Blackwater Worldwide could be fined millions of dollars for shipping weapons to police training facilities in Iraq and Jordan without proper licensing. Also, a grand jury in Washington is to decide the fate of individual Blackwater guards involved in a shooting incident in Baghdad last year – they could be indicted.
One official said 900 weapons were shipped improperly, though another said the figure is lower. Each weapon shipped could constitute a separate violation and carry a hefty fine. Sources said the foul-up may have been unintentional but left the company unable to properly account for the weapons.
“They didn’t do the original paperwork, therefore they don’t know where the guns are,” said one source. A State Department spokeswoman declined to comment.
Via e-mail, Blackwater spokeswoman Anne Tyrrell said “export compliance has an important role in national security and we are dedicating significant resources to this key area.” She declined to comment on specific investigations but said State’s Defense Trade Control Directorate is among agencies that review the firm’s operation.
Officials in the Commerce Department, which has jurisdiction over some military exports, are conducting a related regulatory review of Blackwater shipments. And federal officials in North Carolina have convened a grand jury to consider criminal charges related to the arms shipments, sources said.
Blackwater has partly acknowledged those inquiries. “Ongoing reviews by the departments of Justice, State and Commerce have highlighted the need for a significant and systems-wide initiative,” Blackwater General Counsel Andrew Howell said in an Oct. 9 statement. Citing problems with “export compliance,” the firm that day announced a new export compliance committee and vice president of export compliance job.
The compliance panel includes former Rep. Asa Hutchinson, R-Ark., a one-time U.S. attorney. Blackwater announced the panel’s creation after receiving a letter from State’s Defense Trade Control Directorate detailing possible violations, sources said. The directorate often reaches agreements through which firms voluntarily pay penalties.
Democrats could make life very difficult for Blackwater in the future, they are expected to push tougher restrictions next year. Leading the charge is Senate Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin D-Mich. Added to that, Obama wants to toughen oversight of Blackwater and other contractors. This has been long over-due..