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State Dept. Plans Tighter Control of Security Firm

Tim Sloan/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Representative Henry A. Waxman at a hearing on Tuesday concerning Blackwater USA.

Published: October 6, 2007

WASHINGTON, Oct. 5 — The State Department, seeking to retain its relationship with Blackwater USA while trying to bring the company’s armed guards under tighter control, said Friday that it would now send its own personnel as monitors on all Blackwater security convoys in and around Baghdad.

The department will also install video cameras in Blackwater armored vehicles to produce a record of all operations that could be used in investigations of the use of force by private security contractors. The State Department will also save recordings of all radio transmissions between Blackwater convoys and military and civilian agencies supervising them in Iraq.

In outlining the measures announced Friday, a State Department spokesman said they had been approved by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice based on the initial recommendations of Patrick F. Kennedy, the department’s director of management policy. Mr. Kennedy is the leader of a team Ms. Rice appointed to look at the way Blackwater and other private security contractors operate in Iraq.

Mr. Kennedy had originally selected Blackwater to provide security for top American civilian officials in Baghdad, when he served as chief of staff to L. Paul Bremer III, the administrator of the United States occupation authority in 2003 and 2004, Mr. Bremer said in an interview on Friday. That mission grew into a $1.2 billion multiyear security contract with the State Department for the company.

Blackwater is one of three private companies providing security services to the State Department in Iraq, running heavily-armed escorts every time a prominent American civilian leaves the protected Green Zone. The requirement for ride-along monitors does not apply to the other two security contractors, DynCorp International and Triple Canopy, the State Department said. Blackwater runs roughly 60 security convoys a week in central Iraq.

The State Department measures announced on Friday are the first concrete response by the American government to the violent episode on Sept. 16 in central Baghdad involving several Blackwater teams that left as many as 17 Iraqis dead. Officials said the State Department would send dozens of its diplomatic security service agents to Baghdad so that there would be enough people in place to accompany every Blackwater convoy.

The State Department was facing new questions on Friday about its handling of another case, involving a former Blackwater guard who is suspected of shooting a bodyguard to an Iraqi vice president while drunk last Christmas Eve.

The former guard, Andrew J. Moonen, now lives in Seattle after being dismissed from Blackwater and sent home from Iraq 36 hours after the shooting, with the approval and help of the State Department.

But within weeks of losing his job at Blackwater, Mr. Moonen was hired by a Defense Department contractor and sent to Kuwait to work on logistics related to the Iraq war, a spokesman for the contractor, Combat Support Associates, said Friday. Mr. Moonen worked for the company from February until August of this year, said the spokesman, Paul Gennaro.

The company apparently did not know that Mr. Moonen had lost his job because of the December episode in Baghdad. Mr. Moonen’s lawyer said that his dismissal was based on reports that he had handled a weapon while drunk, not for shooting the guard, for which he has not been charged.

Representative Henry A. Waxman of California, the Democratic chairman of a House committee investigating Blackwater, raised the matter in a letter to Ms. Rice on Friday. “I am writing to express concern that the State Department may have failed to report important facts about a private military contractor’s killing of a guard for the Iraqi vice president and thereby facilitated the hiring of that individual to work on another contract in support of the Iraq war only two months after the homicide.”

Mr. Waxman noted that Erik D. Prince, the founder of Blackwater, told the House committee on Tuesday that he would see to it that Mr. Moonen’s security clearance was revoked and that he would not be allowed to work in any further security or war-related capacity. Mr. Waxman asked Secretary Rice to provide an explanation for Mr. Moonen’s quick re-employment by a Pentagon contractor in the Middle East.

Mr. Moonen’s identity was first disclosed by The New York Times on Thursday. CNN reported first on Friday that a Pentagon contractor had hired him in February.

The State Department’s chief spokesman, Sean McCormack, said that the additional restrictions on Blackwater’s operations could come as Mr. Kennedy’s inquiry proceeds. But the department was not, for the moment, considering ending its contract with Blackwater, Mr. McCormack said, although he did not preclude such a move as the ultimate outcome of the investigation.

Eric Schmitt contributed reporting.

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