More Details on Blackwater’s Role

Should’ve flagged this much earlier: James Risen and Mark Mazzetti’s front-page story in today’s New York Times, chock-full of juicy details about security contractor Blackwater’s involvement in American efforts to target al Qaeda leaders with drones, also addresses some of the outstanding questions surrounding the company’s involvement with the CIA’s now-defunct assassination program.

Today’s story confirms that Blackwater’s association with the assassination effort began shortly after Porter Goss became CIA director in fall 2004. It apparently ended under Goss, too: his successor, Gen. Michael Hayden, tells the Times that outside contractors were no longer involved when he assumed the top spot in May 2006. The article also provides more detail on the nature of Blackwater’s role:

The officials said that the spy agency did not dispatch the Blackwater executives with a “license to kill.” Instead, it ordered the contractors to begin collecting information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda’s leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions.

The Washington Post, meanwhile, has its own interesting follow-up, which focuses on the likely political impact of the new disclosures. Much of the article is given over to Goss, who outlines a few reasons why the CIA might reach out to contractors for sensitive missions (and also says, curiously, that “he had not been fully briefed on the details of the CIA activities in question.”)

If you haven’t gotten to them yet, both are definitely worth a read.

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Greg Marx is an associate editor at CJR. Follow him on Twitter @gregamarx.