On Wednesday, the CIA disclosed that it had hired private security contractor Blackwater to kill senior al-Qaida members. The assassination-program has since drawn strong criticism in Washington. However, SPIEGEL has learned that the level of cooperation between the CIA and the paid mercenaries at Blackwater was even deeper than previously known.
In a memo obtained by SPIEGEL, two former employees describe details of cooperation between the firm and the intelligence agency that then-Vice President Dick Cheney asked the CIA not to disclose to the United States Congress. Even today, members of Congress do not have a complete image of the activities Blackwater undertook on behalf of the government.
The intelligence service commissioned Blackwater and its subsidiaries to transport terror suspects from Guantanamo to interrogations at secret prison camps in Pakistan, Afghanistan and Uzbekistan. The paper identifies aircraft movements and unveils how the flights were disguised. The memo says: "The CIA hired Blackwater to conduct extraordinary renditions". And: "Blackwater flew the rendition targets from Fort Perry and Cuba to Kandahar, Afghanistan."
Blackwater also supported the CIA with other controversial activities during the Bush years, the memo states. "The CIA hired Blackwater to conduct targeted killings in Afghanistan," it reads. In July, the new CIA chief appointed by President Barack Obama, Leon Panetta first discussed an "assassination program" with members of Congress in a classified meeting.
The aim of the program was to recruit special commandos who could be trained to conduct assassinations of al-Qaida leadership. Over the years though, CIA officials told members of Senate, the program never really managed to get out of the planning stage.
Now, further details have emerged. The memo names five participants who were responsible for building the assassination team, including a member of the Blackwater's paratrooper team and an employee of Blackwater Security Consulting, who, according to the memo was meant to be used as a "hitman." The most important person named in the memo is the former third from the top at the CIA, ex-executive director Alvin Bernard Krongard. "Krongard set up the teams," the paper claims. After he left the CIA, Krongard switched to Blackwater's advisory board.
Confronted with the details of the memo on Wednesday, neither Blackwater nor Krongard would comment on questions submitted by SPIEGEL before its printing deadline on Friday. Asked for comment by SPIEGEL, a CIA spokesperson would neither confirm nor deny that the transports of prisoners had taken place or the existence of a killing program. "We do not comment on our contractual relationships," he said. However, he said the details of the memo included "mistakes," although he chose not to elaborate. Stacy DeLuke, the spokewoman of Blackwater (now called Xe Services), answered in an e-mail: "Due to the sensitive nature of these allegations, we are not inclined to comment at this time."
Next week, a federal court in Alexandria, Virginia, is expected to decide whether it will hear a civil suit against Blackwater by the company's victims.
Following the al-Qaida attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, then-President George W. Bush and Cheney deployed private security firms in grand style. Almost overnight, Blackwater transformed itself into an empire funded to the tune of $1 billion by US taxpayers. The company was able to obtain 70 percent of its commissions without going through the standard bidding process. Blackwater also continues to work with the Obama administration. The firm currently handles security for all US diplomats in Afghanistan. However, an increasing number of Democrats on Capitol Hill are calling for the US government to cease working with Blackwater.
Editor's note: This has been translated from a German-language press release published by SPIEGEL on Saturday. The full version of the story will be posted on the SPIEGEL INTERNATIONAL Web site on Monday.