State Dept. Official Resigns; Oversaw Blackwater And Other Private Guards

State Dept. Official Resigns; Oversaw Blackwater And Other Private Guards
October 25th, 2007  
Team Infidel

Topic: State Dept. Official Resigns; Oversaw Blackwater And Other Private Guards

State Dept. Official Resigns; Oversaw Blackwater And Other Private Guards
New York Times
October 25, 2007 By John M. Broder
WASHINGTON, Oct. 24 — The State Department official responsible for overseeing Blackwater USA and other private security contractors in Iraq resigned abruptly on Wednesday.
Richard J. Griffin, who has been the director of the department’s diplomatic security bureau since June 2005, faced stiff criticism from Congress over his handling of a Sept. 16 shooting episode involving Blackwater gunmen that Iraqi investigators say killed 17 Iraqis and other acts of violence by the State Department’s security guards.
A special panel appointed to investigate the handling of diplomatic security in Iraq found a glaring lack of oversight and accountability that was hindering the American diplomatic and military mission there. The F.B.I. and a joint American-Iraqi board are also investigating the Sept. 16 shooting and the operations of armed private guards in Iraq.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice quickly accepted Mr. Griffin’s resignation, which is effective Nov. 1. “Secretary Rice is grateful to Ambassador Griffin for his record of long exemplary service to the nation,” said Sean McCormack, the State Department spokesman.
Mr. Griffin directed a little-known State Department bureau responsible for protection of American facilities and diplomats overseas. It employs 1,450 special agents who serve as bodyguards for ambassadors and other dignitaries abroad, but found itself unable to handle the security demands brought on by the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. It turned to private American security companies like Blackwater and DynCorp International, which handle the bulk of guard work for American civilians in those two countries.
The contracts, worth billions of dollars, presented management challenges that the bureau found itself struggling to handle. Military officials in Iraq and some diplomats there complained that Blackwater guards, in particular, were undermining the American effort by being quick to use their weapons and running Iraqi civilians off the roads.
The State Department review panel, headed by the veteran diplomat Patrick F. Kennedy, found an urgent need to address those problems and to write new laws, if necessary, to make private security contractors subject to American law if they used excessive force.
Ms. Rice is scheduled to appear Thursday before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has been investigating problems with Blackwater and other security contractors in Iraq.
The committee’s chairman, Representative Henry A. Waxman, Democrat of California, said Wednesday, “Mr. Griffin’s resignation is another indication that the State Department’s efforts in Iraq are in disarray.”
In his two-paragraph letter of resignation to President Bush, Mr. Griffin cited his 36 years in government service, which has included senior posts in the Secret Service and the Department of Veterans Affairs. He did not mention Blackwater or Iraq, nor cite a specific reason for leaving. He wrote only that he was moving on to “new challenges.”
Mr. Griffin did not respond to requests for comment. Mr. McCormack said he would not elaborate on the reasons for or the timing of Mr. Griffin’s departure. Gregory Starr, a deputy in the diplomatic security bureau, will take over as acting director, Mr. McCormack said.
The shootings involving Blackwater continue to stir popular outrage in Iraq, where the government of Prime Minister Nuri Kamal al-Maliki has begun a legal effort to scrap a law giving immunity to private security contractors, known as Order 17, dating from the administration of L. Paul Bremer III.
That would be a first step toward taking it off the books, though the process would probably be plodding in Iraq’s typically sluggish government and Parliament, with no immediate effect on the operations of private security contractors. In a sign of the importance of the issue for the Iraqis, the national security committee in Iraq’s Parliament is considering similar legislation, though no bill has yet been passed to the full chamber for a vote.
The United States administration in Iraq wrote the provision into Iraqi law soon after the invasion in 2003. Since then, the number of security contractors has mushroomed and the question of their impunity has grown more pressing. After a drunken employee of Blackwater shot a man to death, for example, the employee was flown out of Iraq, docked pay and fired.
Mr. Maliki’s spokesman, Ali al-Dabbagh, issued a statement saying the government would draft the law revoking immunity before the next cabinet meeting. The statement did not say when the next cabinet meeting was scheduled.
Andrew E. Kramer contributed reporting from Baghdad.
October 25th, 2007  
I saw on last night that this was coming, not a surprise.