Blackwater Scandal Redux : Smuggling Prohibited Weapons in Dog Food Sacks

Blackwater insider: Company executives made the decision to smuggle the weapons and silencers in the dog food ‘because it’s a war over there and our guys need them.’
By Brian Ross and Jason Ryan / November 14, 2008

Also see ‘Indictment drafted in Blackwater shooting’ by Lara Jakes Jordan and Matt Apuzzo, Below.

A federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating allegations the controversial private security firm Blackwater illegally shipped assault weapons and silencers to Iraq, hidden in large sacks of dog food, has learned.

Under State Department rules, Blackwater is prohibited from using certain assault weapons and silencers in Iraq because they are considered “offensive” weapons inappropriate for Blackwater’s role as a private security firm protecting US diplomatic missions.

“The only reason you need a silencer is if you want to assassinate someone,” said former CIA intelligence officer John Kiriakou, an ABC News consultant.

Six Blackwater employees are under investigation by another federal grand jury, in Washington, D.C., in connection with the shooting deaths of at least 17 civilians in September, 2007 at a Baghdad traffic circle. Prosecutors are expected to return indictments in the next few weeks, according to people familiar with the case.

The investigation of the alleged dog food smuggling scheme began last year after two Blackwater employees were caught trying to sell stolen weapons in North Carolina. The two, Kenneth Cashwell and William “Max” Grumiaux pleaded guilty in February and became government witnesses, according to court documents.

Two other former employees tell they also witnessed the dog food smuggling operation. They say the weapons were actually hidden inside large sacks of dog food, packaged at company headquarters in North Carolina and sent to Iraq for the company’s 20 bomb-sniffing dogs.

Larger items, including M-4 assault weapons, were secreted on shipping pallets surrounded by stacks of dog food bags, the former employees said. The entire pallet would be wrapped in cellophane shrink wrap, the former employees said, making it less likely US Customs inspectors would look too closely.

Last year, a US Department of Commerce inspector at JFK airport in New York discovered an unlicensed two-way radio hidden in a dog food sack being shipped by Blackwater to Iraq, according to people familiar with the incident.

A Blackwater spokesperson, Anne Tyrrell, said certain arms shipmens were sent to Iraq surrounded by dog food “to secure them on the airplane and not to smuggle them.” Tyrrell said she could not comment on specifics because of “the ongoing investigation” but she denied the company had done anything wrong.

In addition to the grand jury investigation, Blackwater sources say the company is facing a multi-million dollar fine for some 900 instances in which it violated State Department licensing requirements for the export of certain weapons.

Of the 900 cases, about 100 of them have been referred to the Department of Justice for possible criminal prosecution, according to lawyers briefed on the case.

Last month, Blackwater hired a team of former federal law enforcement officials and defense experts that it said would review the company’s compliance with export laws.

Andrew Howell, Blackwater’s general counsel, said, “Ongoing reviews by the Department of Justice, State and Commerce have highlighted the need for a significant and systems-wide initiative.”

Another former Blackwater insider who talked with said company executives made the decision to smuggle the weapons and silencers in the dog food “because it’s a war over there and our guys need them.”

Despite four separate federal grand jury investigations of its operations, Blackwater’s contract to provide security services for the US State Department was renewed earlier this year. The contract pays Blackwater $250 million a year and runs for five years.

Source / ABC News

Indictment drafted in Blackwater shooting
By Lara Jakes Jordan and Matt Apuzzo / November 14, 2008

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors have drafted an indictment against six Blackwater Worldwide security guards in last year’s deadly Baghdad shootings of 17 Iraqi civilians, The Associated Press has learned.

The draft is being reviewed by senior Justice Department officials but no charging decisions have been made. A decision is not expected until at least later this month, people close to the case said.

Also still undecided is whether the Justice Department would charge the guards with manslaughter or assault, according to the people, all of whom spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the case.

It’s possible that prosecutors ultimately will seek charges against as few as three of the guards, whose identities are still secret. Depending on the charges, an indictment would carry maximum sentences of five to 20 years.

An indictment would send the message that the Justice Department believes U.S. contractors do not operate with legal impunity in war zones. It’s an untested legal theory, since the law is murky on whether contractors could be charged in U.S. courts, or anywhere, for crimes committed overseas.

The indictment against the Blackwater guards would be filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, even though the shootings occurred 6,200 miles away.

Blackwater guards opened fire in a busy intersection Sept. 16, 2007, in what witnesses said was an unprovoked attack. Young children were among the 17 civilians killed. The shootings outraged Iraqis and embarrassed the United States, further straining relations between the two nations.

Blackwater is adamant that its guards, who protect U.S. diplomats, were ambushed by insurgents in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square.

Based in Moyock, N.C., Blackwater itself is not a target of the investigation. The company has pledged to cooperate with the investigation and said it wants to decrease its reliance on the security business.

On Friday, Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said “it would be inappropriate to comment” on the draft indictment.

She added: “Based on the information available to us, however, we do not believe criminal violations occurred. If it is determined that an individual acted improperly, Blackwater would support holding that person accountable.”

Blackwater has been at the forefront of the debate over the use of contractors in war zones.

Capitol Hill lawmakers have described Blackwater guards as mercenaries. Human rights groups have sued the company. And Iraq’s government is pushing for more authority to prosecute U.S. contractors in its own courts.

Among the issues under discussion at the Justice Department is whether prosecutors have authority to bring the case. The largest security contractor in Iraq, Blackwater operates in a legal gray area. Its guards are immune from prosecution in Iraqi courts and U.S. law does not normally apply to crimes committed overseas.

To prosecute, authorities must argue that the guards can be charged under a law meant to cover soldiers and military contractors. Since Blackwater works for the State Department, not the military, it’s unclear whether that law applies to its guards.

It would be the first such case of its kind. The Justice Department recently lost a similar case against former Marine Jose Luis Nazario Jr., who was charged in Riverside, Calif., with killing four unarmed Iraqi detainees. Jurors questioned whether such cases should even be brought in civilian courts.

“I don’t think we had any business doing that,” juror Nicole Peters said at the time. She wiped away tears after the August verdict and later hugged the defendant. “I thought it was unfair to us and to him.”

Prosecutors will also face challenges over the evidence. Before the FBI began investigating the shooting, the State Department granted limited immunity to Blackwater guards who talked to investigators. The Justice Department will need to prove that its case was not influenced by any evidence gathered under that immunity deal.

Attorneys for six Blackwater guards made those arguments and more at a September meeting with top Justice Department officials. The lawyers urged prosecutors not to indict.

A decision before January about whether to indict the guards would mean that President-elect Barack Obama’s incoming Justice Department team would not inherit the politically sensitive choice. But the legal hurdles will remain in a case that could drag on for a year or longer.

In December 2007, several months after the shootings, the Pentagon and the State Department agreed to give the military in Iraq more control over Blackwater and other private security contractors. Five months later, in April, the State Department renewed its multimillion-dollar contract with Blackwater for the third year of its five-year life.

Blackwater has been paid nearly $1.25 billion in federal business since 2000.

Source / AP / Google News

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