Kerry and Casey Question Rice on Future of Private Security Contractors
Sens. John Kerry (D-Mass.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) sent a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to question the future of private security contractors in the wake of Blackwater Worldwide's recent decision to shift its focus away from private security contracting.
On June 5, Sen. Kerry wrote to Sec. Rice questioning the Department of State's decision to renew its contract with Blackwater.
"The government's experience with Blackwater these last years raised serious questions about the wisdom of outsourcing overseas security to private firms," said Sen. Kerry. "Now with Blackwater's surprising announcement, questions must be answered about how our government intends to protect our diplomats and other overseas personnel in a way that's consistent with American interests and values."
"The massacre in Baghdad on September 17th not only took the lives of innocent Iraqi civilians, but also blackened America's image in Iraq, even if these were the actions of private contractors," said Sen. Casey. "The State Department promised to take steps last fall to ensure such an incident would not happen again. We need to know if the Department has followed through."
Full text of the letter is below:
July 30, 2008
The Honorable Condoleezza Rice
Secretary of State
U.S. Department of State
Washington, DC 20520
Dear Madam Secretary:
We are writing in response to recent news reports that Blackwater Worldwide ("Blackwater") which earlier this year had its multi-million dollar contract renewed with the U.S. State Department ("State") now intends to move away from private security contracting. As you know, Blackwater received harsh scrutiny for its heavy-handed U.S. private security efforts in Iraq following the deaths of 17 Iraqis in a September 16, 2007 shooting at Nisoor Square in Baghdad. While we welcome the opportunity that Blackwater's apparent decision provides to turn the page on contractor abuses, the move also raises important questions about the future role of private security contractors in personal protective service missions in Iraq and elsewhere.
Blackwater's decision highlights longstanding concerns about the wisdom of relying so heavily on security contractors to perform overseas personnel protection missions. Looking ahead, to assess how these missions can be executed in the future, we request your help in providing answers to the following questions:
(i) Under Secretary of State Patrick Kennedy said last week that he has not been notified of any change in Blackwater's intent to fulfill its renewed Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) contract. Is that your understanding?
(ii) We understand that such a contract may be terminated at any time that it is considered in the United States' best interests to do so. Assuming that Blackwater intends to honor its recently-renewed contract, would a criminal indictment arising out of the September 16, 2007 incident be grounds for termination of its contract?
(iii) On May 10, 2008, the New York Times cited claims by State officials that "only three companies in the world meet their requirements for protective services in Iraq, and the other two do not have the capability to take on Blackwater's role in Baghdad." Do you agree with this assessment? What had State been doing prior to this week's news to respond to this alleged capacity shortfall?
(iv) Under Secretary Kennedy has stated that, "[i]f the contractors were removed, we would have to leave Iraq." Taken together with the aforementioned May 10, 2008 statements attributed to State officials, it is clear that our options in Iraq are limited, perhaps even more so after Blackwater's reported decision to reduce significantly its private security profile. What, if any, steps does State propose to take to lessen its dependence on private security contractors?
(v) In light of Blackwater's decision, are you considering expanding the number of full-time employees in the Diplomatic Security Service ("DS")? The October 2007 Report on the Secretary's Panel on Personal Protective Services in Iraq called for an overall increase of 100 positions in DS. What steps are being taken to implement this recommendation? Would State consider adding a more limited subset of DS personnel who are trained exclusively in personal protective services (rather than typically more general law enforcement activities) to improve relevant skills and contain costs?
(vi) In response to a question Senator Kerry had posed in a June 5, 2008 letter regarding contingency plans in the event that contractor support becomes unavailable, the Assistant Secretary of Legislative Affairs Jeffrey Bergner wrote that work will be "competed or awarded sole source (depending on the circumstances) among the remaining WPPS vendors." However, given that State officials have previously cited a dearth of vendors and their apparent lack of capacity, is this a viable contingency plan? Has State prepared any other risk mitigation plans in the event Blackwater or other private security contractors are unable or unwilling to fulfill their contracts?
(vii) As the United States reduces its troop presence in Iraq, do you anticipate increased military resources will be contributed to provide for the security of diplomatic personnel serving in Iraq, or do you anticipate this security responsibility will continue to fall to private security contractors?
(viii) Where is the line that divides permissible conduct by private security contractors from their performance of "inherently governmental" functions? How have recent negative incidents in Iraq and Afghanistan informed your views, if at all, on this subject?
Your prompt answers to these important questions can demonstrate that our government fully understands the implications of hiring private companies to engage in overseas security contracting, and has a sustainable plan to protect diplomatic personnel in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere consistent with American interests and values.
Thank you for your serious and timely consideration of this request. We look forward to hearing from you regarding this critical matter.
Bob Casey, Jr.
Cc: Under Secretary of State for Management Patrick Kennedy
Assistant Secretary of State for Diplomatic Security Eric Boswell
Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for Diplomatic Security Gregory Starr