Employees of Xe Services, formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide occasionally operated alongside CIA and Special Forces operatives during missions to kill or capture members of al-Qaeda and other undesirables in Iraq and Afghanistan, former government officials have told the Washington Post.
Such behavior would exceed the protective role assigned to Blackwater in a contract with the CIA, the sources said.
The missions were approved and planned by CIA officials. But when it came time came to carry out those raids, local CIA operatives delegated responsibilities to available personnel regardless of whether they were contractors or federal employees.
A former CIA official with experience in Middle East covert operations confirmed that such decisions would be “practical…there was no bench strength with either the CIA or Special Forces, so sometimes they would turn to contractors, who often had the same skills,” he told the Post.
Former CIA officer Robert Baer said that such arrangements would short-circuit normal chains of command that CIA and military personnel must abide by. “Once you cede your authorities, people are no longer restrained by regulations and federal law,” Baer said.
Earlier this year, CIA Director Leon Panetta terminated several contracts with Blackwater, but the agency still relies on the firm to provide security for agency employees and assets.
Former Washington-based CIA counterterrorism officials said CIA headquarters was not aware of such actions. They confirmed that Blackwater employees engaged in firefights while protecting CIA officers undertaking lethal raids, but characterized these actions as defensive, not offensive.
Currently, 5 Blackwater guards are standing trial in federal court on manslaughter and other charges stemming from the killing of 14 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in September, 2007. In a separate civil case, 70 Iraqi civilians are alleging that Blackwater engaged in “lawless behavior” and covered up killings.