Dodging Blackwater

Over the past year, Barack Obama has spoken out aggressively against private security contractors in Iraq. He proposed legislation to hold these firms accountable for their actions eight months before Blackwater employees killed 17 Iraqi civilians in a square in Haditha. Since then, Obama has acknowledged that groups like Blackwater aren’t going anywhere in the short term. A foreign policy adviser to Obama even said the senator could not “rule out” using private firms in Iraq as president. (If you want to know the ins and outs of private security contracts, The Nation ‘s Jeremy Scahill has written the book, literally , on Blackwater. He has also been pushing hard for Obama to take a stronger stance on the issue.)

So, the $64,000 question: Did Obama rely on private security firms this week during his trip through Afghanistan and Iraq? Apparently not.

When congressional delegations travel to Iraq, they’re almost always protected by private security contractors provided by the State Department’s Diplomatic Security division. In 2005, the department’s Worldwide Personal Protective Services (WPPS) program awarded contracts to three security firms—Blackwater, DynCorps, and Triple Canopy—to protect high-level officials traveling to hot spots like Jerusalem, Kabul, Bosnia, Baghdad, and Kirkuk. WPPS does the vast majority of its business with Blackwater—about $340 million of the $400 million spent annually by WPPS goes to Blackwater, according to one State Department document .

But Obama isn’t just any globetrotting senator. He’s a presidential nominee , which means all his security arrangements at home and abroad are made not by the State Department but by the Secret Service. The Obama campaign refused to discuss his security detail, but a spokesman for the Secret Service told me that private contractors were not accompanying Obama in Iraq or Afghanistan. “We don’t utilize contractors,” said spokesman Ed Donovan. “We use military law enforcement and Secret Service.”