A top manager at a company hired to protect American interests in Iraq threatened “that he could kill” a U.S. State Department investigator looking into the firm’s activities, according to an explosive report from The New York Times.
Worse yet, the State Department sided with the company, Blackwater, a private security contractor, after the threatened man and another investigator reported the incident.
In a written report, Jean Richter, a diplomatic security special agent for the State Department, claimed that while he was investigating Blackwater, a company project manager named Daniel Carroll told him during an August 2007 meeting “that he could kill me at that very moment and no one could or would do anything about it as we were in Iraq.”
The threat was issued after Richter and Donald Thomas Jr., a management analyst at the State Department, had been conducting an investigation into the North Carolina-based company, which had a $1 billion contract with the State Department to protect American diplomats and other interests.
The investigation into the company, which began on Aug. 1, was spurred by claims that it was increasingly reckless, according to The New York Times. It had adopted a poor reputation among Iraqis as well as U.S. military.
Carroll’s threat and Richter’s report came just weeks before Blackwater contractors opened fire in Baghdad’s Nisour Square, killing 17 civilians. The incident led to criminal charges against Blackwater contractors and harmed diplomatic negotiations between the U.S. and Iraq.
Soon into their investigation, Richter and Thomas discovered a number of serious issues.
They found that some Blackwater agents were storing automatic weapons in their private rooms while drinking and partying heavily, the two investigators found, according to the Times.
The firms’ guards were carrying weapons for which they did not have proper training and certification. Armored vehicles being used to carry American diplomats were in poor condition.
The firm was also altering personnel records, State’s investigators found, the Times reported.
“Blackwater contractors saw themselves as above the law,” wrote Richter in an Aug. 31, 2007 memo. “The contractors, instead of Department officials, are in command and in control,” he wrote.
On Aug. 20, Richter was called to a meeting with Bob Hanni, the embassy’s regional security officer. Hanni had received reports that Richter has been engaging in inappropriate behavior while in Iraq.
Richter informed his superiors in Washington D.C. and was told to take Thomas with him to any further meetings.
The next day, Carroll issued the threat to Richter.
“Mr. Carroll’s statement was made in a low, even tone of voice, his head was slightly lowered; his eyes were fixed on mine,” Richter wrote in a memo to senior State officials which was obtained by the Times. “I took Mr. Carroll’s threat seriously. We were in a combat zone where things can happen quite unexpectedly, especially when issues involve potentially negative impacts on a lucrative security contract,” said Richter, noting that Carroll previously served as a member of the U.S. Navy SEAL Team 6.
Thomas corroborated Richter’s statement in one of his own. He said that Carroll’s comments were “unprofessional and threatening in nature.” He also stated that he and Richter were warned by others in Iraq to be “very careful” in their investigation, which could reflect poorly on Blackwater personnel.
Despite the serious threat, the State Department sided with Blackwater and pulled Richter and Thomas off the investigation. Ricardo Colon, the acting regional security officer at the U.S. embassy, wrote that the two had become “unsustainably disruptive to day-to-day operations and created an unnecessarily hostile environment for a number of contract personnel,” according to the Times.
The State Department interviewed both Richter and Thomas but did not follow up on the exchange with Carroll.
The Times also reported that Patrick Kennedy, who was appointed to lead a special panel investigation into the Nisour Square shooting, told reporters in Oct. 2007 that there had been no communications sent from the U.S. embassy in Baghdad indicating any problems with contractors preceding that event.