Blackwater, Contracts and Redactions

On Oct. 3, I filed a request with the State Department for contracts with Blackwater. On Dec. 3, the Washington Post received 323 pages in response to my request. I was thrilled. I like documents.

But there was a rub. About half the pages are blank. Here's a sample section.

The federal Freedom of Information Act, widely known in this town as FOIA, theoretically gives citizens and corporations access to baseline details about how their government is being run and how their tax dollars are being spent. In this case, though, the document appears to raise more questions than it answers.

A State Department spokesman said the officials responsible for the cuts are simply trying to protect sensitive information that might put individuals at risk. But he declined to say even what kind of information was cut.
In a cover letter, the department notes that it "gave full consideration" to deletions recommended by Blackwater officials.

"By law that's what we're trying to do by this," said spokesman Rob McInturff, adding that The Post can "go back and appeal" the cuts.

I called FOIA specialist David Sobel, who said he isn't surprised by the largely empty document. More and more in recent years, government officials have deleted with impunity documents released under the act, he said. Sometimes agencies deny FOIA requests outright, citing the need to protect secrecy or information deemed proprietary by its contractors.

Every reporter knows how hard it is to get information through FOIA, and how hard it is to hold the government to account without the documents that are supposed to be accessible through the law's provisions.

"It turns the principals of FOIA on its head," said Sobel, who regularly files requests under the act as senior counsel of the Electronic Frontier Foundation. "Unfortunately, this degree of withholding has become common in recent years, and often occurs in areas that have become a focus of the highest degree of public interest."

A review of the just-released documents -- papers regarding the Worldwide Personal Protective Services contract -- found that about 169 of the 323 pages released were blank or nearly so.

Dozens of the documents are devoid even of page numbers, nevermind information about spending patterns and other questions that have dominated recent congressional hearings about Blackwater's roles in a series of deadly incidents.

A typical page is limned by black lines, empty in the middle and marked at the top and bottom only by the words "UNCLASSIFIED." To one side of the empty pages are simple codes, B2 and B7(F).

In the parlance of the FOIA world, that means the State Department justifies its cuts because the information that once filled the blank spaces was related "solely to the internal personnel rules and practices of an agency" or because it was information was "compiled for law enforcement purposes that would: (F) Endanger life or physical safety of any individual."

A close look at what is there reveals some choice tidbits.

Page 2 of the Aug. 25, 2004 contract with Blackwater says the "maximum for this indefinite quantity contract (including options) shall be $1.2 billion."

Not bad for a company whose federal government revenues were less than $100,000 a decade ago. The same page includes a "program management office base price" of $640,000 per year. But we can't know how much would be paid in the option year. Those figures were cut.

The "statement of work" on Page 13 explains why Blackwater was needed. "As a result of conflicts, wars, political unrest and more recently, terrorist activity, these areas have become extremely dangerous places in which to live and work," the document says. "The Bureau of Diplomatic Security is unable to provide protective services on a long-term basis from its pool of Special Agents."

Page 35 tells us something about what the government expects of the private security forces. "All Contracting employees working under this contract should: Be well proportioned in height and weight," it mandates, among other qualities.

One unnumbered item includes a long list of things. But because its surrounded by blank pages it's hard to know what the list means. Among the items mentioned: battery carrier tool, quick booster kit, heavy duty work bench, distilled water and WD40.

There's a "standards of conduct" section that warns that "abusive or offensive language, quarreling, intimidation by words, actions, or fighting, is considered unacceptable performance under this contract."

There's also this on page 69 of the contract:

"Guards will be polite and courteous in the performance of their duties. They will not use abusive language, be late for work, or be inattentive," it says.

"Guard personnel will not act in any manner detrimental to the reputation of their company or the United States Government."

By Robert O'Harrow |  December 7, 2007; 5:20 PM ET Contract workers
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Comments

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Oh, come on now. You weren't that surprised about the blank pages and blacked out sentences. Years ago I asked for my FBI file under the FOIA. Most of mine was blacked out. But it was easy to read it anyway because I was there when it was constructed. Most of the eradications were to protect the "investigators" who were violating my rights under the Constitution and all the civil rights decisions and legislation that came afterward. Calling my little adventures in civil disobedience and working for Peace in our time a threat to
"National Security" has evolved into a present day euphemism for not FOIA but CYA...covering one's ass in the interest of the present administration mistakes ,goofups, snafus and general outright violations of law and public policy. Sabagio, All alone In Decatur Georgia

Posted by: Sabagio | December 7, 2007 7:44 PM

WHY, SHOULD BLACKWATER HAVE A SAY WHAT GETS RELEASED. THIS IS LIKE PUTTING THE FOX IN THE HEN HOUSE

Posted by: JIMMYG | December 10, 2007 11:21 AM

please release all of the info that us tax payers paid for.
ray

Posted by: ray krock | December 10, 2007 1:33 PM

Keep after them, Robert. The truth will come out. It always does. The fact that it's private contractors will just delay the inevitable.

I wonder if citizens realize the importance of public servants in regards to accountability. Coleen Rowley, Joe Darby, Bunny Greenhouse and Mark Felt. Without people like them we'd sink even deeper.

Who knows ? Maybe Blackwater has some employees with moral courage.

Don Brown
http://gettheflick.blogspot.com/

Posted by: Don Brown | December 10, 2007 4:02 PM

Our Country has NO real Gov't to even speak to our children about . Sure we could explain the Facts after their School tries to BS them....Blackwater is the WAR PIG ,it's employee's are Cash Grabbing Freaks whom are Son's of some Mother...The State Dept Feeds the PIG,THE PEOPLE FEED THE PIG...And we have Healthcare issues,Hunger food and housing issues as well...
The STATE SECRET CRAP IS JUST THAT CRAP...THE SECRET IS OUT !!!!!! Truth about ALL OF BLACKWATER KILLING'S,MASSACRE'S ... We have enough to Bust any/all of their ASS'S open===TRUTH... WILL THE PEOPLE IN THE U$A GET UP AND DO ANYTHING ABOUT IT...? Some will but not enough...Hell E.Prince can't even get his freakin CHRISTIAN CHARITY BBB Membership due to non-disclosure of info....PRINCE,PENTAGON,MR.BU$H ECT= WAR PIGS=people comsumer's

Posted by: Laura Marks | December 10, 2007 6:11 PM

The real question here is, in what possible way can revealing info on Blackwater be deemed a national security concern? Blackwater is simply a civilian gang of mercenaries, or guns for hire if you prefer, and I'm hard pressed to see what they could possible have in the way of information which, if revealed, would have any impact on national security. Is Blackwater as a unit, even cleared for secret material and if so, on what basis?
This is not a case of a business protecting its property which would be understandable, except for the fact that the taxpayers are paying the bill and that makes Blackwater's business our business.
It shouldn't take too sharp a lawyer to tear their case apart. We have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent, especially when its going to a bunch of hired thugs. Where's the high visibility lawyers when the people need them? Cowards!

Posted by: Doubtom | December 11, 2007 1:37 AM

The real question here is, in what possible way can revealing info on Blackwater be deemed a national security concern? Blackwater is simply a civilian gang of mercenaries, or guns for hire if you prefer, and I'm hard pressed to see what they could possible have in the way of information which, if revealed, would have any impact on national security. Is Blackwater as a unit, even cleared for secret material and if so, on what basis?
This is not a case of a business protecting its property which would be understandable, except for the fact that the taxpayers are paying the bill and that makes Blackwater's business our business.
It shouldn't take too sharp a lawyer to tear their case apart. We have a right to know how our tax dollars are spent, especially when its going to a bunch of hired thugs. Where's the high visibility lawyers when the people need them? Cowards!

Posted by: Doubtom | December 11, 2007 1:38 AM

A badly run Government, a badly run war. This Administration is a disgrace, shame on us.

Posted by: xnylady | December 11, 2007 4:37 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:00 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:00 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:00 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:00 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:04 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:04 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:04 AM

If you've been there and experienced the environment, then you have a right to comment....not me again, nevermore.

Posted by: Peg | December 12, 2007 10:05 AM

Smells like a cover up. The Post should appeal the redactions and require the State Department to cite the specific exemption being used under FOIA, the information being withheld, and the harm that the Government or Contractor would incur if the information were released. Blackwater should have to make a convincing and compelling arguement for every piece of information that is redacted under the FOIA exemptions.

Posted by: A Citizen for Accountability | December 12, 2007 11:55 AM

Good Work Robert! This obvious bastardization of FOIA is a disgrace and needs to be addressed. No other conclusion can be reached than a Blackwater cover-up is in place and is supported by the administration. What Congressional/Senatorial committees provide oversight for FOIA? Time to get them activated!

Posted by: Nancy O | December 12, 2007 2:06 PM

LETS FACE IT THESE THIRTY THOUSAND KILLERS ARE DOING SECRET WORK FOR THE USA/ THERE WERE NAZI'S AND THAN THERE WERE GERMAN SOLDIERS.

Posted by: JIMMYG | December 14, 2007 10:04 AM

Blackwater stinks like a skunk and Cheney. Is Vegas taking odds on whether Cheney will make it to the end of the Bush Adm.?

Posted by: Anonymous | December 16, 2007 11:02 PM

This thing with the CIA destruction of the tapes may have been just a ploy to take the heat off of the investigation of Blackwater or for that matter they may have been involved in the interrogation of the prisoners. After all Coffer Black was chief CIA head of antiterrorism and covert operations wasn't he before he went to Blackwater to do the same thing???

Posted by: Anonymous | December 16, 2007 11:22 PM

So what will the CIA/Blackwater do today to impune the integrity of the USA and defraud the USA. CIA if you are working with these people you should be ashamed. Not only that but you should be investigating them for treason.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 16, 2007 11:48 PM

man bush put blackwater in iraq to kill all of them

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 1:20 PM

bush should rot in hell

Posted by: Anonymous | December 17, 2007 1:22 PM

Please investigate this before Rupert Murdouche buys and fires all of you.

Posted by: Green thumb, brown nose: Greenspan | December 18, 2007 6:38 PM

And of course you weren't surprised! It doesn't take much thinking at all to fill in the blanks. This countries military, and financial resources are being unlawfully used to perpetrate the true "agenda" which is taking over as much of the world supply of oil as possible and putting it in the hands and control of Mr. Bush and Mr. Cheney's "corporate supporters" This entire so called administration has done nothing since stealing the election except corrupt and destroy every entity of our once functioning government. It is even more evident that this "elected congress" has no intention of stopping this "fraudulent" trillion dollar robbery of our "the tax payers" money and the continued astronomical deficit that will effect this country for many years to come. My tax dollars by law are to be accounted for, and unfortunately for the people of this nation we may never know the truth, for we are being manipulated by the most immoral, corrupt, and yes evil individuals in this countries history. Let it be said again "money is the root of all evil" and the true American Dream is gone.

Posted by: Anonymous | December 20, 2007 12:33 PM

I would love to see one person posting here work in Irag for Blackwater just one night. You could not handle the fear. You would cry for you mother to save you after one night. Furthermore, President Bush has handled the affairs of the USA better by 200%, than any other President in conflict. So for those of you to shout off remarks and complaints, I hope you don't rot in hell just have a least enough courage to sign your comments with your name. I love you President Bush!!!! Joe

Posted by: Joe Pace | December 20, 2007 2:09 PM

Joe Pace, you're obviously an idiot. Shouldn't you be off somewhere playing by yourself or with yourself

Posted by: Doubtom | December 20, 2007 5:43 PM

A few years ago, I thought that the Prez was alright, but, I have changed my mind, the govt. is definitely wrong in the way they have/are manipilating not only the American people, but the laws that they were sworn to uphold. The Government was set up to be representative of the people, and For the people. Not anymore, it has turned into how can we help big business get their's. That is so wrong. They're paying these officials off, one way or the other, look how some of these folks 'Retire', they go and work for the people that bought them while in office, or otherwise. It is total B.S. p.s.This administration IS corrupt, and unfortunately, we, as THE PEOPLE, are also as culpable. 'Nough said'.

Posted by: KRYPTONITE | December 20, 2007 7:49 PM

This is very interesting. A contract, awarded by a government agency, becomes public information upon award. The State Department uses standard contract language and I don't see what the massive white out is about. The Option year prices being removed is really puzzling. FOIA isn't working the way it was intended because those who are tasked with determining what may or may not be released don't really understand.

Posted by: Mary | December 21, 2007 10:27 AM

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