FBI Investigates Blackwater Shooting in Iraq

FBI agents return from Iraq where they were gathering evidence in a shooting incident involving contractors Blackwater USA. The FBI purchased bullet-riddled and burned out vehicles to perform high-tech tests. Blackwater's agents are accused of killing 17 Iraqi civilians.

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Some FBI agents are just back from Iraq. They've been investigating a shooting incident involving security contractor Blackwater USA. The FBI agents had been in Iraq for weeks to gather evidence. Now, there was some doubt the agents would uncover much of anything because they arrived in Iraq weeks after the incident.

So we're going to try to find out how you do investigate an incident like this. NPR FBI correspondent Dina Temple-Raston is here. Good morning.

DINA TEMPLE-RASTON: Good morning.

INSKEEP: Okay, so you're an FBI agent. You arrive in Baghdad. What do you do next?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they're very good at investigating things after the fact in this way, even weeks after the fact. And they go in with amazing technology; for example, they have this program called Nikon Total Station. It actually creates like a virtual copy of the crime scene. And in the old days, you know, investigators used to map out timelines and sketch crime scenes on paper, but this new program Total Station allows them to create almost like a video game of the actual crime scene. So when they walk witnesses through it, the witnesses feel like they're, in this case, in the square in Baghdad following the events...

INSKEEP: The witness can say, I looked to my right, and you can turn the screen and see what was off to his right.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly. Like a CAD/CAM system. It's quite amazing.

INSKEEP: So what do you discover then - what have they discovered by recreating the crime scene in that way?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, they've been pretty careful not to reveal the contents of their investigation. But what we do know is where they're focusing their efforts. And they're interviewing witnesses and they've actually talked to hundreds of people and asking them when they arrived on the scene, precisely where they were standing, how the events unfolded; and, for example, what the shooters look like. And what they've been focusing on is trying to find out if the Blackwater detail was actually fired upon. That's the key thing here. Blackwater said the shooting was defensive; the FBI is looking to see if that's true.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember, we're talking about something like 17 various counts of civilians that were killed, unarmed people in this incident. And the question is whether Blackwater was under attack when they opened fire. That's what you're talking about.

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And let's talk about physical evidence. Once they finish with this recreation that's almost like a videogame, what evidence remains as far as cars, bullets, anything else?

TEMPLE-RASTON: Well, I found this quite remarkable. I found out yesterday that, in fact, those burnt-out cars that you've seen on television around the scene, the FBI actually bought them from the Iraqis, purchased them, and have shipped them back to the United States. They're now at a FBI crime lab in Quantico, Virginia, and they think those cars are going to provide a lot of clues. They're swabbing them, looking for explosive residue. They look at the angle of entry of bullets that showered the cars, and that actually tells them a lot.

FBI investigators take a bullet trajectory course, and that teaches them how to ferret out little clues about bullets. So for example, at the end of their training, they cannot just talk about, you know, how bullets came into a car, but they can actually number the bullets and say this bullet came in first, this one second, this one third. It's quite remarkable.

INSKEEP: Are FBI agents in an awkward position, though, because they're going through all these lengths to gather this evidence and there's some question as to whether any American or Iraqi law is ever really going to apply to these Blackwater security guards if indeed it's found that they did something wrong?

TEMPLE-RASTON: I think they're trying to move forward with the intent of actually doing a prosecution if there's enough to prosecute. I don't think they're worried about this immunity issue. It's use immunity is what these Blackwater guys got, which basically says that they could tell the State Department what happened and that can't be used against them.

INSKEEP: Because they'd already been investigated once by the State Department...

TEMPLE-RASTON: Exactly.

INSKEEP: And there's also just the ambiguity of the fact that they're in Iraq, and what laws would apply anyway? There's a lot of questions here about whether there could be a prosecution.

TEMPLE-RASTON: There are questions everywhere, but what the FBI is going to do now is they're going to basically pull together what they have, give it to the Department of Justice, and the Department of Justice will decide whether they're going to prosecute.

INSKEEP: At least trying to find the facts.

Dina Temple-Raston, thanks very much.

TEMPLE-RASTON: My pleasure.

INSKEEP: She's NPR's FBI correspondent. And you're hearing her on MORNING EDITION from NPR News.

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