above their actual security clearance. Let me break that down a minute. You have guys that can work on these operations that maybe have a low-level of security clearance in terms of the amount of intelligence that they are able to see. What this program allows for is that these individuals are given temporary security clearance to of access to very sensitive intelligence, intelligence and even members of Congress that oversee intelligence matters don’t have access to. That was one of the things that concerned the individuals that spoke with me for this story.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill what has been the response of Blackwater? What has been the response of U.S. military, the White House, to your investigation?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Blackwater said to me in a statement, and I had several back and forths with Blackwater, spokesperson Mark Corallo. And what Blackwater told me is that Xe Services, which is one of the new iterations of Blackwater has only one quote “employee” in Pakistan. And as I kept writing them back and said, “What about contractors, subcontractors, affiliates, other names that I wouldn’t be aware of,” they said we have no operations whatsoever inside of Pakistan. My sources say that is not true. I also received a call yesterday, as I was going to press, from individuals I had not called. I received a call from Admiral Mike Mullen’s office, the Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. It was a bit surprising to me, because I had not called Admiral Mullen’s office, so when a U.S. citizen gets a call from the military, especially from the chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, its a bit jolting. And they would not tell me how they got wind of the fact I was doing the story, or how they got my number. But I spoke to the spokesperson for Admiral Mullen, who told me they do not comment on current operations one way or the other. I was also told by a defense official that on background, not for attribution of the name of the individual, that this is not true, that there is no current arrangement with Blackwater for these types of services, and that there never has been. The White House did not return e-mails or phone calls in the process of doing the story.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, you point out in your article that the U.S. corporate media has largely ignored the fear and mistrust that Blackwater has generated in Pakistan. Earlier this month, the Taliban played on those fears when it denied responsibility for several bombings and in fact accused Blackwater of carrying them out. This is Azam Tariq, a spokesman of the Tehreek e-Taliban.

Azam Tariq: I want to tell the people of Pakistan and the Muslim nations, that the Tehreek e-Taliban are not responsible for the bombings. But Blackwater and Pakistan’s spy agency are behind them. Those who fight with the Americans are against the Tehreek e-Taliban and have blood on their hands, and we will fight them to the end.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, your response?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean you always have to take these kinds of declarations with a grain of salt, thereis incredible propaganda, and I do not have any evidence to suggest what that man is saying is true. I will say this, the Pakistan Intelligence Services have long had a reputation for using proxy forces to carry out actions that are ultimately are sanctioned by Pakistan’s intelligence agencies. So, there certainly is a history in Pakistan of false flag operations. But, I don’t have any actual information or intelligence on the claims of the Taliban. But, certainly people that have closely monitored and followed Pakistani politics, particularly the history of the ISI and other organizations, they are regularly involved with unsavory organizations, that they are classified by many individuals as a terrorist organization. So, what we are in Pakistan right now certainly is a situation where the Pakistani intelligence services are playing multiple sides of the equation. I think would be very difficult to rule out Pakistani intelligence from much of anything in Pakistan these days.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, talk about who Blackwater is working for, or working with in Pakistan. Of course, Pakistan a country the United States has not declared war on.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. One interesting thing that happened in the course of this story, I talked to a former Blackwater executive that is familiar with Blackwater’s operations in the region. And when I asked them to confirm for me what the military intelligence sources said, namely that the Blackwater guys are not doing the actual killing in Pakistan, he told “That is not entirely accurate,” then proceeded to tell me about an arrangement that Blackwater had made with a Pakistani company called Kestral, that is headed by a man named Ali Bagg. The Blackwater executive told me, that Erik Prince, the owner of Blackwater, is close with the owner of this Pakistan firm that is sort of like a Blackwater and logistical firm wrapped up into one. This is a company the works for Lockheed Martin and Raytheon and Pakistan the government and does a very robust business in war contracting and servicing the war in Afghanistan as well.

And my understanding is that Blackwater is working for this company on a subcontract in a configuration that has Blackwater operatives going out technically as advisers with these paramilitary style forces from this company, and that they are doing as you said in the intro, border interdictions in the Northwest frontier province and elsewhere and the former Blackwater executive told me the line often gets blurred and that you do have Blackwater guys and other westerners that act the participate in operations that are the portrayed in the international media as Pakistan forces carrying them out.

And the agency that Blackwater forces are supporting is a federal paramilitary force in Pakistan that’s under the Ministry of the Interior there, called the Frontier Corp. The military intelligence official confirmed the Blackwater executives account ,or at least the specific allegation that Blackwater is working with the Frontier Corps. The benefit of this is it allows the Pakistani government to say, “We’re not using any Western forces to do these things,” because the technicality is that there subcontracted by a Pakistani firm that is working with the official Pakistan forces.

AMY GOODMAN: The lobbyist for Kestrel you report?

JEREMY SCAHILL: I’m sorry Amy, I didn’t hear you.

AMY GOODMAN: The lobbyist for Kestrel you report?

JEREMY SCAHILL: You’ve actually done shows on this individual, he’s sort of a famed neocon and former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, Roger Noriega, who is well known to Democracy Now! listeners. In October, Roger Noriega was hired as a lobbyist by this Pakistani company. They paid his firm Vision Americas $15,000, they paid another from that appears to be little more than an affiliate of Roger Noriega’s firm, called Fire Creek Limited, an equal amount of money to lobby the State Department, US-AID, the Congress, on defense and foreign-policy issues and on services that Kestrel could provide that are of interest to the U.S. government.

Another player at Roger Noriega’s firm Vision Americas is Christina Rocca, who for years during the Bush administration was one of the top people shaping Pakistan and Afghanistan policies. She is a former CIA operations official. So, this company has hired some pretty powerhouse figures that have a long history, in the case of Christina Rocca’s affiliation with Vision Americas, with Pakistan directly. So it all sort of leads towards this continued neoconservative view of US foreign policy and they picked some of the top people in that world to become their K-Street lobbyists.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy Scahill, explain who is behind the drone attacks in Pakistan, who has been killed, and talk about legality here.

JEREMY SCAHILL: Right. The CIA of course has been running a drone campaign in Pakistan going back years into the Bush administration. When President Obama took office on January 23, he ordered his first drone strike inside of Pakistan. There were two strikes in North and South Waziristan, and has bombed Pakistan regularly ever since. In fact, Vice-President Joe Biden, part of his strategy reportedly is calling for escalation of these drone strikes. This has caused some controversy because there of a large numbers of civilian deaths as a result of these bombings.

And technically, the operations of the CIA need to be reported to Senator Dianne Feinstein and others on the intelligence committee. and there was a controversy this summer because Leon Panetta ran up the hill and said he had cancelled the CIA assassination program and that sort of put the drones in an intense focus on the hill. What I am told now though, is that there is actually and has been for some time, a parallel drone strike program that is being run by the Joint Special Operations Command and that these JSOC drone strikes are sometimes done with very little regard for how many civilians may die in the pursuit of one quote unquote “Bad guy,”

In fact, my military intelligence source said to me if there’s one guy we’re trying to hit and there are 34 other people in the building, 35 people are going to die that day. And he said part of the reason why these strikes are happening is because JSOC works on a classified mandate and they really don’t care because they are not going to go to the Hill and talk to Congress about it and they are not going to face consequences, and its an open secret no one wants to talk about.

AMY GOODMAN: Jeremy, you say Blackwater employees maybe posing as USAID workers?

JEREMY SCAHILL: I said they may be posting as aid workers, I didn’t specify any organization. I think that we have a situation right now in Pakistan where it is very dangerous for people that actually are there to aid in humanitarian projects, and this has long been a history. When you have non-civilian forces that pose in any way as aid workers of any kind, I think you create a dangerous situation for the well-meaning individuals that go to very difficult and dangerous countries in an effort to help local populations that are suffering tremendously as a result of war and poverty. My understanding from the military intelligence source is Blackwater personnel have at times posed as aid workers.

AMY GOODMAN: Word is President Obama is now going to be announcing the expansion of war in Afghanistan. Over 30,000 U.S. troops. Can you put this all, your expose, in a broader context?

JEREMY SCAHILL: Well of course, right now you have the top two figures running, prosecuting the Afghan war from the military side are both from the Joint Special Operations Command and I think what we are seeing is essentially an incredible rise of the power of JSOC within the official military command structure. You–I think what we are seeing is, the beginning, of what is one of the much more dramatic escalation of forces in Afghanistan, because my understanding is that part of the president’s plan he’s authorizing, there’s essentially going to be an equal number of contractors that are deployed along those thirty thousand or so troops that we now understand the president is going to be announcing.

Of great concern to everyone in that region is that Pakistan is increasingly, the war in Afghanistan is increasingly bleeding over into Pakistan. And, now with the revelation that the U.S. has actual covert operations there, these operations could be viewed in the words of my military intelligence source, as a, “Lilly pad,” a jump-off point. He called it the Jamestown of the new millennium, in Pakistan and predicted there’s going to be more intense involvement of U.S. military within the borders of a country that we have not declared war against.

AMY GOODMAN:Jeremy Scahill, I want to thank you for being with us, for breaking this in the national broadcast on “Democracy Now!” Your piece came out in The Nation Magazine last night online, and of course we will link to it. Jeremy Scahill is an independent journalist, Democracy Now! correspondent, and is a Puffin Fellow at the Nation Magazine.

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Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan

by Jeremy Scahill
The Nation
Nov. 24, 2009

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. The Blackwater operatives also assist in gathering intelligence and help direct a secret US military drone bombing campaign that runs parallel to the well-documented CIA predator strikes, according to a well-placed source within the US military intelligence apparatus.

[…]

via Blackwater’s Secret War in Pakistan

3 thoughts on “Jeremy Scahill: Blackwater Operating in Pakistan Under Covert Assassination and Kidnapping Program

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