- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 6, 2007

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice yesterday banned Blackwater USA contractors from protecting U.S. Embassy convoys in Iraq unless they are accompanied by State Department security agents.

Miss Rice also ordered cameras and other recording devices installed in convoy vehicles to “begin archiving electronic tracking of movement data,” following a Sept. 16 incident in which Blackwater guards killed at least 11 Iraqi civilians, said department spokesman Sean McCormack.

“Special agents from the Bureau of Diplomatic Security will begin accompanying Blackwater protective details,” he said. “Additional agents are en route to Baghdad, and we will continue to deploy agents to supplement existing assets.”

The secretary’s orders came after she received an initial report from a panel she set up last week to review the embassy’s security practices involving private contractors in Iraq. The new policies will cover only Blackwater for the time being, but they could be extended to other firms such as Triple Canopy and DynCorp.

“In case there is an incident, we will have an improved capability to ensure that we have all the possible information we can collect to determine exactly what happened,” Mr. McCormack said in reference to the recording equipment. “We want to make sure that we have full connectivity, up and down the chain, with the military operating in the area.”

U.S. and Iraqi investigators are still trying to determine what exactly happened on Sept. 16. Initially, the embassy said the Blackwater guards had responded to fire, but an Iraqi panel said Thursday the contractors had not come under fire and 13 Iraqi citizens — not 11 as originally reported — were killed.

The State Department panel is headed by Patrick Kennedy, director of management policy, but its other three members do not currently work for the government.

Mr. Kennedy and Eric Boswell, a former assistant secretary of state for diplomatic security, flew to Baghdad last weekend and recommended the measures Miss Rice approved yesterday. Retired Gen. George Joulwan, a former NATO allied commander in Europe, and former career ambassador Stapleton Roy are expected in Baghdad next week.

The FBI took control of the U.S. investigation into last month’s incident on Thursday so the case could be referred to the Justice Department or the Iraqi authorities if investigators uncover wrongdoing.

That same day, the House extended a law covering Defense Department contractors to all civilians working for the U.S. government worldwide in a bid to close legal loopholes that became evident after the deadly shooting.

U.S. officials have rejected calls that the guards be handed over to the Iraqi judicial system, citing a directive issued by L. Paul Bremer, the U.S. pro consul after the 2003 invasion, exempting contractors from Iraqi law.

Blackwater, a North Carolina-based firm with more than 1,000 employees in Iraq, has defended the actions of its guards on Sept. 16, saying they did nothing wrong. It has won more than $1 billion worth of government contracts since 2001.

The State Department said there have been 56 shooting incidents involving Blackwater guards in Iraq this year, and Mr. Kennedy’s panel is reviewing all of them, Mr. McCormack said.

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