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November 11, 2009
Blackwater Said to Pursue Bribes to Iraq After 17 Died
By MARK MAZZETTIandJAMES RISEN
WASHINGTON — Top executives atBlackwater Worldwideauthorized secret payments of about $1 million to Iraqi officials that were intended to silence their criticism and buy theirsupport after a September 2007 episode in which Blackwater security guards fatally shot 17Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, according to former company officials.Blackwater approved the cash payments in December 2007, the officials said, as protests overthe deadly shootings in Nisour Square stoked long-simmering anger inside Iraq about recklesspractices by the security company’s employees. American and Iraqi investigators had already concluded that the shootings were unjustified, top Iraqi officials were calling for Blackwater’souster from the country, and company officials feared that Blackwater might be refused anoperating license it would need to retain its contracts with the State Department and privateclients, worth hundreds of millions of dollars annually.Four former executives said in interviews that Gary Jackson, who was then Blackwater’spresident, had approved the bribes and that the money was sent from Amman, Jordan, wherethe company maintains an operations hub, to a top manager in Iraq. The executives, though,said they did not know whether the cash was delivered to Iraqi officials or the identities of thepotential recipients.Blackwater’s strategy of buying off the government officials, which would have been illegalunder American law, created a deep rift inside the company, according to the formerexecutives. They said that Cofer Black, who was then the company’s vice chairman and a formertopC.I.A.and State Department official, learned of the plan from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims withUnited States Embassy officials. Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon afterreturning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executivefamiliar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.Stacy DeLuke, a spokeswoman for the company, now called Xe Services, dismissed theallegations as “baseless” and said the company would not comment about former employees.Mr. Black did not respond to telephone calls and e-mail messages seeking comment.