Can Firm Get New PentagonWork After Iraq Incident?
By AUGUST COLENovember 13, 2007; Page A6
A Defense Department contract involving antidrug training missions may test the durability of the political controversy over Blackwater Worldwide's security work in Iraq.
The Moyock, N.C., company, which was involved in a September shooting in Baghdad that left 17 Iraqis dead, is one of five military contractors competing for as much as $15 billion over five years to help fight a narcotics trade that the government says finances terrorist groups.
Also competing for contracts from the Pentagon's Counter Narcoterrorism Technology Program Office are military-industry giants Raytheon Co., Lockheed Martin Corp. and Northrop Grumman Corp., as well as Arinc Inc., a smaller aerospace and technology contractor.
The contracts are expected to be awarded as the need arises, so the Pentagon's level of concern about employing Blackwater will likely be measured over time and by whether the company wins leading roles or is shut out.
Companies competing for the work might be called on to develop detection or surveillance technology; train U.S. and foreign forces; or provide logistics, communications and information-technology systems, among other areas.
Blackwater faces the question of whether it is too tainted to be tapped for such work, even though the contract doesn't involve the kind of security detail that it performs in Iraq. The Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad strained relations between Washington and the Iraqi government, which alleged that the shooting was unnecessary.
The company, formerly known as Blackwater USA, maintains that its ability to win additional government business hasn't been affected by scrutiny from Congress, the State Department and the Justice Department. Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said customers have "confidence in our ability to perform in a capable and professional manner."
Peter Singer, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in Washington, said Blackwater's troubles are not a "death knell," for the company but said: "This extremely public kind of controversy certainly isn't of much help in winning contracts."
Last week, Sen. Bernie Sanders, a Vermont independent who caucuses with Democrats, and Democratic Rep. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois introduced the "Stop Outsourcing Security Act," which would halt the government's practice of using companies such as Blackwater to provide private security for U.S. diplomats in Iraq.