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56. Blackwater has been involved in 56 shootings this year while guarding American diplomats. Because so little information has been released on this subject, it is hard to comment on the significance of this number. For a comparison of apples and oranges, DynCorp International reported only 10 shootings in 1,500 convoy runs last year. (NY Times)

Childrens are a difficult word, and you cannot fault the President for each and every grammatical errors. But when the administration who support him try to cover up his failings, they make for good entertainment. Checks it out here. (WSJ's Washington Wire)

Last week President Bush said he had been unaware of the oil deal between Hunt Oil and the Kurdistan Regional Government and needed to look into the matter before he would comment. Now, a senior state department official in Baghdad has spoken (off the record) about the fact that the deal "needlessly elevated tensions" and undermines U.S. efforts to unify Iraq and strengthen its central government. The official added that Hunt Oil (whose CEO is a close Bush friend) was warned in advance, that the deal is "legally uncertain." (NYT, AFP)

Stevens' Bridge to Nowhere has finally been scrapped. But don't worry about those poor Alaskan islanders. Stevens has now requested that the Navy build a high speed ferry to shuttle people back and forth at the bargain price of $85 million. Never mind that the Navy had originally estimated costs of half of that, or that the original ferry was scrapped because it was a low priority. (USA TODAY)

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It's not just the State Department that maintains a cozy relationship with Blackwater despite the September 16 Nisour Square shooting. Yesterday the U.S. military's Transportation Command awarded a Blackwater affiliate a $92 million contract for aviation-related services for U.S. military flights between the archipelago of bases we're using in South Asia.

Presidential Airways, Inc., an aviation Worldwide Services company (d/b/a Blackwater Aviation), Moyock, N.C., is being awarded an indefinite delivery/indefinite quantity (IDIQ) type contract for $92,000,000.00. The contractor is to provide all fixed-wing aircraft, personnel, equipment, tools, material, maintenance and supervision necessary to perform passenger, cargo and combi Short Take-Off and Landing air transportation services between locations in the Area of Responsibility of Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan, Pakistan and Uzbekistan. This contract was competitively procured and two timely offers were received. The performance period is from 1 October 2007 to 30 September 2011. The United States Transportation Command Acquisition Directorate, Scott Air Force Base, Ill., is the contracting activity (HTC7 11 -08-D-0010).

(Thx to reader BG.)

Over the past week, we've been reporting that U.S. government sources have disputed Mike McConnell's account to Congress that FISA Court rulings unreasonably delayed surveillance on Iraqi insurgents who kidnapped U.S. troops this spring. The sources blamed cumbersome bureaucratic hurdles for the delay, not the court, and questioned why obtaining an emergency surveillance order -- good for 72 hours before approval by a judge -- should have taken so long to acquire.

Late yesterday, under pressure from House intelligence committee chairman Silvestre Reyes (D-TX), McConnell's office released a timeline of events that seems to vindicate our reporting. According to Pamela Hess of the Associated Press:

The timeline, obtained Thursday by The Associated Press, showed that the Bush administration held "internal deliberations" on the "novel and complicated issues" presented by the emergency FISA request for more than four hours after the National Security Agency's top lawyer had approved it.

The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Silvestre Reyes, D-Texas, last week blamed the delay on unnecessary bureaucracy within the Justice Department. Justice Department and U.S. intelligence officials dispute that, and say the NSA decision alone was not legally sufficient to authorize an emergency request.

"It's not a done deal at that point," Dean Boyd, a spokesman for Justice Department, said Thursday. "We believed we needed additional information and needed to resolve novel legal questions before we were satisfied we could take this to the attorney general."

Another two hours passed when Justice Department officials had trouble tracking down Alberto Gonzales, then the attorney general. He was speaking at a conference of U.S. attorneys in Texas.

Justice Department officials had to make several phone calls to Gonzales' staff before they were able to speak directly with him to get his authorization for the surveillance, according to the timeline.

The delay resulted in the death of one of the kidnapped soldiers.

The State Department's "first blush" investigation into the September 16 shootings at Baghdad's Nisour Square, which left 11 Iraqi civilians dead at the hands of Blackwater security contractors, largely absolves Blackwater of blame for the incident.

According to the initial account by the Baghdad office of State Department's Bureau of Diplomatic Security, a car bomb detonated 25 yards away from a Blackwater detail accompanying a U.S. diplomatic convoy leaving a "financial compound" and heading for the Green Zone. Two other teams were dispatched from the Green Zone to assist in the diplomat's extraction. As the third team approached Nisour Square, it came under fire from between eight to ten assailants, who "fired from multiple nearby locations, with some aggressors dressed in civilian apparel and others in Iraqi police uniforms," the report states, as provided to The Washington Post.

The chaos did not stop there.

Separately, a U.S. official familiar with the investigation said that participants in the shooting have reported that at least one of the Blackwater guards drew a weapon on his colleagues and screamed for them to "stop shooting." This account suggested that there was some effort to curb the shooting, with at least one Blackwater guard believing it had spiraled out of control. "Stop shooting -- those are the words that we're hearing were used," the official said.

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Prosecutors subpoenaed Rep. John Doolittle (R-CA) for 11 years-worth of records as part of the ongoing Abramoff investigation, the AP reports:

Prosecutors recently demanded documents from Doolittle and five staffers, the congressman said. The subpoenas seek "virtually every record including legislative records" for the past 11 years, Doolittle's attorney David Barger said in a news release issued Thursday by the congressman's office.

"These efforts raise serious constitutional issues going to the very core of our separation of powers created by the Founding Fathers," Barger said.

The Constitution prohibits the executive branch from using its law enforcement powers to interfere with legislative business. Barger said he and Doolittle would "be vigilant" to ensure Congress' independence is "vigorously protected." Any court challenge would go before a federal judge, but the documents would be sealed.

The standoff could lead to a court battle like the William Jefferson (R-LA) case over the speech and debate clause. When a federal court called the FBI's decision to take legislative documents out of Jefferson's office unconstitutional, watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Melanie Sloan said it was a great day for corrupt lawmakers.

The Senate Campaign Disclosure Parity Act is a bill that you wouldn't think anyone could possibly be against. And yet, the Republican leadership in the Senate has gone to considerable lengths to stop it -- recently by brazenly insisting on an amendment that would effectively discourage groups from filing ethics complaints against senators. Without that amendment, which Democrats reasonably call a poison pill designed to sink the bill, Republicans say it's not going anywhere.

Here's what the bill would do. Candidates for the Senate file paper versions of their campaign disclosure reports. The bill would require those reports to be filed electronically. That's it.

The House moved to that system six years ago -- which is why it's called the campaign disclosure "parity" act. The bill has forty co-sponsors, among them conservative Republicans, such as Sens. Thad Cochran (R-MS) and John Cornyn (R-TX). A cynic might say that the only rational reason for opposing the bill would be if you wanted to make it harder for people to discover who's been giving to your campaign.

When the bill came to the floor this spring, it was blocked twice by an anonymous Republican senator, using what's called a "secret hold." (Here's our hunt last summer for those behind secret holders on another bill.) But that tactic was forbidden by the Democrats' recent ethics bill, and so when the bill came up again earlier this week, the senator who came forward to block it identified himself. It was Sen. John Ensign (R-NV).

Only Ensign didn't say that he was blocking it. In fact he said that he has "no objection" to the bill. But he insisted on offering an amendment. His bill would require all non-profits that file ethics complaints against senators to disclose all donors who gave $5,000 or more. His bill, he said on the floor, was designed to "protect individual Senators from purely politically motivated ethics complaints that come against us that sometimes we will have to run up legal bills and all kinds of other things." Without any evident irony he added: "transparency is the best way to do it."

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After giving the press "no comments" since the FBI raided his home in August, Sen Ted Stevens (R-AK) finally spoke yesterday. And what did he have to say? Stevens told a Fairbanks Daily News Miner reporter that he's on "frosty" terms with Gov. Sarah Palin (R), and she should think carefully about how she spends Alaska's federal bridge to nowhere money.

Short about $329 million to build the bridge that would have connected an island of 50 people to a more densely populated, neighboring island, Palin told transportation officials to direct the $200 million to an alternative project like an upgraded ferry system.

Stevens worries the federal government might want the money back, even though the language that targeted the money to the project was stripped from the bill after it became a scandal. Alaska got the money just the same, however, and Stevens has never admitted defeat.

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Also in Waxman's report on the 2004 lynching of Blackwater contractors in Fallujah is an expletive-laden internal assessment of the quality of the company's Baghdad shop at the time.

One Blackwater employee described it as "flat out a sloppy f**king operation" and further stated:

The caliber of most of the people here is not what it needs to be. More training, more discipline, and a more selective screening process are needed. ... Some of these lazy f**ks care about one thing, money. I suggest if you continue to employ that kind of trash, that you develop a way to use "their money" as a way to get them to do some f**king work. This "I'm not in the military any more, I can do as I please/ I know I can't afford to loose [sic] more guys" bulls**t is a non-starter.

Waxman is holding hearings next week on Blackwater and Iraq contracting corruption issues. It'll be interesting to hear Blackwater explain how its standards have improved from 2004 to 2007. After all, they've gotten more State Department work than any other contractor, so they must be getting better -- right?

Right on the heels of a Brookings Institution report detailing the problems private military companies create for counterinsurgency efforts in Iraq, Rep. Henry Waxman (D-CA) has released a study finding that Blackwater improperly prepared its contractors for traveling through Fallujah in March 2004 -- a trip that proved to be fatal.

Internal Blackwater reviews and eyewitness accounts obtained by Waxman's oversight committee conclude that the company sent its four employees to Fallujah in what one disgusted Blackwater colleague called "unarmored, underpowered vehicles." The day before the ambush, Blackwater's Baghdad operations manager complained to the company's North Carolina headquarters that he was in dire need of weapons, ammunition, communications equipment and "hard cars." Yet Waxman's report (pdf) cites another employee who says Blackwater opted to go with "soft skin" -- that is, unarmored vehicles -- "due to the cost."

But it wasn't just the cost. Blackwater's reliance on unarmored vehicles was part of a scheme to undercut a competitor, the Kuwaiti company Regency Hotel & Hospital, in order to gain control of a contract Regency held with ESS Support Services Worldwide, which in turn had valuable contracts with Kellogg, Brown & Root and Fluor.

Several reports by Blackwater personnel in Baghdad and Kuwait indicate that Blackwater never intended to armor its vehicles, which included Honda Pilot SUVs, but instead force Regency into purchasing new vehicles or risk losing its role on the ESS contract. ... A second Blackwater employee reported that he was told to "string these guys along and run this Honda thing into the ground" because "if we stalled long enough they (Regency) would have no choice but to buy armored cars, or to default on the contract, and ESS might go directly to Blackwater for security."
A Blackwater lawyer told the committee in February the contractors were given an "appropriate" amount of protection for the threat environment in Fallujah.