Feds probe Blackwater weapons smuggling
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,
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
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
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,
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
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.