Exclusive: Private Security Contractor Agreement Reached

By Luis Martinez And Kirit Radia

Dec 5, 2007 3:42pm

ABC News has exclusively obtained a draft copy of an agreement reached today between the departments of State and Defense that will coordinate and standardize the rules of engagement and movement for private security contractors employed by the U.S. government in Iraq. According to a draft copy of the "Memorandum of Agreement," both departments "have agreed that they will jointly develop, implement, and follow core standards, policies, and procedures for the accountability, oversight, and discipline of the PSCs [private security contractors]." The agreement will be signed later today by Deputy Secretary of Defense Gordon England and Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte. This comes amid the continued fallout from September’s deadly shooting in a Baghdad square involving the private security contractor Blackwater that left 17 Iraqis dead. THE BLOTTER RECOMMENDS Photos 1st Look at Blackwater Shooting Incident Blotter Blackwater Overseers to Get Bonuses Blotter Blackwater Grand Jury Convenes Today in D.C. Blotter Blackwater Guards Subpoenaed by Federal Grand Jury Click Here for Full Blotter Coverage The agreement requires that all movements of private security details and helicopters must be filed with the military’s command center in Iraq 24 hours in advance to include "time, route, destination, and convoy composition." If the need for more immediate travel arises, plans must still be coordinated with the military. In addition, local military commanders would determine whether the security climate would make transit through their sectors feasible. Such coordination between civilian and military command centers, intended to avoid surprises on the battlefield, was a key recommendation of a panel convened by Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to look at private security contractor practices in the wake of the September shooting incident. In addition, contractors will have to undergo annual training of relevant laws and rules governing their actions. The training will also include scenario training based on current threats and recent incidents. If evidence of criminal misconduct involving government security contractors arises, the embassy and MNF-I pledge to refer the case "to the appropriate prosecutorial authority." The text, however, also promises to "expedite the enactment of legislation to establish a clear legal basis" for holding private security contractors working for the government accountable under U.S. law. The agreement seeks to reduce "the number and strategic impact of serious incidents involving PSCs" and promises to engage on this issue with the Iraqi government. In an effort to avert the use of deadly force by private security contractors, the agreement mandates that specific "de-escalation" and "use of non-deadly force" efforts be exhausted before authorizing deadly force. It charges the U.S. Embassy in Baghdad and MNF-I with establishing common methods and procedures that will include "common signaling devices" to be used by all private security contractors in Iraq to warn potential targets before engaging them and giving them "the opportunity to withdraw or cease threatening actions." ABCNews.com has learned the intent is to use laser "dazzlers" that send a blinding light at approaching civilians or vehicles to warn Iraqi civilians to stop before deadly force is used. Both the U.S. Embassy and MNF-I would develop ways to inform the general population about the new visual warnings by developing a "strategic engagement plan" to ensure that Iraqis "have a common expectation" of both oral and visual warnings from security contractors. The new agreement memorializes a jointly defined rules of engagement for both State Department and Defense Department security contractors. While similar to previous rules of engagement, the memorandum modifies the State Department’s rules to incorporate certain military firearms policies. Under the agreement, private security contractors "retain the inherent right to exercise self-defense in response to a hostile act or demonstrated hostile intent" and are permitted to use deadly force in doing so, but it clarifies the definition of an "imminent threat" as those coming from "individuals with the capability to inflict death or serious bodily harm and who demonstrate the intent to do so." A senior State Department official explains that, unlike military forces, the job of the convoy protection teams is not to return fire when attacked, but rather to evacuate the convoy from the threat area. According to today’s agreement, the use of deadly force is strictly permitted only under circumstances of self-defense, defense of protectees or innocent persons in the vicinity, or preventing theft or sabotage of assets vital to national security. The rules of engagement as defined in today’s agreement require security contractors to fire "only well-aimed shots with due regard for the safety of innocent bystanders, and must immediately notify the appropriate operation center and request assistance as needed." The State Department’s review of security contractor practices, led by Ambassador Patrick Kennedy, also recommended that members of the department’s Diplomatic Security force accompany each convoy in Baghdad. It also called for the installation of audio and video recorders in each convoy vehicle, as well as tracking devices. The State Department said today that all convoys now have a Diplomatic Security agent on board, and it is looking to add more permanent security positions in Iraq to sustain the effort. The department said recording devices should be installed in all cars soon, and cameras will start being installed in the coming weeks. Do you have a tip for Brian Ross and the Investigative Team?

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