According to a bombshell report in the New York Times, a 2007 State Department investigation of the controversial private security firm Blackwater (now known as Academi) was brought to halt after a Blackwater employee threatened to murder the government chief sleuth. A few weeks after the employee is alleged to have made this threat, Blackwater agents killed 17 Iraqi civilians in Baghdad.
Perhaps even more shockingly, the Times further reports that officials at the American Embassy in Iraq ultimately opted to side with Blackwater rather than the investigator. Reportedly, they subsequently asked the investigator and his co-workers to leave the country, supposedly because the investigation was unsettling the embassy's relationship with the powerful security firm.
Per the Times report, after two members of the State Department were sent to Iraq to investigate the embassy's relationship with Blackwater, they found scores of examples of contract violations and other inappropriate behavior — poorly maintained equipment, fraudulent charges to the government, mistreating workers through affiliated partner firms, and so forth.
Eventually, the investigators met with Blackwater Project Manager Daniel Carroll. The ostensible reason was to discuss complaints over the food quality and sanitation at the Blackwater compound's cafeteria. What the investigators ended up discussing with Carroll instead, they later reported, was how easy it would be for Blackwater to get away with killing them.
Carroll, according to one of the investigators, said "that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq." Carroll, a former member of the elite Navy SEAL Team 6, made his statement "in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,” the investigator later reported.
“I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously," the State Department official wrote in his report. "We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract.” The second State Department investigator present confirmed the first's recollection of the meeting and also noted that he was told multiple times to be "very careful" about what he and his partner said of Blackwater in their review.
Mr. Richter [the author of the report detailing Carroll's threat] was shocked when embassy officials sided with Mr. Carroll and ordered Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas [Richter's partner] to leave Iraq immediately, according to the documents. On Aug. 23, Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the embassy, wrote in an email that Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas had become “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel.” The two men cut short their inquiry and returned to Washington the next day.
Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas declined to comment for this article. Mr. Carroll did not respond to a request for comment.
On Oct. 5, 2007, just as the State Department and Blackwater were being rocked by scandal in the aftermath of Nisour Square, State Department officials finally responded to Mr. Richter’s August warning about Blackwater. They took statements from Mr. Richter and Mr. Thomas about their accusations of a threat by Mr. Carroll, but took no further action.