Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice Orders More Oversight of Private Security Companies
WASHINGTON – Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Tuesday ordered new measures to improve government oversight of private guards who protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq, including extensive cultural awareness training for contractors.
The steps, recommended by a review panel she created after last month's deadly Baghdad shooting involving Blackwater USA, also include ways to bring the State Department's rules of engagement into line with those of the military and the organization of "go teams" to investigate incidents in which weapons are discharged.
The moves were described to The Associated Press by a senior U.S. official ahead of their official release by the States Department.
Another step Rice has ordered is the appointment of a senior diplomat to oversee Iraq security operations, the official said. That job, a temporary assignment for now, will be held by Steve Browning, a senior foreign service office who is now U.S. Ambassador to Uganda.
The moves announced Tuesday are among those that Rice opted to make on her own, but further changes are likely after she meets later this week with Defense Secretary Robert Gates.
Some of the review panel's recommendations would require joint action with the Pentagon, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said.
Rice was briefed Monday on the findings of the panel she created in the aftermath of a deadly Sept. 16 shooting in Baghdad in which Blackwater USA guards are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.
The panel's recommendations broke down into three sections: actions already taken, steps that can be taken by the State Department alone and measures that need Defense Department coordination.
Earlier this month, Rice accepted several preliminary suggestions to improve oversight of security contractors, including having federal agents accompany Blackwater-escorted diplomatic convoys, installing video cameras in security vehicles and improving and recording audio communication between diplomats and the military.
The panel's final report found poor communication between diplomats and military officials and too little oversight of contractors like Blackwater, two people familiar with the report's findings told the Associated Press.
The panel members recommended greater coordination between the State Department and Pentagon as they manage private contractors.
Rice said late Monday she wanted to speak with Gates before moving to formalize the unified control recommendation but praised the authors of the review for their work and hinted she would endorse many, if not all, of their findings.
The panel made no specific recommendations about what should happen to Blackwater, whose guards were escorting an official from the U.S. Embassy when they fired on civilians in a Baghdad square, those familiar with the report said.
The killings have outraged Iraqis and focused attention on the shadowy rules surrounding heavily armed private guards.
"There needs to be unity of effort so that whatever's moving in the battle space is coordinated, and it needs to be understood, especially, by the military out in that battle space," said one person familiar with the report.
Those familiar with the recommendations in the report spoke on condition of anonymity because Rice has not yet decided what changes she will make.
The recommendations would apply to management of all private security contractors in Iraq, and recognize that it is impractical to eliminate such protection altogether. The military has resisted assuming responsibility for guarding large numbers of U.S. officials, and the State Department's own security force is too small and already stretched too thin.
The group's closely held report also identified a gap that left private guards for diplomats in Iraq outside the direct control of U.S. civilian or military law, and outside Iraqi law, a U.S. official said. It was not clear whether the report recommends placing private contractors squarely under U.S. civilian law, but Congress has already acted to place such guards under military law when working for the Pentagon.
The Iraqi government is demanding that Blackwater be expelled from the country within six months and that its employees be subject to Iraqi law.