WASHINGTON – Highly trained personnel employed with the private security firm formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide sometimes operated side by side with CIA field officers in Iraq and Afghanistan as the agency undertook missions to kill or capture members of insurgent groups in those countries, according to a former government official and a source familiar with the operations.
The actions taken by the private personnel went beyond the protective role specified in a classified Blackwater contract with the CIA and included active participation in raids overseen by CIA or special forces personnel, these sources said. They emphasized that roles and responsibilities often are blurred or altered in a battlefield setting, and that Blackwater personnel were drawn into the operations on an ad hoc basis because they were present and had the necessary skills.
Still, the involvement of Blackwater’s officers in raids is likely to raise new questions about the degree to which deadly actions in Iraq and Afghanistan were outsourced to contract personnel who operated without direct contractual authority or without the kind of oversight and accountability applied to CIA and military personnel.
CIA Director Leon Panetta earlier this year ordered the agency to terminate many of its contracts with Blackwater.
The agency still relies on the firm, now named Xe Services, to provide security for agency employees and assets. Panetta told Congress in the summer that he had shut down a CIA assassination program that employed Blackwater personnel in a supporting role. The CIA has publicly stated that the program, which dated from President George W. Bush’s first term in office, was never fully implemented and that no one was killed.
The CIA declined to comment Thursday on specific intelligence operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Mark Corallo, a spokesman for Xe Services, said Blackwater was never under contract to participate in covert raids with CIA or Special Forces troops “in Iraq, Afghanistan or anywhere else.”