WASHINGTON — U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on Friday ordered new measures to improve the oversight of security contractor Blackwater in Iraq, including putting video cameras onto convoys, the State Department said.
In addition, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said dozens of diplomatic security agents would be sent to Iraq to accompany each convoy protected by Blackwater, which is under investigation over a Sept. 16 shooting incident in Baghdad that killed 11 Iraqis.
Rice took the actions after receiving an initial report by a special panel she sent to Baghdad to look into the Sept. 16 incident and whether the right procedures were in place to ensure the accountability and oversight of security contractors.
“We are putting in place more robust assets to make sure that the management reporting accountability function works as best it possibly can,” said McCormack.
Special agents would begin immediately accompanying Blackwater when they took diplomatic personnel outside the heavily fortified international zone, he said.
“Agents are en route to Baghdad and we will continue to deploy them,” he said, declining to provide exact numbers for security reasons.
Video cameras and other recording devices would be loaded onto vehicles and electronic data tracking material would be stored, he added.
In addition, there would be increased communication between privately secured convoys and the U.S. military operating in the area.
There are four different investigations looking into the Sept. 16 incident involving Blackwater, including one led by the FBI as well as a joint U.S.-Iraqi inquiry.
The deadly incident has put the role of private security contractors into the spotlight, both in Iraq and in the United States, where the government has been criticized for insufficient oversight.
Blackwater, which says it acted “appropriately” on Sept. 16, has earned more than a billion dollars from U.S. government contracts since 2001.