I woke up this morning in New York to new headlines about the conduct of U.S. government security contractor Blackwater and the multiple investigations and reviews underway concerning their work in Iraq for the State Department. For those who have not followed the story closely, the recent round of stories dates to a September 16th incident in which a number of Iraqis, apparently including some innocent bystanders, died after a firefight involving Blackwater contractors in Baghdad while protecting U.S. employees working outside the international zone (the so-called "Green Zone"). There are conflicting accounts of how the firefight started, so we (the State Department) are now trying to piece together an account of what happened by interviewing as many witnesses as possible and collecting whatever other evidence may exist. Any next steps will depend on the outcome of the investigation, which our Embassy in Baghdad is conducting with the assistance of the U.S. military. We are also conducting a joint review of security contractor operations in Iraq in conjunction with the Iraqi government. In Washington, Secretary Rice launched an internal review of personal security contractor (the companies that protect our diplomats when they leave the Green Zone) operations in Iraq. Pat Kennedy, one of the Department's most experienced management officers and someone who has served in Baghdad, is heading up the review. I expect in the next day or so we will announce the names of some senior people from outside the Department to participate in the review. That leads me to one detail and one headline in today's Washington Post.
Buried in a long front page story is an anonymous quote from a Pentagon source saying, "[w]e are making the State respond, conduct an investigation and come up with recommendations." I have no idea who the person is, but they could not be more wrong. First of all, any time there is an incident like what occurred on September 16th, our security personnel start an investigation. An investigation is part of our standard operating procedure. Second, Embassy Baghdad originated the idea of a joint commission with the Iraqi government to look into personal security contractor operations. Secretary Rice fully supported the Embassy initiative. Third, I can tell you first hand that Secretary Rice initiated the Washington-based review of how our personal security contractors operate in Iraq -- including among other issues the rules of engagement and the authorities under which they operate -- in a call to Deputy Secretary John Negroponte on the flight back from Tel Aviv last Thursday.
You can expect to hear more on the issues related to U.S. Government personal security contractor operations in Iraq in the days ahead, as Congress starts to look into the issue. I expect John Negroponte will field a fair number of questions on the topic today when he testifies about the State Department's supplemental budget requests before congressional committees responsible for appropriating funds to the State Department. Congressman Waxman, Chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, also plans hearings on the issue. Secretary Rice made very clear to me this morning that she expects all State personnel and contractors, including Blackwater, to cooperate with requests on the personal security contractor issue by Chairman Waxman's committee. So, don't be fooled by the headline.