Democracy Now! - April 02, 2009
The Obama administration has confirmed the hiring of mercenary firm Triple Canopy to take over Blackwater's contract to protect US diplomats in Iraq. Part of the firm's job will be to protect the "monstrous" US embassy in Baghdad. We speak to independent journalist Jeremy Scahill, who has also just revealed that the administration is using Triple Canopy to protect US diplomats in Israel.
Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist and author of the New York Times bestseller Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.
AMY GOODMAN: The Obama administration has confirmed it's hired the mercenary firm Triple Canopy to take over Blackwater's contract to protect US diplomats in Iraq. Part of the firm's job will be to protect the "monstrous" US embassy in Baghdad. Blackwater, now known as Xe, that's "zee," lost its State Department contract in Iraq after the Iraqi government refused to grant the company a new license because of the September 2007 Nisoor Square massacre, when Blackwater guards killed seventeen Iraqi civilians.
Meanwhile, independent journalist Jeremy Scahill has just revealed that the Obama administration is also using Triple Canopy to protect US diplomats in Israel. Jeremy's article, called "Obama's Blackwater?" appears on alternet.org. He's the author of the bestselling book Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army, Democracy Now! correspondent, here in our firehouse studio.
Welcome to Democracy Now!
JEREMY SCAHILL: Thanks, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what have you learned, Jeremy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I'm starting to call a series of pieces I'm doing "Operation Rebranded," because what we're seeing unfold with the Obama administration's foreign policy is basically continuing many of the worst parts of Bush's foreign policy and sort of repackaging these policies. So, for instance, the Obama administration has dropped the use of the term "global war on terrorism" and uses phrases like "contingency operations" to describe the US occupation of Iraq. The latest news we have is that the Obama's administration has decided on its mercenary firm of choice. Clearly, Obama did not want to continue at least a public relationship with Blackwater.
AMY GOODMAN: Even though they changed their name?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, yeah, they changed their name to Xe. It's like--well, it's like our friends in Nigeria used to say, Amy, it's old Coke in a new bottle, or old wine in a new bottle. And so, Obama picked this firm Triple Canopy, which interestingly was founded in Chicago, in the home state of Barack Obama. And then in 2005, they changed their location to Herndon, Virginia, so that they'd be closer to the epicenter of US war contracting, though on the Israeli contract, that I'm going to talk about in a moment, they list their Lincolnshire, Illinois address as their primary address for the contract.
AMY GOODMAN: Who heads up Triple Canopy?
JEREMY SCAHILL: It was founded by former Special Forces operatives from the US Army. They were minor contributors to the Bush/Cheney campaign, but not real big political players. They clearly started the company as a result of the US invasion in Iraq. They started it in 2003. By 2004, they got one of the primary contracts in Iraq.
An interesting fact about Triple Canopy is that it was one of the big three US companies. Triple Canopy, DynCorp, and Blackwater shared this mother contract. Blackwater had the biggest share of it, to guard US officials in the Baghdad area. DynCorp had the north of Iraq. Triple Canopy had the south of Iraq.
Triple Canopy also, though, did a very lucrative business servicing other war contractors like KBR, and Triple Canopy was also known for being the company that brought in the largest number of so-called third country nationals, non-Iraqis, non-Americans. They hired, for instance, former Salvadoran commandos who were veterans of the bloody counterinsurgency war in El Salvador that took the lives of 75,000 Salvadorans, minimum. Chileans--they used the same recruiter, Jose Miguel Pizarro Ovalle, that Blackwater used when they hired Chileans. This was a former Pinochet military officer.
And this company has been around, you know, for five or six years. The Obama administration has hired them in Iraq, and many of the Blackwater guys are believed to be jumping over to Triple Canopy to continue working on in Iraq. Obama, though, is keeping Blackwater on, and the State Department has not ruled out that they're going to stay on for much longer, the aviation division of Blackwater in Iraq, and also Blackwater is on the US government payroll in Afghanistan, also working for the Drug Enforcement Agency.
The news that I'm breaking on Triple Canopy, though, is that I obtained federal contracts that were signed in February and March by the Obama administration with Triple Canopy to act as a private paramilitary force operating out of Jerusalem. And this is also part of a very secretive State Department program called the Worldwide Personal Protective Service, which was started under the Clinton administration as a privatized wing of the State Department's Diplomatic Security division. Triple Canopy was paid $5 million in February, March by the Obama administration to provide, quote, "security services" in Israel.
In congressional testimony in 2007, Ambassador David Satterfield, who was an Under Secretary of State, said that he had been guarded by private security companies when he traveled in Gaza, the West Bank and Jerusalem. Triple Canopy had the contract, has had this contract since 2005, the Obama administration continuing it.
I think that the Obama administration should be required to explain to US taxpayers, particularly with the atrocious human rights abuses that we've been seeing in Israel, why he's using a US mercenary company to protect US officials when they potentially come in contact with civilians. And we've seen how deadly that's been in Iraq. And before May 7th, his administration should be required to explain to the American people why he and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton are continuing the Bush administration's policy of using deadly paramilitary forces in Iraq.
AMY GOODMAN: The alternative?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, I mean, the alternative, as Representative Jan Schakowsky has said, is to not use these companies, to ban their use in the war zone and to scale down the scope of what you classify as civilians or diplomats in Iraq. I have long said that I think the Obama administration should destroy that monstrous US embassy that was built in part on slave labor in Iraq. I think that they should pitch a tent in the backyard of the Polish embassy and call it a day and pay reparations to the Iraqi people. Now, call me naive or call me silly, but the fact of the matter is, this is a--it remains an illegal occupation of Iraq, that's destroyed the lives of millions of Iraqis, and the Obama administration should not have a policy that necessitates using mercenaries.
AMY GOODMAN: I was quoting you with the term you used, the "monstrous" US embassy in Baghdad. How big is it? Why do you say "monstrous"?
JEREMY SCAHILL: Well, this is the size of Vatican City. And the Vatican has embassies in other countries around the world. I mean, this is a massive small city within Baghdad itself.
AMY GOODMAN: The largest US embassy in the world?
JEREMY SCAHILL: It's the largest US embassy in world history, and there are already some 1,200 employees that are operating out of this embassy. And according to a recent Government Accountability Office report that I reviewed, the Obama administration is very likely to increase its use of private military companies like Triple Canopy. This is going to be a very lucrative arrangement for these companies. So concerned is the Government Accountability Office with this trend, that they're actually asking Congress to inquire with the Obama administration as to what they intend to if five years from now they have not reduced their reliance on mercenary companies.
Obama has now made Afghanistan and the occupation there, where there are maybe 78,000 troops, US troops, by next year, along with all the contractors, and the occupation of Iraq--he's made these two wars his war. And so, the honeymoon should be over now. Barack Obama needs to be held accountable for wars that he is continuing and aggressively escalating.
AMY GOODMAN: We don't have much time, but I wanted to ask you about this latest lawsuit.
JEREMY SCAHILL: Right, well, Blackwater has been sued repeatedly over the course of the past couple of years, But really, over the past month by Susan Burke of the law firm Burke O'Neil, who works for the Center for Constitutional Rights, she's sued them for the killing of an Iraqi bodyguard to the vice president of Iraq, Adil Abdul-Mahdi. She's suing them over the Nisoor Square massacre. And just yesterday, she filed a lawsuit against Blackwater for an incident in February of 2007 that you've reported on on this show, where three Iraqi security guards working for an Iraqi media network were allegedly killed by Blackwater snipers. She filed the lawsuit on behalf of their estates, their families. And really, Susan Burke has said that the Blackwater empire is responsible for so much death and destruction in Iraq that she's looking to sue them in any way she can.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Jeremy, I want to thank you for being with us. We'll link to your article on our website at democracynow.org. Your article appeared at alternet.org. Jeremy Scahill, award-winning investigative journalist, author of the New York Times bestseller, Blackwater: The Rise of the World's Most Powerful Mercenary Army.