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Blackwater call for cameras denied Print

By Nicholas Kralev - October 24, 2007 - The State Department cited legal concerns in turning down a 2005 request from Blackwater USA to install cameras in official U.S. motorcades protected by employees of the security contractor in Iraq, The Washington Times has learned.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered cameras to be placed in Blackwater vehicles earlier this month, following a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad, in which the firm's agents are accused of killing as many as 17 Iraqi civilians.

But Blackwater officials said the company first asked the State Department's law-enforcement arm, the Bureau of Diplomatic Security (DS), to take that step on May 17, 2005, "in response to a false accusation against one of our teams in Baghdad."

A State Department spokesman said on successive days that he was not aware that such a request was ever made, and DS officials asked for more time to research the case.

But internal Blackwater documents from that time report that David Brackins, a DS agent and deputy regional security officer at the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad, had agreed that cameras would be useful and had endorsed the request.

Blackwater employees began looking into camera prices and found "a package deal for a vehicle video system called Dash Hound 1," one of those involved wrote in a message to his colleagues. Another employee suggested "video front and back of the lead and follow vehicle, based on the amount of attacks that are conducted from the rear."

The company considered the possibility that the cameras could be used to provide evidence against its guards in Iraq but determined that, on balance, they would work to the company's advantage. It also planned to use the footage for training purposes.

However, a DS official in Washington, Paul Nassen, called the company on May 18 and asked that it "stand down," because the legal department "had some issues" with the proposal and was "not ready to incorporate it into the contract," according to an e-mail message from Blackwater to its employees that same day.

Blackwater officials cited that exchange in a memorandum sent to the State Department earlier this month.

Asked why the department rejected Blackwater's request, spokesman Tom Casey said on Thursday: "I have no reason to believe that actually occurred. ... I've never heard that that idea was ever proposed."

Later that day, a Blackwater official said the company had received an indication from DS that Mr. Casey's remark would be "corrected." Mr. Casey was given an opportunity to do that on Friday, but said he had nothing to add to what he said the day before.

Mr. Nassen no longer works at DS, and Mr. Brackins, who is now in Washington, refused to speak with a reporter unless he was granted clearance by the bureau's public affairs office.

DS officials said they were too busy trying to respond to various requests involving Blackwater from Congress and did not have time to research what happened in 2005 before The Times' publication deadline.

"DS requests the opportunity to provide you with a fully researched and accurate answer, rather than providing bits and pieces of scattered information that may be misleading," a spokesman for the bureau, Brian Leventhal, wrote in an e-mail message yesterday.

On Oct. 5, Miss Rice ordered cameras and other recording devices installed in convoy vehicles to "begin archiving electronic tracking of movement data." She also said that DS agents "will begin accompanying Blackwater protective details."

The FBI is still investigating the Sept. 16 shooting incident, after which Miss Rice appointed an expert panel to review the State Department's security contracts in Iraq.

The State Department has been under sharp criticism from Democrats in Congress for its oversight and accountability practices involving security contractors in Iraq, who until now have been subject to neither Iraqi nor U.S. law.

Miss Rice's panel, chaired by Patrick F. Kennedy, a career diplomat who has been nominated to be undersecretary of state for management, recommended yesterday that security contractors be held accountable under U.S. law.

Doug Brooks, president of the International Peace Operations Association, said he was surprised the State Department did not authorize the installation of cameras in contractor vehicles in Iraq some time ago.

"That would have ensured better transparency and accountability," he said.

 
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