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Feds probe Blackwater weapons smuggling

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070922/ap_on_go_co/us_blackwater_probe;_ylt=AgWYOsSDMsoBv9xY.xFQZzOs0NUE Feds probe Blackwater weapons smuggling By MATTHEW LEE,
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 21, 2007
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      http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20070922/ap_on_go_co/us_blackwater_probe;_ylt=AgWYOsSDMsoBv9xY.xFQZzOs0NUE

      Feds probe Blackwater weapons smuggling

      By MATTHEW LEE, Associated Press Writer 17 minutes ago

      WASHINGTON - Federal prosecutors are investigating
      whether employees of the private security firm
      Blackwater USA illegally smuggled into Iraq weapons
      that may have been sold on the black market and ended
      up in the hands of a U.S.-designated terrorist
      organization, officials said Friday.

      The U.S. Attorney's Office in Raleigh, N.C., is
      handling the investigation with help from Pentagon and
      State Department auditors, who have concluded there is
      enough evidence to file charges, the officials told
      The Associated Press. Blackwater is based in Moyock,
      N.C.

      The U.S. attorney for the eastern district of North
      Carolina, George Holding, and a spokeswoman for
      Blackwater did not return calls seeking comment
      Friday. Pentagon and State Department spokesmen
      declined to comment.

      Officials with knowledge of the case said it is
      active, although at an early stage. They spoke on
      condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the
      matter, which has heightened since 11 Iraqis were
      killed Sunday in a shooting involving Blackwater
      contractors protecting a U.S. diplomatic convoy in
      Baghdad.

      The officials could not say whether the investigation
      would result in indictments, how many Blackwater
      employees are involved or if the company itself, which
      has won hundreds of millions of dollars in government
      security contracts since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, is
      under scrutiny.

      In Saturday's editions, The News & Observer of Raleigh
      reported that two former Blackwater employees —
      Kenneth Wayne Cashwell of Virginia Beach, Va., and
      William Ellsworth "Max" Grumiaux of Clemmons, N.C. —
      are cooperating with federal investigators.

      Cashwell and Grumiaux pleaded guilty in early 2007 to
      possession of stolen firearms that had been shipped in
      interstate or foreign commerce, and aided and abetted
      another in doing so, according to court papers viewed
      by The Associated Press. In their plea agreements,
      which call for a maximum sentence of 10 years in
      prison and a $250,000 fine, the men agreed to testify
      in any future proceedings.

      Calls to defense attorneys were not immediately
      returned Friday evening, and calls to the telephone
      listings for both men also were not returned.

      The News & Observer, citing unidentified sources,
      reported that the probe was looking at whether
      Blackwater had shipped unlicensed automatic weapons
      and military goods to Iraq without a license.

      The paper's report that the company itself was under
      investigation could not be confirmed by the AP.

      Meanwhile, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered
      a review of security practices for U.S. diplomats in
      Iraq following a deadly incident involving Blackwater
      USA guards protecting an embassy convoy.

      Rice's announcement came as the U.S. Embassy in
      Baghdad resumed limited diplomatic convoys under the
      protection of Blackwater outside the heavily fortified
      Green Zone after a suspension because of the weekend
      incident in that city.

      In the United States, officials in Washington said the
      smuggling investigation grew from internal Pentagon
      and State Department inquiries into U.S. weapons that
      had gone missing in Iraq. It gained steam after
      Turkish authorities protested to the U.S. in July that
      they had seized American arms from the outlawed
      Kurdistan Workers Party, or PKK, rebels.

      The Turks provided serial numbers of the weapons to
      U.S. investigators, said a Turkish official.

      The Pentagon said in late July it was looking into the
      Turkish complaints and a U.S. official said FBI agents
      had traveled to Turkey in recent months to look into
      cases of missing U.S. weapons in Iraq.

      Investigators are determining whether the alleged
      Blackwater weapons match those taken from the PKK.

      It was not clear if Blackwater employees suspected of
      selling to the black market knew the weapons they
      allegedly sold to middlemen might wind up with the
      PKK. If they did, possible charges against them could
      be more serious than theft or illegal weapons sales,
      officials said.

      The PKK, which is fighting for an independent
      Kurdistan, is banned in Turkey, which has a restive
      Kurdish population and is considered a "foreign
      terrorist organization" by the State Department. That
      designation bars U.S. citizens or those in U.S.
      jurisdictions from supporting the group in any way.

      The North Carolina investigation was first brought to
      light by State Department Inspector General Howard
      Krongard, who mentioned it, perhaps inadvertently,
      this week while denying he had improperly blocked
      fraud and corruption probes in Iraq and Afghanistan.

      Krongard was accused in a letter by Rep. Henry Waxman,
      D-Calif., chairman of the House Oversight and
      Government Reform Committee, of politically motivated
      malfeasance, including refusing to cooperate with an
      investigation into alleged weapons smuggling by a
      large, unidentified State Department contractor.

      In response, Krongard said in a written statement that
      he "made one of my best investigators available to
      help Assistant U.S. Attorneys in North Carolina in
      their investigation into alleged smuggling of weapons
      into Iraq by a contractor."

      His statement went further than Waxman's letter
      because it identified the state in which the
      investigation was taking place. Blackwater is the
      biggest of the State Department's three private
      security contractors.

      The other two, Dyncorp and Triple Canopy, are based in
      Washington's northern Virginias suburbs, outside the
      jurisdiction of the North Carolina's attorneys.

      ___

      Associated Press writers Mike Baker in Raleigh and
      Desmond Butler and Lara Jakes Jordan in Washington
      contributed to this report.
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