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CIA defends Blackwater contract

The CIA has defended its new controversial 100-million dollar contract with a secretive security firm, formerly known as ‘Blackwater Worldwide.’

The CIA inked the deal after the US State Department awarded Xe last week with a security services contract worth some $120 million for work in Afghanistan.

Under the contract, the company will provide “protective security services” at US consulates in the Afghan cities of Herat and Mazar-i-Sharif.

The massive award granted to the firm — even as it remains under a cloud of suspicion for its deadly records in Iraq — has infuriated US lawmakers who say the deal contradicts the government’s January 2009 pledge not to renew the company’s task orders.

CIA Director Leon Panetta, however, argues that the intelligence service did not have “much choice but to accept that contract” after Xe underbid other competitors “by about US $26m” and that it remains one of the very few companies that can provide security in war zones.

“Unfortunately, there are few companies that provide that kind of security. The State Department relies on them, we rely on them to a certain extent,” the intelligence agency chief said in a rare television interview with ABC News on Sunday.

Blackwater was thrown into the spotlight in September 2007 after five of its members tasked to guard US diplomats in Iraq opened fire on civilians in Baghdad, killing more than a dozen people.

Widespread outrage in the wake of the killings forced the North Carolina-based company to rebrand itself as Xe Services and end its operations in Iraq later in May 2009.

The case again caused controversy last December after a US District Court dropped all charges against the guards, saying the defendants’ constitutional rights had been violated.

Following the acquittal, the Iraqi government expelled some 250 former Blackwater employees from the country.

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