State Department spokesman Sean McCormack deflected criticism of State onto the FBI, saying that FBI agents are "going to exercise their prerogatives with respect to the integrity of the investigation." A Justice Department official cautioned that the FBI only arrived in Baghdad last week, and expected a more harmonious relationship with the Iraqis and the military to evolve.
But if it sounds like the State Department is covering for Blackwater, Foggy Bottom announced yesterday that (yet another) department inquiry is considering abandoning the use of private military companies for diplomatic protection -- or, at least, canceling Blackwater's contract, which amounted to the lion's share of Blackwater's $593 million in federal contracts last year. Secretary Condoleezza Rice asked a longtime diplomat and intelligence official, Amb. Patrick Kennedy, to look beyond just Nisour Square and toward the future of the diplomat-contractor relationship. He's looking at:
_Changes to the rules of engagement under which State Department security contractors operate, particularly for approaching suspicious vehicles, which is at the crux of the Sept. 16 incident. Blackwater insists its guards were fired upon, although Iraqi witnesses and the Iraqi government maintain the guards opened fire with no provocation when a vehicle got too close.
_Whether Blackwater's secretive corporate culture, reputed to have encouraged a "cowboy-like mentality," has led to its employees being more likely to violate or stretch the existing rules than those of the two other private security firms, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, the State Department uses in Iraq.
_Whether it's feasible to eliminate or drastically curtail the use of private foreign contractors to protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq. And, if so, how to replace them.
The officials cautioned that no decisions have been made on what the review panel will recommend. They also said that each recommendation involves complex variables that could depend on interpretations of Iraqi and U.S. laws, as well as U.S. government regulations for vendors.
Any bets on the odds Blackwater will lose its contract? Or that State and the FBI will open their arms to the Iraqi government and the military?