The State Department is preparing to slap a multimillion-dollar fine on private military contractor Blackwater USA for shipping hundreds of automatic weapons to Iraq without the necessary permits.
Some of the weapons are believed to have ended up on the country’s black market, department officials told McClatchy Newspapers, but no criminal charges have been filed in the case.
This isn’t good, of course, but it’s also not terribly surprising. The explosive growth in the private security contracting business has left a lot of companies with more contracts than they were prepared to handle. It’s tough to say no to offers of paying work, and that’s when corners get cut.
For all the bad press Blackwater and other US contractors get, it sure seems that they’ve got the job done. I’d personally like to see a little bigger military and a little less reliance by the military on contractors, but the fact is that contractors can do a lot of the day-to-day things when the military is busy. You don’t need acts of Congress to bring in more security guards, cooks, and mechanics when the troops are busy fighting if contractors can help fill the need.
As far as things like security for the State Department and VIPs, that’s going to be contractor work all the way.
At the same time, I don’t want to minimize the issue if some of these Blackwater weapons were sold illegally:
The Raleigh, N.C., News & Observer, a McClatchy newspaper, first reported that two former Blackwater employees, Kenneth Wayne Cashwell and William Ellsworth “Max” Grumiaux, had pleaded guilty to weapons charges and were cooperating with federal prosecutors in North Carolina.
What became of the weapons may never be known.
Iraq has a brisk black market for weapons. Pentagon probes have found that Defense Department-supplied weapons intended for Iraq’s security forces were diverted. The Turkish government has complained that some ended up in the hands of the Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, which Washington and Ankara consider a terrorist group.
That would be bad. (No jokes about the CIA wanting to be the ones pulling a cool profit on deals like this, either…) If it did happen, the next thing to do would be to see if this was a Blackwater operation or if it was a couple of idiots trying to profit via loopholes.
No doubt the news of this fine is going to get all the anti-“mercenary” types all hot and bothered.