Less than one week after returning from an in-depth fact-finding trip to Afghanistan focused largely on contracting oversight, U.S. Senator Claire McCaskill questioned representatives from Paravant, a subsidiary of Blackwater created after numerous scandals damaged the company's reputation, about serious problems related to Paravant/Blackwater's contract to conduct weapons training for the Afghan National Army. McCaskill took Paravant/Blackwater officials to task over the company's lack of reasonable standards of conduct, including the repeated and reckless use of unauthorized weapons, which ultimately resulted in the deaths of two innocent Afghan civilians.
During several heated rounds of questioning, McCaskill raised concerns about the hiring of independent contractors with serious criminal records, the repeated acquisition of unauthorized weapons by Paravant staff and a confusing military oversight structure that failed to properly oversee the Paravant contract. One of the issues that concerned McCaskill was the disparity between the high standards of conduct for our troops and the looser standards applied to contractors. In the case of Paravant/Blackwater, frequent instances of alleged misconduct continued without significant reprimand by the U.S. Government or within the company's own ranks.
"What's killing me about this problem with Blackwater is that we have two sets of rules and one image. As long as we have two sets of rules and one image, we're in trouble on this mission," McCaskill said.
McCaskill demanded to know why there have been no serious repercussions during the last 18 months following numerous problematic incidents with Paravant/Blackwater employees. In December 2008, for example, a Paravant/Blackwater employee was shot in the head by another contractor who accidentally discharged an unauthorized AK-47. In May 2009, Paravant/Blackwater contractors, who were reportedly intoxicated, allegedly killed two Afghan civilians and wounded another, causing significant outrage in the local Afghan community.
"If [a U.S. servicemember] had gone out there with a gun that they weren't supposed to have on top of a moving vehicle and shot a guy in the head paralyzing him, something would have happened in that chain of command. And if they had kept somebody on the force that had been using cocaine, that had been drunk, that had been charged with larceny, that had done all these things these guys had done . . . something would have happened to them if they were in the military," McCaskill said.
While McCaskill acknowledged the important role contractors play in supporting the military's efforts, she emphasized that contractors are essentially indistinguishable from American military troops in the eyes of the Afghan people. She stressed that the U.S. mission in Afghanistan requires winning the hearts and minds of Afghans, and Paravant/Blackwater's actions undermine the military's ability to achieve victory and endanger the lives of American military and civilian personnel.
McCaskill ended her lengthy questioning by calling out Raytheon, which was responsible for subcontracting to Paravant, for their lack of oversight on this subcontract. She chided executives for Raytheon's involvement in pressuring Blackwater to change its name to Paravant in order to cover up the fact that the contract was given to a company with such a notorious reputation.
"It's not so simple as changing your name," McCaskill said. "The way you restore your reputation is not by changing your name. The way you restore your reputation is by changing the way you do business."