The role of Blackwater employees in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars was so central to the US's efforts that the lines between the controversial security contractor, the CIA and the military were effectively "blurred," says a report in the New York Times.

During the height of the Iraqi insurgency from 2004 to 2006, Blackwater guards participated almost nightly in "snatch and grab" raids on suspected militants, the Times reported in a story published late Thursday.

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.

"Blackwater’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,” an unnamed "former top CIA officer" told the Times. "There was a feeling that Blackwater eventually became an extension of the agency."

From the Times article:

Several former Blackwater guards said that their involvement in the operations became so routine that the lines supposedly dividing the Central Intelligence Agency, the military and Blackwater became blurred. Instead of simply providing security for C.I.A. officers, they say, Blackwater personnel at times became partners in missions to capture or kill militants in Iraq and Afghanistan, a practice that raises questions about the use of guns for hire on the battlefield.

Representative Rush D. Holt, a New Jersey Democrat who is chairman of the House Select Intelligence Oversight Panel, said in an interview that “the use of contractors in intelligence and paramilitary operations is a scandal waiting to be examined.” While he declined to comment on specific operations, Mr. Holt said that the use of contractors in such operations “got way out of hand. It’s been very troubling to a lot of people.”

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 administration 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 from The Nation reporter Jeremy Scahill revealed last month that the Obama administration is using Blackwater in a program to assassinate terrorist targets in Pakistan.

With a slew of bad news about his company emerging almost weekly in the press, Blackwater founder and chairman Erik Prince revealed last week that he plans to retire from the company. Prince said he wants to teach high school.