U.S. Training Center, an affiliate of the controversial mercenary group formerly known as Blackwater, has been given a major new contract to provide security for U.S. diplomats in two Afghan cities.
The contract, confirmed by the U.S. State Department on Saturday, would be worth over $120 million if extended for a full 18-months,Ã‚Â according to CNN. Initial terms guaranteed 12 months of service.
The Moyock, N.C.-based company now called Xe Services announced earlier in June that it was going up for sale after a string of controversies and deaths left the firm’s image so tarnished that they dropped the Blackwater name.
“Performance doesn’t matter in Washington, just politics,” Blackwater owner and founder Erik Prince said in a prepared statement, lamenting the effects of near constant public scrutiny.
In Iraq, Blackwater became best known for the 2007 massacre of 17 civilians in Baghdad’s Nisoor Square, where guards opened fire on innocent bystanders. According to a Democratic-sponsored congressional report from 2007, Blackwater guards fired first in more than 80 percent of all documented engagements.
“[The] vast majority of Blackwater weapons discharges are preemptive, with Blackwater forces firing first at a vehicle or suspicious individual prior to receiving any fire,” the report noted.
Following the Baghdad massacre, Blackwater was found to have approved payoffs of Iraqi officials as a means of stifling criticism of their mass killing. Guards accused of murder in the case ultimately saw their charges dropped, but the Justice Department is reportedly working to revive the case.
Earlier this month, Iraq expelled 250 former employees of the security firm.
In a probe of Blackwater’s time in Iraq, the New York Times said in Dec. 2009 that the firm had essentially become an extension of the US Central Intelligence Agency.
The company’s cooperation in top-secret CIA operations “illuminate[s] a far deeper relationship between the spy agency and the private security company than government officials have previously acknowledged,” the Times reports.
“BlackwaterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s partnership with the CIA has been enormously profitable for the North Carolina-based company, and became even closer after several top agency officials joined Blackwater.”
“It became a very brotherly relationship,Ã¢â‚¬Â an unnamed “former top CIA officer” told the Times. “There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency.”
After company whistleblowers accused company officials and staffers of participating in gun smuggling, money laundering, destruction of evidence, prostitution and other criminal acts, a lawyer defending the company’s president hinted that some of it may have been carried out with th CIA’s blessing.
Over the course of the past year, information has been slowly leaking out about Blackwater’s role in Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the broader war on terrorism. Allegations have emerged that the Bush administrationÃ‚Â hired Blackwater to run elements of its “extraordinary rendition” program, which saw terrorism suspects kidnapped and taken to countries where they could be tortured.
Following the revelation last summer of a secret “CIA hit squad” that targeted high-value terrorists for assassination, allegations emerged that the government had outsourced parts of that program to Blackwater, a move some critics have described as “unconstitutional.”
And an investigative report fromÃ‚Â The Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill revealed last month that the Obama administration isÃ‚Â using Blackwater in a program to assassinate terrorist targets in Pakistan.
“This is a company whose cowboy-like behavior has not only resulted in civilian deaths; it has also jeopardized our mission and the safety of U.S. troops and diplomatic personnel worldwide,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said, according to CNN. “Instead of punishing Blackwater for its extensive history of serious abuses the State Department is rewarding the company with up to $120 million in taxpayer funds.”
Schakowsky has introduced a bill which would prohibit taxpayer funding of private mercenary groups.
Blackwater founder Erik Prince has said that he’d like to teach high school now that he’s retired from the company.
With additional reporting by RAW STORY and AFP.