Blackwater to guard FBI team probing it
BY JAMES GORDON MEEK
DAILY NEWS WASHINGTON BUREAU
Wednesday, October 3rd 2007, 4:00 AM
WASHINGTON - When a team of FBI agents lands in Baghdad this week to probe Blackwater security contractors for murder, it will be protected by bodyguards from the very same firm, the Daily News has learned.
Half a dozen FBI criminal investigators based in Washington are scheduled to travel to Iraq to gather evidence and interview witnesses about a Sept. 16 shooting spree that left at least 11 Iraqi civilians dead.
The agents plan to interview witnesses within the relative safety of the fortified Green Zone, but they will be transported outside the compound by Blackwater armored convoys, a source briefed on the FBI mission said.
"What happens when the FBI team decides to go visit the crime scene? Blackwater is going to have to take them there," the senior U.S. official told The News.
An FBI spokesman declined to comment on security measures taken by agents in Iraq.
"It makes absolutely no sense that the FBI will be protected by the very people they are investigating," said Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Manhattan). "But given how the administration runs this war, it's hardly surprising."
In the past, FBI SWAT or hostage rescue team members protected other agents in the war zone. But the hostage rescue team force has been shrinking under the strain of bodyguard duty, leaving the FBI to rely increasingly on Blackwater when military escorts aren't available, sources said.
Besides the potential conflict of interest, it's unclear whether the FBI or Justice Department even has legal jurisdiction over Blackwater activities in Iraq.
"It is a question being examined now," the State Department's Iraq coordinator, David Satterfield, told lawmakers yesterday.
Some prosecutors believe they could slap murder charges on Blackwater, hired by the State Department to protect U.S. officials, under the Military Extraterritorial Jurisdiction Act.
Sources said the FBI team was dispatched after FBI Director Robert Mueller met with President Bush and Secretary of State Rice and will help Diplomatic Security Service agents already investigating the shootout, which Blackwater claims was a defensive action against an ambush.
The House Oversight Committee conducted a hearing yesterday to question Blackwater Chairman Erik Prince - butwas asked by the Justice Department not to discuss the Sept. 16 killings in Baghdad.
Democrats were left to accuse Prince's men of being "reckless," which he calmly denied.
Asked about an operative who allegedly killed an Iraqi guard last year, Prince said he can only fire bad employees - "We can't flog him. We can't incarcerate him."