By Richard Gaines
The $7.5 million fine that an international arms dealer and security contractor -- Blackwater Worldwide, as it was known during the Iraq War -- agreed to pay to settle a years' long and complex investigation by the U.S. Justice Department into arms export violations was inadequate, says Congressman John Tierney.
The settlement leaves the company, now named Academi LLC, eligible for future government contracts, said Tierney, the ranking Democrat on the House Oversight Committee's Subcommittee on National Security, Homeland Defense and Foreign Operations.
Tierney's effort is backed by Congressman Elijah Cummings, a Maryland Democrat, the ranking member of the committee.
Tierney earlier this month wrote to Defense Secretary Leo Penetta, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and the prosecutor of the case to urge consideration of sanctions barring the company from future government contracts.
According to Tierney, "the facts uncovered during the criminal investigation raise serious concerns about Academi/Blackwater's fitness as a contractor."
Tierney said, "These violations include the company's admission that it exported ammunition and body armor without license or written authorization to Iraq and Afghanistan on multiple occasions" from 2004 to 2006, nad provided "encrypted satellite phones to the 'Government of South Sudan' between November 2005 and February 2006 while attempting to obtain security contracts work up to $300 million a year.
The nation of South Sudan did not come into existence until 2011. A civil war raged for more than 20 years until then. The South Sudanese Liberation Army/Movement was the business partner of Blackwater (as it was then known) and was on a trade sanctions list.
"At the time (of the shipments)," Tierney said, the company "transshipped the equipment through Kenya 'so as not to violate any sanction/import laws,' according to an Academi/Blackwater employee."
He also said that the company may have exported "armed helicopters without approval."
As Blackwater, the company became notorious as a Pentagon contractor working with the military in Iraq. On Sept. 16, 2007, in what became known as the "Blackwater Baghdad Shooting," 17 Iraqi civilians were killed and 20 more injured by members of a Blackwater security detail clearing the way for a State Department convoy.
Blackwater guards said they were ambushed, and although the FBI found 14 of the deaths were without cause, prosecutions were thrown out and dropped.
A spokesman for Academi said it would not comment on Tierney's views, but emailed a prepared statement issued at the unsealing of the bill of information and settlement announcement.
"Academi is pleased to reach this important agreement on this legacy matter," the company said. "It is yet another step in our commitment to fairly resolve past issues and become the industry leader in governance, compliance, and regulatory matters.
"The agreement, which does not involve any guilty plea or admit to any violations, reflects the significant and tangible efforts that Academi's new ownership and leadership team have made in achieving that goal."
In announcing the settlement last month, Thomas G. Walker, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of North Carolina, said Academi/Blackwater "has provided valuable services" to the nation, but also "at times, and in many ways failed to comply with important laws and regulations concering how we as a country interact with our international allies and adversaries."
Tierney wrote to Walker on Sept. 11 that he had "concerns that the agreement does not adequately serve the public interest or protect national security. ... For a company that the U.S government previously found to be in 'systematic non-compliance' with arms export controls, and yet holds or has held billions of dollars in U.S. government contracts, it is extremely difficult to understand how it was determined that the penalty in any way fits the gravity of the determined offense," Tierney wrote.
As a member of the House Oversight Committee, Tierney has been active uncovering contract abuses within the national security arena.
In June 2010, Tierney released a report titled "Warlord Inc., Extortion and Corruption Along the U.S. Supply Chain in Afghanistan," which was the culmination of a six-month investigation into the Department of Defense's Host Nation Trucking contract. Tierney found that the Pentagon's principal logistics contract in Afghanistan had bred a vast extortion racket that was a major source of funding for insurgents, warlords, and criminal patronage networks.
"I applaud ranking member John Tierney's efforts to hold Academi/Blackwater accountable for systematic violations of U.S. law," said Congressman Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. "Congressman Tierney is one of the most valued Members of this Committee who has worked tirelessly over the years--in both the majority and the minority--to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in wartime contracting."