Washington, Aug.21 (ANI): The US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) is alleged to have operated Predator drones out of two bases in Pakistan.
According to the New York Times and The Guardian newspapers, the CIA had in 2004 hired outside contractors from the private security contractor Blackwater USA as part of a secret program to locate and assassinate top operatives of al-Qaida.
Current and former government officials have reportedly confirmed that remotedly drones were moved out of a remote base in Shamsi and an air base in Jalalabad with the help of Blackwater.
From a secret division at its North Carolina headquarters, Blackwater assumed the role of Washington's most important counter-terrorism program.
The division's operations were carried out at hidden bases in Pakistan and Afghanistan, where the company's contractors assemble and load Hellfire missiles and 500-pound laser-guided bombs on remotely piloted Predator aircraft, work previously performed by CIA employees.
They also provide security at the covert bases, the officials said.
The role of the company in the Predator program highlights the degree to which the C.I.A. now depends on outside contractors to perform some of the agency's most important assignments.
A spokesman for the C.I.A. declined to comment for this article.
CIA officials, however, said that the spy agency did not dispatch Blackwater executives with a "license to kill." Instead, it ordered the contractors to begin collecting information on the whereabouts of Al Qaeda's leaders, carry out surveillance and train for possible missions.
"The actual pulling of a trigger in some ways is the easiest part, and the part that requires the least expertise," said one government official familiar with the canceled CIA program.
"It's everything that leads up to it that's the meat of the issue," he added.
Any operation to capture or kill militants would have had to have been approved by the C.I.A. director and presented to the White House before it was carried out, the officials said.
The agency's current director, Leon E. Panetta, canceled the program and notified Congress of its existence in an emergency meeting in June.
The extent of Blackwater's business dealings with the C.I.A. has largely been hidden, but its public contract with the State Department to provide private security to American diplomats in Iraq has generated intense scrutiny and controversy.
The company lost the job in Iraq this year, after Blackwater guards were involved in shootings in 2007 that left 17 Iraqis dead. It still has other, less prominent State Department work. (ANI)