I don't mean to diminish the New York Times story that the CIA contracted with Blackwater USA to advise it on and probably run secret anti-Al Qaeda assassination squads, but there is not a shred of new information in the lengthy piece except for the unsurprising news that the most politically connected and draconian of military contractors had its bloody hands in yet another aspect of the Bush administration's dark side.
I am all for outsourcing government fleet maintenance and other functions that the private sector can do better and more cheaply, but not hiring people to kill terrorists who are motivated by money and not a sense of duty.
While the best terrorists are dead terrorists, especially when they are targeting your children and mine, mercenaries have no place in doing such work, and that work -- whether performed by a gung-ho former Special Forces operative or a CIA agent -- violates a federal law 1976 executive order signed by President Ford that barred the spy agency from carrying out assassinations. This was a response to revelations that the CIA had initiated assassination plots against Fidel Castro and other foreign politicians.
Then there is the matter of killing without consequence, which Blackwater (currently known as Xe Services) pretty much did with impunity in Iraq and now in Afghanistan and Pakistan, as well.
This included a shootout involving Blackwater bodyguards with Rambo complexes and Iraqi civilians in Baghdad in 2007 that turned out to be a case of cold-blooded murder that left 17 people dead. Blackwater also has been accused of gunrunning, while messianic founder Erik Prince, who believes that he is a law unto himself, was recently implicated in several murder plots.
The rationales used by Vice President Cheney, who has his hands all over the assassination-squad story, and other administration officials is familiar: Although Congress has a constitutionally-mandated oversight role in such matters, the CIA already had authority to off AQ bigs. Besides which, the program was not far enough along to get anyone's undies on Capitol Hill in a knot. And that Bush era evergreen: We're above the law and can do anything we want.
As has been reported previously by Seymour Hersh and others, the program ran into logistical, legal and diplomatic hurdles from the jump. It did not carry out any operations although Blackwater made a few million bucks in an off-the-books arrangement, while the CIA itself eventually got cold feet and scrapped the program because of misgivings over outsourcing assassinations.
Meanwhile, the ever insightful Marcy Wheeler, who also is less than moved by the NYT story and a similar piece in the WaPo, in what certainly is less an coincidence than a big leak, makes an interesting point: If Cheney was moved in 2002 to hide the existence of an assassination squad from Congress, as has been reported, what's with Blackwater not coming on board until 2004? Might there have been an earlier program that has not yet been aired out?
No pun intended, it was Machiavelli who said: "In mercenaries dastardly is most dangerous; in auxiliaries, valor. The wise prince, therefore, has always avoided these arms and turned to his own; and has been willing rather to lose with them than to conquer with others, not deeming that a real victory which is gained with the arms of others."