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Official resigns in wake of Blackwater

WASHINGTON – The State Department’s diplomatic security chief resigned Wednesday, marking the first departure of a government official with oversight responsibility for the administration’s troubled private-security-contractor program.

Richard J. Griffin, assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, reportedly did not give a reason for his resignation when he met with Deputy Secretary of State John D. Negroponte. State Department spokesmen confirmed the departure, effective Nov. 1, but declined to elaborate on the reason.

“Secretary (of State Condoleezza) Rice is grateful to Ambassador Griffin for his record of long exemplary service to the nation,” said Sean McCormack, the chief State Department spokesman.

Griffin, whose federal law-enforcement career began with the Secret Service in 1971, made no mention in a resignation letter to President Bush of the controversy, saying only that he was going to “move on to new challenges.”

A deputy, Gregory Starr, will act as Griffin’s replacement.

The department’s private security force of more than 1,000 personnel has drawn criticism for years, but complaints intensified after an incident Sept. 16 in which Blackwater USA contractors guarding a diplomatic convoy killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.

The controversy has caused friction with the Iraqi government and has attracted wide coverage in news media in Arabic countries, Europe and elsewhere, intensifying impressions that Americans favor the use of force.

An Iraqi investigation ruled that the Sept. 16 shooting was unjustified. In the aftermath came revelations that other private guards had resorted to violence and faced no consequences for their actions. In one instance, a Blackwater employee is believed to have killed a guard to Iraqi Vice President Adel Abdul Mahdi and then fled Iraq with the help of the U.S. Embassy.

Griffin, responsible for security arrangements for U.S. diplomats abroad, defended the system set up for Iraq and Afghanistan during testimony before a congressional committee Oct. 2.

Griffin said the State Department contracted with private companies because it did not have enough personnel to staff U.S. needs in Iraq.