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A portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad

A portion of the new U.S. embassy under construction is seen from across the Tigris river in Baghdad, in this May 19, 2007 file photo.The opening of a mammoth, $600 million U.S. Embassy, which had been planned for last month, has now been delayed well into next year, U.S. officials said Thursday. (AP Photo)

 

State Dept. to Step Up Monitoring of Blackwater Firm

By Karen DeYoung
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 5, 2007; 2:02 PM

 

The State Department will step up its monitoring of Blackwater security operations in Iraq, including placing its own agents in Blackwater convoys, mounting video cameras in security vehicles and recording all radio transmissions, the department announced today.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered the actions in response to an initial assessment of Blackwater operations by a high-level team she has sent to Iraq to review overall security operations there.

The team, headed by Patrick Kennedy, the senior management officer for the State Department, is reviewing the rules for contractor operations, the extent to which Blackwater and other private security companies abide by them, and whether there should be wholesale changes in the security system.

In the meantime, spokesman Sean McCormack said, Rice has ordered immediate steps "to improve operational accountability and control." Special agents from the department's Diplomatic Security Service will begin accompanying all Blackwater "protective details." He said additional agents are already en route to Baghdad to supplement what is currently a force of only a few dozen. Although two other security firms share protective responsibilities for diplomats and other official U.S. civilians in Iraq, Blackwater handles the bulk of official movement there, including all trips outside the fortified Green Zone.

Diplomatic Security has also been ordered to "increase our capability to review material after a reported incident," McCormack said. Although agents assigned to the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad currently monitor radio transmissions, they do not record or archive them. In addition to those actions, he said, video cameras will be mounted in the vehicles and electronic tracking data will be archived.

The absence of those safeguards has made it difficult to investigate -- let alone refer for possible prosecutions -- incidents such as the Sept. 16 shooting in which Blackwater guards allegedly killed at least 14 Iraqi civilians.

Rice also directed the expansion of communication links between State Department security and U.S. military units operating in the same area.

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