According to a damning new report by the New York Times, a Blackwater project manager in Iraq threatened to kill a State Department official conducting a review of the security contractor. This threat was reportedly made just weeks before the 2007 shootings in Baghdad's Nisour Square, where Blackwater guards shot and killed 17 civilians.
Per memos and internal State Department documents obtained by the Times from 2007, Jean C. Richter, a Diplomatic Security special agent, and Donald Thomas Jr., a State Department management analyst, met with Daniel Carroll, a Blackwater project manager in Baghdad, to discuss the their month-long investigation into the contractor's work in the country. This is when Carroll reportedly threatened them. From Richter's memo:
Mr. Carroll said "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq," Mr. Richter wrote in a memo to senior State Department officials in Washington. He noted that Mr. Carroll had formerly served with Navy SEAL Team 6, an elite unit.
"Mr. Carroll's statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine," Mr. Richter stated in his memo. "I took Mr. Carroll's threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract."
Even more alarmingly, following that meeting, officials at the American Embassy in Baghdad sided with Blackwater, writing that Richter and Thomas' investigation was "unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel." The two State Department officials were immediately ordered to leave Iraq and return to Washington.
Richter went on to write a bruising memo about Blackwater's staggering lack of oversight and control over operations:
After returning to Washington, the chief investigator wrote a scathing report to State Department officials documenting misconduct by Blackwater employees and warning that lax oversight of the company, which had a contract worth more than $1 billion to protect American diplomats, had created "an environment full of liability and negligence."
"The management structures in place to manage and monitor our contracts in Iraq have become subservient to the contractors themselves," the investigator, Jean C. Richter, wrote in an Aug. 31, 2007, memo to State Department officials. "Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law," he said, adding that the "hands off" management resulted in a situation in which "the contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control."
His memo and other newly disclosed State Department documents make clear that the department was alerted to serious problems involving Blackwater and its government overseers before the Nisour Square shooting, which outraged Iraqis and deepened resentment over the United States' presence in the country.
After the events at Nisour Square, Richter's report, though, fell on deaf ears. And subsequent investigations into Blackwater's behavior either ignored or completely cut out Richter and Thomas' short-lived investigation:
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter's August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.
Condoleezza Rice, then the secretary of state, named a special panel to examine the Nisour Square episode and recommend reforms, but the panel never interviewed Mr. Richter or Mr. Thomas.
Patrick Kennedy, the State Department official who led the special panel, told reporters on Oct. 23, 2007, that the panel had not found any communications from the embassy in Baghdad before the Nisour Square shooting that raised concerns about contractor conduct.
Four Blackwater guards are currently on trial in Washington for the shooting at Nisour Square; the government's previous case against five other guards was dismissed in 2009.
[Image via AP]