Disclosure of Blackwater’s Al Qaeda efforts adds to CIA worries

Portions of 2004 report will be released Monday

By R. Jeffrey Smith and Joby Warrick
Washington Post / August 21, 2009

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WASHINGTON - The disclosure Wednesday of the CIA’s decision five years ago to let a private security contractor help manage its sensitive effort to kill senior Al Qaeda members drew congressional criticism yesterday on the eve of key decisions by the Obama administration that current and former intelligence officials fear could compound the spy agency’s political troubles.

Those decisions include the expected release Monday of newly declassified portions of a 2004 CIA report that questions the legality and effectiveness of the agency’s harsh interrogations at secret prisons. Additionally, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. may order a probe of possible criminal actions by CIA officers and contractors during those interrogations.

“In September, you are going to have a hurricane coming through Washington that is aimed right at the intelligence community,’’ warned Porter J. Goss, the CIA’s director from September 2004 to May 2006. He added that a Justice Department inquiry is also pending into whether laws were broken when CIA officers destroyed videotapes of the harsh interrogations.

Democratic House and Senate lawmakers and staff members have already described as inappropriate the Bush administration’s decision to hand management and training responsibility for the CIA’s “targeted killing’’ efforts to Blackwater USA, and they have reiterated their intent to press for speedier and more complete disclosure by the agency of such activities in the future.

Democrats have previously pushed to ban the use of contractors to conduct interrogations, and some suggested yesterday that the restriction should extend to hit squads.

In an interview, Goss said he had not been fully briefed on the details of the CIA activities in question, many of which are classified, so he could not confirm the reported involvement of Blackwater, now known as Xe Services LLC. A spokeswoman for the firm did not return a phone call yesterday, but two former intelligence officers familiar with the effort said the company had received millions of dollars to help train and equip teams to undertake the killings.