Mercenaries? CIA Says Expanded Role for Contractors Legitimate
The CIA and the military special forces have quietly expanded the role of private contractors, including Blackwater, to include their involvement in raids and secret paramilitary operations in Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iraq, four current and former U.S. military and intelligence officers tell ABC News.
American law specifically prohibits the use of private soldiers or mercenaries in combat, according to Jonathan Turley, a professor of public interest law at George Washington University.
"The United States Congress has never approved the use of private contractors for combat operations," Turley told ABC News in an interview to be broadcast tonight on ABC World News with Charles Gibson.
CIA officials acknowledge that two private contractors were killed in Afghanistan in 2003 when they and other members of a CIA paramilitary team were in a firefight with Taliban fighters on a remote road.
In another case, in 2006, 12 Blackwater "tactical action operatives" were recruited for a secret raid into Pakistan by the U.S. military's Joint Special Operations Command, according to a military intelligence planner. The target of the planned raid, code-named Vibrant Fury, was a suspected al Qaeda training camp, according to the planner, who said he did not know the outcome of the mission.
In Iraq, a high-ranking U.S. Army officer told ABC News, Blackwater personnel have been used in military operations that "are supposed to include U.S. soldiers but often end up with the Blackwater people on their own."
The New York Times reported Friday that such raids against Iraqi insurgents were conducted "almost nightly" between 2004 and 2006, and it quoted several Blackwater guards as saying "the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred."
"A Very Serious Offense to Our Constitution"
The Washington Post today quoted former government officials as saying Blackwater's actions included "active participation in raids overseen by CIA or special forces personnel."
A U.S. Army officer who ran human intelligence collections activities in Afghanistan in 2003, Tony Shaffer, says he never worked directly with Blackwater personnel but frequently encountered them in secret operations run by the military and the CIA.
"I actually met with the CIA and Blackwater operatives who were working together, totally hand in glove, to conduct operational planning and support of their objectives, which are paramilitary operations along the border," said Shaffer, then a Major but now a Lieutenant Colonel who teaches at the Center for Advanced Defense Studies.
"The idea was to bring to bear additional resources for specific special operations missions," he said. "The purpose for that, in my judgment, may have been to avoid some level of oversight."