The Joint Special Operations Command, which oversees special operations for the U.S. military, has been hiring out infamous military contracting firm Blackwater for operations in Pakistan, reports Jeremy Scahill in The Nation. Blackwater, whose soldiers are posing as aid workers, is tasked with snatching terrorists and scouting for predator drone attacks in Pakistan, with which U.S. has a cooperative but tenuous partnership in fighting terrorism. The revelation raises serious questions about why the military is still using Blackwater, which was pulled from Iraq after allegations of killing civilians, and what this will mean for our relationship with Pakistan.

  • Cheney's Kill Squads  The Nation's Jeremy Scahill details "an extremely cozy relationship that developed between the executive branch (primarily through Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld) and JSOC. During the Bush era, Special Forces turned into a virtual stand-alone operation that acted outside the military chain of command and in direct coordination with the White House. Throughout the Bush years, it was largely General McChrystal who ran JSOC." Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, former Chief of Staff to then-Secretary of State Colin Powell, told Scahill:
I think Cheney was actually giving McChrystal instructions, and McChrystal was asking him for instructions. [The relationship between JSOC and Cheney and Rumsfeld] "built up initially because Rumsfeld didn't get the responsiveness. He didn't get the can-do kind of attitude out of the SOCOM commander, and so as Rumsfeld was wont to do, he cut him out and went straight to the horse's mouth. At that point you had JSOC operating as an extension of the [administration] doing things the executive branch--read: Cheney and Rumsfeld--wanted it to do. This would be more or less carte blanche. You need to do it, do it. It was very alarming for me as a conventional soldier.
  • Collateral Damage  Crooked Timber's Chris Bertram worries about aid works. "Nasty stuff, not the least of which is the allegation that Blackwater operatives are masquerading as aid workers. The predictable consequence will be that aid workers (and not just in Pakistan) will be targeted for assassination, kidnap and torture to a greater degree than at present. Hard to exaggerate just how bad this is."
  • Congress Kept In Dark?  Marcy Wheeler suggests this story could be news to a lot of high-ranking officials. "It confirms what [The New Yorker reporter] Sy Hersh reported last year–that these covert actions were (and may still be) eluding Congressional oversight, that Dick Cheney directed their activities directly," she writes. "Now, this is all presented in the context of CIA failing to keep [the Director of National Intelligence] in the loop on covert actions. There’s no mention of whether JSOC is briefing DNI on its own covert actions–though the implication of Scahill’s piece and Hersh’s earlier reporting is that JSOC side-stepped all of that, and reported directly to [the Vice President]."
  • Bad News For Pakistan  Harper's Scott Horton predicts political turmoil. "Meanwhile, in Pakistan, newspapers have been filled with charges to the effect that the government knows of and is turning a blind eye to Blackwater’s operations on their soil. The Pakistani government has vehemently denied these charges, and Interior Minister Rehman Malik recently insisted that he will resign if Blackwater is proven to be operating in the country. The minister may be in for an unpleasant surprise."