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Senate Slams ‘Reckless’ Contractor


Wall Street Journal

Military contractors in Afghanistan affiliated with the security company formerly known as Blackwater Worldwide regularly carried unauthorized weapons and engaged in “reckless” behavior that included the accidental shooting of a fellow contractor, a Senate investigation has found.

Investigators from the Senate Armed Services Committee also found weak oversight by the U.S. Army and Raytheon Co., which had hired the contractors from Paravant LLC to train Afghan forces. Paravant was a special unit set up by Blackwater to work for Raytheon on the contract.

The problems reveal a potential weak link in the Obama administration’s strategy to build up Afghan forces to secure the country, an approach that relies heavily on defense firms to conduct training missions that are difficult to oversee and often dangerous. It also reveals the risk big defense companies, such as Raytheon, Northrop Grumman Corp. and Lockheed Martin Corp., court as they consider whether to bid on what will amount to billions of dollars in future training contracts in war zones in the coming years. Xe Services LLC, which is the new name for the parent company of Blackwater Worldwide, is continuing to vie for such work.

The committee’s chairman, Sen. Carl Levin (D., Mich.) said misconduct by contractors in Afghanistan undermines U.S. efforts there. The Defense Department and civilian agencies are intent on winning over the Afghan populace to help stabilize the war-ravaged country. “If we are going to win that struggle we need to know that our contractor personnel are adequately screened, supervised, and held accountable, because in the end the Afghan people will hold us responsible for their actions,” said Mr. Levin at a briefing with reporters ahead of a Senate hearing Wednesday on the Paravant contract.

The Justice Department indicted two former military trainers working for Paravant in January for their alleged role in a May 2009 shooting in Kabul that left two Afghan civilians dead and another injured. The men were charged with second-degree murder, attempted murder and weapons charges. The men have said they acted in self-defense after a traffic accident.

In a statement, Xe said the company’s new management, brought in early last year, “was taking steps to address shortcomings in the Paravant program” at the time of the May 2009 incident. Xe also said that Raytheon and the Defense Department knew that Paravant contractors carried unauthorized weapons, and said they shouldn’t have been doing so without official approval, which was being sought. The two contractors involved in the May shooting “clearly violated clear company policies,” Xe said.

Prior to that incident, Senate investigators uncovered a December 2008 shooting that involved a senior Paravant trainer accidentally shooting a colleague during an impromptu practice session of firing assault rifles from moving vehicles. A Paravant executive wrote in a memo after the incident that “everyone on the team showed poor judgment.” There were about 72 trainers on the contract, but it was frequently undermanned, according to committee staffers. The Army was notified of the incident by Raytheon, but didn’t investigate it.

The trainers were not authorized to carry weapons. Yet Blackwater contractors had already taken hundreds of AK-47 rifles from a supply intended for use by the Afghan National Police, which was also where the Paravant trainers acquired their assault rifles, according to committee staffers. The company has yet to account for all of the weapons it removed from the depot, they said.

In September 2008, more than 200 assault rifles guns were signed out to “Eric Cartman,” which is the name of a character on the animated television show “South Park.” The company said it had no contractors by that name, according to committee staffers.

Mr. Levin was particularly critical of the companies, as well as the Army. He said of Raytheon’s supervision of Paravant: “They weren’t minding the shop at all.”

Raytheon declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

According to the committee, the Paravant subcontract was valued at about $20 million over two years as part of Raytheon’s approximately $11 billion U.S. Army training contract that stretches over 10 years.

Raytheon replaced Paravant with MPRI, a unit of L-3 Communications Holdings Inc., last year.

A spokesman for the U.S. Army office overseeing the training program declined to comment ahead of the hearing.

Mr. Levin was especially critical of Blackwater, who he said “misrepresented the facts” during the committee’s investigation and who he accused of operating with “carelessness and recklessness” in Afghanistan.

Raytheon and Xe executives are expected to appear as witnesses at Wednesday’s hearing.

February 24, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | , , , , , , | 1 Comment