A Senate Armed Services Committee is holding hearings Wednesday on an unusual incident. According to a six-month congressional investigation, Blackwater security contractors in Afghanistan reportedly stole hundreds of weapons meant for the Afghan national police. The Blackwater contractors--who were not licensed to carry arms in the country--apparently operated under the company name Paravant to escape scrutiny. They seem to have secured the weapons by checking them out under the name "Eric Cartman," which will be familiar to viewers of the cartoon show South Park.

The heavily armed contractors did a great job of demonstrating why they were barred from carrying guns, shooting two civilians and, at one point, another Blackwater contractor. Wednesday's Senate hearing has managed to produce even more shocking revelations. Here's what Blackwater-watchers are saying.

  • Image Control Matters  Wired's Nathan Hodge writes, "getting a handle on this is crucial. As Levin noted, the campaign in Afghanistan is primarily a struggle to win the support of the population. 'If we are going to win that struggle,' he said, 'We needed to know that our contractor personnel are adequately screened, supervised and held accountable.'"
  • Did Blackwater Hide Who They Were?  Why did Blackwater employees operate under the name Paravant? Are they guilty of fraud? In hearing testimony, Blackwater officials claimed that Paravant's true nature was no secret to Raytheon, which handled the Paravant contract and wanted to hide the truth from the Army. This would mean that Raytheon is guilty of fraud. But Spencer Ackerman reports that Raytheon officials are having none of it.
  • The Army Didn't Vet Its Contracts  Why did the Army hire out Paravant, which under even minimal scrutiny is an obvious shell for Blackwater? Turns out it's because they didn't apply even minimal scrutiny. Notes Spencer Ackerman, the Army officials in charge of contracting oversight didn't even call the phone references on Paravant's bid.
  • Most Incriminating E-mail in History?  The AP's Anne Flaherty reproduces the November 2008 e-mail from the former Blackwater VP now locked in Senate testimony. "I got sidearms for everyone ... we have not yet received formal permission from the Army to carry weapons yet but I will take my chances." Oops!
  • Blackwater's Insane Hires  Wired's Nathan Hodge looks at two Blackwater employees who used their stolen weapons to shoot civilians. "Drotleff's military record was 'abysmal': It included assault, absence without leave, insubordination, larceny, and failure to obey order. Cannon, according to an Associated Press report, was discharged from the military after going AWOL for 22 days and testing positive for cocaine." He concludes, "the company did a lousy job of vetting personnel."
  • We're Still Paying Blackwater  The American Prospect's Adam Serwer points out, "Blackwater is still being paid by the State Department to protect American diplomats and Afghanistan, and is also in the running for a new contract to train the same Afghan police force they stole weapons from."
  • They're Doing a Terrible Job  Even when they're doing their assigned task instead of running around Kabul with stolen weapons, Blackwater is still scamming us, writes Middle East blogger Juan Cole. The supposedly 100,000 Afghan troops they're training probably don't even exist. "Many journalists doubt that there are actually so many troops in the Afghanistan National Army, citing high turnover and desertion rates, while others suggest that two weeks of 'show and tell' training for illiterate recruits is not exactly a rigorous 'training'-- even if it were done properly, which it seems not always to have been."
  • Meanwhile, They Billed U.S. For Prostitutes   Talking Points Memo's Zachary Roth reports on a lawsuit that "charges that the controversial security contractor defrauded the U.S. government, including charging it for strippers and prostitutes ... Perhaps the most explosive charge in the lawsuit -- filed by a married couple, Brad and Melan Davis, is that the company put a Filipino prostitute in Afghanistan on its payroll under the 'Morale Welfare Recreation' category, then billed the government for her salary and plane tickets."
  • We Cut Off ACORN, Not Blackwater?!  Liberal blogger Eric Martin seethes. "Considering recent legislation to withold government funds from ACORN, I think I understand the standard applied here, and it makes perfect sense: if some low level employees are caught giving advice (using a doctored videotape that greatly distorts the actual conversation) to a would-be pimp (not actually in costume), then the entire organization should be cut off from government funds entirely and in perpetuity. Can't have that. However, if an organization on the government payroll actually pimps out a prostitute for employee 'use,' well then, no harm, no foul, boys will be boys, etc."
  • They Got Away 'Pretty Easy'  Blackwater chronicler Jeremy Scahill tweets in disgust: "$2 mil a month in legal bills and $100k per innocent civilian killed is a bargain ... As much as this is fun and all, there are much more serious aspects of Blackwater for the Senate to investigate and they don't ... hearing adjourned. All things considered, Blackwater got off pretty easy."