Skip to main content

Key senator plans to lambast Blackwater actions in Afghanistan

Sen. Carl Levin is set to issue a scathing assessment Wednesday of Blackwater's actions in Afghanistan.
Sen. Carl Levin is set to issue a scathing assessment Wednesday of Blackwater's actions in Afghanistan.
  • Sen. Carl Levin, D-Michigan, is the chairman of the Armed Services Committee
  • In prepared text, he sharply criticizes private contractors that worked for Blackwater
  • Levin cites two shooting incidents and lax control over weapons
  • He says contractors play key role in perception of U.S. military by Afghan people

Washington (CNN) -- The chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee plans to unleash a withering attack Wednesday on private contractors working for the company formerly known as Blackwater in Afghanistan, accusing them of flouting regulations and endangering the U.S. mission.

Key to beating the Taliban in Afghanistan will be the ability of U.S. forces to win support from the Afghan people, many of whom do not distinguish between U.S. contractors and the U.S. military, Sen. Carl Levin will say, according to an advance text of his remarks.

"If we are going to win that struggle, we need to know that our contractor personnel are adequately screened, supervised and held accountable -- because in the end, the Afghan people will hold us responsible for their actions," the Michigan Democrat will say.

"If we don't fix the problems of oversight and make sure contractors like Blackwater play by the rules and live up to their commitments -- we'll be doing a disservice to our troops by making their already difficult and dangerous job even more so."

See agenda of 9:30 a.m. Wednesday hearing

Though more than 100,000 contractors operate for a variety of contractors in Afghanistan, Levin singled out Paravant, a company that had "no meaningful distinction" from the company formerly known as Blackwater, which is currently known as Xe Services, he said in the advance text.

Shooting at Camp Darulaman

Levin cited a December 9, 2008, shooting at the U.S. military's range at Camp Darulaman during which a Paravant program manager carrying an AK-47 got on the back of a moving car, then shot and wounded a Paravant trainer on his team when the car hit a bump, Levin said.

Though the program manager lost his job, the others on his team who allowed his activities did not, he said.

Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan, a multinational military formation that trains the Afghan National Army, did not appear to have investigated the incident, he said.

Had it done so, the U.S. Army "would have seen that Paravant personnel were using weapons improperly and unsafely, with inadequate supervision, and that they were carrying weapons that they weren't even supposed to have," according to Levin.

Two civilians killed

He also cited a widely reported May 5, 2009, incident in which two Paravant personnel fired their weapons, killing two Afghan civilians and wounding a third. The two men have been charged with murder in the shootings.

An Army investigation appeared to find that the contract personnel had "violated alcohol consumption policies, were not authorized to possess weapons, violated use-of-force rules and violated movement-control policies," said Levin, who cited as his source the man who then led the Combined Security Transition Command -Afghanistan.

Paravant's contract required it to "ensure that its personnel ... behave at all times in accordance with the highest professional and ethical standards," Levin said.

Records for the two men responsible for the May 5 shooting show the company failed to properly vet them, Levin said.

One man's military record "apparently included assault, insubordinate conduct, absence without leave, failure to obey order or regulation, larceny and wrongful appropriation," he said. And his criminal record showed convictions for reckless driving, disturbing the peace, assault and battery, driving while intoxicated, resisting arrest and trespassing.

The other man was cited in a news report for having been discharged from the U.S. military after being absent without leave for 22 days and testing positive for cocaine, Levin said.

Other Paravant personnel were fired for alcohol use and drug use, he said.

Company looks forward to testifying

In a written statement, a spokesman for Xe Services said the company is looking forward to testifying Wednesday.

"Xe's new management was taking steps to address shortcomings in the Paravant program when the tragic May 5 incident occurred," said Mark Corallo of Corallo Comstock Communications. "One of those shortcomings discovered was that the former management of Paravant had provided weapons to personnel for personal protection without first obtaining the proper authorization from DoD.

"Though Raytheon, the prime contractor, and the DoD customer were both aware of Paravant management's decision, and were working to obtain authorization, contractors should not have been armed without the proper approvals. That said, the individual independent contractors' actions the night of May 5 clearly violated clear company policies and they are being held accountable."

After the May 2009 shooting, Raytheon -- which had subcontracted the work to Paravant -- accused the company of having failed to properly oversee its personnel.

Paravant responded that it would need more money to do that, Levin said, calling the company's response "deeply troubling" since its contractual obligation already called for that.

In addition, Paravant called its personnel "independent contractors," despite "compelling evidence" that they were company employees, Levin said. That meant that the company withheld no income taxes and paid no Social Security, Medicare or unemployment tax for them, he said.

The Internal Revenue Service is considering Paravant's classification.

U.S. Army also criticized

Levin also took to task the U.S. Army for "apparent lack of contractor oversight."

Before last May's shooting, the Army said it had no contracting officer representative in the area, telling the committee that it relied on a Dutch contractor to oversee the project.

The Army said it also monitored the contractors from an office in Florida by calling the chief of training and education for the Afghan National Security Forces at Combined Security Transition Command - Afghanistan.

But the chief has told the committee that he did not travel to the training sites to observe Paravant's personnel, Levin said.

On December 3, 2008, before the first shooting incident, Raytheon told the Army by e-mail that Paravant workers had weapons without authority, Levin said, but the Army "apparently failed to take action."

A separate report released earlier this month by the inspectors general of the Department of Defense and the State Department criticizes the State Department for its oversight of Afghan training contracts, specifically a $1 billion contract to train Afghan National Police. The State Department failed to keep track of the money and materials, including weapons, and failed to prepare the police to fight off insurgents, the report said.

Additionally, Levin said a key mission of U.S. forces in Afghanistan is to train and equip Afghan security forces to take the lead in the war, adding that they use a U.S.-operated facility near Kabul to store weapons for the Afghan forces.

Though no policy exists that allows contractors or subcontractors to use weapons stored at the site, called Bunker 22, Blackwater personnel "acquired several hundred weapons, including more than 500 AK-47s, from the facility on multiple occasions," Levin said.

Though the company said last June that it had returned them all, Levin said that was not the case, citing one AK-47 that was not returned until late last month.

"These are weapons that belonged to the Afghan National Police -- not Blackwater," he said. "And it is only on the eve of this hearing that the company is giving the majority of them back to the Afghan government."

Levin concluded the advance text by saying that the contractors need to understand that they have an impact on how the U.S. military is perceived.

"Even one irresponsible act by contractor personnel can hurt the mission and put our troops in harm's way," he said. "If we don't fix the problems of oversight and make sure contractors like Blackwater play by the rules and live up to their commitments -- we'll be doing a disservice to our troops by making their already difficult and dangerous job even more so."

CNN's Charley Keyes contributed to this story.