Mercenaries sold arms on black market

Federal prosecutors are investigating whether employees of the private security firm Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons that may have been sold on the black market and ended up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, officials said Friday.

The U.S. Attorney’s Office in Raleigh, N.C., is handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and State Department auditors, who have concluded there is enough evidence to file charges, the officials told The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock, N.C.

A spokeswoman for Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment Friday. The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North Carolina, George Holding, declined to comment, as did Pentagon and State Department spokesmen.

Officials with knowledge of the case said it is active, although at an early stage. They spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the matter, which has heightened since 11 Iraqis were killed Sunday in a shooting involving Blackwater contractors protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in Baghdad.

The officials could not say whether the investigation would result in indictments, how many Blackwater employees are involved or if the company itself, which has won hundreds of millions of dollars in government security contracts since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is under scrutiny.

In Saturday’s editions, The News & Observer of Raleigh reported that two former Blackwater employees — Kenneth Wayne Cashwell of Virginia Beach, Va., and William Ellsworth “Max” Grumiaux of Clemmons, N.C. — are cooperating with federal investigators.

Cashwell and Grumiaux pleaded guilty in early 2007 to possession of stolen firearms that had been shipped in interstate or foreign commerce, and aided and abetted another in doing so, according to court papers viewed by The Associated Press. In their plea agreements, which call for a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison and a $250,000 fine, the men agreed to testify in any future proceedings.

Calls to defense attorneys were not immediately returned Friday evening, and calls to the telephone listings for both men also were not returned.

The News & Observer, citing unidentified sources, reported that the probe was looking at whether Blackwater had shipped unlicensed automatic weapons and military goods to Iraq without a license.

The paper’s report that the company itself was under investigation could not be confirmed by the AP.

Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered a review of security practices for U.S. diplomats in Iraq following a deadly incident involving Blackwater USA guards protecting an embassy convoy.

Rice’s announcement came as the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad resumed limited diplomatic convoys under the protection of Blackwater outside the heavily fortified Green Zone after a suspension because of the weekend incident in that city.

In the United States, officials in Washington said the smuggling investigation grew from internal Pentagon and State Department inquiries into U.S. weapons that had gone missing in Iraq. It gained steam after Turkish authorities protested to the U.S. in July that they had seized American arms from the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, rebels.

The Turks provided serial numbers of the weapons to U.S. investigators, said a Turkish official.

The Pentagon said in late July it was looking into the Turkish complaints and a U.S. official said FBI agents had traveled to Turkey in recent months to look into cases of missing U.S. weapons in Iraq.

Investigators are determining whether the alleged Blackwater weapons match those taken from the PKK.

It was not clear if Blackwater employees suspected of selling to the black market knew the weapons they allegedly sold to middlemen might wind up with the PKK. If they did, possible charges against them could be more serious than theft or illegal weapons sales, officials said.

The PKK, which is fighting for an independent Kurdistan, is banned in Turkey, which has a restive Kurdish population and is considered a “foreign terrorist organization” by the State Department. That designation bars U.S. citizens or those in U.S. jurisdictions from supporting the group in any way.

The North Carolina investigation was first brought to light by State Department Inspector General Howard Krongard, who mentioned it, perhaps inadvertently, this week while denying he had improperly blocked fraud and corruption probes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Krongard was accused in a letter by Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, of politically motivated malfeasance, including refusing to cooperate with an investigation into alleged weapons smuggling by a large, unidentified State Department contractor.

In response, Krongard said in a written statement that he “made one of my best investigators available to help Assistant U.S. Attorneys in North Carolina in their investigation into alleged smuggling of weapons into Iraq by a contractor.”

His statement went further than Waxman’s letter because it identified the state in which the investigation was taking place. Blackwater is the biggest of the State Department’s three private security contractors.

The other two, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, are based in Washington’s northern Virginias suburbs, outside the jurisdiction of the North Carolina’s attorneys.

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Associated Press writers Mike Baker in Raleigh and Desmond Butler and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington contributed to this report.

3 Responses to "Mercenaries sold arms on black market"

  1. adamrussell  September 24, 2007 at 12:08 am

    I think for them to be exempt from Iraqi law, the Iraqi government would have to have agreed to that at some point. I can hardly imagine such. But in the case that is true remember that US law has for some time extended internationally. Remember that Manuel Noriega was tried in US courts for crimes committed in Panama. There is no good reason why BW cannot also be tried under US law.

  2. SEAL  September 23, 2007 at 3:12 am

    Add to this the news today that there was a video camera running at the location of the incident where Blackwater fired upon a crowd and the report is that it shows that Blackwater was unprovoked to fire.

    There is no officail word yet but the press or someone they trust has apparently seen it and concluded that Blackwater security guards had no reason to open fire on the crowd around them. 8 people died at the scene and 3 more died later at the hospital – a total of 11.

    Under the resolutions and laws established in 2004 the Blackwater employees have immunity from Iraqi justice. Also, they are not subject to military law. Apparently, there is no punishment that can be served upon them other than being fired or transferred. However, three of the Blackwater guards are Iraqis and might be held accountable under Iraqi law.

    Of course, this incident has placed Blackwater under a microscope and previous incidents where they have killed people are being revisited. That will result in showing a pattern of trigger happy mercs in uniform with immunity.

    It will be interesting to see how the Iraqi government is going to save face without ordering Blackwater to leave the country. They can’t do that because there is no way to replace them. The personnel does not exist. There are thousands of them in Iraq.

    This so-called war is the most fukd-up operation I have ever seen. Civilians should make the decision about whether we go to war or not but, when we do, all decisions from that point until it ends should be made by the military. All personnel involved should be under military command and subject to military justice. I never thought I would see the day when our military would be under the command of and directed by a war deserter who would send a hired private army to “operate” independently but side by side with us and then our own command would, in General, BetrayUs. As one who gave most of his life to protecting this nation and it’s Constitution, there are no words to describe how I feel.

  3. SEAL  September 24, 2007 at 4:34 am

    Noriega was tried for crimes against the United States. I was involved in that one. Blackwater’s crimes have been committed against the Iraqis. US justice has no jurisdiction over that. Blackwater is an employ of our state department. So, who is ultimately responsible for their actions?

    And to answer your question, yes, in 2004 the Iraqi government did agree to all foreign nationals involved in the war being immune. However, I doubt the envisioned more than 100,000 “security” mercs being unleashed in their country when they signed it.

    Here is something to think about, since you brought it up. What about the crimes we committed by invading the soverign nation of Panama and forcibly kidnapping its president? That was Bush the First.

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