Saturday, September 29, 2007

Blackwater Hires Gays?;
NYT Uses Private Security Consultant in Iraq

The Blackwater USA security firm faces unprecedented scrutiny of its operations, some very deadly, in Iraq providing safety to US State Department personnel and other foreign and private entities doing business there.
The New York Times has extensively covered Blackwater USA lately after a September 16 bloody shootout involving its private soldiers that left more than a dozen innocent Iraqis dead, and their stories piqued my interest in learning if the paper also employs this private army for protection of NYT employees and the bureau in Baghdad.
I emailed Catherine Mathis, the Times' spokeswoman, some questions and she replied that they do not use Blackwater USA contractors and that the paper employs an unnamed consultant for security needs.
My message to the Times:

Hi Catherine,

I've been following the Times' coverage of the problems in Iraq with the Blackwater security firm, and Monday's story, which referenced most foreign organizations there use the firm, raised a question for me.

Does the Times employ the services of Blackwater to protect its employees, the paper's bureau and/or homes of reporters?

I'm curious to learn which security firm the Times is using for protection in Iraq. Can you tell the name of the company, without jeopardizing the security of Times employees?

Best regards,

September 24

“If Blackwater left at this moment, it might leave a security gap because most of the embassies and most of the foreign organizations that are working in Iraq” rely on Blackwater, Mr. Sheikhly said at a news conference with a spokesman for the American military in Baghdad. “This will create a security imbalance.”
In a message dated 9/27/2007 11:54:47 A.M. Pacific Daylight Time, writes:

We have a private consultant who works exclusively for us and is no
relation to Blackwater.


After reading this email, I scoured the web for information about Blackwater USA and security for the Times' operation in Iraq, just to see what is out there on the subject, turning up two items of interest to me.
The first is an interview with the president of the company, Gary Jackson, on an intelligence blog run by R.J. Hillhouse. The talk took place earlier this year, and seemingly apropos of nothing related to homosexuals or heterosexuals, Ms. Hillhouse asked about gays and Blackwater USA:

Hillhouse: Does Blackwater hire individuals who are openly gay?

Jackson: To be frank, I really don’t care whether a given employee is gay. It doesn’t really have much to do with whether an individual can accomplish their job, and that’s our concern.

That doesn't sound like a negative response, now does it. Okay, so gays who know guns and ammo can work for this mercenary company, one with many multi-million contracts with the State Department and other departments of the US government.

So it may be one tiny step for gay equality in employment practices, but I can't just see that angle and be blinded to the larger context of Bush's continuing war on Iraq for oil.

Let's also not overlook the messed up of irony of the US military not allowing open gays to serve in the armed forces, yet the State Department has no problem using the services of a private army that apparently hires gays.

The second item of personal interest comes from a conservative blogger, Admiral Quixote, who located an exchange of emails between the former NYT bureau chief in Baghdad, Susan Sachs, and a neighbor of the bureau who wrote to complain about the private security forces protecting the paper's office.

Written in 2003, which seems like such a long time ago in this endless and pointless war, what fascinates me about the exchange is the window it opens on NYT security procedures back then for its bureau in Baghdad.

Click here to read the full exchange. This is reply from Ms. Sachs to her Iraqi neighbor:

Dear Ms. Al Ali:

I am the Bureau Chief in Baghdad for The New York Times, and it's our house/office on Abu Nawwas Street that your letter to the newspaper addressed.

We do indeed employ guards for our house. As you may or may not know, UNICEF has completely blocked access to the street at the north end and the Sheraton Hotel and U.S. military have completely blocked access at the south end. The French Embassy, as well as BBC and Reuters, have blocked access from the one other side street, where your brother's house is located.

Because of these roadblocks, and new security measures at UNICEF put in place after the terrible suicide car bombing at the International Committee for the Red Cross, we were left two weeks ago with no one checking cars that bypassed the U.N. and drove over the curb onto our street.

Anyone could pass with missiles or car bombs meant for the Sheraton or Palestine Hotels, and it is possible they could as well target The New York Times, the French Embassy, Reuters and BBC. Such an event would doubtless destroy your brother's house as well.

To have access to our house, therefore, we have cleared a dirt path from the main street, cutting behind the trees and up to the street near our house. We have cleared a parking area in the field next to the street for visitors. We have posted a guard at the point where the dirt path meets Abu Nawwas.

We now have that guard check all cars -- and that includes New York Times cars with New York Times staff inside -- to protect ourselves against car bombs, kidnappings and other criminal acts.

Current intelligence indicates that suicide car bombs, like those that killed and maimed so many Iraqis over the past weeks, remain the principal threat to "soft targets" such as ourselves and our neighbors. Looting also remains a problem and, I might point out, our guards now provide the only security for your brother's house.

In addition, beginning at about 5 p.m., we are the only inhabited building on the street, requiring us to put on extra guards at night.

I should also tell you -- and perhaps you could inform your brother -- that only three weeks ago, a car was parked just in front of his house that was suspected of carrying explosives. Two teams of bomb-sniffing dogs reacted to that car; Army explosives experts had to be called to investigate.

I write all this to give you a picture of what the neighborhood is like these days, through no fault of your brother's, of course, but also through no fault of our own. As you know, your brother's house is uninhabited day and night. When he drove in the other day to check on it, he was stopped on the dirt road entrance to the street by our guard. When he explained that he was the owner of the house, the guard called my office manager and our on-site British security advisor.

They explained to him the security concerns. But, in an effort to accommodate a neighbor, they said he could park his car in the lot next to the guard post and not have it checked. The distance from the parking lot to his house is perhaps 100 feet at most.

Your brother agreed, and then gunned his car and charged past the guard onto the street, driving straight toward our house. This behavior naturally alarmed our guards and staff. My office manager ran toward your brother's car and told him to move it away from the house immediately. T hey argued and got into a shoving match. Our professional security contractor and other witnesses say that NO gun was ever pointed at your brother's head or any other part of his body. What happened was an argument and shoving, in reaction to our alarm over your brother's behavior.

Nevertheless, I have gone to your brother's house several times since the incident to speak to him and explain why we are doing what we are doing. I wanted to see if we could work out an arrangement that would be acceptable to him for parking and access. I have never found him at home.

Please tell him that I am sorry the situation turned out as it did. I have cordial and cooperative relations with our other neighbors on the street, who actually occupy their building during the day and with whom we have worked out practical solutions to the security and access issues.

Once again, the street is blocked by UNICEF, the French Embassy and the Sheraton Hotel, not by The New York Times. Indeed, we are providing the only security and access for ourselves and our neighbors. We would welcome the opportunity to work with your brother.

Very truly yours,

Susan Sachs


Fidel said...

It's not the Military that is barring gays. It's the Congress - under Article I Section 8 of the Constitution, they're the ones that make the rules.

This rule was promulgated and signed by Bill Clinton, btw.

As a retired Air Force officer, I believe what Barry Goldwater said is the best attitude: I don't care if the troops are straight, as long as they shoot straight.

Anonymous said...

That is the ExxonMobile approach.

The Blackwater website says the following:

Blackwater USA is an Equal Employment Opportunity Employer. We are committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity and do not discriminate against any employee or applicant for employment because of race, color, religion, sex, national origin, age, disability, veteran's status or any status protected by applicable federal, state, or local discrimination laws.

see here:

notice what is missing?

I understand the "secretive" company is owned by a rather fundamentalist sort