Rice Orders New Oversight for Contractors Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice has ordered improved government oversight of independent contractors. The new measures would affect companies, such as Blackwater USA, that protect U.S. diplomats in Iraq.
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Rice Orders New Oversight for Contractors

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Rice Orders New Oversight for Contractors

Rice Orders New Oversight for Contractors

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Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice ordered another round of measures to boost oversight of private security contractors in Iraq today. New steps include tighter rules on the use of force and extensive cultural awareness training for contractors. A review panel organized by the State Department recommended the measures. The panel is established after the killing of at least 17 Iraqis last month in a shooting by Blackwater security contractors.

NPR's Michele Kelemen joins us now. And Michele, what more can you tell us about these new rules of engagement announced today?

MICHELE KELEMEN: Well, we were briefed this afternoon by Patrick Kennedy, who's a top State Department official who was on this panel. And he said the basic idea is to tighten the ground rules for the use of deadly force to ensure greater parallelism, as he called it, with the Defense Department. Basically, the way he described it, he said, the military uses three steps - shout, show and shoot. Shout - show your weapon before shooting.

He said the State Department contractors have a similar line but a little bit more detailed. But what he said the military had was a better description of not when you use force, but how you use force. They spell it out that you have to make sure you fire only aim shots, as he called it, and make sure you pay attention to innocent bystanders.

So it's really just bringing the State Department contractors more in line with what the Defense Department contractors already doing.

BLOCK: And there were a slew of other measures issued today. What are those?

KELEMEN: They were - I mean, some of them were ones that we already knew about, but he went into more detail - trained diplomatic security agents on every single convoy, a GPS type device in the motorcades so that you know that there was - if you go back into what - an incident that happened, you know it was there, video and audio recordings, markings like license plates. He said some of these cars don't have license plates.

The other ideas were - he called it a go team that would go as soon as possible to the scene of a shooting incident. And when it wasn't then doing an investigation, it would study the patterns, it would deal with the victims, and offer compensation. And then also this idea is a joint incident review board that would include embassy officials. And if they review an incident and they don't feel that the force was justified, the Department of Justice would be notified.

BLOCK: You know, Michele, after the last month's shooting of those Iraqi civilians in Baghdad, there was a lot of speculation about whether Blackwater's contract would be renewed by the State Department. Was there any discussion by this panel about that or about contract with any other contractors?

KELEMEN: Well, Patrick Kennedy did get asked that this afternoon. He said, you know, we did consider getting rid of contractors. But there's a basic fact that around the world, there are, he said, fourteen hundred and ninety-two diplomatic security agents - that's for the entire world. He said there are 700 protective security contractors in Iraq. And contractors are used in other places as well.

I mean, I can just tell you that we were traveling with Secretary Rice last week. And when we travel in a motorcade from Jerusalem to Ramallah, there're security contractors, not diplomatic agents, who are traveling with us. So basically, he said, you know, if we had to do it all, then the diplomatic security would be stretched so thin that everyone would either be getting ready to go to Iraq, would be in Iraq or heading out.

BLOCK: And finally, Michele, did this panel have any conclusion about what happened in that shooting in Baghdad by Blackwater contractors?

KELEMEN: All he said was that we did not find any actions that we think called for disciplinary action. But he also said that this was a report about policy and procedures. We weren't looking into that specifically, but we did review a lot of paper and talk to lots of people, he said, and they didn't find any need for disciplinary action.

BLOCK: And the FBI is investigating that shooting.

NPR's Michele Kelemen, thanks very much.

KELEMEN: Thank you.

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