Cofer Black is disputing the New York Times‘ blockbuster Blackwater story. On Tuesday evening, the paper reported that in December 2007 the company (which now goes by Xe) schemed to bribe Iraqi officials “to silence their criticism and buy their support” in the wake of a shooting frenzy in Baghdad’s Nisour Square that left 17 Iraqis dead. According to the Times, Black, a veteran CIA counterterrorism official then serving as Blackwater’s vice chairman, learned of the payout plan “from another Blackwater manager while he was in Baghdad discussing compensation for families of the shooting victims with United States Embassy officials.”
Alarmed about the secret payments, Mr. Black cut short his talks and left Iraq. Soon after returning to the United States, he confronted Erik Prince, the company’s chairman and founder, who did not dispute that there was a bribery plan, according to a former Blackwater executive familiar with the meeting. Mr. Black resigned the following year.
Late Tuesday evening I received an email from Mark Corallo, one of Xe’s PR reps (who you may also recall as John Ashcroft’s Justice Department spokesman), dismissing the Times‘ allegations as “baseless” and providing the following statement from Black (who, it’s worth noting, did not respond to emails or phone calls from the Times):
I met with U.S. Embassy officials in Baghdad during the period described in the New York Times article in order to discuss the best course of action in wake of the Nisour Square incident. Blackwater was directed to provide some financial compensation to relatives of those Iraqi victims which Embassy officials described as called for by Iraqi custom. During these meetings with Embassy officials, Blackwater sought State Department leadership in dispensing any such good faith compensation from Blackwater to the victims’ relatives as Blackwater was subordinate to the State Department as its security contractor. I never confronted Erik Prince or any other Blackwater official regarding any allegations of bribing Iraqi officials and was unaware of any plot or guidance for Blackwater to bribe Iraqi officials.
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